Focus, uninterrupted

NotificationsCenter_AZL5683I work with athletes to improve their performances in their sport. An element of this which seems to becoming increasingly important is minimising the number of stressors and hassles they feel they need to cope with. A common stressor is their difficulty in focusing on anything (sport, school or work) because of constant interruptions they feel they need to deal with. Most of these interruptions come from technology.

I am undecided if technology is amazing for athletes – or a hinderance. There are ways it can really help us in our sport; tracking what we do on GPS, allowing easy access to course routes, providing video clips of our competitors, even simply allowing us to research new ideas, training plans or performance advice quickly. But it can also make us unhappy when we can no longer just go for an easy run or ride without worrying about how followers will judge the figures we post, when we can never switch off as our phones bombard us with notifications and reminders of other’s training. A quick glance at @stravawankers on twitter will highlight how seriously many people take their technology when training.

In its place technology can be amazing. But with technology being with us everywhere (the majority of people reading this will be on a mobile or tablet) that place may have expanded too much. And that is when the troubles come. Chatting to a friend and an alert pops up, trying to write a report for work and a dozen emails arrive throughout it – probably with some annoying sound attached.

Some great research has found that these distractions are harming our ability to perform:

  • The Carnegie Mellon Human-Computer Interaction Lab has found multi-tasking is bad for us as we end up doing each thing at a worse level than if they were done with full focus. The constant switching between tasks means we not only do more of our tasks poorly but that we also waste time trying to get back into each thing.
  • Research in California from Gloria Mark found it takes 25 minutes to get full focus back after an interruption, and that on average, office workers are interrupted every 11 minutes.
  • All of these interruptions and requirements to switch come at neurobiological cost says neuroscientist Daniel Levitin as they only deplete our mental resources and mean our brain stores information and memories in the wrong places. He says that our brains use glucose as a fuel, and every time you switch tasks more glucose gets burned. Over the day this excess use of glucose will make you feel tired and mentally depleted. When you get into this state you start releasing cortisol, the stress hormone which puts your body into a stress state. While your body focuses on trying to protect itself from whatever is trying to attack it, it shuts down your higher cognitive thinking and becomes unable to think clearly or solve complex problems.
  • One of the most interesting facts from his recent book on how to think straight in the age of information overload is that we now take in five times more information each day that we did 25 years ago. This is nine DVD’s worth on information a day!
  • Finally, research from professor of Psychology Glenn Wilson has found that when you are trying to focus on something, simply knowing that there is an unread message in your email inbox can reduce your effective IQ by 10 points.

How can we help ourselves focus?

  1. Understand how often you get interrupted and whether the interruptions are from others or yourself.
  2. If you have a big project to work on or know you need to focus hard on something find somewhere private to work. Switch off all devices. Put an out of office on your email and whatsapp saying you’ll reply later. Send your phone to answerphone. Tell those who interrupt the most that you need time to focus. And leave your phone elsewhere so you don’t get tempted to switch it on.
  3. If you know the interruptions are self-inflicted (especially phone checking) then decide on a goal to minimise them. How many times a day would it be acceptable to you to check your phone? Would you feel comfortable having a permanent out of office message saying you check your emails twice a day and you’ll respond to their email next time you check? Make a plan and tell someone else about your plan so they’ll help you stay on track.

Two immediate actions:

  1. Turn off your notifications: facebook, twitter, whatsapp, intstagram. Check when you want but if something was truly urgent they would phone.
  2. Get self-aware of just how often you check your phone. There are some apps to do this:
    1. Moment – tells you how many minutes you spend on your phone each day and lets you limit the time you are on it.
    2. Checky – tells you how many times a day you check your phone. If you want to shame yourself into using it less you can share your scores on twitter. It also shows you where you check your phone which can help you change your behaviours. If you check it for 30 minutes on the tube twice a day but complain you never have any time to read you may realise you could replace that time with a book.

I’m feeling brave so I’m off to download Checky onto my phone. Gulp…

Parents of athletes – helping your child survive and thrive

YoungathletesAs it is Sport Parent week I’ve been reflecting on some of the younger athletes I’ve worked with. What struck me was that often these young athletes don’t just excel in their sport. They excel in every area of their lives; their sporting performance, in playing a musical instrument and achieving high grades at school. When you are good at so many things you have a lot of choices, but when you have so many choices, prioritisation can be hard so these young athletes are talent rich, but time poor.

