S314 Performance Psychology

As you have seen on When East Meets West, there are many things that can be tied to western behavioral science and all things about our performance are no different. Dr. Pete works primarily with high performers, but Dr. Rubin reminds us that everything is performance. Even waking up, getting to work, or going to the gym. The hosts focus on how performance psychology helps people reach optimal levels of performance with skills and techniques. Tune in to learn about some of those tools that psychologists use to help others perform their best.




Pete: Well, there's no question in my mind that any kind of performance is related to what the brain is telling you to do, whether good, bad, or indifferent. What do you think about performance psychology, Nikki?


Nikki: Well, this is definitely your area of expertise, given that you are a sports psychologist, but Yeah. I guess I would say I don't think there's anything we do our brain doesn't want to get involved in. So when it comes to doing something that's got a public element to it where like the folks you work with, like athletes where they're literally like performing. You know, they're doing a sport in front of like thousands and thousands of fans, or performance like at work. Maybe you're being evaluated by your boss or whatever. Yeah. I think like the brain gets turned up in terms of like, turns the dial up and volume up and try to evaluate what we're doing.


Pete: It sure does. First of all, I don't even really see myself as a sports psychologist, but I think any psychologist or any person working in any kind of behavioral health arena is looking at performance. And you are too, there's no question that you are.


Nikki: Oh yeah, but I'm more thinking like just the content of what you focus on. You know what I mean? I wouldn't say like every session I'm doing, like I'm focusing on performance because it's definitely a part of human experience. I definitely talk about it, but I think you more than I do.


Pete: Maybe, but I don't either. I think that's one important differentiation actually, because in the world of sports psychology or sport and performance psychology there are people with different schools of thought, like anything else. But in particular, the biggest distinction exists between people that are doing this work that say it's just performance. And there's another school that says it's behavioral health and performance.


Nikki: Okay.


Pete: And so, as you might imagine, I live in the, ‘it's behavioral health and performance world.’


Nikki: I like to say we don't throw out any babies with any bath water like all the human stuff, right? We’re going to like, take care of all the things into consideration.


Pete: Yeah. So there's some people that are just dressed in the babies and they're not doing nothing with the bath water And I think you’ve got to do both. 


Nikki: Yeah, you got to do both.


Pete: I believe. So, there's obviously going to be people out there who don't agree with that. So to break that down, there are people that just do mental skills training or you know just mental performance and that can be visualization. That's what it was back in the day, sort of like second wave. I believe that there's a little bit less and less of that happening now. And here's why, because mindfulness now exists and is on, you know, everyone's aware of that. And so what I found, both as a mindful practitioner, a Zen teacher and psychologist, that how are you going to have someone visualize if we can't stay, remain and sustain attention?


Nikki: Right, right. Very good point. 


Pete: It was just the scientist in me that was like, so you're walking somebody through a visualization who can probably maintain attention for about 10 to 15 seconds. So if you're trying to do like a football, even a football play is longer than 10 to 15 seconds, you know? Or for me with swimming, you know if I'm doing a 200 that's about a minute and 30 seconds you know. So to think about walking someone through that for that amount of time, they are going to get distracted. And that's why mindfulness has to come in for the brain to exercise it, to understand how to then how it affects performance.


Nikki: Absolutely. And so in addition to mindfulness and, you know, maybe sometimes using visualization with folks, like what are some of the other things that you do to help improve or enhance performance?


Pete: One of the things we've said before in different episodes, education, you know and so education and preparation are key. So it's a lot of like intangibles. So another thing that comes up is like confidence you know, which is linked. So everything's linked, but sort of intangible, because let me just ask you this. What is confidence to you? And like, I'm sure you've worked with someone who is not confident and so, you know, like how would you maybe work through that with somebody?


Nikki: Yeah. I mean, obviously as you would imagine similar to you, I talk about confidence a lot with people And so what most people will say to me is, ‘I'll do this thing that's hard once I feel confident’. And I'll say, yeah, that would be really nice, wouldn't it? I'm like; unfortunately we build confidence by doing the thing that's hard when we feel scared.


Pete: That's right.


Nikki: So I'm like, you got to do the hard thing first and that builds confidence. Confidence comes after, we have to be willing on the front end to actually not feel confident and take a risk.


Pete: Yeah. I love that. And what is this metaphor is, hey Shakira, if you're listening you can maybe be like a sponsor for us, but I always say like, dream.


Nikki: Yeah. Dream


Pete: Yeah, Total dream. I don't know this, but I would assume that she's going to feel slightly nervous before she goes to perform in front of hundreds of thousands of people, you know? 


Nikki: Sure.


