Dr. Alex Auerbach is the Director of Wellness and Development for the Toronto Raptors. He joined the Toronto Raptors after serving as the Director of Clinical and Sport Psychology for the University of Arizona. Dr. Auerbach has worked with NCAA Division-I schools in the Pac-12, ACC, Big 12, and Conference USA.Dr. Auerbach earned his doctoral degree in counseling psychology with a specialization in sport and performance psychology from the University of North Texas. He received a Master’s in Business Administration from Salve Regina University and a Bachelor in Business Administration from the University of Arizona. Dr. Auerbach is a Certified Mental Performance Consultant, a Licensed Psychologist, and a member of the United States Olympic Committee Sport Psychology Registry.
In this interview, Alex and Cindra discuss:
- The 3 mindsets that separate the best from the rest
- How stress can be enhancing
- The case against self-affirmations
- The reason we should fall in love with boredom
- Why we need a dash of fixed mindset
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Cindra Kamphoff: Thank you Alex Auerbach for the comes to high performance mindset podcast how’s your day going?
Alex Auerbach: My day is awesome Thank you so much for having me excited to be here with you this morning.
Cindra Kamphoff: I’m really excited to be here with you as well, and I’m looking forward to learning more about your career and just learning more about how you work with pro athletes and your trajectory so far so maybe just to get us started telling us a little bit about what you’re passionate about and what you’re doing right now.
Alex Auerbach: Sure, so gosh I’m passionate about everything, health and high performance for individuals’ teams and organizations so.
Alex Auerbach: For me I’m really interested in the intersection between well-being and high performance obviously high performance itself is pretty fascinating and there’s so many things that go into helping people manage stress and pressure and perform better and things that can separate sort of the elite of the elite from the almost that elite to the mat so elite.
Alex Auerbach: But I think there’s also you know, a ton of emerging evidence around the importance of sort of foundational elements of well-being that contribute to that high performance and I think those are some of the things that at least in the professional sports world and even in the college sports world for some time, have been sort of overlooked in terms of thinking about how we help athletes perform their best and so I’m really passionate about infusing that into what I do now on a regular basis.
Alex Auerbach: At an organizational level, as well as at the individual level and so now I am having the opportunity to do just that, with the trial raptors.
Cindra Kamphoff: Yeah, Nice and I’m looking forward to hearing how you do that at a system level and organizational level, because I know working in pro sports that it can be really taxing, and you know this work is even more important because of that.
Alex Auerbach: yeah, it has some unique challenges for sure, but I’m very fortunate to work with an organization that I think is very committed to figuring out how to best abuse these practices into what we do and believes that this can actually help us perform better, which is cool.
Cindra Kamphoff: Nice so tell us a bit about how you got to the raptors I know you are at the University of Arizona as the director of clinical and sports psychology and I’m just kind of curious your trajectory.
Alex Auerbach: Sure, so I actually before I became a Sport Psychologist I really wanted to be a football coach so I started my career coaching football, I actually selected going to university of Arizona as an undergrad in large part because they were the only program that led me in that would also let me work with the football team and, just so happened that that was home so it’s sort of the best of all worlds.
Alex Auerbach: But that was that was when I was dead set on, and then I got into coaching and took a full-time job at a good size FCS school, which is sort of one level below division one and enjoy the relational side of that work, but really struggled with some of the other parts of coaching.
Alex Auerbach: And I found myself trying to figure out like how I get more of what energizes me and a regular basis infused into my work, and so did some exploration and ultimately landed on becoming a sports psychologist so I did my PhD in counseling psychology in North Texas, and then did my residency University of North Carolina Chapel hill so we’ve got some North Carolina connection there.
Alex Auerbach: And then, when I left, I went back to Arizona, which was just serendipitous opportunity to return home and work at a program that I had had the opportunity to participate in differently earlier.
Alex Auerbach: And, and ultimately ended up taking over the mental health and mental performance services there for about 500 student athletes and I’m pretty proud of what came before me, and what continues on now, which was really cool as I think, a very good program with some well-rounded holistic services, which was awesome and then some time into my time there I got a call from the raptors and the role, I mean it’s fairly unique it’s so it’s one of those things I just didn’t feel like I could pass up.
Cindra Kamphoff: Yeah, that’s cool what a great holistic background of all the things that you’ve been doing so far.
Cindra Kamphoff: And I’m curious about your experience coaching because there’s a lot of leaders some coaches, who listen and what do you wish that you would have known while you’re coaching now that you know more about sport and performance psychology.
