Posing Power

wonder women power poseThe link between the mind and the body is very powerful. We only have to observe someone’s body language to know what sort of mood they’re in. But does it work in reverse? Can the body change the mind?

There’s a theory called ‘Embodied Cognition’ that says it can. Quite simply, if you want to feel more powerful then adopt a powerful posture or to feel more relaxed adopt a relaxed pose.

Carney et al. (2010) found that when people stood or sat in powerful poses for one minute — those involving open limbs and expansive gestures — they not only felt more powerful but had increased levels of testosterone flooding their systems. Powerful poses take up more space, so spread your body and open up the arms or legs. When you dominate the space, your mind gets the message. With practice it can be a shortcut to gaining a positive confident mindset.

If you’d like to know more about this topic please get in touch!


The Problem with Brain Overload

Bill Russell

We know from studies (and real life!) that individuals may be a limited by the amount of ‘processing space‘ our brains have. As every mental and physical task requires a finite amount of processing space, if we don’t learn ways to develop our processing skills, we are inviting failure. This concept is known as the Capacity Model.

The practicalities of this concept were described excellently by the legendary Celtics basketball player Bill Russell:

“Each of us has a finite amount of energy, and things you do well don’t require as much. Things you don’t do well take more concentration. And if you’re fatigued by that, then things you do best are going to be affected”.

The good news is that you can train your brain to process better through learning, development and using the right exercises. It’s an excellent example of why we need to train our brains as well as our bodies!

Enjoy the Game!

Staying Motivated

Have you ever wondered how people remain motivated to achieve a task when faced with extreme difficulties and obstacles?

Consciously we can plan, prepare and use a whole host of goal setting techniques but according to some new research it seems that our unconscious minds play an important part in this too. The research (Huang et al 2012) explored whether people’s mental representation of their progress in the task helps to motivate them into continued effort in the pursuit of completing the task. What they discovered was that when individuals have just started pursuing a goal and have made only limited progress, they exaggerate the achieved progress level in their mental representation to signal a higher chance of eventual goal attainment and thus elicit greater effort. In contrast, when people have made substantial progress and are approaching the goal attainment, they downplay the achieved progress in their mental representation to create greater perceived discrepancy, hence eliciting greater effort in finishing the task.

The researchers tested their findings in other situations and found similar results.

In both situations the mind is warping what they were seeing to give them extra motivation. Although strictly speaking the minds estimation is less accurate than reality, it’s all in the service of achieving something more important: reaching that vital goal.

This is one great example of the way our cognitive biases can be extremely handy for us. This finding is fascinating because it’s demonstrating how sometimes getting precise information about our progress can actually reduce motivation. For example if you’re on the running machine at the gym and you’ve just started your workout, then the fact that the display tells you exactly how far you’ve got to go leaves no room for these helpful unconscious biases to operate.

Sometimes it really is better not to know. Instead let your unconscious give you a helping hand on towards your goal.

Should athletes prepare for defeat?

Out of the 10,500 athletes who are competing at the London 2012 Games only 302 will win. The rest will be left to navigate the kaleidoscope of emotions that comes with failing to win.

Many athletes struggle to cope with the weight of expectation that is placed upon them by their supporters and their expectant compatriots. Although physically many of them recover well after losing at a big event like the Olympic Games, sadly many of them never recover mentally. It’s easy to understand why when you consider the intense media scrutiny athletes have to live and perform under during the Games.

So how can athletes cope? Well, athletes certainly should set appropriate expectation levels and keep their performances in a proper perspective but many experts are now calling for the more direct approach of mentally preparing for defeat.

This interesting article by the BBC’s Stephanie Hegarty highlights the key thinking behind it…

BBC News – London 2012: Should athletes prepare for defeat?.


Are you Practising to Fail?

If you are on a mission to become great in a sporting or intellectual endeavour, you should expect plenty of failures on the way, especially during practise. But that shouldn’t put you off, in fact if you want to become a master at what you do you should have a passion for it. How is that helpful? Well, several themes regarding practice consistently come to light according to author David Shenk in his book The Genius in All of Us:

1. Practice changes your body. Researchers have recorded a constellation of physical changes (occurring in direct response to practice) in the muscles, nerves, hearts, lungs, and brains of those showing profound increases in skill level in any domain.

2. Skills are specific. Individuals becoming great at one particular skill do not serendipitously become great at other skills. Chess champions can remember hundreds of intricate chess positions in sequence but can have a perfectly ordinary memory for everything else. Physical and intellectual changes are ultraspecific responses to particular skill requirements.

3. The brain drives the brawn. Even among athletes, changes in the brain are arguably the most profound, with a vast increase in precise task knowledge, a shift from conscious analysis to intuitive thinking (saving time and energy), and elaborate self-monitoring mechanisms that allow for constant adjustments in real-time.

