All posts by Andy Walker

Science and technology author and writer. Personal Development Coach. Author of the new transhumanism book Super You

What’s next for me?

by Ayanna Sealey, Mental Toughness Coach

Picture this:

You are on the field, on the court, on stage or wherever your performance domain is. Suddenly you hear a crack or a pop and you are met with the worst pain of your life. You have just experienced what most performers fear the most- a life-altering, and perhaps career-ending injury. Suddenly, you are swirling with thoughts of:

“What’s next?” or “Who am I if I am not (insert type of athlete or performer here)?”

As an athlete or performer, so much of your identity has been wrapped up in your sport or performance domain of choice.  You rarely think of what you would do if things were to end, which is probably a good thing while in the midst of high level performance!

However, the truth is that the vast majority of athletes and performers will not be able to perform at an elite level for their entire lives. Some start off in their sport or in the performing arts as young children and end their careers in their late teens, whereas others become really serious in their teens and perform into their late 30’s or 40’s.

For each person the journey is different, but most athletes and performers must face what can be an extremely frightening point in their careers: Retiring either due to injury or due to the diminishment of excellent results.  They are then forced to walk away from their goals and dreams, which can feel like a great loss or let down, at times almost like part of them has died.

So, the question becomes: When faced with this daunting decision, what can you do to cope?

1)  Allow yourself to grieve:

This can indeed feel like a loss, so allow yourself to feel all that you are feeling. Seek out support, whether that is from family, friends, or by speaking to a sports psychology professional.

2)  Reach out to others who may have experienced something similar:

Going through a potentially career-ending experience can feel pretty scary and isolating. Therefore, it is important to know that you are not alone and even that others have gone through something similar before. Speaking to others who are either going through or who have gone through this type of transition can be both comforting and a positive resource of what actions you might take next.

3) Accept:

Even the most tenacious and persevering person may have to face the fact that no amount of treatment or therapy will get them back to the point that they once were. Accepting what’s next for you (even if you would like it to be different and wish it weren’t so) will aid in the process of discovering what the next step is for you.

4) Align yourself with other interests or other talents that you possess:

Quite often we define ourselves solely by our sport or performing domain of choice. When you explore your other interests (such as writing, coaching, or painting) you can then lean on them in these tough times.

5) Stay Positive:

Although this might be easier said than done, positive thoughts or mantras can help you discover a frame of mind in which you can create new possible avenues and dreams for yourself.

Transitioning to a new dream or new career can feel overwhelming, but it is not impossible and it can actually be fun!  Instead of thinking of all the negatives, resisting the transition, and wishing it were different, if you can encourage yourself to stay open, you may discover wonderful aspects of yourself that you never before knew existed that may now be expressed!

Why Do We Preach that Failure is Necessary?

by Heather Cribbin, Mental Toughness Coach

I know, you’ve heard it many times before, but it’s hard to believe right? I mean, how can you, as a competitive athlete, or a high performer of any kind, actually take on the old adage that “Failure is the best teacher”. Reeeeally?

I was a typical 14-year-old girl, pretty darn athletic, but well, you know…My older boy cousins spent a month at their cottage every summer, and this was our annual weekend pilgrimage. I was both looking forward to it, and dreading it, with predictable 14-year-old angst.

The water was glassy, and my uncle shouted, “The ski gods are calling!”

“Ladies’ first,” they teased.

With a low rumble the boat pulled away from me as I floated on two skis, staying level until the perfect moment.

“Hit it,” I yelled.

The motor roared and the boat leapt ahead, the force pulling me out of the water effortlessly. Almost immediately, I gingerly slipped my right foot out of the neoprene binding and into the rear location on the back of the slalom ski! Despite a wobble, I was triumphantly upright. Gradually I worked my turns out of the wake, looking pretty darn fantastic I told myself. “My cousins will be impressed,” I mused.

My Uncle’s feedback took the self-satisfied grin off my face. He said to me, “IF YOU DON’T FALL, YOU’RE NOT TRYING HARD ENOUGH.”


Failure is Necessary

Passion is an essential ingredient to learning. Passion causes your brain to wire what it’s doing, and to do so stronger with every lesson. When we’re taking risks, walking a fine line between succeeding and failing, we’re engaging our passion. Whether we succeed OR whether we fail, we have an opportunity to harness passion, and have it contribute to the growth and training that we desire.

