Change Your Perspective for Optimal Performance

I bought a wetsuit this year.  I backed this with the mental justification that, instead of buying a membership to a pool where I’d still have to wear a mask in the building, and make swimming lane ‘reservations’ as if I was going to a top notch restaurant, a wet-suit would enable me to do open-water swimming.  This was a no-brainer for me because I absolutely LOVE open water swimming.  But, living here in Vermont, I realize that, unless you’re a polar bear, a wetsuit will be necessary if you want to get more than a few months of swimming outdoors.  

Then came the promise I made to myself: you’ll start your swimming at the beginning of May. You’ll make it to October.  Then that expensive rubber suit will be well worth the cash you’re fronting because you’re going to get at LEAST two extra months of swimming in. Awesome, I’m committed. Until May 1st came … and it was still snowing. 

My body temp runs a bit warm, but not warm enough to ‘willingly’ get into an ice cold body of water while snowflakes were still coming out of the sky.  But I was determined to get in that water.  I made a promise to myself and I was going to keep it.  It didn’t matter how long I was going to stay in that water, but I was getting in.  I was angry.  “Why the hell is it this cold in May!” The sun wasn’t out, but it wasn’t snowing and I knew that water was going to be cold.  

It didn’t disappoint.  

The wetsuit held up alright, but my hands and feet were numb and my face was freezing.  “This was a stupid idea! You’ll never get these cold water swims in.  Buying this suit was a waste!”  I barely made it 30 minutes before I left, disgruntled, disillusioned, and still kicking myself for buying the wetsuit.

May 7th.  The sun was out and the day was about 10 degrees warmer, but definitely not warm enough for beach balls and water skiing. I was swimming in a bigger body of water this time.  After what happened last week, I was having real reservations about even getting into my wetsuit let alone the water.  That inner critic was filling my head with the feelings of my numb hands and feet, and the pain I felt in my face from the cold water.   I marched down to the water as if I was going to prison.  The last thing I wanted to do was have an experience like I did last week, and here I was reliving it without even getting a toe in the water.  

I put my foot in.  It was REALLY cold. 

I was elated! 

Don’t get me wrong, the water was still freezing.  But it wasn’t what it was last week!   I could feel that inner critic subside as I started to actually believe that I was going to get a good swim in!  Was it possible that I could actually go past 30 minutes today?  The sun was out after all, and it had been a week.  As my perspective changed so did my energy.   I wouldn’t say I dove into the water carefree and brimming with joy over the temps, but I definitely felt a new surge of confidence . There was a smile on my face.  I had gotten the green light mentally … from myself.

In any situation that we find ourselves in our perspective is always just that: ours.  How we think about a situation determines how we feel about a situation.  How we feel about a situation can change our emotional state.  And our emotional state can provide a powerful catalyst to propel us forward or stop us in our tracks!

Here are a couple of suggestions to help you change your perspective, so you can change your performance!

  1. Stop thinking about what ‘should’ be – The number one killer of anyone’s performance is dismissing what is in front of you for what you think should be.  That water was freezing the first time in, and it didn’t get any warmer by feeding myself negative thoughts reinforcing what I wished the situation to be.  What it did do was create more aversion and a mental attitude that was self-defeating rather than performance-supporting.
  1. Bring in the gratitude – Showing real appreciation, even when you’re facing difficulties, can make a huge difference in whether or not you continue to make efforts towards your goals or leave them by the wayside.  Focus down in your mind and celebrate whatever you can find to be grateful for in the attempt you’re making at your goals. If you struggle to find something, practice being grateful for the lessons you learned from your previous attempt.
  1. Remember the ‘bigger picture’ –  Perfection is a fabrication, and nobody goes undefeated in their going after their goals … except those who never try at all.  Whether celebrating your ‘wins’ or dealing with ‘setbacks’, remember these experiences are part of your journey towards achieving your goal.  If you just started your efforts, think about the fact that you got the courage to start going after what you want.  Hold the long-term goal in mind and acknowledge that every step you take, regardless of how each step goes, it is bringing you closer to that goal.

