Some time ago I wrote a post called Five Frogs Sitting on a Log. You might want to re-read it now. I wrote about the difference between deciding to do something and actually doing something and that they are different. I trust that it made sense to you. The next step is the Two Cs: Commitment and Conviction. I want to start by telling you about an athlete.
About a year and a half ago I got a call from the mother of a gymnast. Her daughter was a junior in high school. She had been a gymnast since she was like 5. She wanted to be on a gymnastics team in college (@ an Ivy League School no less). She had been to Nationals the last several years, but now she was unable to do her release on the uneven bars. That’s a reverse double somersault She needed to do well at State to make Regional’s, and then Regional’s to go on to National’s. Failure at any stage would impact her competing in college at the level and school she wanted. There were college coaches who wanted to see her at Nationals. She was on their radar. Could I help her daughter? Oh and by the way State Championships are tomorrow!
So I went to the gym and watched her be stuck. We talked, she got unstuck. Then we worked on keeping her at a level where she could perform. End of story is the young woman is at an Ivy League College and she is on the Gymnastics Team.
She was just missing a small thing that was keeping her from success. It wasn’t magic. She was under pressure to perform. She had seen a bad injury. Her thoughts were on that and not on her commitment to doing the routine. She was not focused on the NOW, but in the past and future.
With regards to her routine she was focused on the result. She was committed to landing her dismount. This is what I noticed. She was not committed to her routine. It was slow and out of rhythm. It threw her timing off to the point that she could not let go of the bar and do her release. So we talked about being committed from the start.
Being committed from the start does two things (something soccer players should note). 1) It gets you going from the beginning of the event. How many soccer players start of slow? Are you one of them? Make a commitment to bring it from the get go and you will start faster. 2) Commitment is the resolve to be who you want to be and do what you want to do. Commitments are hard. All you need do is look around you to figure that out. So when you make a real commitment, things that were once a problem don’t seem to stand in the way any longer.
The next part is conviction. Don’t get this confused with arrogance. Believing you are right has to be measured. And level doesn’t seem to matter. If you do something well, have the conviction to believe you can do it. In her case she had been doing double back flip releases for years. She just let other images get in her way. It came down to her belief. When she had conviction, her release was easy.
In soccer and other sports I see the same thing all the time. Great players, even if they do things a bit different from everyone else have the conviction that they can be successful playing a certain way. In a team sport of course this better fit the team and coaches style, but you can make it work.
If you have the two Cs you are a lot closer to success than you realize. If you don’t, well it’s just a matter of adding the third C: Convincing yourself that the other two will get you there. Give these two Cs some thought the next time you head to practice or your game.
Is there something in your life that has you stuck?
Stillpower and other tools in Sports
What’s the line from the movie Network, “I’m mad as hell and not going to take it anymore”? This post is all about Catharsis, Stillpower, Mindfulness and Hypnosis and other tools in Sports. Well maybe it is more about professional approaches to helping athletes perform their best.
I read a blog post by an author named Garret Kramer called Stillpower. I bought Kramer’s book several months ago as it was recommended by Amazon when you buy my book, “The Athlete within You“. In and of itself the book is useful. It is about his technique of Stillpower. It can be known in other terms as mindfulness or even Gap Training. I appreciate his presentation and the writing is FINE. (yes I meant to do that)
Here is what has me mad as hell. I love tools, tools to help athletes and business people with their skills so they can achieve their dreams and goals. I call them tools where others might say techniques or even philosophies, but I’m going to stick with the metaphor as tools because a wise person once told me there is a right tool for every need.
Both in his book and in his blog right away he starts in on how sport psychology is all wrong. His blog titled “Do You Use Mental Techniques? Here’s Why They’re Not Working” goes along with the side note in his book. That basically those of us who do and teach mental training are ineffective and it is all about Stillpower. I’m not going to disagree that “Stillpower” as he calls it or Mindfulness is not to some extent a critical component to great performance, because it is. Stillpower and Mindfulness are important tools in our arsenal. But believing an athlete can get to A to Z with a single technique is not mindful; it is in my opinion mindless.
To go with this last week I read a post by a sports hypnotist and NLP Practitioner who said visualization was next to useless. He showed a video with Tiger Woods. Woods says he does not use visualization. I’d be really interested to interview Tiger on that. My bet is it is a semantics difference. The Hip, hypnotist used it to his own end from an NLP perspective to play a different kind of semantics game. As I have completed research at the United States Olympic Training Center on the use of imagery or visualization I think I will go with findings rather than semantics.
