Mental Performance Coach, Dr. Cassidy Preston, talks about the mental game of sports and life. Topics covered include confidence, focus, composure, resilience, and leadership. Mastering these mental skills is key to playing in the flow state, enjoying sport, and achieving Consistent Elite Performance.
Stop Obsessing Over Results
For most athletes, traditional goal setting is holding them back. Yes you read that right.
Goal setting itself is not the problem.
The problem is being obsessed with results.
You can want and care about results, but the best athletes in the world are more obsessed with the process than results. This can be easier said than done.
I learned how big of a problem this is first hand. As a junior hockey player, I obsessed about points and my spot in the lineup.
The more I obsessed about results, the harder it was to achieve my goals. It was infuriating to want something so bad and work so hard, but when it was time to perform, I was in my own head, forcing plays, and underachieving.
I eventually realized I needed to let go of the results and prioritize my mental game.
Symptom vs Root Problem
What I didn’t understand, and most athletes don’t understand. is the difference between a symptom and the root problem.
The symptom you might be experiencing could be:
Overthinking Lack of confidence
Choking under pressure
Afraid to make mistakes
Worrying about what other people think
But the key to resolving the symptom is to clear your mental blocks.
Also known as getting to the root of the problem. And based on the thousands of mindset assessments we have conducted, it is unanimous that the most common and biggest root problem is an obsession with results.
The Process vs Results
Paradox Clearing this mental block, aka The Results Trap, can be challenging for numerous reasons.
First of which is the overuse of traditional goal setting that perpetuates this trap.
Second, is the Process vs Results Paradox - where by letting go of results and obsessing about the process, you will achieve greater results.
This presents a unique problem - if you try to let go of results so you can achieve results, then you have not let go of the results.
So you need a different reason to let go of the results, and I’m going to share that with you right now.
Here are the 3 steps to stop obsessing about results and start enjoying the journey.
STEP 1: Separate Your Goals from Your Why
The mistake most people make is they think the main reason they do something is to achieve the goals they have set.
Although there is ‘some’ truth to this, it will leave you in the results trap and it is not the full truth.
Although not all athletes are getting paid to play, the shiny objects of praise and results are what distract them as they climb the ranks.
You can have the goals and intentions to achieve certain results, but don’t confuse this for why you started playing your sport in the first place.
STEP 2: Intentionally Set Your Priorities
Now that you understand the difference between your why and your goals, you need to keep your why and your mindset your top priority.
Be ready for the sport structure and the people around to pull you back towards results as the top priority.
You will need to intentionally fight against this. All of the strategies we teach athletes will help, but one in particular is the personal scorecard.
When an athlete finally gets this and can consistently keep their mindset the top priority, then they can truly start to enjoy the journey.
STEP 3: Learn to Enjoy the Journey
One of the most common clichés in sports is Have Fun.
The problem is most athletes are not having fun - mainly because they are still stuck in the results trap.
When you are in the results trap all the fun is tied to achieving results.
But ALL the fun should not be tied to the destination. Rather, the majority of the enjoyment in sport is the journey.
This is why we say - the biggest benefit to mental training is not helping you achieve Consistent Elite Performance, but rather, enjoying the journey.
Instead of framing enjoyment as something you experience, we want to frame it as something you can learn to do.
I hope you found this helpful.
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Transform Your Mental Game With an Alter Ego
If you want a sure fire way to quickly transform your mental game - you need to develop a personalized Alter Ego.
This strategy is not about putting fixed labels on who you are as a person.
Rather it is about creating a narrative about how you want to show up on the field of play.
The Power of Simplicity and Creativity Credit to my coach and mentor Todd Herman for writing the book: The Alter Ego Effect and helping bring more simplicity and creativity to the mental game.
Unfortunately most sport psychology strategies are:
Dry Boring Overcomplicated As an athlete you don’t want to be out on the field of play trying to remember to use positive self talk, thought stopping, breathing exercises and re-framing situations.
These strategies won’t get you repeatable and reliable results, instead they just give you more things to think about, when what you need to do is think less.
You want to keep it simple and just play your game.
Therefore, you need practical and personalized strategies that work for you.
That’s exactly what you get in our 1-2 punch of the Reset Routine and Alter Ego.
Here are the 3 steps to creating a personalized Alter Ego:
STEP 1: Develop a Contrast Think of the Alter Ego strategy as creating two contrasting narratives.
On one side you have your worst self, your shadow self, or your comfortable self. This is the self that holds you back, that plays safe, and that worries about what other people think.
On the other side you have your heroic self, your best self, or your courageous self. This is the self that embraces the moment, that is confident in their capabilities, and attacks the game.
STEP 2: Be Creative The quickest way to get started is to think of your favorite superhero. If you don’t have one, then think of someone that inspires you - it could be a relative, famous athlete, public figure, or tv show character etc.
You might even have two or more people you lean on to help create your Alter Ego. The more creative and playful you are in this process - the better.
The person or people you pick should represent the traits you identified in step 1.
