Love 2.0

Love 2.0, as the title implies, provides a new and unique perspective on love. Barbara Fredrickson is one of the foremost researches on positive emotions, and her investigations of love provide a fascinating picture that is quite different than our (or at least my) romantic notions of love. In short, Fredrickson demonstrates biological, physiological, and neurological evidence that love happens in moments of connection rather than as an enduring bond that lasts a lifetime. Thus, familial, husband-wife, and parent-child connections last (or not) over time based on the extent to which the people involve regularly relate to one another in a caring and compassionate manner.

All well and good, but what does this have to do with performance? I would argue a great deal. I cannot think of an example of a performer who performs in isolation. Most athletes have a coach. Most performers have an instructor or mentor. And the exceedingly few who do not perform with others or with a coach/instructor have a support system of people who make it possible for the performer to devote the time and energy necessary to hone skilled performance. In all cases, the new ideas presented in Love 2.0 can help to sustain, grow, and balance the relationships necessary for performance.

Further, Love 2.0 begins and ends with self-acceptance. The meditation practices and other suggestions for incorporating more love and openness in one’s life not only create a more balanced, focused, and inspired individual; but they also create a sense of ease, comfort, and confidence in oneself that provides a foundation for motivation, consistent performance, and resiliency.


Performance Psychology: A Practitioner’s Guide

Performance Psychology: A Practitioner’s Guide, edited by Dave Collins, Angela Button, and Hugh Richards, may be the first textbook I have ever read cover to cover. That’s after 15 years in graduate school and academia. Perhaps more than anything else, this speaks to the utility and readability of this text. Yes, it is dense with information. However, for the reader motivated to learn about the topics covered, the information is presented in an accessible fashion with suggestions and examples for application throughout.

Although impossible to summarize an entire text, I’ll include one example here that I found particularly useful. As reader’s of this blog know, focus is a major theme of my work, and thus I was interested in the 5 principles of effective concentration in skilled performance presented in the book:

1) Decide to concentrate – it won’t just happen by chance

2) Focus on only one thought at a time

3) Your mind is “focused” when you are doing exactly what you are thinking

4) You “lose” your concentration when you focus on factors that are outside your control

5) Focus outwards when you get nervous

Filled with similarly useful and through provoking insights throughout, I would recommend this book for anyone interested in an in-depth examination of how current science can be applied to performance.

Focus Fridays: Reconnect with the routine

For many, Friday is the end of the work week and time to start daydreaming about the weekend. Thus, I am introducing a new weekly post that will feature tips for utilizing Fridays as a reminder to practice focus and maintaining (or improving) performance and productivity.

This week, the challenge is to reconnect with the routine. Routines serve a wonderful purpose: they allow us to perform automatically so we free up our brains to do other things (like daydream about the weekend…). However, there is also a reason the word routine is synonymous with tedious, mundane, and boring.

Today, see if you can bring a new focus and energy to something that has become tedious, mundane, and boring for you. There is a reason you are doing whatever it is over and over, so it must have some importance. Can you reconnect to why it is important? Can you discover (or rediscover) something about this act that you have never noticed before (or something you haven’t noticed for a long time)? Are you still doing this job the same way as when you started? Why? Can you do it better with all the practice and understanding you now have?

Eleven Rings

Eleven Rings documents Phil Jackson’s unprecedented number of NBA championships. From his days as a player, through coaching the Bulls and Lakers, Jackson’s unique style is informative for anyone in a leadership position.

Basing much of his approach in the tenets of Zen Buddhism, the book is a pragmatic introduction to many of the concepts discussed in this blog (e.g., focus).

Among many leadership gems, one I particularly enjoyed was, “As a leader your job is to do everything in your power to create the perfect conditions for success by benching your ego and inspiring your team to play the game the right way” (p. 334).

For anyone interested in adding aspects of Zen philosophy into their leadership or personal life, wanting to diversify their understanding of leadership, or simply intrigued by one of the most successful modern coaches, Eleven Rings is a worthwhile read.

