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6 Ways to Increase Performance Under Pressure

With competition season beginning or already in the swing of things for many sports, it’s important that we talk about the most overlooked aspect of competing, which is the added pressure.

People say that Michael Jordan performs better under pressure, and a lot of us think we do too. I used to always say that I performed better in a stressful exam than I did just doing homework. Some people will say that the pressure drives them to make better choices on the fly – but the reality is we don’t actually perform better when under pressure. Evidence actually tells us that no one performs as well as they might if they were in a less stressful environment. Even Jordan.
People that stand out in those moments of pressure, like Jordan, are usually able to navigate the environment OK because they are able to dull the negative effects of pressure (but they’d still perform better without it). Also in cases like MJ, the rest of the team performs so much worse under pressure so that it miraculously look like he is the only person who can handle it. In reality, his baseline just started at a higher level.

 

According to “Performing Under Pressure: The Science of Doing Your Best When it Matters Most” (Weisinger & Pawliw-Fry 2015) the follow things can help your athletic performance when you’re feeling the heat:

1. Focus on the task not the outcome.

Focusing your mental power on the outcome of the game is not helpful for athletes. In fact, it can be quite distracting. Trying to centre your mind into the moment will help to reinforce the idea that you need to focus in on the task at hand.

2. Mentally prepare and plan for the worst

In your down time, think about your strategy. Come up with ideas to help you even if the worst case scenario happens. Replay it over in your mind. Drill techniques that would be answers to situations and have an action plan – “if this happens, then what?”. Becoming proficient at being a problem solver will ease your mind and your body when the moment of pressure hits you in competition.

3. Focus on the factors that you can control

As an athlete there are many things that we can control. We can control our technique, our speed, our body language. What we can’t control is our opponents next move or the crowd screaming from the sidelines. Focus in on only the things that you know you can change and control. This will easy your mind and put your head in the right place. Use the tools that you have mastered and drown out the excess noise.

4. Think back to past success

Try and remember back to when you were in this situation before. How did you handle it to get the job done? Another benefit of doing this is that it has been shown to increase confidence in athletes and eases doubt in their minds. Use the tool of self reflection to remind yourself of your past success.

5. Slow down your thought process

When it starts heating up on the court or on the mat, it’s likely that your mind is going to start racing a hundred miles an hour. Usually as a result of adrenalin pumping through your body and the millions of different stimuli around you, it’s going to be hard to calm your mind.
Try and practice mindfulness techniques during training and also when you’re resting. Try and focus on the task at hand and nothing else. Put everything else out of your mind and go into autopilot. Becoming efficient at using mindfulness has been shown to increase mental toughness and will help you stay controlled under pressure.

6. Think of these moments as fun challenges and not as a life or death threat

Going hand in hand with a lot of the other points, is the idea that we want to try and control our body and mind when the adrenalin hits. The problem with adrenalin is that it sends very strong signals to our bodies and sometimes it gets a little out of hand. Our blood is pumping, our pupils are dilated, our mind is racing, we start shaking and occasionally our body can’t handle it. You’ve likely heard of “flight or fight” mode, and this is exactly what we want to control. We want to utilise adrenalin for a good, purposeful reason, so we need to try and tell out bodies that this is not a life or death situation, and we cannot run from it.

The easiest way to do this, is to try and see the situation as a challenge that is fun and enjoyable. Tell ourselves that it is not life and death and we have all the tools necessary to get the job done.

“seeing pressure as a threat undermines self confidence; elicits fear of failure; impairs short term memory, attention and judgement; and spurs impulsive behaviour”

The most important thing that you should take away from this is that performing at your peak will never happen under pressure. Likely, you will be better in practice in the comfort of your training environment. What we can change however, is the baseline in which we start at (improve techniques so that when under pressure you can execute them effectively) and the way in which we control our mind and bodies when faced with these situations.

 

Hope this helps.

 

 

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6 Ways to Ensure You Are Setting The Right Goals

So lets talk goal setting: Do you set them? How do you usually go achieving them?

I am a goal expert. Seriously. I set goals all the time. I research the best way to set them. I find information about how other people achieve their goals. I get excited when I hear a new goal setting study has come out and I implement all that information into my list.

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I set goals daily, weekly, monthly and yearly. It sounds excessive, but that’s because it is. Without goals, I feel like I have no real direction. This is something I have been doing since 2014; I will write broad yearly goals to reflect back on and each month I will write some more refined goals. On Monday at the beginning of each week, I will write in my diary the things I want to achieve and daily I will write a to-do list which is basically another list of goals to achieve.

This is a pic of my diary from sometime in August last year, so you can an idea:

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At the end of the day/week/month I reflect and write myself some comments on how I did. This is super important to do, because it helps you realise if you even attempted your goal, if you’re on the right track, or if you were able to completely smash the goal. Without getting some sort of self-feedback on my goals, I’m doomed to fail. It means that I usually forget them or I start implementing the wrong strategy and end up far away from my target.
A huge study by McEwan & colleagues (2016) looked at goal setting for adhering to exercise for the long term. They found that the following things are super important;

1. Medium Exercise Intensity

If the exercise is too hard you are less likely to stick to it. If you know you have issues with adherence, stick to moderate intensity exercise.

Imagine you walk into a gym on the first day with a goal in mind. ‘Today I will deadlift 100kg.’ Not only will you not be able to walk for 2 months, but you will FOR SURE never try to lift that weight again, and you’d likely never even come back. Make your goals moderate. Work hard, but not so hard that you’re going to get PTSD looking at a deadlift platform.

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2. Set your own goals or work with a professional.

Going online and just picking the same goals that some other sexy fitness model is using, wont really help you get to your goal. This particular study also found that setting your own goals while collaborating with a fitness professional (to help moderate) is also a great way to get them done and to keep them relevant.

3. Set the right type of goals.

The study found that weekly goals combined with a daily goal work best.

I like to set a more broad weekly goal like “Eat more green veggies” and then couple it with a daily goal like “eat broccoli with dinner”. The goals sound silly and super simple, but trust me, it works.

4. Revise your goals weekly or fortnightly.

Self monitoring is suuuuper powerful technique and reevaluating your progress end goal is important throughout the journey.

If you don’t revise them, they are likely to become irrelevant and outdated overtime.

I made a goal at the beginning of the year to lift X amount of weight, but once I started getting close to that weight, I really needed to revise the number to make it more relevant to my progress.

5. Track your workouts via a fitness app or an activity log.

Seeing your progress over time will be a great tool for you to look back and see how far you have come. This type of self-feedback is very important and should not be overlooked. (Side note: this type of feedback is a not only good for adherence but it is a huge motivator & helps confidence).

The way I track is with my paper and pen. I tick or cross out what worked for me (and what didn’t) and I even write myself notes like “wow Ally, not even close” or “not again… :(“.. you don’t have to go that far, but it’s nice to do a  little self-reflection sometimes and be honest with yourself.

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6. Most importantly, make your goals specific and relative to you.

Make sure that your goals reflect you and who you want to be. Be realistic (but still don’t be afraid to set goals that might seem totally crazy), just make sure that they are relative to you and that you can see yourself achieving them.

Happy goal setting and in future achieving your goals!

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