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Psychological Resilience

Are you your own worst enemy under pressure?

Last year we witnessed one of the greatest finales to a Downhill World Cup season in history. Amaury Pierron and Loic Bruni had gone head-to-head all year and between them they had won 6 out of 7 rounds, resulting in the world cup title to be decided on the final day of the season. Their years’ work mounted upon a 3-minute run in Snowshoe, America. Amaury Pierron was the first rider down of the two, and of course, doing what he had done all year, he went into the hot seat. At this stage Loic had to finish in the top 4 in order secure the title. The cycling world had their eyes fixated upon him as to whether he could do it. Loic Bruni’s final words to himself that day were “Do it Loic, do what you know, do as you know27.” He went on to become the 2019 World Cup Champion that day.

Loic Bruni – 2019 Word Cup Champion @Bartek Wolinski

Just as Loic demonstrated, the ability to thrive under pressure is without question one of the most important skills to develop for sporting success. However, the ability to perform at your best under these conditions is incredibly hard to achieve. Reflecting upon your own performance, are you your own worst enemy when it comes to handling pressure? Do you let the demands and stress of the situation dictate your performance? Do you talk yourself out of success before you even race?

If the above applies to you, then this blog is for you! The following blog discusses the concept of psychological resilience which has been heavily studied in sport psychology as it aims to reveal why some individuals are able to withstand – or even thrive on – the pressure they experience20. Whether you’re a grass roots performer or on the world cup circuit the need to develop psychological resilience is indispensable. Fortunately, there are methods to becoming more psychologically resilient which when practiced over time can help to improve your performance!

Aims of the blog

  • Explain what psychological resilience is and the importance of developing it
  • Introduce mental fortitude training as a method for developing psychological resilience
  • Discuss the three components of mental fortitude training, and suggest ways of applying it into your training programme

What is psychological resilience?

Any athlete that participates in sport at a high level will experience a number of stressors, failures and adversity8. The ability for an athlete to bounce back and subsequently flourish following these setbacks are the foundations of what makes a resilient athlete9. Precisely, psychological resilience refers to the ability for an individual to utilise their mental processes and behaviours to withstand or adapt to environmental demands5.

The term resilience encapsulates two main features6.  

Robust Resilience – The protective quality that enables an athlete to deflect the stressors, adversities and negative environmental demands away, and as a result you’re able to maintain your well-being and performance under pressure

Rebound Resilience – The quality that enables an athlete to bounce-back after minor or temporary disruptions to their well-being and performance when under pressure

In order to improve psychological resilience both qualities must be catered for. Therefore, training programmes need to be proactive in order to build the protective quality, but also reactive so athletes can think on their feet and bounce back under pressure6. An example of proactive resilience from cycling, as strange as it might seem, is ‘preparing mentally’ for the recovery of an injury. Getting injured is an inevitable part of riding downhill mountain biking. While gym-based training can improve strength and mobility which help to minimise injury, athletes are not superhuman and inevitably they will crash and injure themselves while searching for the limits of the sport. The quicker you can accept the circumstances, the quicker a plan of action can be made for recovery.

“recovering from an injury takes time, and you must prepare for this mentally in order to bounce back and reach prior performance27.”

Myriam Nicole – 2019 Female Downhill Mountain Bike World Champion

How can YOU develop psychological resilience?

A method in which aims to develop the core resilient qualities is mental fortitude training. This training focuses on three main areas to enhance your ability to withstand pressure: personal qualities, facilitative environment and developing a challenge mindset.

Personal qualities

Personal qualities are at the heart of mental fortitude training and can be viewed as the psychological factors that protect you from the potential negative effects of stress and pressure6. There are two main building blocks which make up your personal qualities, your personality and psychological skills.

  • Personality reflects a stable, consistent pattern of thinking, feeling and acting14.
  • Psychological skills are the strategies used by an individual to enhance and optimize their functioning, such as: goal setting, imagery, self-talk and relaxation11. These strategies are more malleable and can be trained in comparison to the stable features of personality.

Acknowledging the features of personal qualities, when developing psychological resilience there is a focus on psychological skills as these can be trained, and in turn compliment your personality. Here are 3 psychological skills that promote psychological resilience.

  • Goal setting – Arguably the most important skill to achieving success! A central theme to being resilient is that it requires an individual to be motivated to overcome adversity19. Goal setting, specifically setting SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time based), provides an individual with direction and a source of motivation to overcome set-backs and adversity 12. Like with any new skill, starting off small is essential, here are 3 TOP TIPS for goal setting…
    • Ensure you follow the SMART framework.
    • There should be an emphasis on short-, medium-, and long-term goals.
    • Use a combination of process (e.g. improving technique and strategy) and performance goals (e.g. obtaining a personal best)12.

Mental imagery – Imagery is one of the most applied psychological skills in sport due to its simplicity and effectiveness. It refers to any experience that mimics sensory or perceptual experiences, whereby the individual is aware of their imagery10. Imagery helps to mentally prepare you for demanding situations which should hopefully lead to a higher degree of confidence when demanding situations occur.

2x Male Downhill World Champion Fabien Barel, was known for his mental imagery before his race runs. Take a look at him putting it into practice27.

Fabien Barel preparing for his race run @WTS-The Coaching Company

“I worked closely with Steve Peters, the British Cycling team’s psychologist, and we came up with a strategy of dealing with the pressure. It basically involved displacing the negative thoughts with visualisation. Not a complicated technique, but very effective if done properly. I just kept running through the race in my head over and over so that I wouldn’t let the distractions around me put me off.”

