Psyched Up: The Science of Mental Preparation with Dan McGinn, Author & Harvard Business Review Senior Editor
Daniel McGinn is a senior editor at Harvard Business Review, and the author of Psyched Up: How the Science of Mental Preparation Can Help You Succeed. He is an experienced business editor and reporter. In his current role at Harvard Business Review, he oversees the magazine’s feature well and the team of editors who produce its long-form articles. Dan previously spent 17 years as a reporter, writer, and editor at Newsweek. He has written two books of his own, and regularly collaborates with authors as a ghostwriter and book doctor.
In this episode, Dan and Cindra discuss:
- How our performance can come down to a few critical moments
- What happened when he sent Malcolm Gladwell a keyboard
- How athletes, surgeons and other professionals can psych up
- A powerful centering exercise you can use
- The power of priming in your life and performance
Dan: it’s going well so far it’s great to be here Sandra Thank you.
Cindra Kamphoff: I read your book Psyched Up -how the science of mental preparation can help you succeed several years ago, maybe two and I really enjoyed it and I’m really excited to have you on and to help people to learn more about what you what your work and what you wrote about in the book.
Dan: Thanks, I appreciate you reading it, and you know I’m always a little intimidated, when I talk to somebody who actually does this for a living, I think you know more about this stuff that I do but i’m happy to talk about the little piece of work that I did on it.
Cindra Kamphoff: Sounds great so maybe just to start us off tell us a little bit about what you’re doing right now, and your passion?
Dan: Sure, so my day job I work at Harvard Business Review where I’m one of the editors on the magazine I’ve worked here for just about 11 years and so that’s my you know I’m pretty passionate about my work so that’s passionate like everybody else in the pandemic I’ve you know tried to get outdoor hobbies going played a lot of golf last year I’m a really bad guitar player, but I picked up the guitar again so I’m trying to you know, keep from going stir crazy and lockdown.
Cindra Kamphoff: Yeah me as well and we were just talking about that last year, a year from now, is the last day that you’re in the office so it’s pretty wild what we’ve all gone through in the last year?
Dan: Yeah I mean in terms of mental performance it’s certainly been a test of people’s resilience and yes, their ability to cope and adapt and it’s been amazing to sort of watch how innovative all sorts of different kinds of businesses I’ve been during this you know, so I admire, especially small business people who found creative ways to sort of adapt and get through this.
Cindra Kamphoff: Yeah and I feel like that’s been my motto this year just adapt and adjust and adapt and adjust, I meant to adapt and adjust and I can keep adapting and adjusting.
Dan: Yep yeah my favorite recent pandemic story my wife and I refinance the mortgage on the House when rates dipped down over the fall and we went to the Bank, and you know the people were concerned about going inside the bank because of germs and we weren’t sure how we’re going to sign all those documents you have to sign when you’re refinancing the bank manager said, oh, we just do those through the drive through now so we drove up to the drive through with our masks on and they start sending documents through the chute we sign them and sending them back and so I’d never thought I would actually close on a house through a
drive thru window at a bank, but that’s the kind of innovation that we’re seeing during the pandemic.
Cindra Kamphoff: You’re right yeah you’re right that people are realizing that you know we can change and adapt and make things even maybe easier for other people. So, Dan when you give this a little insight on what made you decide to write site up and how the science of success or this at CBC site up how the science of mental preparation can help you succeed, there we go what made you write that book?
Dan: Sure, so the book came from three places really number one I was not a great athlete in high school, by any means you know, I was the kind of player that if the coach put me in the game, it meant that we were either really far ahead or really far behind, but even though I didn’t have a great skills for athletics, I became really fascinated by the stuff that coaches would do before the Games to get us prepared, whether it was emphasizing the rivalry or emphasizing the bonds of teamwork, there was a lot of sort of amateur psychology going on that I found really fascinating so that was number one number two when I grew up and became a professional person I would occasionally run into other people who were former athletes who would use some of the same techniques that we would use in the locker room is athletes, you know I had a friend who is a football player in high school and college and he became an accountant and he would have to go into a board meeting to meet with like the audit committee of a big company and he would be getting psyched up for that the same way, he would for a high school football game, so I saw this sort of translating into professional life and then the third thing is, when I started working at Harvard Business Review all day, every day, I see research come across my desk and I started to see studies that emphasized priming and things like that, so that I realized that there was you know there’s a lot of amateur psychology going on in locker rooms, at the same time there’s actually a lot of research, some of the business schools, about how to best spend those minutes before you perform so that’s Those are the three places the book came from.
