Dealing with Uncertainty with Gratitude with Dr. Nicole Gabana, Director of Sport Psychology for the University of Massachusetts Athletics

Dr. Nicole Gabana is a Licensed Psychologist and Certified Mental Performance Consultant who specializes in helping athletes, teams, coaches, and other performers optimize their mental well-being and mental performance. She currently serves as the Director of Sport Psychology for the University of Massachusetts Athletic Department where she provides mental health and mental performance services to athletes and teams. She is passionate about reducing the stigma of mental health in athletics and helping individuals thrive in sport and life.

Prior to beginning her role at UMass in May 2020, Dr. Gabana was an Assistant Professor of Sport Psychology at Florida State University, where she taught graduate courses in sport psychology, supervised master’s and PhD students in their mental performance consultation training, and conducted academic research in athlete mental health and performance. She has been published in numerous academic journals and book chapters, and continues to be actively involved in research, focusing on topics such as positive psychology in sport, stigma-reduction programs for athletes, and how cultivating gratitude can help athletes, coaches, and teams to enhance mental health, resilience, and performance. Dr. Gabana received her undergraduate degree from the College of the Holy Cross, Master’s from Springfield College, and PhD from Indiana University Bloomington.

In this podcast, Nicole and Cindra talk:

  • How to deal with uncertainty right now
  • How gratitude is connected to performance and well-being
  • The best way to address fear
  • Why we should not make decisions driven by our emotions
  • How positive psychology is not just “being positive”
  • Why learned optimism is essential right now

“We can be highly motivated and hold ourselves to a high standard and still have compassion for ourselves, we don’t have to be either or, we can be both and.”- @DrNicoleGabana
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“We’re actually feeling beings that think, rather than thinking beings that feel.”-@DrNicoleGabana
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“So many of our experiences are positive experiences, also come from things that were out of our control at the time.”-@DrNicoleGabana
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“Gratitude practice allows us to balance out that perspective and take that attentional spotlight and turn it to the other good things going on in our life.”-@DrNicoleGabana
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Full Transcription:

Cindra: I’m excited today to welcome Dr. Nicole Gabbana to the podcast. How are you doing today, Nicole?

Nicole: Doing well Sandra Thank you. How are you?

Cindra: I’m doing great. It’s nice and sunny here in Minnesota. That doesn’t happen very often. So in October we have 70 degrees today. So I’m excited.

Nicole: Oh, wow. Yeah, we have some beautiful weather here to

Cindra: Nicole. I’m just really looking forward to our conversation. I know it’s really going to help a lot of people out there today. And so just to kind of get us started. Why don’t you share with us a little bit about your background and what you’re passionate about?

Nicole: Sure. So I’m currently working at the University of Massachusetts, where I serve as the director of sports psychology for our athletic department and so my primary role right now is providing mental health services and mental performance consultation to our athletes and teams as well as our coaching staff and support staff. So I started this position in May of this year and previously. I was working at Florida State as an assistant professor of sports psychology and so I’ve made a little bit of a transition into full time practice, which I’ve been very excited about, but my passion basically is helping individuals to thrive in sport and in life. And so it’s just really been a gift to find a career that I get to walk with people on their journey every day. So that’s kind of where my passion comes from. I, I really love the field of psychology in general. And I’ve always loved sports and so being able to merge those two fields has just been awesome and I would say my passion for that I’ve always been drawn to psychology. I really am fascinated by human behavior and why we do the things that we do and I played sports my whole life. I was a rower in college. And so I started learning about sports psychology. Unfortunately, the end of my collegiate career. I wish I had known some of these things during college but that’s what got me initially interested in this field, and I would say more broadly as a person. My Passion comes from a place of wanting to find a career a calling in life that would serve other people identify as as both spiritual and religious so for me in my personal life serving God is one of my primary missions in life, and I believe that one of the best ways to do that and serving others. And if I can do that in a career that’s really been my ultimate goal.

