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Podcast Interview for Crossing the Line Sports – June 2017

Expert Commentator for Spring St (US arm of the Mamamia Network)

I was recently asked to contribute to an article on anxiety in the city. Find the article here http://www.spring.st/city-causes-anxiety-fixes

Recent Article re: Performance Edge Psychology

Read it here http://www.bizhubmaroondah.com.au/content/1493/

The Wellbeing Project @ Nicholes Family Lawyers March 2017

I came to present The Wellbeing Project to Nicholes Family Lawyer in March 2017. Interestingly, I happened to come on a very busy and pressured day.  Some solicitors were unable to attend at the last minute. During the workshop  we discussed this and it highlighted how important self care, self awareness and being mindful in a high performance environment is.  In this session we focused on the concepts of wellbeing in the workplace, the neuroscience of stress, mindfulness, mindfulness and performance, flow, acceptance, uni-tasking and being technologically mindful.  It was a great interactive session and had much positive feedback.

The Wellbeing Project @ Gilbert+Tobin – February 2017

In February 2017 we presented The Wellbeing Project to Gilbert+ Tobin – a leading law firm in Melbourne. We covered so many topics in this two hour session with the aim of improving wellbeing and performance in the workplace. It was a privilege to share my personal experiences and psychological knowledge of high performance environments with the talented and hard working associates and partners. We know that rates of depression, anxiety and suicide are high amongst Solicitors/Barristers and that is why this work and conversations are so important and I am thankful for this organisation in addressing these issues.

Crossing the Line Summit – February 2017

It was a real honour to present at the Crossing the Line Summit in Sydney.  So many important themes and take home messages. Some key points were around wellbeing, mental health, athlete transition to retirement, career, identity, and doping. It was an honor to be on the panel with Kim Brennan Olympic champion, Vickey Roberts olympic rower, Jenni Screen Olympic Basketballer, Jade Edmistone Swimmer. Today also opened my eyes to some issues I knew little about such as gender transition in sport and doping in sport especially cycling. It was great to be there and be part of an open/honest discussion and to be able to contribute in a small way.

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774 ABC Radio Interview 2008

Just found this photo from back in 2008 when I was on the Conversation Hour with Ally Moore on ABC 774 with Kitty Chiller and Jacqui Marshal as guests.  We were discussing all things Olympics, athletes and funding in sports.

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Olympians Gala Dinner November 2016

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I had a wonderful night at the Olympians Club Gala Dinner and was thrilled to meet Dawn Fraser and hang out with my awesome friend and gold medalist Lauren Burns and many other lovely people. The highlight of the night for me was when Daniel Kowalski spoke on stage honestly about the reality and impact of competition anxiety. It had the whole audience talking about his comments and congratulation him on his eloquence and authenticity as this is still an area that we often don’t acknowledge or talk about.

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Ever Wondered What Actually Goes On In A Therapy Session? PART 1

Over the years – there are times when I tell people I am a psychologist I get met with these responses – “Are you psychoanalysing me right now?” “What am I thinking?” and “So you just sit there and listen to people talk all day?” It makes me think there are still quite a lot of misconceptions about what psychologists actually do and how we do what we do. We do not have special powers that can measure your whole personality within moments of meeting you, we are not psychics and there is a lot more to being a therapist than just listening (although of course empathic listening is important).

So what is it we do?meme

Psychologists have studied the factors that influence the way that people think, feel and behave, and use evidence-based strategies and interventions to help people to overcome challenges, improve their general functioning, performance, wellbeing, relationships and health. There are many different types of psychologists – clinical, sports, educational, health, forensic, organizational, neuropsychologists and counseling psychologists.

In my private practice I cover a wide range of areas predominantly clinical psychology (dealing with mental health conditions) and performance psychology (improving performance and managing anxiety in sporting and workplace contexts). This includes seeing both adults, adolescents and children with depression, anxiety disorders and other complex mental health issues. I see people with substance abuse, relationship issues, anger management problems, self esteem, and sleep difficulties. I also work with people wishing to improve their wellbeing and performance in sport or in terms of their career.

