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My 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.
Performance 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:
- Identify the elements essential for success;
- Maintain attention on the essential;
- 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:
- FLASH timing
The performance is a surprise, and the performers dissipate immediately after the performance.
- 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!
Charlie Brown, PhD
Director, Get Your Head In The Game
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 Choreography, August 9, 2014 at 12:00 PM.
The tragedy surrounding the bombing at the 2013 Boston Marathon may present significant emotional challenges not only for those directly effected by the events, but also by all runners, athletes and the general public. The North Carolina Psychological Association Disaster Response Team has compiled this list of resources for coping with the tragedy. Feel free to pass this information along to others.
- Coping with Disaster Resources: Explosions (section on After an Explosion) http://www.ready.gov/explosions
- Coping with Disaster http://www.ready.gov/coping-with-disaster
- Managing traumatic stress: Tips for recovering from disaster and other traumatic events http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/recovering-disasters.aspx
- Taking Care of Your Emotional Health After a Disaster http://www.redcross.org/images/MEDIA_CustomProductCatalog/m4240142_EmotionalHealth.pdf
- Recovering Emotionally http://www.redcross.org/find-help/disaster-recovery/recovering-emotionally
- Helping Children Cope with Disaster http://www.fema.gov/pdf/library/children.pdf
- American Psychological Association web services is working to upload relevant resources for the public on the landing page very soon on the Psychology Help Center: http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/
- Disaster Distress Helpline (24/7 phone and text) via Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration http://disasterdistress.samhsa.gov/about.aspx
We hold the runners, spectators and their families in our hearts and prayers.
It 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…
- If you are exercising 7 days a week, odds are you are being lazy. Lazy with your recovery that is. Training does not make you stronger; it actually breaks you down at the cellular level. You become stronger only when you recover after the breaking down process. Elite athletes and committed recreational athletes typically have no problem with the grunt and groans of hard workouts, but too often avoid adequate recovery out of misperception that down time is goofing off rather than smart training. “Lazy” is a disinclination to engage in an activity that one intellectually knows would be beneficial. Most folks are lazy with avoiding exercise; heavy exercisers are typically lazy with avoiding recovery. Recovery imbalance decreases performance, and increases the probability of illness, injury and burnout. If you have any questions about the dangers of overtraining and the benefits of recovery, check out the January 2013 issue of Medical Science of Sports and Exercise. It has the first ever joint consensus statement on “Prevention, Diagnosis and Treatment of Overtraining Syndrome” by the American College of Sport Medicine and the European College of Sport Sciences. Stay tuned for a webinar on “Balancing Stress and Recovery” sponsored by Get Your Head In The Game in February of 2013.
- Motivation is over-rated. Motivation changes like the temperature; commitment is the key to making long-term change. For example, I know of no parents who are “motivated” to get up at two o’clock in the morning with a sick child. They do it because they are committed. If you want to actually get the goals that you have set, commit to a SMART goal– one that is Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Reasonable and Time-oriented. For example, a goal such as “working out more this year” is a lovely thought, but usually not very helpful in actually producing change. By contrast, a SMART goal such as “getting to the gym three days a week for 30 minutes, for six weeks in a row” has a much higher probability of being achieved. For more on SMART goals and effective goal getting, check out this video: https://headinthegame.net/resources/videos/#GoalGetting
- Take time to P to improve performance. As simple as it sounds, performance (including sticking with an exercise routine) can dramatically improve if you simply Pause, get your Pulse down by breathing, put things in Perspective, and then work your Plan. Often you do not need to learn anything new to perform better; you simply need to remember what you know. The “P” routine allows you to slow down those pesky old habits, and be more intentional in your actions. Try it and you will ‘Ppreciate the results.
- Commit yourself to an institution. A school, church or organization that is. One of the keys to happiness (and simultaneously preventing burnout) is to use your strengths and talents in pursuit of something that is “meaningful,” i.e., bigger than yourself. Many people consider volunteering with a local civic group, or becoming more involved with their place of worship; but then put off doing so until “things ease off a bit.” Don’t kid yourself, your life will always be busy and that lull may never come. Make the commitment and you will find the time.
- Stuff it. The old adage of “count your blessings” as a means of promoting happiness is actually well-grounded in modern research. Studies indicate that the simple act of reviewing the positive events of the day can have profound impact on improving happiness. I recommend a variation that is geared towards a fantastic New Year’s Eve celebration at the conclusion of 2013. Get a large jar (preferably one gallon or larger) and keep a small pad near it. Take time every day to “count your blessings” and write down at least one positive thing that you experienced during the day, and stuff it in the jar. On December 31st, take out the jar and review all the good memories of 2013 as part of ringing in the new year. After the stroke of midnight, store the memories in a baggie (or a scrapbook if you are inclined) and repeat for the next year.
From the ranks of “obscure celebrations in the world,” November 20th is national Hug A Runner Day (H.A.R.D.). This is an opportunity to express appreciation to the pavement pounders and trail runners of this world. If you know a runner, this is your day to give ’em a big hug; if there is a runner you’d like to get to know, consider this your invitation to introduce yourself with open arms.
For those individuals striving for peak performance, Adam Goucher and Tim Catalano, official founders of national H.A.R.D. and authors of Running the Edge, offer the history of H.A.R.D., along with a handy training guide for optimal hugging. (I am partial to “interval hugging” and “Hug visualization”: CLICK HERE for the guide.