Cindra Kamphoff: One thing that I really liked and there was a lot of you know tabs and highlights that I have in your book, but I want to point out really at on page 11 where you described, like the importance of what we’re talking about today, and you said you know if you work 2000 hours a year, but your overall success rest mostly on your performance during a couple of days and crucial hours a pitch meeting sales calls a key conversations with your boss, and so on and what I liked about that that you know that the Pat the passage there is that you’re not just talking about score we’re talking about business, and you know sales performance, a key conversation with your boss and tell us a bit more about you know how you see that you know our performance comes down to these crucial moments?
Dan: Yeah so I live in the suburbs of Boston and it so happens that a lot of my friends out here in the suburbs are sales people for tech companies and a lot of them do key account management, so they don’t have like 100 accounts they have like four or five really big accounts and their quarter and sometimes their whole year is based on a couple of hours when they meet with that key account so that’s certainly one example of it, I in you know, the current
economy, we all know a lot of people who are sort of doing client work or gig work or consulting and you know you’re doing a lot of heads down work in those jobs, but then there’s the moment when you have to interface with the client whether it’s at the front end of the job or at the back end of the job so that’s certainly kind of a high stakes kind of environment.
Dan: And even me in my professional life, so when I want to write a book like that, like the way you’re holding I write the proposal I send it to my agent my agent sends it around to the publishing companies ,but then I have to go meet with the publishers and maybe it’s a 45 minute meeting and they’ve already read the material, but then kind of I need to sell them on the idea so even to do a book like this there’s a little bit of a high stakes moment involved.
Cindra Kamphoff: And how do you see mental preparation fit with that or you know the things that you wrote in your book?
Dan: So one of the things I argue in the book is that, especially in the last 20 years we’ve become a society that’s really obsessed with the idea of practice and you know, Malcolm Gladwell made famous the 10,000 hour rule and you know how do you get to Carnegie hall practice practice practice well actually practice isn’t enough, you know if you go to Juilliard, which is one of the places I visited in the book they actually have an entire semester long course about how to deal with the nerves before an audition because practice isn’t enough if your nerves, and your anxiety and your emotions get in the way and sort of tax your performance.So I argue basically the point of this is, I hope, you’ve practiced if you haven’t practiced you’re not going to be any good, but you need another layer On top of that something to do during the last 15 minutes before that high stakes moment.
Cindra Kamphoff: Excellent and you just mentioned well when you think about the 15 minutes before you know and your the research that you did for the book well how would you describe, you know what you think people should do the 15 minutes before their prep or their performance?
Dan: Well, I think I would answer that question two is I think there’s the goal of what you’re trying to accomplish in that 15 minutes and then there’s the techniques you use to accomplish that when I started reporting the book, you know when you for me as a reporter I started a project like this with more questions than answers and sort of I might have a hypothesis, but I don’t really know the answers yet so my experience as a high school athlete was that getting psyched up was like flipping a switch on or off it was mostly about adrenaline and it was mostly about they would try to you know, make us more energetic and you know get the adrenaline flowing once you start reporting a book like this it turns out that adrenaline is part of it, but it’s not really the most important part I think about what you should try to accomplish during that time as increasing your confidence, reducing your anxiety and adjusting your energy level so that it’s appropriate, so I came from you know I used to think about it as a light switch on and off. Now, I think it is like a tuning knob you know you turn the volume up and down on those three things so confidence anxiety and energy level and then there’s a whole bunch of techniques, you can do, depending on what works for you to try to adjust those things.
Cindra Kamphoff: Yeah that’s really good day and, as I was reading the book, one of the things I really liked about it was really the storytelling way of describing some of the concepts in our field like you talk about Yuri Hawkins individualized zones of optimal functioning right which is if people are trading the field like that’s a mouthful but it’s really like finding your ideal emotions to perform to your best and right kind of regulating yourself, one of the things that I really liked that you said maybe towards the end of the book is you said you’re really to perform to your potential reducing anxiety isn’t enough and you said you have to build positive emotions and I was like yes, because that’s what I completely agree with that it’s like building these positive emotions so can you think of a story, or maybe you know, a time that you have built the positive emotions before your crucial moment where you wanted to do really well?