So get out there, live on the edge, swing out, play your biggest game. Don’t be afraid of failure or mistakes, as that fear is what will make you tentative and less passionate. Obsessing with looking good and/or training within your comfort zone will NOT get you the results you want. Embrace when things go sideways: Know that you are on the edge of your best learning and skill building when you make a mess of it.

Be reminded by your errors and failures that you are doing exactly what’s needed to lock in what it takes to be the best in your field! It’s necessary to be on the edge of your ability to push yourself to the next level that will lead to your success.

That’s what we mean when we say “failure is necessary!”

Resilience equals results

Being a competitive athlete sure sounds fun, and cool, and all that….but what friends, family, teachers and coaches don’t get is how *^¥+\~** (insert your expletive here) stressful it can be.

The good news is that by training your brain (as diligently as you train your body), you can create superhighways that link your response to those adaptive behaviours that will get you through the most stressful times, and make the rest feel manageable.

Resilience is the magic word!

With repetition (read: practice + training) you can get mentally tougher, and weather the storms that have yet to come. AND you get to keep that competitive edge FOR LIFE!

10 Tips to Train Resilience:

  1. Choose Positive Thoughts – Notice when you think a negative thought, and chose to focus on the flip side.
  2. Reframe failure – Failure it is essential for growth.
  3. Know what you believe – Challenge your own belief system and get rid of those beliefs that aren’t serving you.
  4. Imitate role models – By mimicking what they do, you will be training brain patterns for success
  5. Take ACTION to cope – Don’t sit on your rear end and wallow, get in action.
  6. Embrace your fear – Your fear is never going away, so might as well embrace it.
  7. Lean on others and share – The most successful people do not do it alone.
  8. Practice self-care – Schedule some ‘me-time’ each week, no matter how busy you are.
  9. Know your character strengths and play to them – Of course train your weaknesses, but at the same time take full-advantage of your strengths.

Discipline your brain with awareness and choice – Training your brain takes conscious effort and discipline, check out our blog for more Mental Toughness Training Tips

Get mentally tough

Do you have the nerve?

By Ayanna Sealey,
MTI Mental Toughness Coach

As I watched this year’s Toronto Blue Jays Home Opener, I was struck by the fact that we were able to win both the New York Yankees’ and the Baltimore Orioles’ home openers. As it turned out, we lost our own home opener at the Rogers Center. Now, there is no hard and fast rule which says that a team WILL lose their home opener and these may have all been coincidences. However, it made me wonder if there were any major factors that could increase the likelihood of a team losing on their home turf in the first game of the year.

I was reminded of being a professional performing artist, with the memory of us standing in the wings on an opening night. I remember all the hours of rehearsal and all the preparation that we had endured. It was winding down and soon we would be able to show the world our work. Even though in sport, unlike in the theater, you play in many different venues and against many different teams, I would liken the performer’s opening night experience to athletes playing on their home turf for the first time of the season.

Here’s what I saw that might affect both performing artists and athletes on their ‘opening night’:

They might experience a greater abundance of nerves and excitement since the audience, such as media, or friends and family, are familiar to them and are in attendance specifically to watch them perform.
They could be more distracted and would have to divide their attention between these home-turf distractions and expectations of pleasing the home crowd.

As a result, for the home team, what is usually deemed as “normal” nerves could possibly be heightened in this occasion.

What can the athlete or performing artist do to combat opening night nerves:

Become aware: For starters, in these opening night moments it is important that the athlete or performing artist become aware of the unique challenges that this type of situation presents. This awareness can help athletes or performing artists to prepare in a different way than they would for the remainder of the playing season or for the rest of a show’s run.
Create a Pre-Performance Routine: This would include deep breathing, relaxation techniques, visualization, and/or focus exercises. These exercises are intended to slow down the performer’s heart rate and bring his/her focus back into the present moment, where performance can happen. It’s important you practice these exercises before practice/rehearsal sessions too, so you discover what works best for you.
Give yourself extra prep time: In the case of an opening night or a home opener, lengthening regular pre-performance practices or perhaps adding other exercises, such as mindfulness meditation could be helpful.
Shake off the nerves: If sitting still does not work well for you, then perhaps try “shaking off the nerves” by jumping around, shaking out your arms and your legs, and even screaming some sort of war cry; something slightly more physical could work to remove your nerves as well.
TTYL: It’s also important to set your boundaries with your friends, fans, and the media on opening night by saying, ‘Talk To You Later (TTYL)’! Inform them that you have a very specific routine to prepare for your game/performance. Let them know when that will happen, and what you will do, so they don’t feel slighted and you don’t feel responsible for entertaining them. When you communicate your needs before, during, and after the game, you will find a huge weight lifted off your shoulders.