Alex Auerbach: I wish that I would have known how much more of my time should have been spent asking questions and listening and then directing and I think in football in particular there’s a real emphasis on almost like militaristic order you know it’s all sports I think it’s the sport that tries most closely the parallel itself to that really hierarchical directive way of leadership, and I think for some people in some places that could work, but by and large it’s not the most effective way to do things and we have a lot of data now.
Alex Auerbach: That sort of shows that athletes playing have a much better sense of the game than even the most expert of coaches, not because expert coaches don’t have anything to offer.
Alex Auerbach: But because they are actually experiencing the game and are seeing it from a different angle, and I think that would have really helped me be a better coach and I think the same is true in business or any other space, like the people who are on the front lines doing the work do have a different feel for what are the real challenges, what is it that’s happening in a really intimate way and what should be.
Alex Auerbach: You know, kept what should be changed, which we start doing stop doing those sorts of things, but I think in a leadership and coaching role there’s just such a Pole, to be a value by imparting information and that’s true certainly across sports and I think in other spaces as well, but I wish I would have known tend to not do that as much and to sort of lean more heavily into the expertise of the players, I was coaching, even if they were you know fcs college players like they still have an expertise and an experience that I don’t have so that’s one thing and then the second thing that.
Alex Auerbach: Now, looking back, I wish you know with a larger part of coaching culture and certainly my coaching experiences I perceive myself to be a fairly strings oriented person.
Alex Auerbach: And, but I think coaching lends itself most often to criticism or to trying to emphasize improvement and building on weaknesses.
Alex Auerbach: And a wish that I would have spent more time and attention accurately praising strengths because I think it’s much more effective to reach a peak performance by just doubling down on what you do really well and not necessarily ignoring your strengths, but working to mitigate the risk of those strengths well really trying to mitigate the risk of those weaknesses, excuse me about really trying to pull on the strengths to their their Max level, and that would involve a lot more frequent positive remarks with really specific detail in a way that we don’t often praise right we’re usually pretty good we’re pretty good at telling people what exactly we’d like it to be different and what was screwed up and how they can improve.
Alex Auerbach: And then, when we praise, we tend to do it in this sort of like you know good job surface level kind of way that lacks the depth that someone would be to really capitalize on that so had I known that when I was coaching, I would have done that more.
Cindra Kamphoff: Well, that’s a very wise answer and very powerful for everybody who’s listening, you know I think a few things.
Cindra Kamphoff: I do, what I do because of my own struggles as a college athlete you know and it’s like, this coaching likely led you to do this really important work right, and I think about what you’re just saying Alex about when you give specific feedback on strengths people know what they should continue to use right, instead of just good job that does isn’t always helpful but also you’re really talking about building relationships and asking for input and knowing that your players know, maybe, just as much as you, or at least have something to add that’s valuable.
Alex Auerbach: 100% and I think that’s sort of the sweet spot is like anything, the truth is kind of in the middle, and so the board that I, as a coach or leader can give over some of my power to this other expert and we can sort of co create what the best solution is here we’re probably going to be better than just your ideas are just my ideas and that’s sort of I think the goal of all really good coaching is to get kind of closer to that objective space of truth and then act on whatever that is and sort of keep building on it and you’re spot on like this is why I got into what I do because I did experience coaching and I think it really has helped me as a sports psychologist.
Alex Auerbach: But I experienced it in a way that didn’t necessarily leverage some of the things that I now think are most important.
Alex Auerbach: And that’s where my systems interest and all these other things comes into play is I see how it all works together and I’m really passionate about figuring out like How do we make it optimize performance for everyone, not just for coaches or players are one individual part of that subsystem.
Cindra Kamphoff: Yeah, so good, and I was just thinking about how I have two teenage boys and one of them plays youth footballer now junior high football and he has a coach that doesn’t know very much about football.
Cindra Kamphoff: But the other day we were talking about him, and he said he’s the best coach ever because he cares about me and because he builds me up right, and so my son knows more about football than he does, but it’s interesting to hear his perspective on the relationship piece, and how that’s important.
Cindra Kamphoff: So, I’m curious about as you work with the raptors and pro athletes, in general, even you know, the College athletes you’ve worked with when you think about this idea of mindset or the mental game what topic, do you hear yourself I’m talking about a lot, there are a lot of topics I mean, I think.
Alex Auerbach: The big ones that have come up most recently that I think are probably related to the pandemic are things like resilience managing a slump managing pressure and stress.
Alex Auerbach: And those I think are sort of the core themes that have emerged in the last couple years and then I think kind of related to that are things like burnout.
Alex Auerbach: You know, maintaining motivation, but they see them all sort of you know, coming together under this big umbrella like, how do you manage just a massive amount of ambiguity for two plus years and figure out how to still perform well.
