by Tom Maguire
In his book Inside Tiger's Mind: The Keys to His Success, David Norman gives this quote from top golfer Tiger Woods:
"I had a sense of calm that I haven't had in a while. It was reminiscent of Augusta in '97. I felt very tranquil, very calm, even amongst the stormy conditions yesterday. I still felt very peaceful inside no matter what happened out there, I was able to keep my cool, composure and focus 100% on each shot".
Norman goes on to say that he had always suspected that Woods used not just physical skills to become a world-class player and stay there but also subtle mental skills. The skill he is describing in the quote is called uptime in Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP).
Judith DeLozier also uses uptime to study excellent practitioners in order to understand how they do things and so be able to help others attain the same level of excellence, a pursuit called 'modelling' in NLP. She says that to have the highest quality contact with the model she is studying she needs to get into uptime, a state in which she stops her own internal dialogue, uses peripheral vision and is attentive only to input coming from the model. (www.devco.demon.co.uk/DeLozier.html). This is what David Norman is actually doing in his book, possibly unconsciously. It is ironic to think that in order to understand Tiger Woods' uptime state, Norman probably adopted that same state of mind himself.
Uptime has an opposite state which all of us are familiar with: downtime. In this state you focus inwards and you are aware of your feelings, internal images and sounds. This is the state in which you daydream, plan, fantasize, create possibilities, play chess.
Uptime, on the other hand, is the state of mind you use to play tennis: eye on the ball, observing the opponent's moves, judging the racquet angle, focused not on the interior but on the outside. Both states are useful, of course, depending on your aims. The appropriate state for chess is downtime, but if you want to get safely to the other side of a busy street, it's better to be in uptime.
The term 'uptime' is borrowed from computer language to describe the moment when the computer is inputting data; 'downtime' refers to the phase during which the computer processes the data. When we turn on the computer there is a downtime phase while the machine self-checks, calls up the operating system and presents programmes for use. Then it is at our disposal in the uptime phase when we can write mails, use the word processor or surf the Internet.
This computer metaphor, however, gives only a general picture of what is really happening while people are using uptime. In Kevin Ryan's The Illustrated Guide to Snowboarding, the author reminds skiers to use their mind to anticipate their physical actions. When they anticipate their environment, their actions will be early. When they fail to anticipate, their actions will be late, and they will be forced to rely solely on reflexes. Ryan suggests that if you are having trouble with the task at hand, you should relax and commit. Relax first, because being tense and rigid will only make matters worse since it is tough to focus on what you are doing when you feel like this. Putting this advice into practice when perched on a snowboard hurtling down a slope gives an insight into just how complex the uptime state really is.
The context in which uptime is most useful is well illustrated by what is known as the 3-minute introduction to NLP:
- Firstly, know what you want, have a clear idea of your outcome in each situation,
- Secondly, be alert and keeping your senses open to know what you are getting,
- Thirdly, be flexible and change your behaviour until you get what you want.
GOAL > SENSIBILITY > FLEXIBILTY
In the first part of this sequence you will be in Downtime, internally debating and weighing up the pros and cons of your objective. The second part of the introduction describes Uptime, that is, keeping your wits sharply focused on the external signals of how you are achieving your goal.
For instance, Bandler and Grinder, the creators of Neuro-Linguistic Programming use the uptime state as a tool to enhance the effectiveness of their conference presentations. In the book Frogs into Princes they explain how they are presenting their talk while they are doing the presentation. This consists in focusing sharply on achieving a desired outcome, usually related to changing their clients' behaviour, then going into an uptime state, keeping their senses open to know whether they are achieving their goal and also continually adapting their behaviour until they reach their outcome. Uptime, then, centres on paying full sense attention to what is happening here and now in pursuit of a pre-determined goal.
