Just Tell Me I Can’t

Jamie Moyer’s career served as inspiration for many people, and his memoir, Just Tell Me I Can’t, illustrates why this was so. Moyer’s modesty prevented the book from being a true autobiography, and it reads more as a conversation between Moyer and his sport psychology mentor, Harvey Dorfman, on the mental aspects of pitching.

Among many gems from Dorfman, one of my favorites was, “Good learners risk doing things badly in order to find out how to do things well” (p. 125). While seemingly simple, I have seen many people (and certainly been guilty of it myself) stop improving because they were afraid to look foolish once having achieved a certain level of comfort at a particular task. As Dorfman said, it is the truly great learners who do not worry about how others perceive them, and continue putting themselves in uncomfortable situations such that they can learn and grow.

The entire book provides many strategies, tips, and insights into the process of learning and growing and the benefits of hard work and effort. While the stories and anecdotes are all shared in the context of baseball and pitching, they are easily applied to any realm of performance – including the performance of your life.


Damn Few

Damn Few is a memoir and inside look at Navy SEAL training by Rorke Denver, who served both as an active duty SEAL and later as an instructor for basic and advanced SEAL training. Denver also starred in the movie Act of Valor, which brought to the screen fictionalized accounts of true events from his career.

From a performance psychology perspective, this quote from Denver provides insight into the mentality necessary to make it through SEAL training, “I knew one thing already: However relentless the instructors, however high the demands, I would find a way to get through BUD/S. I was not going to quit…that positive self-talk, that sense of absolute inevitability, that refusal to even consider anything else-that turned out to be the elusive key to doing well at BUD/S. I was already getting into the SEAL mind-set” (p. 26). It is apparent from Denver’s account that becoming a SEAL is more of a mental test than a physical one, and the extremes to which SEAL candidates are pushed provide support for the nearly limitless capacity of our minds – and how rare it is that we truly test that capacity, let alone even approach its limit.

So, if you are seeking inspiration or motivation for a difficult task in your life, try reading about the experiences of these incredible warriors. Your challenge will be put into perspective very quickly.

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.


Putting many of the principles of Thinking, Fast and Slow into action, Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein provides some excellent food for thought. The utility of the book is how the authors make pragmatic use of the advances made by Kahneman and other psychologists. Thaler and Sunstein deem any person in a position to influence (however subtly) the manner in which humans choose as “choice architects.” To illustrate this subtlety, consider that how much ice cream you buy at the supermarket is at least partially dependent on how good (or bad) you feel about the fruits and vegetable you bought (or didn’t) when you first walked into the grocery store. The produce is invariably and intentionally at the front of the store to take advantage of the understanding that if you feel good about buying produce you are then much more likely to think it is okay to buy ice cream – after all, you’ve earned it with all that healthy produce you are going to eat!

Thaler and Sunstein provide suggestions for how choice architecture could nudge people into better decision in situations where humans do not develop good decision making skills. As discussed here, our decision making abilities do not improve in the absence of regular/predictable environments, an opportunity to practice, and clear, rapid feedback. The authors identify financial decisions, health decisions, and social programs such as education, health insurance, and marriage as areas where we could benefit from nudges and better choice architecture.

Nudge provides many ideas for how our lives are influenced on a daily basis. The main takeaway for me is the necessity of understanding your values, beliefs, and purposeful direction of your life. Then, in situations where choices are difficult or you might feel yourself being pulled to make a choice that is not necessarily consistent with your values, take a moment to consider how choice architecture might be influencing you.

The Joy of Discovery

My daughter is 8 months old and hasn’t yet seen, heard, touched, smelled, or tasted anything boring or uninteresting. Everything she is presented with, it is as if she is experiencing it for the first time. True, there are many firsts for her. Also true is that her favorite “toy” for the past two weeks has been the same toothbrush. Each time she finds it or is handed it, she checks it out anew. Seeing the colors. Running her fingers over the surfaces. Tasting the bristles (well, all of it actually). When is the last time you were fascinated (or even mildly interested) by a toothbrush?

And yet there is much to be interested in. Where do the bristles come from? What are they made of? Why bristles? How do I even know the word “bristles?” How do they get the bristles into the plastic? Why don’t they come out?

This is an example of the aptly named Zen teaching of “child’s mind” or “beginner’s mind.” It is something most of us experience far too seldom. Imagine the possibilities if everything was possible. Fresh. Novel. How much excitement, change, and creativity might this bring to your life?

Lean In

Lean In is a necessary read for anybody interested in performance and how to make our society more successful. Written by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, the book contains a great deal of wisdom and interesting anecdotes about women and the workforce. For example, she is the “female” COO of Facebook, while CEO Mark Zuckerberg is just CEO. There is no such thing as “male” CEO because this is viewed as the norm – and statistically it is.

