Today’s Topic: Finding and Channeling your Focus
Hi everybody! Welcome to this week’s Q and A. I’m excited to be here. My name is Rebecca Smith, I am a high-performance coach specializing in helping athletes age 8 to 18 get their mind-body connection strong. This is so that they can unlock their peak performance and maximum enjoyment.
Basically, I help them perform happy so they can perform better, and I do this in a couple of different ways. I help people through one-on-one coaching services over Skype or FaceTime. I also have a complete online mental toughness training center called the Perform Happy Community. So, if you’re looking for a little bit of help unlocking the best athlete within you, feel free to find me in one of those ways.
Now today’s question comes from a swimmer’s parent. This swim mom asks,
Q: “My son is 12 and does a lot of competitive swimming, which he gets extremely nervous about. How do you help him get out of his head and into his body?”
You’ve got to get out of your head and into your body to unlock your very best performance. If you’re in your head, burning up a whole bunch of extra energy, worrying about what you should do to change whatever it is that might not feel right, ultimately… you’re going to mess up. That’s what I’ve noticed.
I was working with a baseball player earlier today who steps up to the plate analyzing everything he might do wrong. He therefore makes little changes to the way he holds the bat, the way that he stands, even though he knows he shouldn’t be making any last-minute adjustments at the plate.
For you, a swimmer, you shouldn’t be making any new adjustments in the blocks; you shouldn’t be making any new changes, no matter what. If it’s competition day, you just go and you give it what you’ve got. You’ve trained hours and hours. If you could just let your body do its thing, my guess is that you would do pretty well. But if it was that easy then, I wouldn’t be here talking to you. I’m going to give you guys some suggestions today on how to get out of your head and stop that mind from going nuts so you can just let your body do what it’s good at.
The Monkey in your Mind
There are places you can travel to that have lots of wild monkeys running about. These monkeys know all about tourists, and they’re ready for you. They sit up in trees and they wait, and when the tourists show up, they come down and they snatch your sunglasses off your head, or they eat your ice cream cone out of your hand, or they take your camera. And these little mischievous monkeys just can’t wait, because it’s so fun to terrorize these poor tourists, meanwhile, you are laughing and taking pictures, so it’s really a win-win. Your thinking mind is like that mischievous little monkey. It’s up there ready to have some fun, jumping from thought to thought, doing whatever it wants, completely out of control and messing stuff up.
I was on vacation is Costa Rica, and one of the locals said, “Watch this.” He grabs a banana, he peels it, and hands it to a monkey. Then this monkey sits still and enjoys its banana, calm as can be. Then, as soon as the banana’s done, he’s back to terrorizing the tourists again. What I’ve learned about our minds is that you have to give your mind a banana, so to speak. You have to give your mind a job. This way it won’t just be jumping around from thought to thought, doing whatever it pleases. Instead, you give your mind something to do, and then it can anchor in long enough for you to get in touch with your body. That’s the first part of this question; how to gain a little bit of control over that monkey mind.
Distracting the Monkey
One really simple job you can give your mind is to focus on your breathing.
Try this: stop, take a second, and inhale for three, hold, and exhale for five.
I’m guessing that for those twelve seconds of your life, you were thinking about your body. You were thinking about your breathing (not about what could go wrong).
I once was at a swim meet with a guy who was a phenomenal swimmer, but would get really, really nervous. And all I said right before was, “Why don’t you just take a breath and get in your body?” And it can be that simple. Of course, there are other things you can do, so I’ll give you some more suggestions. But if all you take away from this today is just to stop and breathe, you’re going to be better off than if you’re up in your head, overthinking things.
Back to my baseball player from earlier, we discovered … he’s already doing this, he’s already taking a breath. He stops, he steps up to the plate, taps his bat a couple of times, takes a deep breath, and then he gets ready. What he usually does during that time is he starts thinking about what could go wrong. We decided that we’re going to give his mind a job of, “Hit the ball hard.” That’s it; we’re not going to try and do it perfect. Not going to worry about if it’s going to be a ball or a strike. We’re just going to hit the ball hard, that’s it. We’re just going to make it really simple for our monkey mind. He’s going to be thinking about tapping his bat, he’s going to be thinking about breathing. And then he’s going to be thinking about the ball and hitting it hard, and that’s it.
