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.

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The Rule of 1/3s

Simply put: 1/3 of your performances will be average, 1/3 will be great, and 1/3 will suck. Keeping this rule in mind can help add needed perspective throughout your career.

When things go wrong, it is just getting one of the sucks out of the way so it is more likely the next time will be a normal or a great.

As you continue to develop your skills and improve your standards change and greats become normals. Just keep in mind that as soon as we perform a great, oftentimes we expect it to become a normal. It is not a normal until you are reliably performing it 1/3 of the time.

Understanding the Rule of 1/3s helps keep you on the Mastery path.

On the plateau for 7 months and counting…

Of course, my daughter is learning the most complex skill any of us has ever learned: language. And it’s not for lack of trying (lately at 5 in the morning). She’s sticking with it though (as I write this, in fact). At times there is frustration, and even some crying, but no signs of wanting to give up yet. In fact, the frustration and crying seem to make her want to practice more.

There are also no signs that she is blaming herself, cursing herself (I guess that would be progress with her particular task), or comparing herself to others. This seems instructive.

 

Confident like a kid

When did you stop being confident in yourself?

For far too many of us, we may not even be able to remember.

I live in a neighborhood with many kids from newborn babies to early teens, and two things stand out:

1) The youngest kids are full of confidence, and

2) The older kids quickly begin to lose their confidence

The first statement begs the question, “How do you know a baby has confidence?” Because they are willing to try anything. That is confidence. When it doesn’t go right? They try again.

Older kids begin to lose this as they (and those around them) quickly move from accepting any attempt as a positive to judging and evaluating the quality and nature of the attempt as good or bad. And the scary thing is when I say “older” I’m talking less than 2 years old for many kids.

The young kids understand the true meaning of confidence. It is not about where you have been or where you are trying to get to, it is the willingness to accept yourself as you are.

Confidence literally means “with trust” or being true to oneself. Accepting yourself as you are gives you the willingness to try new things without the risk of your attempts being “good” or “bad.”

As with kids, your confidence does not (and should not) have to come from your past successes or failures.

Confidence does not have to mean you believe you will have success in the future.

It is simply accepting yourself where you are right now and being willing to accept that this means sometimes things will work out the way you want them to and sometimes they won’t.

And in either case you try again.

Trust: Mastery

What do you expect your performance to look like over time? Many of us hope for something like this:

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Unfortunately, that is not reality. In his excellent book Mastery, George Leonard suggests that the path to mastery looks like this:

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Not exactly what most of us hope for. Certainly not what most of us are patient and trusting enough to stick with when we are stuck on another plateau.

Yet this is the only path to mastery of any skill: gradual improvements followed by periods of seeming stagnation (sometimes even declines as we learn new skills/techniques necessary for improvement) prior to an outward expression of learning. The outward expression is the key phrase there. Certainly learning and improvement are happening the entire time we are on the plateau. But because we do not get the rewards (both internal and external) of improvements in performance, we tend to despise the plateau and get frustrated.

Trust involves learning to love the plateau. Knowing that this is the time you are preparing yourself for another little breakthrough in performance. Even more that that, it is your time with your performance. No distractions from the joys (and sometimes burdens) and attention that come with increased performance. Reconnect with your passion and inspiration for your performance. Know that another improvement is inevitably coming if you stick with it. Know that others will drop out while they are on the plateau.

Trust the mastery process. Trust yourself. Love the plateau.

Trust: Competition Mindset

In most domains of performance, much more time is spent practicing and preparing for competition than actually competing. This is obviously helpful for skill development. During practice, our mindset is analytical, focused on error detection and correction, and self-monitoring. This mindset is essential for skill development, but as discussed earlier is counter-productive to skill execution.

In order to successfully perform the skills we have trained, we must be able to shift to the competition, or trusting, mindset. In the competition mindset, we let go of conscious control of the movements necessary to perform and allow our learned skills to be automatically executed. The competition mindset is a skill in and of itself (and a difficult one at that), and thus requires practice just as any other skill we wish to develop.