Uptime in Teaching
Just as these authors apply this procedure to conference presentations, we can exploit it for teaching. Following the above NLP sequence your first step to using uptime in class is to set positive goals which will guide your performance. These may be as wide or narrow as you wish. Setting the goal of enhancing pupils' self-confidence is a wide goal, teaching them the conditional is a narrow objective. Both are appropriate and equally positive. You will find, however, that underlying your smaller, more immediate, outcomes there is usually a wider objective, like encouraging learning to learn, bringing the best out in your pupils or teaching them social manners and good citizenship. It is best at first to focus on wider issues over a period of time so as to help yourself keep upbeat and positive when tackling the smaller complications.
Once you are confident that you have established positive teaching goals, use the uptime state to achieve them and studiously ignore other distractions. For example if you decide that your aim is to have your pupils feel comfortable about making mistakes and learning from them then you will show them strategies to do this at every opportunity through rapid, specific, interventions. At the same time you will also deliberately suppress any downbeat comments, attitudes or gestures that may send out a contrary message. For instance, one pupil made the common error of using dictionary information wrongly when translating the Spanish word "sobretodo" which has two different meanings in English: "an overcoat" and "especially". The pupil chose to render the Spanish "Sobretodo recuerdo..." by "Overcoat I remember... ", instead of the correct "I especially remember...". In a quick intervention you point out that the correct answer lies in distinguishing the noun (an overcoat) from the adverb (especially). You will also point out to the class how this mistake can lead to new learning about dictionary consultation. In one of these lightning interventions you can also let it drop that the creative and dynamic computer companies of Silicon Valley use precisely this method of trial and error to build new and better computer systems. Encourage your pupils to tap into that success by using the same approach to learning.
As you concentrate on pursuing your goal you will begin to notice how you are progressing because pupils will give you feedback by openly acknowledging your outcome or actually playing out your expectations. Encourage them to take the lead in attaining your outcome. Discourage anything to the contrary.
Working towards a positive goal for your class will automatically entail giving positive feedback to pupils, leading them forward and giving them a sense of progress and meaningful learning. This upbeat rhythm is another advantage of using uptime to teach. You will find yourself turning what could be dry classes into meaningful experiences because you are aiming much higher than English language teaching, your final outcome being to educate your pupils, that is, to draw out the best in them. You will find that pupils will respond to the attentive listening skills you employ while in the uptime mode since they will interpret it, rightly, as a personal interest in them as human beings. This response on their part will help create a virtuous circle of positive reinforcement for your learning outcome and also act as a bond of trust when learning or behavioural problems arise.
Uptime is of great practical use in those moments when the going gets tough and emotions cloud the learning atmosphere. Classes of adolescents are often plagued with management problems due to the fact that the pupils are going through bewildering psychological and physiological changes, which they don't have enough experience to cope with. This leads to abrupt emotional flashes, for example anti-authority outbursts against you, the teacher. The uptime state, together with a clear outcome, can help you manage these explosive situations.
An example of one helpful objective in class management is that of enabling pupils to learn more about their emotional states, about their choice of responses, about themselves. This proved useful in the following exchange with a 15-year-old: she abruptly interrupted the class, shouting out brashly that the homework practice set was too long. I immediately replied that I was glad to hear her opinion on the matter but I didn't like the way she had expressed it. I meant every word of it. She fell into a reflective silence and we avoided an emotional confrontation. Later on I brought up the question of the length of homework and we discussed it in class.
In another case a boy who repeatedly disrupted the class took up his usual slouched position, curled his lip and called out from the side of his mouth, "I think that reading in English is useless." The response he received was, "That's one opinion. Anyone else want to express their ideas on this?" I also meant every word of it. There was a lull in the class and nobody actually volunteered an opinion. From then on the boy still disrupted the class from time to time but with more rational interventions to ensure he was listened to.