Alex Auerbach: And it affects athletes, the way that the same way that affects all of us right, I mean the athletes I’m working with are playing in a bubble and playing with no fans and then playing with some fans and then playing, but no fans and trying to figure out what that energy, you know how to maintain that energy or maintain that engagement or stay consistent.
Alex Auerbach: And I think the same thing was largely true in college, you know there’s different challenges that come up for college athletes versus pro athletes and often the spotlight is a little bit different and the different things that that are managing from social media pressure to being more in the public eye to larger consequences, I think varies, but by and large the concerns are fairly similar in terms of you know how do we maintain our consistent performance bounce back from failure those sorts of things.
Cindra Kamphoff: Yeah, absolutely all really important topics for a pro athlete to thrive, but also just for you and me being able to join it and change and bouncing back from failure and dealing with pressure.
Cindra Kamphoff: You know so let’s dive into some of those topics, the first kind of topic related to that that I wanted to ask you about I saw your recent tweet that went viral about three mindsets to separate the best from the rest let’s dive into that because I think that actually fits really well with what you just said and then then we’ll dive into more specific so tell us about what those three mindsets are that you see that separate the best from the rest.
Alex Auerbach: Sure, so this this thread this framework, I guess kind of emerged out of trying to figure out like what the core themes are in solving these different problems, I mean ultimately like a lot of these things are just human problems like you said right, you and I are both dealing with the same thing, and so what is it that would matter to help me manage stress be more resilient those sorts of things, and so the three mindsets I’ve sort of landed on all based on research evidence to which is really important for me in my practice, the first is growth mindset, with a dash of fixed mindset and some of this is my contrary in nature, but some of this is real, so the growth mindset is obviously gotten a ton of attention, since Carol Dweck’s incredible book came out and really emphasized how focusing on effort and how hard you work can produce really positive outcomes for people in a learning environment, primarily, I think that we’re while really valuable has probably been a bit over extended right we’ve taken growth mindset to this extreme it’s like The absolute most important thing that you can have, and it works for everything everywhere and that’s just not true, like it’s not always good to be thinking about how you can learn from failure and we’ll talk about that in a second.
Alex Auerbach: So, I do value growth mindset, I think, emphasizing effort, while you’re learning is really important, and figuring out how it relates to success or failure in learning environments is really important.
Alex Auerbach: But it’s not the only thing, and so I think, especially in elite level sports, but I think an elite level anything really.
Alex Auerbach: You do have to have a little bit of a fixed mindset which is essentially the idea that you believe that your innate talent contributes to your success.
Alex Auerbach: And I have never met a professional athlete or a really high performing professional anything does not believe in some way that they have some unique signature innate abilities that make them really good at what they do.
Alex Auerbach: And I don’t want people to shy away from that I think is really important to believe in yourself and obviously believe in yourself accurately and appreciate what it is that you can do and sort of balance that confidence and humility, a little bit, but I do think there’s a real merit to valuing the role that your ability plays in the outcomes you produce if you sort of attribute everything to effort and you don’t think that you are doing anything personally from some innate skill set to contribute.
Alex Auerbach: I think it sort of limits your ability to fully appreciate yourself and what differentiates you from the other people you’re performing with, and that is important on a team, and it is important, high-performance environments so that’s mindset one.
Alex Auerbach: The second mindset is this idea that stresses, enhancing and this ties back, we can tie it back to the growth mindset piece really quick and then we can talk about some of the other sort of possible options when exploring stress.
Alex Auerbach: Stress is enhancing mindset is just this idea that when the pressure is on or when I am in a stressful situation, I believe that this stress is facilitating my performance these stresses, enhancing me it’s making me better it’s energizing.
Alex Auerbach: And it boils down to things that are really common in sports psychology like a challenge appraisal and accurately and praising your physiology and these sorts of things, but I think it’s important to start to reframe stress in a way that is a little bit more facilitated and productive and the best athletes sort of see these stressful situations, they like a clutch moment at the end of the game as an opportunity to demonstrate their ability as an opportunity to rise to the challenge as an opportunity to really facilitate peak performance versus crumble under pressure or as a as a debilitating experience and so what’s really interesting is from this line of research actually having a growth mindset in these situations limits your performance because if you think that this failure potential failure is just a learning opportunity, you might actually be inclined to just not care as much as you need to really perform right so stress becomes well it’s okay like if I fail, I fail.
Alex Auerbach: And I’m still going to learn something, and it can be fine and well sometimes but it’s generally not good for performance and high-pressure situations right we don’t want to be thinking about failure as an acceptable outcome.
Alex Auerbach: When we’ve got 30 seconds left to go and we’re down three points you know those sorts of environments are not conducive to processing failure as a learning opportunity or facility a performance and then you can start to think about some offshoots of the way that people handle stress, so you’ve got this sort of just push through it folks and what’s interesting about them is their performance doesn’t necessarily suffer.