Often with these young athletes, to help them become more self-aware of why they are feeling so much pressure, we will sketch out the 24 hours of their day to see just how much they are doing. It often looks like this…

Area of life   Hours
Sleep is vital for all of us – but especially for young athletes who need sufficient sleep to recover from their sport, memorise what they are learning at school and stave off illness. So we always put down 8 hours for sleep. Ideally they would also have an hour before bed to chill out. Sleep 8

 

 

Calming down to sleep 1
School – many of the athletes I work with are at schools requiring them to attend between 8am and 4pm. They are getting at least 1-2 hour’s homework on top of that. Add another hour at least for travel there and back School 8

 

Homework 2
Travel 1
Training – most athletes are training for at least an hour, sometimes more a day, either working on technique in their sport or fitness sessions. This, with travel, takes up to 3 hours a day. Training 1.5

 

Travel 1
Music or other hobbies – many athletes are also expected to spend an hour a day on a music lesson or practice. Practice 1

 

  Total 23.5

This leaves 30 minutes for breakfast, having a meal with their families, hanging out with friends, playing Xbox or watching TV; all the things which will help them relax, recover and enjoy life.

These athletes have some of the best chances in life. They love what they are learning and they are enthusiastic and passionate. But they can find themselves under a huge amount of pressure and struggling just to keep up. With such a packed life they may just not have time to get the headspace required to cope with these levels of stress. And while they may be able to tick over in winter when summer comes and you throw sports competitions and exams into the mix they may hit their coping tipping point.

If you are parenting one of these athletes maybe sit down with them (or chat whilst taking them to school or training), and find out if they are aware of just how much they are trying to achieve, if they can see where their time is going, ways they think you could help them to free up more time, help them make plans for the crunch periods and, most importantly, remind them that if sometimes they need a break from it all that is fine and that you love them for who they are, not how much they achieve.

 

 

Sleep tips for athletes

sleep

Having heard a great interview with Kirk Parsley recently on Marathon Talk (Episode 299 and Episode 300 – listen here ) about the importance of sleep I was really interested to see what Lindsay Thornton, Senior Sports Psychologist at the US Olympic Committee would say about its impact and importance for Athletes. Here are there headlines…

The headlines:

  • Paying down sleep debt improves performance.
  • Sleep extension will give you even better performance.
  • More sleep = greater recovery, a chance to consolidate the mental and physical gains made during the day, fewer injuries and a better mood.
  • You need to maintain a regular sleep wake schedule.

Why we need sleep

Thornton talks about the way sleep is a performance enhancement tool for both brain and body. It improves your recovery from exercise and new skill learning as while you are asleep as all the information on everything you have learnt and done throughout the day is transferred and downloaded. Sleep also helps your metabolism (appetite and weight), tissue repair, immune function and mood. In short, she says that sleep provides a bonus learning period and you wake up a smarter, stronger version of yourself and in a better mood.

How much sleep

There is no formula for how many hours athletes should sleep but it is advised to be between 7-9 hours (Federer is said to sleep for 11 hours, LeBron James for 12). Less than six can impair your psychological and physiological functioning. The positive information from your day is the last to be downloaded so you need longer in bed to wake up positive and happier. Stanford Uni ran research with their swimmers who were set a goal of spending 10 hours in bed. The extra sleep opportunity this created improved their speed, reaction time, tumble turn times and kick times.

Sleep efficiency

It is normal to take 20 minutes to fall asleep. People often base how long they say they sleep for as the amount of time in bed but research with 124 Australian athletes showed on average they spent 8.4 hours in bed but only got 6.8 hours of sleep. This is 86% efficiency. Falling asleep immediately (around 95% sleep efficiency) is not actually a good sign as it shows you are incredibly fatigued.

Sleep debt

When you have sleep restriction it is first your mood that is impacted, then your cognitions and finally your performance. So accept if you have missed sleep that your mood will be down – it is likely that your physical performance will be ok. But you will have a perception that exercise is harder. To get out of sleep debt increase your time in bed by 15 minutes each night.

Sleep interferences

  • Alcohol helps you sleep – but doesn’t help you stay asleep.
  • Caffeine has a dose response effect and puts back your sleepiness
  • Jet lag – it takes one day per time zone to adapt. This is for body temperatures to adjust.
  • Altitude – this takes up to two weeks to adapt to.
  • Blue lights from screens mess with melatonin production and stop you sleeping. Use an app to minimize the blue light from your screen.

When to train

With sleep dictated by our circadian rhythms most of us have a cognitive peak at 9am, a dip at 2pm, a physical peak at 6pm (which could be why more world records are broken in the evening than daytime) and will find it difficult to sleep between 7pm and 10pm. We then dip at 10pm. Ideal bedtime. As your ability to do complex cognitive skills peaks earlier in the day during the morning peak and gross motor skills peak later in the day focus your training to match those times; learning new skills or techniques in the morning, endurance or fitness work in the evening.

