Dr. Nicole Linen is a Behavior Health Specialist with the Denver Broncos where she works directly with the team’s players and coaches and consult regularly with the Broncos’ medical, athletic training and player development staffs.
Her job is to offer mental health assistance and provide them with sport psychology support. Nicole spent 2017-20 at Auburn University, where she focused on giving clinical and sport psychology support to more than 500 individual student-athletes.
Nicole is a member of the American Psychological Association (APA), the Association for Women in Psychology (AWP) and the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP). She also was the founding faculty advisor for Black Women in Mental Health, a graduate student organization that increases and promotes mental health awareness in the Black community.
Nicole is a former collegiate basketball player who holds three post-graduate degrees from Wright State University: a master’s degree in clinical psychology (2012), a Master of Business Administration in interdisciplinary business (2013) and a Doctor of Psychology in clinical psychology (2015).
In this episode, Nicole and Cindra talk:
- Why it is important to focus on progress and process over perfection
- How to address anxiety including when your body is in control, your brain is in control
- Ways to address your self-talk when it is not serving you
- Why it’s important for everyone to do the tough work related to social justice
Cindra: Welcome to the High-Performance Mindset podcast. Dr. Nicole Linen. Thank you so much for being here on that episode. How are you doing today.
Nicole: Hey, thanks. I’m, I’m doing really well and just thank you for having me. I’m really excited for this.
Cindra: As well. I’m just looking forward to having a conversation with you and I appreciate everyone who’s listening to us today. So to start us off, Nicole. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about what you’re passionate about.
Nicole: Um, well, I’m passionate about sport and a former college athlete and basketball. And I’m also passionate about what social justice and mental health and how this all kind of meld together and so I thought my position now is pretty ideal, especially given the current social political moment. So I love to see people start from a certain place and then watch them kind of grow and develop more and more of themselves and just be better versions of themselves.
Cindra: Tell us a little bit about how you got to where you are now with the Broncos and just tell us a little bit about your journey so people understand about your background.
Nicole: Oh yeah so I like to joke that it started in jail. And so my training in grad school was a forensic psychology track and so because my career goal was to be a deputy warden in the Bureau of Prisons and so I was on postdoc in Chicago working at a juvenile justice facility and
I guess kind of some back story. I used to coach a year when I was in grad school, a basketball and I miss being in sport. And so while working in Chicago. I met Dr. Wendy Bobby, who is the performance consultant for Chicago Bulls. And I said, what is this thing that you do and how do I do it, it sounds really cool. So she kind of talk to talk me through her journey. And so I essentially quit my job. I had finished my postdoc position and opted not to stay on his full time and so I tell the story that I moved home and live with my sister for three months in her spare bedroom on an air mattress which is looking for jobs and I applied for the position of our university, which I got so that’s how I got into sport. I was there for three and a half years and then since obviously come to the Broncos. So a little probably unorthodox for most folks, but here I am, and I don’t regret the decision at all.
Cindra: Yeah, and I love how you took a risk right you said no to one area so you could say yes to the other. And I think that’s an important message is that that I heard in your story.
Nicole: Yeah. It was definitely a risk. I was, I was scared as I didn’t have, I didn’t have a job. I didn’t have a place to live my car broke down on the way back homes. I didn’t have a car and I was just kind of winging it. But I had the support of my family and I also had this like feeling in my gut like this is the thing I’m supposed to do. I don’t know what the thing is yet but I’m supposed to be moving kind of generally in this direction and it all worked out. So, yeah.
Cindra: Well, that’s a great you know, and I think that’s a really good message for people just to hear as you’re describing that when you think about this time period of coven and there’s just so much uncertainty. I think in sport in the NFL with athletes and coaches. What are your thoughts about how to best deal with all the uncertainty that’s happening right now.
Nicole: Yeah, I think it’s maybe cliche, but really it’s just control what you can control. There are so many like unknowns and you know, positive tests and doctors are finding out new information every day we don’t we don’t ever know what’s coming around the bend, necessarily, but what we can control is how do we spend every day. How can we be intentional about finding joy. Each day, how can we be intentional taking care of ourselves whether that’s exercising or spending time with family members. The best way you can. I know that folks talk a lot about social distancing really, it’s more for me about physical distancing and but saying socially connected because that’s usually super helpful if you have a support system around you. But I think the again the biggest thing is to control what you can control and be intentional about taking care of yourself.