Many people actually find it really hard to make the decision to see a psychologist. It can be a really big step to take, to acknowledge there may be a problem that you need help with. There may also be stigma attached with the idea of seeing a psychologist – “only crazy people need to see a psychologist” or a belief that seeking help is somehow a sign of weakness. I really understand how difficult that first step can be for some people and my aim to always to make people feel as comfortable as possible, reduce the stigma, noramlise the process, and be able to engage with clients who walk into my rooms on an authentic level, and in a meaningful way. Basically I want my clients to know I care about them, will support them and try to connect with them in a sincere and honest way within a safe, relaxed and confidential environment.

The very first session is really all about finding out what prompted our client to seek help, a bit about who they are as a person and their background including work, family and social life. We need to do an assessment in the first session as to what is going on and form an opinion as to the predisposing, precipitating, perpetuating and protective factors for our clients – which is basically a formulation of the factors that has lead the client to be experiencing what they are currently experiencing. We need to asses if the client is experiencing a diagnosable mental health condition and what the priorities for treatment are.

It’s really important to provide feedback about the assessment, then work together to come up with a plan for treatment, goals, understand the expectations of therapy and how long it might take. I also believe its really important to give my clients as much information and education about the issues they are struggling with as knowledge is power. For example I may have a client that’s having issues with anxiety in the workplace or in anticipation of upcoming competitions/tournaments.  I need to ensure they leave my rooms with a really good understanding of how anxiety works, the vicious cycle it creates, what causes it, and what perpetuates it.

In my next post I will delve into what goes on after the first session. What kinds of treatments can a psychologist provide? What kinds of strategies? Do they work?

 

Caroline Was Named A “Great Australian” At The Great Australian’s Gala Dinner on the 15th October 2016

50 Great Australians were honoured on the night including Ray Martin, Kitty Chiller, Nova Peris, David Malouf, Normie Rowe, Wendy Matthews, James Morrison, Shane Kelly, Mark Thompson, Carol Cooke, and Duncan Armstrong to name but a few. A wonderful night and it was for such a great cause – raising money and awareness for Growing Hope, a charity providing support to those left behind by the tragedy of suicide. For more info visit http://greataustraliansgaladinner.com.au

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Interview with Lydia Lassila and Liz Ellis

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Lydia Lassila is one powerhouse of ambition, strength, determination and courage. She currently holds three world records, with the latest being the first women in history ever to perform a quad-twisting triple somersault. This jump was the most difficult jump ever done by a female aerial skier and earned Lydia a Bronze Medal at the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games. In 2010 she won an Olympic Gold Medal in Vancouver. Lydia has two children as well as being a successful entrepreneur having launched her company Body Ice in 2006. She wrote an autobiography called “JUMP” and has a documentary on her achievements titled “The Will To Fly”.  She has always be a real role model to me and I really wanted to  know what motivates her, how she manages being an athlete, entrepreneur and mum, and what she thinks about the gender gap in sport – so I decided to ask her!

1. How did you first become involved in your sport?

I had retired from gymnastics and was looking for a new challenge. At the same time The Olympic Winter Institute (OWI) were looking for ex gymnasts to begin a pilot programme to see if they could convert gymnasts to aerials skiers. I jumped at the opportunity!

2. Why do you think the Australian women have dominated in Freestyle Aerial Skiing as opposed to the men’s team?

Because we’ve generally only ever recruited women and ran a women’s program. We’ve had a couple of male aerial skiers in the past (90’s), but since those times David Morris was the first to really commit and fight for a spot in our team. He persisted and is now one of the best male aerial skiers in the world! Pretty good odds and we now have started to recruit more males:)

3. What are some of the challenges of being an elite female athlete? Have you noticed any differences between female and male athletes?