Modify sleep routine for racing

Consider what time you will be racing – if it is at a time you know you dip then a nap in the middle of the day can be used to shift the dip. Napping is a skill. It can take up to two weeks to get into a rhythm with it. It is good for athletes but not necessary for normal people (who should be getting enough sleep at night and don’t need to perform in the evening). If you want to get into napping it will seem hard to begin with but every day you should lie down in the middle of the day and eventually you will sleep.

It is very difficult to sleep before competition but this is usually situational and transient insomnia so remember if you are struggling to sleep your competitors are probably too. Don’t get wound up over it.

Sleep when injured

If you are injured you will find it harder to sleep as you will need less sleep than usual as you have not been using so much energy. Reduce your time in bed and lower your expectations of what sleep should be. It is normal to wake up in the night. Don’t panic and think it is insomnia. Learn some relaxation strategies to help you get back to sleep.

Trouble getting to sleep

If you ruminate a lot and find this keeping you awake then after dinner write down your ‘to do’ list and your thoughts so you don’t ruminate in bed. The ‘to do’ list will still be the same in the morning. The thoughts will still be the same in the morning. They won’t have changed and you can remind yourself you can do nothing about them in the middle of the night.

Sleep tips

Sport Psychology and Performance in Mind

These Q&As with Dr Josephine Perry, Director of Performance in Mind, may help you to decide if sport and performance psychology could help you…

What is sports psychology?

Sports psychology developed from traditional psychology but incorporates elements of physiology to understand how psychological factors (such as confidence, stress, concentration or anxiety) impact on sporting performance. It can be used to help athletes improve in competitions but also helps athletes, coaches and the parents of young athletes deal better with elements of sporting life such as training attitudes, injury, rehabilitation, communicating well to other athletes, team dynamics and sporting retirement.

Why would someone hire a sports psychologist?

If you want to do really well at something why wouldn’t you get someone to help you do it and teach you the tools and tricks to achieve it? You can probably figure out most things for yourself over time; the best ways for you to train, the best foods for fueling yourself, the mental skills you need to perform exceptionally, but working with an expert will speed up the process significantly.

You don’t need to be a professional athlete to work with a sports psychologist. You just take your sport seriously and want to be the best at it that you can be. If you have someone working with you on your coaching plan, or see a nutritionist, or have regular sports massage why would you not work with someone to help you understand how your mind works and to help you think and behave in the most beneficial way when you are training or competing?

Why would I hire you to help me with sports psychology?

I work from a positive psychological perspective, supporting athletes to value what is already going well in their sport and finding strategies to help them focus on improving the areas that are holding them back. My aim is to really listen to athletes to find out what may be causing their issues or constraining them. I have a number of routes and strategies athletes can try and a number of mental skills I teach. Often these strategies won’t just help them in sport, they can carry over what they learn into every day life to help them deal more effectively with family, work or relationship issues too.

People who traditionally receive psychological support are those experiencing some kind of crisis or mental health issues. But why shouldn’t everyone have access to this help? I believe we can all benefit from understanding better how our brains work, how our behaviours impact us and what we can do to control challenging situations to give us a more successful outcomes.

How do you work with athletes?

I always like to meet with the athlete face to face first. This is not always possible but I find it makes it a much easier relationship to hold the first session in person. This session is usually a long session which can last up to 2 hours. It will include lots of background information, lots of talking about your sport and often some questionnaires or scales and measures which help to identify areas to really focus on. After this session we will work on a plan for how to move forward.

Sessions after this will usually take place over Skype as I find that age group athletes are often very pressed for spare time and feel more comfortable in their own houses. I charge £100 for the first, extensive session and then £65 a session (usually an hour) after that. The plan and the support this requires will dictate how often you will benefit from sessions but to be most effective they are usually held weekly or fortnightly.

I usually work from a cognitive behavioural framework. The work undertaken from this perspective helps an athlete manage their problems by changing the way they think about their problems and how they behave in response. It doesn’t remove the problems but it does allow the athlete to deal with them in a more positive wa. It does this by breaking issues down into much smaller parts so negative patterns can be identified. Practical ways (such as specific mental skills) are then taught to change those negative thoughts into more positive and supportive ones.

