It’s that time of the year where dynamic goal setting and profound proclamations are encouraged. New Years Resolutions will dominate conversation and even break into action starting the magical date of January 1st. Sadly, New Years Resolutions succeed only 8% of the time. It turns out that making a statement and having a plan is simply not enough to make an absolute change. The problem with a resolution is that they commonly lack intrinsic(internal) motivation. Resolutions come from extrinsic(external) motivation such as rewards, guilt, coercion, fame, money, recognition. To evoke true CHANGE a person must be intrinsically motivated by the challenge, mastery, or enjoyment of the goal or achievement. Any individual, team, or business must have the right mindset in order to have what it takes to make real change and sustained success.
In our arena we work closely with athletes and adults on achieving performance along with esthetic goals. At APEC we take mindset very seriously, but I would argue that mindset transcends athletics/physical fitness and will be a determining factor on any individuals’ quality of life. The purpose of this blog is to give you 7 ways to improve you, your team(work or athletic), your company, or your families mindset.
It’s unrealistic for all of us to become sports psychologist or to meet for hours with each member of our team individually. Another challenge of sports psychology(and other practices) is that it is reactive to failure or a condition. Most people do not visit a psychologist when life is great or they are batting .350 in the MLB, its after the bottom falls out. Failure is certain in almost all things in life but what separates us is our response to the failure. I am suggesting that we become proactive with mindset strategies. If we build a strong shield of resistance for our athletes, failure is less likely to become a place we visit or stay for any amount of time.
BASICS ON THE BRAIN
The Brain is an information processor; nothing more, nothing less. The brain itself can be divided into many lobes, cortex, but for our purpose we will focus on a few key areas and their perceived influences.
Frontal Lobe: Planning, inhibition, control.
Hippocampus: Memory Processing.
Amygdala: Emotional behavior, motivation.
The brain and the body are interdependent because the body depends on the brain for management and the brain depends on the body for all sensory information. Light, Sound, and touch stop at the retina, eardrums, and skin which means that we literally create the world internally from scratch, inside our head. How accurate is our representation of reality? That will largely be affected by our Mindset.
We are the only animals that can visualize a distant future. This could be a great tool or bring enormous stress. We can wrestle control and create behaviors that change future outcomes and even overcome our genetic predisposition.
Before these changes or upgrades can happen we must imagine a future that we want. We have to be honest about the emotions that drive us to want that future. Then, we have to alter current behaviors to get the outcomes we decide are an advantage to us. This is described as self-regulation. We must plan a strategy that binds events across time to your goals. Avoid distraction and change direction when things are not working. I know, easier said than done. This is a form of disciplined thought and NOT just a one time decision.
It is not a coincidence that the Amygdala(emotional behavior) and the Hippocampus(memory) are tightly linked in the cerebral cortex of the brain. In 500 milliseconds of an event happening the brain has already subconsciously linked past emotions to what you should do next. Your brain has a guiding principle to minimize harm and maximize reward. Your perceived limitations of yourself may not be reality but instead a deep emotion from the past that is holding you back. This emotion usually brings about anxiety. When an individual’s perceived capacity to meet expectations is exceeded, the sense is one of anxiety or loss of “Flow”.
To remove these emotional pretenses we need to assure ourselves of a different outcome. We have to remove doubts of past failure by practicing self-efficacy. Self-Efficacy refers to the changing of self-image in response to a new challenge. One must believe that their plans or actions can be executed and WILL result in the desired outcome. We have to remove the emotions about past failure and see ourselves having succeeded with the current plan. For instance, “If I would have trained like I am now, I know I would have broken the 100M record last year instead of coming up short.” The other major factor in high performance is GRIT. Grit refers to stick-to-it-ness and predicts success in top performers beyond that of academic IQ, genetic athletic ability or Emotional IQ. Grit entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus. In a story of the Iditirod Sled Dog Race a poor man wanting to break into an expensive sport went to all the breeders and ask for the cheapest dog that “worked hard”. Despite not being able to afford the strongest or fastest bred dogs, he eventually became champion because all of his dogs had grit, the ultimate predictor in all long term success. Grit is a decision and one that you and your team can make together with a sound plan of action. To support Self-Regulation, Self-Efficacy and Grit we are going to spell out 7 ways to upgrade your mindset. Look at it as a Mindset Enhancement Toolkit.
7 ways we can Enhance Mindset and achieve the future that suits needs/wants.
To affirm your own self determination write down three ranked reasons why this change is important and how it fulfills something in your life. Then write down three ranked reasons why this will make you feel efficient, effective, and a master of your sport/position/job , etc. Finally, write down how this will help you feel like you are connected to other high performers(All State, Hall of famers, etc) at the top of your game.