And then, for this swimmer, it’s thinking about shaking out your arms or doing whatever it is, whatever your routine is behind the blocks. Something that gets you in the right physical state, where you’re feeling your arms moving. Some people even clap or slap their arms or slap their legs, and that actually gets you in your body as well; it brings you down from the thinking and just feeling. Snapping your fingers, clapping your hands, even clenching your fists really tight and then releasing them can be a good way to release some of that energy.
That’s actually a skill that is taught in the sports psychology world. It’s called progressive relaxation, where you go through every single muscle in your entire body. You start up at your eyes and you scrunch them up really tight, and then you relax them. And then you do it with your nose, then your mouth, all the way through your entire body, and each of those relaxations not only relaxes your body, but also trains your brain to remember how to relax whenever you need it to in very specific muscles.
I actually put together an audio file. It’s a 13-minute audio with three different relaxation exercises on it that you are welcome to download for free here. This is something that if you know you’ve got 15 minutes before you’re going to get there to meet and you’re just rattling out of your skin, you can put it on. Just listen, and it kind of guides you inward; it guides you into your body, to pay attention to different muscles, to breathe in a specific way, and also to let go of certain thoughts. If that interests you, you can download that right now.
There was this acronym that I like to use for remembering where to focus. We can give our monkey the banana of breathing, but then there’s also different things; sometimes you don’t need to be thinking about breathing, you need to be thinking about moving around the court, or staying on the balance beam. So my acronym is W-I-N. You’re not thinking about the win, that’s usually what gets people freaked out to begin with; they’re thinking about the time, they’re thinking about winning or losing or anything outside themselves. WIN is:
That’s it. “What should I be doing in this moment that will move me toward what I want?” Is it the breathing pattern? Is it the stroke? What is the one thing that’s important right now?” And if you can’t think of anything, then you just breathe. But of course, there’s always one thing. I actually have a whole training on focus in the Perform Happy Community Flow Series. It’s about figuring out what you need to focus on and what your potential distractions are so you can be prepared for them. Then you’re ready to think about the right things. “What’s important now,” in the moment.
Don’t Change Things Last Minute
I’ll give you one final example that relates back to the baseball, and then also for any golfers out there. When you’re getting ready to do a controlled skill – a skill you do the same way every time. This is for your divers, your skaters, people who do the same skill every single time in exactly the same way. You don’t want to be changing things last minute. These skills can be up against a phenomenon called the “yips.” I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of that, but they sometimes call it the yips in tennis, with your serve, golf ball, or pitch. And it’s when unnecessary tension tightens up your body and makes you do weird stuff under pressure. Then, all of the sudden, you can’t serve when it’s the game point. You don’t know why, and every single time you get to that point, that happens, or you just can’t get your bat to move the way you want it to in a certain situation.
And what I like to have people do is a combination of stopping and breathing. Visualize what you want to have happen. If you’re golfing, you actually watch your little imaginary golf ball go up over, see wind carrying it, and then it lands exactly where you want it. Right on the hill in that little green patch. You get really specific, and you aim your intention at a specific spot; then, you just hit the ball. You don’t go, “Okay, now I need to let the triceps contract and then my …” You don’t think about that, because that’s already in there.
Your brain is very powerful, and you just have your brain focused on exactly where you want it to go, the rest of it will work itself out. There are no professional golfers with a perfect swing, but they have perfect focus. And this can be the same with swimming. You think about exactly what you want to have happen, and I’m not talking about the time. I’m talking about the technique. Exactly where you want to hit the water, exactly what you want your turn to be like. If you’re a gymnast, you think about exactly what you want that routine to look like. If you’re up to bat and you’re a baseball player, you think exactly where you want that ball to go. Line drive up the middle.
And then, you just do it. You get your monkey in place, give it something to do, whether it’s breathe or look at a certain point, and you just go do it. Now this takes practice, because we’re actually re-wiring your brain to not overthink and try to change things and fix things. Because really, once you’re up there, you’re done; your training is done. You just get up and you do your best, and then you learn from it.
If anybody has any other questions that you want answered, you can email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want to get your hands on that free download of the relaxation exercises, you can go to here. Thank you.