Cindra: Yeah. Beautiful. Thanks so much for kind of giving us an overview of your passions and why you do what you do. Tell us a bit about your experiences or rower in college. You know, I think about for me was my experience in college that actually led me to do this work mostly the times that I struggled because I wasn’t always a consistent performer. And even though it was a while ago I in my office at the university, I have this picture of me competing and it feels like yesterday, but then when I look at the picture. I’m like, Oh, it was it in particular, that like led you to do this work as a as a college rower?

Nicole: Sure, yeah, I can definitely relate to your experience because I think in some ways, it feels like yesterday and in other ways. It feels like a complete dream like it was another lifetime

and even though college is such a short period of time. It’s four years it was such an impactful time of my life and I kind of fell into rowing. I wasn’t a rower growing up or in high school I played other sports and I’ve always loved performing and competing and the team aspect and just being able to work together and achieve something. So I fell into rowing in college and just fell in love with it and it completely changed my college experience and just my outlook on on goals and life and obviously my career, I had an amazing coach in college, and that was hugely impactful and so yeah, I think it just sparked my interest. I heard about sports psychology and when I was in college, I definitely dealt with some performance anxiety when we would do or testing or on the rowing or commoner. And like I said, I wish I knew. Some of the things that I know now, but I was a psych major and was just trying to find a niche that I would enjoy. So I’m very happy that that sports like exists.

Cindra: Thanks for sharing that with this, Nicole. So when I think about just this time period of uncertainty and you start a new job in the middle of the pandemic. Right. And I’m also thinking about this question is I think about you, adjusting to a new role. What would you say is really important in terms of helping us to do that, you know, there’s just so much uncertainty right now? So I’m thinking about athletes or coaches business leaders even teachers and what they’re having to adjust to and adapt to what would you say is like really important for us to do in this time of uncertainty and change?

Nicole: Yeah, such an important question right now, and even, even as I’m thinking about it. I’m like, like deep breath right like first taking a deep breath and I know we talked about breathing in performance mental performance all the time, but it’s really such an important skill. So that would be my, my first piece self-care has been hugely important for me. During this time, and I know we throw around that term so commonly and we talked about self-care. But I think this is really more important than ever and not just at a superficial level, like, you know, taking a bubble bath or something. Those things are good, but really being intentional about this time. This is a new experience for all of us. We’re in a global pandemic. There’s so many things going on in our society and the media right now and you know the the racial injustice that’s going on. That’s kind of at the forefront and right now it’s nothing new, but there’s a lot in our political climate that we’re dealing with a lot with virtual work and learning a lot with furloughs and layoffs and financial family stressors. All of these things are going on. And so we’re dealing with a new set of circumstances that we’ve never dealt with before. So when our circumstances change our coping strategies need to adapt to that as well. So with self-care. It’s really about being intentional about what is it that I’m feeling right now in my reality. And then when I feel these feelings what kinds of coping skills or strategies can help me when I’m feeling X? So identifying the things that help when we’re feeling certain emotions when we’re dealing with certain stressors. That’s been the key for me. And along with that, I think, maintaining a healthy sense of self compassion that, you know, new times new challenges call for understanding that, you know, it’s not going to be like we flip a switch and we just adapt to everything automatically. It’s going to take some time and giving yourself some grace and allowing yourself to have that time to develop the routines and skills that work for you. Another thing that’s been big for me is just finding genuine connection. I think that’s one of the most challenging things right now with the social distancing and trying to keep everyone safe and healthy and take

precautions to do so.But still, stressing the importance of connection and finding that connection in new ways, and leaning on that social support during this time. Lastly, I would say gratitude and I know we’re going to talk about this a little bit later. So I’m really excited for that, but that’s been a primary area of research for me. And I would say is a huge component of my, my personal practice and also a lot of the work that I do with high performers is finding ways to cultivate gratitude and bring in that balance, just with all of the stress and the pressure and the challenges that we’re facing right now.

Cindra: Oh, so much there. I like the different things that you said is like when I’m feeling, you know, what am I feeling right now and what strategies, join me and I think that is personal right when I think about how do I care for myself this time. At this time, I’ve had to show myself some grace and compassion show other people more grace and compassion. Then maybe I have in the past. Right. And I was reading this research study this weekend, Nicole. And it was talking about what’s kind of summarizing a Christian Network about self-compassion and she was talking about how it’s like paradoxical, but you might think you know that the more kind of self-compassion. You show

Cindra: That you’re going to have to lower your standards, but her research actually suggest that, you know, the more some self-compassion. You have it actually increases your motivation and confidence and I think that’s so powerful right now is to like give ourselves some grace and show ourselves the same compassion, we would to a good friend.