Sir Chris Hoy6x Olympic Gold Medalist

Attentional Control – The ability to control your attention, particularly in stressful situations is essential for sporting success, and is at the core of what resilience is all about21. It is certainly, however, easier to write about rather than apply in practice! When we perform under high pressures, the direction and the capacity of our attentional focus reduces which can lead to an excessive focus on external stimuli which can distract you from your own performance17. When you reflect upon your own performance, when you’re in the start hut, where is your attention placed? Is it focused on the task at hand? Or has your attention shifted towards unwanted stimuli such as focusing on what the other competitors are doing and not your own performance?

“If you focus on what you want to avoid before what you want to achieve, you have already lost.”

Dr. Dave Alred MBE Elite Performance Coach

A method in which you can improve your attentional control is through MINDFULNESS. Mindfulness is achieved through focusing your attention on the present moment2. There are numerous exercises which are said to achieve a state of mindfulness, most applicable to cycling I feel are breathing exercises. As simple as it sounds, simply focusing on the process of breathing in and out can help you to become more self-aware and conscious of your own performance before a race run4.

  To practice, set aside 5 / 10 minutes of your day and focus all your attention on the process of your breathing. Let your body relax and take control of the situation. The more you practice the better you become! Implement this technique on competition day and gain control of your attention.

Although personal qualities are acknowledged as an important aspect of resilience, the social and environmental context in which you perform in will have a large influence upon your execution of psychological skills8. Therefore, like any new skill, practice makes perfect. Implement these psychological skills into your training programme. The more practiced and automated they become the more effective they are!

Creating a facilitative environment

Psychological resilience is not purely a focus on the individual rather it is the skill that develops over time in the context of person-environment interactions23. As such, mental fortitude training aims at developing psychological resilience on a holistic level, and looks beyond the personal qualities to the wider environment.

So, what is meant by a facilitative environment?

It is essentially creating a setting or context that fosters the development of psychological resilience6. There are two components to create this environment they are CHALLENGE and SUPPORT. The balance of challenge and support is essential to get right, as too much of either effectively stunts development24. For example, too much support and too little challenge will create a comfortable environment resulting in a maladaptive environment for performance growth. Conversely, too little support and too much challenge will create an unrelenting environment which will have a severe effect upon one’s wellbeing potentially resulting in burnout. Too little of either would simply create a stagnant environment5. Therefore, a facilitative environment is developed through providing a challenging but supportive environment.

CHALLENGE

You should be challenged regularly in order to avoid settling into stagnant comfort zones, with training being goal-directed and performed with a purpose3.

“It’s important to never settle or be content with where you are. Times change. You have to keep improving18.”

Greg Minnaar – Arguably the greatest of all time Male rider.

How can YOU create a challenge environment

Have high expectations of yourself. Don’t settle for second best!

Set goals which challenge you and take you out your comfort zone.

Take accountability for your actions, particularly when you have made mistakes. If you can’t accept your own mistakes, how are you going to learn and grow from experiences?

Don’t seek out solely positive feedback! Utilise developmental feedback, recognise areas for improvement in order to strengthen them6.

Introduce pressure training into your programme.

Pressure training is one of the best ways to practically introduce challenge into your environment. Training with a purpose and an acceptance that you will experience unwanted emotions and pressures, rather than striving to suppress them can yield a host of benefits21. Such as, reducing performance anxiety, improving attentional focus and can have an overall effect of enhancing performance22.

Pressure inurement training – Involves manipulating the environment to increase either the demands or increase the significance of the situation to invoke a stress response. The aim is despite the pressure increasing, performance will be maintained. For example, timing yourself in training, imposing punishments and rewards for certain outcomes, practicing on courses which you don’t feel particularly comfortable on, practicing in ALL weather conditions!

SUPPORT

As stated, there is a danger of focusing on a solely challenging environment which will create an unrelenting environment. Challenge must be offset with support in order to make it sustainable. There is often a misconception when identifying an athlete as ‘mentally tough or ‘psychologically resilient’ as it believed they don’t need much support as they are independent and adept at tasking personal responsibility. However, it is quite the opposite. Support is a valuable resource that guides an athlete to a state of mental toughness3.

How can YOU create a supportive environment

Surround yourself with those that support you! Whether you’re a grass roots performer or at the elite level, having a network of people that support your vision is essential.

Encourage motivational feedback, focusing purely on critical feedback will become meaningless, a focus on what has been effective will help in developing resilience.

Share your thoughts and feelings with others. Holding in how you’re feeling is a maladaptive process particularly in the development of resilience. Having others around you who know how you’re feeling will help you tackle setbacks and adversity.

Acknowledge the support around you! Individuals with a higher perception of support availability tend to believe they have the resources to cope and overcome difficult situations7.

Creating a facilitative environment prevents YOU from going through the motions and falling into a stagnant comfort zone3.

Developing a challenge mindset

The final pillar and arguably the most pivotal to developing psychological resilience is creating a challenge mindset. A simple way at looking at this idea is through the lens of William Shakespeare.

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”

William Shakespeare

The idea here is that pressure, stress, anxiety etc are neither good or bad until you evaluate them as so. When you approach an evaluation with a THREAT mindset the demands of the situation are perceived to outweigh your personal ability / resources resulting in you choking under the pressure25. However, a CHALLENGE mindset is where you are able to positively evaluate and interpret pressure and challenging situations6. The application of a challenge mindset to sport can lead to higher self-confidence, betting coping skills and reduced performance anxiety13.

3 ways YOU can develop a challenge mindset

Accepting – A challenge mindset is not to say you won’t encounter any negative consequences from stressful situations. We are ALL human, Negative thoughts are inevitable! However, the ability to be accepting and non-judgemental of these thoughts is what is key to sustain a challenge mindset6. One poor race run should not define you as a failure. Use it to your advantage, understand what went wrong and how you can improve.

