©Arlene R. Taylor PhD
“You have no idea how terrified I am!” Karol spoke to no one in particular. She folded and unfolded her perspiring hands as she paced back and forth in the small wide room. Beads of sweat glittered on her forehead. “I just know I’ll forget every single line, be booed off the platform, and spend the rest of the school year in depressed disgrace!”
“Whether you think you’ll fail or succeed, you’re right.” An unprepossessing young man spoke from the corner.
Karol stopped pacing and pinned him with her remarkable violet eyes. “Whatever do you mean, Tim?” she demanded.
In a calm controlled voice, he explained that her words were creating a self-fulfilling prophecy, a picture for her brain to follow. “You can give your brain a positive map or a negative map to follow,” he said.
“Are you nuts?” she demanded. “Why would anyone give the brain a negative map to follow?”
“Why indeed?” Tim replied. “My sentiments exactly.”
Karol resumed pacing, then stopped, looked at Tim intently and asked, “What map do you give your brain to follow?”
Tim smiled. “Actually, I’d be terrified, too, if I told myself what you just said!” His infectious grin took any sting out of his words. “I say: I know my topic. I am recalling my lines. I enjoy sharing my expertise with the audience. They are responding positively.” No sooner had these words left his lips than his name was announced. With a semi salute in her direction, he walked out onto the stage. As I watched him stride confidently into the spotlight, I thought to myself, what wisdom for someone so young. He must have learned that from his role models.
I wondered about Karol. Perhaps her care providers hadn’t known that every thought we think affects every cell in our brain and body. Our thoughts impact our degree of success in any given situation because they create pictures in our brain, a map (as Ted put it) for the brain to follow.
That’s the value of rehearsal. The brain makes patterns from our thoughts, words, actions and behaviors—and goes over them again and again. At time of performance, given you don’t sabotage the pattern with negative words and thoughts of failure or inadequacy, the brain simply repeats the pattern one more time. This is the technique many Olympic champions use just prior to actual competition. They pause for a few moments, often with eyes closed, and mentally rehearse their pattern or map. They picture themselves completing their routines successfully.
Rehearsal can be actual or virtual (in the mind). You can use virtual rehearsal to reinforce actual rehearsal or to prepare when actual rehearsal is impossible.
You rehearse (e.g., imagination, self-talk) continually during waking hours anyway, so you may as well rehearse as effectively and efficiently as possible. The subconscious recognizes little differences between actual and virtual rehearsal. Practice of either type can be effective in helping us to improve our skills.
Researchers gave participants a small, three-dimensional wire grid and recorded neuron activity (PET Scan studies) in their brains, as they handled and played with the grid. Later, each participant was asked to simply recall how he/she had handled and played with the grid. The same portions of the brain were activated during the “thinking about the grid” as were activated during the actual “handling of the grid.” That’s one reason for advice related to “thoughts are powerful—take conscious control of yours!”
Since rehearsal can be actual or virtual—and be effective—you can rehearse in advance even when you have never had the opportunity to actually do the specific activity. Take Karol for instance. This was her first speech in front of a live audience. Noticing that she was number seven on the program to present a 5-minute summary of her topic, I asked her if she’d like to do some virtual rehearsal. The poor girl was in such a state of panic I wasn’t certain she could even attend to my suggestions. On the other hand, there was nothing to lose! She looked at me rather wild-eyed for a moment, and then stopped pacing, and nodded.
After suggesting she take a few deep breaths (she had been breathing very shallowly and holding her breath for several seconds at a time), I asked her to briefly describe the pictures in her mind related to this speaking event. Not surprisingly they were all negative, and ranged from tripping and falling before she reached to podium to being laughed off the stage. Unhelpful!
I challenged her to create a new set of pictures, a new map for her brain to follow. This involved seeing herself:
- Stride confidently across the stage
- Reach the podium and spread out her cue cards
- Recall key points and present them with appropriate gestures
- Answer the requisite three questions articulately
- Leave the stage with grace and poise
Her response was a murmured, “Oh my! This must have been what Ted was trying to tell me!” She paused for a moment. “I’m going to try to do this,” she said.
“Say, I am doing this,” I suggested. “Simple, present tense, positive phrases are the most effective. Say, I enjoy making this presentation.” No sooner were the words out of her mouth than it was her turn to present. Karol did a very credible job—after one virtual rehearsal. She was amazed and pleased!
Just as with Emotional Intelligence, Rehearsal Intelligence, or RQ, is a learned skill. You can hone your RQ at any age and use your enhanced skills to help you be more successful—at home, at work, professionally, and personally. You canactually rehearse or virtually rehearse any and all your roles on the stage of life. Here’s to you giving an Oscar-nominating performance. Fortunately, in the Oscars of life, everyone can win!