So I feel like I need to respond in some way. Am I defending Sport Psychology? I guess so. I can be both privately and publicly a critic of some of the Sport Psych Family for some of their narrow (some as narrow as the above) views or practices. So I am not a simple defender of the faith, if you will.
Sport Psychology offers something called scientific study. We have a decent history (not great) of looking at things that work and don’t work. I’m at times critical of how or why we look at something’s, but at least we do research. I’d prefer researchers would take a closer look at what those of us in applied sport psychology do and study that more closely or look at areas we think are important, but that basically can be said for all areas of psychology.
Now don’t get me wrong, I use Stillpower or gap training or mindfulness whatever one wants to call it today. I use hypnosis and NLP too. But they are tools, just like Cognitive Behavioral Techniques (CBT) and other psychological tools. So while censuring sport psychology and mental training may be good for selling books, perhaps it might be better to some things that are actually studied fail to be effective, because well, they don’t work for everyone……
What tools do you use?
If we think about mental training as a tree with many branches you can understand that different people may need help from different areas of the tree. One might be mindfulness as meditation has 1000’s of years of history helping people. It might be hypnosis or NLP, or CBT or Gestalt. Human beings are complex creatures. With my apologies to behaviorist, athletes are not dogs salivating at the sound of a bell (or whistle for athletes, though some actually do). Different mental skills require different solutions. Different athletes (people) require different solutions. Cookie cutter training is ineffective. Do I have a program? Absolutely! Does it change dependent on athlete needs? You better believe it does!
I’m very sure Kramer sells more books than I do. I know the sports hypnotist sells more programs on his website than I do. I also know that I make simple statements like I can help you get better at what you do. No miracles. Mental training, based in science; which has been shown to be an effective way of increasing performance. Thirty-five years’ experience helping people reach their goals and dreams. There is a huge tool box out there with tools (techniques like Stillpower) that can help you perform better. Why not find out which ones are right for you?
OK, I’m still mad as hell, but that was cathartic and I feel better. And I still have my mind.
ANTs will inherit the Earth (if you let them)
ANTs being Automatic Negative Thoughts and how they can ruin your game
So the ANTs will inherit the Earth (if you let them). OK so for a change I’m failing to be witty in my title. No wait, I’m never witty. I’m never humorous. I am the least funny sport psychology consultant aka Certified Mental Trainer® on Earth. Why would I ever attempt humor to get a point across? Even my kids think I lack a complete sense of humor. I might just be the most serious unfunny person on the planet, maybe the Universe.
Perhaps this would be a good place to take a breath. A few deep breaths as a matter of fact from below the diaphragm before I am so self-conscious I throw this post in the recycle bin and click the Empty Recycle Bin button. If I do that, I give up an opportunity perhaps to reach someone who overwhelmed by ANT’s, will miss out on tremendous opportunities. OK I’ll take a chance and keep the title, after all some people do laugh at some of my stories when I am speaking. I’ve had more clients laugh than cry in my office (though there is a certain sport that is more tearful I have found). Even on occasion one or more of my sons have had milk come out their nose because of something I said was funny. Maybe this means I may not claim Mr. Unfunny Person in the Universe Award.
This is an example (totally made up of course) of a CBT- cognitive behavioral technique designed to help someone deal with an ANT. An ANT is an Automatic Negative Thought. We have them all of the time. The most ridiculous things pop into our heads and most of the time we accept them as truths, because there is no one to dispute them. They come from somewhere in our unconscious perhaps. Triggered by some association or another and we buy in. We believe in the thought. After all it’s our own thought. How can it be wrong? Even if it makes us sad, mad, nervous or leaving us with a feeling that things are out of control. Hell, most of the time we don’t even recognize we really had that thought (this is the subject of a different post, but a real good reason to Journal). According to some of the research I’ve read we have more than 60,000 thoughts per day. We really can’t pay all that much attention to every one now can we? Yet we react to them just the same. We form a map if you will of what we can and cannot do. If you are an athlete why would you want an ANT telling you what you can or cannot carry out. Back in my youth I would never learned to dunk a basketball if I bought into ANTs, as back then I didn’t know a lot of six-foot seventeen year old’s from my neighborhood that could. We tell ourselves all sorts of things that we need to fix.
Write down your ANT (Automatic Negative Thought). This is harder than you think because first you need to recognize your feelings. So, if you are sad, mad, nervous or feel like things are out of control, stop a moment and identify what you are thinking. I’d like you to write or type out what you are thinking and feeling. This in itself is very effective as you are clarifying your thoughts and emotions. A good deal of the time you are projecting outcomes based on these thoughts. Some call this Fortune Telling. If I do this, then this will happen to me in the near future. If I write a funny tittle to my post and no one finds it funny, they will not call me for an appointment. If I play the golf course aggressively I will bogey the par 5 and loose the tournament. Or then there is Mind Reading. If I tell a funny story someone in the audience will think I’m stupid for trying to be funny and again not hire me. In this case I am projecting what someone might be thinking.
