Sunday, January 31, 2010

How do I experience flow?

Do you understand this chart? Chances are you do but you don't even realize it. A man named Mihaly Chsikszentmihalyi (try saying that name), is the leading expert on the theory of FLOW, or in other words peak performance. According to his findings, there are nine dimensions contributing to a person entering this optimal state. One of the key dimensions if not the most important determinant of someone entering flow is illustrated in this chart.

Flow occurs when our perceived abilities match our perceived challenge. If your perceived abilities are greater than your perceived challenge, the outcome is boredom. On the flip side of the coin, if your perceived challenge is greater than your perceived abilities then anxiety rules. Now, when your perceived abilities is equal to your perceived challenge, you're probably "in-the-zone". Notice how I have italicized the word 'perceived', the reason I did this is because perception is everything. What you believe your abilities and challenges to be, is more important than what they actually are.

So what!?

If you aren't currently experiencing flow, your abilities aren't equal to your challenge. If you are bored at school, practice, or even during your games, you need to challenge yourself. You're probably going through the motions doing just enough to get by without experiencing flow by pushing yourself to the next level.

Or, you might be trying to do more than your perceived ability is able to handle. Take it down a notch, you don't have to be the best player on the team right now, but you can be the best player YOU can be right now. Focus on what you can control and the anxiety will drop.

The theory of flow also works for performance outside the athletic arena. You could experience flow at work, in your relationships, at school, or at church. Flow is not something you can force, however, by making sure your perceived abilities match your perceived challenge, you put yourself in a better position to experience it.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Keep it Simple

I had the wonderful opportunity to talk with MLB's reigning American League Manager of the year Mike Scioscia this evening while attending a kick-off dinner for Angels' minor league affiliate, the Orem Owlz. I asked him about his take on the mental side of sports (baseball in particular), and how it affected him as a player and as a coach. His answer was interesting,

"When it comes to the mental aspect of baseball the key is to keep it simple."

What a great thing to remember while striving to perform on purpose, with purpose. I believe that we tend to make things a lot more complicated than they need to be, and as a result we lose focus of the things that matter most which in turn affects our performance. When you fill your mind with information overload you put yourself at greater risk of experiencing what the sport psychology world calls, "paralysis by analysis", which is just a catchy phrase that means you're thinking about doing so many things that you do nothing.

So in your endeavor to perform on purpose, with purpose I would invite you to remember Coach Scioscia's powerful advice: Keep it Simple.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Are you giving your BEST effort?

I was talking to a high school football player today and I asked him to tell me what he is going to do differently to be a better player next year. He replied, "I want to work harder during practice, I usually just do enough to get by". His answer inspired this article.

Have you ever been "expected" to get a hit, score 20 pts., score a number of goals, or perform at a certain level? As athletes it may be difficult to live up the expectations of coaches, parents, fans, teammates, and even ourselves.

In setting expectations for yourself, consider having the following to be one of the most important expectations you focus on: Give your BEST EFFORT in the present moment.

If you focus on giving your best effort in the present moment, the score won't matter, worrying about what others think won't be a factor, and you will be commited to your movements because fear of failure will not hinder your performance.

Did you give your best today?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Take Out the Trash!

Today I sat down with a baseball team and we talked about "taking out the trash". You know, the kind of trash that stinks, builds up quickly, and doesn't just "magically" disappear. I'm talking about the trash that we fill our minds with! More specifically, I'm talking about the thoughts we have that are detrimental to our performance such as:
  • "what if I mess up?"

  • "what does coach or my boss think of my performance?"

  • "I'm not good anymore"

  • "I would be playing better if I had a better coach"

  • "James is better than me"

  • "I just don't have it today"
None of these thoughts enhance performance, SO GET RID OF THEM! Sport Psychology Consultant Dan Gould calls it, "stinking thinking". And just like the trash in our homes, "stinking thinking" doesn't just magically disappear, you need to do something to get rid of those performance destructing thoughts. It all starts by becoming aware of your thoughts by asking yourself, "Is my attitude or the way I'm thinking going to make me perform better or worse?" It's a simple question, but if your honest with yourself the answer will be clear.