See it – Feel it – Trust it

One of the simplest and most effective ideas I teach is called Cook’s Model of Concentration after the model’s creator, David Cook. Cook’s model is a strategy to prepare oneself either pre-performance or pre-skill execution.

The model utilizes a funnel analogy in which concentration starts broad and gradually narrows as the performance of the skill nears. At its widest point, the performer observes the situation and takes note of anything relevant to the task (e.g., opponent/defense, potential distractions, weather, etc.). Next, concentration begins to narrow as irrelevant aspects of the environment are ignored and the performer begins to prepare a strategy to meet the demands of the task. Once a strategy is developed, the performer visualizes executing the strategy and the task/skill, emphasizing the feel of the performance. Finally, at the narrowest point of the funnel just prior to and during skill execution, the performer enters the trusting mindset where they have committed to their strategy, seen and felt themselves performing the skill, and can now turn off their mind and trust their body to execute the task.

Although this may sound elaborate, Cook’s Model can be shortened to See it – Feel it – Trust it and is extremely effective at allowing performers to go through a pre-performance routine designed to grow their confidence and increase the likelihood of successful skill execution.

With practice, See it – Feel it – Trust it can be completed within the space of one or two centering breaths and can be applied to just about any performance situation. If you regularly practice See it – Feel it – Trust it, it will become automatic and have a positive impact on your confidence and your performance.

The Power of Habit

Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit identifies the ways that habits shape our lives – and performances – and also how they can be changed once we become aware of them. A habit is simply the result of a loop in which we are cued by a trigger, unconsciously activate a routine, and then receive a reward that satisfies a craving (again, usually this craving is outside of our awareness). Habits serve the function of saving processing effort in our brain, which means we are meant to be unaware of them. This is what makes changing a habit difficult. But, once we are able to bring a habit into awareness, Duhigg provides a four step process for changing a habit:

1) Identify the routine

2) Experiment with rewards

3) Isolate the cue

4) Have a plan

Duhigg also provides several examples of athletes and performers achieving greatness because they developed the right habits. Michael Phelps visualized success under adverse conditions, which allowed him to swim for gold despite his goggles filling with water. Tony Dungy took the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from a laughingstock to a Super Bowl winner (although he wasn’t coaching when they won) by changing habits so they could play faster by not (over) thinking.

As the author notes, the real power of habit is recognizing that your habits are your choices.

How are your habits impacting your performance?

What habits could you re-engineer to be more productive/effective?

How Defaults Affect Us

Departing from the default option causes more regret/blame if things go wrong. For example, the default after a bad loss is for a coach to make changes in personnel or strategy. Failure to do so will produce blame or regret if the team loses again. It is important to note that the change is not necessarily a good thing, just a way to avoid regret/blame.

How strong is the effect of defaults? How important are your vital organs to you? Evidence suggests that whether or not you elect to be an organ donor is largely determined by whether the default is set for you to donate or not. If the question is setup so you have to check a box to opt out of donating your organs, you are very likely to donate. If the questions is setup so you have to check a box to opt in to donate your organs, you are very likely to not donate. The decision itself is so difficult to consider that we will defer to the default option rather than go through the process of trying to figure out what we really want. This also affects us when we are deciding to sell a stock or not: it is easier to hold because it is the default – no action is necessary to hold the stock.

Again, there is not a reliable way to overcome this tendency. However, it is important to be aware of so we can make better decisions. Are you changing the lineup to avoid blame or because it is really best for the team? Are you holding the stock because you think its value will increase or because you don’t want to beat yourself up if you sell it and then it increases? We can’t predict the right answer to these questions, but we can do a better job of identifying which option is more consistent with our values and beliefs and basing our decisions on the value/belief rather than the default.

Hate to lose?

So do most people. But what are the effects of our aversion to loss?

