By John J. Ratey, MD
A common phrase you hear even today: I feel kind of depressed, I have to get to the gym and boost my endorphins. While the idea of exercising to lift our mood is a solid one, it is not just about raising the endorphins. I became aware of this strong connection between exercise and mood and performance, when as a psychiatrist in Boston during the marathon craze, I began seeing marathoners who had to stop running because of an injury. They were coming to me, struggling with symptoms of anxiety, depression, and ADD, among other psychological complaints. These were high functioning CEO’s, supermoms, ivy league students, and others, who had a noticeable shift when their exercise training was taken away. I could see first hand how their running was functioning almost as a “prescription” that could parallel some of our psychiatric medications.
While yes, it is true that endorphins are connected to an athlete’s nirvana like...
The soccer practice is drawing to a close. The head coach has left. I’ve stayed to watch the athletes wrapping up their drills – one in particular. Earlier, this athlete had been dribbling with just his prosthetic. I’d marveled. Now, he’s missing shot after shot. Finally, he hits the mark and his teammate murmurs something encouraging. The drill is over. The athlete storms across the field a short distance. There’s a painful urgency in his movements. Is he crying?
The athlete returns to the line and runs a few lengths with his teammates. Soon they’re done. A coach says something frustrated about fitness. I’m too far away to hear the specifics. The athlete picks up a chair and carries it to the sideline. Sitting down, he pulls his uniform over his head and leans his face into his hands. Although he’s stepped away from the group he hasn’t gone far. Does this mean he wants to be approached? Alone is available to...
“I am going to say it like it is,” Coach Brown told me, exasperation wieldy within his voice. “I’m not being mean. I’m just telling the truth.”
We are deep into a discussion about this coach’s manner of communication with his athletes. Known for his blunt comments, Coach Brown has welcomed my help in order to improve his effectiveness as a coach. This is not our first conversation. The several we’ve had prior to this one have elicited the same assertions from him: “I want to see effort; everything is a choice; you either want it badly enough or you don’t.” He’s turned slightly away from me, his expression matter-of-fact and committed.
Although each of the above statements rings with widely accepted virtues, they are not what this article is about. Rather, I want to discuss the manner by which one person tries to influence others regardless of the content of his message, and where problems in...
By Shannon Thompson
“How will you go about finding the thing totally unknown to you?” – Rebecca Solnit
“I’m worried about my future,” he said, she said, so many of them tell me, with differing looks and a wild variance between excitement and fear. “I have no idea what I’m going to do.” My work as a mental performance consultant for athletes provides me with numerous opportunities to discuss the unknown:
“The doctor doesn’t know what it is, “ the soccer player tells me about her knee pain, which has plagued her for weeks now.
“I don’t know when I’ll play,” says the basketball freshman, who has yet to start in a game.
“I don’t know where to focus,” explains the tennis player.
“What are my values?” The coach asks, exasperated as he tries to articulate his coaching philosophy.
“Who do I want to be?” so many repeat back to me, eyes wide at the...
By Shannon Thompson
By profession, I am a mental performance consultant for athletes. Simply put, my job is to help people perform at their best as consistently as possible. Several times a day I ask athletes to describe “who” they want to be, and then we discuss who they’ve already been during their best performances. Based on this information an actionable “mental performance plan” is developed.
The mental performance plan process has been a very successful system. Well-constructed plans have been credited with numerous wins and breakthroughs, as well as greater satisfaction in the effort that the athlete has given. However, even the most thoughtful plan is not fool proof—especially considering the fact that the plan is designed to influence human emotion, perhaps the most volatile force on earth! Our inner lives are wildly unpredictable. An immeasurable list of influences combines to create our emotional climate. Sleep, diet, hydration, the...
Few things cause more anxiety than feeling like your life’s out of control. We’ve all been there—frustrated, wondering if our countless hours of busywork are actually leading anywhere. The feeling often arises when you realize that there are more things on your to-do list than you could ever accomplish in the time allotted. It gets worse when you recognize that, of the few things you are able to accomplish, none of it makes you feel like you’re living your life’s purpose. This blog is about how to fix that.
My apprenticeship in learning to live on purpose came from having two special mentors. One is Brendon Burchard, founder of High Performance Institute. The other is Angela Duckworth, renown UPenn scholar and CEO of Character Lab. They’ve never met, but I’m constantly struck by their similarity. One’s a highly successful entrepreneur who’s created a lab dedicated to understanding human excellence. The...
“Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within…”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
I love my job. I can’t put into words how blessed I feel to have it. This particular work as a mental performance consultant to athletes in Flagstaff, Arizona, is my greatest gift. I am privileged to hear the stories of gorgeous young souls every day. I’m honored by the permission to explore their perspectives, and humbled by their willingness to hear mine. I’m granted more connection everyday in my office than any person could hope for. I love my job.
Once and awhile I’m asked, “how should I begin a career in sport psychology?” In some ways I’m probably the worst person to ask because my path to my current career was an unorthodox one. I did not...
I want to tell you a story about life through basketball. I know two young men, Conner and Kevin. Both play basketball for the same college team. Conner is a freshman and Kevin is a senior. Conner is recovering from knee surgery. Kevin is healthy and training. The season is about to begin, and last weekend both attended a scrimmage against a rival school. Kevin and Conner’s team lost the scrimmage, but the effort was a good one, and both athletes came to talk with me the week following.
“Conner!” I said, as he walked in my room, “you were the MVP!” Humble, Conner looked down, but he couldn’t restrain the wide grin that broke across his face. My comment referred to the fact that I’d watched Conner, still unable to play because of his knee surgery, cheer and encourage his teammates for the whole game that Saturday. On his feet the entire time, Conner’s efforts had resounded with whole-heartedness. He’d...
“The demon you can swallow gives you its power. The greater life’s pain the greater life’s reply.”
Conviction has always come upon me by surprise, calling me to face her with sharp insistence. There’s something urgently real about her; she stings with the edge of fleeting time. “Be you now,” she demands. There’s a fierceness to her tone, and a tremor. This is not play, practice, or make believe, but real life. This is a sudden inner battle of dire import. You must win.
Have you felt the call of conviction? Light as a feather in the small of your back, “as urgent as a knife?” My first memory of conviction was while trail running last autumn. I’d recently adopted the habit of always seeking the fastest line on every trail, especially if it’s technical. I trail run competitively, and this habit teaches me to see lines quickly, and also helps me become more agile at...
“How well have you prepared to be free?” ~ Michael Gervais
Most of us, regardless of our craft, have experienced the feeling of effortless excellence. I’m sure that many of you can remember moments when you’re challenged but you know you can meet the challenge before you. Known as moments in “flow state,” these experiences are infrequent for most, and elusive. Often our best performances arise from them. These moments tattoo our memories with such fulfillment that we continue to work day after day with the hopes of encountering another one.
My primary role as a mental performance consultant is to help athletes attain such optimal performance states consistently. The information and exercises below are designed to begin this process. The content to follow is framed in sporting terminology, but you will quickly see that it is applicable to any field. We will begin by exploring “who” you want to be, and also who you...
We'll send you weekly emails with our latest insights and training for free, and we'll never send you ads or sponsored messages.