Dan: yeah well, let me answer that a little bit more broadly. So in so I wrote the book and then i’ve spent a lot of time over the years talking about the book with people in settings like this and meetings and such and one of the things I found is that if you take those three things confidence anxiety or energy, each person has a slightly different formula So for me I tend not to get super anxious about things like I don’t have a particularly nervous kind of personality So for me, being in those moments before performance, I’m much better off if I concentrate on trying to pump up the confidence level build that positive emotion like you’re talking about and one of the techniques that I talked about in the book that works, particularly well for me is what they would call the greatest hits highlight reel kind of thing so yeah one of the places i’ve visited when I was doing the book was West point the military academy at West point they have actually a very large sports psychology department there and one of the things they do for the varsity athletes is they have a psychologist come in and work with each athlete and make an audio real and they bring in a professional voice narrator they put music behind it, so you know the person I watched was the goalie on the lacrosse team and they come in, they put headphones on him, and this like Morgan freeman style voice comes over the over the loudspeaker I forget the guy’s name was John it’s like John Wells only in the east coast remember the game against deal when you did both and it’s sort of this booming voice he had AC DC going in the background and it’s like a five minute clip like sort of forces him to visualize all his greatest moments all across field and talking about how great he is. He would listen to that when he woke up in the morning he would listen to it when he went to bed at night he’d listened to it before practice he listened to it on the bus on the way to his games it almost seemed like sort of a almost a little bit of a brainwashing kind of technique, but um it was sort of the message, he was supposed to absorb from that as you’re really, really good at this and I think, no matter if we’re you know I’m not a lacrosse goalie but when I sit down to write a tough article or when I have to give a presentation at an important meeting I try to think about moments when I’ve excelled in the past and focus on those a little bit because they sort of increase the odds that I’ll be able to do it again.
Cindra Kamphoff: yeah what a great description of West point um I have a few friends that work there, and I remember you mentioning the sensor who’s been there for a long time I think the power of that Dan is like you know our negativity bias, nor, more likely to remember the negative the times, or maybe we haven’t performed as well, instead of intentionally
remembering the times we have done great so I like just the example that you provided when you sit down to write you’re thinking about the times that have gone well for you as well?
Dan: yeah when I talked to people who work in offices and sit at desks like I do. One of the end of you know we’ve all gone through this transition were a year ago I was in an office in Boston and now I’m in an office in my house one of the things I think about is whether their visual reminders of your greatest hits that you can play sort of within eyesight of yourself so Cindy I know you work with professional sports teams and if you go into their offices, I would imagine they have trophy cases and they have banners hanging from their stadiums, you know if they want their environment to be one that reminds them hey you’re a very successful organization you’re a part of a winning team and a winning tradition here and I think when we all think about our own office environments it’s good to do the same thing you know I’ve looked over in that corner, I have a little bookshelf that just has the books that I’ve written on it apart from all the other rooms in my house over in this corner, I have a magazine rack with the last six or seven issues of the magazine that I help at it. So I try to surround myself with little reminders of successes in my career to sort of you know, increase the positivity around me.
Cindra Kamphoff: Yeah that’s awesome I think I look in the back of me and my bookshelf here. I was in this competition, the kind of like dancing with the stars That was really outside my comfort zone that star right there that represents getting out of my comfort zone, and there we go, we got assigned football that reminds me like keep doing the good work.
Dan: One of my favorite stories one of my favorite stories that’s not in the book, it was from a guy who I was on his podcast in the months after the book came out I did a lot of podcasts in the sales field, because salespeople really gravitated towards the book and after we finished taping the podcast you know after you click the recorder off he said okay i’m going to tell you this embarrassing story now i’m like okay that that gets my attention and he said in my office on a shelf, like the shelf behind you Center I keep a gold crown there and sometimes before I make an important sales call this was back when we used phones instead of video he said he would actually put the Crown on and I’m like okay, what was the crowd and what was that about and he said well I’m moved when I was a kid in high school so between my sophomore and junior year I moved across the country lost all my friends shut up the first day of school didn’t know anybody and had to rebuild all my friend base from scratch and so junior year senior year by the middle of senior year I was voted the homecoming king and the crowd was his homecoming King Crown and he says that crown reminds me that I have the ability to build rapport with people very quickly and that like if I work at it you know I can be a pretty likable person and so he wears the Crown before these calls to remind himself of how much success he’s had building relationships quickly, which is a key thing that sales people need to do.
Cindra Kamphoff: Yeah that’s powerful and it’s you know when I also heard is like he puts it on and he’s not thinking about becoming homecoming king in this sort of like the outcome, or the recognition it’s more like what it took to get there, and the process that it took to you know build relationships and the kind of people and connect.
Dan: Yeah it was the skill and the input in the work it took very much more so than the fact that hey I was the most popular guy around.