Nicole: Yes so important and so challenging for high performers and high achievers. Right. Because we think If we if we give ourselves some compassion, like you’re saying that we’re going to like slack off or we’re not going to be holding ourselves to that standard but like you said, the research shows that it’s it’s actually really, really important and being able to adapt and stay resilient and take care of ourselves.

Cindra: Absolutely. So I know Nicole. You talk a lot about like this idea of and and both right at the same time. So I want to, I want to kind of, help, help us understand what you mean by that, and I’m thinking that the people who are listening are really going to appreciate your comments about this. But this idea of both and how can it help us kind of deal with uncertainty just share your perspective about that with us?

Nicole: Sure. And I think what we were just talking about the self-compassion piece plays into this nicely. So this is a DBT skill which is short for dialectical behavior therapy, which is just one of the many theories or approaches that I’ve incorporated into my work with high performers, but it’s the both and is, is basically this understanding that we can hold two things at the same time that may seem paradoxical. But actually, aren’t so we can be highly motivated and hold ourselves to a high standard and still have compassion to our for ourselves. We don’t have to be either or we have, we can be both. And so it’s this ability to hold two things that that seem contrary on the surface, but really aren’t. So in order to do that we need to get away from thinking in these absolutes are these extremes which is kind of this thinking trap that we often fall into this black or white thinking this either or. So if I’m self-compassionate than it means

that I’m, I’m not holding myself to the standard or I’m not highly motivated, if I’m feeling grateful for what I have. It means that I can’t validate the negative emotions or the difficult emotions that I’m feeling we, we need to get away from putting ourselves or limiting ourselves to these two extremes. These two boxes and saying I can be struggling right now and I can still be grateful for the good things that I have going on. So that’s how I think about it.

Cindra: How have you used this idea of both. And during this time period?

Nicole: I think the self-compassion piece definitely comes to mind starting a new job. You know, I think about this transition. And as you brought up earlier and naturally, I’m, like, raring to go. Like I’m super excited to be in this new environment and to work with our amazing coaches and athletes and staff and I have. I’ve had to pace myself a little bit because we’re dealing with all of these new challenges, I’m working virtually a lot of the time our athletes and our coaches and staff are dealing with so many stressors online classes furloughs lack of control and so much uncertainty and so the things that I was expecting to do coming in have shifted from when I accepted the job to when I started the job. So I think being able to understand that I can, I can do some of the things that I want to do, and I have to figure out, like what do my clients need right now and how I be supportive in the way that meets their needs and how can I also take care of my own needs, because I’m going through a global pandemic and dealing with a lot of those stressors. So I think this is a unique time because we as practitioners are also under a lot of the same stress and pressures that our clients are facing when that’s not typically the case right like our performers are dealing with things that are unique to them. And we’re kind of sharing some of that right now, sharing some of that reality which makes it interesting.

Cindra: You know when this code first started, you know, I heard a lot of messages about. We’re all in this together. We’ll get through this together. I’m hearing it less and less. But I think the power of this is, it is a shared experience. You know, we’re all going through it, maybe in different ways. But it’s all impact it’s impacted us all in some way. So I like the idea of both and I think that’s powerful for people who are listening to. So think that you can still be motivated to do your best and be compassionate and you know with yourself and I think all the other examples that you provided were excellent. So let’s talk a little bit about emotions and I think during this time the emotions, people are kind of sharing with me and I do a lot of key noting and training, Nicole. So I always ask people, when it’s virtual especially I say, you know, tell me two or three emotions that you have felt during this time period. And I’ve asked that question on all of my virtual keynotes. And it’s like, sometimes people are on from like the UK. You know, and so it’s kind of all over the world and people all reporting the same thing, you know, anxiety, frustration, uncertainty fear. So I think right now. It’s just a really important time where we’re talking about how do we, you know, what’s you know what’s important about her emotions and I know you talked a lot about not making decisions, driven by our emotions. Tell us why that’s really important, and especially right now?

