Week 3 – “10 Minute Toughness” by Dr. Jason Selk

It is week three, I have gotten through the third book and all I can say is that it’s different from the first two. “10-minute toughness” brings up a lot of different scenarios in which an athlete can feel the pressure suffocating them, and it is not pleasant. However, “10-minute toughness” provides a lot of different powerful tricks for how an athlete can remain calm, poised, and ready to perform at their best when the pressure strikes at the highest.

Like usual, some background information about sports psychologist Jason Selk. Selk is considered to be one of the top performance coaches in the US. He has helped well-known professionals and Olympians accomplish their dreams and be successful in their careers. Selk has developed strategies for both individuals and teams to develop mental toughness. Among 10-minute toughness, he has written other books that I definitely will put on my next reading.

I will start by introducing Jason’s mental toughness routine that will help anyone when it comes to presenting, giving a speech, shooting a free throw or hitting a fastball.

Step 1 – The 15 second breath.

Naturally, when you are about to get in the game your heart rate elevates, and you become nervous but that is all normal. The body does that for one single reason, it prepares the brain to perform at its best by sending lots of oxygen to the brain. However, if the heart rate goes over 120 beats per minute, the brain won’t be as sharp, and this is where blackouts happen. You entirely forget parts of your speech or even parts of the play that the coach just drew on the board. Selk doesn’t say that we, as performers, are supposed to achieve total calmness before performing because that is impossible. The purpose is to control the heart rate and make it stay at a level where it is sharp enough to perform at its highest potential. This is where the 15-second breath comes to play. According to Selk’s studies, he has concluded that when a person takes a breath that lasts 15 seconds, the brain gets enough oxygen to reduce the fight or flight response, and in turn lower the heart rate.

What you are telling your nervous system with the 15-second breath is “calm down, no need to worry, I got this under control.” Of course, there is a way of completing the 15-second breath, 6 seconds in, 2-second hold, and a 7 second exhale.

Step 2 – The Mental Movie

On to the next step. After taking a few 15-second breaths it is time to visualize. Visualization is known to strengthen performance repetition. For example, if I have taken 200 free throws a week for 3 months I would have to build up some confidence. So we know that the mind needs enough performance repetitions to be fearless and confident going into an event. However, it can take time to learn how to trigger the confidence button, and then we have an unpredictable factor to take into account. Injuries.

Injuries will happen and then you can’t work on your performance repetitions. Yet Selk has a solution to this problem. In the 2005 Harvard Study regarding Visualization was the shortcut to building confidence without having your body suffer. The study concluded that those who visualize their performance exactly the way they want to perform can have from 60-90% the same effect as those who actually physically perform the movements.

This is because the brain has a very hard time seeing the difference between what you have experienced and what you have visualized. This sounds like heavenly music to my ears, that we can trick our brain. So, by correctly visualizing my 200 free throws a week, I can miss a whole week and still do great after three months because I have added a super detailed movie into my brain that I ultimately believe in.

According to Selk, the best visualizations are rich sensory experiences, meaning what the athlete sees, feels, and hears when performing the task. For example, if I was to shoot the two most important free throws of the game and I walk up to the free-throw line. I would see the referee under the basket, my teammates and opponents on both sides of me, the crowd in my peripheral and the most important thing that has to go through the net, the ball. I would feel the ball, my sweaty palms, and I would hear shoes squeaking, the crowd going crazy and my own heart beating in my chest. Then I would see myself grabbing the ball, taking my three signature dribbles, taking a deep breath, and shooting the ball with a perfect form. The ball would go through the net, my teammates would walk up to me high five me, give me a pat on my shoulder/back, and the referee would then grab the ball and pass me a bounce pass again for me to shoot the next shot. It is super important to focus on all of the little elements in the process and not just the result. It would not help me to see the ball go through the net. The details are the true and most important factor in this process.

Step 3 – The Performance Statement

I mentioned in an earlier blog post how we humans experience 60 000 thoughts a day on average which is a lot. Remember, when performing during pressure the volume of those thought increase by a few thousand. It would be great if they were positive and calming thoughts, but that is not the case. Those thoughts are the most worrying, stressful, and self-doubting thoughts. So the way Selk goes about removing those negative thoughts is by implementing useful thought into the mind to process instead. This is where the high-performance coaches come into play. Imagine a role model or someone you believe in giving you great advice before every high-pressure moment.

Now, after getting through all of the steps it is time to incorporate what we have learned. Step 1, 15-second breath (if calming down is what you need). Step 2, the mental movie (visualization). Step 3 – the high-performance coach/mentor.

However, it is IMPORTANT to remember that not all athletes have to calm down before their performance. There is research that shows that some athletes perform better when they are a little bit more aroused; therefore, you have to find out what works best for you.

I have picked out a few blog posts that might be helpful in finding what works best for you. Take a look, and if they don’t help please write in the comment section below or contact me 😉

Until next week, figure out if you are a person who needs to calm down or be aroused during your performance. Preferably, try this technique in practice for a couple of weeks (at least) and see if you can feel any difference.

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