Cindra: I think there’s so many things that we can’t control. You know, I feel a sense March, at least for me, it was a good eye opener. You know how to stay focused on what I could control because they were you know and Mike my son actually tested positive for COVID at the end of June, early July. And there was a really stressful time. There’s so many things that we had no idea about and so many things out of our control and just in terms of how long this is going to last. And you know what’s going to happen next. What are your thoughts about, you know, the space in pro sports and now that you’re working in it. One of the observations. I’ve seen is just, you know, there’s so much pressure in terms of that your performances always evaluated, you know, you could be cut or traded pretty quickly without even kind of getting any heads up. How have you seen kind of the best of the best deal with that? Kind of, from your perspective, and maybe advice that you give others for people to how to, you know, maybe who are experiencing similar pressure. If it’s in sport or in their job or life?
Nicole: Yeah, I think, um, one thing I like to kind of remind my athletes, is that you’re here for a reason. You didn’t get here because he didn’t have this skill that isn’t gonna be the best all the time, and it doesn’t mean that you’re going to be the best even on the team, but what you can do is be really, really good at the things that you’re good at. Right. And so why were you why we write it in the first place. Okay, let’s focus on that thing. And then just do that really, really well. If you can make yourself kind of irreplaceable then it’s hard coaches love consistency, so that if they know that I’m always going to get this thing from this guy, so we can count on him for that, then be really, really good at that and that doesn’t mean don’t be nervous about evaluations. I think having a little bit of anxiety can be motivating right if it makes you want to do. Well, if there’s no motivation, no anxiety, then you’re probably not going to care about your performance, but having a little bit of a performance executive can be a little bit healthy, you know, it pushes you to continue to be better to hone your craft and to keep practicing and so I’d say kind of embrace the low level anxiety and if it gets to be too much and let’s figure out a
way to bring that down. But I say embrace the challenge and then just be really good at what you’re really good at.
Cindra: Yeah so double down on that maybe people who might feel pressure might try to do too many things right, instead of just focusing on what you’re really good at and comfortable you intend to develop in that area?
Nicole: I sometimes even challenge my athletes to go be average because really, if you think about it, statistically, you’re going to be what your averages, so if you try to go out and be 100% the best you’ve ever been every single day, you’re probably going to be disappointed quite a few times ,but if you can go out and just be your average self, there’s a good chance you’re going to hit average. And then there are other times when you’re probably going to be even a little bit better than that. And that also feels more attainable. Like, that’s something that people can do like, Oh, I can go be okay.
Nicole: And sometimes being great feels like too much pressure. And so like let’s just go beyond the bridge. And coaches probably hate that I’m telling their athletes that but it works. You know, if I if you’re not afraid of being average in terms of like going and just doing well as opposed to doing great, you’re more likely to be able to stay motivated by the small wins in your performance.
Cindra: And perhaps when you’re feeling like you have to be great. That equals perfection. So average might emphasize more of like progress over perfection.
Nicole: I was just to say coming from athletes to especially if they’ve done youth sports and then through let’s say high school and maybe in through college, you’re probably like the best at definitely these four level and most likely have a high school level two. And so once we get into like the college arena and the professional sport arena, there’s, you know, the field kind of evens itself out. And so you’re maybe stressed out that you’re not the greatest anymore, not the best anymore. And so you’re right. If we can focus on your, your process and your progress as opposed to your perfection. You’ll probably fair a whole lot better.
Cindra: Yeah, yeah, I like that your progress and your process over your perfection. I work with a lot of just perfectionist in general they tend to experience a lot of anxiety and pressure. And that’s usually why they come to mental performance consulting. So I like that. I think that’s hard to practice right process and focusing on progress versus perfection. But yeah, really important to keep in mind.
Nicole: Yeah, and that’s what we break down our goals. Right. When we were talking about, like, what are your athletic goals for the year and so instead of saying like, I want to go win a championship okay like that’s an outcome. Like, what are the specific things that you can be
doing that practice every day that can ensure me, you’re going to be going you know, moving a little bit closer to your outcome goal. And so it’s like, well, I want to make sure I get 10 good reps of blank in our I want to make sure that I make, you know, 85% of whatever skill and so those are things that we have control over, but we don’t have control over whether we win the championship or not. Because even if we play our very best if the other team is playing even better at their best their go the championship. But if we can hang our hat on the fact that our process and our progress was excellent, and the best we can make it. That’s something to be proud of.
Cindra: Absolutely. And I think about people don’t necessarily know when to think about and focus on the outcome, and when not to and I find that you know, even when I’m training, it’s like okay I might focus on the outcome to stay motivated to get up early. I’m training for a marathon. And it’s like, Okay, I don’t really want to get up at 6am but finishing that race and doing well the race. I really want that. So focusing on it, then it could be beneficial but most of the time it’s it creates more anxiety or pressure. At least that’s what I see.
