08/24/2013 10:02 am ET Updated Oct 24, 2013

Do You Use Mental Techniques? Here's Why They're Not Working

If you're at all familiar with my work, you know that I firmly believe that deliberate mental techniques or strategies used to improve performance (and find happiness) are, in principle, ineffective. For purpose of review, here are my four reasons why:

1. There's a misalignment between the experience of performers at the top of their games and the strategies of the psychologists and mental coaches who are trying to help them.

Virtually all of us would say that our best performances -- whether in sports, work, or even relationships -- came easily. We often hear phrases like "clear head," "not thinking," "no expectations," or "not sure how it happened" to explain a person's feeling state when at his or her best. Why, then, when you don't have a clear head and are not at your best would you employ a mental strategy which requires you to think?

2. Deliberate strategies are not the same as instinctive ones.

Mental strategies are not necessarily right or wrong. Many great performers visualize success, take deep breaths, find positive feelings, and relax. It's when you turn these actions into a rote or forced practice (which requires thought and effort) that you'll clog your own head -- leaving little room for instincts to flourish. Remember: From a high level of consciousness (awareness), a person automatically visualizes the future, breaths efficiently, feels positive, and relaxes. Calculated visualization, breathing, positive thinking, and relaxation methods cannot help a person find a high level of consciousness.

3. Human beings experience life from in to out, not out to in.

In spite of what most people have been led to believe, nothing on the outside is responsible for how you feel on the inside. Therefore, wrongly believing that your feelings are caused by your circumstances or environment, and applying a strategy to overcome these feelings, is a waste of energy. It's like building a trap for a monster and putting it under your child's bed. Since monsters are not the natural byproduct of a child sleeping alone in his or her bedroom -- they come from the child's thinking -- using a technique to avoid monsters only legitimizes and bolsters the child's fearful thoughts.

4. Deliberate mental strategies obstruct a person's innate ability to ascend to clarity of mind.

An often-overlooked principle is that when we overthink and, thus, feel afraid, insecure, or blue, we're innately wired to self-correct. While it may look like using a deliberate mental strategy has helped you find clarity in the past, if you're honest about it, you'll admit the results were always short-lived at best. This is because a high state of mind has nothing to do with mental strategies and all to do with your head's natural propensity to clear. In fact, if you keep using strategies, you'll obstruct this self-correcting system to the point where it might not function.

Here's an analogy to illustrate this principle: When a roller coaster hits its low point, the only way to prevent it from rising back up on its own is to panic, pull the emergency brake, and try to fix something that may feel broken -- but isn't.

The bottom line is that no matter where you are or what you're doing, your struggles are merely a reflection of the degree that your head is filled with thought at that particular moment. Any time you add more thinking -- and, again, all deliberate mental techniques require thinking -- you're likely to struggle even more. If you forego the mental strategy (and avoid adding more thought), your head will empty, insights arise, and you will feel better. After all, you, like all human beings, are designed to regulate to clarity without effort.

I hope you found this review helpful. If not, let the roller coaster go back up on its own, then send me a note.


For more by Garret Kramer, click here.

For more on emotional intelligence, click here.