Cindra Kamphoff: How, you know you said that a lot of people in sales really enjoyed the book tell us a little bit about, because I know there’s people who are listening that are in sales, how do you see in the there’s some great examples and sales as well, but throughout the book tell us how you see it connecting specifically to sales?
Dan: Well, as, as I said earlier, especially if you’re in sort of big ticket B2B sales where you’re not you know phoning 50 people a day trying to sell your you know, making a few key calls that sort of a thin slice high stakes kind of moment, so it appeals to them for that. Yes, I think, number one. I think it’s a field where confidence and personal aspect really matter you know If you’re only going to see your client twice a quarter. You know, you need to bring you’re a- game during those moments. You know in B2B sales I think there’s an emphasis in particular on sort of you have the your contact with the client company, but then you’re always trying to sort of get up the org chart and meet you know meet somebody a little bit higher. Those people are hard to get to when you get there, you only do it’s sort of like the classic elevator pitch scenario. You know you feel like you only have a couple of minutes to make your pitch, so I think it’s a it’s a field where it breeds nervousness The stakes are high it’s natural feel some anxiety because there’s not a lot of room for do overs. So it is, it is sort of a field where performance and you know performance is very binary you make the sale or you don’t it’s like a field goal kick you know it’s not you know there’s not a lot of room for judgment there it’s either inner it’s out.
Cindra Kamphoff: Right, and I think there’s a high stake in terms of gosh if you don’t make the sale you might not be able to pay your bills or there’s an impact on your how you know what you do for a living and how you can take care of your family.
Dan: Sure, the compensation systems are very leveraged so you’re aligned with success, and that the rewards for success are very aligned with positive outcomes, but there’s also a lot more consequences around negative outcomes in sales than there are in most traditional kinds of corporate work, I think.
Cindra Kamphoff: So you had mentioned Dan priming tell us a little bit about what you learned about priming and maybe how the best you know, in the world, might prime?
Dan: Yes, a priming comes up a lot in academic studies and I certainly saw a fair number of priming studies that made me think there was actually academic research that would help this book, so a classic priming study in academia is you have somebody do this thing for a couple minutes and then have them do something performance related to the one that gets has gotten the most attention certainly over the last decade or so was Amy Cuddy’s study of Power posing Amy’s a Harvard professor and she did a study that’s probably like 12 years old, or so now I would guess where she had people change their body position so she’d have them, you know sort of stand very powerfully like with their chest out and they’re inexpensive kind of position
and she would have them do that, where she’d have those be very sort of closed off and small and then she’d have them do gambling tasks or other kinds of tasks that would show their appetite for risk their confidence and she also did things where she would test their saliva to actually test their blood chemistry and she found that simply changing your body position to have sort of a powerful pose for a period of time before you do something can change your body chemistry make you more risk taking. So that’s sort of a well-known, she did a Ted talk on it that went viral that’s an example, but there’s a lot of other studies about priming in negotiation kinds of settings in a ritual kinds of settings this idea that if you do something, before you perform it can change the way you perform.
Cindra Kamphoff: Yeah excellent, I also think about how that relates to the morning I every morning I pride myself, you know and the way I kind of think about priming is I’m going to consciously choose how I want to feel in the morning, so that you know more likely to feel that way throughout my day. So that might be choosing to focus on some gratitude or Remembering my purpose or setting my intentions are talking to myself really powerfully you know those are the ways that I use priming not even just before a big performance but it’s like just every day right?
Dan: Right. No, sorry technique. When you meet high performers and you start asking them about you know okay tell me about what it is you, do you know sort of.
Dan: The same way, every time before you perform it’s surprising how many of the people you find will have some set of things they do so it’s one of these it’s funny actually I had to give a presentation, I gave a talk in January at a law firm they were doing an off-site retreat and I had just finished reading Barack Obama’s. new memoir and there’s a little section in there, I actually played an audio clip of his book on tape to this law firm where he talks about what he would do before a presidential debate he had the same meal every time he listened to the same three songs over and over and over in the car on the way to the to the thing. He wore the same suit he wear the same shirt like he you know you don’t think of Obama necessarily as a guy who would be super ritualistic are superstitious Oh, he carried he carried five special objects in his pocket to every debate things that were given to him by voters. So it’s surprising like how many people have something even if they don’t talk about it a whole lot that they do for comfort before these things.