Nicole: Ya know, I see the same thing. And so if we can just like break that down into baby steps like we can totally attacked the baby steps, the big huge kind of goal that’s looming in the future, sometimes feel like it can feel insurmountable. But if we can just break it down into smaller things that you absolutely can accomplish that. That helps us feel a bit more motivated, a little more confident.
Cindra: Yeah, excellent. So Nicole. I know one of the topics that you mentioned that you’re passionate about his identity so as we kind of dive into this idea in this topic, tell us first. Like, how would you define what identity is and why do you think it’s important to consider in sport, but in you know in your work and your life in general?
Nicole: Yeah, so I just probably a million ways that define identity. I guess the way I see it, none of this is an actual definition, but just the way I see it, is how do we show up in the world and like what parts of us influence who we are, how we see other people and how we see the world and I think it’s important because, yes, we may be athletes or athletes. For some of us, but we’re also the other things, right. So I’m a woman I’m black, I’m a former athlete. I’m a sister. My fiancé. So I’m all these other things. In addition to this, this thing that I do. So, I think I didn’t use like how we show up in the world and who we are as opposed to, let’s say, sport is what we do. And I think it’s important to consider that because who we are and how we see the world can impact how we approach our sport, how we approach relationships with our teammates are coaches or other folks that we come in contact within this kind of sport arena.
Cindra: I think that’s so important because what I see sometimes is that that sport becomes who we are not what we do and what issues do you see when that maybe gets out of balance?
Nicole: You know, so it kind of goes back to the pressure, right. So if we think about an athlete who’s been injured and if they see themselves as they are an athlete and not just something that they do. It takes a huge toll on them. It can slow progress in terms of getting better over
the injury. But if we also think about there comes a time when every athlete has to retire. No one does their sport for their entire life until they die right and so It’s coming to terms with maybe when you’re transitioning out of sport, who am I if I’m not an athlete, what am I supposed to do with my life I’ve tried everything that I am into this one thing that is maybe not going to be a thing anymore. And so what I try to do is let’s look at the bigger picture. Like, let’s look at the whole pie. What other parts of that pie that maybe got slice a little too thin, because the athlete was taking up too much space and unfortunately when people get injured they have to deal with that. But I like to think of it as an opportunity to give more space to other pieces of the pie that maybe didn’t have time for before because you were so invested in being an athlete. And I think that when we can be more balanced and viewing who we are, versus what we do it takes that pressure off of being a perfectionist and making sure that we perform at 100% every single day. If you can figure out how am I coming into this sport and it’s not going to be the end of the world if I don’t perform well because I’m also a mother or I’m also an uncle or I’m also someone who enjoys reading or painting or there are other things about me. It won’t hit you quite as hard if maybe that that part of your identity isn’t going as well as you’d like it
Cindra: Yeah, I think that’s so good. And I’m wondering about, you know, maybe conversations that you’ve had with your clients about understanding there and maybe this is the right word term different identities are the different parts of their identity. How might you approach that conversation. I’m just thinking about people who are listening who may be over identify in one area and want to make some shifts or adjustments?
Nicole: Well first, I’d say let’s not be, let’s not beat ourselves up for maybe having over identified before because I’m sure it got you where you are today right like if you have put everything into being an athlete, it probably got you some successes. So like let’s praise your ability to work hard and put your all into this one thing but what I’d like to do instead is like, let’s add some more to your toolbox and so that we can be other things when the time presents itself and so really it’s about integrating our whole selves instead of putting so much into one part of ourselves. And so that might be. Let’s explore, you know, if you have a creative side let’s explore that a little bit, and how can we integrate that into even how you practice right so if you’re a creative learner,how can we apply that to you being a better athlete or how can we keep that separate and just see this is just a fun thing that I like to do and it keeps me full. It keeps me kind of creatively engaged with other parts of my life. And so a lot of the conversations I have is, like, how can we shelled being an athlete once practices over and give more time and space to the other things about you that may be a button push on the backwards a little bit.
Cindra: Yeah, excellent. And what do you think gets in the way of people being able to kind of show their full self or their you know, full identity. If it’s, you know, all of these different things?
Nicole: I think the two things that popped into my head or one they’ve not really had practice at being able to be their full selves and maybe the other part of it is being afraid. Right. And so if I’m in this space. Let’s say where, you know, especially in sport where a lot of like be tough and
don’t show emotion and be stoic, but there’s other really human part of me that we all are. And that has lots of emotions and has thoughts and feelings and can have my feelings hurt. I can be upset, but if there’s no crying in baseball. How do I let that show. Right. And so I think having practice at it having, having the space to just say out loud. Like these are the other things that I am and then giving the space to be able to practice that and be able to kind of get more familiar and more comfortable at being those things as well.