Whatever endeavor you are going after, your perspective can hinder or enhance your performance.  Remember: how we think about a situation determines how we feel about a situation.  How we feel about a situation can change our emotional state.  And our emotional state can provide a powerful catalyst to propel us forward or stop us in our tracks!  Try these tips the next time you take action on your goal.  Share in the comments, below, how it goes; I’d love to hear!

If you would like help lessening your fear and anxiety, reaching your goals, breaking habits, or creating new ones, I’d love to work with you.  Just click the button or the link below for a free consultation and let’s talk. 

Part 3: Free-Form Your Visualization

I know what you’re thinking: how can I ever visualize without having memories of things that I’ve done before? Didn’t you say in your last blog that memories are where I keep all of my emotions? It’s true that our memories have emotions attached to them. It’s also true that the stronger the memory is (we make a memory stronger by playing it over and over again in our minds) the greater the emotional output for us when we’re looking for those feelings that we want like confidence, joy, connectedness, and love. But I promise you this…we have greater power with our imagination. 

Before we jump in, let me remind you why this visualization thing is so valuable to you. We can always try to get our emotions from external sources: movies, visits with friends, running, whatever.  But, first of all, those may not always be available, and secondly, they may not always give you the feelings you want.  All emotion is created within you.  Do you always feel energized and confident after your run? Does every interaction with your friend leave you feeling connected? Of course not! We have difficult runs, fights with friends, even a movie that promises to be inspiring can let us down.

We learned that all emotions are created inside of us. Therefore, the one fool-proof way we can get the emotions we want is to create them for ourselves, which, in turn, can help us go after what we want in life. Visualization is a time-tested tool that can help us achieve that!

Last week I talked about how we amplify our memory by using visualization to recreate within us those feelings we want. This week we’re actually going to talk about how we create a visualization and the incumbent feelings using only our imagination. Stay with me, this is going to get good. 

The first thing we have to realize is that when we’re creating a visualization from scratch we need to let go of reason. We are completely using our imagination. We might supplement that with images from books, movies, people we’ve met, experiences we’ve had, anything we even think we might have seen one time is likely to creep into our minds. All of these are incredible fodder for making a visualization. But again, like we talked about last week, the most important thing is to not have judgment about what comes up for us. 

When we’re doing freeform visualization anything goes. If the movie gladiator comes into your mind and suddenly you’re a character in the scene, now you imagine yourself in a gladiator outfit. Good for you! Keep going… Or maybe you hear in your mind a passage from a book you found inspiring. Perhaps you hear in your mind’s ear the soundtrack of a song that maybe you don’t know all the words but you remember the feeling it gave you… In any of these instances, you’ll build a visualization to elicit even more of that confidence that you were looking for.

OK so here’s how you do it:

First: like last week, identify the emotions that you want to feel. Without this step it’s like throwing darts at the side of a barn.  You’ll definitely hit something, but your accuracy doesn’t have to be very good. Really focus down on the emotion that you want and think about how it feels in your body.

Second: allow that emotion to come into your mind and your body without judgment. So, the tricky part is now you’re going to start having things come into your mind that might have nothing to do with the task at hand. If you’re going out for a run and all the sudden you’re thinking about that gladiator movie we talked about, you might think to yourself what the hell does it have to do with my run? It doesn’t matter, no judgment. If it’s giving you the feeling that you want and stick with it.

Third: focus on the emotion, not the imagery or what your mind’s playing back to you. We are not using our reason or logic. It doesn’t matter if the image in your mind makes sense, as long as it gives you the emotion that you want. You could be visualizing yourself having wings, or the voice of God in your mind, and you’ll be inclined to think about the impossibility of it all. Believe me I understand. Your focus has to be on the emotion. If you let logic in, you’ll lose that focus.  But, if you keep your focus on the emotion you are looking for and allow things to come up in your mind that will give you that emotion, then reason is irrelevent. Allow your imagination to do its job.  As a wide variety of images and sounds play in your mind, the only thing you’re checking is that they keep reinforcing the emotion for you.

