Given the events of the last few months it’s no surprise that anxiety and other mental health problems are skyrocketing all over the world. Yet for those who feel helpless to fight back against this relentless diet of fear and gloom, help is at hand in the form of a new book due out in January 2021: How to Master Your Monkey Mind.
The Monkey Mind is how Chinese Buddhists have long described the nagging voice in our heads that flits from thought to thought, like a monkey swinging from tree to tree in the jungle. It is also the speciality of this book’s author, a very wise man who it has been my pleasure to get to know over the last ten years: Don MacPherson.
Based on the outskirts of the British city of Bath, MacPherson (aka ‘the Monkey Whisperer’) is a mind coach and hypnotherapist who routinely hosts young hopefuls in sports ranging from rugby to snooker – including champions in everything from Formula 1 to Wimbledon. There’s no purple cloak or swinging watch but there is a reclining chair where he puts on soothing music and sets out to tame their Monkeys and put their subconscious minds back on track. Even so, rather than implanting sinister ways of thinking into vulnerable heads, MacPherson insists hypnotherapists tend to be called upon to rectify the effects of a life of hypnosis from another source entirely.
‘Ask my wife Jane to play tennis and she will politely decline,’ MacPherson told me when I spoke to him for In The Zone. ‘She’ll say: “I can’t play tennis! I don’t have an eye for the ball or any hand-eye coordination.” But if you gently pry as to why she holds such a view, she’ll say it must be true because: “Everybody has always told me I am hopeless at tennis.”
‘If you dare to go any further you might enquire who this “everybody” is. You may know a few: mothers, fathers, grandparents, friends, teachers, vicars, politicians, policemen, lawyers, doctors. They are Jane’s “everybody” and probably yours: all are hypnotists who were in action from her first attempt to hit a ball. No doubt she missed or mishit it, at which point I doubt she received much encouragement, more like “Oh dear, it doesn’t look like little Jane has much of an eye for a ball, shame...” from a well-meaning parent who didn’t realise the effect their negative comments can have on a young child hanging onto their every word.
‘Who was next? Other friends, all hypnotists joining in, compounding and confirming Jane is no good at tennis. Unless somebody interrupts this hypnotic trance, she is well on the way to believing it. Finally, whenever tennis is brought up, you will hear her unequivocally state: “I am hopeless at tennis”. This is as close as you can get to self-hypnosis but she has already been a victim of “accidental hypnosis”. It is now so deeply rooted in her subconscious that to shift it she would need a mind expert to try to reprogram her into “can-do” Jane.’
I’m sure we all have similar examples of pursuits we long ago abandoned as far beyond our puny capabilities – whether it’s sport, art, music, languages, maths or anything else. If we were to work our way back through time there would no doubt be a similar cast list of hypnotists. But few of them realise they were ever in our lives at all, just as we live in blissful ignorance of the similar effects we’ve had on countless, faceless others. We now live lives so complex in terms of interactions, from good old face-to-face contact to television, internet and social media, we face a daily onslaught of more swaying watches than Switzerland in an earthquake.
Some situations can make people especially vulnerable to hypnosis, according to MacPherson: ‘You are in your Doctor’s surgery, about to hear the results of some tests,’ he adds. ‘Your conscious mind freezes whenever something important, exciting or scary is happening to you. At this point your GP is a full-blown hypnotist because they now have direct access to your subconscious mind, the real you. So they had better be very careful what they say… because you’re about to become another victim of accidental hypnosis.
‘If it’s bad news your first question is likely to be: “How long have I got?” If the reply is “six months” it is uncanny how accurate this forecast turns out to be. Have the patients been hypnotised, their brains programmed to believe it must be so without question? If the GP clicked his fingers just before giving the results would the patient suddenly cluck like a chicken or sing an Elvis song if they suggested it?’
Something tells me the whole world is under the effects of similar mass hypnosis right now, quivering with fear and clucking like chickens at the slightest suggestion from our all-powerful rulers.