Cindra: I think it takes a lot of vulnerability. Nicole: Absolutely.
Cindra: And maybe acceptance of yourself in terms of this is who I am, you know, and I find in conversations that I have with men that it’s a little bit more difficult for them to show vulnerability for sure in sport because then it’s like, well, what if I, what if there are consequences or I get cut or what if you know, coach does it like this, or I’m thinking about leaders, too. And it’s like, well, and I have a client who is an executive and we were talking about showing more vulnerability. And actually when he’s done that in the last six months. It’s really led to more deep conversations and deep relationships.
Nicole: But it’s hard to do you know, because especially if you’re the only one doing it because it makes you feel like maybe you’re in the twilight zone, you’re doing something you shouldn’t be doing when everyone around you in the environment around you has been telling you over and over, don’t do those things don’t show those emotions. Don’t be vulnerable in that way. When, in truth, like you said, once you allow you to take that risk and you allow yourself to be those things. It’s often positively reinforced, like, Oh, that wasn’t so bad wasn’t the end of the world. And I got some good feedback from it.
Cindra: Yeah, excellent. You know, at the beginning, Nicole, you said that you’re passionate about social justice and I’d like to have a courageous conversation about that today and so kind of tell us what led to that passion and then I want to ask you some questions out how that connects with identity?
Nicole: Yeah, sure. So I don’t know that there ever been a time in my life where I wasn’t kind of aware of social justice issues. I grew up as a black person. I haven’t bought my whole life. I come from a family of black people specifically my grandfather who was also an athlete. He played and Negro League baseball and so I’ve always been kind of keenly aware of how the world views me and how that’s often different from how I view myself and how the people know me bass and those who love me, me, me. So it’s always kind of been I guess it’s just in my blood. Right. My grandfather was pretty vocal about social justice issues. My parents were super supportive of me can getting involved in learning about social justice issues. And so it’s kind of always just been a part of who I am, but it’s just been, I guess, more recently, in the past, let’s say, five to seven years where I’ve kind of dove in headfirst, let’s do this. Let’s be vocal let’s learn let’s teach other people. Let’s unlearn some of the things that maybe I had learned about myself and other people and let’s treat people like humans.
Cindra: Yeah yeah. Something we should all do and will always happen. So lots of different ways I could follow up on that conversation, but as a white person tell us your, or tell me you know the listeners who might be, you know, really intrigued on this conversation. What are some things that maybe would be helpful for somebody who is white to understand about social justice.
Nicole: Um, so I hear the word ally a lot and I have a little bit of a challenge with that. And usually the word Allah is given or taken by someone who sees himself as in the population that’s not necessarily being marginalized or press and I like to flip that on its head because I like to think of it as if you were burning if you burn your friend’s house down you wouldn’t be an ally and helping them put the fire out because you started the fire right and so I like to think, Oh, it’s a push people to take ownership of this problem. So, why people didn’t start racism. Right. And so we shouldn’t be the ones who have to educate people and protest and do all the things to put this fire out. We need our, our white sisters and brothers to take this as their own because this was an issue that we created. And so I want to do away with the word ally, because I think it’s been overused and misuse, quite frankly, I’m not sure how to replace it. But what I do want the sentiment to be is take up this fight as your own and do the work. The tough word and I think an easy way to start is just when you’re By PSE friends or family members or folks that you love tell you that things are happening just believe them. You may not have seen it firsthand you just think it’s unbelievable. You can imagine that ever happening. But if anybody wants to raise some racism to go away and it not be about race. It’s us. And so when we’re saying that it is about race. Just believe. You know what I mean.
Cindra: Right, right. I think that’s just powerful right there is like being a listening ear and believing and I think we were both card of sports psychology women’s group that got together to do. I’m trying to think how long ago that was. But also, I’m thinking about how that relates to sexism, just like believing?
Nicole: Yeah. Cindra: It’s like
Nicole: How many times as a woman have to say this thing has happened to me before someone believes her. It’s like, why would we, why would I make that up. It’s terrible.
Cindra: Yeah, I appreciate that. Nicole and so I’m thinking about your work in the NFL.
Cindra: Right now, and how this is a time where there’s most conversations about social justice and I’m thinking about the kneeling right and how people feel about that. But tell us why now it’s a really important time to consider maybe social justice within sport in general?