‘Opening night jitters’ are definitely unique as they happen only once a season. However, if athletes and performers pay careful attention to their needs on that day, create a specific pre-performance routine and are in communication with their friends and fans, then these jitters may be managed differently. This Mental Toughness training will then allow the focus to remain on the execution of the game or show, where it belongs.

What is your “WHY”?

No, really. This post is about ME asking YOU a serious question. I can’t help you with this you see, because the answer to this question is uniquely yours. No one can give it to you, urge you toward an answer, or offer you a solution. The WHY you do things, anything, but especially this high performance athletic thing, is deep within you.

It’s important to know your WHY. Training is hard, there are as many bad days as good. Competing can be stressful, and sometimes you don’t get the results you want, and you need to go back to the drawing board so to speak. Life is busy, and complicated, and can sometimes get in the way of your athletic objectives. It’s essential to have access to the answer to “WHY am I doing this?”

So here are a few more questions to help you unearth and shine a light on your own special “WHY”:

  • Why do you choose to play or compete?
  • Why do you train so hard?
  • Why do you stick with it?
  • Why do you sacrifice for your sport, and what do you have to give up?
  • Why do you train your mental toughness?

You might answer all of these questions with “because I want to be my best”, or “because I want to win”. But the magic is in the details, the nitty-gritty, fascinating things that keep high performers striving to be the best. Try these questions:

  • What makes you get up in the morning?
  • What feelings do you experience the moments before the starting gun goes off?
  • What has you put in extra training time?
  • What fuels you to reach for more, push a little harder?
  • What do you feel when you’ve completed a workout?
  • What do you tap into to push past fear? What does it feel like to conquer your fear?
  • What resources to you need to grapple with failure? What does success mean to you?

Knowing your WHY will:

  • Help motivate you
  • Get you through the dark days
  • Have you be more disciplined in scheduling your life
  • Push you to reach for more
  • Sustain you through injury
  • Lend meaning to the repeats, the falls, the sweat and the tears

Most importantly, the WHY will elevate your successes, from simply a score in a competition, to something that fulfills you. Everyone has a story, I’d love to know yours.

Reach out to me and share your WHY – or what you think your WHY is, and I will give you some feedback to help you develop it. CLICK HERE

How to visualize to win

How to visualize to winA killer technique that elite athletes use to hyper perform is visualization.  When  our coach talk to young athletes, it amazes us that very few athletes know how to do this. And yet it can massively impact your performance.

How to visualize before competition

The most effective way to use visualization is to help you be prepared for anything on competition, game or race day. Through brain research we know that to the human mind, there is no difference between the actual experience and an imagined version. Your brain cannot tell the difference between a performance you are in and one you put yourself in with your mind’s eye.

So to take advantage, an athlete should prepare for each key moment and situation that could happen on competition day.

Be specific and detailed

Build a complete mental picture, covering all five senses. Image what the competition looks like at the start, during and at the end.

Visualize what you see, what you hear and even what you can smell. Imagine the physical sensations. Imagine how it will feel as you do well and the events unfold the way you want them to.

The more specific you can be with the sites, sounds, and emotions, the more calm and confident you’ll be when the real event happens.

VIDEO: Accepting failure is one of the best success strategies

Work with your feelings not against them, says mental toughness expert and sports psychology consultant Dr Sean Richardson (at 4:50 in this  TEDx video). Accepting failure is one of the best success strategies. But that is tough to do. It’s tough in athletics and business. You make decisions that keep you small and safe.

There are lots of awesome takeaways in this video, so watch it all the way through (it runs about 15 minutes), including these:

  • The capacity to delay gratification is the best predictor of success.
  • Keep your eye on the big picture and the big win and not the small wins along the way
  • Be results driven but action focused.
  • Growth mindset is the belief that effort cis what creates success…results is a measure of compensatecy and failure is an opportunity to grow.