On occasion it may be more appropriate to work from a humanistic framework. Humanistic techniques are used to help an athlete guide themselves to make choices about their life. The sessions are ‘athlete-centred’ and focuses on the athlete’s self-awareness and what will give them complete fulfilment. Through this route the psychologist is there only to guide and to listen as the athlete themselves directs the discussion, the direction that the sessions take and the ultimate outcomes.

Which type of athletes do you work with?

I enjoy working with athletes from any sport. To date I have worked with Running, Swimming, Cycling, Triathlon, Trampolining, Stunt Cheerleading, Tennis, Duathlon Rugby, Judo and Fencing. I have a particular interest in helping age group and amateur athletes competing in endurance sports and those athletes recovering from injury.

How does a sport psychologist help an athlete improve their sporting performance?

Each sports psychologist will have their own theory of optimal performance, their own approach to performance psychology and their own performance model. These will all be based on the beliefs they have developed throughout their training. My performance model incorporates five key elements that, when maximized effectively, I believe can help each athlete achieve their optimal performance:

  • The performance mentality they have
  • The way they control, or are controlled by their environment
  • The tools they use to perform at their best
  • The way they control, or are controlled by their emotions
  • Their motivational awareness

PiM Performance Model

 

If I need to change my appointment with you?

We ask for 24 hours notice if you need to cancel or amend your appointment. We reserve the right to charge for any cancellations where sufficient notice is not provided. Payment should be made in advance of the session via bank transfer.

How do you protect my privacy

Performance in Mind is committed to protecting your privacy in all areas.

  • When you visit the website our computer collects the IP address of your computer, the date and time you visited and the titles of pages you viewed.
  • If you fill in the contact us form we will store the data you send us but this will never be passed on to anyone else.
  • When you speak to us in a consultation any conversation between us is completely confidential unless we feel that you may harm yourself or someone else. Notes may well be taken during your consultation. They will always be stored securely and you are always welcome to read any notes in your file.

Can I use information from this site?

The contents and information on this web site are the intellectual property of Performance in Mind and Dr Josephine Perry. Using or reproducing this content is not permitted without the express written consent of Dr Josephine Perry. Requests for permission may be emailed to Josephineperry@googlemail.com

Seven tactics to stop comparing ourselves against others

Race resultsIn sport comparison is inescapable. If you are racing or competing there will always be numbers ranking us, digitizing us, making easy comparison to anyone else. It is a very quick way for athletes to lose confidence and develop low self-esteem. This social comparison can be harsh as someone else will always be better than you. Even Bolt got beaten. And Research has found that the harder we are on ourselves the harder it is to regain our motivation and we are less likely to achieve the goals we do set so, the more we compare, the worse we will do.

You can only compare effectively if you are starting from the same starting blocks as the person you are comparing to. We are each too unique to compare fairly. Even identical twins will have different personality traits, different talents and different motivations. But we never are. So comparison puts focus on something you have absolutely no control over putting yourself in an unwinnable, and very frustrating situation. To get on top of this negative comparison here are seven tactics to try:

  1. Focus on temporal comparison where you look at how you are doing compared to where you were in the past and where would you like to get to. You can then make clear steps and plans to get where you want to go and this helps you feel much more in control. In doing this we become more self-aware and can understand our motivations and ambitions better. If we tie this in with our own values we can feel authentic in the route we take. To identify these values ask yourself three questions:
    • What do you want to be remembered for?
    • When you look back over this year what will you need to achieve to feel proud?
    • What are the three values that matter most to you?

Once we look deeply at the ‘then, now and the future,’ and understand our values which support that then everything is in the open it is much easier to confront and deal with it.