4. Practice style is crucial. Ordinary practice, where your current skill level is simply being reinforced, is not enough to get better. It takes a special kind of practice to force your mind and body into the kind of change necessary to improve.

5. Short-term intensity cannot replace long-term commitment. Many crucial changes take place over long periods of time. Physiologically, it’s impossible to become great overnight.

“Across the board, these last two variables — practice style and practice time — emerged as universal and critical. From Scrabble players to dart players to soccer players to violin players, it was observed that the uppermost achievers not only spent significantly more time in solitary study and drills, but also exhibited a consistent (and persistent) style of preparation that K. Anders Ericsson came to call ‘deliberate practice.’ First introduced in a 1993 Psychological Review article, the notion of deliberate practice went far beyond the simple idea of hard work. It conveyed a method of continual skill improvement. ‘Deliberate practice is a very special form of activity that differs from mere experience and mindless drill,’ explains Ericsson. ‘Unlike playful engagement with peers, deliberate practice is not inherently enjoyable. It … does not involve a mere execution or repetition of already attained skills but repeated attempts to reach beyond one’s current level which is associated with frequent failures.’ …

This approach to practise requires a mindset of constant improvement driven through self-critique and an almost pathological drive to push oneself beyond current capabilities to a new level of ability. This inevitably leads to frequent failure and disappointment but rather than being de-motivating these failures and disappointments become almost desired because they demonstrate that progress is underway. This developes a ceaseless desire to pick oneself up and try again and again until success is achieved. But how long does it take to become a true master of your sport or your art or your profession. Well Ericsson also revealed some amazing insights into this particular conundrum as Shenk reveals in his book.

“The physiology of this process also requires extraordinary amounts of elapsed time — not just hours and hours of deliberate practice each day, Ericsson found, but also thousands of hours over the course of many years. Interestingly, a number of separate studies have turned up the same common number, concluding that truly outstanding skill in any domain is rarely achieved in less than ten thousand hours of practice over ten years’ time (which comes to an average of three hours per day). From sublime pianists to unusually profound physicists, researchers have been very hard-pressed to find any examples of truly extraordinary performers in any field who reached the top of their game before that ten-thousand-hour mark.”

I don’t know about you but I think I’d better go out and do some practise…


Book Title: The Genius in All of Us: New Insights into Genetics, Talent, and IQ (2010)
by David Shenk
Published by Anchor

The Psychology of Flow (in under 300 words)

One of the most commonly discussed concepts in sport is the idea of performance flow. The ‘zone’ that athletes get into where their minds and bodies are at one and their performance soars to the highest level.

In this interesting article, the guys from PsyBlog give us their view of Flow – in under 300 words!

The Psychology of Flow (in under 300 words) — PsyBlog.

As they say in their article:

“It’s not always easy to achieve but being in a state of flow is a beautiful thing.”

Enjoy the game!

Communicating Your Message

I was watching a junior hockey match recently from a position where I was able to hear one of the coaches giving his pre-match instructions. As I listened to the coach talk I began to notice the reaction of his young players. Some were engaged, some looked a little confused and some looked completely detached.

The players reactions were easy to spot and they hadn’t escaped the coach’s attention. His response was to repeat his instructions only more loudly, more directly and more bluntly, especially to the players who looked confused and detached.

This was an important game between two rival schools and the bragging rights that would go to the victors was a highly valued prize. Teamwork was going to be a critical factor in the outcome of the match but by giving the instructions in the way he did, the coach had compromised team cohesion and promoted dysfunction instead. His team strategy was good but he had failed the communication challenge. He had failed to get his strategy understood, remembered and ultimately applied on the pitch.

His team lost the match and the bragging rights.

So what do you need to consider when communicating your thoughts to others?

There are 6 key factors to consider:

What do I want to say?
When we think, we create ideas, images and thoughts in great detail and in many different contexts. Our thoughts form a constantly changing flow of images, emotions, dialogue and sensations that our verbal skills could never keep up with. It is essential therefore that we focus on and clarify exactly what it is we want to say before we even consider uttering a single word.

What am I actually going to say?
Our brains work faster than our mouths and it often happens that our thoughts move on before we have time too finish explaining them. This causes incomplete communication. We can also find it difficult to express our thoughts in words because our verbal skills are poor in comparison to our imagination and thinking skills. This dilutes our message and makes it more difficult for others to understand what we want.

What do others hear?
Whenever we communicate with others you can be certain that their brain will be unconsciously filtering what you say and how you say it. That filtering mechanism is extremely useful to them because it helps them to make sense of the communication but as the communicator you must be aware that their state of mind, experience and beliefs will dictate what they actually ‘hear’.

What they are going to understand?
What makes sense to you might not make sense to someone else. We all have our own individual way of interpreting words and creating thoughts and images. Even simple words like ‘teamwork’ and ‘effort’ can mean completely different things to different people. It is all about personal perception.