Not in our sport – male and females are rewarded equally. However, there’s an enormous difference between the profiles of various sports in Australia where certain athletes/codes receive a much larger financial reward and also receive more media and more recognition in general. It doesn’t mean they train harder or a better than the rest of us, but they certainly are rewarded more.

4. Why were you so determined to become the first woman to perform the sport’s most complex aerobatic manoeuvre?

Because I really wanted to prove that women were just as capable. I believed I could do it and it was important to see it through.

5. In your experience, how do you feel the media portrays female athletes? Have you ever had to face negative public scrutiny?

I prefer to be recognised for my on field performance rather than off field so I haven’t put myself in the situation of being publicly scrutinised. I think the media is improving in how they portray female athletes and the focus has shifted from physical attributes to physical performance – a step in the right direction.

6. Being the founder and director of a successful business, what issues do you think women face in the corporate sector?

I think the corporate sector is also shifting. More and more women are being recognised/respected and rewarded for their business performance however, those women generally have to really fight hard (harder than their male counterparts) for these positions. I enjoy running my business and I don’t feel that being a woman has hindered me in any way.…. I suppose I don’t get intimidated very easily:) It’s quite funny actually, most people assume I’m just the face or ambassador of BodyICE and are usually quite shocked when I tell them that I designed the products and built the business from the ground up (whilst being an elite athlete)!

7. How do you balance being an athlete/entrepreneur and a mother to two young children?

It’s not an easy juggle that’s for sure!! I find myself constantly prioritising my To-Do list and trying to focus on one thing at a time – which my experience in sport has certainly helped me with. I also have the right support team. We have a live in nanny who helps with the kids when I’m off at meetings or training. I also choose to work from home and have created a satellite team because I like the flexibility/freedom and being close to my kids(and I like hanging out in my trackies). I check in with my BodyICE team daily to make sure we’re tracking in the right direction. So all in all, I think I’ve designed a set up that works for me and my family whistle allowing me remain productive in sport and business.

8. What personal attributes to do you think athletes can offer in the world of business?

Athletes know how to work hard. They know how to set goals and make a plan to achieve them. They know how to handle being out of their comfort zone and managing risk and they know how to perform and deliver under pressure – all crucial for success in business.

8. You have decided to return to training and compete at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, your 5th Olympics. How did you come to this decision, was it a difficult decision to make and what kind of challenges and sacrifises to you expect to encounter on this journey?

There are certainly going to be some challenges as I have a lot on my plate these days. However, I arrived at the decision quite easily:) I just love being an athlete and the thrill and feeling of competing on the international stage is irreplaceable – no matter how much you jam into life and try to move on. I figure, if the motivation and love is still there, then I shouldn’t deny it. Aerial skiing isn’t a sport you can do recreationally so when it’s over, it’s over and the last thing I want to live with is regret of not trying to go to a 5th Olympics.

Liz Ellis is one of the most respected names in netball, with a remarkable 18 year elite career including 2 Commonwealth Gold Medals, 3 World Championships, 4 National League titles, 4 Most Valuable Player awards and an Australian record of 122 Test matches played. In 2009 Liz became a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in the Australia Day Honours for “services to netball and the encouragement of women in sport, and to the community through support for a range of charitable organisations”. Liz is also an experienced broadcaster and media personality. Liz has also always been one of my role models so I contacted her to be interviewed!  (Liz gave birth to her second child in April this year so I was so thankful to her for answering my questions!)

1. How did you first become involved in your sport?

My mum played and so I followed her.

2. What are some of the challenges of being an elite female athlete?

For me it was about trying to make enough money to live on whilst pursuing an elite career in a sport that was largely amateur while I played it.

3. Have you noticed any differences between female athletes in sports such as netball and male athletes in sports such as the AFL?

There are many differences between them – too many to analyse in a paragraph. At the end of the day though there are plenty of similarities too.

