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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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What You Think About Fat and Cholesterol. Mostly Bullshit. Part 3/3.

Ok folks, we are on the home stretch. This is the last post in my series of trying to promote fat and butter to the world.

Today, I’m going to talk about polyunsaturated fats specifically about some that we commonly know as vegetable oils and trans fats. You’re going to learn a few things I’m sure but the main points I’d like you to take away are the following;

– Vegetable oils are not made from vegetables.

– Vegetable oils are terrible for your health.

So, what are vegetable oils and how are they made?

Vegetable oils are extracted from a seed and come in many forms; sunflower oil, safflower oil, canola, corn and soybean oils.

They go through a process of extraction via a chemical called hexane. Hexane smells a lot like petrol and is used for a variety of non-food related things; it is a very powerful industrial cleaner, it is used for glueing shoes together, and some home DIY things like roofing and thinning paint. Not kidding. This is what they use to extract your “vegetable oils.”

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“Acute inhalation exposure of humans to high levels of hexane causes mild central nervous system (CNS) effects, including dizziness, giddiness, nausea, and headache. Chronic exposure to hexane is associated with polyneuropathy in humans, with numbness in the extremities, muscular weakness, blurred vision, headache, and fatigue observed.” (source)

 

Usually after extraction, the oils go through even further chemical processing. They are deodorised to remove all of the terrible smells and tastes that develop during the chemical extraction.  During this process, the oils are heated and the vapour is released and vacuumed away. The only problem being that heating these oils so hot, will make your oils rancid before they even get to the bottle.

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So after nasty chemicals have been added, removed and god-knows what else, some oils go through a process of hydrogenation. This is a process that aims to turn oils into a more solid product like margarine. The process is simply a way to add hydrogen to your food – which sounds simple and safe enough.
The process involves heating the oil up under pressure and adding hydrogen. In order to combine them, a catalyst needs to be used; nickel or platinum. This breaks the bonds between the carbon atoms, and gives them to hydrogen atoms. Partial hydrogenation results in trans fats, and total hydrogenation results in saturated fats—because the fat is saturated with hydrogen atoms.

The reason companies like to do this is to improve texture of fats (to make them spreadable), to change the melting point or to increase shelf life of the product.

The problem lies when trans fats start to get involved. Trans fats have many health implications:

  • Every 2% increase in trans fats creates a 23% increased incidence of heart disease
  • They increase hardening of arteries
  • Trans fats also inhibit the formation of an enzyme called cyclooxygenase, which helps dilate your arteries and regulate blood flow. Basically trans fats glue together your cardio vascular system. Great.

 

Denmark actually completely banned trans fats in 2003 but they are still wide spread in Australia! Many products on Aussie shelves with the “Heart Foundation Tick” or the Heath Star Rating have trans fats in them. Next time you’re in the grocery store, pick up a tub of the healthiest looking margarine you can find and have a look on the back. Trans fats. Trans fats everywhere.

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This kind-of-scary to read study, talks about how bad trans fats are for your health and how we need to completely eradicate it from our shelves. If you’re interested in never eating margarine or its nasty cousins again, have a read. They make a pretty compelling argument;

“Trans fats should be removed from the food supply”

 

In fact, vegetable oil is so nasty for your health, that US authorities have even put a limit on how much vegetable oil you are safely allowed to inhale during a work day. So if you’re not supposed to inhale too much of it, why is it ok to ingest in our food? Here is a hint; It’s not.

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So. There you have it. Time to throw away basically everything in your pantry. I encourage the following items; canola oil (or any “vegetable oil”), margarine, mayonnaise (R.I.P) or any dressings etc that have trans fats on the label, and lots of processed items (look at the label to see if they have vegetable fats or trans fats listed).

You can replace with some other actual healthy fats like;

  • olive oil
  • butter
  • avocado oil
  • coconut oil
  • macadamia oil (for salad dressings and mayo – not for cooking)

I urge you not to go into all out fat-shaming mode, and please be sure to keep good healthy fats in your diet. Fats are so, so important and should not be overlooked. Butter is really the best.

 

 

The end.

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What you think about fat and cholesterol. Mostly Bullshit. 1/3

Have you ever bought a low-fat yogurt or milk trying to be health conscious? Ever avoided eating eggs or the yolk for fear of cholesterol? Ever been told to buy margarine instead of butter to reduce your cholesterol? Even by your doctor?

Everything you currently think about fat and it’s affect on cholesterol and your heart, is mostly bullshit. It’s a pretty big stuff up, but it’s not your fault.

The bad news is that the generation before us messed up the science, was influenced by big money and steered us in the direction of an obesity crisis. The good news is, now we know that they did the wrong things and we can see the fraudulent science, we can start to change our habits and teach the new generation the correct things.

Popular schools of thought;

  • Saturated fats cause coronary heart disease (CHD)
  • High Cholesterol causes CHD
  • Polyunsaturated fats are good for you

All of the above things, are potentially false. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to try and break this down for you. I am starting with Saturated fats/animal fats and the idea that they cause heart disease.