Yet before we start blaming anyone else we have to remember there is only one true leading light in our production: ourselves. No matter what anyone says it is only when our subconscious minds choose to believe it that a plot twist is written in stone. To quote parents everywhere: ‘If we ignore it, it will go away.’ The problem is that our deepest selves are not easy to control, no matter if we’re trying to ascertain whether or not to believe a news story, whether or not to believe we can hit a tennis ball over a net or even whether or not to believe we will live to see another Christmas.
Now MacPherson is promising to give us everything we need to take back control, thanks to ‘ten simple tools to tune your brain.’ These are likely to include many of the mind secrets he has used with the stars over the years, everything from meditation and visualisation to ‘Zen Breathing’ which slows the heart rate with a simple deep breath, exhaling for longer than we inhale.
This is the one toolbox we all need right now. So if you are heartily sick of 2020 and you fancy starting 2021 afresh I can only urge you to pre-order MacPherson’s book and prepare to start mastering your Monkey Mind.
I’m not in the habit of writing reviews of other books on this blog, but Will Buxton’s My Greatest Defeat makes for a worthy exception.
Over the last 20 years I’ve been hunting down the world’s greatest sportspeople in a bid to understand what goes through their minds when they find the magical state of peak performance. But it’s time to admit I may have been missing a trick, because it’s in our moments of despair that we learn the most – and the greats are not exempt.
Buxton has spoken to 20 of global motor sport’s all-time legends about their lowest points. As it happens I’ve been lucky enough to interview all but two of them myself, yet such is the quality of these exchanges I’ve learned something new about every single one of his subjects – from Alex Zanardi to Jimmie Johnson, Alain Prost to Sébastien Loeb.
Each of the drivers opens up about what they learned from their personal disaster, showing how willing they were to buy into this project – not to mention the author’s skills in putting them at ease to talk. And it’s not just about the racetrack, with the late Niki Lauda notably delving into his own darkest hour after one of his Lauda Air planes crashed in Thailand, killing everyone on board.
I’ll resist being the source of any spoilers, but there is plenty of wisdom to be found from Mika Hakkinen, Jeff Gordon et al, plus some surprising revelations along the way from the likes of Rick Mears. What becomes abundantly clear is that every one of these drivers is a human being like the rest of us. And it is a steady diet of defeat that sets each of them up for any eventual, hard-earned, oh-so-sweet taste of victory.
The best part is that Buxton lets them speak for themselves and allows the conversations to flow out onto the page. It’s a throwback to the extended form of interviewing that we could see even on TV chat shows back in the days before it was deemed that we don’t have the attention spans to cope.
Rest assured we do.
To be really picky, we might want to hear from more of the current crop of F1 megastars, because defeat is no stranger to any of us, young or old. But no doubt Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel are already being lined up for the sequel.
A final point: the book itself is a work of art thanks to the striking cover design and brooding individual portraits of each driver by DC and Marvel comic book artist Giuseppe ‘Cammo’ Camuncoli.
A man used to depicting superheroes with a dark tale to tell…
My Greatest Defeat by Will Buxton is out now
Thank you very much to Race Driver Coach Enzo Mucci for posting the first video review of In The Zone as part of his outstanding podcast series. Enzo is an expert in the field of racing driver training, having worked with many current stars of motor sport all the way up to Formula 1. Now he is working to spread what he has learned from his decades of helping the elite to the rest of us - all via his new project The Striver's Club. If you need a dose of motivation to get going with your own dream there is no better place to get started...
We're thrilled to announce that In The Zone has been included in Amazon Kindle's Monthly Deals for September. Now's your chance to read the thoughts of 100 sporting superstars on how they live their dreams and peak for their big moments - including Bolt, Phelps, Djokovic, Hamilton, Comaneci, Desailly, Ennis-Hill, McCaw, Hoy, Moses, Hagler, Klammer and Freeman - all for £1.19!
This fantastic news follows last month's interview with the wonderful Chris Evans on the BBC Radio 2 Breakfast Show which remains available on iPlayer for the next few days...
Thank you to the Red Bulletin for running a ten-page feature in their August edition (above) with quotes from many of the sporting superstars who I interviewed for In The Zone. You can read all about it in their UK, Switzerland and Mexico editions. You can also read the online version here...