Confront your mind – Actively STOP negative thoughts! When you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed with negativity, take a step back, be assertive and tell yourself “don’t go there”, “take control.” If you can eliminate these negative thoughts, REPLACE them with positive thoughts which are in your control and focus on the present moment6.

Utilise your psychological skills – Putting into practice the psychological skills outlined above will promote self-confidence which helps to create a challenge mindset when approaching pressurised situations !

Having covered all 3 components of mental fortitude training it is important to note that they must be used in conjunction with each other. Focusing on one element does not mean you’re developing psychological resilience!

Concluding remarks…

As stated, psychological resilience is an essential skill to develop in order for sustained success. This blog has taking you on a journey through mental fortitude training, an effective method for developing psychological resilience. As beneficial as this training is, it should NOT be pursued on its own accord. Most importantly your well being should not be substituted for enhancing performance 6. Ensure you are also working towards ethical awareness, performance intelligence and most crucially emotional intelligence. This will allow you to become self-aware and discriminate between certain emotions and label them as healthy or unhealthy to your overall well-being15.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog! It would be greatly appreciated if you leave a comment with your thoughts and check out my infographic for a visual summary down below.

References

  1. Bartek, W. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.redbull.com/gb-en/snowshoe-uci-dh-world-cup-final-results
  2. Bernier, M., Thienot, E., Codron, R., & Fournier, J. F. (2009). Mindfulness and acceptance approaches in sport performance. Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology3(4), 320-333. https://doi.org/10.1123/jcsp.3.4.320
  3. Crust, L., & Clough, P. J. (2011). Developing mental toughness: From research to practice. Journal of Sport Psychology in Action2(1), 21-32. https://doi.org/10.1080/21520704.2011.563436
  4. Feldman, G., Greeson, J., & Senville, J. (2010). Differential effects of mindful breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and loving-kindness meditation on decentering and negative reactions to repetitive thoughts. Behaviour research and therapy48(10), 1002-1011. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brat.2010.06.006
  5. Fletcher, D. (2018). Psychological resilience and adversarial growth in sport and performance. In Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Psychology. Doi: 10.1093/acrefore/9780190236557.013.158
  6.  Fletcher, D., & Sarkar, M. (2016). Mental fortitude training: An evidence-based approach to developing psychological resilience for sustained success. Journal of Sport Psychology in Action7(3), 135-157. https://doi.org/10.1080/21520704.2016.1255496
  7. Freeman, P., & Rees, T. (2009). How does perceived support lead to better performance? An examination of potential mechanisms. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology21(4), 429-441. https://doi.org/10.1080/10413200903222913
  8. Galli, N., & Gonzalez, S. P. (2015). Psychological resilience in sport: A review of the literature and implications for research and practice. International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology13(3), 243-257. https://doi.org/10.1080/1612197X.2014.946947
  9. Gonzalez, S. P., Detling, N., & Galli, N. A. (2016). Case studies of developing resilience in elite sport: applying theory to guide interventions. Journal of Sport Psychology in Action7(3), 158-169. https://doi.org/10.1080/21520704.2016.1236050
  10. Gregg, M. J., & Clark, T. (2007). Theoretical and practical applications of mental imagery. In International Symposium on Performance Science (Vol. 1, pp. 301-6). Utrecht, the Netherlands: European Association of Conservatoires (AEC).
  11. Hardy, L., Roberts, R., Thomas, P. R., & Murphy, S. M. (2010). Test of Performance Strategies (TOPS): Instrument refinement using confirmatory factor analysis. Psychology of Sport and Exercise11(1), 27-35. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychsport.2009.04.007
  12. Healy, L., Tincknell-Smith, A., & Ntoumanis, N. (2018). Goal Setting in Sport and Performance. In Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Psychology.
  13. Jones, M., Meijen, C., McCarthy, P. J., & Sheffield, D. (2009). A theory of challenge and threat states in athletes. International review of sport and exercise psychology2(2), 161-180. https://doi.org/10.1080/17509840902829331
  14. Kajtna, T., Tušak, M., Barić, R., & Burnik, S. (2004). Personality in high-risk sports athletes. Kinesiology: International journal of fundamental and applied kinesiology36(1), 24-34.7
  15. Laborde, S., Dosseville, F., & Allen, M. S. (2016). Emotional intelligence in sport and exercise: A systematic review. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports26(8), 862-874.
  16. Mcknight, J. (2019). Are MTB downhill pros superhuman? Retrieved from https://www.redbull.com/gb-en/mtb-downhill-pro-athletes-injury-recovery
  17. Nideffer, R. M., & Sharpe, R. (1978). ACT: Attention control training. New York: Wideview.
  18. Powers, A. (2017). This is why Greg Minnaar is the world’s best racer. Retrieved from https://www.redbull.com/int-en/greg-minnaar-exclusive-interview
  19. Resnick, B. (2018). The relationship between resilience and motivation. In Resilience in Aging (pp. 221-244). Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-04555-5_12
  20. Sarkar, M., & Fletcher, D. (2014). Psychological resilience in sport performers: a review of stressors and protective factors. Journal of sports sciences32(15), 1419-1434. https://doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2014.901551
  21. Schäfer, J., Wittchen, H. U., Höfler, M., Heinrich, A., Zimmermann, P., Siegel, S., & Schönfeld, S. (2015). Is trait resilience characterized by specific patterns of attentional bias to emotional stimuli and attentional control? Journal of behaviour therapy and experimental psychiatry48, 133-139. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbtep.2015.03.010
  22. Seibert, S. E., Kraimer, M. L., & Heslin, P. A. (2016). Developing career resilience and adaptability. Organizational Dynamics45(3), 245-257.
  23. Stoker, M. (2017). Creating pressurised training environments in elite sport (Doctoral dissertation, Sheffield Hallam University).
  24. Wagstaff, C. R., Sarkar, M., Davidson, C. L., & Fletcher, D. (2016). Resilience in sport: a critical review of psychological processes, sociocultural influences, and organizational dynamics. In The organizational psychology of sport (pp. 138-168). Routledge.
  25. Ward, K., Trautvetter, L., & Braskamp, L. (2005). Putting students first: Creating a climate of support and challenge. Journal of College and Character6(8).
  26. Williams, S. E., & Cumming, J. (2012). Sport imagery ability predicts trait confidence, and challenge and threat appraisal tendencies. European journal of sport science12(6), 499-508. https://doi.org/10.1080/17461391.2011.630102
  27. WTS – The Coaching Company. (2009). Fabien Barel en pleine visualisation [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iUJ8S_ypTBk

