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“Thinking like a Winner”: Much of it’s a ‘Meta’ Thing

“The problem with positive thinking is that you have to THINK about it” 
    – Anthony Robbins


Anyone who reads my stuff probably realizes I’m not an NLP purist. Although I think the field of Neuro Linguistic Programming offers some compelling theories and powerful techniques, it also has its share of flimsy methodologies that are better replaced or supplemented with the practices of parallel peak performance disciplines.

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Yet one of the more hard-hitting lessons that NLP training can instill is the idea that much of what goes on in our minds happens in ‘chunks’ – at differing levels of thought. We have higher, or ‘meta’ levels of thinking that sometimes make snap judgments about our primary-level thoughts. It happens so quickly that we rarely notice it. But once these patterns come to our awareness, they hold much of the key to ‘thinking like a winner’ in any area of life we want to improve.

Consider how it might happen when one is not ‘thinking like a winner.’ It begins with something perceived as negative at the place where perceptual awareness feeds primary judgments of those perceptions. You might have a “bad” workout at the gym. Or you might have said something in a meeting at work that you later perceive to have been foolish rather than clever. Whatever it might be at this primary level, it typically doesn’t stop there; we make further judgments at a higher level. What often happens at that point is a negative generalization is made:

'Why do I keep having these bad workouts?'

'How come I keep putting my foot in my mouth in meetings?'

And very often, when we’ve had thoughts like these, we even make negative judgments on those thoughts at an even higher (meta) level. In other words, we have thoughts about thoughts:

‘Why do I keep beating myself up?’

‘How come I can’t think more positively about things?’

It’s changing this meta-cognitive pattern that is the key to “thinking like a winner” – to becoming more of a ‘high-performance person.’

‘Thinking Like a Winner’ starts with Knowing How Our Minds Work

Making negative generalizations about ourselves is one of the most damaging psychological things we do. Yet it’s important to realize that it’s natural to generalize; if we didn’t do it, we’d never be capable of collecting and filing the amount of information we keep in our brains. You began doing it as a toddler: Momma taught you what a table was and you realized everything in the house with four legs and a flat surface of a certain height was a table; she didn’t have to teach you repeatedly (well… maybe in my case). And our brains keep trying to file things in this way as we keep accumulating information; it’s a shortcut to acquiring vast amounts of pertinent data and detailed knowledge.

Yet the pattern bites us on the ass when it comes to subconscious judgments about ourselves that mold into our self-images. If something doesn’t go right, we can easily make generalizations about our capabilities that negatively affect our future performance. This can stifle a person’s potential. Realizing where this has happened is the first step toward reversing the pattern and replacing it with a winner’s mentality.

“Thinking Like a Winner” doesn’t mean ‘Being Delusional’

There’s a distinction between ‘thinking like a winner’ and delusional thinking. Have you ever met someone who’s so gravitated toward the “self-esteem movement” that they’re delusional? I have. They’re the individuals who think they’re performing well at something when they’re really not. We don’t want to be like that; we want to be rooted in objectivity while simultaneously being optimistic about how well we can do in the future.

One way to do this is to regularly incorporate a practice I learned from reading a bodybuilding/business autobiography by the late Ray Stern. In the book, Mr. Stern said that he always asked for brutally honest feedback from friends whose judgment he trusted to be objective and whose feedback would be honest. He did this for his physique development, his businesses, and his personal development.

This is a powerful technique for not only thinking like a winner, but actually experiencing results that are commensurate with a winner’s mentality. Hey – that’s a refreshing thought in this “touchy-feely” day-in-age.

‘Thinking Like a Winner’ means knowing how and when to “Chunk” Your Thoughts

So… we don’t want to make negative generalizations when something’s not going right for us. Yet at the same time, we don’t want to make “delusional’ generalizations” just for the sake of positive thinking. For example, if you want to improve your body, it would be damaging to think:

‘How come my body just never seems to get any better?’

But if you really haven’t been making any progress in this context, you wouldn’t want the “self-esteem” crowd making you delusional with affirmations like:

“My body just keeps getting better and better every day and in every way… ”

…Because if from an objective standpoint you’re really not improving, this thinking or repeated affirmation will get you no closer to your goal than the negative one.

What if your mind defaulted to a different original question at the perceptual level? So you have a “bad workout” (or a bad outcome at anything) but your mind immediately asks:

“What is the one thing I could do differently that will get me moving in the direction I want to go?”

Now when you go up to the next level of thought (your meta level – or “thinking about thoughts”), you can make a generalization that’s positive but not delusional:

‘I’m such a strategist; I think like a winner because I know how to combine objective feedback with positive action.’

… And when you get to an even higher level of thinking where you make a judgment on THAT thought – it might go something like this:

‘I’m a winner because I always get closer to my goals by thinking like a winner.’

Now your “chunked-up” ‘meta-thought’ generalization is actually feeding the productive thinking that occurred at the primary level. It’s further creating your self-image so that you automatically think those thoughts at the primary level of the experience/self-communication exchange.

This is an example of the patterns of ‘thinking like a winner’ in the auditory/digital representation system. In other words – thinking like a winner with your word thoughts. When you effectively combine it with powerful visualization techniques, it can become turbo-charged.

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