For example a hockey goalie that resonates with Batman could see the overlap as such:
Before the game/the battle - he is calm and collected
Taking shots against/in the fight - he is agile and trusts himself
After adversity/gets knocked down - he gets back up
STEP 3: Map It Out The last step in creating your personalized Alter Ego is literally drawing it out on a map.
This step is crucial to simplifying your Alter Ego. You want to be able to boil it down so it is easy to understand yet still holds a powerful narrative that clicks for you.
Drawing it out on a map helps add another layer of tangibility to the process.
You can see clearly how you want to show up in the various key moments of impact on your field of play. You can color code it and use it as a cheat sheet summary of your Alter Ego.
The goal here is to keep it simple - it should not be over complicated or have too many words.
Developing a ‘Me vs Me’ Mentality - Featuring Professional Soccer Player Noah Cavanaugh
Noah Cavanaugh is a professional soccer player from Seattle, WA, who currently plays for Flower City Union in New York. Over the past year, he's worked with Dr. Cassidy Preston to help give him a mental edge on and off the pitch as he continues to push up the ranks of pro soccer in the US.
In this interview Noah discusses how he has personalized his mental game to work for him. He touches on the challenges he has had to overcome as a professional soccer player - some of the key takeaways include:
The reciprocal nature of focusing on the process and staying centered Developing a 'me vs me' mentality and the use of his personal scorecard Taking a playful approach to the mental game and staying adaptable throughout a season Staying even keel through the ups and downs by letting go of the fantasies and nightmares Enjoying the game for the sake of itself and improving his mood after games regardless of his performance
Make sure to listen to the whole interview as there are a lot of other great takeaways and insights on how he has been able to win the mental game.
Along with his soccer career, he runs a YouTube channel where he shares his experience as a pro, tactical and technical tips, and boot reviews - check out those links here:
Block Out the Noise With Your Reset Routine
The ability to block out the ‘noise’ is key to having a clear mind and playing free.
But this is easier said than done - many athletes have trouble blocking out the ‘noise’ and end up:
Doubting their abilities
Worrying about things out of their control When you lack alignment within your thoughts, feelings, and actions, you end up losing the ability to play in the flow state.
The best strategy to clear and block out the noise is a Reset Routine.
The magic is not in the routine itself, but in what the routine represents.
Here are the ABC’s to creating an effective and personalized Reset Routine:
STEP 1: Accept
Most athletes get caught in the ‘need to, have to, and shoulds’ of performance - this leaves them:
Feeling the burden of expectations
Distracted by the results that are not in their control
Primed to be frustrated if they fall short of their expectations
The key to letting go of this noise is acceptance, but the problem is our society thinks acceptance is a weakness.
However, if properly understood and effectively used it is one of the most powerful tools to getting centered, grounded, and becoming the hero of your own story.
That is why this step is the most important - without it your Reset Routine will not be effective or reliable.
The Pink Elephant and the Bubble
One of the analogies we like to use is the pink elephant and the bubble.
If I say “don’t think of a pink elephant.” What do you think of?
A pink elephant…
This is not an effective strategy, yet that is exactly what most advice is for athletes:
Don’t worry about it
Forget about it
These might be the results we want but they do not tell us how to get those results.
Think of your focus and awareness as a bubble, and what we want is to have a clear bubble - where you are dialed into the process.
But the problem is pink elephants show up - aka distracting thoughts and feelings.
The solution is to go to them, to understand them, to embrace them, to accept them.
By doing this the pink elephant is not necessarily gone forever, but it will move outside your mental bubble, and your mind will become clear and free.
Finding Your Pink Elephants
The hardest part of acceptance is knowing what to accept.
There are two common problems:
The pink elephant is in your blind spot: You can feel it but have a hard time seeing it and understanding it - which therefore makes it hard to accept and clear.
A lack of perspective: When you are too zoomed in on the situation, you often have a hard time seeing the bigger picture. It’s like only seeing part of the pink elephant, but you can’t clear it unless you can see and understand the whole thing.
This is a skill that takes a lot of practice. You use it every day so that you can continuously get better at clearing the noise.
STEP 2: Breathe
There are a vast amount of strategies on the importance of using your breath to help you get relaxed, calm and centered.
“An anxious mind cannot exist in a relaxed body.” Dr. Edmund J. Bourne, Clinical Psychologist
Regardless of what strategy you use - breathing is a fundamental strategy for managing your physical and mental state.
STEP 3: Commit
Steps 1 and 2 will help you clear the noise and get centered, but the last piece of the puzzle is to direct your attention back to the task at hand.
If you don’t commit to the process you might end up letting another pink elephant get back into your bubble.
So in this step we often have the athlete close their eyes for a brief moment (if applicable) and imagine how they want to show up in the next play.
It is not just what they want to do, but how they want to feel while they do it.
Setting a clear intention of how you want to move forward helps activate the best version of yourself.
This is also a great time to use a totem.
A totem comes from Todd Herman’s Alter Ego work - which is about creating a personalized narrative that clicks for you.
