By DR. VICTOR S. SIERPINA

Some years ago, I was introduced to the Emotional Freedom Technique. At the time, it seemed a little strange to me so I put it aside. Lately though, my interest has been reawakened through a new approach to using it for sports psychology.

EFT is a simple method of helping us notice our disturbed feelings, problems with performance, anxieties, negative expectations, and so on. It is a tool for releasing and replacing them through a process of physical and mental exercises. Once they are cleared, we can be free to affirm a new, positive experience. Such a process can be used not only for improving performance in sports, but in any endeavor such as school, work, public speaking, before a business presentation, or anytime the stakes are high and your confidence is shaky. It is essential to be truthful with ourselves about the nature of our feelings, to breathe deeply during the process, and to carefully monitor our inner self-talk, avoiding negative, distorted, or unhelpful verbiage.

Now this is where the process may seem a bit bizarre when you first try it. It consists of tapping with your index and middle fingers sequentially at several acupuncture points on the face and upper trunk to activate the major acupuncture meridians. While doing this, one has an inner dialogue about the concern, for example, “I am upset that I just double-faulted on my tennis serve,” or “I feel frustrated about my golf swing on the long drives,” or “I feel very nervous thinking about giving a talk at an upcoming meeting.”

While tapping, you review your feelings and when you have gone through the tapping sequence once, twice, three times, as long as it takes to release and relax, you are halfway there. Next, you replace the negative feeling with a positive affirmation and what you actually want to see yourself doing well and successfully. For example you tell yourself, “I enjoy playing tennis (golf, baseball, etc.) and relax to play well. I serve (hit, pitch, etc.) effectively using my best skills, “ or “I am a confident, competent, articulate public speaker and enjoy sharing my ideas with my colleagues.”

This process shakes off the yips or any performance anxiety you might have and can even be used in the midst of a game or activity when you become upset about a poor shot or other performance problem. There are at least a couple of psychological forces at play here: first, the tapping process acts to distract your focus from the negative energy generated from whatever it is that is in your mind and upsetting you; second, you acknowledge and release that feeling and rather than letting it control your thinking and mood, replace it with what you want, not what you don’t want. For many more details on this, get a copy of coach Greg Warburton’s “Winning System: Tapping and Other Transformational Mental Training Tools for Athletes” by Outskirts Press.

Here’s a brief outline on how to do the actual tapping. See the attached diagrams for location of the points.

1. With your index and middle finger, tap over the point above the eyebrow a half dozen times or so. It should be a firm tap but not painful

2. Move to the point next to your eye, under your eye, on your upper lip, chin tapping each point in sequence

3. Continue tapping the points under your collar bones, under your arms, on the sternum, and on the ribs

4. While doing this, have an inner dialogue as described above acknowledging and releasing disturbing feelings and then replacing them by affirming what you want to see happen and how you want to feel

5. Repeat as needed. You don’t always need to do an entire sequence, and while in a game or other setting, tapping one or two points can bring you back to center. There are also points on the hand that can be used as an alternative.

6. If tapping is not your thing, simply holding pressure over the points while taking a slow deep breath can accomplish the same things

So when you feel tapped out, tired out, or totally off base before or during any life activity, consider tapping your inner energy.

You might find it releases a new and better you.

Dr. Victor S. Sierpina is the WD and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine and Professor of Family Medicine at UTMB.