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The Choice Point
The Scientifically Proven Method to Push Past Mental Walls and Achieve Your Goals
By Jonathan Rhodes, PhD
Foreword by Martina Navratilova
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Discover a scientifically proven method to overcome obstacles and make choices that lead us closer to our goals—featuring a foreword by Martina Navratilova.When we choose to go to the gym at 6am, keep running that marathon, or stay up late to study, we are making conscious, value-based decisions that help us fulfill our goals. But even though we know that daily good choices add up to healthy routines and strong results, these days it’s just too easy to surrender to negative thoughts and old habits. How can we not?
Enter Functional Imagery Training (FIT). Grounded in science, FIT helps us lengthen our Choice Point: that moment when we say to ourselves, “Am I going to make the healthy decision, or am I going to choose to take an action that I know will undermine my success?” Merging mindfulness, motivational interviewing, and cognitive behavioral therapy into a user-friendly model—the first non-academic book of its kind—The Choice Point grants us control of the decisions that define us.
Jonathan Rhodes, a British psychologist, helped develop FIT, and Joanna Grover, an experienced therapist and coach, was the first person in the U.S. to be certified in FIT. Together, they work where science meets imagination to achieve peak performance, and their tools help us get to the root of our motivation. They’ve trained Olympians, C-Suite executives, and elite forces in the military to hack their autopilot systems and break records in their respective fields. The Choice Point is the roadmap they’ve built along the way, leading us from passengers to drivers of our own minds.
Foreword by Martina Navratilova
The images we hold in our heads have tremendous power. The first time I won Wimbledon, it was not the first time I experienced holding the trophy in my hands. I had held the Wimbledon trophy in my imagination for years. My dad planted the seed when I was little by telling me that one day, I’d win Wimbledon. I believed him, but then again, what did I know about the world in fourth grade?
I had no idea what my journey would be, but I knew I’d have a big future. Wimbledon was such an iconic image that I could hold it in my mind’s eye. So I would:
Imagine winning the match point
Imagine hitting great shots
Imagine getting the trophy
Holding the trophy
Kissing the trophy
Lifting it over my head
These images became embedded in me. I had a destination and goals. Like most athletes, I am goal driven. Thankfully, I had confidence too. I always felt like I could match up to anybody and compete in whatever sport I wanted to pursue. I chose tennis because I loved it. The moment I stepped out onto the court, I was home. I always loved tennis, and if I could win doing it, how great was that? I was not pushed into it by anyone—quite the opposite. When it came time to practice, I was the first one out the door and onto the court.
When I was five years old, I would hit the ball against a wall for hours, and I loved it! Keep in mind this was long before smart phones and social media. I was never bored, and I never minded doing what it took to get better—no matter how strenuous or monotonous. The training was all part of the process, even the pain. I was not just going to eat the icing off the cake and leave the center, because that is not how champions are made. I did not pick and choose which part of the tough conditioning that I wanted to do; I was committed to doing all of it. If I respected a coach, I’d listen and do my homework.
You may be saying to yourself: That’s easy for you to say; you are Martina Navratilova. That’s true—I was once a preadolescent pip-squeak on the train to Prague. I was carrying my big dreams as well as my schoolbag and a tennis bag when a stranger asked me, “Why all those tennis racquets?” I said I played tennis, and I quietly trusted that, someday, they would not ask that question.
If you decide to go for your dream, you will likely be tested by adversity. It is important to have an internal compass that no one can touch, neither a critic nor a popular opponent. My life purpose is a commitment to human rights, a commitment to fairness, a value that came from my outspoken parents. The fame I gained from tennis enabled me to use my platform to speak out and maybe change some people’s minds about their prejudices.
I am not perfect, obviously. But when I make a mistake, I learn and adapt. That’s what you have to do when you play tennis. It teaches you many good lessons for life.
On the court I faced my nerves and the constant “what-ifs.” Off the court I had to overcome many setbacks, including the opinions of media and society. I made bigger headlines when I lost than when I won. Back then was not like today—players could not connect with fans on social media. I was in a seesaw battle throughout my career: I felt welcome in a foreign land for my athleticism, and then rejected for my sexual orientation. However, despite the social pressure from the media, I never lost sight of me. I carried on and knew in my head and my heart that I was ahead of my time. I was a strong, outspoken gay woman with muscles. I believed the world would catch up one day, and it did.
Just as Jonathan and Jo will teach you in this book, knowing your “why,” understanding your internal belief system, and connecting to your moral compass will serve you when the tide is against you. In those moments, I encourage you to find a way. Don’t be cowed by convention; find your own path.
