Getting back in to competing recently I stumbled across Dr. Jack Llewellyn, a US sports psychologist who’s performance program has long been considered one of the worlds best. His approach seems so simple, implementable, and transferable, I really wanted to share it with you.
So as not to bastardise his program, understand this is simply my summary of his process as I’ve been exposed to it so far.
Headspace with competing is something I used to do well. Until, through continued success, it became expected by others that I would win, then it pretty much all went south. One of my main attractions to sport, any sport, is watching top performers keep their cool. I’ll never get tired of that as a spectacle, and it’s probably because I have to work so hard at it myself when competing. Recently watching Australia’s swimming sisters Cate and Bronte Campbell, be interviewed, the individuality of everyones headspace in peak performance moments was highlighted. Cate being more like me. She has two sides fighting each other. One part screaming at her to run, to stay safe, and the part that wants to challenge herself, wants to put yourself at risk. Where as Bronte reported that her favourite part of competing was the build up to the race. That she just loved the excitement and intensity of it and was totally “in” it. No mention of fear.
What I’m getting at here is something Dr Llewellyn talks a lot about - there is no rewiring of your brain. You are who you are. Learn to live and deal with it. These two sisters are diametrically opposed in terms of their mental space when it comes to handling performance related stress, yet both have world class performances under their belts. Along this topic he’s also a big proponent of not filling your head with ideas that you’re capable of anything. Which is harsh medicine to take for all the spiritual types out there who love The Secret and sayings like “if you see it/believe it you can achieve it”. It’s straight up bollocks. And it’s refreshing to have one of the most successful experts in helping corporates and athletes succeed in their field say so. There is a reason the best are the best at what they do. They have the assets (including talent) to get them there, they’ve learned how to manage their liabilities, they understand what winning means to them and how to meet that expectation, and they understand that their goals have to be chosen based on their assets and liabilities.
What do I mean by assets and liabilities? Well here’s a really easy example. You may see and believe with all your heart that you’re going to make the NBA. You may have all the right coaching, exposure, resources etc, but be 5 foot. Dream over. Intellectually and physically you need certain attributes to achieve certain things. Genetically… you need certain attributes to achieve certain things. The number of young females who’ve pleaded with me to help them get the ‘gap’ and I’ve had to explain, short of them doing a stint in Ethiopia, their parents assured them of never achieving that, it’s sad! It leaves them constantly stressing trying to achieve a goal they’ll never achieve. Which only ends up in making them feel like more of a failure, despite their own obvious beauty - thanks social media. This doesn’t mean you accept average from yourself, cop out and stop running the race. It just means you need to be real with yourself and where you’re at.
One further problem the message that you can be or do anything creates is a constant sense of lack. This is made worse by living in magical social media world where everything is glamorous all the time. We don’t have enough money, a nice enough car, our bodies aren’t good enough, our job is lame etc etc. Essentially we’re not good enough. So this is what I like about Dr Jacks basic frame work. It helps you keep it very real, is set up so that you have consistent wins, and helps people understand what’s actually important. What actually needs care and attention.
His steps as I understand:
#1. List your assets and liabilities: It’s really important when you begin this process that you understand success brings stress. More success, more stress. So by seeking it, you’re accepting that. Make one of your assets you’re ability to thrive under stress. For CrossFit your assets may be “quick learner, naturally co-ordinated, mobile, confident” etc, liabilities might be “low relative strength, mental resilience, lack power” etc.
#2. Decide what your goal is based on your new found understanding of what you are personally capable of. Obviously this is dynamic to a degree. The more skilled one becomes (more knowledgeable, mentally tough, stronger, whatever) the more “talent” you have to put toward achieving more advanced goals. This is what people mean when they say be realistic with your goals. But it’s never really explained what is meant by realistic - realistic in relation to what? Not your NBA dream, but what you’re actually capable of.
#3. Answer in relation to that goal: What does winning mean to me? This helps keep you process focussed, not outcome
focussed. Make sure anyone who is helping you knows what winning means to you.
#4. Answer how you can make sure you meet these expectations.
#5. Reverse engineer your goal. Work it back to what tasks you need to do today. And then when you hit today, reverse engineer your goal from “I want this done by the end of the day” to “ I want whatever the first step of the process is for the day done by 10am.”
#6. Celebrate every achieved step. You get your days major goal done, celebrate THAT DAY - by doing anything that’s a little luxurious or different for you. Don’t wait until the weekend says Dr Jack, and he gives the reasoning that the next 4 days may be terrible! Then you’re left going out on the weekend feeling crap having taught yourself nothing about winning.
So there you have it. Really, these steps are so basic, anyone can do them. After the lessons of the Open, or your last year of training, maybe this is a good time to put pen to paper! Hope it helps!