Cindra Kamphoff: Yeah and that’s a really good point to you know you just said is like they do it for comfort I think people also do the routines to build confidence race I’m thinking about the research in sports psychology to suggest that routines do build confidence, I find sometimes they can be over played you know, for example, I worked with a hockey athlete once who had to have a great fruit before every game and unfortunately, someone by the great fruit for him, so he didn’t have control if we had the grapefruit and one day that the person who is going to buy him the grapefruit. It was a coach on the team or athletic trainer something didn’t buy the grapefruit and he’s like you self-sabotage to himself, because he didn’t have the grapefruit and I thought well. I don’t think it’s the grapefruit that really super like well right um but, but I think that example of Obama is a great example.
Dan: Yeah yeah there’s one of the other theories that I found in the research that appealed to me, so there are all as you suggested there’s all sorts of studies and sports psychology that say people who do a pre performance routine or a set of rituals before they perform do better they’ve studied in darts they’ve studied in water rugby water polo you know all sorts of sports and part of it is that they think that it’s sort of like the countdown to a rocket launch the like it’s sort of like you know, if you do it the same way, every time the sequence of events comes in and it becomes habitual but the other theory that’s kind of interesting is that you’re naturally going to be nervous before you perform, and if you have something you need to do it focuses your mind on that thing, instead of being nervous so there’s a study I read one time So I’m not only was I bad high school athlete I was I’m also a currently a bad golfer and I read a study one time, that one of the best things you can do on the golf course before I fear on the first TEE is take a golf ball and just start tossing it up and down like that and it’s kind of deceptive because it’s not hard to toss a golf ball up and down like that, but it does sort of take a little bit of your attention and the focus of that attention that’s attention you’re not giving to like oh my God I’m nervous I’m going to hit the ball badly in front of all my friends. So this idea that you’re it’s almost like you’re intentionally causing a cognitive deficit and like sapping you’re basically you know doing something that is a little bit cognitively demanding so that you don’t get nervous it’s like basically yeah one of the things I say to people is like you know okay you’re going to a job interview you’re going to get there early because that’s the smart thing to so you’re going to be sitting in the waiting room, you know if you don’t have something positive to do during those moments you’re just going to sit there and be nervous and think negative thoughts, you know, so it sort of a crowding out kind of theory.
Cindra Kamphoff: Yeah and maybe a distraction theory right your focuses on something else besides your nerves and the point of the migrate fruit story with the hockey players, sometimes I feel like the rituals like are over done right like if something doesn’t happen perfectly my socks aren’t exactly the way that they need to be then it’s like you know i’m going to have a poor performance but generally right what you’re saying is accurate, that the research shows that routines do work?
Dan: yeah yeah yeah. I mean what you are is so that’s one of the things that does come up in the research is that, like if you get dependent on your ritual he does the risk that something goes wrong and there’s a there’s a story in baseball I think it was, I think it was Wade Boggs the baseball player, so he had all these elaborate rituals before his games and one of them was he liked to run on the field at 17 minutes after the hour like before every night game it’d be like 517 he would want to run across the field if it was a day game it’d be like 1217. So opposing baseball teams learned of this, and they would manipulate their clocks in the stadium, so that they would go from 15 to 20 and it would just you know they use this digital clock, they would just skip 17 to try to mess with him so yeah you know you can, if you leave yourself plenty on the availability of grape fruit, you know you could have a problem now, but in general the upside to exceed the downsides.
Cindra Kamphoff: Yeah excellent really well said, one of my favorite stories in your book is when you sent Malcolm Gladwell a keyboard. Tell us about that story and what made you decide to send them a keyboard?
Dan: Sure, I have it, I can’t quite reach it, but it’s like it’s right over there it’s on my shelf, and so I read a study has probably one of the early studies that got me thinking about this somebody did a study we wrote about it in Harvard Business Review that they took a bunch of collegiate golfers who are about the same level of golfing ability, they gave them the same ball, the same putter and they measured the same distance from the whole and they had them do several parts to measure how well they put it, the only difference was all these studies, they split them into two groups there’s a group and the group. The group they just handed them in the putter and said Okay, make the pot the B group they said oh funny story this used to be a professional golfers golf club and they give a name I can’t remember who the name was but um the people who thought they were using a golf club did it previously been owned by a PGA professional hit about a third more pots, which is just crazy no reason for that they said there’s this idea that you know, so why do people like autographs Why do people you know, want to buy Marilyn Monroe’s rocking chair there’s this idea that, like a physical object that’s associated with somebody we admire that has got some sort of magical power. So I decided, I want you know to sort of test this out, I wanted to have a lucky keyboard I wanted to Malcolm Gladwell some very successful nonfiction writer who I admire. So I sent him the golf study and I said hey I want to you know send you a keyboard you use it for three months, send it back to me and i’ll have it and use its magic power and he said okay I’m in. I you know I said MAC or PC he’s a MAC guy so I had to go buy a MacIntosh keyboard for him shipped it down, you know he I don’t know what he wrote on it, but somehow in the process of it, he actually broke, one of the keys so it’s now missing like the down arrow button I don’t know what he did with the thing so I don’t use it every day, I only you know I pull it out for special occasions like you know the family, China, you only use a thanksgiving if I have something that’s like really important to write I pull out my Malcolm Gladwell keyboard and you know, does it make me 1% more confident 2% more confident you know it doesn’t make everything come super easy but it’s just one more thing is one of my favorite things and I think you know whether it’s you know you know lots of people in there’s actually been studies that lots of college students have a lucky pen they use for exams, there was a study about you know, Professor guys had a lucky pair of shoes people often have some sort of object that they feel superstitious and gives them, you know, good luck in an increase chances are good outcome, and for me it’s the keyboard.