4. In your experience, how do you feel the media portrays female athletes?

The portrayal of female athletes by the media has changed over the years since I have been involved. Whilst the quantity of media coverage is increasing at a glacial pace, the quality has improved markedly. Whereas in years gone by the coverage would be somewhat patronising now it is informed and opinionated.

4. Can you tell us about the Liz Ellis Goals for Girls Foundation and why this is important to you?

The Goals 4 Girls foundation is my small way of giving back. AT the moment we are funding 2 scholarships for young indigenous women in the Tiwi islands to work as teacher’s aids at Tiwi College. I feel that we are making a difference to the lives of many young girls in this manner.

5. You hold a number of board positions. What do you think that women can contribute to leadership positions within sport?

Women bring a different experience to leadership. From a board point of view this is important as diverse boards tend to produce better outcomes.

6. How do you balance being an athlete/business woman and a mother to two young children?

I am very strict with myself about managing my time. I prioritise my children first but I also ensure that they understand that there are times when I have to work and that is important too. My husband and I try to co-parent so it allows us to work on our businesses and enjoy parenthood.

I am grateful to Lydia and Liz for taking the time from their busy schedules to chat with me.

Speaking at the MCG Women of the MCC – Celebrating the Olympics night – Oct 2016

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How Does Your Negativity Bias Affect You?

Did you know that we all have a negativity bias? This is the phenomenon where negative events, thoughts and feelings have a greater effect on us than positive events of equal intensity. The amygdala (our fight or flight response otherwise known as the alarm bell of your brain) uses about two-thirds of its neurons to look for bad news: it’s primed to go negative. Our brains are built to be more sensitive toward the negative, it stems from a protective evolutionary response to keep us out of danger. That’s great, but in today’s complex society it gets overused. Having a negativity bias is no longer necessary for our survival, but our brains are still wired to constantly be on the lookout for those saber tooth tigers coming to eat us in our caves.

We have all experienced it… you know when you hand in that report, do a presentation, or finish a competition and you may get loads of positive feedback from colleagues, managers, or team mates. But there may be one piece of advice, constructive criticism or comment in amongst all the positive that gets to you. It feels personal, it feels hurtful or it feels unfair. And that one thing goes round and round it you head and you can’t stop ruminating about it. It’s a common theme with the clients I see in my private practice.

Part of this negativity bias is that we are more likely to focus and dwell on something that’s gone wrong than on things that have gone well. For positive experiences to resonate, they have to occur much more frequently than negative ones. This of course can lead to an excessively negative and unbalanced way of thinking, and the problem is that mostly we are not even aware of it.

With no awareness of it, the negativity bias can have a serious impact on your happiness and quality of life. It might affect your sense of wellbeing, personal relationships, career prospects or even choices you make when presented with new opportunities. So, recognising this pattern of thinking in your life is the first step to change.

Simple as it sounds, gratitude is another antidote to this negativity bias. Actively practicing gratitude makes you feel better and has a positive impact on your health, wellbeing, relationships, and quality of work. How? It helps to re-wire the neural pathways in your brain to counteract the tendency to focus on the negative. I know gratitude journals are quite trendy right now, but don’t worry – if writing a journal is not for you, just try and think about 3 things you are grateful for at some point throughout the day.

And lastly, when something positive happens, try to take a moment to savor the experience. Replay it in your mind a few times so that the memory of the positive experience gets archived in your long-term memory.

Author

Caroline Anderson is a Psychologist and Olympian, and is the founder of Performance Edge Psychology. She sees a range of clients in her private practice and her company delivers presentations to athletes, sporting organisations, businesses and school on enhancing performance and wellbeing through evidence based, psychological and innovative approaches.

