Coaching, Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

What Makes it Tick?

In past posts I have talked about the concepts of process and product, and quantity and quality in relation to performance. I want to look a bit deeper at the reasons why we tend to “think” or focus on one or the other, and many times one more than the other. While process and product are related, they are not a continuum. In terms of attention, they are perspectives, and one (product) has gained far more attention over time—at a cost.

And attention is the key. You can find a lot of information about setting goals (SMART goals, etc.) and most plans point to something specific and measurable in the future. What is concrete and quantifiable, or what you can get a handle on is a product. This is a good start, but a small part of a broader picture. This approach focuses on the “What.” The diet industry offers an example of this approach selling the product of weight loss—a measurable outcome in the future. Billions are spent yet 90+% of individuals regain the weight they lost (and often more). Could there be something to this process?

The focus on product is outside-in, if-then, and is a mindset that has thrived with the advances of science and technology. Reduce something vast to something measurable and find out what makes it tick. Clockwork, predictable. Do this, get this. When in doubt, chunk it smaller and more tangible. Sounds good?

Maybe…

To use a few examples to further explain, consider the technical aspects of producing a swing in baseball, golf or tennis. Ultimately the tool (bat, club, racquet) reaches the target (ball) and produces an outcome. Video analysis allows a look at static points along the swing path and these data are drawn from the whole. But the snapshot says nothing about the how, the embodied feel of the swing. It says nothing of the transition from point to point or momentum—in other words, the process. This is no different than hearing a musical note in isolation and pretending it’s a song.

All these movements have timing in common. And rhythm is the feel of flow in time. When we confuse time with individual ticks, we reduce something that cannot be reduced because it must be felt in motion. And nothing kills motion, rhythm, and fluidity more than trying to feel or control the ticks—the very source of stress. Rather than isolating a point, performance is the art of feeling motion and when change occurs—feeling the angular momentum of the path, the acceleration of the barrel, club head or racquet as it moves along the path. And this is pure process.

Elite athletes feel and sense a good shot in the process—well before they witness the outcome. But sometimes the outcome doesn’t match the process. You make a smooth and rhythmic swing and the product is a fly out, a drive just in the rough or a serve an inch out. High quality in highly dynamic circumstances with little room for error sometimes turn out that way. This is the essence of trusting the process…

But something different happens when you judge the process solely by the outcome. Sometimes the process is not of the highest quality, yet the outcome works–at least for a moment or a short while. Despite flaws in the process, the drive ends up in the fairway; the baseball finds a hole in the defense; the serve hits the line. Feedback in this manner can lead an athlete down a dark alley without a compass. If you do not understand or sense the process—good luck trying to make adjustments based on the outcome. Where would you even start? It’s like trying to accelerate to the speed limit without noticing your car has a flat tire.

We circle back to the understanding that product consumes our attention because we have something to grasp. Something we can see and manipulate. We have a greater sense of control with outcomes because they can be captured. We feel we have something and can hold people accountable. This is much different when we consider that in process what we have is just feel—what we sense. Science and technology are not fans of intangibles for this reason. In process, the control lies in the motion and negotiation of space in time. It can be felt but not captured (and is very hard to describe) which is why when you change attention and catch yourself thinking you are playing in the zone there is a good chance you are about to lose that sense. It does not like to be placed in a box or considered a tick in time. The zone is flow. It is space not a point.

The mental side of performance requires an ever-increasing awareness, and this is an intimate learning process. And high-quality performance on the elite levels requires an ever-increasing desire to become more aware. And that is the point—both the driver and restrainer of the developmental process. A point not mentioned or discussed much in many realms because of the focus on outcomes and quantities. But it matters. We are always paying attention. But to what or how or why? The answers will lead you to back to process or product. Both matter—but performance and execution dwell in the realm of process—an athlete being an athlete in time and space and becoming more aware of the dynamic, more attuned to the flow of performing.

If you would like more structure to take your mental approach to the next level, consider picking up a copy of my new sports psychology workbook: Above the Field of Play. Or to learn about other sports psychology services pricing (including an assessment of your present mental approach), visit my website at DrJohnPanepinto.com.

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photo credits: Eduardo Balderos, Zoe Reeve, David Goldsbury (unspash.com)

Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

Distraction or…?