Cindra Kamphoff: Yeah that’s wonderful I love that story, and that he actually like use the keyboard I remember reading and in your book and you know your colleague said, well, do you think he just like you know when I’m Facebook, we through here, do you think he actually wrote his next book with this?
Dan: tracking what he was writing during that time, he did publish he published a couple of New York articlesduring the time when he should have been using keyboard and the fact he broke the keyboard suggests he didn’t just let it sit there, he was probably.
Cindra Kamphoff: Using it that’s wonderful I love that he just went with it and was cool with doing that for you, but really good point that maybe there’s these things that we can do to help us feel confident right and setting our environment, up to help us feel more confident, even if it’s 1% 2% 5% 10% more confident it’s like we could make those choices?
Dan: yeah I used to work at a magazine, it was a weekly magazine, and in that corporate culture, there was a lot of status tied to write in the cover story of that issue and if you wrote the cover they would you know, they did 50 covers a year, so there were a lot of covers going around they would send you a framed copy of it, and you know in that office I ended up having not probably wrote like 12 or 15 to them, but a series of cover stories framed on the wall and you know when I’d walk in every morning it was like seeing a trophy case walking into the gymnasium you know it sort of reminds you of the fact that hey when I have a good day here I’m actually pretty good at this and I think having reminders of that around us can only help us do a little bit better.
Cindra Kamphoff: The second favorite story that I have from your book is Mark McLaughlin and I was like wow what a small world I actually had him on the podcast last year, so I’m like what it’s like you know, the world is kind of like meshing here, but you talk about how psyched up can impact surgeons and I thought that would be a population, we talk a little bit about because we haven’t yet and you report in the book how works like longest operation was 18 hours, so you know tell us in your perspective, why you know surgeons doctors need kind of psych up strategies, similar to what we’ve talked about in sales or in athletes?
Dan: Yeah so mark was a great example so mark was a championship high school and collegiate wrestler went to Medical School decided to be a surgeon and he as he described in the book he you know, he was a resident somewhere doing a fellowship or whatever, and he said, you know I need a process before I go into surgery and it’s going to be sort of like what I did in wrestling so he has he had listened to certain music, have you ever been in an operating room environment that surgeons always play music and there are a lot of them are very particular about what kind of music they play So mark has certain kinds of playlists that he does for certain kinds of operations, he very intentionally has a discussion with the with the operating room staff, you know the team of nurses and anesthesiologist before he begins, much like the kind of pep talk to the coach would give before a sporting event. He has little superstitions throughout I believe one of them was his favorite number is nine so if he has to administer medication, instead of giving like 20 million leaders will give like 19 milliliters because it has a magic number in it which you know I think that’s close enough that there’s not a pharmaceutical difference between them, but um he has this whole series of things that he does to try to make him feel more confident and make him feel you know good the same way, you know, again, this is all about just making ourselves a little bit better, but he is someone who is thought deeply about this sees a lot of comparison between you know the kind of athletic performance and the kind of physical manipulative performance he needs to do as a spinal surgeon. So as an example of the former athlete who’s incorporating this into their professional life.
Cindra Kamphoff: Yeah and you know, Dan I’d encourage people as they’re listening to think about you know what is the performance that they want to do really well at and what’s going to help what’s their mental preparation for that performance outline it right, think about these some of these strategies that we’ve talked about so far what’s going to help you build your confidence, even if it’s just you know a little bit that little bit can make a really big difference in the actual performance?
