Coaching, leadership, Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

Complexity

(estimated 2-3 minute read time)

One of the many questions I ask clients may sound borrowed from a job interview: “What do you see in five years…?” But really, it’s a question of an internalview. The answers range from rich to vague and confused. And that question helps frame the next one: “When you look back on your life over the past five years…?

The day-to-day and the year-to-year can have the flavor of familiarity. Patterns abound. But there’s a process below the surface that speaks to the complexity of life. As you move forward with an aim, you are steeped in complexity beyond imagination. The further out or bigger the goal, the more complexity factors in.

What that translates to is people, things, obstacles, and events that are not in your present experience. If you look back five years, chances are high (regardless of whether you set an ambitious goal or not) that there are people that are in or out of your life, and events and problems that occurred that you didn’t foresee.  

This is one of the understated reasons why individuals don’t set goals or don’t set them too far out. The complexity can be overwhelming. And the courage and imagination to set the vision high can be daunting. Security, safety, and the known will always whisper in your ear to stay put. But this process of imagining a future self is the way that we develop the inner qualities to rise to the goal or vision.

Setting long-term major goals and creating a vision of your future self is the essence of evolution. If you consider who you would be if you became this future self, you have tapped into a deeper process of self-realization. Then the key is to hold this vision both loosely and in the present. Loosely because complexity will emerge with your first step forward. Think of your vision as a point on the horizon. You see the point in the distance within the enormity of the whole perspective, but details are vague.

And holding this vision “in the present” provides an internal compass regardless of the complexity of the situation. Responding and adapting to complexity (demanding, growing), and holding your vision (devotion) in the present will inform your smallest goals, decisions, and the way you problem-solve through obstacles.

photo credit: Tim Johnson (unsplash)

leadership, Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

Coping and Developing

There are two important processes happening when you move towards a goal. The goal may not even be explicit as you make choices based on value all day long. And the goal could be to not have a goal. But these processes are even more noticeable when you do have an idea where you are heading.

Coping represents management in the short term. Developing represents leadership in the long term. Coping without developing can be a lifestyle. Same problems come round and round managed in some fashion in the moment. Same frustrations. The unspoken goal here is for things not to change, to get a different result for the same choices and behaviors. Tools and strategies have become buzzwords in this vein. “I need some tools to handle this.” “I use this strategy when…”

Problem is when you stay in this type of loop, it becomes a closed system. “I know my triggers” but neglect the possibilities of becoming something more. States become traits and you get stuck avoiding or coping with the same situations. Development, in this case, presents as the edge of discomfort and something to avoid.

Intention at the leading edge of growth is doing, being, or having something new and better. It has to be of higher value, or you wouldn’t call it a goal, wouldn’t be motivated to pursue the outcome or quality in the future. This is the essence of development and represents an open system. One that embraces the complexity of the flow between the internal and external qualities and experiences of life.

In an open system of development, frustration or dissonance is not a signal to stop or avoid. These emotions are just messages to tell you where you are in the development of a skill or mental capacity. You can only handle so much change and stress at one time, so coping in this case is regulating the process. You regulate the thoughts, feelings, and sensations without losing sight of the path ahead. You cope with frustration, confusion, or loss and know that if you continue to adjust, learn, and practice, you will develop. Every stage is like this. Every plateau is just a message that a rise (or fall) is ahead. It is up to you to interpret the experience from a future self.

With both processes working towards a future goal, obstacles are seen in a different light. In an open system they are assumed. You will meet challenges. You can handle them and use them to become smarter and stronger. That is the purpose of the problems faced on the path of development. Growth requires resilience and learned, embodied experience with the pull of the future guiding.

Finally, control feels quite different when you are open to the challenges of developing. In a closed system you avoid, discount, or dismiss experiences beyond the edge of control. While developing in an open system, a sense of control comes from trust in your ability to learn and adapt (smarter) and regulate the dissonance (stronger). It’s comfort with the discomfort at the edges of chaos.

photo credit: Jametlene Reskp unsplash.com

Coaching, leadership, Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

Scattered

It can be argued that the most important quality for performance is the fidelity of attention. Attention connects focus to motivation, all our mental models of performance, and goals. It’s the process of attending that taps into intention, learning, informing, decision-making, and growth.

Try this experiment. Take a ball and toss it in the shape of an arc above eye level and completely across your body to the other hand. When you get a rhythm, add another ball, tossing the second one higher or lower than the first. Now add a third.

There’s a reason it’s called “juggling.” The inexperienced juggler is trying to meld multiple tasks—one ball and one toss at a time. The experienced juggler is aware of the three balls in space and focused on the process as a one activity. If one of the balls goes offline, his hand “finds” the ball. The juggler has a sense of space and rhythm that makes the movement experience whole.

Likewise, the dancer is aware of the dance yet not the mechanics which have been internalized in rehearsal. There’s a sense of quality held together as a whole by rhythm. And the chess master sees patterns, not one move at a time, and sees checkmate well before the moves are made.

These skills and aptitudes are trained, honed with the highest quality of attention.

