No free will

First, let me tell you the bad news before I share the good news. You have no free will. You might think that you are free to decide whatever you want, but that is simply not the case. You can’t even decide what to think next, so how can you consciously decide what to do next?

The truth is that we are all unconscious stimulus-response patterns that are walking around trapped in an illusion of free will. You think you want to choose water instead of that soft drink in front of you, since you know that water is better for you long term. However, when presented with the choice you find yourself rationalizing why it’s okay to choose the soft drink just this once.

Many of your daily decisions follow a similar path. You become aware of the fact that you’ve made a decision and all of a sudden a thought pops up in your conscious brain that tells you something about this decision. That conscious thought might make your unconscious trigger another thought and maybe another decision after some time of reflection (or rationalization).

In a way it’s like bingo playing bingo inside your brain and the only thing you can do is hope that the right numbers show up so that you can make the right decision. Now, of course the decision making process is not as random as bingo, however, without knowing what influences your decision making it might as well be.

So what influences your decision making and as a consequence your behavior? In this very short story the answer is; everything. All that has ever happened to you in your lifetime and everything that has happened in the lifetimes of everyone before you.

From the environmental factors in your mother womb to the what you did last month, that snack you just had and whatever is currently in your surrounding. All of these things influence your unconscious decision making at this very second. They are stimuli that either has or is influencing your body in some way, for example by regulating hormone levels which in turn influence your feelings and thoughts.

All of this means that when we as coaches talk about “conscious decision making” we are mistaken. All decisions come from the unconscious, however, our players might reflect on a certain stimuli before executing a decision which is why it takes longer. 

So, the fact that we have no free will was the bad news, what happened to the good news? Well, the good news is that even though you can’t consciously control what to decide, you can condition your brain to make better decisions.

By using detailed goal-setting techniques, visualization, affirmations and even prayer – you can create references in your unconscious for what type of response you want for a certain stimuli.

Nothing is a given of course and you might have stimulus-response patterns that have been activated since you were born that will be very strong and have a high likelihood of being activated no matter what your goals are or how much you’ve prayed.

However, by repeatedly visualizing your goals, using affirmations or even (personal) prayers you might be able to overwrite your old stimulus-response patterns and create new ones which will give you a greater chance of making the decisions that will bring you closer to your goals.

Just as you are creating references for your players to make better unconscious decisions when you are teaching your playing style, you can create references in your own unconscious for better future decisions.

Link: Robert Sapolsky (TED) – The Biology of our best and worst selves

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