Nicole: Yeah. Well, I think it’s always been an important time to consider social justice and sport and social justice, social justice that large, I just think now people are thankfully striking while the iron is hot. While people are listening, while people are paying attention and so just like you know all athletes are human beings. They come with their own set of challenges and especially
folks of color are folks who are non-gender conforming or just folks who are in marginalized oppressed populations. They bring all of those identities to to this place of work that we call sport and so like I said, it’s always been important to pay attention. And so now that folks are paying attention. People are feel more empowered to speak up into talk about their experiences and to speak their truth and then also to ask for help.
Cindra: Yeah. So I go back to the conversation we were just having about identity and I’m thinking about. I know one topic that you said that you were, you know, really passionate about and I want to explore this more is really how specifically a black man or a man of color would develop their identity. So tell us a bit about where this particular passion comes from? And we can talk more about this and I could ask some follow up questions.
Nicole: Again, I’m having grown up in this body right and seeing how the world treats folks who look like me. It’s now I felt a really cool opportunity for me to step into this role and with my full self and to help other folks who look like me and folks who don’t look like me to understand what this experience is like, and also help them to feel a little bit more comfortable talking about their own experiences. What I found is that lots of folks have had these experiences, but just have never had this space to even say it out loud or they have said it out loud, and it was met with backlash or resistance and so they you know they felt like, well, maybe this isn’t a safe space for me to do that. And so I’m definitely using my role to have more conversation so that it doesn’t. So we don’t feel like we have to be courageous, we can just talk as if we talk about anything else, I want to have conversations that make people uncomfortable because I think in the discomfort is where we grow. I want to use my position to help other folks educate people about, you know, what is, you know, what are the isms racism, sexism, homophobia, like what are these things that are happening and what can you do to combat them and so when we talk about our guys and their identity and kind of developing that big. It’s not that they didn’t know it’s just now. Nothing. No, let’s give them the tools or develop the tools to have them have the language for it and have the language to have conversations with other people or have give them the power to fight back. Whereas, maybe before they didn’t have those opportunities.
Cindra: Yeah, I could see how you are a safe person to have those conversations with, you know, I’m just thinking about kind of you’re bringing your whole self into that conversation, but also because of confidentiality right that people are more likely to open up and with you to have those conversations now?
Nicole: And I hope so. And I think part of what makes me good at what I do is that I again, I bring myself, but I also bring my experiences like I’ve been through some of the things that these guys have been through, I witness all sorts of oppression and micro aggressions every single day. And so I’m not, it’s not foreign to me. And so, not that I’m glad that I have gone through those things, but it absolutely helps me be empathic when we have these conversations. And it’s like, I totally get what you’re saying. When you feel you know what you feel about this certain experience and so really my job isn’t to be the expert on their experience. My job is to be the expert on what can we do to kind of combat that bring some equity into the room and empower you to make change. If you choose to because that’s the
other thing is, some folks will become aware of what’s going on, but maybe choose not to do anything about it. Or maybe they don’t feel comfortable now is not the time and that’s okay for me to write as a feminist you know, I strongly believe that folks should have the choice to, you know, pick what’s best for their lives. And so it’s really my job to present the options and then we can discuss what feels like the best option for you?
Cindra: What are some of the things that you’ve seen just so far, kind of in sport in general and how kind of issues related to race may play out there. Maybe can you give us an example or two of just what you’ve seen
Nicole: So, and this again keeping in mind that I’ve worked in multiple places, but I’ve seen some folks who, so most of the athletes that I work with our folks of color, specifically their black folks and so that obviously comes with a set of, you know, worldview and being black is not a monolithic experience. But there are certain things that lots of black folks have experience and so I think sometimes what happens is this world this this sport worlds and actually the world in general is set up for rich white men. I think we were in that last week right and so when we put black folks into positions where they’re supposed to thrive, but the rules are set up for that white people will succeed. And so sometimes if a black person is put into position and they’re not doing as well as folks around them would want them to. It now becomes an issue of race, as opposed to, let’s look at the system that they were put in that wasn’t set up for them to succeed and I’m thinking about, let’s say college athletes, especially might come from lower income families or just a system where they didn’t have access to too much right maybe their education, wasn’t that good and then they’re put into a college situation where they’re expected to achieve in the classroom and also be seller in, you know, the playing field, but because we know that social economic status and race often intersect and now it’s become they’re just not doing well. It’s these black kids that aren’t doing well when it’s like hey, let’s think about where do they come from and that’s not to say all black people come from low sex backgrounds. But if there’s often a correlation not causation, but a correlation. So if we can maybe stop and look like. First of all, what is the system that is set up and who set the system up and who is the system for and yeah, let’s make sense about will it, it’s no wonder that the folks that we put into the system aren’t doing well because the system wasn’t made for them. And so they’re in that sense, they’re destined to fail and so I like to give my job as being the one to point out the system is flawed, not the guy, and it has nothing to do with his race. It has to do with what system. He’s been put in that wasn’t made for him.