Elsewhere Runner's World kindly made In The Zone their Book of the Month for August. The book also received a mention in August's F1 Racing while Autocar ran a British Grand Prix preview feature (below) on the racing mind based on my interviews with Sebastian Vettel, Nico Rosberg, Mika Hakkinen and more. It can now be f0und online here...
I'm extremely grateful to all the media outlets who have given space to helped publicise the book and its message.
The first online reviews of In The Zone have now appeared, so thank you very much to motorsport.com and LoveTennisBlog.com.
‘In The Zone is a fascinating read for anyone interested in the psychological principles behind a Who’s Who of great athletes, from Novak Djokovic to Nadia Comaneci to Usain Bolt to Michael Phelps. But the conclusion is that anyone can attain the Zone... as long as we dare to dream big.’
Read more at motorsport.com
‘In this fascinating read, Clyde Brolin reminds us just how powerful our mind is. The descriptions of being in the Zone are almost spiritual and Brolin uncovers fantastic nuggets of advice for those who “dare to dream”. This book is hard to put down…’
Read more at LoveTennisBlog.com
How the three-pound lump can be controlled (by Edd Straw, Editor-in-Chief Autosport magazine)
It’s rare that Autosport reviews a ‘general’ sports book. But while myriad voices and case studies are drawn in from a wide range of disciplines, author Clyde Brolin never loses the grounding in motorsport that you would expect from someone who worked for so long in Formula 1.
In among the sprinters, tennis players, skiers and gymnasts are plenty of familiar names from motorsport. And with the central theme being a study of what happens when athletes are mentally ‘in the zone’, this is a book that gives anyone with a desire to understand what goes on in the brains of the world’s top racers real insight.
In The Zone is the sequel to Overdrive: Formula 1 in the Zone. Published in 2010, this was based on more than 100 interviews with racers, and this new book builds on that groundwork. Brolin was inspired by veteran F1 journalist Gerald Donaldson’s famous interview with Ayrton Senna, in which the Brazilian talked about the out-of-body experience of being in the zone on his legendary pole lap for the 1988 Monaco Grand Prix. This is the phenomenon explored to the nth degree and broadened to encompass all of sport.
That there are so many voices in this book could result in a disjointed read, and perhaps some may find it that way. But the joy of In The Zone is that, while you know you’re going to end up delving into the mind of yet another big name when you turn over the page, you never know what character is waiting around the corner. At one stage Brolin takes us in the space of a few paragraphs from Derek Warwick qualifying an Arrows sixth for the 1989 Monaco Grand Prix to Nigeria-born concert pianist Glen Inanga. Via a wedding.
The thematic connections, like the neural connections of top athletes, work well. Although built around a structure of chapters grouped into sections entitled ‘conceive, believe, achieve’, the linear progression is secondary to what is more of a web of insight that’s built up with ideas and experience tying into each other.
For example, early on alpine-skiing legend Franz Klammer explains that “being in the zone is when everything is in slow motion so you have all the time in the world… it’s not about the skill. Of course you have to have some ability, but basically it is the will. It’s also crucial to have no fear of defeat.”
Later, there are echoes of this from 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi. “At such high speed, if you operate solely on a conscious level you’d be too slow to react. So you no longer think about driving, until it becomes second nature. That’s when you perform at your best.”
Then there’s Red Bull Air Race world champion Paul Bonhomme, who connects to Klammer’s point with a telling aphorism.
“Say you’re a point off your rival,” says Bonhomme. “Do you have it within you to say, ‘I’m not going to try too hard. It doesn’t matter whether I win or lose?’ You need an ‘I don’t need to win’ pill.”
Imagine layer upon layer of such insight, and you have a feel for what In The Zone offers. With regular appearances from big names in motorsport (the introduction zeroes in on JR Hildebrand throwing away the 2011 Indy 500 at the last corner), this is a must-read for anyone who craves a deeper understanding of how the three-pound lump in the driver’s head can be controlled, or cause you to lose control.
Clyde Brolin spent over a decade working in F1 before moving on to the wider world of sport - all in a bid to discover the untapped power of the human mind.