Consider: professional golfers putt better for par than for birdie. In other words, when all variables are taken into account (e.g., length of putt, difficulty of green, etc.), a professional golfer is more likely to make a putt when going for par (i.e., trying to avoid a bogey, which is the same as taking a loss on the hole) than when going for birdie (when they can still miss and not lose par).

On the other hand, hating to lose can cause us to persist even when situations are against us. For example, a person who only wants to pursue victory will have a tendency to back off when victory is unlikely. A person who hates to lose will often put forth effort until the very end, regardless of the score.

There are many biological reasons for our hatred of losing (a single cockroach can ruin a bowl of cherries, but a cherry does nothing for a bowl of cockroaches), and it is relatively futile to try and fight this biological urge.

Thus, it is important to recognize how it can help us (serving as motivation when our situations look bleak) and hurt us (providing less focus and effort when seeking gain rather than avoiding loss). In financial considerations, loss aversion can make us avoid taking risks that are actually beneficial for us.

So, the next time you are faced with a decision or performance situation, take a moment and examine it from both a loss averse perspective (likely to be your natural reaction) and a seeking gain perspective (likely to require you to pause and use intention and effort). This won’t tell you what to do, but it will give you a better perspective on your options and provide an opportunity to make a choice more consistent with your values.

Have a Good Crappy Day

I first heard this from Dr. Ken Ravizza. A lot of times we show up to the “big” competition with heavy legs, a nagging injury, a cold or flu or worse, a recent breakup, relationship stress, jet lagged, tired, stressed, or just in a bad mood. Then there is bad weather, bad food, bad officiating, nasty fans, and teammates that are distractions. And it is tempting to think, “This just isn’t my day.” It is just a fact that sometimes we are less than 100%. In fact, we are almost never at 100%.

However, many times we show up with 80% to give, but think it is just not enough and so end up giving only 60%. The self-fulfilling prophecy that it was not your day comes true. But what if the prophecy only came true because you gave 60%? What if 80% was enough that day, but you didn’t give yourself the opportunity to find out?

And here’s the real catch: we never know ahead of time how much we truly have to give! We may think we have 80%, but if we give ourselves a chance find that we feel better as the performance progresses. Developing a mindset of giving all you have on any particular day starts with training. Get the most out of training sessions when you don’t feel great. Like everything else, this will show up in competition as well.

Have a good crappy day!

The Black Swan

The Black Swan provides access to the unique perspective of Nassim Nicholas Taleb. While at times I found his writing style less than appealing (though I suspect this is an instance where if I knew the author and his personality I would actually find the writing humorous and entertaining), his message is certainly thought provoking and worthy of serious consideration. In short, black swans represent occurrences that are both unexpected/improbable and highly meaningful. The name comes from the fact that years ago all swans were thought to be white. Every time a white swan was seen, it added more and more evidence to support this belief. However, it took the discovery of only one black swan to completely disprove the belief. More recently, the housing market crash was a black swan because previously it was thought that real estate always increased in value. This was true – until it wasn’t.

This line of thinking has many implications for performance. One of the most interesting is that Taleb would say it argues against the hedgehog principle made famous in Collins’ Good to Great. The hedgehog principle comes from accounts of great companies focusing on the one thing they can do best in the world (or in their industry). However, the analyses used to support the principles in Good to Great were all retrospective analyses. In other words, hindsight. As we know, hindsight is 20/20. Taleb would argue that it is only in hindsight that you can know what your best thing is because it involves a lot more than just you (for example, market conditions and the fickle whims of consumers). While we do not always like to acknowledge it, there are many things that influence our success that are outside of our control, and if you believe the black swan principle, are completely unpredictable ahead of time. The black swan strategy involves less overspecialization and more redundancy (another idea that is anathema in the efficiency-focused world of business and performance). This allows for you to capitalize on what you do well while also providing a buffer for the unexpected events that can dramatically change the conditions in which you are operating.