Cindra: I could see that sometimes just having conversations about the system can make people feel uncomfortable, right, because maybe they’re, they’re the people in power. And so I got to examine the system that I created and so I could see that sometimes that can be a really difficult conversation or just difficult thing to point out.
Nicole: Yeah, and I think another thing to to point out is that just because we’re questioning the system and hoping to change it in quite, you know, to be transparent. It doesn’t mean you have to lose power. It just means can we, this isn’t like a little pile. I guess if I make myself a bigger piece, you get a smaller piece like no power can be equal, right, if, if those in power are willing
to either look at what the system is and kind of distribute power equally or if folks who are disempowered fight for it and get loud and protests and do all the things that they have to do to have their voices heard. And so, yes, it’s uncomfortable because I think change is uncomfortable, especially if we’ve always done the things we’ve done because we’ve always done it that way, but again, growth, does it come from being comfortable growth comes from being uncomfortable. And if you’re willing to kind of take a look in the mirror and see what part, what role you play in either setting up the system or being complicit in the system or perpetrating the system, then we can make some real change.
Cindra: You have. Thank you, Nicole for just providing that courageous conversation and helping us think about social justice issues. And yeah, I want to make sure that I asked you a few questions that maybe you would be considered kind of mental performance topics. And there was one question I wanted to ask you about self-talk and I know you’ve worked with a lot of different athletes and performers and that’s a conversation or a topic that you’ve talked about a lot. Tell us about maybe how you might teach that topic and some of the principles around the topic of self-talk that you can help people to embrace?
Nicole: Yeah, so one of the things I started off with is that we talk to ourselves more than we talk to anybody else and so there’s a lot of conversations going on, and some of them are helpful and some of them are not. And so my goal is to, like, let’s kind of look through what are the things that we’re telling ourselves and let’s pick up the stuff that’s really good and helpful and let’s keep that and then maybe this stuff that needs a little bit of work or that’s not helpful. That’s ineffective. Let’s tweak that let’s change that. Let’s throw it out, you know, let’s make some changes. So the second part that I like to talk about when I’m thinking about self-talk is we often have a hard time understanding that we can impact ourselves but we do usually pretty well and understanding how we impact other people. And so I usually go through scenario. So let’s say someone’s self talk is, you know, super doubtful there’d be they’ve been beating themselves up and so I said, let’s put your, your closest friend in the same scenario. Let’s say that your closest friend wasn’t performing that well they’re having a really hard time and you walk up to them and say, man, you are terrible. I don’t even know why you play this sport and so they look at me. And if I can never say that. And I was like, why not, why wouldn’t you say that, and they’ll say, well, because it’s mean, and that’s okay. And how might your friend feel if you said that and they’re able to say like oh gosh, I felt terrible and don’t have confidence and it’s exactly. And that’s exactly what you do to yourself and so my like takeaway for them as always talk to yourself like you would talk to your team and sometimes it takes practice because a lot of athletes have really, really good like lots of practice at bad self talk. And so they’re experts at it. And so what we got to do with unlearn that negative self talk and we learned some good stuff some stuff that’s going to help you stay motivated and say, accurate and that’s another part is, I’m not trying to get you to think that you’re perfect and he never make mistakes and everything you do essentially to me most, what I am trying to get you to understand is we spent a lot of time focusing on the negative stuff and not quite enough time focusing on the positive things that we do and so I just want your self assessment to be accurate. And so even if that same friend were to mess up and you said, Man, that was terrible, but you also did blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, really, really well. That’s probably a better way to
approach your friend, which means it’s probably a better way to approach yourself and so if they can’t remember anything else I tried to just have them. Remember when I say this to my teammates, because if I wouldn’t, I shouldn’t say it to myself.
Cindra: Now I’m thinking about. There could be lots of ways people can apply that if they’re not an athlete right, like I say this to my partner. When I say this to my kids or when I see a coworker.
Cindra: The times we wouldn’t, you know, I think, Nicole that we lie to ourselves a lot, I saw what I appreciate what you said is like what is, what is your self-assessment accurate. I like I thought that was really good. And it’s like so many times we’re telling ourselves things that aren’t necessarily true or were exaggerating it.
Nicole: There’s like a nugget of truth in there, but then meet like you said exaggerate. Let me blow it up, it’s not usually as bad as we make it.
