Trust is perhaps the most simple and straightforward aspect of Mental FITness, yet in many ways it is the most difficult and elusive to achieve. In the context of performance excellence necessitating complex, automatic motor skills, Moore and Stevenson (1991) defined trust as, “letting go of conscious controlling tendencies and allowing automatic processes, which have been developed through training, to execute the motor skill” (p. 282). While Moore and Stevenson provided us with a modern operationalization of trust, the concept has been around for quite some time. Suzuki (2010) translated and preserved a letter written by Takuan (no date is given for the letter, but Takuan lived from 1573-1645) that read in part, “when the ultimate perfection is attained, the body and limbs perform by themselves what is assigned to them to do with no interference from the mind. [The technical skill is so autonomized it is completely divorced from conscious efforts.]” (p. 100). Takuan was abbot of a Zen Buddhist temple and was writing about swordsmanship; therefore, his words poignantly capture the concept of trust given the truly life or death nature of the topic of his letter.
In order to develop trust, Moore and Stevenson (1994) demonstrated that three psychological skills were necessary: concentration, confidence, and composure. This is where the foundational component of focus sets the stage for trust as each of these skills are developed while learning focus. Interestingly, it is the mentality Moore and Stevenson (1994) identified as “necessary for skill development (e.g., self-monitoring, verbal cueing) [that] is counterproductive for skill execution” (p. 5). Fortunately, recent research has provided insight into ways to train that avoid the self-monitoring problematic for trust, as well as offering suggestions for how to avoid the tendency for an ironic rebound process to cause the thoughts we wish to avoid to in fact become more prevalent.
The learning of skills without explicit verbal awareness is called implicit learning, and can be applied to motor skills giving us implicit motor learning (Button, MacMahon, & Masters, 2011). Implicit motor learning typically involves providing performers with a distracting task while simultaneously teaching the motor skill. Evidence indicates that skills learned implicitly can better be performed under psychological (Masters, 1992) and physiological (Masters, Poolton, & Maxwell, 2008; Poolton, Masters, & Maxwell, 2007) stress/pressure as compared to explicit learning. This helps to understand the science behind Gallwey’s Self 1 and Self 2 and his techniques such as verbalizing “bounce” and “hit,” which we now know would serve to distract the judgmental mind (Self 1) and allow the motor program to run uninterrupted and unevaluated as in implicit motor learning.
Lastly on the topic of trust, there is now electrophysiological evidence (i.e., Giuliano & Wicha, 2010) to support the theory of ironic processes of mental control proposed by Wegner (1994). Briefly and simplistically, the theory of ironic processes stated that the more people try to suppress (control) a particular thought, the more likely that thought is to occur. This became known as ironic rebound, and is critical because commonly taught sport psychology techniques for self talk involve control processes such as stopping (i.e., suppressing) and changing thoughts. While there is evidence for the efficacy of these types of self talk interventions (see Cox, 2011), an alternative approach with strong support is to accept whatever thoughts come to mind and be willing to feel whatever sensations and emotions arise (Hayes, Strosahl, & Wilson, 2012). Taking advantage of the ironic effect, this approach actually results in less distracting thoughts and facilitates trust.