When you start doing this realize that a lot of this will feel foreign. I can’t stress enough about withholding judgment. Try and practice this visualization for five or ten minutes before you go into that business meeting, get yourself out on that run, or deal with a family member.  Whatever it is that your mental-emotional challenge is, visualization can help you before, during, and after any action you need to take to help you get into the best frame of mind. It’s going to come in like a weak radio signal at first, if you’ve never done this before.  But I guarantee you, as you continue to practice, you’re gonna’ have a wide variety of radio channels you can dial-into to help you create the emotions that you want for yourself.

If you would like help lessening your fear and anxiety, reaching your goals, breaking habits, or creating new ones, I’d love to work with you.  Just click the button or the link below for a free consultation and let’s talk. 

Visualize to Actualize

I’m writing this following my run — a run that I originally was having a bit of trouble getting motivated for (alright, maybe more than a bit), but it ended up being incredible training.  As I was out there, I suddenly became aware that I was using a highly effective tool that I’ve used for over a decade.  This tool has helped me while training and during many grueling races.  So, I realized that it’s probably a good one to share.  

Now, when I’m speaking about ‘tools’ I’m not talking about what microspikes you should wear on the bottom of your runners for the snowmobile trails, or trekking poles to bring for rugged climbs to balance your heart rate effort.  This tool can be used for anything you’re facing, whether it’s a challenge you’ve chosen because it’s close to your heart, or… the challenge has been brought to your doorstep and you have no choice but to deal with it.  This is a tool that gets you doing the things that you most likely don’t always ‘feel’ like doing.  

You can make ‘deals’ with yourself or ‘sign a contract’, and these are good tools to harness your will, or create a reward system to get you to do things that you might otherwise lack consistent effort in.  These are good starters and they have their place, but our ‘will’ can and does run out over time, and contracts get broken… especially around the first of the year. 

What you need is a tool that develops strong focus and helps you create an emotional state for yourself that leaves you wanting to give your best effort.  What I’m talking about is your ability to visualize.

This isn’t a lesson from eastern mystics, eyes closed, quietly counting from 1 to 10 to themselves (although meditation is an incredible tool, I’m not knocking it).  You won’t hear me speak of levitating eight inches off the floor, holding hands, and chanting for hours on end (this is not Whoville).  If that’s what you’re looking for…it’s probably time to stop reading.  Those are great ways to practice visualization for sure, but sometimes this kind of visualization gets left on the practice mat.  

What I’m talking about is a ‘real world application’. Visualization that’s accessible when it’s cold, when you’re hungry, or your get up and go has gotten up and left.  It is available when your fear and self-doubt are asking as nicely as possible if you can just skip this practice run, race, job interview, interaction with your kids…just fill in the blank.  This visualization technique is about giving you greater energy, focus, and desire to come back to the things that scare you.  These are three crucial things you’re going to need if you’re looking to push yourself past your comfort level (or at least you think it’s past your comfort level). 

Here’s what I want you to do…

I want you to bring a memory into your mind that has you doing that activity that you’re about to undertake.  Truly see yourself doing that activity.  If you don’t have any prior experience with the activity, match it as best you can from experiences you have had.  Don’t be afraid to use your imagination.  Nobody’s looking.  This is all in your head.  You can visualize yourself any way you want.  Give yourself wings, see yourself in a favorite movie, imagine music that creates incredible emotional drive and set the tempo for you.  If you have trouble with visualizing at first don’t worry — use a photograph from something that you’ve done in the past to spark your memory.  Listen to a piece of music that’s meaningful for you and that elicits the emotion you would find helpful.  Now sign the contract.  Punch the clock.  (I told you these things would come in handy.)  They hold you accountable to you. 

Now, roll film.  