 Compassion for Athletes during the Olympic Games

Like millions of Australians I am glued to the tv right now. I am watching as must Olympics as I can and loving every moment. But there is something that is really getting under my skin. This article from the herald sun has made me really cross and is an example of the kind of reporting I am seeing. I am so utterly disappointed by the media’s reactions to the Australian team when they don’t bring home the gold. All the leading news reports were about the Campbell sisters “failure”, that they had “fallen short,” a “disaster” and have “cracked under the pressure”. Cam McEvoy’s “stage fright”. Newspaper headline are along the same lines. This article even has the nerve to criticise Jessica Fox for not getting a gold? Honestly – have we not moved on from this kind of thinking? Have we not learned anything? blue-81847_1920
These athletes have represented Australia time and again and proved their ability and their worth. They are champions – make no mistake. It is not a failure to place 4th and 6th at an Olympic Games. They gave it their all. And the thing that has struck me the most about this swim team is regardless of their placing, their pool side interviews have shown incredible strength of character, maturity, integrity and humility in quite young athletes. I was simply amazed how composed and eloquent yet clearly emotional both Cate and Bronte were just minutes after the race of their lives. They were so impressive. Bronte said “the Olympics isn’t about winning it is about trying to win” – probably one of my favourite quotes out of these Olympics so far. Cate said “I always said that I don’t need a gold medal to have self worth”. There is no way that one minute after losing my match in the 2004 Olympics that I could have strung a comprehensive sentence together. I can’t even remember, it is a bit of a blur now but I’m pretty sure I was lying in foetal position somewhere in the warm up area after I lost. I felt a failure, I was embarrassed, and felt I had let everyone down. So, I have so much respect for the Campbell sisters, in how they have handled themselves in not bringing home individual medals. I would also commend Channel 7’s poolside interviewer Nathan Templeton who has actually been incredibly positive in his interview style regardless of whether our athletes bring home a medal.
I was at an event a few weeks ago where Steve Hooker was interviewed by Dave Culbert. Dave asked him what it was that led Steve to win the gold at Beijing to which Steve replied “luck”. Now of course Steve was being humble but to some extent what he says does ring true. One day in four years you have to be at your best. You have one shot. Sometimes you get it right, sometimes you don’t. Just because a few athletes didn’t bring home a medal – does that mean that their Olympic campaign is worthy of being called a “failure”. And for some of our other athletes – luck, fate, hard work has all come on the one day and their performance has reflected their true potential.
What this highlights for me is just how hard the Games are. Whether you are a world champion or not – it is tough. As I was preparing for the Athens 2004 Olympics I thought I knew what I was in for. After all I had been competing at international level for over 6 years. But there was something I was not prepared for. I had no idea once I arrived in the village how difficult those two weeks would be. Being part of a very small team, I felt isolated, alone and there was no hiding from the pressure. It was more than clear to me from the coach and management in my team that the pressure to bring home a medal was not actually about me performing at my best. It was about winning to ensure funding for my sport. I was 24 years old at time, relatively mature I thought, training to be a psychologist – yet nothing could prepare me for that pressure. My coach didn’t talk to me in the three days leading up to my event. I was injured in training prior to my competition and I felt the only people I could count on were my family who came to Athens to watch. One day the late Peter Brock who was there as an athlete liaison officer saw me hobbling around the village on crutches. He sat me down and actually spoke to me with kindness and empathy. I don’t remember all the words of wisdom that he passed down, but I do remember the most important thing. Compassion. I will forever be grateful to him for that. I went on to compete, and I know I gave it my all. And no – I didn’t win a medal (the only question I ever get asked when my sporting background comes up in conversation). There was such a sense of failure from the team that we did not go to the closing ceremony. I was not forbidden to go, but was not particularly encouraged either and the four athletes from my sport did not go, neither the coach or manager. I left the games with sense of shame.
After the games I retired from competing. I actually needed some distance from sport and from the politics. So much so that for the next 10 years, I lived overseas, then returned and had nothing to do with sport. I focused my psychology practice on clinical work and in mental health. It was only a few year ago that I felt ready to become involved in sport again. I have started working with athletes and coaches on enhancing performance, wellbeing and managing that PRESSURE! It has taken me quite some time but I have realised that I have something to offer athletes and coaches given my experience. I get it. And now I am so passionate about applying my theoretical knowledge as a psychologist and personal experiences to my work with athletes whether it be at a state championships or international level.
Some of the work I do with athletes incorporates aspects of mindfulness and includes self-compassion in the sport world. Self-compassion is different from self-esteem. Self-esteem relies on the evaluation of self or others, compassion on the other hand is a non-judgmental kindness given to all. It includes self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. Self-kindness includes acknowledging individual imperfection, accepting it, and treating ourselves with kindness anyway. “Common humanity is an understanding that part of being human is to have imperfections and as because of that, we are never completely alone in times of life’s difficulties. Mindfulness is a present moment awareness allowed with non-judgment. Self- compassion has been shown to have many positive links between connectedness, emotional intelligence, self-determination, subjective well-being, and mastery goals. There is also an inverse correlation between self-criticism, depression, anxiety and fear of failure.” (Kuchar and Kraus)
We are a nation so focused on outcomes. Its so clear watching the coverage on TV. But as Australians surely we need to be asking ourselves, what is the point of the Olympics? What do we value? Is it about money or sport? Medals or stories of personal triumph? If questions need to be asked about the money put into sport and the medal outcomes, they need to be asked of the Australian team as a whole, the AOC, manages and coaches, not individual athletes. It also highlights that much more time, value and funding needs to be placed on the psychological preparation and supporting our athletes at Olympics Games. And despite what people think – for most athletes there is little funding.
Maybe we need to keep in mind the quote by Herb Elliott… “It is the inspiration of the Olympic Games that drives people not only to compete but to improve, and to bring lasting spiritual and moral benefits to the athlete and inspiration to those lucky enough to witness the athletic dedication.” I believe that compassion needs to be in sporting arenas. Compassion is often lost in the media frenzy surrounding our Olympic athletes. Please lets gets behind all our athletes and remember they are just humans like you and me. Its so sad for Cate to leave these Games thinking she made the biggest “choke” of Olympic history. She didn’t – it happens to great athletes all the time – thats the nature of the Olympics. Our athletes need our support, compassion and they need to know that Australian’s are behind them – including the media.