Alex Auerbach: But the impact they have on their teammates is pretty harmful and large part, because it doesn’t energize the people around you and it leads to a sense of disconnect about why others may not be doing it the same way you’re doing it.
Alex Auerbach: And so, for a team to work really well together, and I think most high performers, you know parents, lawyers, doctors right we’re all part of a team, whether or not it’s an athletic team or not, and so, if you were sort of a person who believes that you should just push through it.
Alex Auerbach: Your individual performance might sort of maintain or be okay, but your understanding of the performance of the people around you is likely to suffer and that’s also not good for delivering and these high pressure moments, and then, of course, if you think of you know stress, is this really debilitating experience right you’re likely to withdraw and you know, engage in several other behaviors that might limit your opportunities to self-handicapping, deactivating all these things that are ultimately going to allow you to deliver when the game is on the line, and then the final mindset is this idea that recovery or rest is an investment and I think a lot of this started with sleep is kind of the Foundation, but I now see mindfulness and some other kind of like the non-sleep deep breaths techniques, I think that’s a nice way of thinking about it right like.
Alex Auerbach: Anything that’s recovering right whether that’s social support sleep mindfulness meditation yoga whatever is not time taking away from performing it is time spent.
Alex Auerbach: Ensuring that you can perform at your best consistently, we can, I think it goes very against sort of like the old school sports stigma.
Alex Auerbach: And the old school stigma generally and in some corporate cultures which is like you just got to like grind it out, and then it as long as you grind it out like you’ll get to the point that’s just not accurate it’s a recipe for burnout it’s a recipe for a lot of other things that are not great, for your mental health.
Alex Auerbach: But the best athletes are really good at prioritizing these things that we sort of Sean or think less of when we’re in that grinded out mentality and you’ve heard of athletes like Lebron James talks about how he hours of sleep is like a non-negotiable Steph Curry gets in a float tank and it’s not because you know, they just have all this time to kill and they’re just out there experimenting with all these different rest techniques and because they actually know.
Alex Auerbach: Doing these things will help them perform better in the future will help them perform more consistently in the future and there’s a reason why in the NBA, for example, the bubble games where such high quality is because everyone was sleeping well there’s no travel, everyone’s going to bed at the same time right, like all these things that really do contribute to peak performance really matter, and so I think the athletes were able to get to this point where they see rest as an opportunity to invest in their future performance it do think end up being better than the other athletes who say well like I can I can sleep when I’m dead or I’m going to go out tonight, instead, and it doesn’t matter you know I’ll be okay tomorrow it’s like the goal is not to be okay The goal is to be great, and if you want to get to that level I think you’ve got to start to reimagine the way that you recovered rest differently so I know I just shared a lot so I’m going to pause.
Cindra Kamphoff: Excellent I love it I love it, so the three for people who are listening and maybe they’re writing some notes down versus growth mindset, with a dash of fixed mindset stresses, enhancing and recovery is an investment mindset.
Cindra Kamphoff: A few things I’m thinking about related to what you said Alex is I really like Kelly McGonigal book called the upside of stress.
Cindra Kamphoff: And she talks about lots of research, about how stress can actually be performance enhancing the way that we view it or our perspective, so I thought that was really helpful to think about right when the when the there’s a clutch moment, you know how are you viewing that.
Cindra Kamphoff: And I was thinking a lot about this idea of grit right and I wrote a book called beyond grid, which covers these 10 practices of high performance but sometimes people think grit means pushing until you’re ready to fall over but grid instead means to me that you stay passionate and excited and purposeful with your work and we’re not recovering if we just keep pushing until you know we’re ready to die, that doesn’t sustain high performance one question I want to ask you about is you know when you said growth mindset, with a dash of fixed mindset and that the fixed mindset component is about seeing that you have this innate talent. I’m curious what you see at the pro level like, why is this innate talent really important, like, for example if I viewed it, as you know, a gift I have versus it’s something I’ve developed over time, you know why, why you see that and made part is really important.
Alex Auerbach: I’ll give you a couple answers I think what one is, it’s grounded in reality right like there just is a certain profile that you have to have to be a professional athlete in any sport there’s a reason that we haven’t seen like a five six guards anymore and it’s not because a five six guard couldn’t exist it’s because most NBA player spot in a really specific physical range of parameters.
Alex Auerbach: That does that just is innate right and we can get into like the evolutionary genetics stuff but I don’t think we need to fight the idea is just if there’s some baseline level of ability that you have to have to rise to this level of competition and, yes, some of it is developed, but some of it is genetically endowed and some of it is right time right place and all those things, so I think that’s one part of it is just sort of acknowledging that, like I belong here right, I have these characteristics that fit with what this space is, and then I think the second thing is, if you lack this sense that you have something unique offer I think it’s really hard to find your special place amongst the team.