Some people are already checking out of this article. Lots of people don’t know the difference between types of fats and some likely don’t think it matters. It does matter and I’ll try and break it down for you.

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Different types of fats are a combination of different molecules. Their pattern determines the types of fats they are and how they are broken down.

Saturated fats have molecules that are neatly stacked together and because of this they are able to be solid at room temperature. When heated, the fats melt. Saturated fats includes animal fats like butter & lard and also coconut oil.

Monounsaturated fats are liquid at room temp. They are more solid when cooled but are not stable, with the potential for free radicals. Eg. Olive oil, peanut oil and canola oil. 

Polyunsaturated fats are liquid all of the time.  They are highly refined oil (deodorised, washed with toxins) and they are highly unstable oils. They include things like corn oil, soybean oil, safflower oil and sunflower oil. 

Where did this idea that ‘Saturated fats are bad’ come from? 

In the 1960’s the growing number of heart attacks was on the rise (there were around 500,000 reported deaths from CVD in 1960). The public attention was shifting towards heart disease prevention and cure. 

This is when Dr Ansel Keys along with his team of scientists created The Diet Heart Hypothesis (or Lipid Hypothesis). It was created to explain the increase in CHD. He was able to convince the American Heart Association that cholesterol & saturated fat leads to atherosclerosis, which then leads to Cardiovascular Heart Diseases and then eventually death. He urged them to guide the public to avoid saturated fats.

There were significant problems with this study. Dr Keys only chose the data that he wanted to show his hypothesis was correct. He cherry picked countries from his study that helped to support his argument. Once they reintroduced all the countries into the study, the correlation between saturated fats, cholesterol and heart disease was no longer existent.

In any case, it didn’t matter. Keys was still able to convince the American Heart Association to introduce guidelines that alerted consumers to decrease their fat intake and to increase their consumption of carbohydrates. The guidelines also urged the public to conform to the Prudent Diet; stop consuming animal fats and to start consuming vegetable oils instead. The food pyramid which we all know so well from our school years was drilled into our minds. Large amounts of carbohydrates and less amounts of fat. The idea being that this would help to reduce our risk of heart disease, but in reality we were just eating more and more carbohydrates. 

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In 1984 there was a National Cholesterol Consensus Conference which created a set point of unhealthy cholesterol which suddenly included large numbers of normal, healthy people and gave them a disease; “hypercholesterolemia.”


This new disease now included about half the population. 
It led to “National Cholesterol Education Program” for all physicians to promote veg oils and statins to patients and The National Institute of Health promoted the “Prudent Diet” for all people above 2 yrs of age (even though there was no evidence to support the claim).

Now everyone was consuming very high amounts of carbohydrates and barely any animal fats. 

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On the contrary, an ongoing study in the town of Framingham, United States has shown that there is no evidence of link between CHD and animal fat consumption. Former Director of the Framingham Study, Dr George Mann stated…”the public is being deceived by the greatest health scam of the century…” That is – the idea that animal fats are bad for your heart.

Other evidence was also able to show that there was no evidence that consuming these types of fats led to heart disease;

      • 1957: no link with animal fat
      • 1972: Honolulu study – no link with CHD and animal fat
      • 2001: Systematic review – no evidence of CHD and animal fat
      • 2005: Malmo Diet & Cancer Study: examined 28,000 middle age people for 5 years, no evidence

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“ …found that people who ate the most cholesterol, ate the most saturated fat, ate the most calories actually weighed the least and were the most physically active.”


So the important conclusion of all this; 
current evidence does not support guidelines that encourage high consumption of polyunsaturated fats and low consumption of total saturated fats.  

The guidelines about eating a high carbohydrate and low fat diet is misinforming the public and has had devastating consequences.

In fact, Dr Ansel Keys’ “The Lipid Hypothesis” has shown to be more than a half century global human experiment: a terrible failure. An experiment that has led to horrendous, generational consequences. Things like obesity, diabetes and possibly the worst of all, it didn’t help to lower the heart disease risk. 

The public mind is still swayed towards a “low-fat” diet. Foods are processed, removed of fat and replaced with carbohydrate. People are still looking for ways to reduce their cholesterol and they do this by lowering their fat intake. They stopped eating egg yolks thinking that it would decrease their cholesterol (which is the most nutrient dense part of an egg!). They started buying margarine instead of butter (which is made from nasty chemicals and trans fats) and they taught the next generation the same things. Now we have generations of people who are scared to eat fat and are much more likely to head towards sugar instead.
The scariest part about this is that saturated fat doesn’t contribute to cholesterol problems! Even if it did, having high cholesterol doesn’t lead to heart attacks and death in most people.

Fat and cholesterol are so important in our diets for many reasons and we cannot avoid them. They don’t cause heart disease. They won’t make you fat.

Learn to love animal fats and implement them in your diet. They are great sources of protein, a huge variety of vitamins and minerals and besides, it just tastes better.

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More to come on cholesterol soon.