Nicole: Yes. So I think the first step to this process is keeping that that both and in mind. So I would totally agree that’s been my experience in working with my clients as well and also some of what I’m experiencing is some of that fear of the uncertainty in the future and some of the

anxious feelings and even lonely feelings, you know, and not having that as much social connection as we’re used to. So I think the first step is is just allowing yourself to have those feelings and not judging yourself for it.

Cindra: Yeah.

Nicole: You know sometimes we got we get caught in this trap of, you know, I shouldn’t be feeling this way or, you know, I’m an athlete. I should be tougher, I should be able to suck it up or you know I’m a professional even like I I’m a mental performance professional like I should be I should know better, I should be able to cope with these things. And at the end of the day we’re all human beings and we all have feelings and it’s okay. You know, it’s not the end of the world to feel these emotions and actually we often see that when we’re able to acknowledge them and allow ourselves to have these feelings, it makes it much easier to kind of move forward. Once we’ve validated that emotional experience and we’re trying to deny it, or if we’re trying to tell ourselves that we should feel a different way, or we, you know, are bad for feeling those things we just kind of get stuck in that place of judgment and it starts to be a negative cycle. So feeling the feelings and knowing that those feelings. Don’t have to dictate our behavior, our actions, our preparation, I think is a really important distinction. So for me I like to keep in mind that I heard this recently that this difference between cowardice and courage is is not feeling fear. It’s what you choose to do after you feel that fear. Right. So can you feel the fear and move forward and act in any way. Yeah, and I think an important piece of the acceptance of our emotions is the fact that the way our brain has developed has human species is that our limbic system, which is our emotions center of our brain actually developed first so the, the feelings that we have are there for a reason, or a protective mechanism. They give us information and our prefrontal cortex in our cerebral cortex actually developed much later, and is kind of our thinking center. This is where consciousness decision making planning rational thought this is where that exists and that developed after our limbic system, which is our emotional center. So we’re not I think oftentimes we want to believe that we’re these intellectual rational beings, and we can just think our way through everything.
Nicole: When in fact, we’re actually feeling beings that think rather than thinking beings that feel so if we ignore that emotional component, then we’re missing a big part of how we respond in certain situations.

Cindra: Boom. Really good. That was awesome. I think that helps people just really understand what’s going on. And so I think let’s kind of unpack that a little bit and help people be able to know what to do with that. First, Nicole. I’m thinking about a book I read over this time period by Susan David called emotional agility and maybe you’ve read that as well but she talks about psychologist and she talks about the idea of like using our emotions as data, right, not as directors, and I think that’s exactly what you’re saying is, like, okay, this is just what’s important to me? This is information and it doesn’t have to direct what I do next, or you said something like our emotions don’t need to. Yeah, I think you said the exact same thing. And so knowing that this is how our brain has developed. What do we do now?

Nicole: Yeah, so I think awareness is a huge part of this. So, being aware of how you’re feeling in certain situations. So for example, you know, if I if I just observed myself in a high pressure situation and I noticed that I’m feeling anxious, you know, is that connected to this this fear of what if I mess up or what if I’m, I’m not prepared or what if they think I’m stupid or so, is it more cognitive anxiety is it physiological anxiety, like I have a tendency to, you know, just my heart starts to race my breathing rate increases, I get a little shaky and so, obviously, you know, like in in sports psych we talk about the importance of the interpretation, right. So I’m having these symptoms these physiological symptoms and what matters is not that I’m having the feelings or the sensations, but how I interpret this. So if I noticed my heart racing and my breathing and a little jittery and my telling myself, Oh my gosh, you’re going to mess up and Nicole: This means you’re not prepared and you’re going to do a horrible job and we exacerbates that and it tends to spiral, or am I telling myself I’ve, I’ve prepared for this. I really care about it. You know, I have this opportunity and I want to present my best self, I want to do well and it means something to me, that interpretation will often affect the, the effect that those sensations have on us. So I think just building an awareness of first the thoughts, how we’re reacting to our physiological sensations and the the mental skills that we’re developing that we’re working on to to deal with some of that that anxiety. If that’s the case, or whatever emotion that is, you know, in the context of performance or life.

