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Lessons Learned From Sports Psychology

“Just play. Have fun. Enjoy the game.”-Michael Jordan

If you grew up being an athlete, then you probably can relate to Michael Jordan”s quote. You also probably can relate to the “life as a sport” metaphor, probably etched in your mind by a coach or two that belicekyou had along the way. As a high school football player, I had a charismatic coach by the name of Hugo “Scooch” Giagiari, who use this metaphor quite frequently. “The game of football is like the game of life…,” and some inspirational, motivating, speech would follow. In college, I was fortunate to play football for a hard working, blue collar plugger, by the name of Peter Mazzaferro, who began each preseason with a speech about how the walnuts would always rise to the top of a jar of jelly beans, his metaphorical way of explaining how the best players would emerge through the first week of double sessions. For while after my competitive athletic career ended, these kinds of stories were merely good memories. When I became a psychotherapist, I became aware of the truths in much of what these men taught me.

The truth is that counseling psychology, personal coaching, and psychotherapy is way behind the curve in comparison to sports psychology. I believe the reason is that sports psychology takes a far more comprehensive approach to human performance. It has to, because unlike other types of counseling, sports psychology has measurable, observable outcomes by which one can gauge the improvement. An issue that many have with traditional psychotherapy, myself included, is that the results are often hard to quantify, both for therapist and client. Some in the field would balk at my statement, my contention is that sports psychology has a lot to teach a psychotherapist. While you may not agree with the life as sport metaphor, you may be able to see that the comprehensive approach taken by sports psychology could lead to the creation of a more well rounded life.

Sports psychology draws from a number of disciplines in order to obtain desired results. Drawing fromShot-Put-Throw-Reese psychology, physiology, kinesiology, and biomechanics, sports psychology examines how these fields interact and effect human performance. Athletes become deeply involved in a comprehensive process that is well thought out, frequently readjusted, building up to one or more competitive events. These competitive events are, in many ways, similar to stressors that we all face as part of our lives. Wouldn’t we be better prepared for these stressful events if we approached our lives from the total wellness perspective that sports psychology suggests?

Some of the more commonly used sports psychology techniques have a place in the healthy lifestyle of everyone, both athlete and non-athletes. A few of these techniques are:
1. Arousal Regulation-This is the ability to control our level of anxiety before, during, and after stressful events. For athletes, these are their competitions. For others, these are life events such as the presentation at work, the final exam, that date with a special someone, marital problems, and virtually anything else you can think of. Learning to control your mental and physiological arousal systems allows you to slow things down, make better choices, and perform better. For athletes, as well as nonathletes, this can be done through techniques such as the breathing exercise, progressive relaxation, positive self talk, and various other methods.

2. Goal Setting-Successful athletes and teams tend to be those that are most goal oriented and persistent. Athletes and teams that perform best are the ones that know where they are going and how they intend to get there. Successful coaches put a lot of thought into where they and their team are in an ongoing process. Well formulated goals tend to be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time sensitive, subject to evaluation, and can be re-adjusted as needed. Successful athletes and nonathletes can make good use of these principles.

3. Visualization-This is an area where sports psychology is far ahead of counseling psychology. Successful athletes tend to visualize, in their minds eye, how they intend to perform. The human mind karatecannot distinguish between something that is imaginary and something that is real. Athletes have been doing this for centuries. In the martial arts, especially karate, visualization is a major part of the practice. The karate student visualizes, as vividly as possible, his opponent while practicing what appears to be ritualized routines called kata. In basketball, visualization is part of good foul shooting, boxers shadowbox, golfers mentally line up putts, and so on. Everyone should visualize, as positively as possible, things that they have anxiety about performing. Mentally planning that interview, presentation, do-it-yourself project, or virtually anything you can think of will tend to create the outcome that you want.

4. Pre-performance Routines-Athletes use routines and rituals to decrease preperformance anxiety. Controlling the level of arousal before a stressful events tends to slow down anxiety to its optimal level. An athlete would never want to eliminate all anxiety, as anxiety is necessary for optimal performance. All successful athletes, whether they are conscious of it or not, have preperformance routines. To an outsider these routines often appear like superstition, and perhaps they are, but they allow the athlete to control subjective feelings that could get in the way of optimal performance. Finding rituals and routines that fit in with your life stressors can go a long way to improving your performance in anything that gives you anxiety that you feel the need to control.

5. Positive Self Talk-What goes on between our ears is incredibly important for both athlete and nonathlete alike. The things we say to ourselves before, during, and after stressful events are a major part of how successful we are. Some athletes are naturally better at this than others. Those that speak out loud to others about their positive self talk are often perceived as “cocky,” “conceited,” or “arrogant.” Muhammed Ali, Joe Namath, and Deion Sanders are examples of this kind of athlete. Some keep the positive dialogue inside. Tiger Woods, Tom Brady, and Barry Sanders, are examples of those that keep SANDERS  their internal dialogue to themselves. If an athlete is successful, it is a guarantee that they engage in positive self talk on a regular basis. One cannot be successful without this. Everyone, athlete or not, can set themselves up for success by engaging in as much positive self talk as possible. It’s your call as to whether or not you share this with others.

6. Rehabilitation and Injury Prevention-In athletics breakdowns in functioning are obvious. An athlete knows when they are injured and when they need rehab. Athletic trainers systematically work with athletes to get them back into competition as soon as possible. The same is true of psychotherapy or personal coaches. I often tell my clients that one of our goals is to get them “out there,” into the real world as soon as possible. The real therapy takes place outside of the counseling room, in the real world, when a client uses a skill or technique successfully to cope with a life stressor. In athletics, an athlete doesn’t know how successful his physical rehabilitation is until they are back in competition. A therapy client really isn’t much different.