Cindra: Right, exactly. Or we generalize, you know, just because I I performed terribly in this stadium or I’m going to perform terribly. I know you mentioned earlier that anxiety was also a topic that you talked to a lot of performers about tell us a bit about what you’ve seen in terms of anxiety or stress and let’s kind of get started there?
Nicole: Okay, so when you when you say, you know, anxiety and stress it immediately makes me think back to what we talked about with perfectionism because it wouldn’t be anxious, if you know, didn’t care about your performance you just go into it and whatever. And so often what I try to get our athletes to do is have one. Let’s again let’s evaluate our self talk is anxieties usually perpetrated by the things that we tell ourselves or how we’re interpreting situation if the situation, didn’t matter you wouldn’t care, you wouldn’t be anxious. And so what are the things that you’re telling yourself that makes us anxiety. Keep going and then let’s also figure out what is happening in our bodies that makes this anxiety kind of maybe escalate and so I try to attack performance anxiety in two ways, one cognitively like what are we saying to ourselves, what kind of things go through our minds and then the second kind of part of that is, how does it affect our body. And so if we can get our bodies under control. It’s often easier to get our brains out of control as well so that might be something as simple as breathing like figuring out how to get our breathing under control, managing our heart rate if rigid or like if we’re kind of jittery, how do we get that. How do we get that under control and so when, when we can get them when I can get my athletes to focus on what’s happening in your body right now, it often doesn’t leave a lot of brain power to focus on all the terrible things that you’ve been telling yourself if we could just kind of hone in and be grounded in this one moment on, let’s get my heart rate down. Let’s get my breathing more even and let’s focus on getting myself in like an optimal performance zone physically. There’s not a whole lot of room left to be anxious and have but the ruminating thoughts and the unhelpful things that we tell ourselves because you’re thinking about breathing, or you’re thinking about your body in control, so that
you’re not thinking about whatever is making me anxious and then when we can get our body under control. Now let’s tackle it. What’s, what’s going through our brains and so again, going through like our self talk. Okay, so that in popped into my head. How am I going to combat that, what is and then I kind of go through what is the evidence that you have. That’s true, yeah and evidence that you haven’t. That’s not true. And then if you had a really good friend who gives you really good advice. What might they say about the situation. So we often we like I’ll ask them a well what’s another way to look at it and say, I don’t know what this is the only thing I could think of. But they, they can tell you what their friend might tell them or what their mom might tell them or what their coworker might tell them, and so that helps them kind of get out of their own box in their own way of thinking and pushes them to challenge her own box.
Cindra: Yeah, so good. So I appreciate what you said about when your body’s in control, then your brain is likely to get under control more often right and this idea of that asking yourself like is is there evidence. This is true or evidence. There’s this is not true. I think those two things can be so helpful for anybody who’s listening because we can all feel pressure anxiety I do sometimes when I’m speaking, it’s like okay body under control and brain gets in control. I appreciate that. Are there any other tips or strategies you might have related to the topic of self talk or anxiety in general?
Nicole: Let’s see. Um, well, so I know I talked a little bit about the evidence for and the evidence against sometimes it’ll have my athletes do was kind of a practice journal. And so let’s say you know they go to practice and then if they’re typically ones who have a lot of negative self talk, I’ll have them kind of rate their practice on like a stoplight right so green, yellow, red, I don’t want them to get too into details, but like, oh, that was a seven and a half like this is keep it simple. And then, then I want you to be intentional about pointing out the things that you did either just fine, or really, really well, I don’t want you to point out the stuff that you did bad because you have enough practice at that but there’s this let’s just point out the stuff that went well for you and once you have practice that just paying attention to something, you’re more likely to pay attention to it later. And so I make this analogy. It’s kind of silly but If we were sitting down eating and I said syndrome. You should really funny. You may not have been paying attention to it before, but now as you’re paying attention, you’re probably gonna start changing the way you chew because just because I said something just because I pointed it out and so if we can get them paying attention to something that it may not have paid attention to for they’re going to automatically start making changes and that’s usually my first intervention just pay attention. And so once you force them to pay attention and they know they’re gonna have to report back to me about their findings, they’re gonna start making changes immediately, even without me having to ask.
Cindra: Yeah, I like it, Nicole. One of the questions I asked, almost everybody on the podcast. And so, and this one. Tell us what failure means to you and about a time you failed, and I asked this question for a couple reasons really fascinating that everybody defines a little bit differently and that kind of shows you, I think just an important point. In general, like how we define failure is an actual to if we feel it. And if we experience it, but I’d love to also hear about a time that didn’t go so well for you, you know, as people are listening. They’re like, wow, Nicole so
smart. Tell us, but it’s also like, okay, we’re all human. We’re not perfect. Tell us about a time that didn’t go so well for you and how you would define failure?