The human body is an open system. Our “roots” are only symbolic and movement is a primary principle one of our systems. If we sit in one space (without the help of others) we will never make it as we have to move to survive. And our bodies and minds follow the “use it or lose it” principle.

In an open system, we are able to use, learn, develop, and enhance our internal environment with aspects from the external environment—including other individuals. On some level the inner-outer boundary is arbitrary, but one thing is for sure: being open brings both opportunities for growth, but also positions of vulnerability.

The need for self-awareness is key, for this quality is the true gatekeeper. All experience effects, some more than others. But to know what sustains versus what drains is the essence of the gatekeeper.

There are two ways to assess moving towards a vision and actualizing what one believes to be potential. One is by what is happening and the other by what is not happening. Interestingly, both can be sources of vulnerability, both can infiltrate and decrease the quality of an open system.

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Photo by Lukasz Dziegel from Pexels

 

First, what is happening can become mindless and routine. Worst, it can become too comfortable. We like to do what we like to do. But, discomfort and frustration are an inevitable part of the pathway to development and confidence—and resilience.

Second, what is not happening can be so far under the radar that it only reaches self-awareness when the course/progress/outcomes have radically shifted. In this area, distractions can be a major detractor to development. Distractions can feel good in the moment and are not inherently bad. Most distractions are fairly neutral, and this is a reason why we may not notice until something is not happening.

If you are wondering about your own distractions, ask yourself these questions:

Tools: Am I using tools to plan, track and monitor? Am I using these tools regularly to reflect on what is important and what I really want to give my time to? If not, what is in the way?

Technology: Am I becoming too immersed in my technology/social media? A few minutes here and there can gain momentum and become something much larger in terms of time investment. While technology is not going away, it has to have its place in the overall scheme. Most time on technology is a quick burst for the reward centers. These can become major distractions.

Time: At the end of the day/practice/competition did I give my time (invest) in what I say truly matters? If so, then this builds motivation, confidence, and momentum. If not, look at the who or what or how of time spent. What do you notice?

 

If you would like more structure to take your mental approach to the next level, consider picking up a copy of my new sports psychology workbook: Above the Field of Play. Or to learn about other sports psychology services pricing (including an assessment of your present mental approach), visit my website at DrJohnPanepinto.com.

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Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

Worked–Needs Work

If you have your goals for the year written and envisioned for where you want to be, who you want in your circle, and what you want to accomplish, then it becomes easier to find the point of greatest leverage: Right now.

What can you do right now to align with and move towards your vision?

The answer to this is simply: the process of improvement. I use the word, simply, because it is important to keep it simple. So:

  • Keep your goals with you
  • Look at them regularly—daily or more if you need to
  • Decide what to do today
  • Make the connection between the plan and the process
  • During practice reps, focus on the process—the how of what you are working on

 

At the end of the day, it is extremely important to enlist the power of reflection. Taking the time to consider what you have given your time to reinforces that the process has been meaningful. You are sending important messages to the meaning centers of the brain when you take the time to reflect on what matters. This strengthens connections (mind and muscle memory) and stokes motivation.

Following practice or competitions, a simple method of accountability, as well as an important way to keep track of trends, is the following:

  • Make two columns in your journal or in your progress notebook
  • Label one column: Worked
  • Label the second Column: Needs Work
  • Reflect back on your goals

 

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What works (+)? What needs to change (Delta)?

You will find that you will begin to look at the parts of practice (or competition) differently and be able to integrate these aspects into the bigger picture. Under Worked, consider what improved, what felt in synch, solid, and repeatable. Under Needs Work, track what did not meet expectations, felt less than steady, or what you need to continue to give attention to. From this simple system, you can stay aligned and on target, and plan your next practice session.

If you would like more structure to take your mental approach to the next level, consider picking up a copy of my new sports psychology workbook: Above the Field of Play. Or to learn about other sports psychology services, visit my website at DrJohnPanepinto.com.

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Delta Image Created by Rawpixel.com – Freepik.com

Performance psychology, Self-help, Sports Psychology

One Thing

Each year, more and more information reveals the workings of our mind, the brain, and all of its centers. And generally speaking, the brain mirrors who we are: generalists with specialists supporting what matters most. In other words, there are only a few major sources of motivation and we require different skills and abilities to make this happen. These capacities can be developed, but only with specific intentions.

