Facing up to reality

In sport, as in life, we are often required to either conceal our emotions or even fabricate feelings that dont exist. We do this for any number of reasons. Sometimes we fabricate positive emotions toward a team mate, who we really dont respect, to maintain team unity; and sometimes we conceal our disgust for an official, even though we think theyre an absolute idiot, so we dont get them off side. Although it is essentially duplicitous and deceitful, its all about making the best out of a bad situation.

The art of personal emotional manipulation becomes critical as players make their way into elite levels, particularly with the more contemplative sports like chess, tennis and cricket. Steve Waugh was a master of concealment. I recently watched a replay of him playing in 1998 where he dropped Viv Richards. It was a simple catch that he missed but his poker face remained as hard and motionless as granite. There was and is no place for displays of weakness in professional sport. Displays of false emotion or fabrication are more complex, but who amongst us hasnt smiled and said thanks for a present we didnt really want or like? Were trained from childhood to be polite; its part of being a fully functioning human. But some peoples emotional concealment is harder to pick than others.

Researcher Dr Paul Ekman has spent his life studying facial gestures and the emotions that these gestures reveal. Ekman itemised each muscle group in the face and which emotion engaged which muscle group, and whether those muscles were consciously or subconsciously controlled. During these studies the good doctor discovered what he refers to as micro emotions momentary expressions which sneak out despite the individuals efforts to conceal or fabricate their feelings. These facial gestures can last as little as one 25th of a second. Ekmans work is now being used by law-enforcement agencies around the globe.

Although people can learn to read these gestures by using Ekmans training videos, most of us instinctively know whats going on in other peoples minds, but we tend to deny our gut feelings. Great card players, highly intuitive sports people and investigative journalists dont deny their gut feelings and its a huge advantage.

Imagine if you knew whether your opponent was bluffing or whether an adversary had just had an argument with his coach or exactly when John Howard was lying about the Australian Wheat Board. Think of how it would empower you. Some people do it naturally, but for those who dont and would like to learn, check out Ekmans website

But wait! Before you rush to the computer, have a bit of think. Do you really want to know everything that people feel about you? Do you really want to know whether your partner enjoys your company? Do you really want to discover your employees think youre a dunderhead?

Me, I prefer to live in denial and ignore the strange facial spasms people seem to have when Im around. That way, I still get to be great in bed, an engaging and incredibly sensitive partner, and an absolutely phenomenal sportsman unsurpassed by anyone Ive ever met.

Ahhh yes, denial.

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