Sports psychology has a lot to teach those of us who engage in counseling psychology. Taking a more comprehensive and preventative approach works far better for most clients. Yes, some clients want to talk and the vent emotions, but most want results. Using principles borrowed from sports psychology increases the ability to get them back out there sooner, better equipped to cope with life on life’s terms.

Life is a contact sport, so strap on that helmet and get out there and make a play!

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Becoming The Observer

Have you ever wondered why it is so much easier giving advice to other people than it is to figure out advicewhat you should do yourself? Why are some of us capable of helping out others with their problems, while our own leave us baffled? Too bad we couldn’t figure out some way to give ourselves some of that sound advice that we pass on to others. Good news, there is a way.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is a type of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy that has the answer to this dilemma. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, also known as ACT, uses a number of techniques and strategies that allow people to give themselves sound self-help. ACT therapy, while best learned from a competent therapist or personal coach, is perhaps the ideal type of self-help. One of the strategies that ACT uses is referred to as Self as Context, or “The Observer.” The goal of this strategy is to allow an individual to view their situation from the outside, as if it was happening to someone else. People find that, in doing so, they gain greater objectivity, are less emotionally reactive, and make better decisions. Used frequently a person develops the ability to give themselves the same kind of sound, solid, advice that they often give to others.

Perhaps the biggest reason that we are able to be so wise and objective when dealing with others is that we are giving advice objectively, with no emotional attachment to the process or the outcome. If you have been following this blog, you have become aware of the role that emotions and faulty logic play in most problems that we have in life. It is our interpretation of the events, feelings, and emotional reactivity that usually cause the discomfort and distress. These emotions and discomforts usually surface through emotional states such as doubt, shame, poor self image, and lack of confidence. When we give advice to someone else our advice is usually sound because we are not privy to those internal events of other people. It is those internal events that get in the way and sabotage life.

The ACT strategy of The Observer can also be used to keep us living within the realm of our own personal moral compass. Most of us have standards of morals for ourselves that we consciously try to adhere to. When we act in ways inconsistent with those values we suffer emotions such as guilt, shame and remorse. Most adults who make these kinds of poor decisions do so without weighing the options learning-center-shadowfully before acting. Taking the perspective of The Observer is also effective in keeping us in line with the moral standards that we have. Carl Jung, one of the giants in the field of psychotherapy, described the dark side that each of us has as the Shadow Self. He believed that the Shadow Self is the flipside of the ideal that each of us has and the standards that we try to live up to. When we act in ways that allows the Shadow Self to do its thing we feel guilt, shame, and remorse and suffer a subsequent lack of self-esteem. Adopting the role of The Observer allows us to control the Shadow Self, giving it advice and direction, much in the same way that we do for our children when they are young.

There are numerous ACT strategies that allow one to adopt the role of The Observer. I’ll mention a few here to get you started. You should also feel free to create your own. The goal here is to observe your situation and your difficulties AS IF THEY WERE HAPPENING TO SOMEONE ELSE. You are not trying to deny your problems by any means, you are trying to get more objectivity so that you can attack the problem using your intellect rather than your emotions.
Some strategies to start with are:
1. Adopt the third person-Describe to yourself what’s going on using a name instead of I or me. Don’t use any self talk in which you think of yourself in the first person. People find it helpful to use a name and discuss it, either to themselves or to someone else, as if it were happening to someone else. This separates you from the emotions that you would otherwise experience. At some point you may want to ask yourself “What should a person in this situation do?” “What’s the best decision for this person to make” is what you are trying to get it. Not what should I do.
2. Create a story-Creating a story about your situation is a powerful way to develop some objectivity and make a more rational choice. If you review lost opportunities of your life, you’ll probably find that you would have been successful in many cases where you did not even try. You now realize that you probably could’ve done a lot of things that you never attempted. You didn’t do those things because of a story that you probably told yourself. The “I’m not good enough” story, or the “they wouldn’t hire me” story, or the “he/she would never go out with me” story are the typical tales that one tells themselves.

Many successful people do this instinctively. Ted Williams, perhaps the greatest hitter in baseball history, spoke of himself to himself as “Teddy Ballgame.” Muhammed Ali, former heavyweight champion, referred to himself as “The Greatest,” and eventually talked himself into believing it. I’m not saying you need to be this grandiose, what I am saying is you need to find ways to refer to yourself realistically.
3. The Helicopter View-When dealing with a difficult situation learn to associate a deep breath with viewing the situation from above, as if from a helicopter. I often ask clients to view a difficult situation in this manner. I add the analogy of the situation as a hurricane, and ask them, “What would this look like if you were flying over it? You’re in the hurricane right now. If you could fly over this in a helicopter right now, what would it look like? What would be your best options here?

4. Put the I/E-This is a simple formula that I usually write on a piece of paper or whiteboard to show clients. I explain to them that the best choices are made when we use our Intellect over Emotions. We then discuss their dilemma analyzing their thoughts as products of either the I, intellect, or the E, emotions. Analyzing in this way for a few moments quickly creates far better judgments, as a person quickly labels thoughts as either rational, and part of the intellect or irrational, and part of the emotional. A very simple tool that you can use instantly with very little setup.

5. Write a story about the problem-This is best used when the problem appears to be huge. Writing the story out, substituting a fictional character for yourself, opens your mind to a world of possibilities. As you get to the decision-making point of your story, stress the best possible outcomes rather than the things you fear. Asking questions like, “What’s the best possible way that this can go?” opens up possibilities and increases the likelihood of better decisions and better outcomes. If you’re dealing with a huge event spending some time working on this story, in writing, can lead to clarity. Discussing the story with a therapist, personal coach, or trusted friend amplifies the benefit of this strategy.