The spectacular performers of Cirque du Soleil at times deliver over 400 performances in a single year. They are masters of the competition mindset, and this is part of their stunning showmanship. For the rest of us, we must intentionally cultivate the competition mindset by dedicating time to practicing in the mindset. This means setting aside time to simulate competition and performing skills without technical feedback, self-monitoring, and coaching. Similar to a physical periodization regimen, how you incorporate the different mindsets will vary based on the time of year. Typically, it would be effective to spend a greater proportion of practice time early in the season to the practice mindset. However, some time, perhaps 5-10%, should still be spent in the competition mindset. Later in the year as skills have been developed and refined and physical training is tapering, the majority of practice time will be in the competition mindset. These sessions will likely be shorter in duration and higher intensity (with some variability depending on the performance) and focused on developing trust in executing the skills already mastered.

No matter what your performance area, spending time in the trusting mindset can be a welcome relief from our tendency to be overly critical and caught up in our own heads. Give yourself time to enjoy performing the skills you have developed. It will result in more effective and consistent performances while fostering confidence and motivation.

Trust

Trust is perhaps the most simple and straightforward aspect of Mental FITness, yet in many ways it is the most difficult and elusive to achieve. In the context of performance excellence necessitating complex, automatic motor skills, Moore and Stevenson (1991) defined trust as, “letting go of conscious controlling tendencies and allowing automatic processes, which have been developed through training, to execute the motor skill” (p. 282). While Moore and Stevenson provided us with a modern operationalization of trust, the concept has been around for quite some time. Suzuki (2010) translated and preserved a letter written by Takuan (no date is given for the letter, but Takuan lived from 1573-1645) that read in part, “when the ultimate perfection is attained, the body and limbs perform by themselves what is assigned to them to do with no interference from the mind. [The technical skill is so autonomized it is completely divorced from conscious efforts.]” (p. 100). Takuan was abbot of a Zen Buddhist temple and was writing about swordsmanship; therefore, his words poignantly capture the concept of trust given the truly life or death nature of the topic of his letter.

In order to develop trust, Moore and Stevenson (1994) demonstrated that three psychological skills were necessary: concentration, confidence, and composure. This is where the foundational component of focus sets the stage for trust as each of these skills are developed while learning focus. Interestingly, it is the mentality Moore and Stevenson (1994) identified as “necessary for skill development (e.g., self-monitoring, verbal cueing) [that] is counterproductive for skill execution” (p. 5). Fortunately, recent research has provided insight into ways to train that avoid the self-monitoring problematic for trust, as well as offering suggestions for how to avoid the tendency for an ironic rebound process to cause the thoughts we wish to avoid to in fact become more prevalent.

The learning of skills without explicit verbal awareness is called implicit learning, and can be applied to motor skills giving us implicit motor learning (Button, MacMahon, & Masters, 2011). Implicit motor learning typically involves providing performers with a distracting task while simultaneously teaching the motor skill. Evidence indicates that skills learned implicitly can better be performed under psychological (Masters, 1992) and physiological (Masters, Poolton, & Maxwell, 2008; Poolton, Masters, & Maxwell, 2007) stress/pressure as compared to explicit learning. This helps to understand the science behind Gallwey’s Self 1 and Self 2 and his techniques such as verbalizing “bounce” and “hit,” which we now know would serve to distract the judgmental mind (Self 1) and allow the motor program to run uninterrupted and unevaluated as in implicit motor learning.

Lastly on the topic of trust, there is now electrophysiological evidence (i.e., Giuliano & Wicha, 2010) to support the theory of ironic processes of mental control proposed by Wegner (1994). Briefly and simplistically, the theory of ironic processes stated that the more people try to suppress (control) a particular thought, the more likely that thought is to occur. This became known as ironic rebound, and is critical because commonly taught sport psychology techniques for self talk involve control processes such as stopping (i.e., suppressing) and changing thoughts. While there is evidence for the efficacy of these types of self talk interventions (see Cox, 2011), an alternative approach with strong support is to accept whatever thoughts come to mind and be willing to feel whatever sensations and emotions arise (Hayes, Strosahl, & Wilson, 2012). Taking advantage of the ironic effect, this approach actually results in less distracting thoughts and facilitates trust.