Author

thumb_IMG_3637_1024Caroline Anderson is the founder of Performance Edge Psychology. As an ex-Olympian, her psychology practice helps both athletes and people in business develop strategies for achieving peak performance through individual therapy or group presentations.

Please do not hesitate to email with any questions or comments – info@carolineandersonpsychology.com.au

August 2016 – Mindfulness Presentation to Price Waterhouse Cooper

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“Why I wish I had known about Mindfulness when I competed at the Olympics…” July 2016 Written for Victorian Olympic Council 

Mindfulness is a hot topic in current psychology, the media, in business and the world in general. I sort of feel like there is a “mindfulness revolution” going on and over recent year something I have become both personally and professionally passionate about. Why? Well, I guess I can see it was something that was missing from my 2004 Olympic preparation. Mindfulness has been around for a long time but wasn’t really applied to sporting contexts until around 2006. I wish I had the skills of being a mindful athlete back then, but I am so happy that now as a psychologist I can teach mindfulness skills to athletes, sporting organisations, coaches, schools and the corporate sector.
Mindfulness is gaining a great deal of attention along with more research to scientifically back up the benefits. Global companies such as Google now embrace it, world class athletes like Kobe Bryant promote it, of course Oprah loves it and locally even the AFL are on board.running-573762_1280

But what exactly is Mindfulness? It is basically about feeling more balanced, being in-tune with the present and able to respond to life with openness, clarity and acceptance. Mindfulness helps train the brain to help us stay focused, avoid distraction and perform at our best.

