Monday, 27 January 2014

Sportlobster TV: What does a relegation battle do to the mind?

I had the pleasure of doing an interview with Sportlobster, the new social networking site for sport. I was sharing the couch with former Premiership footballers Jimmy Bullard, Leon McKenzie and Paul McVeigh. We were discussing the mental effects of a relegation battle. The programme can be accessed by clicking here.

Andy Barton
Performance Consultant
The Sporting Mind

If you want to get ahead, get a purpose

One of the questions I very often ask my clients when they tell me they have a goal in mind is "for what purpose are you striving for this goal?" What I want to establish from this question is whether they are doing it just for themselves, for someone else or whether they have a bigger reason to achieve the goal.

It is certainly important that the person wants to do it for themselves first. You may be surprised how many of my clients tell me that they have a goal in mind but there is something about their body language and tone of voice that suggests otherwise. Very often it becomes established that the goal isn't theirs at all but somebody else's (usually a parent or coach). This is where you end up with 'pushy parent' syndrome where a parent is living their own dreams vicariously through their children and their children end up pursuing something that they would rather not. The problem with striving for a goal for someone else is that eventually any motivation to train, learn and develop your skills will turn to resentment, lack of drive and, often, fear of failure (not wanting to let people down) which all make achievement far less likely.

For a goal to be successful it is essential that it is your own goal. However, to make a goal even more likely (and to make it more fulfilling) it is much better to have a reason which is bigger than yourself to do it. This is very different to doing it for somebody else. This is about having a purpose or a mission to strive for. Purpose takes many forms and can essentially be anything that you feel to be really important. Examples could include wanting to do something for your country or community, doing something for a charity, for religious reasons, to reflect a certain philosophy, overcoming adversity, to be the best at something or to do something that has never been done before.

When Roger Bannister came a disappointing fourth at the Helsinki Olympics in 1952, he was close to giving up the sport. He only decided to continue when he discovered his purpose;he wanted to be the first man to run a mile in under 4 minutes. Having this goal in mind motivated him to dedicate himself to do what ever it took to the achieve this cause. He made significant changes to his training regime and absorbed himself in the task in hand. The extra impetus he got from pursuing his cause led to his eventual success in May 1954 when Bannister achieved the feat by running the mile in 3.59.4

Having a purpose, whether it is in work, sport or any other area of life, gives an individual greater motivation, more focus, increased determination as well as greater resilience to put everything into achieving a goal. So if you want to achieve a goal, make sure you know why you want to achieve it first.

Andy Barton

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Tips for an effective New Year’s Resolution

The New Year is always a good time for contemplation and dreaming of a better future. It is a time when people resolve to make a difference to their lives. They are going to get fitter, work harder, get a better job, drink less, lose weight, give up smoking, earn more money, pay more attention to their families, learn a language, improve their sport, climb a mountain, run a marathon or take up a new career. Some people stick to their resolutions; most don’t. So how do you make your resolutions a reality?  Here are a few tips.

1. Write your goal down
It has been found that people who write their goals down are much more likely to achieve them. To make the goal more meaningful, write it down in you best handwriting on your best stationery and then hang it up where you can see it. As the expression goes “Don’t just think it, ink it.”

2. Make it positive
When writing your goal, make sure it is stated in the positive. Our unconscious mind cannot process negatives so we end up focusing on the thing we don’t want to happen. If you were to say “I don’t want to get angry with the kids when they make a mess”, we end up playing an internal movie of doing exactly that. Instead it would be better to say “When the kids make a mess, I want to stay calm and relaxed.”

3. Define your goal
The more defined a goal is the more real it becomes. For instance, if you were to set a goal to be “successful”, it is such an abstract term that it is almost meaningless. When we define a goal it fires up the imagination. The more defined the goal is the more your mind has to work on to help you get your goal. Imagine what you would see, hear and feel when you achieve your goal so you know exactly what you are aiming for.

4.Create the journey
Once you have established your goal, it needs to be broken down into small pieces. This makes a big goal much more achievable as you are only focused on one small thing at a time. As the saying goes, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time”.