Indeed, the statistics are frightening: women account for 21 of the Fortune 500 CEOs, 14% of executive officer positions, 17% of board seats, and 18% of elected congresspeople. Perhaps the most famous, and alarming, statistic is that women make less than men in equivalent positions. The numbers are worth repeating: in 1970 women in America made 59 cents for every dollar their male counterparts made. As of 2010, through all of our society’s reform and enlightenment, women make 77 cents for each dollar men make.

40 years and 18 cents.

How much better could our society perform if all contributions were valued equally?

Sandberg graciously focuses the book less on what men have done wrong and more on how we all can make steps to correct this injustice and ineffectiveness. It is an essential read for all of us interested in a higher performing society – women and especially men.

Natural Inspiration II

Ever wonder why your best ideas come to you in the shower? Or while you are out walking the dog?

It is at least partially due to the connection with nature you experience during these times.

The water in your shower is enough of a connection to spark creativity.

The fresh air and exercise on your walk is enough to shift your perspective.

These little doses offer a glimpse of what connecting with nature has to offer.

Try going to a national park, isolated beach, or mountain summit and see what the full dosage has to offer you.

Natural Inspiration

Feeling stagnant? Stuck in a rut? Experiencing writer’s block? Waiting for the last minute?

Try getting out in nature. While you are there, focus on the feelings of peacefulness, content, bliss, and wonder that spontaneously arise in you.

And if these feelings don’t arise, get out in nature more.

If you do, chances are you’ll find yourself more relaxed, energized, and creative.

Evidence? I wrote this and the next three posts this morning – after hiking all day yesterday.

The trick is to immerse yourself in nature. If you go solely for the purpose of stimulating creativity and spend the entire time stuck in your head, you’ll probably be frustrated.

If you are able to go and relax and appreciate nature, chances are you’ll find yourself able to look at things from a new perspective, with new possibilities, when you return home and your mind naturally shifts back to the problems you are working on.

Inspiration: Competition

Competition is a major buzzword in our society. Perhaps due to our free market economy, competition has become essentially synonymous with survival of the fittest. The win at all costs approach results in a zero sum mentality: in order for me to win, you must lose. Thus, people will use the rationale of “I’m a competitor” to justify being obsessed with winning, or in some cases as an excuse for being a really poor loser.

Unfortunately, none of the above has much to do with the real nature of competition. Competition comes from the latin com petere, which means to strive together. Bringing out the best in one another. It is not about winning at all costs, or even winning at all. In the same way as being a success, the true measure of competition is only against oneself. This can also be seen in the Olympic motto of citius, altius, fortius: faster, higher, stronger. Not faster, higher, stronger than your opponent – just faster, higher, stronger.

I’ve seen many performers derailed by being overly focused on winning. Patting themselves on the back for a win, when they know their performance was not of top quality. Or sabotaging their confidence by sulking after a loss despite putting forth a tremendous effort.

If you can reconnect with the true meaning of competition, you can find great inspiration in your fellow competitors and in yourself. By striving together, we can achieve more than when we seek to win through domination. Performances become an opportunity to exceed your own expectations, rather than tests to be anxious about. How can you use competition as inspiration?

Inspiration: Perspiration

There are times all of us feel something less than inspired. During these times, we often wait for inspiration to find us. There are two problems with this: 1) it draws our attention to external sources, and 2) while we wait we miss out on lots of opportunities to create inspiration.

Regarding the first point, as discussed earlier, inspiration comes from personal values, purpose, and meaning. Values are choices we make about the life we want to live. While they may be influenced by external sources, ultimately it is an internal process of deciding what we want our lives to stand for. This is why the energy and positive feelings that come from motivational speakers tend to be so fleeting: they are not connected to values, and if they are it is not our values, but rather those of the speaker. So, the next time you are waiting for inspiration, look internally about what you value and who you would like to be.

And after you do that, do something about it! We miss out on opportunities to be inspired by feeling trapped by our jobs, our relationships, our circumstances, etc. While all of these things may make it more difficult to pursue our dreams, they seldom (if ever) make it impossible to do so. Building on the concept of Have Fun First, rather than waiting for inspiration start doing something that you enjoy. For example, if you are working a job that pays well, supports your family, but does not leave you fulfilled, set aside time to pursue something you enjoy. Many a successful career has started as a trivial hobby.

Wondering where you will find the time? How about starting with the time you spend saying how much you dislike your job? Most people find when they start putting time and energy into something they enjoy, they find they have more time and energy to be present with family and other important aspects of their life.

By doing more, working harder at something you enjoy, and having fun, you’ll discover your inspiration.