  1. Remind yourself that the perfection you see in others is just an illusion. We only see the instagramable perfection of other’s lives. Research found people more likely to show positive emotions than negative ones and that we each tend to overestimate the presence of positivity in the lives of others. This means we a comparing our lives with an incomplete picture of someone else’s. You may see the great race result a club mate had but not the pain they have gone through in training. You see the picture perfect family day posted on facebook but not the mega tantrum two minutes before the shots were taken. There is always a far more realistic story behind it.
  2. We beat ourselves up for not ‘trying hard enough’ yet we are on a different journey in life to other people and were born with different advantages. There is a great saying – don’t measure yourself against someone else’s ruler. If you compare yourself to other people around you those people start become enemies, instead of your friends. Benchmarking their successes to evaluate ourselves against will make us jealous and bitter rather than supportive and excited for them. If you find yourself succumbing to this then a good point to remember is that we become like those we surround ourselves with. Surrounding ourselves with successful, ambition and hard working people and some of those elements will brush off on us – so it is not just altruistic, it is actually in our own interests for those around us to do well.
  3. Celebrate your uniqueness. What do you love about you? Forget being humble. What is great about you? What values do you have, what traits do you love, when do you feel proud?
  4. Remember and document your successes – keep a diary or a ‘jar of joy’ and note down when you have been proud of something you have worked hard towards and achieved. When you find yourself starting to compare with others pull out a note and read through it.
  5. Find things that matter to you which cannot be measured. Race times, school grades, work appraisals all use numbers and are very easy for us to use to compare to each other. But some of the loveliest things in life can’t be compared. Seeing an amazing view from a mountain you have climbed, drinking the perfect cocktail on a lovely beach, eating fish and chips with your best mate on a park bench putting the world to rights, a run along the river where you come up with a solution to a problem you’ve been ruminating over, taking a picture of a friend or child that completely captures their personality, making someone’s day by baking them a cake they weren’t expecting. All things which have no measurement, but will bring you, and often someone else a little piece of joy.
  6. If you can’t help yourself comparing then study the person you are envious of and understand what it is you envy and then work out how you can achieve that. If they are famous then read interviews or autobiographies. Pull out the envy element and make a plan for how you can develop that. Write down three things you could learn from them to help you get closer to what they have achieved? When you find yourself starting to get jealous look over these, remind yourself you are on a different journey to them, and pick one of the things you can learn from them as your goal for the next week.

 

 

The six rules of being a great sports parent

parent pictureSport is really important for children. The physical benefits are obvious but research has also found school children who exercise improve their sociable behaviour, their classroom conduct, control their emotions better and perform better on school tests. It also increases their self-esteem and confidence, improves their sleep, reduces stress and anxiety and helps improve communication skills.

So pushing kids towards sport can have tonnes of benefits. And yet often sports parents have an awful reputation. Taking Tennis as an example, Steffi Graf’s dad had her down to be a tennis star from birth. At 3 she was expected to hit the ball back to her dad 25 times before she was allowed ice-cream. At five she was competing. Andre Agassi’s dad was no better. He hung tennis balls above his cot. By seven he was expected to hit 2,500 balls a day. The dads of Bernard Tomic, Jennifer Capriati, Mary Pierce and Jelena Dokic all got into fights over their kid’s tennis – including at times directly with their kids. These players were successful despite their parents’ behaviour. Thousands of others aren’t including the 70% of kids who drop out of sport by the age of 13. Many because gentle encouragement turned into parental pushing and the sport they used to love becomes full of pressure and stresses and absolutely no fun.

So here are six simple rules to help you get the balance right so your child can become a positive, confident and motivated young athlete who loves sport long into adulthood.

Rule 1 – Help them develop a long term love of sport

Many adults do sport to release the pressures of everyday life. Kids need to do this too and sport should be a stress relief, not something that adds to their worries. So there are three ways to help your child develop this long term love of sport in a healthy way:

  • Give them a range of sporting options. It keeps sport fun and their minds fresh. Trying lots of sports creates the building blocks for success in terms of health (movement, coordination, balance, techniques, strength) and life skills (working to capacity, understanding the science of practice, learning to accept and use feedback, learning from and moving on from mistakes and self-reflection). Even if you want your child to turn into the Federer or Williams of their generation, research has found that those who specialise in their sport too early are less likely to make it as an elite athlete than those who competed in a range of sports in their early teens.
  • Remember children are not mini athletes. They are children. If they develop a self-identity as a type of athlete early in life it may stifle other facets of their personality.
  • It is much easier to cope with the tough times in sport if your child is intrinsically motivated and really loves the sport they do. If they are competing because they love the rewards or accolades or to keep you as parents happy then they will be fine when they compete well but when they go through a bad patch (as almost every athlete inevitably will) they will really struggle and may well drop out.

Rule 2 – Be supportive but let your child take the lead

The need for intrinsic motivation means you want your child’s involvement in sport to be self-led.  The Paralympic swimmer and now cyclist Sarah Storey has said her parents always made it clear they would never wake her up for swimming. If she wanted to go to training at 5:30am it was her job to wake them. So if your child is pushing to go to training then fantastic. If you have to issue threats to go then the intrinsic motivation is not there and eventually those threats will backfire and the child will refuse to continue playing. But go too far the other way and they will think you don’t care or don’t want them to do well. It is a difficult balancing act so here as a few ways to let them lead while making it clear you support them:

  • Help them pack their kit before training or competition
  • Encourage them to get a good night’s sleep and make the sleep environment as conducive to this as possible This will put them in a more positive frame of mind, feel more creative and help their concentration.
  • Encourage them to eat breakfast as they will need the energy both physically and mentally to help them concentrate when playing and make good decisions.
  • Be early to competitions so they don’t panic or get stressed.
  • If they are worried about letting you down just remind them you love watching them compete and that no matter what the score is you are proud of the way they have shown up and put lots of effort in.