And I’m going to take a moment and speak directly to the women athletes who might be reading this book. If you are a woman athlete, it’s more essential than ever to know your values and your value. Social media has given people a license to be nasty, and navigating that can be particularly hard for us women since we tend to focus on the negative. It’s easy to internalize malicious comments, and it does not take much for a seed of doubt to turn into an oak tree in your mind.
There was this writer—a famous tennis reporter—who once told me that I had a hard time closing matches when I was serving for the match. I never told him this, but his words got stuck in my head for a while. His comment didn’t always arise in me, but most times when I was serving for the match, that comment popped up, and I had to fight it. Also, I had no idea if what he said was true. Back then, we didn’t have access to stats like today. I couldn’t look it up and know if that was really a weak part of my game. I just had to wonder, and that was enough to lead to the occasional overthinking of a shot. This is why I tell athletes not to read things about themselves. I got through this mental block with action. We didn’t have sports psychologists when I was competing. I wish we’d had tools to reset into a positive space during a match. But we have those tools now, and the great thing is that they’re currently sitting in your hands. Jo and Jonathan offer tools in this book, like developing cues to reset your thinking, to help you overcome adversity and commit to finishing the goals that matter to you.
These tools are rooted in Functional Imagery Training, or FIT, a field in which Jo and Jonathan are leading experts. I used imagery on the court, but it works off the court too. When I saw Julia’s face, I knew that I wanted to look at that face the rest of my life. We’ve been through some tough times in marriage and raising kids. But I keep coming back to that image.
This book is about finding you first—your values and your goals—and then putting the rubber to the road, so to speak, with imagery. My greatest value in life is fairness. It’s my North Star and helps me navigate in the world. One way in which this manifests is surrounding myself with like-minded friends who share that value. When I met Jo, I trusted her because she was a therapist, and I believed she’d keep what I shared with her in confidence. We also shared a common commitment to a more just world. We have worked alongside one another to register young voters in Miami. We have attended conferences and fundraising events for LGBT rights. She’s a good friend that I have turned to for advice and counsel. Each time, she’s there with a calm, reassuring voice. So I have absolute confidence that the information and advice she offers you in The Choice Point will serve you in your life.
Whatever your dream is, I hope you take the time to imagine it to its fullest extent. Take that seed of aspiration and turn it into an oak tree. Believe that you can become a better version of yourself, whether it’s on the tennis court (whatever that may be for you) or in your personal life. I hope you will have the ability to one day look back on your life, career, and legacy and say, “I was true to myself and worked to improve myself, my family, friends, and my collective community to the best of my ability.” What could be more important than that?
“Don’t tell me you’re a comedian; tell me a joke,” a wise friend once told us when we were pitching our program for an international convention. His words resonated because, unknown to us, we had been pitching our work incorrectly. We were telling instead of showing, and rather than make the same mistake with you, we want to begin by giving you a test drive in your own mind. Here you go… think about the following word with as much detail as possible:
What does that word mean to you? If possible, try to tap into your senses—how are they triggered by that word?
When you read “email,” do you think about a certain thing and feel a certain way? Of course, this “certain way” is certainly different for everyone. Some might have thought of receiving an email; others might have imagined composing an email—hearing their fingers tap away on the keys in their mind’s ear. Still others might have pictured themselves sitting and reading the words on their screen, or maybe they thought of the icon on their phone or the notification informing them of the number of unread emails they have—fifty-six! Maybe you thought of something else, like deleting an email. That probably felt good.
As you award a certain thought attention, in this case the word “email,” you will likely link the thought with meaning and emotion. As soon as your internal chatter starts—your self-talk as you read and repeat the word in your mind—so too will imagery. The process of creating mental representations through sound, smell, taste, touch, movement, vision, and emotion is imagery. Everyone uses imagery differently. When we focus on a thought, like thinking of eating a piece of cake, the way we experience that thought will vary from person to person based on preference, experience, and what’s known as “elaboration” as you imagine the touch, smell, taste, and emotional sensation of having that piece of cake. If you elaborate on the thought in detail, you can guess what happens—you crave cake. Maybe you run to the kitchen or the local bakery for some cake before you continue reading this book. Our minds are powerful, and our ability to imagine scenarios can dictate a lot of our actions. Sometimes those actions are counterproductive to our goals (Eat that cake! Quit on that project!). But they don’t have to be—you can harness your mind’s extraordinary power to optimize your actions (Eat the salad instead. Finish that project.). This book provides you with a tool to do exactly that: to become the driver of, rather than a passenger in, your mind.