Alex Auerbach: And I think it’s really hard to figure out like what is my unique contribution to this culture or to this group and by valuing your innate ability by valuing what is sort of intrinsic to you as a person, whether you think of it as developed or inborn or some combination of both I think you end up in a place that’s a little bit more secure in the sense that you do have something special to offer, and that it can be sort of unleashed and maximized.
Alex Auerbach: And so that’s sort of how I see it, and I think, then, the third piece of this for me, which is just important is I want people to sort of more accurately calibrate around the balance between growth and fixed mindset, I mean the really original data around this suggests that these two constructs are basically like orthogonal right like you can have both you can be high on both and that’s Okay, you can really believe that you’re in a talent matters and also believe that you’ve developed it and that effort is really important they’re not mutually exclusive but we’ve come, you know this we’ve come a really long way since Carol Dweck spoken sort of like villainize fixed mindset.
Alex Auerbach: And so I want especially the athletes that I’m working with to appreciate like you do have some unique abilities, you do have some unique strengths and innate talent that you were able to maximize optimize and leverage for this performance and you shouldn’t be shy about that, like it’s okay to have some things that you think are really special about you, as long as you’re not creating it around in an arrogant way that puts people off we’ll be okay.
Cindra Kamphoff: Yeah well, I think it helps people own their strengths, is what you’re saying and really build their confidence, so they feel like they can thrive in that that environment I’m curious Alex as you work with athletes transitioning into the NBA, what do you see athletes struggle with as they transition in and then you know what do you see that the best to do in terms of transitioning into you know something that they’ve been dreaming about for a long time.
Alex Auerbach: Yeah, it’s I think it’s true in the NBA and I imagine it’s true in a lot of other professional sports and other spaces, but the big things that jump out are one like the schedule right so in college basketball you play 30 games and an NBA season you’re playing a minimum of 82 games right so it’s just you have to develop this like stamina this endurance in this capacity to stay consistent stay engaged to show up, day after day at a really high level, and I think the consequences of not showing up are much more significant this level so you know in college like if you have an off day of practice your coach might get on you and it might be uncomfortable for a couple of days, but like biomarkers of your scholarship player like pretty low risk of getting cut from the team because of one wasn’t bad day.
Alex Auerbach: But in the NBA you might get sent to the D league team, if you have a bad day right there’s all these other things that are going into this need to be consistent, and so I do think in the transition there it’s hard for college athletes to appreciate just how much more 52 games really is, and what that means in terms of how, you have to take care of yourself how you have to show up consistently how you have to kind of like fall in love with boredom.
Alex Auerbach: You know you’re going to be doing a lot of the same things every day.
Alex Auerbach: And that’s what the really great ones I think do is they just embrace that and sort of use that as an opportunity to continue to develop versus getting bored or kind of going through the motion, so I think maintaining that intensity and that engagement is one thing I think the second thing is, you know for a lot of athletes at this level, especially that year between you know your last year in college and your first year pro.
Alex Auerbach: In college chances are for say 70% of the games that you played you were like one of the two or three best players on the floor, you know and there could be times, where you could not necessarily ease up that you maybe didn’t have to go as hard and you could still show that you are one of the best players on the floor and then you get to the nab and no one respects you, you know you might be drawing the fourth or fifth works matchup from the other guys and you’re not the best player on the floor anymore, I mean you’re surrounded by other really talented athletes who were also the same best player on the floor in college, and so I think figuring out kind of going back to what we were just talking about like what is it that I offer what are my unique strengths, how did I get here, I do think is the big transition and sort of figuring out like how do I fit and how do I leverage my strengths to belong in this group now and sort of move past this like Oh, I can just kind of cruise because I’m really gifted into like no I’m going to have to really push to make it here, and then I think the third is probably like lifestyle adjustments right like oddly enough like I think the experience for most NBA players is there’s a lot more free time than there is in college, you know college, you might wake up at six or 630.
Alex Auerbach: And then you worked out and then you go to class and then you go to practice and then you have shooting and then you have study hall and somehow In between there you’re managing to eat your meals and then in the NBA you might show up at 930 or 10 and go through treatment and then go through practice and then do a little bit of work afterward.
Alex Auerbach: And then you’re kind of done because we’re trying to help you recover also and so now it’s figuring out like well how do I leverage this time to really facilitate my performance and make better individual performance decisions or health decisions so that I am ready to go, you know in college, a lot of those choices are made for you and so I think there’s a big learning curve around becoming a professional and really thinking about them internalizing that identity like that this is not just I wanted to still be fun and be a game, but it’s not just a game right it’s also a career it’s also my job it’s also what I’m being compensated well to perform at and that takes a different level of investment engagement and individual work toward figuring out how I do this as best I can.