So how do you get rid of "stinking thinking"? After you have become aware of the trash, you need to take it out by replacing it with performance enhancing thoughts such as:

  • memories of success in the past

  • your motivation for playing your respective sport

  • positive self talk (we'll discuss this in another post)
Whether you're an athlete or not, your performance struggles might not necessarily be due to your physical skills or lack thereof, it could possibly be because you haven't taken out the trash in a while, and when were dealing with mental trash, parents, coaches, spouses, or friends can't take it out for you, it's YOUR responsibility.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

What is your motivation?...WHY?

One day while I was waiting to speak to a team, I was watching a softball coach teach his player the fundamentals of pitching, and to make sure that she understood what he was explaining he had her explain the fundamentals of pitching to him. She began to repeat verbatim what the coach had taught her, however, in the middle of her explanation, the coach interrupted her and asked, “why do you do that?”. She sheepishly replied, “I don’t know.” Without waiting for a reply she continued until the coach again asked, “why do you do that?” For the second time she responded, “I don’t know”. Now somewhat reluctant to continue, she decided to explain the follow-through when the coach asked a third time, “why do you do that?”. This time the player was frustrated and repeated, “I don’t know!” The coach walked up closely and gently responded to her frustration with a powerful principle: “When you know WHY you do things, you will have more power in doing them”.

Yesterday I was sitting down with a Division I college wrestler who told me what his goals are for the season, I followed up with the question, "Why are those your goals?" He paused for a moment, looked at me and said, "That's a good question...I don't know." The elite performers whether they be athletes, parents, students, or dancers have something in common: They know WHY they do things. What the average person leaves to chance, the elite athlete does deliberately, they perform on purpose, with purpose, and as that wise softball coach said, having a WHY behind your actions will bring more power in doing them.

Can you remember your worst performance? Has there ever been a time you had bad performance, after bad performance, which was followed by a horrible performance? What was going through your mind? Did you ever contemplate quitting?

Now take time to think about the answer to the following question: Why didn’t you quit?

I’m not a mind reader, but I can tell you that your answer has something to do with your motivation. Your motivation gives you the power to keep going, especially when times get tough because both you and I know that in the world of sports, you WILL fail at times. However, the athletes with a powerful WHY behind their purpose for playing are given something I call staying power, or rather, the power to endure adversity. Renown Sport Psychology Consultant Ken Ravizza once told us that, “adversity is the fertilizer of growth”. To go along with this analogy, if adversity is fertilizer; motivation is the power to push through the adversity even though it stinks and there is a lot of it.

If your motivation is strong enough, you will continue to play on purpose, with purpose even if you find yourself in one of these situations:
· You feel you are better than the person playing in front of you
· You don’t get along with the coach
· You are injured and may miss a significant amount of the season, or the entire season
· Your team is in last place
· You are in a terrible slump or having the worst season of your career

So now let me ask you...What is YOUR motivation? Why?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

What is Peak Performance?

Can you remember a time you were performing at your best? What were you thinking? Did your actions feel effortless? Were you so caught up in the moment that you didn't care what others thought or what the outcome would be? If your answers were 'yes', then you experienced what sport psychology consultants call, "flow", "peak performance", "optimal performance", or an "in-the-zone"experience.

Who can experience peak performance?

You can! And you may have experienced it today without even realizing it. Peak performance can happen to athletes, musicians, dancers, students, business people, parents, etc. Research has shown that peak performance isn't a regular occurrence, nor can you force it upon yourself or others. However, studies have also shown that it's not something that just happens by chance; with the right tools, you could put yourself in the position to experience it more often.

How do I experience peak performance more often?

There are a number of factors contributing to the nature of peak performance, and some of the key mental skills involved are: anxiety management, confidence, motivation, focus, thought control, and self talk. Ultimately, peak performance happens when you just "let go", and focus on the here and now, or in other words, this very moment.

"Performing on purpose, with purpose."

Elite athletes perform on purpose, with purpose. What many average athletes take for granted and leave to chance, the elite athlete will do deliberately. They focus on "this pitch", "this serve", or "this snap". When you are performing in the here and now, and doing so with purpose, you feel no anxiety because you're not concerned about the future, nor are you bogged down by what happened yesterday because you know that you can't control what happened in the past. Peak performance happens TODAY, in this very moment.