Rule 3 – Learn how your child performs best and create that environment

One of the biggest difficulties all athletes struggle with is comparison. So many compare themselves to each other. This is hard enough as an adult but in school, when you are continually being ranked in educational results and tests and are all developing at different speeds it is really tough. So it is important to help children understand we are each different and all bring our own talents and skills to our sport. Chat with them about all the things that make us different (age, genetics, medical history, bone, muscle, tendon structure, length of time playing sport, sleep, nutrition, school pressures, training history and our personality traits) and how this will mean they should not compare themselves to others in their sport.

Rule 4 – Focus on the process not the result

This is important for all of us – whether 6 or 60. We should focus on praising the effort someone has put into their sport rather than the outcome. Focusing on results simply creates pressure, stress and anxiety and increases risk of drop out. In focusing on the effort they put in, the way they played and their sporting behaviours they will continue to improve and develop a growth mindset. There are three ways as a parent to help your child learn this:

  1. Don’t focus on or discuss scores in depth. Focus on the skills they used, how they behaved, how well they bounced back from a difficult period.
  2. Help them reflect and self-analyse their competitions. What did I do well, what could I do better, what will I continue doing, what will I do differently. This makes every competition becomes a positive learning experience.
  3. In competitions your job is just to watch. Not shout advice, or yell at officials. Cheer and applaud when you should and celebrate hard work and effort.

Rule 5 – Teach them sporting failure is not the same as personal failure

Every time you catch your child making statements like ‘I failed’ ‘I’m a failure’ ‘I’m rubbish’ ‘My team sucks’ pick them up on the words they are using and reframe them to show that the behaviour that day, or the outcome of that single competition, wasn’t great but that it does not reflect on them as a person. Tell them it was a bad result, but that doesn’t make them a bad player. Dramatic language often comes into play when we feel we’ve not done our best but separating out the sport from the child helps to put it back in its place.

Rule 6 – Use evidence based research to keep them injury free

Finally, staying injury free will help keep your child active and improving. Research has looked at how to minimise the risk of injury to kids and following the six tips here will help:

  • Total hours of organised sport each week should be less than their age
  • Incorporate some age appropriate strength and conditioning work
  • Compete in only one sport a season
  • Make your child take at least one day off a week from organised sport
  • Encourage them to take a month off after their competitive season ends
  • Hold them off specialising in sport until 14 (as early specialisation increases risk of over-use injuries, burnout and losing motivation)

Seven steps to give you a mindset for success in any sport

DeathtoStock_SWEAT-2It is competition season. Working mainly with athletes in individual summer sports means everyone is currently slap bang in the middle of their seasons. While the sports call for very different physical skills many of the issues the athletes are dealing with come down to the same fundamentals prompting me to reflect on some universal tactics used by athletes performing at their very best.

  1. 80: 20 Training: 80% of your training sessions should feel doable and shouldn’t stretch you too much. They are building fitness and skills. 20% of your training should be pushing you into places you are not sure you can go. These are the adversity sessions which physiologically build your top end performance but most importantly from a psychologist perspective help develop your mental toughness.
  2. Build lots of little successes: We get our most robust confidence from two areas: knowing we have the skills we need and seeing the evidence of when we have done well before. So in your training find lots of small wins, lots of little things that you can tick off and feel confident you are getting closer towards your goal. That usually means breaking down your goal into the smallest elements possible and achieving each part bit by bit.
  3. Make as much as possible feel familiar: To reduce our anxieties we need to make the environment we are going into when we perform seem as familiar and welcoming as possible. So training on the course we are going to race on, or practicing at the club our next match is on helps. If crowds make you nervous get some friends and family down to watch a training session. While uncomfortable at that time it will make everything feel much easier come competition day.  
  4. No black and white: If competitions become seen as a win or a fail you will have a miserable time. If you see each competition as an opportunity to learn you can extract far more from each competition, find far more benefits and possibly win along the way.
  5. Find your motivation first, then support: Having everyone else tell you how good you are is lovely – but it doesn’t give you the intrinsic motivation that is so important to mobilizing your drive to perform. So start with that drive, understand what it is that makes you love your sport, then go out and find others who share that passion to help you improve.
  6. Control the controllables: There is so much in competition you have no control of. And worrying about those things just wastes the energy you should be putting into your sport. But lots of elements you can control and worrying about those things, and doing something about them, is often what makes your competition successful. Winging it may give you a neat excuse for not doing well but it rarely creates the ideal environment for a successful performance. Instead, meticulous planning so no kit is forgotten, knowledge and having trained specifically for the course ahead and self-awareness to design the right mental strategies will all be beneficial and improve your chances of success.
  7. Stop focusing on winning: You can rarely control an exact outcome, there are too many variables involved. But you can control the processes you need to follow to be in with the best chance of winning. So focus on the processes, the day to day elements of your sport you will have been working on for years. This keeps you focused, stops you freezing when you realise the big picture of what is at stake and keeps you grounded in good, strong technique. If you get this right the results will follow.