Cindra: Mm hmm. I think that’s so important is you know when I’m thinking about the work that I do. And there’s a lot of athletes, especially that I work with that are overwhelmed by anxiety and I think your interpretation of that is really important and I like what you said about interpreting is I’m prepared for it and reminding yourself of the ways that you are prepared. You know, I know a lot of your work. Nicole is in positive psychology and I love reading about positive psychology. I’m actually just enrolling next week into like this positive psychology class, continue to learn more about that most of my life actually like I have my books by me categorized by subject and like that is all sports psychology and like this is all positive psychology. Amazing. Um, by tell us, so you know your research areas positive psychology and specifically gratitude, but I think people like even as they’re hearing us talk about this right and our emotions they might think that, you know, positive psychology is just all about being positive and I think sometimes people interpreted as that meaning you know we should just be positive and feel positive all the time and feel happiness and optimism. So tell us, what’s the positive psychology is from your perspective?

Nicole: Short and I think it’s in the name right so it’s understandable that people hear the term positive psychology and they think, like, you know, we’ll just be positive and I like there’s nothing more annoying, then when you’re feeling crappy and someone’s like, you know, just look on the bright side like everything’s everything will be fine or everything happens for a reason and like I truly believe that, you know, I says to subscribe to that notion. But when I’m really in the thick of it and I’m dealing with some negative emotions like that’s not super helpful for me. And I think for a lot of people. So I always like to debunk that myth that positive psychology is just expecting yourself to feel good all the time. So from a, from a scientific or historical perspective positive psychology as a science is essentially the study of human flourishing. So it’s the asking the question of what happens when things go well. So it kind of

came about in response to this traditional psychopathology model that looked at illness and similar to the medical model. So, you know, how do we treat illness. How do we treat when things go wrong and so in the 1990s positive psychology started to come about as hey we’re ignoring like whole nother half of the spectrum of what are the conditions that surround optimal experiences human flourishing community flourishing and for me when I was in grad school. I thought this is a perfect thing to merge with sports psychology and performance psychology, because we’re concerned with optimal performance and what happens when people are thriving and performing at their best. So I thought this would be a great way to take some of these principles from the general field of positive psychology and see if we can bring these in for performers and athletes and so it’s very strengths based and it’s essentially just expanding our understanding of how we perform at our best so it’s not to say that we should ignore. You know, the things that we need to improve on or we should just like be in denial of our weaknesses or what happens when things go wrong that that information is equally important. But if we don’t also attend to the conditions are our strengths, our abilities, our skills, the ways that we’re being resilient the things that we’re using to perform at our best, then we’re missing 50% of the information to help us enhance our performance in the future. So it’s definitely not just this think positive. It’s like we’re going to have positive and negative emotions, but how do we maximize our potential?

Cindra: Okay, excellent. I appreciate you just kind of providing some context. And I think about, you know, people want to learn more about positive psychology, I’d say we you could give us some resources to but I think Marty segments work. You know, and he’s really the first to coin this idea of positive psychology

Nicole: Yes, and I love Barbara Fredrickson, Dr. Barbara Fredrickson has a great book that’s titled Positivity. That’s a pretty easy read and definitely has a science base as well. But yeah, Marty Seligmann other positive psychology

Cindra: So good. I read about referred Nixon’s book several years ago. And what I liked about it was this idea of the three to one ratio right and it’s what her research over 30 years suggests is that we flourish when we experience like three positive or anyone really it’s empowering emotions to one disempowering emotion, but the Upward Bound is like 30 to one. So, people still flourish when they’re 30 to one and I think what’s powerful about that is really related to what you just said is, it’s not 30 to zero or three to zero, right? And so sometimes we want to push down the negative emotions, but as you just mentioned. That’s not helpful. So, Nicole.
You want your research area is gratitude and how it’s connected to performance and well-being and I looked at some of your research and read some of it. So I’m excited to talk to you more about it. What got you started researching this and then we can kind of dive into some of your findings?

