Wednesday, 2 February 2011

A new frame for a fearful experience

Wintertime is time for skiing and snowboarding, which can be so much fun. Unless… Unless one has had a painful experience and is facing exactly the same situation again. This does not only apply to skiing or snowboarding, but also to various other sports, like mountainbiking, climbing, horse riding, and many others. The fear we sense in such situations, after having had a painful experience, negatively affects our decision making. So, what can we do about it?

In a study, researchers found that fear memories can be updated with non-fearful information provided during a certain time window. So the fear connected to a certain situation by a painful experience in this situation can be overcome by exposing yourself to the same situation again, but without the pain. This causes the situation to be separated from the negative emotion, and thus, the situation can be perceived in a more neutral way again. Exposing oneself to the situation again does not necessarily have to take place in real life. It is sufficient to imagine the whole scene repeatedly, but without the painful experience. So, for example, the skier who has had an accident when making a jump in the half pipe can imagine performing the jump without falling. However, according to the researchers, it is important that the “extinction” of the bad memory takes place shortly after the painful experience, otherwise it does not work.


Imagining certain motion sequences is a popular method used in sports psychology in order to improve the motion sequences in real life. The technique comes from behavioural therapy. And it is one that can be applied by everyone and not only in sports, but virtually in all life situations, for example, after a presentation in which one has made a couple of mistakes that caused it not to go well. “Rethinking” it can be of great help for the following presentation. So after being in a situation that is mentally or physically painful, we can prevent ourselves from being anxious in the same situation next time by imagining it again without the painful experience.

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