Becoming the Observer is a skill that takes a little time to develop, but when it does it pays huge woman-looking-in-mirrordividends. It decreases emotional reactivity and pain and leads to more realistic decisions. Begin to implement these strategies for small things and attempt to make it a part of your natural decision-making process. Doing this regularly keeps the skill fresh. When you need this for bigger problems in your life the process we’ll be more natural and spontaneous.

P.S. Please check this blog regularly for more articles like this, and share the information with those who can benefit from it. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org.

The Seven Habits Of Success

It is human nature to view success as an event, something that happens, and when it does it gives us happiness and fulfillment. But is success an event or is it a process? Maybe it’s even more detailed than that.

guyStephen Covey, author of the 1989 best seller “The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People,” viewed success as a habit rather than an event. The book sold more than 15 million copies worldwide and remains one of the most influential nonfiction business books. While the book is remembered as one directed toward to the business world, it is perhaps more beneficial if used by individuals to create positive habit change. Covey believed that individuals are part of a system, whether the system be a corporation, small business, team, or even a family. The book, however, gives sound advice to everyone as it preaches personal responsibility as well as collaboration with larger groups.

Covey contends that our character is really a collection of our habits. Most people develop habits in an unconscious, random fashion. The Seven Habits is about identifying positive habits and consciously creating the kind of character we would like to have. He identified three, broad, lifestages that we all move through. They are:
1. Dependence-This is the stage which we are born into and characterizes the first part of our life. In this stage we must rely on others to take care of us.
2. Independence-This stage is the stage in which we learn to take care of ourselves, and make our way independently in the larger world.
3. Interdependence-In this stage we cooperate with others in order to create and have life experiences that cannot be achieved independently.

During the era in which Covey’s book was written, most all books of the self-help genre focused on the individual as a separate entity. What makes Covey’s book relevant is that he views individuals as a hands  member of systems, having responsibility to others as well as the self. A look at his seven habits reveals this. He emphasizes that in order to become a valuable member of an interdependent system, one must be independent and autonomous first. His first three habits focus on self control. Habits 4, 5, 6, address interdependence, and habit 7 brings it all together.

Here is a breakdown of the Seven Habits of Highly Successful People:
1. Be Proactive-If positive change is to be a habit, then it must come from within. Highly effective people make conscious decisions to improve their life, attempting to influence and control what they can. They live life in cause, not effect. They attempt, whenever possible, to exert influence rather than react to external forces.
2. Begin with the End in Mind-They ask themselves questions that clarify the reasons for their actions such as “What’s my goal here? Where am I going with this? What do I want to have accomplished when this is done?” In Covey’s booking he suggested the writing of a personal mission statement. Some of you may remember that mission statements were quite the rage in the 1990s, largely because of Covey’s influence.
3. Put First Things First-Here Covey is suggesting prioritizing, and doing things that are most likely to get you toward the end that you have in mind . Identify individual tasks and set a time frame for each one.
4. Think Win/Win-Here Covey is entering into the realm of interdependence. This win-win expression that has entered business language originated with Stephen Covey. This means to create relationships that are mutually beneficial in as many areas of life as possible. The business world loves this idea, but it also holds up well in our personal and private lives. People who have successful personal relationships intuitively engage in a give and take relationship with significant others.
5. Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood-Covey presents this habit as the most important principle of interpersonal relationships. This concept became a guiding principle for salesman, politicians, and people trying to influence others. While your goal may not be to become a slick politician or salesman, I think you can see how this would benefit your personal relationships. How much better would your relationship be with your wife, husband, significant others, and children be if you stuck to this principle?
6. Synergize-This again is one of those words that went mainstream because of Covey’s book. Combining the strengths and abilities of different people toward a common goal is what Covey meant by this term. He also used the words, teamwork and leverage in this section, two words that now permeate every business or organization.
saw7. Sharpen the Saw-This final habit emphasizes renewal and replenishing. Covey suggests that each person find ways to balance and renew personal energy, health, wellness, spirituality, and relationships. A healthier individual is capable of being both independent as well as interdependent.

Covey’s book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People”, is much more detailed than this brief description. This article distills down the important parts of his completed work. This book, readily available on the Internet for free , is certainly well worth reading. This article was meant to give you a starting point.

Make success a habit!

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The 80/20 Rule

Lots of times in life it seems like we are merely spinning our wheels and getting nowhere. Then, seemingly for no reason that we can identify, things come together. Things often seem to get done 80 picsomehow. We get some task, project, or job done despite having no clue what happened. While this does not happen all the time, most people can identify with this strange phenomenon and provide examples. It seems that there is some logic behind these synchronistic events, and it’s not just because the universe momentarily lined up properly.

These kind of apparently random successes may be best identified through what is commonly referred to as be 80/20 rule. This principle states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. The formal name of the 80/20 rule is the Pareto principle, named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who observed in 1906 that 80% of Italian land was owned and controlled by 20% of the population. He later observed that 20% of the pea pods in his garden contained 80% of the peas. Numerous other measurements of productivity he came across also showed roughly the same ratio. He also notice that the 80/20 ratio of land ownership applied to most nations around the world.

The 80/20 rule also holds up pretty well when applied to human behavior. Stated as a behavioral principle, roughly 80% of your results will come from 20% of your efforts. In some instances you can isolate and quantify the 20%, and others you can’t.