In these cases the uptime state, centred on concrete sensory information and a clear outcome, helped me give the pupils immediate feedback based on the reality of the situation: the girl's inappropriate tone of voice or the boy's ex cathedra opinion. It also reminded the class of the behaviour considered acceptable and gave them an insight into the positive goals which lay behind the interventions. Rational criticism is valued and welcome; venting emotions is discouraged. No one was put down or personally attacked. Instead they were provided with useful information on how to conduct themselves.
The teacher's uptime state in these cases is one of interest and education; honesty, rather than feeling hurt or wanting to be right. When you combine uptime with a positive outcome there is a higher probability of turning the situation into an opportunity for learning rather than a confrontation. Uptime enables you to reach a state from which you can see the management crisis in a wider perspective, and so gather more options to solve it. For instance, in the above examples, the girl's shrill tone and the boy's laid back body language invited negative interpretations of their attitudes. It would have been easy to take both their interventions as a mark of disrespect of the teacher and a personal attack on his authority. Uptime enables you to ignore the tone and body gestures as peripheral sounds and movements, and so concentrate on the impact the pupils' interventions are having on your goal: getting them to express themselves rationally instead of through emotion.
The uptime state also allows you enough distance to respond in a sensitive manner, in keeping with reasonable outcomes. It enables you to reach what some call a state of "uninsultability". Hall defines it as living at a level above and beyond the peevish state of taking offence easily and personalising disrespect (Users Manual For the Brain, Vol. II). Living in, and from this uninsultable state empowers you to look 'criticism' right in the face and handle it with grace. It gives you the ability to stay positively effective in the midst of interpersonal conflict and stress. It allows you to handle pupils in a bad mood and confrontation with graceful resourcefulness.
It is possible to achieve the uptime state easily whenever you feel it might be useful to you. You do this by creating an uptime anchor following these steps based on Dilts' description in his NLP encyclopaedia (www.NLPuniversitypress.com):
- Find a place in your life where you have particularly enjoyed an enhanced sensory experience.
- Start by seeing the forms, shapes, colours, brightness, and movement around you, using both panoramic and detailed viewing. Set a specific kinesthetic anchor (i.e., press your index finger and thumb together or make a fist or hold your wrist, etc...) and count five.
- Hearing it all: listen for the differences in sounds around you and notice where each of the sounds are located. Listen to intonation patterns and tempo of any voices near you and to the sounds around you. When your auditory channels are fully tuned to awareness. Set your anchor again.
- Engage all your feelings: feel the textures and shapes of objects around you. Also, notice any of your body sensations -- pay attention to both internal and external sensations in yourself and your environment. Take careful note of the temperature, pressure and humidity of the air against your skin, and the feeling of the clothing touching you. Set your anchor.
- Smell: smells go straight to the brain without any filtering. Notice the smells in the air and environment. What smells are there? Which is strongest? Are there other, more subtle smells? Take note of tastes, also. When your smell awareness and tastes are most enhanced. Set your anchor.
- Now focus on each sense system and begin to tune into all your senses simultaneously so that your attention is completely engaged with your external environment. Set your anchor as you do this and continue to repeat this until you are completely satisfied. When you only need to fire the anchor and your attention automatically goes to your external experience you have a good "uptime anchor". Test your anchor several times today.
Learning to go into uptime at will and so differentiate your representations of reality from your observations, is a basic presentation and management skill for teachers. It provides the basis for a reality check; it enables you to communicate your experiences more effectively to your pupils and helps them replicate what you do. Just as top golf pros like Tiger Woods aim for the very best performances in sport, uptime will empower you to improve your professional performances in education.
— Tom Maguire
Tom Maguire has a BA (English), Maîtrise-ès-Lettres (French) and Philology degree (Spain). He has 29 years experience in TEFL in France and Spain. At present he teaches English in a high school near Barcelona and is participating in a pioneering website to give academic support to students, teachers and parents (www.edu365.cat). He is interested in using Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) to enhance Learning to Learn strategies. He is a Master Practitioner in NLP and manages e-groups for those interested in NLP in Education and S.E.A.L.