You can do anything – but not everything

Anything EverythingThis is my favourite phrase. It reminds me that that much as I’d like to be a superwoman there just aren’t enough hours in the day to be one. It suggests I’m not a failure if I don’t achieve everything – just that time is limited and no-one else could either.

I thought of this phrase when I went to chat to a group of new mums who are soon to head back to work. Having 6-12 months out of work to bring up a new baby is an amazing experience. But it can also leave us feeling rather vulnerable when we go back to work. Not only are there many questions floating round our heads about whether we remember what to do, how we will ever see our baby, will flexible working be possible, do we need to prove our work commitment all over again and whose job takes priority when baby is ill, or childcare falls through but we may have lost a little work confidence too, making it a nerve racking time. Before baby we were able to stay late, work weekends when projects required it, and have a good gossip over lunch. When nursery hours are limited and we want to get home for baby hugs we need to remember that ‘superwoman doing everything’ goes out the window and prioritisation comes into play.

So I chatted with the girls in my NCT group and we came up with five areas where a bit of honest reflection, some planning, and a dash of performance psychology techniques could help us get back into working life as comfortably and stress free as possible.

Feeling out of the loop professionally:

Lots of us were worried about things having moved on in the time we were away. It could be systems, computer programs, teams, colleagues, line managers, senior staff and, particularly for those in legal, HR, clinical and accounting professions, regulations and laws having changed.

Some tips to cope if this is an issue for you:

  • Ask for a KIT (Keep in Touch) day a few weeks before you go back so you can reacclimatise to the workplace, understand what has changed and prepare yourself for it.
  • Be open to learning new stuff – you have just learnt from scratch how to keep a baby alive so picking up computer changes will be well within your capabilities!
  • Instead of thinking you are going back to your own role maybe try to see it within your head as starting a new job – mentally it will feel less frustrating than going back to the same job with lots of changes.

Feeling out of the loop socially:

If you have been away from an office or your work environment you will not just have missed processes or systems changing but people. When you start in a new company going on staff nights out or lunches is a great way to get up to speed. But if you are working compressed hours to get back in time for nursery or childminder shutting or would rather spend your evening with your little one than networking in a pub then this isn’t possible.

Some tips to cope if this is an issue for you:

  • A baby commodifies everything. You are constantly prioritising and working out the value of something again the cost of childcare and whether you genuinely want or need to do something over seeing your baby. So accept this rather than fighting it or feeling it is unfair. I’ve found it helps me make decisions about what I value doing and prioritising becomes simpler. Would I rather go to X event or spend my evening with baby. Baby wins a lot!
  • Agree with your other half on how you will deal with evening events. Do you have one evening a week each to use for yourself; work, networking sessions, seminars, gym, drinks with friends? Or agree to own certain nights as your bath / bed nights for baby where the other one has more work or social flexibility.

Having to prove yourself again:

If you have spent a long time building your reputation in work, particularly in companies which have a long-hours culture or are very heavily male dominated, you may feel you need to re-establish your reputation and deal with some of the stereotypes that may be banded about around where your priorities will be.

Some tips to cope if this is an issue for you:

  • This one can feel really unfair and can be a real issue in some industries. Write a stock answer you use for all the annoying comments. Something like: ‘Work will feel easy after looking after a baby 24/7’. Repeat it over and over again until they get bored of winding you up.
  • Don’t try to prove yourself to anyone except the people you have to. It just causes lots of stress. Use your lack of time and flexibility to your advantage and be really focused on just what you need to do and who you do that for. This means being really clear from your line manager what your objectives are and what they see as priorities. Stick to these. Goal setting can be really helpful here. There is a template and worksheet you can use here. It is based on athletes but works just as effectively for mums heading back to work.