Dan: Yeah what I often tell people is take out your calendar for like the next two months and if you had a magic wand and you could circle, a day on the calendar and guarantee that you’re going to be performing your best that day which day, would you pick and why and that’s sort of the idea that you know all of our hours are not the same at work, and we need to really identify our use case and those moments when we really need to be on and then you’re right, we need to sort of figure out what kind of techniques work for us so in the book there’s a chapter on music is something that you know a lot of people associate, especially in a sporting environment, you know and I’ve talked to people who sales people who drive between appointments who listen to certain songs are people like get to a job interview early and play certain songs and their car stereo before they go in, or their iPod iPhone or whatever. So music works really well for some people, not so well for others rituals and superstitions work really well for some people, not so well for others. Some people, the, the idea is much more about getting rid of anxiety because they might have a little bit of stage fright or nerves for other people it’s much more about boosting confidence and tried to accentuate the positive, so I think everybody’s a little bit different in terms of which are the knobs they need to tune, and what they can use to try to tune them.
Cindra Kamphoff: Yeah that’s why we need like a mental toolbox right I’ve got all these different tools that we might use there’s one more study I really liked Dan that you talked about in the book and it you cited a study, where people wrote about a time that they felt powerless and then a time that they wrote powerful. Can you tell us what you remember about that, and I think that’s really impactful for the listeners because of the impact that just writing about your times, where you’ve been felt powerful and powerless really do make a difference?
Dan: yeah I think that’s another example of sort of a form of priming the idea that.
Dan: You know getting back to golf because golf is I find that a lot of the studies have been done on sports where you know soccer is not a great sport for mental preparation, because you’re running around the field continuously for 90 minutes and whereas the more downtime you have so if you think of like golf or figure skating or gymnastics where you practice thousands of hours for like this little thin slice a moment so in golf. Imagine your team off on a golf course and there’s a water hazard to your right. You know you don’t want to say to yourself don’t hit it to the right because that’s sort of ends up doing it, you want, where you want to say is hit it to the Center or edit to the left so it’s the idea that you want to you want to keep telling yourself or thinking what you do want to do not about what you want to avoid and I think this powerful power less sort of situation focusing on a time when you felt powerful is connecting
with the positive it’s modeling the behavior you want to exhibit in this instance and it’s it’s sort of avoiding the negative thoughts.
Cindra Kamphoff: Yeah excellent, and I think what you said is, if you want to think about what you do want to do not what you want to avoid and you know I think there’s power in thinking about times, where you felt powerful to help you replicate it and build your confidence, which is really well, one of the things we’ve been talking about a lot today?
Dan: Right, I mean you think of that the greatest hits though you know the West point audio tape thing and I actually I spent a little bit of time at Fenway park with the RedSox when I was reporting to book, not with the athletes at all, but with I was up in to meet with the guy who player programs all their music for batting practice and he told me one day they actually do have a videographer on staff who makes these highlight reels for the players, just to watch at home and to watch them their phones because they think having a personal highlight you know, imagine that you know what I do there’s no espn that covers magazine editors it would be a really, really boring show if somebody like tried to make a highlight reel of me typing away here, but most of us, we need to sort of come up with this mental highlight reel of what our most positive most successful moment is and sort of cram them together and find a way to sort of replay them during this sort of priming period right before we perform it’s going to increase the odds to do it again.
Cindra Kamphoff: So you could do that by thinking about times that you felt powerful maybe spending even three or four or five minutes thinking about your successes to help you Prime yourself to have a great performance?
Dan: yeah and you know, some people get creative and find ways to to create more vivid reminders of them, I mean here’s a silly example that I use so, but the first book, I wrote which, which was more than 10 years ago I was interviewed around a bunch of places, but there was one interview in particular that was done on NPR and NPR just has like the best editors ever and they polish you and make you sound like the smartest person on the planet, when you’re done, even if you’re only sort of marginally articulate like I am and a lot of times before I go on a podcast or before I do immediate interview I’ll Google that NPR clip from years ago and listen to it because there’s just something about the way they edited that thing that makes me sound a lot better than I do, in real life you know it’s sort of like watching a touched up version of yourself and I can’t help when I listened to that, even though I’ve listened to it a bunch of times now saying like wow I sound pretty good there is some pretty good because they edited the heck out of it but it’s sort of reinforces the positive feeling and you know it helps me feel more positive going into these sort of situations where I need to feel like i’m a little bit more polished articulate.
Cindra Kamphoff: yeah that’s great Dan I think about for me now in my life, you know I’m a runner and so there’s a lot of downtime and running by the way, so you need you need a lot of mental strategies when you’re running a marathon, but the ways that I use my mental preparation, the most is like, before I give a keynote speech and I intentionally think about
times, where I felt really connected to the audience right times, where I’ve really done really well and been proud of what i’ve done and sometimes my brain wants to go to the times, where you know, maybe I’m a little bit more rigid or less connected, but I gotta push those out that doesn’t help me replicate.