Let’s consider some examples:
-Goal setting is perfect for application of the 80/20 rule. The 20% can be the planning. Taking an adequate amount of time at the beginning of a project, using written strategies will lead to greater efficiency and improved output. The 20% you put in on the front-end yields most of the result that you obtained. In working towards a project, taking time to isolate and quantify the first 20% makes for a far better result.
-Fitness goals can best be obtained through recognition of the 80/20 rule. Taking time to plan out meals, exercise regimens, and rest periods will lead to better results than haphazard eating and training when you feel like it. Your body will respond to diet and exercise along predictable, scientific principles. Using 20% of the process to study your body’s unique responses brings huge results over time. The “it’s bad genetics” excuse that you give yourself for failure simply isn’t true. Using 20% of the process to study what you need to do to get where you want to be will rectify what you thought was impossible. Again, the 20% that goes into planning brings the results.
-Relationships are also subject to the 80/20 rule, but in a slightly different way. Here you cannot control the response on the other person. You can however, control your actions and behaviors. For example, your husband, wife, or partner can never be systematically controlled. They may, however, be positively impressed with approximately 20% of what you do. She may notice and respond positively on Wednesday to the dishes that you washed on Tuesday. He may respond positively to that great meal that you “just threw together” at the last minute. While you didn’t consciously plan either of these, they created a positive outcome. Good relationships are based on these seemingly little things more so than the fireworks, bells, and whistles that are planned.
Parenting also is subject to the 80/20 rule. Your children respond to what you try to instill in them in a kid   very random way. They not only listen to what we say, but they observe what we do. We all know that, “Do as I say, not as I do,” doesn’t work. The 80/20 rule is a possible explanation for this. In parenting, it’s the little things that bring big results. It’s that conversation in the car, vacation you forgot about, understanding that you show your child when they screwed up, and a bunch of nonscientific other things that make the difference.


Stephen Covey, author of “The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People,” referred to this 80/20 principle through something he called “sharpening the saw.” He used the analogy that taking some time to keep life’s tools sharp made for a more productive life. While the numbers 80/20 may not always be exact, the principle behind it may be. While we always can’t control what happens in life, we may be able to gain an upper hand by an awareness of this principle.


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Sweet Dreams Are Made Of These

“Sweet dreams are made of these. Who am I to disagree?”-Annie Lennox

dreamsSleep is one of the most mysterious functions of the human body. Many of us have a kind of love-hate relationship with it. We know we need it. We get cranky without it. And when the demands of life get too high we try to get by with less of it, usually failing miserably in the process.

So what is sleep, why do we need to do it, what happens when we skimp on it, and how do we improve it? For centuries there was no scientific proof that sleep was even needed. All science knew was what happened when we didn’t sleep. It wasn’t until 2013 when the University of Rochester released a study on why sleep is needed that we had our answer. We now know that our brain needs sleep to survive. It seems that during sleep our brain cleans up the accumulated brain junk that builds up during our waking hours. Sleep eliminates these waste products, tidies things up, and allows for better functioning the next day. It seems that all human cells produce waste products as part of normal functioning. The rest of the body has the lymphatic system to clean cells, but the brain is separated from that so sleep aids the process. Cerebrospinal fluid carries these waste products straight down to your liver for elimination. During sleep this fluid moves twice as fast as normal, because your neurons shrink by half, making the pathways to the liver wider and more efficient.

We are all too familiar with how we feel when sleep deprived. No need to get into that here. In addition to what you already know, it’s important to realize that there is no mental illness or emotional disorder that a lack of sleep will not imitate. Sleep deprivation creates a type of faux mental illness that symptomatically is identical to the real thing. This means that in order to function at your optimum you must be getting sufficient sleep. Lack of sleep makes a proper mental health diagnosis difficult, if not impossible.

Here’s an interesting example of what happens with sleep deprivation or deficient sleep. In the former Soviet Union sleep deprivation was used as a type of subtle political torture. If a dissident was arrested, he would be evaluated to see if he was mentally fit to stand trial. He would be brought to a psychiatric sleep torture“hospital” to be evaluated. While there, the accused would be kept away from the outside world, living in windowless rooms without clocks while under constant observation. Every time the suspect laid down to sleep and dosed off he would be awakened within a matter of minutes and duped into thinking that long periods of time had passed. What he was told was a few hours was actually only a few minutes. Within a week the lack of sleep and erratic eating cycle would create psychotic symptoms. The suspect, now a full-blown psychotic episode induced by lack of sleep, was now incapable of standing trial. He would then be sent to a long term “psychiatric hospital” for further “treatment.” The suspect would be held there indefinitely. An incredibly sadistic, yet brilliant solution to political dissent.

There are many ways to improve and optimize our sleep. If you sleep fairly well now and would like to improve the process the simplest thing to do is to retire an hour earlier. Some studies have shown that in hour of sleep before midnight is worth two hours after midnight. If you struggle with sleep you may need to be a little more systematic about improving the process. Here are some potential solutions that you may find helpful:
1. Eliminate caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco from your daily routine as much as possible. Most people underestimate the impact of these on their system, especially caffeine. “I can drink coffee and fall right to sleep,” may be true in some instances, but it tends to lead to poor quality sleep. Alcohol, and especially tobacco elimination prior to sleep is a no-brainer. Alcohol may induce sleep, but it disturbs REM sleep and the brain’s clean up process.

2. Turn your bedroom into a sensory deprivation chamber as much as possible. Eliminate as much light and some as possible. Eliminate the outside noises by using earplugs or white noise appliances. Heavy shades over windows help eliminate sleep disrupting light. There is a reason that bats sleep in caves!

3. Establish an evening pre-sleep routine that begins approximately an hour before bed. A warm bath, light reading, gentle stretching, warm milk, or a soothing bedtime tea, are useful ways to slow the body down. Meditation or journaling can be helpful in slowing the mind down. Simply venting on paper about your previous day or writing a to do list for the next can clear your mind, slow it down, and facilitate slumber.

4. Go to sleep only when tired. Remember, you can’t force yourself to sleep! This is the antithesis of what you are trying to accomplish. Think of it as a gentle process where you “slip” into a blissful state of rest.