Cindra Kamphoff: Yeah, absolutely and I was thinking about the to the last two three mindsets that we talked about stress is enhancing mindset so important in that transition that you see stresses as helpful, but also that recoveries and investment, and when you’re talking about showing up consistently is there anything specifically that you see athletes doing to be able to do that.
Alex Auerbach: Yeah, that’s a really good question, I think it starts with how you think about what’s being asked of you, and so I think the best athletes have sort of thought through how to leverage and maximize practice and what practice can really mean for skill development and skill acquisition and Like there’s you know classic stories of Koby Brian if you want to go keep in the NBA where you know Kobe Bryant shooting routine starts like a foot away from the basket Kobe is like one of the best shooters that we can remember, but it starts with these really simple actions and then builds on them, slowly but surely, and if you watch guys today like Steph Curry.
Alex Auerbach: I mean steps now doing some fun stuff where he shoots from you know the third level the bowl in the arena, but besides that right is warm up looks very similar right he starts close any sort of moves on, but I think there’s a way that they’re thinking about these routine tasks that allows them to engage and really appreciate just how important these things are for their overall development and their overall performance, so, in a sense, there’s this attitude around not taking the little things for granted, not taking practice or these small moments for granted.
Alex Auerbach: And then I think you know, the second piece is the idea of self-regulated learning which there’s a lot of data on particularly European soccer around you know separating like athletes that make national team appearances from just those who perform at the club level, which obviously you know if you’ve made it to that level and pro soccer you’re very, very good.
Alex Auerbach: But there is still a difference between that and national team appearances and really it’s this idea that they you know, setting goals they actively monitor their progress toward those goals they evaluate themselves, and then they adjust and they keep going through the cycle and developing their skills, and I think rather than going through the motions are sort of just relying on whatever your coach is telling you obviously need to listen to your coach but you also need to have things you specifically are trying to improve.
Alex Auerbach: And I think if you’ve got that really clear and it becomes easier to sort of maintain that consistency and lock in and to you know do things that make you feel engaged like we all feel better.
Alex Auerbach: If we’re seeing ourselves make progress, and this has been really clear way to do that, so those would be probably a couple things that I think the best athletes are doing and you know if I think about that in the context of like some of the people who might be listening, I think the same things would apply right it’s like taking advantage of those watercooler bumping moments are preparing for your meetings, even if you don’t feel energized by it necessarily right or making sure that you have some kind of routine where you show up and do your best of these things that you have to do every single day.
Alex Auerbach: And then to setting goals for yourself right like setting goals and figuring out how it is that you can continually work toward them who you need to rely on to give you feedback and how you can evaluate those things yourself right, those are core pieces of mastery in any profession.
Cindra Kamphoff: Yeah, I love what you said about fall in love with boredom and I think the example of Steph Curry or Kobe Bryant you know shooting really close right the easy tasks and be able to master those and I think about how many times we don’t want to do the tasks that are very exciting, you know even in my business, and in my life right it’s like sometimes you have to force yourself to do that so at least embrace it, that was a better those are really good word that you said is like embracing the boredom or embracing like the practice so there’s a couple of other topics I want us to cover Alex and one is about performing under pressure, and I think about especially as athletes are coming into the League and I’ve done a lot of work in the NFL it’s a little different in the NFL because there’s a lot more athletes than the NBA right but there’s a lot of pressure as you’re trying to make the team and show up consistently like you said I’m curious even you know what you’ve seen in terms of what the best do so that they can kind of thrive, under the pressure.
Alex Auerbach: Yeah, it’s a really interesting area, and I think it’s important for all of us, and I think your comment about the NFL it’s interesting because there are so many different milestones in the NFL to like when you’re trying to make a team and the times, you can get cut you know it’s very it’s very interesting, you know, going from now like 990 man roster to 53 man roster. You sort of spend like what I’m imagining is six to eight weeks, and this basically like a pressure cooker.
Alex Auerbach: That dynamic is really hard, I think. Some of the same things with a would apply, so I think like staying invested in your recovery staying invested in the things that will help you show up consistently every day is really important.
Alex Auerbach: And some sense we talked about this as like you know, focusing on the fundamentals, I think a bit a little bit differently, like there are going to be times in these pressure moments, you do have to showcase something special that might not necessarily be fundamental.