Dan: That makes total sense yeah i’m thinking about successes and failures, I think, is probably one of the most important things people can do before they perform.
Cindra Kamphoff: So the last concept from the book let’s talk a little bit about then then we’ll wrap it up, you talk about centering and it’s from Dan Greens of book fight your fear in the win, how do you see you know centering maybe helping people sign up or being mentally prepared?
Dan: So centering is one of a variety of techniques that they teach at the Juilliard school to people who are trying to deal with sort of performance anxiety and stage fright and the nerves that accompany auditions and that course it’s a semester long course and it’s fascinating the things they do in that course they actually like to you know I went and sat in on the course they have violinists and trombonist and stuff and they’ll actually have them like duper peas and do jumping Jacks and then have them play the instrument because they want them to get used to playing when they’re sweaty and when they’re a little out of breath because that’s what nerves can do to you. So centering don green actually taught at Juilliard for a little while and centering is one of the techniques that he taught there it’s one of these things that it’s sort of like yoga it’s hard to describe and, if you want to learn you’re probably better off there’s YouTube videos about it, or he you know. The other thing I sometimes say when I talk to people about this stuff is and I’m sure you know you’re in this line of work, so you know this there’s an there are quite a few sports psychologists and performance coaches around it’s a kind of thing that a lot of people don’t think to reach out and to utilize these professionals, but I’m sort of surprised at how underutilized they are, I mean one of the things I often say to people is you know I live in the suburbs, where it’s not uncommon to meet people who are spending thousands of dollars on their kids club hockey program or on you know yeah you baseball or whatever and if a kid has sort of a little bit of performance anxiety to spend a few hundred dollars for a couple of visits to a performance coach can make a lot of sense, and I think that’s true for professional people as well, I think there’s this whole sort of infrastructure resources around the psychology here that people don’t know the resources are there, they wouldn’t think about it, they might think oh it’s going to be like therapy well no it’s really not like therapy they’re not interested in your childhood they’re just interested in trying to like you know, adjust your emotions in the moments before you’re making a sales call or giving a keynote.
Cindra Kamphoff: And it can be super yes yeah for sure you know and Dan I’ve been in the field for about 20 years now, I can’t believe that but can I feel like this has been like for but I do think that things are changing that there’s more and more people that are recognizing right it’s not you know we’re not going to examine what happens when you’re in your childhood, but really more it’s like helping you perform at your best and the small investment I think about young kids that you can make in young kids like wow you can give them the skills in high school, for example, or early college like it just helps. You know you’d be able to perform and live a lot
more freer and I wish I would have had it that’s how I got into the field is I struggled myself with the mental side.
Dan: Right yeah it’s um you know again this idea that we’re all spending 10,000 hours trying to get better at the underlying stuff. I do think layering on some psychology that’s going to help you deal with the emotions in the moment before the stuff can make a lot of sense yeah.
Cindra Kamphoff: yeah well excellent Dan I love talking to you, I think we definitely gave people a reason to go buy your book so psyched up how the science of mental preparation can help you succeed, do you have any final advice or final comments for us?
Dan: yeah I mean, I think hopefully, this has helped people think a little bit about not the moment when they’re standing up making the pitch or making the presentation or doing the thing, but that moment of time before hand and I think, whenever you do have a plan you know you know we’re living in a in a work culture where more of our evaluation is on fewer slices of moments and you know you’re gonna you’re going to be in that waiting room waiting to go on have a plan for how you’re going to spend that last 10 minutes, whatever it is because if you’re just going to sit there and be nervous that’s only going to hurt you.
Cindra Kamphoff: Absolutely, some of the things I really enjoyed about our conversation today was the research on priming that we talked about even that 10 minutes before reducing your anxiety increasing your confidence and then adjusting your energy to what fits you we talked about developing a highlight reel and you just being your best in these high stake moments, we also talked about, you know how you can write down times you felt powerful and we provide lots of great stories here to help you really think about how you can apply this to your life so Dan Thank you so much for joining us tell us where we can get the book and how we might you know you are you on social media or anything like that we can connect with you?
Dan: Sure thanks, well, I appreciate the invitation, this is a fun conversation. The book is called PsychedUp it’s certainly on Amazon it’s probably still in most bookstores I’m on social media it’s @DanMcCann.
Cindra Kamphoff: Excellent Thank you Dan I appreciate you joining us today. Dan: Thank you again.