5. Don’t be a clock watcher. Staring at the clock while struggling to sleep creates a negative internal dialogue, puts pressure on you, and disrupts the process. Remember, you can’t force yourself into a restful state.

6. Routine, routine, routine! Set one and stick to it! Your brain and body are incredible machines and function better when used in a predictable manner.

7. Use modern technology if you are tempted to stay awake to watch something on TV, or use the Internet. Record the damned thing for later and go to bed!

It may take up to 21 days to establish an efficient, effective sleep routine that works for you. Try combinations of these suggestions until you find what works for you.

puppySweet dreams…zzzzz……

P. S. Please share this article with the insomniacs in your life. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org.

Four Step Mastery

Remember how eagerly you plunged into the learning of new skills in childhood? Things like athletics, dance, learning a language, and driving a car were pursued with dogged determination until we learned Ford-Falcon-1961-Dr-Edhow to do them. You got engrossed in the process and eventually learned how to do these things without thinking. As an adult, the undertaking of new activities becomes less frequent. We become content to sit on life’s sidelines and watch while others do things we’d like to do but don’t. We have reasons, or so we’d like to think, that we can no longer even attempt these things. Are we right? Maybe, or maybe we over analyze the process. Is there a way to learn new skills and undertake new activities within the adult tendency to over analyze?

Learning Theory may have an answer for us. Knowing where you are in the process enables you to analyze your progress more realistically, and see where you are along the road to becoming competent with a new skill. Like a lot of developmental theories, this is a stage theory. Stage theory means that you will typically go through a series of steps, or stages, and you cannot skip any of them. You may be on one stage for a long time before moving to the next, or you may spend a lot of time on a particular stage before moving on. Knowing where you are in the process by identifying which stage you are at will enable you to see that you are, in fact, making progress. Recognition of each stage serves the purpose of breaking the task down into four simple subsets. Any task or skill is learned sequentially whether you are aware of it or not. Those of us that are not “naturals” do better if the new task is broken down into stages.

The four stages are:
1. Unconscious Incompetence-In this stage a person is unaware that they don’t have a skill. They literally “Don’t know that they don’t know.” The stage applies to things that people do poorly without realizing. In this stage people are screwing up frequently and are not even aware that they are. Many people live lives that are unsatisfying and marked by frequent failures because much of what they do occurs in this stage.

2. Conscious Incompetence-in this stage a person is aware that they don’t know how to do something or do not possess a desired skill. This is the beginning stage for most new skills that one pursues voluntarily. For example, you decide to embark on a fitness routine. As you begin this venture, you girl driverquickly become conscious of your lack of skills, abilities, and preparedness. You become immediately aware of your incompetence, and your body reminds you of this. Perhaps you can recall the anxiety you experienced when you first learned how to drive a car. Remember that first day behind the wheel? You probably were very aware that you didn’t know what you were doing. This is the essence of conscious incompetence. You are aware that you don’t know what you are doing. For many adults this is the moment when doubt and negative self talk takeover and we quit. We give up pursuing a new task or skill, and we make up some rationalization as to why we never wanted it in the first place.

3.-Conscious Competence-This stage is the longest and in some cases the final stage of skills acquisition. In this stage you can do the new skill or task pretty well, but it requires conscious attention to the activity. Lots of activities are extremely enjoyable at this stage. Many are satisfied with the feeling of competence in this stage, and that positive feeling allows them to pursue the activity quite frequently. This is the stage when new activities become worthwhile and enjoyable. Remember driving your car through your first major intersection? You got through it okay, well at least you’re alive to read this article, and you probably experienced a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment. You were probably, at that moment, very aware of each step you took to get through. In this stage people can do the task quite well, but they must pay attention to details and be mindful of each step. Despite this challenge the activity is satisfying and rewarding. The reward is the subjective feeling of competence, the “I can do it all by myself,” satisfaction that we enjoyed as children.

4. Unconscious Competence-This is the final step in the process. And, you don’t need to get to this stage to be proficient or to enjoy the activity. In many cases one can get to this stage through repetition. This Eric CLAPTONstage is marked by the ability to do the task without having to think about it. It’s one of those experiences where doing the task feels like being “in the zone,” or in a “flow state.” You can now do the skill with little effort almost automatically. We frequently see this in athletes, performing artists, and musicians. Ever watch Eric Clapton play guitar and wondered how the heck he does that with his eyes closed? That’s unconscious competence at its finest.

You may be thinking that this stage is impossible for you to get to. Not true. Let’s get back to the driving analogy. If you’ve ever driven for long periods of time, arrived safely at your destination, and then realized that your mind was elsewhere the whole time, then you’ve been in a state of unconscious competence. You got there, safely, and didn’t think about it. If you can type over 60 words a minute, ice skate, hit a baseball, do the tango, or anything else without thinking about it, you have this ability. Performance experts estimate that it takes approximately 10,000 repetitions of an individual skill to get to this stage. And that’s for people who are “average” in their ability to perform the task. If you have aptitude for the skill the stage of unconscious competence may arrive earlier.

So what’s the message? The take-home point is that, as an adult, we should be less self-critical when taking on new tasks. There are a lot of activities and skills that, if pursued, you can attain. The self critic in us tends to quiet down if our rational mind realizes where we are in the process. It’s simply a matter of identifying where you are in this stage theory and repetition. Get off the sidelines and into the game!

P. S. Please give me some feedback at john@mindbodycoach.org. If you like what you’ve read share it with others. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.