How to Play With Confidence
Confidence is arguably the most important ingredient in succeeding as an athlete, but athletes often struggle to find and keep this elusive trait.
The problem lies in that they have a skewed understanding of what confidence actually is and where it comes from.
Here are the 4 main reasons why athletes struggle with self-confidence:
Yo-Yo Confidence: Tying their self-image to external results or praise
Imposter Syndrome: Believing they are not worthy and/or don’t belong
Victim Mentality: Blaming others and not taking responsibility
Negativity Bias: Constantly beating yourself up and overly focusing on the negatives
However, you can overcome these limiting beliefs by following these 3 steps to play with confidence:
Step 1: Stop Focusing on Confidence
Telling yourself that you have a confidence problem is one of the most common reasons athletes continuously struggle with confidence. If you reframe it as a problem with owning your capabilities the solution becomes much more attainable.
Instead of relying on external results and praise to give you confidence, make the shift to focusing on what you can control - putting in the work and owning your capabilities. This is the difference between yo-yo confidence and having a stable self-image.
True confidence is about owning your capabilities, but the word confidence is tainted. It’s associated with external results and praise. So an easy first step is to just stop using the word and shift your focus to owning your capabilities.
Step 2: Own Your Capabilities
Owning your capabilities can be easier said than done. Often, athletes struggle to do this because they are too hard on themselves. So this step is about making the choice to start owning your greatness and stop
If you believe that you are just the type of person that 'always beats yourself up' then STOP that narrative. You may have operated this way for a while, but you don’t have to keep it going. You have the power to change your inner narrative.
Healthy comparison can be used with a top teammate or competitor to get an accurate self-image. Compare yourself based on your capabilities when you are playing free, not based on results. The bottom line is if you have put in the work then your job is to own it.
Don’t let yourself have any excuses. It might be uncomfortable - that’s because you are not used to it. So try it out for a few days and you will feel the shift in how you carry yourself. Then soon enough owning your capabilities will become your new norm.
Step 3: Build Momentum
The first two steps are the 1-2 punch you need to play with confidence, but building momentum is the key for consistent confidence. Every game and every shift is the opportunity to build momentum for yourself, for your team, and for your confidence.
Unfortunately, most athletes rely on EXTERNAL factors like their teammates, coaches, or luck to give them momentum. Don’t hope you gain momentum, instead choose to be the spark plug and attack each game and each shift as a momentum builder.
In summary follow these 3 steps to play with confidence:
Stop Focusing on Confidence Own Your Capabilities Build Momentum
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A New Way for Athletes to Mentally Prepare
The outline of my first book is complete - check out the caption below to see the outline!
I’ve gained some great insights while starting the writing process - you can find those in the summary below.
The working title is - Play with Confidence: A New Way for Athletes to Mentally Prepare
The purpose of the book is to challenge the status quo on mental preparation and question the ‘accepted’ ways of thinking about confidence. It will debunk the fluffy clichés, cookie-cutter strategies, and ‘old-school’ beliefs entrenched in the sport culture.
If you dare to be different and embrace the new ways of thinking, then you will play with confidence, enjoy the journey and achieve Consistent Elite Performance.
Let me know which chapter you are looking forward to the most:
1) Challenge the Status Quo & Dare to Be Different
2) Stop Yo-Yo Confidence
3) Build Momentum & Snowball Confidence
4) Self-Talk: Name It to Tame It
5) Create a Confident Identity - aka an Alter Ego 6) Block out the Noise - Reset Routine
7) Redefine Success & Develop Your Personal Scorecard
8) Game Day Mental Preparation Routines
9) Specific Problems & Solutions
10) Tweak & Refine for Long-Term Success
What’s funny is that writing a book about high-performance takes being a high-performer - so I’ve had to personally apply the principles in the book as I’ve undertaken this new challenge.
One main adjustment for me has been that this is not a week-long project - just like being an elite athlete - writing a book is more like a marathon than a sprint.
The balance of patience and dedication has been important to overcome the moments of struggle when I question if I will ever get it done. I’ve also had to battle my own demons about “will this book be any good?” But, trying to predict how many people will read it and find it helpful is not my job.
My intent is to have a lot of people read it and for it to have a significant impact - as such, I’ll be diligent and strategic in how I write. I will also surround myself with allies to help optimize the book and the subsequent distribution process.
Whether I sell 100 or a million copies is not the point. That is a result and my job is to focus on what I can control. If I put my heart into it and give my best effort (which I will) whatever the result will be - I can live with it. It’s just a result and form of feedback.
What matters most is doing something I believe is meaningful. And because this book is meaningful to me that is the WHY I am putting my heart into it and giving my best effort. Likewise, elite athletes need to stop worrying about results and predicting the outcomes. The paradox of it all is that athletes optimize their results when they focus on what they can control and stay connected to their intrinsic WHY - which is often some form of the love of the game that gives them meaning!
That’s all for now - again I’d love to hear what chapter you are looking forward to the most.