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Think Clearly

Think Clearly to Perform Better

Think Clearly to Perform Better

The Sport Science Program Home Page

As a scientist in the centre of the Olympic maelstrom, I get to look very closely at each athlete’s success to dissect it and determine the difference between winning and losing. More often than not, it is the athletes who use their mental skills most effectively who end up on the podium.

Let’s review a few examples from the Vancouver Olympic Games to remind ourselves of how mental skills and habits can be used to ensure success.

Remember Alexandre Bilodeau’s gold medal performance in Moguls? He was the first Canadian to capture gold on home soil. But what was he up to in the 20 seconds before he bolted out of the starting gate? He was repeating his Power Words: “forward” (for his knees) and “soft” (for his jumps).

What about Joannie Rochette? She used relaxation breathing while standing by the boards with her coach to get back into the Zone when her emotions about her mother’s death arose as she was about to start her program. As a result, she went out and won the Bronze medal.

And then there was Canadian skeleton racer Jon Montgomery who has gone on to fame as the host of Amazing Race Canada. He had to prepare for his race immediately after a luger had died in practice. How did he do it? He was so focused on envisioning his race that doing it seemed like an episode of déjà vu.

You will inevitably face challenges as you are working towards your dream. By accepting that you can use mental skills and techniques to influence your performance, you can ensure you are thinking clearly and performing optimally.

Practice focus, positive talk (with power words) and relaxation techniques to boost your mental and physical performance and be in your Zone.

Thinking Clearly is how we can take our better physical health and energy and translate that into a better life on a day to day basis. It is the true potential of the mind-body connection. 

Today's POWER-UP: Apply the 1% Better concept to your mind

EVERY DAY, YOU CAN MAKE A 1% IMPROVEMENT TO YOUR MINDSET! AIM FOR SMALL IMPROVEMENTS IN HOW YOU THINK AND MANAGE YOUR DAYS. MICRO-WINS ADD UP OVER TIME TO CHANGE YOUR LIFE!

Build Your Zone Routine

Build Your Zone Routine

As we wrap up looking at the Zone and how we can get into flow states to optimize thinking and performing, let’s talk about being able to get into the Zone on demand.

If you follow these steps, you can develop a deliberate process for getting into your Zone whenever you need to.

Step 1: Your Zone Moment
Bring to mind what it feels like to be in a particular Zone. Single words are great. Pictures are okay too. Anything that reminds you of the actions, thoughts and feelings that happen during optimal performance in a particular situation.

Step 2: Act - Think - Feel
Zoom in. What exactly were you doing (body), thinking (mind) and feeling (emotions) before and during your flow performance? Write down any additional words that specifically describe your body, your mind and your emotions.

Step 3: Build Your Zone Routine
Identify three things that you can do to recreate your iconic past performance in the future. What thoughts and actions will move you closer to the state you described above?

The key is to build a picture of your ideal performance state so that you can trigger that state by acting like you did when you were in it. From there, the thoughts and feelings will follow. And if you get distracted and are acting in a way that isn’t optimal, take control. Make some changes. Breathe your way into it. Move differently, think differently, transition to a different emotional state.

The goal is to develop systems, routines and skills that make your Zones available to you whenever you need them.

Today's Power Up: Build Your Zone Routine

Build a process for establishing Zone routines that will get you into your ideal performance state. Use The Zone Workbook to build your routine.

Practice getting into the Zone / your flow state when you're training or preparing for a competition.

If you want some feedback on your Zone routine fill out the form below and we'll get right back to you!

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Get Back in the Zone

Get Back in the Zone

The Sport Science Program Home Page

Now that you have a sense of what your Zone is, you need to learn how to return to your ideal performance state when going gets tough. When tension creeps into your relaxed, high-energy, high-output state, your effort increases but your performance drops. Stress and anxiety are the biggest threat to your Zone.