Death By Desk

Every epoch in human history has had its deadly diseases. Primitive man dealt with death by slumpedcontaminated foods and water, the Middle Ages had its Black Death, the early Modern Period had its water borne diseases, and the 20th century was marked by heart disease and cancers. The 21st century is now here and many disease control experts are predicting that this century will be characterized by deaths related to our lifestyles. Sedentary living, and the rise of technology are creating numerous first world problems. One of the more insidious is being referred to by many experts as “Death by Desk.” Twenty first century living has combined the fantasies of George Jetson with George Orwell, and many of us are beginning to pay the price.Death by Desk may initially seem to be hyperbole. On closer look maybe it’s not. Consider some of the following statistics:

– Over 80% of Americans are employed in jobs that require little to no physical activity, resulting in unprecedented levels of stress and heart disease.Almost half of all Americans do not get the minimum amount of exercise required for health.
– Americans burn 140 fewer calories per day than they did 50 years ago, resulting in an average weight gain of 14.6 pounds per year.
– In the 1960s nearly half of all jobs required physical activity. In 2012 less than 20% do.
– Currently one in three Americans is obese. That’s obese, not merely overweight.
– People with sedentary jobs are more than twice as likely to die from heart disease than those that have active jobs.
– The average office keyboard has five times the amount of germs found in a public bathroom.
– Three out of four American workers say that their work is stressful, and one in four identify it as the most stressful thing in their lives.
– Each day over 1 million American workers call in sick due to stress related maladies.

Statistics would indicate that the future we envisioned in the 20th century is more Orwellian than Jetsonian. Experts have identified the sedentary lifestyle, and the automated workplace as the next generation’s health epidemic. Death by Desk appears to be a real phenomenon. In addition to the statistics cited above, there are immediate orthopedic issues stemming from this lifestyle. Neck, shoulder, thoracic and lumbar spine problems occur within a few hours. The results of structural problems that result from being hunched over a keyboard, iPhone, or video game are just the beginning. There is a direct relation between postural deficiencies and mental health. This is the hidden epidemic caused by Death by Desk that underlie the above statistics.

Amy Cuddy, a Harvard University psychologist and expert in human body language, has identified various postural positions as indicative of happiness or sadness. There are universal postures that people of all cultures fall into while experiencing extreme emotional states. Consider the example of the Wimbledon tennis tournament. The winner virtually always thrusts hands in the air simultaneously, expands their chest, pulls their chin back, and experiences pure joy. The losers will roll their shoulders forward internally, their chin drops onto their chest, their upper back and lower back fold in, and they experience feelings of defeat and dejection. The losers position is very similar to a person who is hunched over a keyboard, iPhone, or desk. Cuddy’s research shows that there is a direct relationship between our physiological state and our posture to our emotional and mental state. In other words, the positions we place our body in effect our emotional well-being. An insidious side effect of slow Death by Desk is the immediate impact that it has on our outlook and mental health.The way that we stand, sit, and move has a direct correlation with subjective feelings such as depression, anxiety, and feeling stressed out.

There is, however, good news. Death by Desk is imminently treatable and preventable. And the antidote may even be fun. A simple Google search would yield hundreds of methods that would improve and prevent this condition. The first step in combating this condition is an understanding of how we were meant to stand and sit. The second step is embarking on a program of corrective exercise to fight the effects of technology on our posture.

Esther Gokhale has made a study of human posture and how we were originally meant to stand. We are, after all, sophisticated primates. The following TED talks lecture briefly explains her ideas:

Kelly Starrett is a doctor of physical therapy and owner of CrossFit San Francisco. He is one of the countries leading experts on mobility, corrective exercise, and structural improvement. His YouTube channel is chock-full of incredible free advice on ways that posture and movement can be improved and Death by Desk may be prevented:

Human beings were meant to be athletes. For most of the 21st century athletics has become something that we watch on TV with a bag of Doritos and a beverage that is not good for us. No one’s advocating quitting your job and turning your life into an episode of Man versus Wild, but there are things you can do to prevent Death by Desk. Some of them may even be fun. A regular regimen of exercise supplemented with the mobility work that Kelly Starrett suggests may do the trick.

Remember, human beings are programmed for movement and are meant to be athletes. Find ways in your life to become more athletic. After all, life is a contact sport.


P. S. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. Email me at john@mindbodycoach.org with questions or comments.


The Joy Of Movement

Movement of the human body is one of the greatest joys that a human can experience. We are given an amazing machine at birth, a vehicle that carries us through the journey of life. I read a recent estimate kids-playing-hens-chicksthat stated if a human body was to be given a price tag the total cost would be over $1 trillion, and that’s just for the hardware. The software, the human mind, is potentially worth twice that much. As children we are innately aware of how pleasurable movement is. If you’ve been around children from birth to approximately age 12 that you know how hard it is to keep them from moving, fidgeting, running, jumping, and climbing. No healthy kid ever goes a day without doing at least one or more of these activities instinctively in an unplanned way.

Somewhere in adolescence some children begin to develop an awareness of how they’re perceived by others. There becomes a type of self-consciousness based on body image and how they think others view them. Kids buy into labels, given by themselves and others, and these labels often influence how much they are willing to move their bodies and experience the joy of movement. The “dancer” will continue to dance, the “runner,” will continue to run and the “athlete” will continue to pursue athletics. For others the joy of movement dies, as the adolescent accepts, and in some cases embraces, self identification as a “nerd,” “computer geek,” or video “gamer.” Movement is inconsistent with these labels.

If you are older, early 20s and beyond let’s say, you may have your own labels and self identification that old runkeeps you from experiencing the joy of movement even if you were once an athlete. One hint that you may be in this category is if you use the phrase “used to” to describe your relationship to the movement. “I used to be a dancer,” “I used to play baseball,” “I used to work out,” “I used to be_________ .” These statements are usually followed with the word BUT and some rationalization or justification as to why we no longer participate in these activities. These stories that we tell ourselves even appear valid. But, who are we telling them to, why are we telling them, and who pays the price for these stories? My hunch is that the answer to each of those questions is YOU. These stories have robbed you from one of life’s greatest joys, MOVEMENT!