Why do we fail to reach our long-term goals

Many of us have good intentions to make what we perceive to be positive changes to our lives. Whether that is to save more money, eat healthier, do more exercise, wake up earlier, watch less TV, work harder, these changes we intend on making will most likely fail at some stage. Old routines and habits will start to quickly crawl their way back and the excuses will come flooding in, “I will go for a run next week”. I am sure you can relate to this. Today’s blog concerns why the majority of people are so poor at sticking to their long-term goals? The answer – People often rely on a pretty unreliable and fragile motivational source known as will-power.

Extra-Large-Vinyl-Fragile-Stickers-Please-Handle-With-Care-Self-Adhesive-Label

I am sure you are familiar with the term will-power. “Lack of will-power” has become a popular turn of phrase in the English language. The term is often heralded as this mysterious source of power that either facilitates or hinders positive life changes. Take, for example, the results of a large survey carried out by the American Psychological Association. The survey asked about participants’ abilities to make healthy lifestyle changes (eating better, quitting smoking, exercising more). Survey participants cited “a lack of willpower” as the No. 1 reason for not following through with positive life changes.

Why Don't I Have Any Willpower? - Girls Gone Strong
Running off willpower is like driving on low fuel, stop and do something about it!

Will-power

So, lets clarify what this mysterious power is then. Will-power refers to the ability to resist short-term temptation in favour of a long-term, more valued goal. There are countless everyday situations to which we can apply this definition. You want to lose weight, but that cake Susan brought around to your house the other day is sitting there staring at you. You want to start getting fit, but you can’t get off the sofa because Netflix has just started playing another episode of Game of Thrones. You want to save money, but Dominoes just sent you a 50% off voucher. These will-power dilemmas we frequently encounter represent a conflict, do we indulge in the short-term temptation now or do we resist and reap the rewards further down the line. I think you can hazard a guess as to which option usually wins. Choosing a long-term reward over immediate gratification (temptations) poses a major challenge to many people.

The Trick to Resisting Temptation - WSJ
Don’t come near me

As suggested, will-power frequently fails us. When it does fail, behaviour can become irrational, impulsive and emotionally driven which leads us to cave into the immediate, ‘pleasurable’ temptations. Of course, will-power is not a universal resource, rather, some people will be more susceptible to will-power failure than others. Unfortunately, a lack of self-regulatory ability has been associated with many of life’s cultural and social issues, such as, drug/gambling addictions, financial insecurity, crime and poor physical and mental health. Given these implications to society, will-power has become a hot topic in academia over the past few decades.

One of the first studies to observe this phenomenon was in the 1960’s, by Professor Walter Mischel – The Marshmallow Test. For an overview of the study watch the entertaining video below. Researchers explored self-control in children using a simple marshmallow test. Researchers found that only a few children were able to demonstrate delayed gratification and hold out for the second-marshmallow reward, with the majority caving in and eating the immediate reward. Amazingly, at a follow-up study 40 years later with the same participants, researchers found that the children who delayed their reward, as opposed to those who caved in, were far more successful in almost all areas of life! Therefore, the capacity for an individual to effectively use will-power is now considered an essential life skill and pivotal to success in many facets of life.

Stanford Marshmallow Experiment – Ability to delay gratification

Will-power is evidently an important psychological construct that can help to explain human behaviour. However, to this date, researchers still cannot explicitly answer the question as to why will-power is so fragile and unreliable. I will offer one interesting evolutionary perspective which has seen support within the literature and suggests the fragility of will-power was developed to ensure human survival

Is poor self-control all our fault?

The world around us has been evolving at such a high speed, but have our brains been keeping up? Lets take a quick step back in time, a time when resources were considerably more scarce than what they are today. Will-power was developed as a motivational system in place to ensure human survival. This motivational system would be used to achieve a balance between exploiting and exploring resources. Cavemen and women couldn’t just sit down all day and eat up all their food supplies (exploiting), eventually something would have to motivate them to give into temptation and explore other food sources or else they would be left to starve. Thus, will-power was required in extreme circumstances and HAD to break at some stage!