Remember figure skater Joannie Rochette at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics? She started her routine and felt a surge of sadness about her mother’s death because the crowd was applauding her so enthusiastically. So she went back to the boards and spent some time doing deliberate breathing with her coach. Then she went out and skated brilliantly on her way to a bronze medal.

The reason breathing is so effective is that the centres of your brain that control breathing are closely linked to the area that controls stress. If you can calm the electrical activity in the breathing centre, then you have a good chance of calming the stress. That’s why yoga and meditation work.

Deep, controlled breathing to calm anxiety or stress is often called Combat Breathing. You can do it anytime you feel that you are out of your Zone.
 
Here’s how:

1) Get into good posture by aligning your spine and stretching yourself upward. You can be lying down, sitting in a chair or standing. Then relax your muscles.

2) Do a scan for tension in your body and then focus on that area while you take a slow deep breath. Think about “letting go” of the tension as you exhale. (It might take a few breaths to get an area like your shoulders or forehead to release and relax).

3) When you feel you have addressed the tense areas, start taking controlled breaths. (I usually take 4 seconds to inhale, hold it for 2 seconds and then exhale for 6 seconds).

The key is to realize you are stressed and take slow deep breaths – no matter what you are trying to get in the Zone for – a presentation, a performance, a competition, or an exam.

Today's Power Up: Relaxation Breathing

Practice relaxation breathing when stress or tension prevent you from being in your Zone

Take a moment to practice relaxation breathing at least once per day, ideally during a moment when you're feeling tense or stressed. If you practice it enough the relaxation response will become almost automatic whenever you're feeling anxious.

Get in the Zone

Get in the Zone

As we continue to look at the Zone more clearly, let’s add techniques for controlling your flow state.

Shortly before the London Olympics, diver Alexandre Despatie was training in Spain when he hit his head on the board, leading to a concussion and a 10 cm gash in his forehead that required surgery. With the games only a few weeks away, the injury was shocking.

Alex followed his doctor’s return-to-sport protocol closely and resumed training 10 days after the accident. And by the time the games arrived, he was ready to compete, which would require him to perform the same dive that had led to his injury.

If you put yourself in Alex’s shoes (or bare feet on the diving board), you can imagine the emotion of performing that dive in front of thousands of people and millions of viewers. How would he feel? Tense? Nervous? Scared? Anxious?

He was none of these. I know, because I happened to be there that day to see him use a deliberate technique to prepare for the dive. He stood under the board going through the motions of the dive – right down to the facial expression – acting as if there were no fear or tension in his body.

By acting the part, he was able to get his thoughts and feelings to come along. I call it Act – Think – Feel.

The basic physiology is simple: if you move your body in a particular way – say by consciously smiling by contracting the muscles in your face – you tell your body to release hormones that change the way you think and feel.  

The challenge we all face is that this is not the typical sequence. Usually, negative emotions like fear, nervousness, or anger come first and then create negative thoughts that lead to particular actions. Feel – Think – Act. But like everything else, we can create a more healthy and effective way of living if we deliberately use our knowledge of physiology.

Regardless of how you’re feeling, always adopt a posture of confidence and control. Breathe deeply and relax. Unclench your hands. Change your thoughts and emotions through action. You’ll be amazed at what you can achieve!

Today's POWER-UP: Act-Think-Feel 

Let's use the act-think-feel technique to re-create your flow state on demand, anytime you want, rather than just having it “happen”. 

That fantastic performance didn’t just happen. Rather, you put everything together. And you can do it again—if you remember what you did in those moments.

Think about the last time you performed really well at something. Make a mental note of that moment—or write it down—then ask yourself a few questions.

What were you doing before that moment? What were your actions? Were you stretching? Did you have a good breakfast? Figure out what you were doing. Write it down in The Zone Workbook or in the form below.

Now you need to figure out what you were thinking. Were you listening to a podcast or music? Did you tell yourself what you were going to do? Remember what you were thinking. What mindset did you have? Write it down in The Zone Workbook or in the form below.