The biggest barrier to regaining this joy is the perception that will be painful, either to the body or the psyche. It doesn’t have to be and it shouldn’t be. If you think about it, movement and stretching are instinctive. What’s the first thing you did this morning as you sat on the edge of your bed? Yeah, you stretched. For far too many people that is the only stretching or movement they do, and the aches and pains that they perceive because of lack of movement become their justification for not moving. “I couldn’t do that because it will hurt and to be painful,” is one of the lies we tell ourselves. The reality is that things hurt and are painful because you don’t move.

Movement’s physical benefits are well documented. Increased flexibility, joint health, and suppleness of muscle, are all well-known. Additional benefits that are often ignored are those that link the mind and body. People who experienced the joy of movement on a regular basis tend toward mental acuity, increased self esteem, and better outlooks on life. There is a mind body reason for this. Because their bodies feel better, their thinking and reasoning are better. They are known for having a “spring in their step,” and that physical sharpness that they have is mirrored by their mind. They have confidence in their bodies and this translates to mental confidence and optimism.

Human beings are genetically wired to be athletes. This doesn’t mean that you should be playing flag footballfootball into your 80s, it means you should be doing some activity daily that keeps you in touch with the joy of movement. Solo activities are best. Having a few things that you do ON A DAILY BASIS that are within a degree of difficulty that you can handle can keep you in touch with the basic human need to move. A combination of things you do alone, such as stretching in bed gently in the morning before rising, a brief routine done after a daily walk, relaxing stretching done in bed before sleep, all are examples of habits that can keep you in touch with the joy of movement.

These movement activities need to be separated from more formal activities such as going to the gym, pool, or some type of class. While these are good, they may be too structured to give you pure joy of movement. Formal activities, in the presence of others, tends to create competition and comparisons, feelings that may have led you to a negative view of movement in the first place. The real joy comes from the spontaneity of movement that you enjoyed as a child. Find activities that you do on a regular basis, and occasionally do spontaneously. These activities are not meant to be competitive, they are meant to be joyful. Any pain experienced means you have reached the limit for that particular movement and are at the back off point.

Find things that are fun, or at least have the potential to be fun. It’s ideal if you have activities that you can do standing, in bed, and on the floor or ground. Mix them up each day using spontaneity as your guide. Don’t record, write down, or put any pressure on yourself. The intention here is to momentarily get out of your head, into your body, and experience the pure joy of movement like you did as a child.

Remember, you are genetically wired to live an athletic life. You are the lucky owner of trillion dollar machine. Get that machine out of the garage and give it a spin!

P. S. Please give me feedback at john@mindbodycoach.org. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. Check this blog frequently for more.

Time Is On Your Side….Yes It Is!

“If you love life, don’t waste time, for time is what life is made up of.”- Bruce Lee

We all know how precious our time is. We know that it is limited and we never seem to have enough of it. A lot of time gets timewasted and evaporates away every day. We often find ourselves asking where it went, where it goes, and life’s eternal puzzle is when it is going to end. Even being on hold with a phone call is sometimes a reminder that, “your time is very important to us.” There is a Zen story that I heard years ago that I really like and has stuck with me. An eager student asks the master what is more important, time or money. He is certain that the master, in his wisdom, will tell him that it is money, as with money one can do so much. The master wisely replies, “Time is more important… You can always make more money, but you can never make more time.”

While this wise Zen master is technically correct, maybe it’s possible to find more time. Contemporary living has become a blur of activities and sensory inputs that we must sort through before making decisions. Some of these decisions are incredibly important and some are relatively minor. Taking a little time to process decisions large and small can make us more aware and, as a result, give us the illusion that we have made more time. The key strategy in accomplishing this is making use of writing things down. Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” While he was talking about life on a spiritual level, he could have just as easily been talking about a grocery list.

Time management are two words a lot of people think about and talk about but never get around to figuring out how to do it. David Allen, a time management specialist and author of the best-selling book Get Things Done: the Art of Stress Free Productivity, has a lot of great ideas as to why writing things down is the beginning of good time management. He emphasizes that writing, as opposed to entering into an iPhone or iPad, works. He theorizes that the human mind is analogous to a pond. It can never be truly empty and it is impossible to have nothing on your mind as long as you are conscious. The simple act of getting thoughts out on paper, particularly for time management purposes, frees up the mind for more important functions. The mind, he believes, is for thinking not for holding information. Writing things down makes holding information unnecessary and, as a result, frees the mind up for more productive thought. The mere act of picking up a pen and paper engages the mind in a beneficial and cathartic way.

There are literally hundreds of methods, planners, and strategies for organization. Many people go out and buy the best planner from the stationary section of the local drugstore and then get bogged down in the process of how to use it. I often find that my coaching clients are quick to do this. They believe that if they follow someone else’s strategy they will be more successful. Some are, but many get bogged down in the process, become frustrated, and begin to perseverate around the planning more so than the results.

To find out what kind of writing may work for you as part of your time management strategy, I’d ask you to consider a few examples that may illustrate your preferred style of time management. Consider the last time that you used written planning to accomplish a task. Before you say that you never do that consider these examples:
Vacation-Think about how you planned a vacation that went well. Perhaps you thought about it first, visualized it in your mind, and then made the plan more concrete by writing down what you needed to do. Your mind, through the writing, made the image of the great vacation come clear. If you recently had a good vacation consider what you did before hand that helped create it.

blueprint Blue Print-If you’ve ever undertaken a do-it-yourself project from scratch then you know the importance of having a blueprint to create it. Even before you bought materials you probably had a vision that became more concrete when you put pencil to paper. You meticulously planned it out, erased, adjusted, and created. And, if the project was a success, think about the role that that preplanning played in the outcome.