What they are going to remember?
The brain only has a limited attention span and we all have different capacities to remember things. As the communicator you cannot do anything about their ability to remember things but you can help by keeping what you say short, concise and interesting!

What will they apply?
What someone does with the information you’ve just communicated to them is largely out of your control. If you’ve considered the previous points above then you’ve significantly increased the chances of the final outcome being close to your initial intentions. It’s always worth doing a sense-check at this point by simply asking questions like “What do you think about this?” or “What is it I want you to do?” The answers you get will give you a great insight into how effective your communication has been and a good way to avoid mishaps.

Would you like to know more about how to improve your communication skills? Get in touch with us, we’d be delighted to hear from you.

How To Practise Penalties

Following England’s demise in the face of another penalty shoot-out at a major championship, Tim de Lisle, editor of More Intelligent Life, makes three excellent suggestions.

HOW TO PRACTISE PENALTIES | More Intelligent Life.

I wonder how many managers would implement these ideas?

Enjoy the game!


Are you engaging all of your team?

If you coach, manage or lead a team of people it is inevitable that you will be faced with a group of people who have different preferred styles of learning. That fact presents you with a challenge. That challenge is how to engage all of the group by using all of the learning styles. Failing to do this could result in failing to fully engage the group, resulting in some of your team not learning what it is you intended them to learn.

The educational psychologist Dr Bernice McCarthy found that we fall into four different categories when it comes to learning. Here’s a very simple overview:

Type One: The “Why” people.

The ‘why’ group prefer imaginative learning through feeling and watching, seeking personal associations and meaning through involvement. They are the sort of people who learn by making connections and particularly like the question, “why?”.

Type Two: The “What” people.

These are the analysts amongst us. They like facts, processing information and thinking through concepts before formulating ideas and opinions. These guys like to ask the “what?” questions.

Type Three: The “How” people.

This group likes to learn by doing. They prefer common-sense learning and are not concerned by theory, they just want to try things out.  They learn by thinking and doing, by experimenting, and tinkering. They are very good at applying ideas and love the question “How?”.

Type Four: The “What if” people.

The final group is particularly interested in the consequences of learning something and what would happen if they did something or didn’t do something. They seek hidden possibilities, explore ideas, learn by trial and error and self-discovery. They are excellent at creating original adaptations and modifications. The key question for these guys is “what if?”

To be a really effective coach it is important to cover each of the learning types. The way to do this is by planning your coaching session accordingly. For each skill or drill you want to teach, prepare the session in a way that it answers the questions “Why?”, “What?”, “How?” and “What if?”. To be most effective it is important to then deliver the session in that order.

People who prefer to know why? tend to switch off until they are given a good reason for listening, so start with this style first. The next stage is to tell people the details. This is the what? phase and covers the facts, instructions and tactics. The next stage is the how? part and probably signals the start of the practical part of the session. The final part of the session should be looking at the consequences of learning the skill or drill and what possibilities it opens up.

Following this system is a great way of structuring your coaching sessions and provides a very useful framework to work from.

You can find out more about Dr McCarthy’s learning system by visiting: www.aboutlearning.com

Good luck!


How To Perform Under Pressure

One of the real tests that we all face is being able to perform in high pressure situations. It doesn’t matter at what level you perform because pressure is always present in some capacity. To win a game, make a crucial sale, hole a putt or achieve whatever result you are aiming for, you sometimes have to over-come intense pressure.

Pressure is really a product of our own perception and where we place our focus. Pressure can arise from both internal cues (our own thoughts, feelings and emotions) or external cues (the crowd, the audience, the conditions etc.) but most importantly it can be controlled. You only have to look at the penalty shoot-out at the Champions League semi-final between Real Madrid and Bayern Munich for examples of this. Some players missed badly and some scored with ease.

So how do some players overcome pressure when others crumble? Well there’s no magic formula that will cure all of our pressure situations but here are five key steps that you can take to gain control of your thinking and your actions when you have to perform under pressure:

  • Make a crystal clear decision on what you want to do.
  • Once decided, connect fully with what you need to do to perform it. Break it down into a series of key steps and visualise performing them perfectly.
  • Block out all distractions so you can focus purely on your performance. Concentrate on each step of the process so your actions flow like you plan them to. Complete connection with your performance is the only place to be, let nothing get in the way.
  • Remind yourself that you are fully capable of performing to your best ability and free your body to do what it is capable of doing
  • Use verbal and visual cues to trigger positive thoughts and feelings and free yourself to perform with relaxed intensity.

Do you have any special methods for coping with pressure and performing to your best?

I’d love to hear about any examples of situations where you’ve excelled under pressure, or maybe when you’ve cracked!

If you have any thoughts, then please leave them in the comments below.

Thanks and good luck!