It is not a new concept, with its roots stemming from Buddhism, yoga and even martial arts. It is increasingly recognised as an effective way to reduce stress, raise self-awareness, enhance emotional intelligence, assists with memory, attention and decision making and improve work and sporting performance.meditation-1287207_1920

I have found that a lot of people have now heard the word on the street that mindfulness is good for us – but lack a deep understanding of what it is and how to apply it. Put simply, mindfulness is a process of awareness, not thinking. It’s about experiencing the moment with an attitude of curiosity, openness (rather than judgment) and have flexibility of awareness (choose what we pay attention to).

Sounds great right? But you may be thinking how can that help athletes perform at their best? Well… athletes can learn the skill of awareness and by practicing mindfulness. It helps us stay focused, avoid distraction and perform at our best. By not dwelling on past mistakes/losses and not worrying about the future negative possibilities, athletes can learn to pay attention to the only moment that matters – the present. Being 100% focused and present in the game/race obviously results in enhanced athletic performance.

All athletes experience some level of anxiety, fear, self doubt or stress in the lead up to major competitions. These emotions engage the fight or flight response which results from the increased activation of the sympathetic nervous system and the amygdala which in turn releases hormones such as adrenaline, norepinephrine and cortisol. Prolonged activation of this can result in decreased optimum health and wellbeing – which is obviously not great for athletes about to compete on the world stage.

active-948798_1920It’s now understood that mindfulness is one of the best ways to calm this stress response in the brain. Practicing mindfulness techniques helps improve the mind-body connection and allows us to notice our thoughts and emotions without getting attached to them. Frequent practice helps manage anxiety provoking thoughts and emotions that may arise during competition.

What’s more – its been shown in MRI’s that through mindful practice the amygdala “fight or flight” center appears to shrink and the pre-frontal cortex – associated with higher order brain functions such as awareness, concentration and decision-making – becomes thicker! Amazing!

Something else that has been gaining loads of attention lately is “flow” (the new name for being in “the zone”). “Flow is a mindset that typically occurs when there is a balance between the challenges associated with a situation and the athletes belief of their capability to meet those demands” Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990).

sport-1201014_1920Flow is when an athlete is completely absorbed, has lower self-consciousness, loses track of time and experiences greater intrinsic satisfaction. Performance becomes automatic and feels effortless. Flow is really at its core about present moment awareness – which is what mindfulness is right? So rather than trying to control thoughts, feelings research shows it is more beneficial for athletes to develop skills in present-moment awareness and acceptance.

How can we do this? Here are some basic tips…

  • Have a visual or tactile reminder during competition that consistently bring you into the moment
  • Using your senses (see, hear, smell, taste, touch) to build the mind and body connection in the present.
  • You do not need to ‘empty your mind’ or ‘push thoughts away’ or control them in any way. Simply notice or observe your thoughts, without engaging with them
  • If your mind starts to analyses or judge your experience, acknowledge this, then gently unhook your attention and bring it back to non-judgmental awareness.
  • Your mind may wander once or 100 times – each time acknowledge, unhook and guide it back to the present moment.
  • Focusing attention on your breathing quickly reverses the fight or flight response.
  • Labelling whatever emotion you are experiencing. This interrupts the amygdala activity and increases activity in the prefrontal cortex

There are many ways to bring mindful practice into your everyday. There are now apps, podcasts, youtube clips, and MP3 downloads to listen to guided mindful meditations. Psychologists can also help work out how best to apply mindfulness to your daily routine. It may be as easy as washing the dishes mindfully, or having a mindful shower. These are all things that athletes can do to help their mental game whilst not physically training.  Something I wish I had known about!!

