The Secrets of Two Boxing Champions: Hypnosis and Positive Thinking
Hypnosis has been used for better performance for decades — in fields as diverse as sport and business. However, there may be nothing quite as intense or frightening as boxing or other contact sports. Underperform as a boxer and you just lose; you’ll get hurt and, perhaps, seriously injured. For any professional boxer that’s a lot of mental and emotional pressure.
In 1989, when professional box Frank Bruno was training to fight Mike Tyson, “he was dreadfully homesick and extremely tense,” says the British newspaper The Sun. Bruno had left England and was training in Arozona. “Terry Lawless, his worried and desperate manager, knew he somehow had to get Bruno to get rid of his tension,” says the newspaper. So Lawless hired the celebrity psychiatrist Dr David Silverman to help him relax.
Silverman used a particular technique to get Bruno to relax and to rehearse the upcoming fight with Tyson. “Under hypnosis, Bruno had played out the opening to his fight with Tyson hundreds of times,” says another British newspaper The Mirror. Silverman even put Bruno into hypnosis before going into the ring.
Bruno ultimately lost to Tyson. But, from the beginning of his training with legendary coach Cus D’Amato, Tyson had also been through various forms of hypnosis and mental training, as well as studying the teachings of Zen Buddhism. Again, this was partly to help the young boxer relax during the stressful event of fighting. In his book Iron Ambition, Tyson quotes D’Amato telling another boxer,
You got to tell yourself to completely relax, to be able to see everything that’s going on. A man who is thinking and worrying about getting hit is not gonna have a good sense of anticipation… He will, in fact, get hit. And when you get hit, that’s when you gotta be the calmest.
Relaxing, for D’Amato, meant staying focused on the goal of defeating the opponent. Fear was a distraction — the preoccupation with not being defeated by the opponent.
For the legendary boxing coach, training the mind was as important as training the body. And he knew plenty of mental techniques to pass on to his boxing hopefuls. D’Amato taught Tyson “out-of-body experiences” and introduced him to the teachings and practice of Emile Coue, a French pharmacist who first observed the placebo effect and realized that the mental state of the individual was essential to his or her health, well-being, and success in life.
Coue’s practice was called “autosuggestion.” And as Tyson notes (quoting Coue himself) this “is nothing else but hypnotism.” He practiced Coue’s method, reciting his famous mantra “every day, in every way, I am getting better and better” twenty times every morning and night. “This formula,” says the boxing champion, “must be repeated in a low voice (with eyes closed, body in a position that permits of relaxing the muscular system — say in a bed or an easy chair) and in a monotonous tone…”
Tyson also notes that “these words… are registered by the unconscious.” The conscious goal (to get better in every way (or in some specific way)) is planted in the unconscious mind like a seed, enabling it to grow and become stronger, eventually blocking out normal but persistent petty doubts and fears, for example. (That’s the basic idea behind hypnosis.)
While it’s impossible to say to what degree hypnosis helped these two boxers become champions, it is beyond dispute that mindset is essential to performance. And it is also clear that relaxation, focus, and the ability to put aside normal fears is essential in the world of boxing, as it is in many other high-stakes fields. Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, professional athletes and sports stars train their minds as well as their bodies, hiring coaches and sometimes even hypnotists to help them to overcome fear, doubt, stress, and other challenges and to move towards their goal of winning.
Tyson was the undisputed world heavyweight champion from 1987 to 1990. Bruno became WBC World Heavyweight Champion in 1995.
Results may vary from person to person.