Caveman' diet: Can you eat Stone Age food in the 21st Century? | Al Arabiya  English
Their willpower will kick in soon…

Fast forward to now and this motivational system of will-power still exists today. However, if you picture the modern world, do we really need our brains telling us to give into temptation and continually seek new resources? The answer is quite simply no! I live in a relatively average-sized town and within walking distance I have a KFC, McDonald’s, about 5 kebab shops, at least 8 pubs, you get the picture. We do not need our brain telling us to search for alternative resources anymore as they are not scarce, we have them in abundance! However, our brains just have not evolved at the same speed as our environment and it will still employ this motivational tactic if we let it. Will-power simply is not built to withstand this level of temptation we encounter on a daily basis and whilst it may have been essential in years gone by, it now makes us eat more than we should, buy unnecessary things and ultimately give into stuff we know we shouldn’t.

What can we do about all this then?

I hope I have reinforced the idea of will-power being a terrible type of long-term motivation. Although it might be good to get you started it will eventually reduce over time and leave you giving up on those long-term goals you have started and failed at over the past decade. So here are 3 tips on how to use will-power effectively…

  • Focus on the immediate benefits. Try to overcome temptations by moving the benefits of the long-term goal to the present. There is a wealth of research that tells us, as human beings, we place greater value and are more motivated by things which are more immediate than things which we have to wait for. Picture coming in from a long hard day at work, you want to go for a run but you’re feeling exhausted, a classic will-power dilemma. To overcome this conflict, focus on the immediate benefits of the run, maybe that is listening to a new podcast or music, running with a friend, getting outdoors, setting performance goals there and then etc. A common mistake to make is to only focus on the long-term goal (e.g., losing weight or getting fitter). When we are confronted with a will-power conflict, those long-term goals will not be motivating or valued enough in the moment to overcome it. Focusing solely on long-term goals will not give you the regular motivational boosts and feelings of accomplishment you need to keep going This is personally my favourite tip and is supported by an abundance of research, including my Masters project!
Knoco stories: Where are the quick wins in KM, and where are the long term  benefits?
  • Reduce the effort of overcoming temptation. Relatively simplistic, the more effort it takes to overcome a temptation, the greater likelihood of you giving into it. Reducing the effort or even removing the temptation all together can greatly lower your reliance on will-power. Take, for example, losing weight. Leaving food which you deem to be unhealthy in the house is making the whole process a lot harder. Just remove the temptations altogether! Additionally, meal prep or plan your meals in advance to avoid the effort of cooking when will-power is low. Lets take another example, doing more exercise. One of the hardest aspects about going for a run is just getting out the door, once you’re out, its done, you beat the temptations. So, make it easier for yourself, have your running kit ready when you get back from work, have your shoes ready to go, make the process as easy as possible. I personally used to do this with waking up early, I had my coffee cup underneath the coffee machine and a bowl for my cereal all ready to go!
3 Ways You Are Undermining Your Self-Discipline - Productivity For Life
I will not eat the cake…
  • Finally, don’t dwell on failure. Will-power failure is inevitable. The very mechanics will-power is built on suggest it will fail at some stage no matter what. Achieving a long-term goal isn’t linear, there are going to be bumps in the road. So, don’t ruminate on these failures, failure at the end of the day is part of succeeding. Many scholars, whilst met with skepticism, believe will-power works like a muscle, the more we train will-power the stronger it gets and vice versa. Thus, it is important to not let failure inhibit your pursuit of the long-term goal (e.g., feeling guilty after having a takeaway when you’re trying to lose weight), rather, try identify what went wrong and not make the same mistake again so you can build your “will-power muscle”.
Are You Ruminating or Reflecting? — Claudia Boers Coaching
Don’t ruminate on failure

Take away messages

  • Don’t rely on will-power to meet your long-term goals, it will eventually fail you!
  • Will-power is a great motivational system to get you started with a new goal or new routine but eventually you need new, more high quality sources of motivation. Picture will-power like the first gear in a manual car, great to get you going, but eventually you need to shift gear to make progress…
  • Focus on the immediate rather than long-term benefits! If only we were taught this from a young age, exercise for enjoyment, social purposes and personal challenge, not to be healthy or lose weight! This motivational shift will reduce your reliance on will-power!
  • Change the environment around you to reduce or remove temptations. Temptation is incredibly powerful so it is important to reduce the effort involved in overcoming it!
  • Don’t dwell on failures! Try and understand why you succumbed to the temptation and learn from it.
  • Will-power is hypothesised to act like a muscle. There is good research out there which suggests you can train self-control. So try it!

Will

PhD powered by The Leadership High – https://theleadershiphigh.com/

The Earth is flat and you need to know why!

Image result for flat earth

If you’re reading this, my title clearly worked. Today’s blog is slightly different and concerns how we are currently consuming information and generating truth. Being someone who is immersed in an academic setting with aims to generate new and reliable information, this topic is of great interest. Before we continue, rest assured, I do not believe the earth is flat.

The idea for this blog came about after watching the Netflix documentary, “Behind the Curve”. The documentary offers an insight into the new and every growing Flat Earth community headed by the prominent Flat-Earther himself, Mark Sargent. Throughout the documentary, the Flat Earth advocates demonstrate and discuss their so called ‘scientific’ experimental approaches to proving the Earth is in fact, a pancake. *Spoiler alert* the final scene shows that their experiments achieve the very opposite and do, in fact, disprove the theory.

Image result for behind the curve netflix
Their experiment that disproved flat earth theory

The producers also offer the perspectives of scientists on the flat Earth movement who, of course, dismiss the idea entirely. Whilst entertaining, this had me thinking, despite the science and objective evidence telling us the Earth is a globe, how and why do ‘theories’ and beliefs like this come about? Personally, I feel we have reached a point where the truth is simply being lost and misconstrued in the midst of an endless sea of misinformation.

