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Winds of Change are Blowing…

CB-APA_Random-WebMy grandfather used to say “if you’re not changing and growing, you’re dying,” long before Tony Robbins coined the phrase.  I’ve always taken that wisdom to heart and am now preparing for the next chapter of my professional life.  As I shared in an article in the April issue of the APA Monitor, my next chapter will focus on spending more time with my family and enjoying an active lifestyle of hiking, trail running and cycling (hopefully for many years to come).  I am now accepting new clients only by referral and beginning in 2016, will cease taking new individual clients.  My current clients don’t have to worry– I will maintain a caseload of select individuals and have no intention of abandoning anyone.   I have a number of internet projects to pursue that will hopefully provide tools for athletes, performers and performance consultants, and provide professional outlets for creativity and generativity. These projects include mental skills training videos, webinars for coaches and teams, and a special series of conversations with some of the top sport/performance consultants in the world.

Don’t get me wrong– I love my work and consider it a privilege to have been invited to share the lives of so many gifted performers over the years.  I’ve been blessed with an abundance of trusted colleagues whom I am honored to call “friend.”  I am a proponent of intentional living, however, and it is time for a new chapter.

Our ancestors learned years ago when travel was by swinging tree to tree that if you want to make any progress, you must be willing to let go of what you’ve been holding on to.

 

Flow in a Flash*

Flow in a FlashPerformance psychology tips to optimize your flash mob experience!

You’ve just learned of an opportunity to participate in a flash mob and are almost giddy with anticipation.  You also know that performing on demand in new situations can pose mental challenges as well as the technical challenges of performance.  Rather than simply “getting through” the performance, you yearn to have that exquisite sensation of “flow”– that exhilarating feeling of being totally absorbed in the moment, deep enjoyment of the experience, and effortless control (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990).

Performance psychology is “the study and application of psychological principles of human performance that help people consistently perform in the upper range of their abilities, and more thoroughly enjoy the performance process” (Portenga, et al, 2011). Here are some tried and tested tips from performance psychology that have helped performing artists, athletes, business executives, and even surgeons master the mental aspects of performance and achieve that etherial state of flow in a flash.

Key for Success in ANYTHING

Psychologist Robert Nideffer (1985) began exploring optimal performance in the 1970’s.  His attentional model of performance has been a foundation of success for Olympic athletes, military personnel, business executives, performing artists and surgeons. According to Nideffer’s model, the key to success in anything is:

  1. Identify the elements essential for success;
  2. Maintain attention on the essential;
  3. Ignore the distractions.

For example, the 100-meter dash has three critical elements: 1) the reaction time and initial acceleration at the start; 2) the distance traveled with each step; and 3) the rate at which each step is taken (cadence or turnover).  All physical and mental training are designed to optimize these three elements. If you guessed something other than these three elements, odds are that you identified a strategy to optimize one of the essential elements.  For example, being focused and relaxed helps optimize reaction time and initial acceleration at the start.  Good form maximizes distance travelled with each step.  Running “focused and all the way through the finish” helps sustain a high rate of turnover as a person lengthens his or her steps after coming out of the starting blocks.

Now consider all the non-essential distractions for the 100-meter dash: Who is in the lane beside you?  How many people are watching? What happens if you lose? What happens if you win?  Anything that does not optimize one or more of the essential elements is a distraction.

The same attentional model applies to the performing arts where the technical aspects of performance are merely strategies to optimize the one essential element: the emotion that the performer wishes to convey.  Ironically, being overly focused on technique can actually be a distraction if it lessens the performer’s focus on the emotional goal.

What is essential for a Flash Mob?

A flash mob is defined as “…a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and seemingly pointless act for a brief time, then quickly disperse, often for the purposes of entertainment, satire, and artistic expression.” (Wikipedia, retrieved August 1, 2014)

A flash mob is more complex than the 100-meter dash; however, if you boil it all down, there are two essential elements for a flash mob:

  1. FLASH timing
    The performance is a surprise, and the performers dissipate immediately after the performance.
  2. An unexpected group identity from within a larger group
    There are multiple individuals performing coordinated actions that are beyond the norm of the social context; the group is identified by participation in the coordinated action.

Both elements must be present to be a flash mob. For example, a large number of people may sing the national anthem at the beginning of a sporting event; but this is not a flash mob. There is not an element of surprise, nor is it beyond the norms of the social context.  If a group of people unexpectedly rose and started singing the national anthem prior to raising the curtain at a ballet, THAT would be a flash mob.  People at a beachside pub may dance to music by Martha and the Vandellas in a fashion that appears choreographed; but it still would not be a flash mob.  People unexpectedly starting to dance in a choreographed fashion in the midst of a convention of researchers, academicians and therapists, however, THAT is a flash mob.