The final step is to remember what you were feeling. What were your emotions? Were you angry? Excited? Motivated? Happy? Write it down in The Zone Workbook or in the form below.

What you’ll end up with is the roadmap for the process elite athletes go through when they’re preparing for an event. The best public speakers use this process as well. That’s why athletes and public figures have routines that they’re almost religious about keeping.

They know that if they do specific things, they will give themselves the best chance of performing at their best.

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What were your actions? Describe your physical state here.
What were your thoughts? Describe your mental state here.
What were your emotions? Describe your emotional state here.

Presenting the Zone

Presenting the Zone

As we continue our Think Clearly module, I want to ask you a few questions:

Have you ever been completely focused and absorbed in your exercise only to emerge an hour later and realize you just did some of your best training? Or during a competition in which your mind quieted down and you flowed through the steps, and you were able to perform at a level you never knew you were capable of until that moment? 

Just about everyone can identify with moments like this. Unfortunately, for most of us, these moments are rare and seem random. But when we explore the science of human performance, you’ll see that this flow state – “the zone” – is something you can achieve on demand, and it is a state you can control.

In the research literature “The Zone” is known as the Ideal Performance State (IPS). When our activation is low, we lack motivation, interest and energy. When our activation is high, we are agitated, anxious, stressed or tense.

But somewhere between these two activation states (either too activated or not activated enough) there lies the magical ideal performance state. The state where we are energized, motivated, focused, happy, and able to perform at our best.

The Peak Performance Zone exists between two extremes of low and high activation – and you can learn to get there! Knowing what you need – and how to ignite your body and mind to prepare for that demand – can help you build your own Peak Performance Zone. By taking some time to understand your own Peak Performance Zone, you can learn how to achieve your most productive mode in every area of your life.

Today's POWER-UP: Identify Your Zone Moments

DOWNLOAD THE ZONE WORKBOOK HERE.

THE FIRST STEP IS TO GET A SENSE OF YOUR ZONES BY THINKING ABOUT TIMES WHEN YOU WERE ENGAGED AND FULL OF ENERGY – WHILE ALSO FEELING A SENSE OF TIMELESSNESS.

THIS IS YOUR PEAK PERFORMANCE ZONE.

MAKE A CLEAR LIST OF THOSE MOMENTS wHEN YOU WERE IN A STATE OF FLOW / IN THE ZONE. WE WILL BEGIN TO DECONSTRUCT THOSE MOMENTS IN THE UPCOMING POSTS TO SHOW YOU HOW YOU CAN ENTER THE ZONE ON DEMAND.

IF YOU WANT SOME FEEDBACK PLEASE COMPLETE THE FORM BELOW AND WE'LL GET BACK TO YOU WITH COMMENTS AND SUGGESTIONS.

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The Power of Focus

The Power of Focus

The Sport Science Program Home Page

"In all my years working with Olympic athletes, I have learned that focus and concentration are the most important skills. Those who attend to the things that will make them successful, succeed. Those who get distracted are left wondering why they didn’t win. It’s that simple." - Dr. Greg Wells

Focus is effective in helping all of us perform, control stress or improve mental and physical health. Here's an example from the sports world.

Jose Bautista’s famous “bat flip” home run – a three-run shot in the ALCS against Texas on October 13, 2015 is now up there with the most famous home-runs of all time. It is also a perfect example of how an athlete uses focus to get into the Zone.

Here’s how Jose described it in his Player’s Tribune article “Are you Flippin Kidding Me?”:

We knocked in the tying run…the crowd just exploded…50,000 people going crazy…Then I took that lonely walk to the plate with everything on the line….My adrenaline wasn’t 10-out-of-10. It was ten-million-out-of-10. The stage was set. I was so locked in that all I could see was the pitcher. Everything else was out of focus. It was so loud that it was quiet.