Training attention is a process. And multi-tasking is not a thing. Doing unrelated tasks, or marginally related tasks at the same time simply means you are shifting attention in time, focused on a single task at one time. Then shifting to the next task. It’s linear and not effective. And it scatters attention.

Try videoing the experience of multi-tasking. You will notice things you do not notice in real time. Stops and starts. Hesitation and noticeable pauses. Changes in rhythm and breathing. Like the first time you tried rubbing your belly and patting your head.

We live in a world that has compressed the time envelop. We want things now. Waiting doesn’t seem optional. And the competition for your attention increases noticeably—in shorter time frames. And sometimes without you noticing.

If you’re scattered when you are not competing, practicing, or performing, there’s a good chance the quality of your attention is less than in the important time frames of executing. Chances are you spend most or a good portion of your day not training, learning, practicing, or competing in your sport. But you are always attending. Because attending is a process and how well you attend is a quality.

Natural processes require fidelity. Fundamentals work this way. Try scattering your sleep, your eating, your relationships, your learning, or your trust…

It doesn’t work. The quality suffers as does the process (and, therefore, outcomes).

Intention informs attention. While each day has a rhythm and a structure that includes the highest priority activities, don’t underestimate the power of “paying” attention during the “in-betweens” or activities of seemingly low importance. Do what you are doing. And be present. And limit activities that scatter attention.

Over time you will notice a difference in attention in everything you do.

Photo credit: Oliver Hihn (unsplash.com)

Performance psychology

Above the Fields

Above the Field of Play turned four years-old on August 4th. One of the many things I’ve learned from sports (and life) is that you can have a well-articulated plan that becomes worn, incomplete, or obsolete. Or sometimes it evolves to something more than you anticipated. Since starting this adventure of trying to capture what is hard to express, but needs to be heard in, on, and above the fields of performance, well…I’ve changed. I’ve met many people, had many teachers in many forms, and been through life challenges that I never saw coming. And I’ve come to realize that my plan needs upgrading. 

With that said, moving forward, this space will be about providing information truly above the field of play, but also above the important life spaces that require the same knowledge, character, commitment, and dedication.

Originally, when I considered the space above the field of play, I thought of all the development that occurs in body and mind in to improve and perform in a way that honors the essence of growth and competition. And by competition, I refer to the origin of the word: to strive together. We can’t develop competence of any form without relationship. It doesn’t happen in isolation.

Yet information continues to explode, and lists, systems, and programs arise as if there is a template for the development of expertise. Not so. There are principles and guides that inform the endeavor. And the process is sacred ground that starts with a very clear idea of what you are willing to do, to give, and to give up on the rise to the rare air—the higher reaches above the field of play.

So, I will refer to the fields of play from here on. For if you go deep enough, the process of development and mastery within the whole of relationships is very much the same.  

Photo credit: Melanie Panepinto

leadership, Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

Signs and Signage of the Times

Every two years (it used to be four!) I find myself saying the same thing around bedtime. “Five more minutes,” which then turns into ten. And so on…The Olympics refuse to make it easy to say, goodnight, and I find my bedtime extended to hours not typically seen. But to lose a bit of sleep to witness some of the highest and best we have to offer seems like a very good deal.

Some of the greatest Olympic moments that filled me and inspired me are still with me like little notes in a lunchbox to “give your best.” Franz Klammer’s Gold Medal Downhill run in the 1976 Olympics at Innsbruck, a breathtaking 105 seconds on the edge of beauty and catastrophe. The 1980 USA Men’s Hockey team (boys versus men) taking Gold preceded by the question, “Do you believe in miracles?” in their semi-final game versus the USSR.

Many, many more each night over the years and they still give me chills. Awe is a need not so often fulfilled. To feel it and live it reminds that we are less than without a sense of awe at our center.

This year, in 2021, we experience the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. An asterisk will remind that the signage signifies a year of waiting. A year unlike any other. But awe still prevails. So many stories and conversations emerge and for many of us we find common ground in the joy of victory and the pain of falling a bit short. This year and years to come, I will remember Allyson Felix not just for her performance but for the person. In a time when role models and real heroes are veiled by celebrities and influencers, she is the real deal. As real and true as they come.

Since her first games in 2004 to the present, Allyson Felix has represented grace, humility, and a level of excellence unmatched.  The same can’t be said of a certain four-letter sports brand (rhymes with shnikey) who offered a major pay cut to Felix, negotiated while she was pregnant. But Allyson turned insult into opportunity and crossed the Olympic finish line with her own brand of shoes. Amen.

And while disrespected, Ms. Felix kept her eyes on what matters most to her—at home and away. She did it with her fierce will, boundless determination, and joy evident in her ever-present smile. I can’t imagine a better role model, a better representative of self, country—and her own enterprise.

Some come and go. And some are found out. It’s consistency over time that makes the true champion. Allyson Felix has been consistently great as an athlete and a person. We are blessed to be able to experience her greatness and steadfast integrity from a place so far away from home. Worlds away she is worlds above. Someone to look up to.  

Note: This post first published by this author on Afatherspath.org on 8/8/2021

Photo credit: dreamstime.com