Implications for Performance

So how does knowing “what is essential” help you as a flash mob participant?  It is easy to become overwhelmed with the various details and nuances of performance.  You will perform at your best if you keep your attention on what is essential: flash timing and group identity through coordinated action.

Flash timing requires secrecy and the element of surprise.  Be prepared to clearly switch roles from apparent bystander to performer, and then immediately back to bystander after the performance… no curtain calls or autographs.

Do your best to learn the moves and/or dance steps, but the essential element is the coordination of actions.  You do not have to worry about the quality of your dancing or performance.  Yes, it would be nice for you to learn all the steps and toe touches; but if you can master the basics where you can move in a coordinated fashion, you are a flash mobber.

Anything that does not optimize the timing element or coordination is a non-essential distraction.  Common distractions include worry about how well you will do, the quality of your dancing or musical skills, or how viewers may react.  The easiest way to deal with such distractions is “Hello-Goodbye.”  “Hello,”  my attention is off target.  “Goodbye,” shift your focus back on what is essential. You may find it helpful to mentally rehearse not only your performance, but also how you want to feel while performing.

FACE the Challenge

Lastly, to make the most of your flash mob experience, I encourage you to do the same as Olympic athletes, world record holders, renowned performing artists and surgeons who want to perform at their peak and enter the flow experience:

  • Focus totally in the moment;
  • Activate to your ideal level (breathe slowly to chill down or rapidly to pump up if needed);
  • Commit fully to the process at hand;
  • Embrace the opportunity.

How often do you get the opportunity to participate in an experience such as this flash mob?!!!  FACE the challenge and enjoy!

Good luck!

Charlie Brown, PhD
Director, Get Your Head In The Game

References

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper & Row.

Nideffer, R. M. (1985). Athletes’ guide to mental training. Champaign, IL, England: Human Kinetics Publishers.

Portenga, S., Aoyagi, M., Balague, G., Cohen, A., & Harmison, B. (2011). Defining the practice of sport and performance psychology. Retrieved 8/4/2014 from http://www.apadivisions.org/division-47/about/resources/defining.pdf.

*Presented at 122nd Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association at Washington, DC on August 7-10, 2014 as part of the symposium: Flashdance — The Psychology of Dance, the Phenomenon of Flash Mob, the Neuroscience of ChoreographyAugust 9, 2014 at 12:00 PM. 

Recipe for a “Hot Hand” During March Madness

SwishIt is March Madness and basketball enthusiasts are in hog heaven with a seemingly endless schedule of games that range from blow outs to squeakers, often with  incredible displays of athleticism and talent.  The player who develops the “hot hand” is a wonder to behold.  It is as though anything he or she puts in the air is going through the rim, leaving fans in wonder and disbelief.  How did they do that?!!!

Kevin Barry of WAER Sports at Syracuse University put that question to two sport psychologists– Dr. Jack Lesyk and Dr. Charlie Brown (yours truly)– and produced an engaging story on how a player develops a shooting streak. Spoiler alert:  The physical abilities are already there, it is what goes on between the ears that makes the difference.

Here’s the link to Barry’s audio broadcast: CLICK HERE

Let me know what you think…

Dr. Charlie

Learn While You Burn

Changing how you stay at the top of your game…

Learn and Burn

Learn While You Burn

Here at Get Your Head In The Gamewe realize that staying on top of the latest techniques, theories and tools is a challenge.  It’s often difficult to find time to read books and journals.  The publishing process for professional journals and books can take anywhere from 10 months to 3 years, so that even the most recent printed materials may not reflect the actual current thinking of the day.

Our alternative is to offer a number of resources in the form of online videos that you can download and watch at your convenience, and that we can easily update to make certain that you are receiving the most up to date information to help you perform at your peak.  It’s easy, current and convenient:  Start streaming the video on your smartphone, iPad or computer; hop on the treadmill or trainer; get yourself a great 20-30 minute workout and “learn while you burn.”

We will be launching our “Coach the Coaches” video series on Nov. 1, 2012; our “Master the Mental Game” for athletes and performers is scheduled for release in January of 2013.

As a special promotion for our “Coach the Coaches” series, you are invited to view the video Introduction to Performance Consulting free of charge.  The only catch is that I would like you to provide feedback on the video and our “learn while you burn” concept by completing a brief survey after viewing it. The Coach the Coaches series is designed for professionals interested in pursuing a career in performance consulting (psychologists, counselors, coaches and graduate students).  This video offer is free through October 2012 (and, no, you don’t actually have to be working out to view the video).  Beginning November 1, 2012 we will offer this and other videos for a slight fee.

Here’s the link to the free video: http://headinthegame.net/resources/videos/#Intro2PC

Here’s a link to provide feedback: CLICK HERE to complete the survey

Check it out and let me know what you think and any topics you would like addressed!