Nicole: Sure. So this was kind of a happy accident and I like I always like to talk with my clients about, especially when we’re working with anxiety is this fear of the future and driven by uncertainty. Oftentimes, like I don’t know what’s going to happen. And we think of all the worst case scenarios that happen and everything out of our control. And I think we often miss the fact

that so many of our experiences, our positive experiences also come from things that were out of our control at the time. So, when I started grad school, I was assigned to as an associate instructor at Indiana University to teach an undergraduate course in positive psychology that was just starting. And I didn’t know anything about positive psychology and I was like, I don’t know, like I’m going to do it because I’m a PhD student and I’m I do what I’m told I was just so blessed to have some amazing professors and mentors there, Dr. Joel Wong who does a lot of research and positive psychology. My advisor, Dr. Jesse Steinfeld who does sports psych work and so I started teaching positive psychology and I just fell in love with it because I could see, you know, we would do these applied exercises in class and I could see the impact that it was having immediately in the moment with my students and for myself in my own relationships in my own life and one of the again another happy accident that was totally out of my control, but my mentor, Dr. Wong needed a research assistant over the summer for a Templeton grant that he was working on studying the science of gratitude and its impact on psychotherapy outcomes and also the brain. So I was able to be a research assistant on this project and started learning more about gratitude which has always been a big part of the way I was raised a big part of my spiritual life. And so it felt like a natural fit for me, but I was starting to learn about it from this new like scientific perspective and how can we improve mental health and well-being and how can we maximize performance using gratitude as an intervention a coping skill and mental skill and so again, I wanted to take that concept in it. It hadn’t really been examined too much with performers. There were a couple of studies out of Taiwan that had started to look at the impact of gratitude with athletes, but not in the US and so I started to work on that for my doctoral research and continued some of that research during my time at Florida State. When I was an assistant professor there, but it’s something that that I’ve done a lot of academic research on but I’ve also been consistently putting into practice and have seen such a market impact on the clients that I work with. And also, again, in my personal life.

Cindra: So I like what you just said about gratitude as a coping skill in a mental skill. Do you think that’s the same thing. How and maybe just share with us, like how athletes could use an you know I know there’s lots of different types of people listening might the corporate athlete, right, or a leader. I mean, I think we can really use this in so many different ways. But the idea that it’s connected to performance. So maybe start and just share with us, a little bit of like how we might actually use this and use some of your findings?

Nicole: Sure. So one of the things that I like to distinguish when I’m when I’m doing gratitude interventions, when I’m talking about cultivating a grateful mindset with performers is distinguishing between grateful thoughts and grateful emotions. So going back to our discussion about emotions always in control of the emotions that we have right so we think of gratitude and I think what often comes to mind is this warm and fuzzy. I’m so grateful. I’m so thankful. You know, like I have so many blessings in my life and you you’re thankful for the people in your experiences and it’s this very like heartfelt emotion which is wonderful, when we experience it. But oftentimes, like when we’re going through adversity when we’re struggling. It’s not like the first emotion that comes up for most people, not me, at least and so sometimes I think when we hear gratitude we expect ourselves to feel the emotion and what gratitude practice in terms of the science behind it is actually about is, it’s shifting our attention

to the things that are going well from a more cognitive perspective. So a lot of as, you know, a lot of the work we do is with attention focus right. Where is your attention. What are you choosing to attend to when we’re under a lot of stress and anxiety and pressure our attention wants to narrow it wants to focus on the negative because that’s how our brain is designed to protect us from threats and so gratitude practice allows us to balance out that perspective and take that attentional spotlight and turn it to the other good things going on in our life and guess what we don’t need to feel the warm and fuzzy feeling to be able to do that. So that’s what gratitude practice is about. So when you sit down at the end of the day. And you say, I’m going to identify three good things that happened to me and write about why that had an impact on me today, why am I grateful for that. You’re using to identify it from a cognitive perspective by putting your attention on those things and you don’t have to expect yourself to feel anything from that you’re just choosing to turn your attention to the good and then with time. The more that you do that, we see that that practice gradually affects the emotional experience so gratitude practice has a tendency to increase positive emotions, but from a cognitive perspective, I think it’s one of the mental skills we can use to shift our focus and maintain perspective in the face of adversity and that’s what I’ve seen in some of my research that I’ve done gratitude programs with athletes with general therapy clients and we see improvements in mental health we see increases in resiliency we see increases in team cohesion improvements in the coach athlete relationship increases in perceived social support, and there’s a number of other benefits that have been associated with gratitude practice but-

Cindra: Is there any research to suggest that having a gratitude practice helps you perform better?