Image result for the sea of fake news

There has always been misinformation, fake news, conspiracy theories, hoaxes etc. but now with the world being so globally connected and communication being so easy, anyone with a phone, laptop or tablet can spread their message (whether true of false). Unfortunately, this has created an invasion of fake news and due to their, somewhat, extreme and click provoking titles, for example, “Pope Francis shocks world, endorses Donald Trump for president” (I mean its hard not to click on this story) these fake stories spread like wildfire. On Twitter alone, it is believed fake news can spread six times faster than true news!

Image result for fake news spreads 6 times faster

Fake news doesn’t only effect our consumption of social information but also the world of science. In recent years, the world of fake news and science have clashed heads and become increasingly interactive globally and we are now seeing an influx of fake science circulating within the media. Only in the past year have we seen statements published in respected sources such as, “drinking water flushes out the virus”, or the more renown, “injecting disinfectants into the body could kill the COVID virus” from Donald Trump, one of the most powerful people at the time! In fact, in his first year of office, Donald Trump reportedly made 2,150 false claims, averaging at 5.9 a day! How on earth are we meant to know what is true anymore if we have to disregard the words from one of the worlds most powerful leaders?

Image result for donald trump fake news
“You are fake news!”

Unfortunately, This fake news/fake science cycle critically undermines the credibility of true science and ultimately stifles the capacity for individuals and societies to make educated and evidence-based decisions in their best interest. For example, rather than following what the science is telling us, people still insist that wearing a mask is not in their best interest and, furthermore, believe it actually causes COVID-19. Moreover, despite the proven efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine people still don’t want to be vaccinated and believe it is instead a tracking device. These poorly informed decisions and really the lack of reliable knowledge surrounding these global issues can not only place individual’s health at risk but can also alter policy at the highest level (e.g. the denial of climate change), placing entire populations at increased harm.

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One more important point I want to briefly draw upon is the growing issue of believing what you want to believe“Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts” – This quote speaks volumes and offers reasoning as to how such radical ideologies are developed and agreed upon by so many people. Social media has been the predominant driver behind this as the algorithms connect users with like-minded people and supplies them with a customised news feeds that reinforce their own beliefs. Social media ultimately allows people to live their lives through a distorted and narrow lens where the real truth gets easily lost. This is how such movements like the flat Earth begin. However, these are simply beliefs and opinions, NOT FACTS.

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Going back to the documentary, this is exactly how the Flat Earth community operated. They reduced their social interactions to people who held the same beliefs as them and disregarded any scientific information that suggested otherwise. This is similar to many other movements like the anti-maskers, anti-vaccinators and the denial of climate change. The real issue is that these communities believe they hold all the facts and their ignorance towards science as a reliable and trustworthy source of data is increasingly alarming. To quote Mark Sargent “The reason we are winning versus science, is science just throws back maths…. we use common sense”.

Image result for if the titanic sank in 2020

We are in a serious fake news/fake science crisis where the trust and reliance upon science is diminishing. Science is an incredibly vital means of producing reliable and robust knowledge and getting to what approximates the truth. In my field, we use rigorous study designs comprising of control groups, placebos, randomisation, structured interventions, large sample sizes and much more, in an attempt to produce meaningful findings. Fake news, on the other hand, is simply a mixture of distorted beliefs that are a misrepresentation of reality. Despite this, it appears fake news is having a greater and greater influence over the decision making of individuals and even government policy. To resolve this we need science to once again become a valued and respected part of society so decisions that effect us all are educated and grounded in evidence. Without listening to the science, we risk making disastrous decisions.

Will

PhD powered by The Leadership High – https://theleadershiphigh.com/

The downfalls of leading a life of comfort

The modern world has made it far too easy for us to organise our entire life from our sofas. At our very fingertips we have the ability to realistically order anything we want, interact with anyone we want and ultimately overcome many of life’s inconveniences and instead revel in comfort. For example, why walk 5 minutes up the road to buy ingredients for dinner when you can wait 45 minutes and have a Nandos delivered to your door? Why walk to the pub when you can enjoy the warmth and comfort of an Uber? If you want to go on holiday, why figure the logistics out yourself when a company can just do it for you (I am guilty of this)? Why workout and feel better about yourself if you can just apply an Instagram filter?

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Combine these advancing technologies, apps and services with the mass growth in contemporary media, particularly social media websites, Youtube videos and ‘influencers’ who all gain significant amounts of views selling us a lifestyle of comfort, which realistically none of us need (or can afford). We now live in a time where, more than ever, people view comfort as synonymous with a happy life. Thus, no matter how you define comfort, whether it is achieved through buying that brand new cinema-sized TV you saw advertised or other means, the excessive pursuit for this hot commodity should make you feel good… right?

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A life of comfort

Quite the opposite! While we may yearn for comfort, research suggests too much comfort can have negative effects and rather our psychological well-being and really our overall happiness actually enhances when we are able to tear ourselves away from the comforts in life. In fact, our core psychological needs are satisfied by breaking out of our mundane routines and experiencing novel and challenging situations, not by the endless pursuit for comfort.

Man has achieved his present position by being the most aggressive and enterprising creature on earth. And now he has created a comfortable civilization, he faces an unexpected problem… the comfortable life lowers man’s resistance, so that he sinks into an unheroic sloth

Colin Wilson – English writer and philosopher

Remaining in your ‘comfort zone’ is inherently bad for your brain. Not much happens here. We tend to go by our daily life indulging in the same foods, doing the same tasks, speaking to the same people etc. and before we know it, a week has gone by? Does this sound familiar? Our brain quite literally stops noticing and processing this repetitive information which can leave us feeling confused and ‘blank’ when we look back in retrospect. Consequently, this zone of experience provides very limited opportunities for personal growth, knowledge often stagnates and the person we are today is the same person we were yesterday, a week ago, a year ago etc. If you want a memorable life, the research is very clear: You have to live a life worth remembering.