When most people set a goal, they don’t plan effectively or use multisensory imagery to perceive the process of achieving their goal. Thus, when they come up against a challenge, they don’t see it as a hurdle on a track; they see it as a wall. Consequently, they often quit because they haven’t developed the skills to help them meet the requirement of hard work or perseverance.
A more effective way to embark upon pursuing a goal is to use our internal chatter and imagery to predict how the outcome (success or failure) and the process (hard work and perseverance) of the journey may play out. The way we elaborate in our mind’s eye on this outcome and the process influences our likelihood of achieving our goals. Quite literally, the way we imagine the future, and the attention we give a thought, drives our effort and thus influences our behavior and outcomes.
You can use imagery to plan out your goals through fantasy, starting by imagining what success would be like, perhaps as you get that promotion at work, win an Olympic gold medal, or lie on a Pacific Coast beach, depending on your goal. Then you can break down your goals into small milestones and imagine what each stage of achieving success feels, smells, tastes, sounds, and looks like. This process forms the basis of multisensory imagery. One key benefit of this approach becomes apparent when you arrive at a challenge. Since you have already imagined it occurring, and have already planned ways to overcome whatever it may be, you can see the challenge not as a wall but as a hurdle on a track, and you can pick up speed to jump it.
In this book, you will learn to train your imagery ability so you can improve how you plan and stick to your goals. You may not be aware of the power of your imagination right now, but you will soon learn how to measure it, train it, harness its potential, and refine it for your personal growth and for the people and communities you love.
The foundation for this book is a large body of academic research called Functional Imagery Training (FIT), which shows that mental imagery elicits emotions, and that emotions are the key to amplifying motivation and changing behavior. Academic psychologists studying addiction at the University of Plymouth, in the UK, and Queensland University of Technology, in Australia, developed it. They observed that people suffering from addiction had good intentions and a strong desire to quit their destructive habits until cravings hijacked their thoughts, which often resulted in relapse. FIT is a method that teaches people to override cravings (and other pleasure-based decisions) by training how to stick with a target goal.
We have expanded on the FIT model to include new tools that enhance performance. You will read about techniques we’ve created to interrupt old habits, such as SLAPP, which will be available to the public for the first time in this book. We created a model for teams that we call AIM: Applied Imagery for Motivation, since FIT was primarily designed for one-to-one coaching/counseling. We wrote The Choice Point so you would feel like you are sitting across the table from us as your imagery coaches. The Choice Point—the concept this book was named after—is the exact moment you decide to shift your attention away from an unwanted thought that might stop you from making a conscious choice to persevere in pursuing your goal (or not). It’s that moment when you say to yourself, “To continue, or not to continue?” This book is the blueprint for how we use FIT to change human behavior. We share our own stories and those of our clients: coaches seeking new ways of approaching old problems; stressed executives seeking work/life balance; Olympic athletes seeking medals; and everyday people seeking a healthier lifestyle. No matter who you are, what your goal is, or where you are in your life right now, this book is for you.
As the authors of The Choice Point, we came together under unusual circumstances and a common vision. Dr. Jonathan Rhodes is a passionate FIT developer and cognitive psychologist researching from the University of Plymouth. Jonathan is the only one so far to research and use AIM with teams, including professional soccer teams, sailing teams, education groups, corporate organizations, and the British Army. Jo Grover is a compassionate community activist, social worker, and coach from Miami Beach, Florida, who ventured to England after shattering her shoulder in an equestrian accident. That fall during a competition in Kentucky crushed more than her arm; it diminished her self-confidence and her love for a sport that she had cherished. Her surgeon and physical therapist helped her heal her body; FIT helped her overcome the fear the accident had embedded in her mind. With FIT, she learned to trust herself and her horse again. Together, they won two championships before she hung up her saddle for good on her own terms. Jo was the first person in the US to be certified in FIT. She discovered that it worked more efficiently and produced a deeper, longer-lasting change with her clients than the cognitive behavioral therapy she had previously used.