Key findings in mental toughness research

The body of research conducted in the field of mental toughness has significantly grown the last two decades. Here are some of the key findings:

  • It is now recognized that physical talent is not the only component which leads to success (Gucciardi, Gordon & Dimmock, 2008).
  •  In the scientific and sport community, mental toughness is viewed as one of the most important attributes that will lead to a successful athletic performance (Bull, Shambrook, James, & Brooks, 2005).
  • At the highest level it is often the mental game which separates the elite performers from the good performers (Gould, Jackson, & Finch, 1993).

Psychological attributes of mental toughness

Fourie and Potgieter (2001) were the first to identify psychological attributes of mental toughness in sports. The researchers conducted a study which looked at written responses from 160 elite athletes and 131 expert coaches from 31 individual and team sports (Gucciardi, Gordon & Dimmock, 2009.) The data from these written responses showed there are 12 core components of mental toughness identified by the participants, including:

  • Team unity,
  • Preparation skills
  • Competitiveness
  • Motivation level
  • Coping skills
  • Confidence maintenance
  • Cognitive skill
  • Discipline
  • Goal directedness,
  • Possession of physical and mental requirements,
  • Psychological hardiness,
  • Ethics and religious convictions

Attributes needed to become a mentally tough performer

Jones, Hanton et al., (2002) set out to expand on the understanding of mental toughness by focusing on what essential attributes are needed to become a mentally tough performer.  The researchers recruited ten international performers who took part in interviews, focus groups and a rank order task.  To extend on their earlier research, Jones, Hanton and Connaughton (2007) conducted a study where eight Olympic champions were interviewed along with three of their coaches and four of their sport psychologists.

The main aim of this study was to develop a framework of mental toughness that would help to identify key attributes that are used in a number of different sports. This study is seen as one of the most in depth investigations to date (Jones, Hanton et al., 2007).

Researchers found 30 key attributes which differed from the 12 attributes which were identified by the international performers in their last study.  These attributes were put into sub categories within four central main dimensions. The first dimension was related to attitudes possessed by a mentally tough athlete. The other three related to characteristics which were relevant for three major aspects of an athletes performance: training, competition and post competition (Jones et al., 2007).  This is one the most in-depth descriptions of what types of mental toughness may be needed in specific contexts (Gucciardi et al., 2009).

Mental toughness in cricket players

There have been two recent studies which have focused specifically on cricketers (Bull, Shambrook, James et al., 2005) and soccer players (Thelwell et al., 2005) views of mental toughness. Both these studies have focused on mental toughness with a specific sport context. They are recognized as key contributions to the understanding of mental toughness.  Bull, Shambrook et al., (2005) interviewed 12 male English cricket players who were recognized as having high mental toughness. Analysis of the interviews showed  four core themes:

  1. Environmental factors : The foundation of the development for mental toughness. Within this theme it incorporated aspects such as parental influences, childhood background and exposure to foreign cricket.
  2. Tough character: This includes resilient confidence as well as competitiveness.
  3. Tough attitudes:  This included willingness to take risks; a “never giving up” attitude and determination to make the most of challenges.
  4. Tough thinking: This included being able to think clearly and having high self confidence (Bull et al., 2005).

Mental toughness in soccer players

Thelwell et al., (2005) examined mental toughness within the soccer population where he was trying to expand on the finding of Jones et al., (2002) study.  The study comprised of interviewing six male soccer players and comparing their soccer definition of mental toughness to the definition which was proposed by Jones et al., (2002).  From the results it was found that there was a high amount of overlap between the two definitions, however the soccer sample saw mental toughness as always being able to cope better than their opponents as opposed to just generally coping better.  In the study conducted by Thelwell et al., (2005) it was found that the majority of participants were not uniform in their understanding of what mental toughness actually was. From the results it was found that the soccer players characterized mental toughness as being able to react positively to situations and being able to remain calm under pressure (Crust, 2007).  However, from the six participants it was actually found that only half of them enjoyed being under pressure while performing.

Gucciardi, Gordon et al., (2008) provided researchers with a theoretical advancement into the area of mental toughness by interviewing 11 elite Australian football coaches which was developed from a personal construct psychology framework.