Nicole: So I would say indirectly through those sport related outcomes. But as I mentioned, there’s this is kind of a new field that continues to evolve. I know there’s been some research in the past year or two, that’s come out on injury like post injury growth and using gratitude practice to cope with, you know, the difficult emotions and challenges of being injured and so I think it’s, it’s one of those things that we can use as a mental skill, it’s not the only mental skill out there, right so but yeah I would I would love to, you know, that’s a personal research curiosity of mine, as well as, like, how can we operationalize this you know, in terms of performance.

Cindra: Yeah, and you know, when I think about improving the coach athlete relationship, improving team cohesion, we know both of those are connected to performance. So, yeah. You said about indirect but that we can have these gratitude grateful thoughts and I think you’re when I think about using gratitude, my own life. I do. I do expect to feel grateful, but I appreciate what you just said that it’s like it’s, you know, kind of not get hung up on that. And it’s really about having first the great The Grateful thoughts. I read a study that having a great gratitude practice for 30 days and had a long-lasting impact over several months just because you did this in 30 days, even if he didn’t continue it. I thought, how cool is that that you know this practice really does have a lot of power. And I appreciate what you also said that it’s about like looking at what’s going well and so many times I think especially right now, man. There’s a lot of things to be focused on, it’s not going well, you know, or yeah, it was before.

Nicole: Yeah. And again, this is where that both and comes in, because it’s not about denying the difficult experience, right. So it’s not about being grateful that there’s a global pandemic.
It’s not about being grateful that you just suffered a career ending injury or grateful that you just got laid off. We don’t need to be grateful for bad things like they bad things happen and they, they’re not good. You know they’re there, it’s, it’s okay to have that negative emotion, but a lot of the research and this goes back to your question about performance is that we see that resilient individuals are ones that can still draw the good out of really difficult experiences and say, what gifts can I take with me from this experience. What can I learn, even if it caused me a lot of pain, suffering you know, did it did it afforded other opportunities to put things in perspective or was able to connect with people or did I receive support from people in my life during this hard time and choosing to attend to those things. In addition to allowing yourself to feel the negative emotion. I think again provides just that resilient mindset.

Cindra: Excellent. So I also know I’m thinking about positive psychology and this idea of have learned optimism. Tell us a little bit about this idea for you know, from your perspective, and how it’s really important right now to practice this?

Nicole: Yeah. So I love this term because learned optimism already implies a growth mindset. So, and this goes. This is the same for gratitude as well. And this was one of the findings that

we found when we were doing fMRI studies with the clients that we were we were participants in our research, we found that engaging in this gratitude practice actually increase the Neuro plasticity in our brain to in that area where it can be developed, like you can become more grateful over time. And it’s the same with learned optimism that you can become more optimistic and everybody starts at a different baseline. With that, you know, we all have different personalities. We’ve been raised in different ways. And there’s a lot of factors that affect the way that we interpret events, the way we see the world you know there’s biological and chemical factors that affect our mood in and our thoughts. So this idea of learned optimism is that we can basically train ourselves to find opportunities in the struggle and say this current set of circumstances is not ideal, but how do I take what I have and use it to work toward something better. How can I look toward the future with hope with some feeling of self- efficacy that I have some power and some control over my future circumstances because I can choose how I respond, I can’t choose what happens to me or some of the external environment or even some of the feelings are the thoughts that I have that automatically come into my mind and you know his shoes what happens, but I can choose how I respond to those things and that I’m going to make it better moving forward.