Jonathan writes as an academic and performance consultant, and Jo as a client and practitioner. We write from the head and the heart. Our collaborative writing began after a Zoom call during the 2020 COVID lockdown, with Jonathan forty-five hundred miles away in windswept southern England and Jo under a canopy of palm trees in southern Florida. We never met in person while writing this book, which was challenging due to our differing time zones, writing styles, work commitments, family lives… and did we mention writing styles? We pushed past these challenges because we were driven by collective values—service and education—and together we imagined the benefits others would receive from getting a better understanding of how to use their imagination to achieve goals. The benefits many of our clients report go beyond succeeding in their personal goals. They experience better sleep quality and other quality-of-life improvements—better communication, less stress, a deeper sense of purpose and happiness, consistency with performance and hitting targets, and a stronger sense of belonging. We wanted to share what we understood about the science of success—true stories of perseverance and excelling against the odds, so you, our dear reader, can experience these benefits too.
We later developed a company named Imagery Coaching. We have consulted with Fortune 500 executives, entrepreneurs, professional athletes, first responders, nurses, teachers, students, coaches, educational institutions, and elite members of the military. We’ve developed international training courses to educate the next generation of imagery coaches. We believe that coaching should be accessible to more people, so 20 percent of our students receive full scholarships to train with us. These scholarships are granted for those who would not otherwise have access to coaching due to socioeconomic barriers. We support local and global change initiatives like the Climate Coaching Alliance, which is a network of executive coaches who work with organizations on climate. We have high aspirations for a United Nations Day of Imagery, where we would teach world leaders and climate activists to imagine solutions to climate change together through creativity and collaboration, and we are continuing to expand the research portfolio of FIT with individuals and AIM with teams.
That’s us. But what this book is ultimately about is you. Your dreams, your goals, your aspirations—your meaning and values. Your community and connections. It’s about taking the goals you’ve thought of, imagining them, and making them happen.
How to Use This Book
Imagery is intimate and emotional. Be gentle and patient with yourself. Find a friend to do it with you, or treat yourself as a best friend. The exercises we provide will unearth a deeper sense of meaning and connection. Since imagination is personal, we have a series of tests and measures that give you a starting place from where you can work toward your goal. The chapters unfold in a structured way that is intended to be supportive, to outline a personal journey with FIT as you reflect on working through five steps: your values, beliefs, attitude, cognitions, and behaviors. In Part I we focus on the initial three steps (values, beliefs, and attitude). Imagery training is most effective when you first gain clarity on your goals and reconnect with what matters to you.
Throughout the book, but especially in the first three chapters, we recommend you take notes and track your progress in a journal, like you are a researcher of your own mind. A journal provides space for self-reflection and mental incubation, where you are encouraged to think about your thinking. This may sound loopy, but it should give you space to think, Why? At these points, while writing in your journal and critically reflecting, you might want to stop reading and allow your thoughts to marinate. Come back to the section later in the day, the following day, or whenever it feels appropriate to continue. Put another way: we recommend you don’t read this book as fast as a five-year-old eats a jam sandwich. Instead, read it as slowly as a fifty-five-year-old would eat that sandwich, savoring and reminiscing with each bite.
At the start of Part II, we focus on imagery training, which is the cognitive step of the journey. We hope that you enter that material with curiosity and a focused goal. In Part II, you can explore your detailed imagery journey from step one, values, to step four, cognitions. We invite you to measure your imagery ability and then refine each of the multisensory aspects, such as visual, auditory, and kinesthetic imagery. For each sensory area, it’s best if you take notes and continue to be reflective as you put theory into practice. If you ever get stuck, each chapter offers opportunities to problem-solve and see how others have found their way to a daily practice of imagery.
Once you start to practice imagery, you will have entered the final step, behavior change. At this point, you will experiment with what works best for your applied practice. To make behaviors stick and persevere when times become challenging, we provide further instructions on how to apply FIT that will help you create a routine and reset your thinking when needed. Again, go slowly through Part II, and ascertain what works best for you.
So far, it’s been about you, your goal and your imagery practice. Once you are connected with your own sense of purpose, meaning, and action, you are ready to discover how imagery can be used in your community. Part III goes beyond the individual as we focus on detailing how imagery can be used in groups and teams. We have adapted FIT from a model strictly for individuals to an application we use with teams: AIM. When teams consistently achieve goals, they can then work together on more complex goals—going from solving organization-wide problems, like staffing issues, all the way up to addressing global issues, like climate change.
Why This Book?
While there is a sea of self-help books that promise personal change, few work from the inside out starting with values. Even fewer are based on peer-reviewed, academic science that documents how your imagination can amplify motivation and support sustained behavior change. The Choice Point merges science with personal change and provides you with a unique set of practical tools tailored to your struggles and goals—anything from personal fitness objectives to rebuilding a sense of belonging and purpose.