First, having a plan reduces anxiety as it creates an internal sense of control. Further, having written goals and a system of accountability promotes achievement. What both of these ideas have in common is focusing valuable resources in a particular direction. In other words, in the sea of possibilities, our entire being works more efficiently when there is a clear sense of purpose.

black ball point pen on white notebook
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The greatest strategy for achievement is to focus intently on one thing. Research points to the fact that we cannot multi-task. Interestingly, those who think they are good at multi-tasking actually performed worse than those who did not think they were good at it.

So much for clarity!

While much of our consciousness is on auto-pilot, this state of being frees up energy and focus for what we truly want to attend to. But, often in practice or in competitions we do what we always have done and miss the opportunity of deliberate practice and progress.

So, as 2019 begins, make it a point to ride the power of a clear plan. Before practice, very simply decide what you are going to improve. Write it down. A journal is great for this process as well as for accountability. Eliminate distractions—try to make the practice place a space dedicated to your process, meaning you are there for one reason, one thing only. Ask, how will I know I improved? At the end of practice, revisit the goals and assess. What you will notice is as you make this a habit, your practices:

  • Look different, have more variety, and don’t feel exactly the same
  • You improve in the short-term incrementally
  • Momentum builds and skills (mental and physical) begin to transform
  • Your choices reflect these changes and reinforce them

One thing that is a very important effect of this method, is that we are no longer hampered, held-back or disillusioned by labels and rationalizations. There is much more of an open-ended, process-oriented feel to this method that makes static observations less likely (“I had a bad day.”). You don’t have to blame, shame, make excuses or give in because every day is an opportunity to take a step forward.

Happy New Year and all the best in 2019!

If you would like more structure to take your mental approach to the next level, consider picking up a copy of my new sports psychology workbook: Above the Field of Play. Or to learn about other sports psychology services, visit my website at DrJohnPanepinto.com.

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Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

A Focus on Attention

Attention is complex and there is more to the process than the ability to simply “pay attention.” Focused and integrated attention requires the training and discipline that affords the simplicity of process at the point of performance. At any sporting event, you can hear someone on the sidelines (coach, friend, fan or parent) urge a competitor to “Focus!” The truth is the average attention span is less than 8 seconds and we can process only a small percentage of the sensory (internal and external) information presented each moment. So, where we place our focus and attention becomes more and more important and influential to performance.

spotlight shining down into a grunge interior

Competitive performance requires the self-awareness to focus on the critical elements of execution, and the ability to regulate and shift focus as required. And this is a dynamic process with many factors that test the limits of our abilities. Each event is singular by nature, therefore these abilities must be practiced beforehand.

First, to pay attention requires the clarity of purpose to filter out what doesn’t matter. Basically, three systems have to be in sync to make this happen:

  1. Activation Levels (Energy for the task)
  2. Emotional or Limbic centers (Meaning)
  3. Executive functions managing attention (Focus)

Each of these represents different areas of the brain that must be integrated towards a way of being in the moment, a state that allows one to perform in flow and the Zone of Optimal Performance.

Questions often help us to get to the source of what we can’t sense or feel. Considering the three areas represented above, try these questions to bring each of these centers into awareness.

  1. Do I have a sense of my level of energy (activation or arousal levels) while I am executing? Using a scale from 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest) decide which number or range of numbers represents a good level for performing during a competition or practice. For example, someone standing over a 5-foot putt will have a different activation level (low arousal, alert) than a middle linebacker in football (high arousal, alert).
  2. Do I have a clear sense of meaning and purpose for practice and competition? Do I have goals that represent the vision I have for myself over time of what matters most?
  3. Do I practice focusing and refocusing both in practice and in isolation as a distinct skill set?

These questions clarify the key aspects of attention and focus. Make this important function of the mental game part of your daily routine.

If you would like more structure to take your mental approach to the next level, consider picking up a copy of my new sports psychology workbook: Above the Field of Play. Or to learn about other sports psychology services, visit my website at DrJohnPanepinto.com.

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Photo Credit: Created by Kjpargeter – Freepik.com