The researchers found three components that are key to the development of mental toughness: Characteristics, behaviors and situations.

The characteristics represented 11 bipolar constructs such as: tough attitude vs. weak attitude, concentration versus distraction and resilience versus fragile minded.

The situations related to the different events that the athlete experienced which helped develop mental toughness (e.g. injury, fatigue).

Behaviors related to what the athletes would do in situations that required mental toughness. This research was unique to the area of mental toughness as it looked at how you develop mental toughness (processes) and what outcomes come out from it.



Research shows fear can be erased from the brain

Newly formed emotional memories can be erased from the human brain, research has shown.

In 2013, researchers from Uppsala University in Sweden, demonstrated that it is possible to erase newly formed emotional memories. When a person learns something, a lasting, long-term memory is created with the aid of a consolidation process, which is based on the formation of proteins. When we remember something, the memory becomes unstable for a while and is then re-stabilized by another consolidation process.

So in fact, we are not remembering what originally happened, but instead what we remembered the previous time we thought about what occurred. What this suggests is that by disrupting the reconsolidating process, the content memory can be affected.

In the study, subjects were shown a neutral picture and at the same time were given an electric shock. The picture on it’s was neutral, but when coupled with the electric shock it elicited fear, so a fear memory was created in the subject.

Overcome your fear with our new FREE failure  prevention worksheet

To reactivate this fear memory, the picture was then shown without a shock. For one experimental group, the reconsolidation process was disrupted with the aid of repeated presentations of the picture. For a control group, the reconsolidation process was allowed to complete before the subjects were shown the same repeated views of the picture.

In the group that was not forced to recall the fear memory, the fear they previously associated with the image had dissipated. SO by disrupting the reconsolidation process, the memory was neutralized and no longer create a fear response. Using a MR-scanner, researchers showed that traces of that memory also disappeared from the part of the brain that normally stores fearful memories.

So, our fears can be erased: All it takes is allowing the fear memory to consolidate without repeatedly forcing a recall of the fear memory. Eventually any fear can dissipate.

Is fear holding you back from your ultimate performance as an athlete? If so, try our FREE failure  prevention worksheet

Why is Persistence So Important?

by Heather Cribbin, Mental Toughness Coach The Webster’s Dictionary says PERSISTENCE is the act of persevering, continuing or repeating behavior. It is related to enduring determination, doggedness and tenacity. Why persistence? You already work hard really hard, and you’ve got more than your share of talent!

Persistence has been shown to be the biggest predictor of success, in school and in work. It will be key to reaching both your athletic goals as well as any other goals you set in your lifetime. Persistence is an extension of Mental Toughness. It refers to the kind of actions that you take in the face of performance plateaus, setbacks, injuries, and failures. Persistence is a skill you develop overtime by training specific pathways in your brain. In other words, you can train yourself to be persistent because you can train your brain.

Persistence is related to resilience (see my earlier blog on this subject) and optimism. To persist at something with intention, is to presume that you believe you can alter the outcomes of your actions; meaning if you work at it you will get even better! When we fail, or get stopped in some way, we need to train our brains to stick it out. The three keys to developing the skill of persistence are:

  1. Become Aware: Is it your failure, or are you discouraged, or do you have low motivation, or do you feel pessimistic – what’s stopping you from taking action?
  2. Reset: Cue yourself to get conscious, shake it up, become optimistic! Ask yourself:
    • Has it always been like this?
    • Will this last forever? When you answer NO to these questions you engage your optimism and now you are ready to….
  3. Reframe: Plan what you can do differently to create a different outcome? Take a CAN DO approach. Remember the same actions often produce the same results, so what can you do differently? The daily practice of persistence can make this an unconscious way of being. Practice persistence by:
    1. Doing the hard things first
    2. Start your day with discipline
    3. Avoid your own personal pitfalls like things that demotivate or distract you
    4. Finish your workouts with your strengths, as a physical and mental reward
    5. Focus on your progress, don’t aim for perfection

4. Be Always Learning: Seek wisdom, get coached, find mentors, read personal development blogs and books, train your brain.

You know you “want it”. Want what? That elusive best performance ever of course! So train your brain to stick to it, keep at it, tweak your practice, and go back at it again and again. Persistence will lead to the perfect payoff!     Get Psyched! The Mental Toughness Team!