To affirm one of your athletes plan for a change put the OARS strategy to practice.
*OPEN ENDED QUESTIONS: Start by asking questions about their plans for high achieving to which a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ is not sufficient.
*AFFIRMATION: Respond with positive commentary on what they are saying or proposing
*REFLECTION: Confirm the emotion they are expressing to help engage with it
*SUMMARIZING: Gather positive aspects of what they are saying and summarize back to them- “So here is what I am hearing” – then move on to another open ended question that will help them affirm their plan for success.
The brain has difficulty in discriminating real from imaged memory IF the imaginary scene is highly detailed in all senses. If you are only as good as your last game, then you should imagine having your best game as much as possible. Our friends at Baylor Basketball showed us one of the things that I felt to have a huge affect on their program- each player on the team had personal highlights on a TV above their locker. Talk about seeing your best performance everyday, no doubt that has a huge impact on the performance of their team.
Visualizations provide detailed input that creates the confidence that changes self-image. See yourself breaking that record and go into great detail on how breaking the tackle felt and what you heard as you took the cut that broke the play open. Feel what it’s like to see everyone’s reaction, the smell, the way the grass felt, the noise from the crowd, feel the sweat on the back of your neck, look on teammates face, etc. When you visualize in this detail, emotions are evoked and you will reach new heights. To take this a step further- replay the poor performances or failures that haunt you, but this time see your self dominating in those instances. This exercise will erase the emotional baggage from the results that have been stuck in your subconscious and thereby are hindering your performance. Your brain will trust what you visualize and your limits and fears will be removed.
Another concept of visualization is improving FOCUS. Too often athletes are thinking about things that do not concern their workout or performance. These things can limit an athletes effectiveness and drain energy needed to maximize performance. Can you imagine Tom Brady worrying about how many yards Peyton Manning had throw for in a game they were playing against each other? No. Tom is intensely focused on the next drive and what he must do to get the offense it’s next first down. What about Clayton Kershaw worried about giving up 3 runs the inning before and what that will do to his ERA, all the while the best batter is at the plate? No. Kershaw is focused on getting that guy out. High performers block out distractions and focus on ONLY what matters in that moment. In the wild a zebra runs for it’s life while a lion chases him to no end, do you think the zebra is worried about homework, a mortgage, or someone that made him mad? No. Survival(performance) comes first, just as your focus should be when you are working or performing. No person or thing should keep you from a great performance everyday. Distractions bring anxiety and anxiety will dramatically lower any performance. Remove distraction with a narrow focus on what your job is in that moment. Thinking of the past or future is often too much. Use a narrow focus to rise to the challenge that is NOW.
FOCUS DRILL: Next time you are around a large group of people focus on locating a small detail with individuals in the crowd. For instance, count how many people are wearing red hats. Only focus on the red hats. If you find other things running through you mind or you can recall other items like a jersey or some jewelry, you are not focusing hard enough. Use your narrow focus to improve on blocking out distractions. Ask yourself- what else did I see? if the answer is nothing than you are showing extreme focus.
Parasympathetic tone is preferable to sympathetic dominance in order to remain calm and recover. Spending more time breathing OUT increases parasympathetic influence and calmness is enhanced. The following breathing practices (also known as Heart Rate Variability Training) can enhance recovery by reducing inflammation and control pain, along with favorably influencing working memory.
In moments of anxiety or bedtime try this: Breathe in 6 seconds, Hold for 4 seconds, breathe out for 10-12 seconds. Make sure you belly is moving and do not dominate your breathing through your chest. To maximize this method continue for up to 20 minutes.
If you need to wake up or snap out of it: Breathe in 4 seconds, hold for 0 seconds, and Explosively exhale. You only need a few reps for this to take affect.
Negative people are typically not high achievers. We have to deal with hard-wired negativity and focus on the effects of deliberate positive actions. One of the best ways to make a negative person turn positive is charitable work. Visit someone that is in the hospital or help an old lady load her groceries and see if you don’t drop the negative attitude. Nurses that are overweight, smoke and sedentary reduce health risk compared to others with the same condition because of the nature of their job. Helping others helps yourself from a psychological perspective. The ‘3 good things ritual’ opposes negative thoughts and builds a habit for positive thinking.
3 Good Things Ritual:
*At the end of the day write in journal or phone
*List 3 good things you experienced that day
*Detail your role in making these things happen
*How can you help more things like this happen?