For decades, athletes have used imagery in rehearsing performance and maintaining focus despite the environmental pressures they are faced with during competition. You will be able to briefly step into the imagination of tennis champions, Olympic swimmers, high divers, rugby and soccer players, ultramarathon runners, world record holders, CEOs, global industry leaders, and elite military troops to understand how the same imagery practices can be used to shape your life. We share a wide variety of stories to demonstrate the power of harnessing imagery to support people and teams as they get “in the zone” and stay there until they have succeeded in accomplishing their goals. Are you ready to adapt? Ready to achieve? Ready to persist? Ready to test the science and amplify your motivation? Are you ready to amplify you? Then let’s crack on!
PUSHING PAST MENTAL WALLS
FROM MENTAL MUTINY TO MOTIVATIONAL IMAGERY
Let there be an opening into the quiet that lies beneath the chaos, where you will find the peace you did not think possible and see what shimmers within the storm.
— John O’Donohue, Irish poet
Imagine your alarm sounds on an early January morning. You wake and look outside. It’s cold and raining. Even though you’ve been diligent to your internal commitment and have every intention to get healthy, you decide not to go out for a run. You think, Tomorrow will be drier. You go back to your cozy bed and snooze for an extra thirty minutes. Finally you get up, and you feel guilty, which depletes your drive and derails your hopes for a healthier start to the year. Feeling slightly ashamed, you decide to have a big breakfast to cheer yourself up. You then realize that the same thing happened yesterday and the day before that. You think, Maybe I’ll try again in February. This is the Choice Point: To run or not to run? That is the question.
Truth is, we ask ourselves “to-do” or “not-to-do” questions every day, then make key decisions that influence our behavior moving forward. Choice Points usually happen when we face a challenge. They pop up during (or right before not doing) an infinite variety of activities: office work, writing a thesis, preparing for an exam, running up a hill, swimming the last mile, or working through a challenging dynamic in a relationship. For each of us, a Choice Point decision has the power to define who we are: a runner/nonrunner, an academic/nonacademic, healthy/not healthy.
By the time you get to a Choice Point, usually you have already invested a great deal of energy, emotion, and attention and made many personal sacrifices that have you in a state of feeling depleted or a loss of motivation. When you feel drained, negative thoughts rush forward in open rebellion, and the challenges can seem insurmountable. This is the moment you need to make a critical decision that will reveal aspects of your character—your mental toughness and grit. We experience about six thousand to sixty thousand thoughts per day.1 To understand that you are free to choose which of these thoughts you act on can change your life and has the potential to shape your destiny. Yet our decisions often default to the question of willpower because, at that critical Choice Point, we forget to ask ourselves why we want to do the action and what it means for our future.
The Choice Point is a moment that offers two options: mental mutiny or cognitive control. While mental mutiny threatens to lead us to disappointment in our actions, cognitive control is the antithesis, rooted in a commitment to our long-term goals, values, and meaning.
- "The Choice Point can help everyone overcome their limiting beliefs and climb their personal Everest—I highly recommend it to anyone seeking to strengthen their most important muscle: their mind."—Colin O'Brady, 10-time world record holding endurance athlete and New York Times bestselling author
- "The Choice Point is a must-read for anyone striving to improve their health, family life, or work. This how-to guide reveals how to use our mind to commit to and accomplish our goals and live our values. It's long-lasting, sustainable willpower in a book."—Commander Susan Kilrain, Navy Test pilot, NASA Astronaut, and Mom
- "Whatever your age and stage, whatever your discipline, The Choice Point will help you reimagine your goals and realign what matters to you and your team. I wish I'd had this book earlier in my career." —Vice Admiral Sir Richard Ibbotson, Royal Navy
- "If you have been riddled by self-doubt, insecurity, and negative thinking about your place in this world, The Choice Point will teach you how to get out of your own way. Read this and learn how to grab that brass ring and make the world your oyster!"—Fran Drescher, SAG-AFTRA President, actress, comedian, writer, and activist
- “An excellent introduction to the power of mental imagery. The Choice Point shows how you can use techniques from functional imagery training to get more of what you want from life. If you think imagery is not for you, think again—these exercises are inspiring.”—Jackie Andrade, Professor of Psychology, University of Plymouth
- "Cognitive therapist Grover and psychologist Rhodes...draw on solid scientific research and make a strong case that 'imagery evokes emotion, and emotion shapes behavior more than talking about changing behavior.' Readers looking to get off the couch and make some changes will benefit."—Publisher's Weekly
- On Sale
- Jun 20, 2023
- Page Count
- 272 pages
- Hachette Go