There are two main types of progressions in building any sort of capacity—physical or mental. These progressions follow developmental stages and it’s good to know the pattern beforehand. It can save a lot of headaches and needless repetition—even keep you from giving up when you are just a step away from an important goal.
The first progression is incremental growth. Skills, knowledge, and habits are gradually improving and it’s an additive process. This represents little steps headed in the direction of an important change. More information or efficiency has been added to your present level of performance in a skill or strategy.
The second progression is transformative growth. This happens far less often and represents a significant change in mindset or ability. Something “clicks,” or you have a realization—an “ah-ha” moment that rearranges you on a significant level, a way of being, or a way of doing changes in quality. You see what you didn’t see before. You can do things autonomously and have created even more space for growth.
Both progressions are important. But you can’t experience transformative growth without the small steps of incremental growth. This is the most important reason that every moment matters. Every bit of attention we pay to a process matters. Every practice matters. And then, every reflection on a practice or performance, or experience matters.
When this makes sense, there are no good or bad days. We may say we had a “good day” or a “bad day” as a social convention but internally we know better. Every day has the seeds of growth. It all depends on what you give your attention to, and the price you pay in time, energy, and purpose.
Take your mental approach to the next level with my sports psychology workbook: Above the Field of Play. Or to learn about other sports psychology services (including an assessment of your present mental approach), visit my website atDrJohnPanepinto.com.
One habit stands above all others—or should I say below. It provides the foundation for meeting the moment and applies to all roles and situations. In one of the most important books ever written, Man’s Search for Meaning, holocaust survivor Dr. Viktor Frankl, offered that our greatest freedom is our power to choose our attitude.
In this sense, attitude is not referring to the popular use of the word (“You have a bad attitude”). It’s not a descriptor. Attitude is the direction we are pointed in, meaning we intentionally choose our movement into future. We have no control of the great complexity we meet in the world—except how we choose to act.
The space between what we perceive and how we respond is the essence of a human being becoming. The habit of entering that space is the greatest of all. Disciplines that teach us to rein in the wild horses of the mind begin with this intention. To honor this space.
The ways to reach this space are few and the obstacles are many. In a world that reflexively searches for answers with deft thumbs misses something critical… The search for meaning does not have an algorithm. Reflection and contemplation happen in silence, stillness, and solitude.
Those three “S” words make many shudder.
In the role of athlete, coach, or parent, the space for our greatest habit can grow giving more perspective and more room for developing knowledge and skills. If this space doesn’t grow, we repeat the past. Or we act out scripts without our names in the byline.
And that makes me shudder.
(This post originally appeared in A Father’s Path and was edited to suit for athletes and coaches)
images credit: J. Plenio (J Plenio Photography) and Daniel Gonzalez (unsplash)
At any competitive level, attention, focus, adaptation, and resilience decide who moves on and who is left behind. They are the mental qualities and skills that are difficult to quantify and missing from the analytics. On paper, two teams or two individuals could look like a toss-up when you consider the measurables. Yet on game day, results reveal that intangibles can never be overlooked. And, therefore, intentional or otherwise, the unquantifiable qualities are an aspect of every training experience. In other words, you are moving forward because you are intentionally getting the most out of experience (learning, reflecting, adapting, improving)—or you are stuck in a headspace governed mostly by past patterns and mood (see the previous post, Bad day: What’s in a Name?). In this “stuck” pattern, others with similar physical skills and abilities are moving ahead. So, you really are never in the same place.
Attention is the cornerstone of development and performance. While this may sound like a bold statement, attention connects to every aspect of preparation and execution. We pay attention to what we value. We attend to what is meaningful and what we are aiming at. It can be no other way as our mind is goal-directed. Deeper, there is a nuance to attention that recent studies have helped to clarify. While this is very simplified, there are two modes of attention, representing different networks in the brain: The Default Mode Network (DMN) and the Task-Positive Network (TPN).
The Default Mode Network is where the mind goes when not involved in a task. The DMN activates during mind-wandering, thinking of self and relationships, episodic memory, other forms of mental time travel such as to-do lists, thinking of the trophy or thinking of losing in the middle of the event, or craving a cheeseburger. In other words, DMN is steeped in the narrative of the past or the future.
The Task-Positive Network activates during specific tasks in the present such as hitting a baseball, shooting a free throw, hitting a drive off the first tee, or writing an essay. TPN requires focus and alertness in the present, moving step by step through the process.
While this, again, is an oversimplification, you can say when one system is dominant the other takes a back seat. Why does this matter?
Attention to a task is expensive. And some research finds that our mind wanders nearly half our waking life (DMN). These major brain systems are part of an architecture that dates back millenniums. Best to work with them rather than make believe we can outsmart them.
Some coaches preach “the process” and “being present.” Sounds like the TPN and sounds like a great idea. But the DMN is termed the “default” for good reason. This system qualifies who we are and how we are over time—a necessity for survival and making sense of our story. Best to establish a rhythm to these modes, and best to engage awareness of the systems within the process.
The practical application of these networks during practice and competition starts with these building blocks:
Developing the skill: Awareness can be developed above these networks. In other words, we can notice whether our attention is not in the present (DMN) or is engaged in the process of a task in the here and now (TPN).
Noticing and Shifting: The rhythm of the sport will decide the ebb and flow of these networks. The important mental skills then become noticing and shifting based on this flow. Football, tennis, golf, and baseball are examples of sports having natural “breaks” between action and inaction (this does not mean that you aren’t processing or strategizing). A gymnast must practice engaging the TPN for longer time spans which vary (floor exercise versus the vault). You have the important task of identifying this rhythm for your sport.
Flow: The feel of “flow” is different in each of these modes. The DMN can be a space of great creativity, insight, and immersion. And the flow of TPN can be developed between and within practice sessions with mindfulness, visualization, and mental rehearsal.
Attention is a valuable resource intensified by clarifying goals and values. Understanding these modes and their place in mental processing can lead to leaps in your mental approach. Awareness of attention and “where” it’s aimed, can help you to continuously develop the ability to shift, reflect, and shift once more. Most importantly, these skills are not just required to develop sport-specific skills—but also resilience.