Alex Auerbach: But I think you know fundamentals big picture in terms of like lifestyle decisions I think it’s really important in these moments right so, especially if you’re needing to perform under pressure for eight weeks like if you are, you know pushing and pushing and pushing and pushing and pushing eventually you’ll struggle with that I kind of think of it like weight lifting right like if you bench press every day for eight weeks it’s only a matter of time before you tear a pack and it’s not because you’re weak or anything else because you didn’t recover, and so I think you’ve got to stay with that I think the second piece is you know, focusing really heavily on what you can control there’s so many factors.
Alex Auerbach: In sport and other pressure situations that you can’t really control, you know you can’t control like in we’re using the football example or basketball example like you can’t control what side of the bed coach woke up on or what pressure someone else might be facing when they come out to practice or what your teammate did last night that might affect you today, especially in like these two highly interdependent sports.
Alex Auerbach: But what you can focus on is doing your best and what it means for you to show up and give 100% of whatever it is, you have to give away, I think, is really important, I think you know, going back to that stresses, enhancing mindset, by focusing on an opportunity to perform, I think, focusing on this as a challenge and something you’re capable of rising to versus something that might cause you to crumble or falter I think is really important.
Alex Auerbach: And then, if you want it to get it like really narrowly into sort of pressure moments, I think there are also a couple other things you can do there, so one would be identifying kind of a clear fixed goal, like in a clutch moment.
Alex Auerbach: There are these experiences like yeah, we go to the end of a basketball game, or the end of a football game where your kind of like on a two-minute drive right like knowing what it is, you need to accomplish is really, really important, and so in those pressure moments.
Alex Auerbach: Having this kind of vague or open-ended sense of like just to do your best I don’t think is actually going to help you get where you want to go right doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give your best effort it just means you also need to know what the task at hand is and have a really clear sense of how you’re going to get there, or what steps would go into performing under pressure in this context, so I think that’s one, and then I think the second element would be making a really conscious decision to increase your effort so again in these kind of pressure clutch moments we do have a choice about whether or not we’re going to like withdraw or shut down or ramp up and give our best and push just a little bit harder.
Alex Auerbach: And so, in like a very short timeframe under pressure situation, making that conscious decision to give greater effort, in addition to the challenge appraisal can actually help us perform better too.
Cindra Kamphoff: Awesome here’s a couple of things I wrote down to summarize.
Cindra Kamphoff: Controlling what you can control helps you deal with pressure of seeing as an opportunity to perform, especially if you’re feeling stress or pressure.
Cindra Kamphoff: And then I wrote down this idea of the process right because I was thinking about Henry wising or wrote a great book called perform under pressure and he talks about how we feel pressure when the outcome is uncertain, the outcome is important to us, and we feel judged by the outcome and so many times I think in pressure moments, we can be focused on the outcome, you know what’s going to happen if this doesn’t go well, or if I missed the shot, or you know, or if I mess up here I’m going to get cut you know.
Cindra Kamphoff: And, and I like what you said about in the moment having it cleared fixed goal and then increasing your effort say a little bit more Alex about like why you think increasing your effort is really important, and maybe how that doesn’t naturally happen for us.
Alex Auerbach: Yeah, so there was a great book written by Alex Hutchinson where the whole premise of the book is ultimately a little bit about how we have more say in the effort we’re putting forth in physical tasks, then we might ordinarily feel, and so I think there are a couple things that might be going on here, so one is like most of these pressure packed moments that were describing where you consciously choose to increase your effort come at the end of something you know it’s very rare that that pressure packed moment is happening when you’re like fresh and there’s nothing going on and you’ve got all your energy right so probably in a fatigue state you’re in a place where it might not be natural to think about giving more for it might actually be really hard to imagine what it would be like to try even harder than you’re trying right now.
Alex Auerbach: You know you think like the end of a marathon or these other really intense endurance events where like people don’t know if they have any more, to give but the reality is, we often have a lot more to give than we think we do.
Alex Auerbach: You know our brains are designed to sort of like keep us in check and gave us a little bit in terms of how much we put forth.
Alex Auerbach: Not because they’re bad because that’s like evolutionarily advantageous right like the goal as a person is to perform at an adequate level with minimal energy that’s like what we’re all wired to do, but in these moments that is not conducive to peak performance either right minimal energy is not going to help you perform in a moment under pressure, so I think you’ve got to kind of consciously override that natural instinct to not just maybe the best way to think about is like just get by right like to just maintain you’ve got to make that decision to sort of kick it into gear, and so I think that’s one part of it, but then I think there’s also the second part, which relates to the appraisal element which is you know in these moments, if you do think of this pressure packed moment that’s the threat because you feel like you’re going to be judged on the outcome, or the outcomes in certain like some of these elements you’re describing there is a little bit of a self-protective mechanism that says like okay well if I write down my effort now.