*Review these each night and write 3 more
*Choose top 3 out of 21 at the end on each week
If anyone does this for 3 weeks their entire outlook will be improved and they will be in a better position to reach their goals. Overcome negative experiences or thoughts by training the brain to find simple reasons for being happy.
5. SELF TALK (DARN-C)
Self talk creates beliefs, beliefs create attitudes, attitudes create feelings, feelings determine actions, actions create RESULTS. High performer’s communication is a direct indicator of their capacity to change. Argumentative behavior is an indicator of unwillingness to change. Change talk is easy to recognize as well. You can actually talk yourself in to being great. Jimmy Johnson only wanted the most confident(even cocky) football players possible. His psychology background told him clearly that these athletes would push through failure and hit high performance because of self-belief. We must be careful what we are telling ourselves because WE ourselves are closely listening. Tell yourself how great you are on a consistent basis and you will be great. There are ways to make this a team exercise. One way to do it is to write up the DARN-Contract
*D- Determination to change is expressed: “I am going to do what it takes to make this happen”
*A- Ability to manage the process of change is expressed: “I know I am the skill to get there.. I know I have what it takes”
*R- Reasons to change is understood: “I should do this because my team will benefit, even if I don’t go D1″
*N- Needs are expressed that reflect emotions: “I am tired of being made fun of for being the ‘slow guy’, I need to make this change”
*Contract- is signed and the Commitment is made. Give a copy to a mentor and keep one visual daily
There is a Central Governor in the brain that switches off our ability to continue with high physical load based on per-determined limits AND nutrition available to FUEL the body. For Instance the body processes intensity and duration separately, thus it can predetermine if you are able to give one, the other, or both. Gut bacteria has been proven to be linked to behavior and performance. We cannot ignore the fact that nutrition does effect mindset on a physiological level. Food is best viewed as FUEL. Below are some shocking facts that link nutrition to mindset:
*Fish Consumption of nations is connected with murder and depression rates. In nations where fish consumption is high, the murder and depression rates are astoundingly lower.
*Alzheimer’s and dementia have been connected with spikes in blood sugar, high BMI, low education, and low Vitamin D3 deficiencies. Avoiding these conditions has been connected with consuming dark berries, coffee, cinnamon, fish oil, low BMI, high education, and an active lifestyle
*Omega 3 is an anti-inflammatory and Omega 6 is a pro-inflammatory. Inflammation is known to be harmful to brain and body. Processed food is high in Omega 6.
In review, it’s very difficult to separate mindset or willpower from nutrition. You cannot separate thirst from your search for something to drink.
7. TRAINING / RECOVERY
The effects of training are well documented. Pro Athletes that train every off-season age slower and show greater performances later in their career. Youth athletes can make huge jumps in performance in a matter of 8 weeks as they as quick responders. Also well documented are the effects of a sedentary lifestyle on athletes and adults alike. Those that reported sitting 23 hours a week had 82% greater risk of dying from Cardiovascular disease than those who reported less than 11 per week.
During training everyone can benefit from the following that push through the blood-brain barrier and work together to accelerate brain(cognitive capacity) and body function.
*Brain derived Neurotrophic Factor
*Insulin-like Growth Factor
*Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor
*Fibroblast Growth Factor
Only high intensity training can release this high performance blend of growth hormone which pushes the body and brain to a higher level of performance no matter what the goals are.
Optimizing recovery for mindset is just as important as training. Below are simple strategies for recovery:
*Self-Talk, socialize with people outside your little world, be mindful of others situations(to take mind off your own)
*Massage, foam rolling, mobilization
*Anti-inflammatory diet (high in fat, low in sugar)
*Focus Wide. Think about things absolutely impersonal to you. Get outside your own head
*Breathing. practice the breathing techniques explained for the parasympathetic system
*Sleep hygiene (go to bed clean from head to toe)
*Don’t snooze. Your mind will be in a funk trying to go backward all morning. When alarm goes off, get up and take on the day.
We can be proactive and build a strong mindset with ourselves and others by utilizing these 7 strategies. One of my favorite words right now is Ethos which means- characteristic spirit of a culture, shaping mindset. Make sure your ETHOS is conducive to your mindset and the mindset of your team. If it is not, change the environment to build resilience in the correct mindset. Your family, team, business has an Ethos whether you guide it or not. Make sure you are removing negativity and adding things that build the culture your team needs. Implementing the 7 strategies and concentrating on your ETHOS will give you and your team the tools to be high performers with the grit that is necessary to rise to the top.
Below is a list of doctors, scientist, and trainers that had direct input through conversations, research and other literature. This Blog would not have supported evidence based facts without the people listed below.