The comfort zone is a behavioral state within which a person operates in an anxiety-neutral condition, using a limited set of behaviors to deliver a steady level of performance, usually without a sense of risk

The comfort zone

I am sure this is not a new phenomenon for you to hear. There are thousands of sources which have been screaming to “LEAVE YOUR COMFORT ZONE” and while you may ignore this information, their voices certainly carry weight. Our brain significantly benefits from the volatility and uncertainty that comes with stepping out of the comfort zone. I am sure you can immediately recall a time you left your comfort zone and that is because they are meaningful experiences. We are able to gain a better sense of purpose; we can conquer fears and anxieties; we become intrinsically motivated; and ultimately the person we were today is wiser than the person we were yesterday.

Yes leaving your comfort zone sounds like the magical cure for life and research would echo this idea. BUT, leaving it is tough and we have a tendency to cling on to our ‘creature comforts’. We are very familiar with this place, it is where we feel safest and spend the majority of our life. Thus, it is no surprise that leaving this safe space may cause alarm bells. But like anything, the more you do it the easier it gets. The more we are able to become accustomed to the unpleasent physical sensations(‘butterflies’, adrenaline, increased HR etc.) and negative emotions (uncertainty, anxiety, stress etc.) which come with leaving your comfort zone, of course the easier the process becomes.

For me, physical challenges provide the perfect opportunity to escape my mundane routine and push myself both physically and psychologically. In fact my friends and I have just signed up for a 24 hour running relay race in the summer which should certainly push us into unknown territory. But it could be anything in life, changing up your daily routine, saying yes to situations that make you feel uncomfortable, learning a new skill or language, the list is quite simply endless.

To finish, the modern world has successfully accommodated our need for comfort. There are now endless opportunities for us to sail through life without really challenging ourselves or questioning that of which we are capable. Many people have simply become bystanders of their own life letting others tell them how to live their lives or even watching others lead a fulfilling and exciting life through various social media platforms. We are so much more than bystanders. I implore you to challenge yourself regularly, test your capabilities and lead a life worth remembering.

Will

PhD powered by The Leadership High – https://theleadershiphigh.com/

WELCOME TO MY BLOG

Starting a blog has been on my mind for a while now as it is a convenient way of documenting my PhD journey, a platform to share my thoughts and generally an opportunity to write. So, 2021 rolled around and I made it my new year’s resolution to do just that and here it is (better late than never). I don’t know how consistent I will be with these or even whether this will be a one hit wonder, but please join me on my endeavour.

How Neil Patel Managed to Write 4294 Blog Posts

The best place to start would be to provide a brief overview of my research as this is primarily the focus. In a nutshell, we are exploring the impact of physical challenge experiences on workplace performance and more broadly peoples lives. We believe that through repetitive engagement with physical challenges your ‘mental muscle’ can grow just like a physical muscle would through training. I understand the term ‘physical challenge’ is incredibly broad and, more importantly, very subjective, as what is deemed a challenge for one person (e.g. a marathon) maybe considered the norm to another (I know that is an extreme example but you get the idea). Physical challenges are, therefore, unique to each person. This particular piece of research, whilst recognising the broad nature of these challenges, will focus on primarily adventure activities (e.g. skiing, mountain biking, rock climbing, trekking etc.) which encapsulate the concept of challenge at their very core.

I have always been an advocate for physically challenging activities

The basic premise behind the research is that through pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, successfully overcoming challenging situations and reflecting upon the experience, you are presented with the opportunity to construct new knowledge, personal attributes/skills and sense of self. There is plenty of anecdotal and scientific research which supports this notion and findings suggest that following successful engagement with physical challenges participants can experience elevated self-confidence, motivation and self-esteem and also develop crucial interpersonal skills, such as, communication, leadership and decision making skills. Building on these findings, we assume the positive psychosocial outcomes developed through physical challenge can provide the foundations for individuals to thrive in other areas of their life.

How I'm going out of my comfort zone | by Krzysztof Kempiński | kkempin's  dev blog | Medium
Cheesy, but illustrates my points well

An important question to answer, whats the need for this research? Well, we are living in incredibly challenging times and it is becoming increasingly important to understand how we can better support people to thrive in the workplace and their lives more broadly. For example, not only are we having to change the way we live our lives due to the ongoing (and what feels never ending) pandemic but our very basic human needs are being stripped from us. Thus, it feels like there is no better time to research into initiatives that not only help us survive in these challenging times, but to thrive.

How to Navigate the Increasingly Challenging World of Compliance
Life is challenging

Whether you want to learn more about this topic or just see how I am getting on, keep an eye out for more blogs in the future. This research is part funded by The Leadership High (https://theleadershiphigh.com/). They are a fantastic company who harness the very idea that physical challenges do not only have a positive and meaningful impact on your physiology, but also your psychology.

Will

Keeping Active For Your Mental Well-Being

In today’s modern society, taking care of your mental well-being is more important than ever. Recent studies suggest that people are feeling more anxious, more depressed and less confident about themselves. Additionally, the current economic climate is posing greater financial challenges and added job pressures on all of us. It is not surprising, therefore, that people are increasingly reporting that they are experiencing poor mental well-being. ‘Good’ mental well-being does not mean you are constantly happy, nor does it mean you won’t encounter negative experiences, such as, grief, failure, and sadness. Rather, good mental well-being is about being able to understand and manage the stress and pressures we encounter on a day to day basis.