Pete: because that's just human. And so, you know, that's performance. So performance psychology is simply learning what you're going to feel and kind of similarly to like compassion, you know, having compassion for yourself when you're about to perform. Understanding anxiety and panic, other episodes that we've covered on here all of that links. And so a lot of times in every one of my offices, which we've talked about I have a whiteboard, you probably do too, or no? 


Nikki: Not anymore. I will draw things still, but I'll like use it on iPad, but yes, I do like to draw visuals for people.


Pete: The reason you don't have a whiteboard is because your officers are so pretty that now they don't fit with the aesthetic, I know that's true. 


Nikki: I know the aesthetic, but Yeah.


Pete: But whiteboards are important because, you know, especially like performers, many can be visual. And so being able to like show the pattern of how the physical sensation sort of tap into the brain, and then the brain gets all crazy thinking. So, you know, education is a big piece of the performance work as well. As we've said before, it's also important just to rule out any other sort of medical things going on. 


Nikki: Sure. Like if things are getting in the way of performance, you're saying?


Pete: Yeah.


Nikki: Absolutely.


Pete: I think we do that always, right?


Nikki: Absolutely, though it's always a good reminder because we just want to stay curious, right? Like there's body, we're complicated organisms here. So we want to pay attention to all the possibilities of what could be contributing to, you know, something not working the way we wanted to. But, you know what was coming to my mind as you were talking Pete, is how we talk a lot about in this podcast about human brains can get rigid about anything, you know?


Pete: Yes.


Nikki: I guess I'll say we're like a cross section of things going on in the culture right now, but because mindfulness is something that people are more aware of these days, right? And understand the benefits of it, and because at least for Pete and I, we're Americans, we work in in American culture and society, our society tends to be over attached to the value of productivity. 


Pete: Yeah.


Nikki: You know one thing that I think we have to really watch when it comes to performances, I've read some articles about this, you know, we're companies and corporations are trying to like utilize mindfulness to push performance. Like, it's got to basically make more money, you know? And I do think, you know, look, there's nothing wrong with wanting to improve performance. Obviously that's like a useful thing in a lot of context. But we also want to watch that of like, it can't be more, more, better, better, better. Like, we got to make room for not doing things perfectly and knowing what our limitations are and things like that. So, I'm wondering if that's something that has been coming up at all in your work, like specifically with performance, like people sort of want to like keep pushing the pedal of the metal around that stuff?


Pete: Because it's the culture we live in, especially here in the west, you know, so I think that in the East that would be less common. You know, when you were saying that, what came to my mind was motivational interviewing, which some companies got a hold of and they were trying to like, utilize this to just manipulate some performance.


Nikki: Which is a bummer, especially motivational interviewing; by the way, if listeners aren't familiar with it, it's a wonderful, wonderful evidence-based treatment.


Pete: Yeah.


Nikki: often used with substance abuse and dependence. But it's really quite mindful in a lot of ways. Like, that's what such a bummer. It's not intended to like get somebody to do something. It's actually like focusing on somebody's inherent choice and willingness in moving their life in that direction they want to go.


Pete: Just like our episode of willingness.


Nikki: A hundred percent.


Pete: Yeah, I'll approach it as; you might not be surprised behaviorally. But then I always think about things holistically, strength-based and from a wellness lens. So I think holistically means that it's mind, body, spirit. It's got to be everything about the person, you know, general practitioner involved, whoever else needs to be involved. It has to be strength-based, so looking at you knows; you can't make s like a lefty righty right away. And so if you just have to work with what is and just build upon the strengths you know, not everyone's meant to be an extrovert, for example. So some people performance is just going into a business meeting. It doesn't have to be Shakira and on a stage it could just be about managing a boardroom.


Nikki: Yes.


Pete: And then wellness is like all the other stuff that's involved that also feeds into performance. So you have to have you know, like Tom Brady has this whole army of people caring for him because obviously at that level, when you have those resources that will contribute to performance significantly.  


Nikki: Yeah. So it sounds like again, not surprising that you are working to actually just help people work within like not only realistic expectations of oneself, but also like what's workable for their particular life and situation. Like, not everybody's Tom Brady or Shakira, That's okay that doesn't mean you can't work on like being the most effective you in whatever context that is and whatever that means.


Pete: Yeah, what a beautiful way to reframe that, Nikki.


Nikki: Oh, well thank you.


Pete: So, you know, this is just a little introduction to what performance is. Everyone's doing it all the time and so maybe just listeners think about where your performance is. You know, can you integrate it more fully into your life so that you're intentionally just like in a mindful way with on purpose stepping in, performing and letting go and accepting where you're at. This has been When East Meets West. I'm Dr. Pete Economou.


Nikki: And I'm Dr. Nikki Rubin. Be present. Be brave.


Pete: This has been When East Meets West; all material is based on opinion and educational training of Doctors Pete Economou and Nikki Rubin.


Nikki: Content is for informational and educational purposes only.