5. Take action
The bit where most people become unstuck is the fun bit, putting the goal into practice. People often give up because they feel they don’t have time or see the goal as being too big. If you just commit to doing 5 minutes towards your goal every day, it is likely that you will actually end up do considerably more as you get into the flow. As Newton’s first law of motion states: “A body in motion stays in motion”.

6. Enjoy it!
We are far more effective when we are in a happy mood so it is really important to approach your goals in a positive manner. If you adopt a smile and positive body language and talk about your goal in an effusive way, it will become something you look forward to doing rather than dread.

Here’s wishing you a wonderful 2014. I hope it is everything that you want it to be!

Andy Barton
Performance Consultant

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Beware the "realists"

Earlier this year I was reminded of the story of the man who went to his doctor for a regular check up. On this occasion the patient declared that there was no longer anything the doctor could do for him because he was already dead. Slightly bemused the doctor humoured the man and asked him all sorts of questions about his condition to get the man to realise the foolishness of his claim. However, rather than changing his patient’s mind, the patient, if anything, became more convinced of his demise as the questions kept coming. Finally, the doctor had a Eureka moment and asked the patient “Do dead people bleed?” Straight away the patient retorted, “Of course not. A dead person couldn’t possibly bleed.” The doctor took a syringe from his desk and asked the patient if he could try and take some blood from him. “You can do your best but I assure you, you will not find any blood there.” The doctor then proceeded to inject the syringe into the patient’s arm and fill it with the patient’s blood and then, with a flourish, presented the syringe triumphantly out in front of him. The patient look perplexed and then finally, after a long pause, exclaimed, “My word, I was wrong. Dead people really do bleed!”

The thing that prompted the memory of this story was a phone call I received from a researcher from one of our leading radio stations. They were doing a feature on the back of the England U21 football team’s poor performance in the European U21 Championship in the summer and wondered whether I would be interested in participating. The theme of the feature was “why do British sports people bottle it at the big event?” They weren’t just referring to football but they seemed to be generalising it to all sports. Once I’d picked my chin off the floor, I pointed out to them that they seemed to have missed the outstanding results in the Olympics, including the magnificent displays by the likes of Jessica Ennis, Laura Trott and Mo Farah, Andy Murray’s performance in the US Open, Rory McIlroy winning 2 major golf championships, Bradley Wiggins winning the Tour de France, Ronnie O’Sullivan’s amazing return to win the snooker World Championships, the Brownlee brothers dominating the triathlon world. Interestingly, since they contacted me, Andy Murray has won Wimbledon, the British Lions have defeated the Australians, Justin Rose has won the US Open golf championship and Chris Froome has won the Tour de France. Hardly “bottling it”.

The belief the people from the radio station held about the British sports people reminded me of when I watched a TV discussion programme a while back after a long hot summer (it was a few years ago) when after just 2 days of rain a woman on the programme exclaimed what terrible weather we had had that year.

So why did they get it so wrong? Well, in a sense, they didn’t. What we believe is essentially a result of how we perceive the World. It is not how the World actually is. It has been estimated that we are processing about 2 million bits of information every second of the day, through our sight, our hearing, our sense of touch, our sense of smell and our sense of taste. If we could be aware of all of that information at once we would go stark raving mad. In fact, we are only able to hold approximately 110 bits of this information in our conscious awareness at any one time, just a tiny fraction. The rest of the information is deleted, distorted and generalised to form our perception. What that means is that when we have formed a belief, whether it is a positive belief or a limiting belief, unless the evidence is overwhelmingly strong, we are likely to delete anything that contradicts the belief from our awareness. If, for instance, you believe you can’t tell a joke, you will only remember times when a joke has fallen flat and will delete the times when you’ve had people rolling round in stitches. Thus your belief will remain intact. If, however, you actually look for evidence that contradicts your belief (I would suggest you only do this with a limiting belief), you are more likely to diminish or even eradicate the belief.

I couldn’t do the radio programme due to other commitments but something must have challenged their belief as the theme of the programme when it was aired was no longer about British sport in general but was limited solely to football.

The point is if you want to have a happy, fulfilling and rewarding life, you don’t have to change the World. You only have to change your perception.

Andy Barton
Performance Consultant