Recipes-If you ever produced the perfect meal from scratch and did not write down the steps that you took, you probably are aware of another benefit of written plans. That perfect meal becomes impossible to duplicate because you may find it difficult to remember how you made it! Because you were “winging it,” you don’t remember what you did to attain that great outcome.

Many people resist the idea of written time management strategies because they believe it wastes time in the early phases of a project. David Allen’s theories are that this is a huge fallacy. Putting more time on the front end yields more time on the backend. Organization is the key to more productive thinking during the accomplishment of tasks. Your brain is free to be more creative in the process, and written planning serves as a blueprint or recipe for better outcomes.

There are literally hundreds of various methods available, most available for free on the Internet. You may find it more effective to develop your own written time management strategy. I’d suggest that you start small. One of the most efficient is a daily plan written on a 3 x 5 index card. The mere act of condensing a to do list down so that it fits in this small area is cheatincredibly beneficial. Some of you more rebellious readers may have cheated occasionally in high school. The index card is a “cheat sheet” for successful grown-ups. Many times a student spent enough quality time creating a cheat sheet that they didn’t need to pull it out during the test. The mere act of organizing their thoughts and distilling them down to that tiny sheet of paper enabled them to remember needed information.

Breaking goals down on a weekly basis may be more effective for those of you that have to manage work tasks and personal tasks. A little planning on Monday morning with a cup of coffee and a notebook can give you a game plan for the week. Each day step one is to get the notebook information on that index card, and get that index card in your pocket. Again, a little work on the front-end leads to a better result on the backend.

What can you multitask? Much has been said about multitasking, both good and bad. I’m not talking about overloading yourself here, I’m suggesting that there may be things that you do that may be combined. Consider this when you’re doing your weekly planning. I find listening to e-books and podcasts a great use of commuting time rather than mindlessly listening to the radio.

What can you delegate? Are there people you can delegate some of these tasks to? Remember, the goal of time management is to be more productive, not feed your ego with pride in how busy you are. Time management’s goal is to be productive, not busy. We are striving for outcomes not process.

I’d suggest that you do a little bit of research on time management strategies available on the Internet. If someone’s method piques your imagination you may want to buy their book or their program. You’ll probably find enough information to create your own time management strategy. While you can’t make more time, you may be able to fool yourself that you have.

“Time is on my side, yes it is….”- Sir Michael Jagger

P. S. Please give me feedback at john@mindbodycoach.org or leave a comment in the comment section of this page. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr for more articles like this.

Are Your Genetics Your Fate?

“One way to change our genes is to make new ones”- Dean Ornish

An amazing thing science has learned in the last 20 years is that our brains have dramatic capacity to change throughout the geneshuman lifespan. Our brains are more changeable and more capable of transformation than perhaps any part of our body. Because it is not visible we often don’t notice. It is evident, however, through changes in attitude and perception. The new science of neuroplasticity is teaching us how dynamic and powerful these changes can be. And, the good news is that we don’t need to wait too long to see positive changes.

The recipe for bringing change is quite simple. Science shows that in order to make positive brain changes we need to eat healthier, manage stress better, exercise, and love more. Anything that brings more oxygen to the brain and increases its blood flow creates positive changes, but it’s actually more than that. These activities cause the brain to get measurably larger in size. Along with these changes are a multitude of positive health and emotional benefits.

Here are some things you can do to grow more brain cells: consume chocolate and tea, blueberries, use alcohol in moderation, and learn to manage stress better. These foods and behaviors are associated with positive changes in brain chemistry and function. Saturated fats, sugar, nicotine, opiates, cocaine, excessive alcohol consumption, and chronic stress all are associated with loss of brain cells and brain functioning.

Changes in lifestyle result in more blood flow to the skin so you age less quickly. Your skin looks better and doesn’t wrinkle as much. You look better. Your heart gets more blood flow, and you can actually reverse heart disease. Studies have shown that you may be able to stop and reverse the progression of prostate cancer and breast cancer simply by making these changes. Studies found that tumor growth in vitro was inhibited by 70% in people who made these changes as opposed to 9% in a comparison group. People had improved sexual function, reported greater life satisfaction, and felt more connected to significant others in their lives.

A recent study has shown that these changes can change the gene expression in men with prostate cancer. Over 500 genes were favorably changed, in effect turning on the good, disease preventing genes and turning off the disease promoting genes. This study and others like it have shown us that genetics are not destiny and genetic predisposition to certain diseases and ways of thinking may be more under our control and we realize. Living a life of wellness, positive relationships, positive thinking, and moderation can reverse and change our destiny.

What can we do to change the genetic hand we’ve been dealt? It’s not as difficult as we’d initially think. Obvious changes in smokediet, smoking and drinking are obvious. If you have some bad habits along these lines, then a steady, systematic change is better. Positive lifestyle changes needn’t be black and white. Starting small with dietary improvements, cutting back on alcohol use, and quitting smoking are better ways to go, as the goal is to set yourself for success not failure. Involving your primary care physician may also be warranted as you will have an idea of what your physical baseline is and can gauge your progress from there.

dogExercise of almost any type is going to be beneficial. We needn’t run out and join a gym either. A daily walk of 10 minutes, two to three times per day will yield positive benefits within an extremely short time.Certainly you can go to a gym and get involved in more formal exercise, but it is not necessary to change your brain and your genetic makeup.  Learning to breathe deeper, from your abdomen instead of your lungs, can create an improved relaxation response. Consciously making more meaningful connections to people in can also better equip us for the rigors of life.

Find ways to change your lifestyle that you enjoy. You are more likely to follow through doing what you enjoy so don’t punish yourself! Life is meant to be lived not endured.

“Be the change that you desire in (your) world”-Gandhi

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