Alex Auerbach: there’s something I can fall back on it’s not like self-handicapping right like Oh well, you know I didn’t give my best or. I just shut it down or whatever like I had nothing left to give I’m like well mostly that’s not true right like this is also a choice that you made to suggest not push forth for fear of how you might be evaluated or whatever else it might be, and so I think you’ve got to override that a little bit and that comes with a praising it as a challenge and then making that decision, like okay I’m going to rise to that occasion.
Cindra Kamphoff: Awesome I love it Alex this is so fun talking to you about these topics.
Cindra Kamphoff: Likewise, the last class I know it’s like could we spend a couple more hours. But I’d like to ask you one final question as we wrap up and I saw your recent tweet that said your kind of talking about the case against affirmations so share your thoughts on that and what you’ve seen in the research.
Alex Auerbach: Yeah so, I’ll answer the second question first, because I think it’ll help with the first question, but you know the research is really interesting so that tweet came from.
Alex Auerbach: A good friend of mine his name’s yours your day he does a lot of research in sport out in Norway and he published this paper about soccer players and essentially the idea was actually the best players sort of devalue their ability or their skill relative to their teammates they think that they’re not as good as they might be and what they found is that actually that appraisal just ended up being slightly more accurate, because what it boils down to so it’s not necessarily thinking that you’re bad it’s just thinking that thinking more accurately about what you might be good at, and what you might not be good at and, and so the athletes who don’t have that tend to misrepresent their ability or misjudge what they’re actually capable of and that can be really good for your self-esteem, but it’s not particularly good for performance and in the long run your self-esteem, is likely to crumble because it’s built on something that’s not real, and so I think that’s the real case again self-affirmations is it’s, not to say that you shouldn’t speak positively to yourself or be compassionate to yourself it’s to say that really if you want to perform well the goal is not to necessarily be nice to yourself, the goal is to be accurate and accuracy and honesty is going to go much farther to facilitating your ultimate performance than it will to sort of like rah cheer yourself on.
Alex Auerbach: And again, like, I want to get some very nuanced because I want in you know certain moments, I think positive self-talk can be really helpful.
Alex Auerbach: But it could also bleed into inaccurately judging a situation right and so you’ve got to really balance these things, and so you know, to me, where the self-affirmation stuff sort of goes wrong is it doesn’t ever help us to say things to ourselves that we don’t believe are true and you can’t really trick yourself into believing something by repeating it, day after day.
Alex Auerbach: If you have no evidence to back it up like you can’t build your self-esteem or your confidence on a house of cards you’ve got to build it with real stuff.
Alex Auerbach: And so I think that’s where this data comes in and it’s really interesting because it’s not suggesting that you don’t speak positively to yourself it’s not suggesting that you don’t be kind to yourself it’s not suggesting you don’t believe in yourself, it’s suggesting that you learn to be more self-aware and accurately appraise which are good at what you’re not so good at, and if you can do that well over the long run, it will be better for you.
Cindra Kamphoff: Excellent what a great way to end Alex way to bring it today. I really appreciate I know people as they were listening really learned a lot you’ve got us really thinking about some really important ideas so if I could summarize today, we talked about three mindsets.
Cindra Kamphoff: Growth mindset, with a dash of fixed mindset a stress enhancing mindset and recovery is an investment mindset and we talked about specifically this idea of how rest is really important, and how realizing your innate talents and really owning those strengths can be really helpful.
Cindra Kamphoff: We talked about how to deal with pressure and, specifically, how we need to fall in love with boredom I really like what you said there and then the ways we talked about dealing with pressure are controlling the controllable.
Cindra Kamphoff: Staying focused on the process finding the opportunity in the moment and then you talked about in the moment when we’re feeling pressure, having a clear goal, and increasing effort and, at the end this idea of being accurate and believing what we say to ourselves, like making sure that it’s actually accurate right.
Cindra Kamphoff: Thank you so much for being here on the high-performance mindset How can people reach out to you and learn more about your work.
Alex Auerbach: Yeah, well first Thank you so much for having me.
Alex Auerbach: You can find me on Twitter at Alex our back PhD you can find me on LinkedIn with the same information and then, if you’re interested in the work, I’m doing I’m working on a cohort-based course through may have been that we’ll talk about some of these things, and so I would love to have people join would that be.
Cindra Kamphoff: Excellent and so should they just reach out to you and let them just say hey I’m interested Alex tell me when it’s ready.
Alex Auerbach: Hundred percent yep just find me on LinkedIn and drop me a note, and as soon as we’re live and it’s go time, I’ll get you going.
Cindra Kamphoff: Excellent Thank you so much for joining us today, Alex.
Alex Auerbach: Thanks for having me.