What he was describing is the ability to channel the intensity of the moment into his performance by focusing on one and only one thing – the ball. That’s how an elite athlete gets in the Zone and stays there.

It’s no different for you. Each day we need to overcome the distractions of our world to focus on what is most important for us to accomplish if we are to reach our potential. The ability to focus is one of the most important mental skills I want you to learn – and it starts with realizing how important it is.

Today's POWER-UP: Practice Present-Moment Awareness

TAKE A FEW MINUTES TO DO NOTHING BUT COLLECT DATA THROUGH YOUR SENSES. WHAT ARE YOU TOUCHING AND HOW DOES IT FEEL (COLD, WARM, HOT, SMOOTH, ROUGH, SOFT, HARD)? WHAT CAN YOU SEE IN TERMS OF SHAPE, COLOUR, TEXTURE, DISTANCE, CLOSENESS? WHAT SOUNDS ARE CLOSE BY AND FURTHER AWAY AND CAN YOU IDENTIFY THEM ALL? WHAT SMELLS ARE IN THE AIR (YOUR COLOGNE, A CUP OF COFFEE, SOMEONE’S LUNCH)? WHAT TASTE DO YOU HAVE IN YOUR MOUTH (SWEET, SOUR, METALLIC, BITTER)? PRACTICE FOR A FEW MOMENTS EACH DAY AND YOU WILL DEVELOP YOUR ABILITY TO STAY PRESENT, DEVELOP FOCUS, CONNECT TO YOUR BODY AND STAY IN YOUR FLOW STATE.

Welcome to Think Clearly!

Welcome to Think Clearly!

"The only thing standing between you and your goal is the bullshit story you keep telling yourself as to why you can't achieve it" - Felix Baumgartner

On October 2012 Felix Baumgartner stepped out of a small capsule that was attached to a balloon that had climbed to an altitude of 127,852 feet – the edge of space. During the fall, Felix claimed the title of the fastest man ever in freefall having reached a speed in excess of 1300 km/hr. His heart rate ranged from 143-185 beats per minute. During the fall he managed to maintain control and to get out of a 13-second-long flat spin where his body was rotating a rate of one full spin every second. It was without question one of the most incredible human achievements and is a perfect example of peak performance that required precise preparation, elite execution, and clear thinking under pressure. But the mission almost failed, because Felix was afraid of the suit he had to wear.

In the months leading up to the jump, Felix developed paralyzing claustrophobia. The suit that he had to wear was a space suit that was sealed and pressurized. It was not comfortable. Felix began to panic when he had to deal with the suit. Keep in mind that prior to this even Felix had completed 2500 jumps and had jumped off of skyscrapers as well as out of airplanes. So he was no stranger to fear and managing his psychology. 

To overcome this challenge, Felix enlisted the assistance of a sport psychologist, Dr. Michael Gervais. They figured out that Felix was fixated on the suit, and had lost his connection with the overall vision of the mission. He had lost the dream, and was focused on the urgent issue of the day, not the important work that would lead to achievement.

The first item that they worked on was to reconnect Felix with the most powerful element of the mission, which was the dream to do something that no human had ever done before. Then they slowly began to desensitize Felix to the suit, getting him used to small parts of the suit one step at a time. For example, they would put on the boots, and just leave them on for the day, while doing other tasks. This mirrors our principle of the aggregate of 1% gains, which I've talked about throughout this Program. Dr. Gervais taught Felix how to control his breathing to calm himself, and how to speak to himself positively to stay focused. Finally, they worked on staying in the present so that Felix could manage his mind.

The message that you can take from this is that everyone, even the most highly trained and experienced specialists, encounter mental challenges that affect their performance. However, by applying principles from sport psychology, positive psychology and eastern philosophies we can learn to perform to our potential. That’s the foundation of what I call Think Clearly.

This month we will work together to build the foundation for better mental health that will help you reach your high-performance potential.