Factors which encompass good mental well-being include:

  • Ability to deal with the ups and downs of life
  • Feel confident in yourself
  • Have a sense of purpose in life
  • Build and maintain positive relationships
  • Feeling connected to our communities and surroundings

How do we increase our mental well-being?

Backed by scientific research, the following ‘five ways to well-being’ are considered to be essential for optimal well-being. These are; Connect (talk, listen and be there for others); keep learning (embrace new experiences and opportunities); Give (carry out acts of kindness); Take notice (Pay attention to the present, not the past or future); Be active (being active is essential for well-being). Whilst all are important, the main focus will be placed on physical activity.

https://neweconomics.org/2008/10/five-ways-to-wellbeing

Physical activity

Put simply, physical activity refers to any movement of your body that uses your muscles and expends energy. One of the great things about physical activity is that there are endless possibilities and there will be an activity to suit almost everyone! For example, Going for a walk or run, cycling, playing a game, gardening, dancing, anything that gets you active and moving!

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Participation in regular physical activity is not only beneficial for our physical health and fitness, but, physical activity also has a huge potential to enhance our mental well-being. People who exercise regularly tend to do so because it simply gives them an enormous sense of well-being. They feel more energetic throughout the day, sleep better at night, have sharper memories, and feel more relaxed and positive about themselves and their lives. It is also a powerful natural medicine for many common mental health challenges.

With regards to the scientific research conducted to date, evidence has highlighted that physical activity can significantly reduce stress, increase our self-esteem and sense of purpose, and reduce the development of severe mental disorders, such as, anxiety and depression.

Reducing stress

Physical activity can be very effective in reducing and relieving stress. Specifically, many studies have found that individuals who are highly active tend to have lower stress rates when compared to inactive individuals. Some of the stress relieving mechanisms are identified as:

  • Elevation in endorphins – When you exercise, your body releases chemicals called endorphins. Endorphins are often referred to as “feel-good” chemicals as they are produced by the body to relieve the sensations of pain and stress. When engaging in exercise, the body bumps up the production of endorphins which triggers a positive feeling in the body and mind. You may have actually already experienced this, that relaxing feeling after a good run, often referred to as “runner’s high”. This experience is usually attributed to the burst of endorphins released during exercise.
  • Improves your mood- Regular exercise can increase self-confidence, improve your mood and help you relax. Exercise can also improve your sleep, which is often disrupted by elevated levels of stress. All of these exercise benefits can ease your stress levels and give you a sense of command over your body and your life.
  • Reduces the negative effects of stress – Exercise can provide stress relief for your body while imitating effects of stress, such as the flight or fight response, and helping your body and its systems practice working together through those effects. This can also lead to positive effects in your body—including your cardiovascular, digestive and immune systems—by helping protect your body from harmful effects of stress.

Impact on self-esteem

Self-esteem is fundamental to our mental well-being. Self-esteem refers to how we feel about ourselves and how we perceive our self-worth. Unfortunately, the number of individuals experiencing low self-esteem is higher now than ever before which is, consequently, affecting a large proportion of the population’s mental well-being. Participating in regular physical activity can be an effective method to enhance your self-esteem through improving body image and gaining a sense of accomplishment.

  • Body image – Today’s digital technology has created a society obsessed with how their body looks. Consequently, body image is now one of the most prevalent contributors in society to poor self-esteem. Participating in regular physical activity (and a balanced diet) is likely to lead to an improved body image and, therefore, sense of self-worth and self-esteem. While there is no set formula for how much exercise is needed for improved body image, following the governments Physical Activity Guidelines is a logical place to start.
  • Sense of accomplishment – One of the biggest payoffs of physical activity is that, through focus and physical movement, you’re able to feel a strong sense of accomplishment. Whether that is, you beat an old time in a 5km run or simply walk for an extra 10 minutes in a day, engaging in exercise can give you a sense of pride at having attained a particular goal. The simple act of achieving a goal is related to a greater sense of self-worth and well-being.
Cultivating Positive Body Image - Richmond Family Magazine

Development of mental disorders

Engaging in physical activity can have a direct impact on your mental well-being by reducing the feelings, and development, of anxiety and depression. Anxiety and depression are considered the two most prevalent mental disorders that individuals are likely to develop, with females being twice as likely to encounter these disorders than males. Exercise is a natural and effective treatment for both mild/moderate depression and anxiety. It relieves tension and stress, boosts physical and mental energy, and enhances well-being through the release of endorphins. In fact, exercise is now regularly prescribed as a form of treatment (alongside medication) for these mental disorders.

Recent studies have provided evidence that physically active people tend to have lower rates of anxiety and depression than sedentary people. Additionally, studies have demonstrated that exercise can work quickly to elevate depressive symptoms in many people. Although the effects may be temporary, they demonstrate that even a 10 minute brisk walk can deliver several hours of relief, similar to taking medication for a headache or mild pain.

Be active

Participating in regular physical activity is one of the best things you can do for your health, not only physically, but, as discussed, psychologically. It does not take long for you to begin to see and feel the benefits that physical activity can have on your body and mental well-being.

If you are new to physical activity, it is essential you engage in activities that you enjoy and start slow! According to research on human behaviour, people are more likely to persist with activities that are enjoyable and make you feel good. So, starting with gruelling workouts that are unpleasant will do yourself no favours! It is also important to set yourself goals to keep yourself motivated and track your progress. There are now a wealth of free applications on watches and phones that can be downloaded to track your goal progress, for example, Strava and MyFitnessPal. Use these to your advantage!

It is important to remember, you won’t see improvement from physical conditioning every day. However, making the regular commitment to doing physical activity is an achievement in itself, and every activity session can enhance your mental well-being.

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