Charlie Brown, PhD

10 Tips for Handling Pressure Like an Olympian

Tower Bridge at night displays the Olympic Rings

Tower Bridge at night with Olympic Rings

Athletes consistently report that mental preparation for Olympic competition separates the good from the great.  With that in mind, I want to share what U.S. Olympic champions have identified as the top 10 lessons for Olympic success. This information comes from the DVD, “Success at the Olympics,”  produced by the Sport Psychology Services at the USOC.  The lessons here are not restricted to athletes, but apply to anyone who wants to perform under pressure in business, performing arts or high risk occupations.

For ease of reading, I’ve broken these into two parts: five are covered in Part One (CLICK HERE for Part One); the remaining five in Part Two (CLICK HERE for Part Two).  These links lead to recent issues of our Pressure Points newsletter.  If you haven’t done so already, I encourage you to take a moment to subscribe to the newsletter and other “Good Stuff” from Get Your Head In The Game, that way you will be assured of getting great tips and offerings “hot off the press.”

As always, I welcome your comments and feedback on Pressure Points and any other aspect of our site.

Charlie Brown, PhD
Director, Get Your Head In The Game

PS – Olympic fever is here.  Catch it!

Olympian Nick Thoman on Handling Stress


Congratulations to Nick Thoman, who has now earned at spot on the 2012 US Olympic team! Here’s a portion of an interview with Gold Medalist Mel Stewart of SwimSwamTV in which Nick discusses his mental preparation for the Olympic Trials. The interview was conducted at the 2012 Charlotte UltraSwim. Check out SwimSwam.com for more information, video and news of the swimming world, and SwimOutlet.com who sponsored the video.  BTW, Nick, thanks for the endorsement!

Options for Uncertainty: Worry, Planning and Curiosity

Worry Is A Waste

Uncertainty is widely accepted by performance experts as one of the most common factors contributing to stress.  The irony is that everything in life is uncertain, except for “death and taxes” (according to Ben Franklin). Whether you are an athlete preparing for the Olympics, a business person attempting to land a major account,  a surgeon preparing to operate, or a young lover contemplating a lifelong commitment — you can feel confident; but there are no guarantees. Not knowing is a part of life.   The attitude and emotion that you bring to the unknown has a major influence on how you perform under pressure.  Consider the emotions driving the three primary paths through uncertainty:  worry, planning and curiosity.

Worry is fueled by fear. It is a succubus to the energy that is required for excellence, and will drain a person of creativity and confidence in dealing with uncertainty.  Worry is a waste.

By contrast, if you take the same uncertainty and wrap yourself in cool, dispassionate logic, you can enter the realm of planning.  You never know exactly what will happen; but  you probably have an idea of situations that would be challenging.  For each situation, decide in advance how you ideally want to respond; then practice that response either by mentally rehearsing your deftly dealing with the distraction, or actually seek out opportunities to practice in real life.

For example, the upcoming US Olympic Team Trials for swimming will be held in a venue rarely experienced by swimmers.  The competition pool has been constructed in the center of the CenturyLink Center, an arena in Omaha that is complete with jumbo-tron scoreboards, spotlights and poolside pyrotechnics whenever a world record is broken.  The swimmers with whom I work have been mentally rehearsing being on center stage, refocusing after fireworks, and preparing for the “long walk” rather than the more familiar short trek from the ready room to the swimming blocks.  A business person may mentally rehearse dealing with a less than cooperative audience, and even recruit colleagues to role play the scenario in a practice situation.  Research has shown that mentally preparing for adversity and distractions improves confidence and performance.  Great performers typically are great planners.

Where worry is fueled by fear, and planning is more dispassionate logic, curiosity has the potential to tap the delightful emotions of anticipation and wonder.  Remember what it was like to see a present wrapped with pretty paper and a bow, not knowing what was inside, but excited with all the possibilities?  At some point in time, your anticipated moment of performance will be your present.  There is a fine yet powerful distinction between worrying how you will perform and wondering how you will perform, fueled by the optimism of curiosity.

Take a moment for this little experiment: Think of an upcoming performance situation, and now start worrying about it. (okay now, don’t just read this; I want you to actually experience this exercise).  Study the muscle tension in your face and brow as you engage in worry.  Now take the same upcoming situation, and mindfully think of it with curiosity.  Study again the muscle tensions in your face and brow.  For most people, there are marked differences between the furrowed brow of worry and the wide-eyed wonder of curiosity.

If you want to replace worry with curiosity, use these physical cues to help develop the habit of curiosity.  It begins with mindfulness.  Periodically check out the muscles in your face when thinking of performance situations.  If you discover any tension that is associated with worry, pause, breathe, and gently raise your brow while wondering about the event in a non-judgmental, inquisitive manner. Enjoy the unknown and all the possibilities the future might bring. Once you master this sequence, practice, practice, practice!

Curiosity didn’t kill the cat; worry killed the cat. Planning helped the cat deal with distractions, and curiosity helped it enjoy the journey.