Cindra: Really good. Tell us how you have found this opportunity or found an opportunity during this time you know, just code in general. But I’m thinking, obviously, you took a new job. So that’s an opportunity, but tell us a bit about how you’ve been using some of the things we’ve been talking about, about gratitude and learn optimism and positive psychology in general. Nicole: Yeah, so I try to keep a regular gratitude journal every day. So I have like a guided one.

Nicole: And I highly recommend it because it like provide you a space. They have ones that have prompts, but mine just has the date and a couple lines so it doesn’t take me long like a couple minutes, I try to do that every day. I’ve also tried to find the good and the opportunities in what this time has given me so it’s taken away some things, you know, not being able to meet a lot of my athletes in person yet not being on campus in the capacity that I expected to but it’s also allowed me to you know, be back in the Northeast where my family is located. And so I’ve been able to see them more often, you know, I wouldn’t be able to like fly back from Florida all the time. So they’re just certain timing of things that I really value and appreciate the ability to drive to see them. And going back to self-compassion like you know, identifying what I need in the moment, what I’m feeling, how to take care of myself and sometimes it’s as simple as just like crying you know, I know that sounds silly but it’s sometimes that’s what I need. You know, sometimes my body needs to let it out and it could be crying. It could be, you know, sweating, getting a good workout in. It could be just being outside in nature and just taking in some fresh air when we’re on the screen all the time, but really trying to practice those things and they’re, they’re much easier to talk about and then I’m, you know, I’ve been learning firsthand and will continue, probably for the rest of my life to learn firsthand that it really does take intentional effort and practice to put these things into action.

Cindra: Yeah. Excellent. Well, Nicole. I’m so grateful and I know I’m speaking for everybody who’s listening, just for you to share your knowledge lots of gold today in the podcast that I know people are really going to enjoy this. And talk a lot about it. So here’s some things I got from the podcast SOS taken a few notes. So thank you so much for the episode today and I really appreciate what we talked about related to self-compassion, having grace right now, this idea of self-care. And then when we’re talking about our emotions and. it’s okay to feel whatever you’re feeling that so many times we can you know feel bad for feeling a certain way, but I thought that was a really important message today to really validate your emotions and use them as information and just this idea of what we talked about the DVD skill of and both right that, that, you know, we can feel two things at once, or hold two things at once, just this idea of self-compassion and motivation. We were talking about, um, and then we’ll our discussion about positive psychology and how it’s not just being positive and the power of gratitude and having a gratitude practice this differentiation between gratitude grateful thoughts and grateful emotions and just how awareness is really key in this. So Nicole. I’m so grateful to be on today, or for you to be on today. How can people reach out to you and just share with us ways that maybe they can connect with you on social media or other ways?

Nicole: Sure. Well, thank you so much Center. I really appreciate this opportunity and it’s so nice to chat with you about these things and I would say the best way to get in touch with me is through Twitter so my Twitter handle is at Dr. Nicole N I C O L E Gabbana G A B A N A so you can follow me on Twitter and I’m happy to connect with people and answer any questions. So thank you again. I’m very grateful for, for this time with you, Cindra
Cindra: It’s really fun what final advice or thoughts do you have for people who are listening.

Nicole: So I would say one of the things I was thinking about because you mentioned, and I’ve heard this on your podcast in the past was about how you define failure and yeah, I, I just, I like I love this quote, and I would say this is a good thing to kind of leave with and something that I try to tell myself but this Nelson Mandela quote of I never lose either I win, or I learned so I just love thinking about that in terms of, you know, when we feel like we failed when we feel like we messed up or we have messed up. You know, like when you when you do have those moments of just like wow that did not go well, finding ways to have kind of like a post event reflection and say, okay, what did I learn from this experience and what am I going to take with me moving forward and also celebrating those wins, because that’s important right now.

Cindra: Excellent. Thank you, Nicole. So I either win or I learn. We always ask people that question. I didn’t ask you today. So thanks for closing with that.

Nicole: No problem. I just, I love that quote from Nelson Mandela, so I figured that was a good point to end on.

Cindra: Perfect. Well, thank you so much. Nicole and thanks everyone for listening today.