Justifying decisions:

Many of us fear being judged. We want to do the best; for ourselves, for our babies, for our companies, for our society. It can be difficult being questioned or judged about the choices you make, or even thinking you will be questioned. Many of us worry if we have had too much time off or too little? Should we go back flexibility or ask for fewer hours? And not only do we question ourselves but very unhelpfully lots of other people feel it is ok to question us too.

Some tips to cope if this is an issue for you:

  • Everyone has an opinion. Either because something genuinely worked for them and they think they are being helpful, because they want to validate the choices they made or sometimes just trying to make conversation. But it can feel intrusive, personal and judgemental – especially if you are questioning any of your choices yourself. Expect the opinions. Makes it feel less personal.
  • When you are offered advice, nod and smile and say “that sounds interesting I’ll think about that.” And then forget it instantly. They feel important and listened to. You get them off your back.
  • Internally, in your own head, have a mantra. This is a short phrase you repeat over and over to yourself and can block out some of the negative or guilty thoughts we have. It could be ‘I’m here so my baby has a great role model.’ ‘Baby is learning great social skills at nursery.’ The mantra needs to be personal and honest but can help you block out the naysayers outside and inside your own head.

Staying robust and resilient:

Finally, it is hard to stay robust and resilient when you lack any confidence. And if you have had a chunk of time away from the workplace it can be easy to let your confidence slide. Add to this fears about the choices you’ve made for childcare, the fact you may be surviving on very little sleep and simply missing your little one and your confidence can be knocked very easily.

Some tips to cope if this is an issue for you:

  • Actively build your confidence. Confidence comes from many sources but the two most robust ones are knowing you have the skills to do what you want to do and feeling you have the experience and evidence of this experience to do what you want to do. So grab a piece of paper and write down all the skills you already had in the workplace and the ones you have added by learning how to look after a baby. The mums I chatted to had some great strengths they had developed over their maternity leave including procrastinating far less, an enhanced ability to multitask, a new sense of perspective on what was really important and the ability to do everything on very little sleep.
  • Create your ‘what if’ plan. Every Olympic athlete does this but it can work really well in our daily lives too. Down one side of a sheet of paper write down all the things you are worrying about happening, then what you can do to prevent them happening, and what you will do if they do occur. This means you front up to everything that is weighing down on your shoulders and you feel much more prepared if something does happen.

We prepared a couple of examples:

Fear To prevent it happening I will… If it does happen.…
All the regulations in my field have changed. I’ll have to learn everything again. Ask if there is a junior or intern in the office who could pull together info on any regulatory changes in the last year.

Sign up to email updates for my profession to keep updated.

Get hold of the last nine months of magazines for my profession and read them during baby’s nap time.

Agree with line manager that I can have a session with them on changes in the sector while I have been away.

Ask line manager if I can attend a professional conference where many of the recent changes will be discussed.

Ask for someone to mentor me back into the workplace while I find my feet again.

 

Being new to the team I worry I still have to prove myself and I can’t do this if I have to leave by 5pm to pick up my baby from nursery. Work out with my other half that one of us will do drop off and the other pick up so we can work hours needed at one end of the day.

Log on after baby is asleep so you can show you are working flexibly.

 

Explain to line manager that you feel you are being judged on time in office rather than productivity and ask for their support.

Find another parent in the office and discuss how they have been able to prove their worth and be there for their children (People are really flattered to be asked for their advice so this can work well)

So hopefully there are some ideas above that can help you feel a little bit more like superwoman -while remembering that you don’t have to. The most important thing to do is to reflect on what is worrying you and prepare for it. The more prepared we are, the harder it is for something to knock us over so we can be strong for ourselves and our babies.

1 week to Marathon – confidence booster

confidence-boostersWhether you think you can or you can’t, you are right.

This famous phrase amplifies just how much of whether you succeed is down to your mind. Over the last seven weeks I have blogged some ideas you can use to stay on track and ensure your mind is fully prepared for the London Marathon. This post, with one week to go, suggests you put the icing on your cake by creating your confidence booster.

Self-belief and confidence make achieving our goals far easier. One of the best ways to boost your confidence is to find the evidence and remind yourself of all the fantastic things you have done in the build up to the marathon to get you into the best shape.

So, like in the picture above, get a piece of paper, get out your training diary and write down:

  • Your goal for the Marathon
  • Your mantra which you will use when it gets tough
  • Your strength that you will be able to draw upon when you struggle
  • 3 sessions you did in your build up which give you evidence that you are well prepared

Keep this paper in your wallet, or kit bag, or by the side of your bed and when you feel the nerves creeping in, read through it and remind yourself how hard you have trained and how much you deserve to achieve your goal.

Have a fantastic marathon day. May your goals be hit and your celebrations fun!