Author

Caroline Anderson_BC-2Caroline Anderson is the founder of Performance Edge Psychology. As an ex-Olympian, her psychology practice helps both athletes and people in business develop strategies for achieving peak performance through individual therapy or group presentations. If you have any questions or comments please email info@carolineandersonpsychology.com.au

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“Some Reflections on The Inside Game” June 2016 – written for the Victorian Olympic Council – Social Media 

So the count-down is on. In just two short months our Aussie athletes will be off to compete at the Rio Olympics. And it is always around this time in the lead up to a Games, when I start thinking and reflecting on my own Olympic journey. This will be the third Olympic cycle since I competed at the Athens Olympics in 2004. And still, all these years later, emotions run high.blue-81847_1920

Just watching on TV, I know I will be crying for happiness when our athletes win – crying for them knowing how hard their journey has been, knowing the sacrifices they have made along the way and that all that work has finally paid off. I will be feeling their sadness with compassion and empathy when their dreams don’t become reality, when they don’t achieve all they had worked for, and when it feels like everything comes down crashing around them.

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Opening Ceremony 2004

During my Olympic journey (and I always use the word journey – because that is exactly what it is, an epic adventure filled with the highest highs, and the lowest lows) I was training to become a psychologist.

However, all these years later I am still surprised that I didn’t focus more on my mental game. There just didn’t seem time, there were other much more important things to focus on like tactical training, strength and conditioning…etc. I thought I had been doing the right kinds of things – visualisation, imagery, relaxation and positive self talk. I had the support of a wonderful psychologist from the VIS in the lead up to the Games.

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In action in Athens

Yet… looking back now, I wonder if there was more I could have done? I know I put in all I could into my physical preparation, and I will never regret how I performed on the day, but a question will always be there – could I have done more in terms of my mental preparation? Could I have done more to ease the doubts that crept into the back of my mind?

The self criticisms we all have – after all, even elite athletes are human and susceptible to worries and fears of failure. I know now that this is completely normal. But I wonder if at the time I did. Maybe I worried that having fears or doubts indicated that I really wasn’t up to the task. That it meant I didn’t deserve to be there. Well meaning coaches, family and friends reminded me I must be confident and have total belief in myself and so I kept trying to push those negative thoughts away.

Fast forward 12 years and here I am, a psychologist with loads of experience and training, working with a range of different clients, including athletes wishing to work on mental techniques and their wellbeing in order to improve their performance. I see the battle that goes on in the minds of all my clients, be it someone struggling with depression or an athlete trying to get to the top of their sport.

And what I see is that we all have the negative voice inside our heads telling us that we are not good enough. These thoughts create doubt and confusion, and chip away at our self-confidence. Why do we listen to these thoughts so much? Why do we believe them to be true? Dr Russ Harris author of The Happiness Trap calls this the “I’m not good enough story,” a universal internal story that repeats in our head and that we all have to some degree. The difference is not that some people don’t have this, it’s that they are better at paying less attention to this story. There is so much emphasis in society on positive thinking and challenging negative thoughts that the idea that negative thoughts are not dangerous or harmful is a major revelation for clients I work with.

Research suggests that athletes who accept both their positive and negative thoughts/beliefs and maintain focus on the task at hand are more likely to perform at their true potential. We don’t need to get into a battle with our thoughts, trying to force ourselves to only think positive. If we pay less attention to negative thoughts, it frees us to enter a state of observation rather than thinking, focus rather than judgment. There are a number of techniques that psychologists use to help clients get some distance or “defusion” from their “I’m not good enough story”. So remember:

  • Thoughts are simple passing states in the mind that do not require action
  • Be willing to experience any emotion or thought that may arise in competition
  • There is no need to judge experiences/thoughts as positive or negative
  • Know and accept that anxiety may exist and including it as part of your pre-match routine is key to success rather than becoming overwhelmed by anxiety

Helping athletes learn about acceptance and mindfulness is a real passion of mine. By practicing mindfulness we become more open to the possibility of entering “flow” state in high pressure situations – something I can’t wait to expand on in my next blog post.

Author

thumb_IMG_3637_1024Caroline Anderson is the founder of Performance Edge Psychology. As an ex-Olympian, her psychology practice helps both athletes and people in business develop strategies for achieving peak performance through individual therapy or group presentations.

Please do not hesitate to email with any questions or comments – info@carolineandersonpsychology.com.au

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