A golf example of this is where one of my golfers three putted on a green from 12 feet because two college coaches were watching. She thought, if I miss this putt they will think I am terrible and not be interested in me. That was just last week. Yesterday she shot a 70 in her first round, 2 under par. This was her first sub-par round ever. Even with coaches watching. Get rid of ANTs and positive things may happen.
One of the things that happens to us when we are either fortune-telling or mind reading is that we are not in the NOW. We are in the future and we cannot play effectively out of the present. The other thing is that our game or what we want to do is affected by those negative thoughts and emotions to the point where some people just give up.
The next step is to dispute those thoughts. Think of yourself as a teenager (many of you might still be). If you are like me on rare occasions (OK not so rare) I talked back to them when they said something I didn’t like. My boys of course never talk back to me. (Another attempt at humor) Use that same tone of voice, if you will and dispute what the ANT is telling you. Break it down and show yourself the lie, the un-truths. You have a 12 foot putt for birdie. The coaches just saw me hit a great shot. I can roll this putt in. When we conquer the ANTs, we allow ourselves to not only be present, but we can perform at much higher levels in sport and everything else with positive focus. This plays a major role in our confidence levels, focus and how we deal with stress.
I guess I will keep the tittle as is. Because I know I have produced magic from time to time and milk has mysteriously shot out of all of my sons’ noses one time or another. So perhaps while I may not be Robin Williams, Eddie Murphy or even Lenny Bruce I can produce a smile once in a while. If that is the case, then my original statement to myself cannot be true and if it is not all true and can’t be real.
Here are the steps:
1- Take a deep breath
2- Write down your thoughts
3- Dispute them like you are a teenager
4- Get on with your game because you are free to be you
I guess I can keep the tittle, go for a small smile or laugh. I might even get that ANT off my own back and go out and play a good round of golf. Hold on. Let’s not get delusional here. If you would like to join me on the golf course or in my office please drop in at The Mental Game.
Mental Training is not a luxury, it is a necessity!
When I wrote my last post on mental training being The Final Frontier my intention was to close with this statement. “Mental Training is not a luxury, it is a necessity!” Somehow it got lost in my enthusiasm. Or maybe it was in looking for a suitable picture from Star Trek. Either way I left it out.
I was honored this past week by being selected to be Expert in Residence at the Overlake School in Redmond WA. The mission of The Overlake School is to Inspire excellence, Develop intellectual curiosity, Teach responsibility, Embrace diversity and Foster a compassionate community. We live our mission every day and it informs every decision we make. It was a great experience for me to make presentations to the entire school and do training sessions for 22 classes. I got to meet the majority of the students. Overlake has over 80% participation in sports and is nationally known for it’s excellence in education.
My message was pretty clear to all of the students. “Mental Training is not a luxury, it is a necessity!”. These students have tremendous advantages. They have supportive teachers, coaches and families. I took a poll in most of the classes I met with. What do you do to train mentally? How much time do you spend. The best answer I got was from a fencer. We work on strategy. He at least saw or felt like he was doing something positive. A few students took yoga and a few others said they practiced breathing to relax (incorrectly of course). But out of the 500 plus students I met with this week no one did any real mental training. No one said they had even read a book or an article on mental training. I did training sessions on mental toughness, motivation, resiliency, relaxation, imagery & visualization, concentration, stress & anxiety management, confidence and how their thoughts affect their emotions.
We either have to decide that sport is not 70-80% mental or that mental training is important to all athletes. The more I work with athletes and see how much greater their success is when they incorporate mental training into their regular regimen, the more I am convinced that “Mental Training is not a luxury, it is a necessity!”.
I just updated The Mental Game website with a dozen stories about athletes I’ve worked with and what they focused on. You can see them here. I’ve been reticent about posting stories but was convinced by one of my former clients. These are a few examples I’ve picked that were instructive from the past 3 decades. One of the things that struck me as I was preparing this list were two of my current clients. Both very good athletes. Both were just recruited to the colleges they wanted to play for. Both stopped working on their mental game soon after receiving their acceptance letters. Both recently started up again because of slips in their performance.
When they called me to give them to get them a jump started again, as it were, they both acknowledged that they remembered that I had told them they needed to continue mental training as part of their routine. They didn’t stop conditioning, they each get private coaching in their sport in addition to team training, but that it regimented for them. I had set them up with a program, but it was one that they had to maintain. Lifting weights are visible reminders of what you need to do. A spread sheet reminding you to do some mental training I guess is not as sexy. In my next post I’ll talk about what I’m doing with a company to provide a phone app as a reminder to do mental training.
