Managing your fear – Managing your squirrels
By Neil Perkins
For those of you who have spent a considerable amount of time around me, you will have heard me refer to the squirrels in my head? For those of you who haven’t, you now know that I am slightly mad!
The reference of squirrels is a little bit deeper than you might first think. I completed my NLP course and they are something that I self-created. For those of you at this point thinking WTF! I have two squirrels in my head that debate every serious decision that I have to make. The Red squirrel is clam, calculated and thoughtful and the Grey squirrel who is a hot headed, wild cannon and is fuelled on emotion.
I learnt as a young man involved in conflict situations that fear and apprehension of the act is far worse than the act itself. Working the doors on some of the roughest spots in town from the tender age of 18 put in me in plenty of conflict situations, years of boxing and trawling the gyms has meant that I’ve traded blows with nearly every lunatic in the UK at some point. Regardless if I am sparring a world heavyweight champion or someone who was dubbed as Britain’s hardest man (Danny Dyer clearly hadn’t met me!) you soon learn that no man is ever as big as his reputation.
I remember working the door at 18 years old at the Tennis Courts pub in Perry Barr. On a Saturday early evening I’d been informed that a group of individuals had ‘landed’ on the pub despite been barred and we’d have to ask them to leave. I remember the apprehension as I approached the group that were all known football hooligans on the pub watch list. Nervously I asked them to leave with an uncertainty in my voice, the leader of the group left and then when outside shouted a barrage of abuse at me, threatening to come back and ‘slice me up’ the following week. That week I was petrified to go back and literally had sleepless nights all week for the fear that might ensue, my Grey squirrel was in overdrive thinking of ‘what if’ and ‘what might happen’ I even contemplated ‘tooling up’ ready for next week (prior to doorman licensing and when I started it was common for doorman to illegally carry weapons) The following week I went back and nothing happened, this passed and week after week and after 6 years of doing that job I realised that been threatened to be stabbed came with the territory.
Controlling your mind is the key to controlling any pressure situation and I learnt when progressing to working high profile nightclub front doors that any sign of weakness is instantly picked upon. As I galvanised myself against the extraneous noise that comes out of people mouths, I learnt that no man is as big as his reputation and nothing is as bad as the Grey squirrel fears. You shouldn’t let the Grey squirrel (emotion) be your driver for any decision you make, Red squirrel (rational) is the far better choice.
Now we’ve all heard of the stories of a mother who flips the burning car off her child that’s trapped beneath it? She has summoned some strength, probably derived from her Grey squirrel? When a car is on your child, when someone threatens your life and when someone spits in your face with intent, then fight, flight or freeze will kick in as your adrenaline can make you do some amazing things – it can also get you in a lot of trouble.
In conflict, you can unleash a little bit of your Grey squirrel, but you can’t let him be your driver. For that split second in battle he can be a great friend, but prior to battle and with the apprehension of ‘what if’ he will eat you up with anxiety. He relies on fear to make himself drive, but fear requires energy. You will be mentally exhausted by the time you get to battle if you let the Grey squirrel dominate your thoughts – your head will be a like jungle. Yes, we can use him when you are threatened, and you can use him when your child is trapped beneath a car. You can’t use him when you’re trying to rationalise a pre-organised fight where you have no emotional feelings to your opponent – that is what all combat sports are.
Now I’ve had to coach over 600 people through the life changing experience of boxing on white collar boxing shows. This sometimes can be a challenging job! Very often intelligent and high earning people cause me the biggest problems. This is caused by their resistance to a doorman/boxer who is advising them, believe it or not this is my specialist field. As human beings we are all on a cellular level the same. I am not made of anything different to you and you are not different to me (Red Squirrel talking) To rationalise going into a controlled environment to punch each other in the face in-front of over 600 people is a little bit irrational? ALL SQUIRRELS AGREE!
So, when boxers are feeling a little low, nervous and scared (it’s perfectly normal) they need to speak to the Red Squirrel and ask themselves – WHY AM I DOING THIS? Amongst the many reasons that people highlight one of the many could be
‘To prove something to myself’
Now if this was one of your key drivers, then completing our process of preparing for a white collar boxing show will enrich you as a person. The Grey squirrel will think of reasons not to box, I once asked a female client to write me a list of reasons why she didn’t want to box and I got a list with 64 items on it including..
‘What If I trip up on the way to ring’
‘What if I look stupid’
‘What if the shorts don’t fit’
These are all emotional related reasons and the Grey Squirrel talking. For those of you a little bit lost between Red and Grey, you should read ‘The Chimp Paradox’ and delve a little deeper how your mind works?
As you progress as a combat athlete you’ll learn to control your Grey squirrel throughout and learn when he can be let out. As a novice level combat athlete, you’ll inevitably let Grey out throughout the contest when you compete early on. As you progress as a combat athlete you’ll learn to keep Grey locked up throughout 90% of the contest and rely on Red’s calculated thinking (this is why fighters enjoy the art of fighting the more they do it) When people unleash Grey (emotion) during a contest as a novice, this is ‘in the act’ not ‘before the act’ and then you can utilise your Grey Squirrel when you really need him – he and muscle memory will get you through a contest as a novice, as you evolve you’ll need to keep him wrapped up and use Red. Without upselling a second show, you get better as a boxer as you learn to keep Grey locked up during a contest and use Red’s calculated thinking to plan your way through. Most novice boxers remember 10% of their first contest!
As fight night draws nearer, your squirrels will work over time. My squirrels were self-created and when I get the apprehension, fear and think of what is going on I will sit and let my squirrels debate what is going on (they are self-created) in my head. Grey will talk about all his fears, rage and impulse’s and Red will sit down on his hammock wedged between two trees and drinks his hazelnut latte and tell him to ‘chill out’ and rationalise why he is doing this. Greys non-reasons are always emotion and fear driven and Red’s pro reasons are always derived from your real thought process. When I have a lot of pressure on I very often start laughing to myself. This isn’t me laughing at the person that may present me with the problem, this is my visualisation of squirrels arguing in my head – I am laughing at them. It’s a sure fire way to see if someone has antagonised me in an argument, if I’m laughing, my Grey squirrel is bouncing up and down saying ‘chin him’ and Red is cool as a cucumber sitting down on his hammock telling Grey to chill out. I am not laughing at the person, I am laughing at the squirrels in my head not the person infront of me.
If you are approaching fight night and looking for some nuts to feed your Red Squirrel. Here are a few you should think about
Are you appropriately matched? What safeguards have been put into place?
Have you trained for this event?
Do you have a strategy to beat your opponent?
I know that anyone who boxes on my shows the answer to the above and rational thoughts win. The process of boxing enriches people, not the act of boxing.
Enjoy your experience and be safe in the knowledge that no squirrels were harmed in the writing of this blog.