Nicole: So, you know, I like to think of super smart and I’m an expert at what I do, but sometimes the interventions that I have, or the advice that I have doesn’t go really well and so there was a time when I was working with this athlete. And I just thought I had like the super great game plan like this is how we’re going to attack this anxiety ridden do this, this, this and also relatively green at this kind of sports like thing. And so I came up with this game plan and then like, okay, go do this and then I never saw it again. And I was like, well, they must be fixed because I gave them this really great intervention, but I think my failure was I didn’t listen to what they were bringing to me. I wanted to like have the full game plan and like this is what we’re going to do with no room to be able to kind of change paths, if we needed to. And then also not listen to myself, because part of it was like, well, you know, maybe if this doesn’t work. We could do something else. And, and so I kind of fatness, like, Nope, this or doing this. Sounds good. Let’s go with it. And so I think what I learned is number one. Obviously, listen to your client, that so I like whenever I started sessions. I like to tell people that you’re the expert on your life, in your experience and I’m the expert on like mental health and sports psychology. And so let’s put our expertise together and make a great game plan. And that’s not what I did. I was very much about had this great idea, it’s gonna be wonderful. And it’s going to work. And my guess is it did not work. I never saw them again, but I also didn’t trust my gut and My gut told me, maybe, step back, listen, take some feedback and so that’s been helpful even up into this point in my career is like learning to listen to other folks and what they bring into the room, but also trust my gut. And so knowing when to give a little bit and knowing when to kind of stay firm in what I know to be true.
Cindra: Yeah, that’s great. I had a similar experience, but maybe a little different but I worked with an athlete, like two days before the state championship and she she kind of like explained all these things that were going wrong and I gave her too much. Do that but I didn’t necessarily follow her and then she didn’t really know what to do at the state. Yeah, you know, and she just performed average. And so now, always before like a really big meet I’m going to just like just just focus now on one thing. I’ve given her two and a half things. But it was so I was just so excited because like there’s a sport thing and like this is my chance to shine like I’m going to show you everything that I know at once.
Nicole: Yeah, and I think what I’ve learned over time is just if you just keep it simple. That’s saying it in a simple way, and then kind of honing just very just one or two things that need, you know, to take away from this conversation has been a godsend.
Cindra: Yeah, that’s wonderful. So hopefully people listen to that and like learn from Nicole and I. Nicole, I’m so grateful that you spent some time with us today. And so I’m grateful for everybody who’s listening and here’s a few notes I wrote down to kind of recap what we are talking about at the beginning, we are talking about perfectionism and progress and process over perfection. I think that’s like a great takeaway people can use and like implement right away. We talked a lot about identity and, you know, is it what you do or is it who you are. Right.
And it just the importance of having like a holistic identity. I’ll use that word, and I appreciate the conversation about social justice and, you know, moving forward, doing the tough work and that’s on us to right or on me. That’s what I heard in that and then just the importance of looking at the system that system might not be set up for everyone equally to succeed and at the end, when we are talking about anxiety and self talk and just, you know, like when you get your body under control. That helps your brain. Get in control and just asking yourself, what evidence do you have that this is, you know, for against this is true or not true. So, Nicole. Thank you so much for joining us today on the podcast, how might they do that may be on social or different ways?
Nicole: Yeah, so I’m on Instagram and Instagram is Nicole since forever and yeah, that’s probably the easiest way. I have a Twitter, but I never on it. So that’s not helpful. If you have questions, though, like you wanted to reach me. Thank you, of course, is that what we talked about, or just like other things that seemed interesting you can absolutely email me my work email is Nicole linen at Broncos nfl.net and so that’s my direct email, feel free. I you know I think I’m on LinkedIn to you probably can find me there. Yeah, and I love taking questions.I always say if you don’t ask. You don’t know and somebody has answered my questions before. And so I love to be able to pay that forward.
Cindra: Love it. Nicole and if people enjoyed this conversation, you’re listening still right all the way through. We’d love to hear from you. So you can take a snapshot of wherever you’re listening. You could post on Instagram tagged Nicole and I. My name is Cindra Kamphoff. So Nicole, thank you so much for joining us. What kind of final advice or thoughts, would you have for people to close up.
Nicole: And I say, trust your gut. If, if you’re going to say to do that thing absolutely do it and be the absolute best out of that you can, you’ve got is really wrong and you trust it, I think you’ll go pretty far.
Cindra: Awesome, Nicole. Thank you so much again for being here. Nicole: Thank you.