The thing I want you to see is that even with the success that these two athletes achieved (acceptance into an Ivy League School and a full ride to a university in the ACC), the need to think of mental training as a necessity instead of a luxury is critical. Mental training is not something you just read a book about and move on (unless it is The Athlete within You) Joking of course. It is something you put into practice for the rest of your athletic career.
If you understand this, believe it, then do something about it. You can read about sport psychology. There are lots of books out there besides mine, maybe not as good, but tons of great information. Find a book you like and figure out a program for yourself. Find a certified mental trainer/ sport psychology consultant and talk with them. I SKYPE with athletes all over the country and a few out of country My SKYPE name is Mike.Margolies. I do a 20 minute consultation for free to see if our working together works for both you and me. Then implement a program just as you implemented a strength and conditioning program. Follow your program and you will understand how it will help you find the real athlete within you.
Learn from a Jackass (donkey that is)
Learn from a Jackass is an old motivational, (scratch that) inspirational story. It has been repeated many times. I use it occasionally to make a few points about Mental Training. I’ve no idea where I first heard it; though I know it was years ago. I realized today that it is one of those stories I’ve not used here. So indulge me and learn a lesson from a Jackass.
One day a farmer’s donkey (officially recognized as a Jackass by Webster’s) fell down into a well. The animal brayed (Heehawed) for hours as the farmer tried to figure out what to do. Finally, he decided the animal was old, and the well needed to be covered up anyway; it just wasn’t worth it to rescue the jackass.
He invited all his neighbors to come over and help him. They all grabbed a shovel and began to shovel dirt into the well. At first, the donkey realized what was happening and cried horribly.
Then, to everyone’s amazement he quieted down. (more…)
The Water Tower Motivation Analogy
If we look at a metaphorical generalized model of what motivation might look like it might be a large water tank. I am not in any way removing my supposition that we need to think about motivation as a triangle. This is just another way of generalizing about motivation to help athletes understand more about the simplicity of motivation overall and some of the complexities.
So if we use a picture of a large water tank I think it will help with the explanation. There is no top to the tank and so for many of us motivation, drive, enthusiasm, or the Fury just over flow the tank. The tank is filled mostly and best by a hose that is inside the tank. Sometimes it is filled by other people. Oddly they make us offerings of speeches, carrots and sometimes they use fear which can be a motivator as well. All of these hoses are smaller and are far less effective at filling the tank.
Sometimes our tank develops hoses in it. Normally when we are fully focused out internal hose keeps up with the out flow. Sometimes it is difficult to keep our internal hose on all the time and the leaks sap us of some of our essence. Holes develop for lots of reasons like a lack of confidence, stress, poor team cohesion, outside distractions, etc.
If the hoses cannot keep up with the leak, we see less of the motivation we usually have and performance generally diminishes. We can patch holes of course. Generally what happens when things are leaking is that we lose ourselves and take our hand off our internal hose regulator. If we can’t keep up for the inside it is very difficult for all of the outside hoses to keep up. It becomes a situation as in Hans Christian Anderson’s story of the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dike. Eventually you can’t keep up with the leaks and having stopped filling from the inside you end up being no longer motivated, even though it is something you wanted very much to do.
Eventually many people at that point just stop trying to keep the valve open and have to shift. Shifting is one way of closing those holes. The problem is after the shift things are never really the same until the person finds something that re-ignites their passion.
I hope that this makes some sense to you. To simplify it I can have you think of it this way:
- Internal Motivation = Big Hose (but you do have to keep a hand on the valve)
- External Motivation = Smaller hoses controlled by other people. It takes a lot of these hoses to top of the tank.
- Leaks = Stress, anxiety, loss of confidence, fear and many others. You can keep the leaks small or patched by using mental skills like relaxation, imagery and other cognitive behavioral techniques.
I think a huge secret in all of this is understanding your Big Why. If you understand your own triangle you will have a far easier time keeping your hand on the valve or perhaps even think of it as pedal to the metal which ever works best for you. Finding and knowing your why will always help you keep the water near the top. It will allow you to rely far less on all those small hoses. It gives you ultimate control because the big hose you control so when you need to back off, even when your coach is overly enthusiastic, it is in your hands. Same goes for when you develop leaks. Adding a little extra water in will allow you to use your mental game skill sets to seal up the holes, ultimately with a patch that neither requires attention or the little Dutch boy’s finger.