This means start your visualization process immediately.  You are no longer wherever you are. Believe me most of the time we’re not anyway.  Our minds stress about the past or our future, we lose our focus whether it’s on our iPhone, something that catches our eye, or a grocery list we’re doing in our heads.  Not for this.  Remember, you punched the clock.  This is a deal that you’re making with yourself and there is no one more important that you can make a deal with than you. 

Start out slow, it doesn’t have to be fancy.  Try to really see what you are visualizing as you move into the activity you want (or need) to accomplish.  Give yourself 10 minutes, work your way up to more time holding your imagery.  I promise you can hate the rest of your run, swim, bike, or anything else you do for the rest of the training.  That’s fine.  Reward yourself with music, a good TV show, something that would make you feel like you’ve actually been rewarded (so not the laundry). Grow this capacity.  

This visualization is what Buddhists would call a walking meditation, a technique which allows for meditation and visualization while moving.  We’re just bringing it to another level. We are literally bringing our visualization into the present moment where our mindset is all that matters. Stay the course of the time you committed to it.  Hold tightly to your practice of visualization every time you go out after whatever difficult challenge you have set for yourself.  After a while it won’t matter what the weather is like outside you.  It won’t matter if you wanna’ go or not.  In fact, you’ll probably want to go because, for that fifteen minutes, hour, or however long you’re going to be out, you are going to feel the emotional state you want to be in.  This is the practice of a peaceful warrior, of a real Bodhisattva.  This is the way.

Here’s a Simple visualization technique to start with:

OneDecide how you want to feel (confident, strong, capable, seasoned, joyous, happy, etc.)

(ex. – Sitting in the car, I’m feeling unmotivated and tired.  I want to feel energetic and confident about the two hours of training I need to do)

Two – Consider using music.  It truly doesn’t matter what kind.  I would recommend a playlist that is diverse, and check in with yourself as honestly as you can if the music you selected is eliciting the kind of emotion that you are looking for and be sure that it’s the right intensity.  If you don’t want to listen to it while you’re training that’s fine, but it could be helpful while you’re driving to where you’re going to workout.

(ex. – I used “All the Same,” a song by the Sick Puppies, to find the right combination of confidence and intensity of music.  It was also attached to a very good memory because it was the song I played before doing my first Ironman in Montreal.)

Three – Focus all your attention on recalling a memory and holding it.  This should be a memory that is filled with the emotion at the intensity that you’re looking for.  Use your five senses to create very real and rich imagery.  If the memory is important to you it will be filled with feelings your five senses provided when it actually happened.

(ex. – I visualized being on my bike doing my laps in the rain at my Ironman in Montreal.  The feel of the water, the cold, the splashing sounds of the bike tires cutting through the water, feeling it on my skin; hearing the announcer speaking in French; seeing a team of elite cyclists in white uniforms on the same track just off my left shoulder and feeling like I was keeping the same pace.) 

Now that you have that image and all of its incumbent emotions coursing through you, you’re ready to take that step out the door and begin your workout (or start whatever activity you need to do).  At first, you may only be able to hold all of those good emotions a few minutes.  They may evaporate like morning mist minutes after stepping out of your car.  Relax, that’s normal.  But, the more you practice, the longer you’ll be able to hold that visualization.  You’ll capitalize on those emotions and have them propel you through your workout. 

Believe it or not, this same tool works for your job (thinking of a time when you are successful can propel you to success in a current project where you have felt stuck!), your relationships (you can carry happy feelings into your connection with your family at the end of a long day by taking a few minutes before you enter the house to do some visualization), or any activity where you need a little motivation or support.  

As I finished my run, I felt confidence and satisfaction coursing through my body.  I could feel the cold now as well (better now than while training).  I heated up the car, changed clothes, and got on my way.  I played “It’s all the Same” on my iphone, and pumped it through the car speakers.  I felt like keeping those feelings I had from that visualization of pedaling through that rain in Montreal more than a decade ago for just a little while longer.