Are You Stuck in Your Head?Dec 12, 2023
This week we continue the series on the top 7 most common reasons why practitioners are struggling in elite sport.
Today the topic is around many practitioners being stuck in their head, leaving them unable to be present.
They're always thinking about what's next, whether that's career progression, qualifications of CPD, the stages of season, or Olympic cycle they're in.
This leads them to be stuck in their head when they get home, meaning they aren't showing up for their partner, their children, or themselves.
On one hand, it could be thought of that you're a practitioner who has attention to detail. Assessing the upcoming phase, game, and competition with diligent process.
What's more common though is that this projection into the future shows up as underlying anxiety.
A senior strength & conditioning coach told me:
"From the outside looking in I'm very successful at my job, I don't have any hobbies or areas of interest away from watching my athletes play, I don't have anything outside of my work that inspires me, it's hard because when I finish work what do I do when I get home? If I don't work I think too much and then I get lonely, if work is going bad it's hard to step away from it."
When we cannot bear those anxious feelings and cannot tolerate difficult emotions, we look to find solutions to our discomfort, aka overthinking and seeking distractions to numb ourselves.
This was massive for me in the past.
A performance staff member from the English Premier League told me:
"Working 24 hours a day, seven days a week was down to poor governance by me and the support management. The roles didn't allow me to see my kids. My kids always said, "Dad, why are you always on your phone?" Even when I'm at home with them, I'm not at home with them."
Presence is assumed if we are physically in the room, yet the reality is our awareness is everywhere else except the now.
All esoteric philosophies teach the importance of being present. Without presence, you're simply missing the life that's right in front of you and the true wisdom available.
The Three Phases of Being
So mapping this out, there are only three places you ever are.
You're either in the past, you're either in the future, or you're in the deep now. Not now that you are listening to things, you're reading a book, you're in the deep now present and embodied.
1) Becoming More Present
1) Managing Uncertainty
The problem with not being present is that our minds are on repeat. We just can’t change from the same level the problem occurs on - because otherwise, we’d all tell ourselves to just stop thinking.
When your brain is working to evaluate the changing environment (looking to decrease uncertainty as fast as possible), it enters a hypervigilant threat monitoring mode to reduce the problem.
Fear can be defined as:
Anxiety + Uncertainty = Fear
(Source: Dr Andrew Huberman)
Uncertainty is not knowing what is going to happen.
- Will you lose your job if the manager is sacked?
- Lack of clarity with what's really expected of you in your role?
- It means you’re unsure of what you lead on?
- What is happening about the staff replacements?
- Maybe you’re unsure of how you want to do things under the new performance director.
- What will happen if you begin to put more of your focus into your family and step off a little at work?
Situations like these are leaving many coaches stuck in their head. Uncertainty is managed externally (e.g., analyzing your environment, chunking uncertainty into more manageable bites, etc.)
The next time you catch yourself thinking of the situations that are taking you into the past or future, take a moment to analyze your uncertainty.
- What questions do you need to ask, and of whom?
- What are you pretending not to know about your situation?
- Are you trying to be effective, or right?
- What can you control?
- What do you need to let go of?
2) Neurophysiology trumps cognition
This is the anxiety component, which is the physiological response and by far the easiest and lowest-hanging fruit to go for.
Anxiety can be managed internally (e.g., breathing tools, visual techniques, conscious emotional control, etc.).
For me, breathwork has been profound. So much so that I’ve learnt about it deeply, practice it daily and now teach it at workshops.
In particular, I lead a weekly breath class for patients undergoing different stages of cancer and treatment.
There aren’t many other groups of people that are dealing with more uncertainty and fear in their life. Yet they apply simple breath tools to manage their anxiety and to become present in their life.
If they can do it, we can do it.
True freedom is a mind that remains curious and can see the beauty in any experience. Your breath is the direct link to a calm, clear mind and body.
The 3 subtle changes I coach to all beginners:
- Breathe through your nose.
- Soften your vision (when we are stressed we have a narrow focus - so close your eyes or soften using your peripheral view).
- Double your exhale to your inhale (if you breathe in for 3 seconds, exhale for 6 seconds).
- Do this for 10 rounds.
Simple intervention that you can do in the car once you’ve arrived home before going through the door.
I highly recommend an app called The Breathing App. It’s simple to use and highly effective.
And lastly check out the book Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor.
Getting into & maintaining heart/brain coherence is one of the most impactful interventions you can do, yet many don’t train it.
It improves not only your ability to be present with yourself and people that matter to you, it also improves decision-making, influencing others, creative thinking to name a few.
Mindset tools are crucial, but neurophysiology trumps cognition.
Train your state of being.
3) Train Your Awareness
If you're not training the skill of focusing your awareness, you're letting the external environment control you.
People say to me that they can't meditate. That’s the same as saying you need to lose weight before starting exercise.
Awareness practices such as meditation aren’t about being quiet. It's about maintaining focus and relaxing the body despite distractions. Its translation is "becoming familiar with."
The simplest place to start is to sit for 5 minutes and watch your thoughts - don’t be them.
- Are there patterns you can spot?
- What’s happening within your body?
This step is to train yourself to become aware of who you are being—to shine a light on your unconscious automatic thoughts, behaviours, and feelings. To become so conscious that nothing slips by your awareness unnoticed.
Without criticizing, judging, or placing blame, make a game out of noticing everything about yourself.
Instead of identifying with what you observe, imagine that you are just a curious bystander.
- Now where, when, and how did you lose your awareness in your waking day?
- What trigger or stimulus caused you to default back to your old, unhappy self and all those self-defeating thoughts and emotions?
If this all resonates, I highly recommend checking out the work by Dr Joe Dispenza.
I practice twice a day, this is non-negotiable to me now and the results have been profound!
More control on your emotions means more responsibility. You are the only one who can change you. You’re in charge.