Check it out; wrap your arms around your favorite runner, and Go H.A.R.D.!
Changing how you stay at the top of your game…
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: https://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
Over the past two weeks the world has been treated to amazing displays of physical achievement as each country’s greatest athletes have gathered in London in pursuit of being “faster, higher, and stronger.” While we recognize individuals for their accomplishments at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, the African concept of ubuntu is at the core of every athlete reaching his or her dream.
Ubuntu is the African philosophy that emphasizes the inter-connectedness of all persons. There is no clear English equivalent; the concept is often translated as “I am who I am, because of who you are.” Both Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu have used the term to describe how injustice to any one group of people impacts all people. But the inter-relations apply not only to suffering, but also to celebration. It does not diminish the talent, commitment and accomplishment of an individual; it acknowledges the importance of others in the journey.
No person rises to the pinnacle of success without being lifted by others. When Michael Phelps won his record breaking 19th medal, he was quick to give credit to the members of the relay team. As his medal tally grew while his career drew towards its finale, he consistently acknowledged his mother, family and Coach Bob Bowman, all of whom have been been with him throughout his journey. Ubuntu! I am who I am because of who you are.
In the midst of Usain Bolt proclaiming himself the fastest man on the planet and a living legend, he acknowledged the importance of his country’s support and having training partners such as Yohan Blake to push him to new heights of performance. Ubuntu! I am who I am because of who you are.
The interconnectedness also encompasses pain and tragedy woven into the fabric of one’s life. US Olympian Kelly Wells found personal refuge from an abusive stepfather by pouring herself into training on the track. Her youth was marked by tragedy, yet she is now a model of resilience and a beacon for others who may be facing the challenges of abuse. Ubuntu! I am who I am because of who you are.
Over the past two years I’ve had the privilege of working with Team Elite of SwimMAC of the Carolinas, arguably the top swim club in the US after having the largest number of athletes qualifying for the Olympic trials and placing more swimmers on the Olympic squad than any other swim team in the country, plus having SwimMAC CEO and Team Elite Coach David Marsh named to the US Olympic coaching staff. The five Team Elite swimmers in London are returning with six medals — 3 gold and 3 silver.
All five are exceptional athletes; yet their character and integrity are even more impressive than their physical abilities. These five athletes have held the spotlight, and while doing so have modeled ubuntu by reflecting attention to others as integral to their success.
Gold and silver medalist Cullen Jones has long acknowledged the role that both of his parents and his nearly drowning as a child have played in his becoming a two-time Olympian. When he qualified for the 100 freestyle at the 2012 US Olympics Trials, his first action upon leaving the water was to hug Coach David Marsh and Assistant Coach Peter Verhoef. In an interview immediately after winning the 50 freestyle at the Trials, he was asked how he was such a different swimmer from four years earlier when he did not qualify for the event. He credited Marsh pushing him and having great training partners, Nick Brunelli and Josh Schneider. Ubuntu! I am who I am because of who you are.
In preparation for winning his gold and silver medals, world record holder Nick Thoman would start practice with a handshake with now-Olympian Davis Tarwater as a commitment to push each other to excellence. Throughout interviews this past year, Thoman acknowledged the role of the coaches, support staff and training partners such as Eugene Godsoe and Nelson Westby, as well as the incredible field of US athletes competing in the 100 backstroke, as vital factors in preparing to represent the US in London. Ubuntu! I am who I am because of who you are.
Gold medalist Davis Tarwater has stated that failing to make the 2008 Olympic team was probably the most devastating experience of his life; and at the same time, probably the best thing that ever happened to him as a person. He coupled an evolved perspective with incredible work ethic in his quest for the 2012 Olympics, embracing challenges from teammates such as US National Champion Tim Phillips along the way. Ubuntu! I am who I am because of who you are.
Three-time Olympian, Kara Lynn Joyce came to Team Elite less than 12 weeks prior to the Olympic trials, in part, to train head to head with Team Elite sprinters Madison Kennedy and Andrea Georoff. Changing programs so close to the trials was a gamble that paid off as she qualified for London in the women’s 50 free. Ubuntu! I am who I am because of who you are.
The normally quiet and shy Micah Lawrence was clear and emphatic in her gratitude to teammates during a Team Elite meeting prior to her qualifying in the 200 meter breaststroke. She thanked not only Kevin Swander and Elliot Keefer, who both challenged and supported her in daily practice; but also those whose support and commitment created a sense of family that allowed her to strive for new heights. Kate Mills, Eric Knight, Bryan Lundquist, Greg Pearsall, and the entire SwimMAC community were all essential ingredients of this recipe for success. Ubuntu! I am who I am because of who you are.
On a personal note, my professional colleagues are aware that I have had the honor of working with Coach David Marsh, Team Elite and the SwimMAC community. In the aftermath of these 2012 Olympic Games, I find that my reputation, recognition and influence as a performance psychologist has grown. Thank you, Team Elite, for the privilege of working together. Ubuntu! I am who I am because of who you are.
Few people can surpass Olympians at both goal setting and goal getting. Writer Suzanne Rust has distilled the principles and techniques used by Olympic athletes for “ordinary mortals” seeking success in their personal and professional lives. I was delighted to serve as a resource for Rust in creating this feature for Citibank’s Women & Co. program. Click here for more…