Peak Performance Conversation

What is Peak Performance and how do you learn to make it a part of your life. Three people demanding peak performance in their own lives, share the secrets.

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Welcome everyone. My name is Mark McLaughlin, and I am the founder and former medical director of Princeton Brain and Spine Care. I am a neurosurgeon practicing in the Princeton, New Jersey area, and I have been in practice for about 20 years. I am really excited about this conversation today that I am going to have with Ashley about sports psychology and how it relates to performance. I am going to just go around the circle; we have two other folks on the line here that are going to participate in this conversation, and so I am going to hand it over to you, Ashley. Thank you. Hi, I am Ashley Lotenke. I am a clinical psychologist at Behavior Therapy Associates in Somerset, New Jersey. My work primarily focuses on lifespan psychology, child through adult, focusing specifically on sport performance, also other mental health concerns, and I work with individuals in approximately 35 states across the country. I am super excited to be able to have this conversation with you all this morning, so I am looking forward to it. Excellent, over to Patrick.

Hi, good afternoon everybody. I am First Lieutenant Patrick McLaughlin. I am an infantry officer in the Marine Corps, currently serving as executive officer for a company, and I am excited to be here and have the opportunity to share my perspective today on sports psychology and the influence of that in the military setting. Before we begin, I do want to say that my views and opinions do not reflect the views and opinions of the United States Marine Corps or the U.S. government; they are based on my experiences serving in the Marine Corps. Excellent, excellent, and I want to thank Brian Greer, who is videotaping this and has been providing us with outstanding AV support for many years. So, I guess I would start with, I think we should go around the horn a little bit and talk about what our jobs are, so the audience can kind of understand a little bit about what we do on a day-to-day basis, and then we can get into some questions about what are the things that get in the way of our performance and what are the things that we can work on to improve our performance and to leverage what we know to be more productive.

Just to start with me, I have been a practicing neurosurgeon for a little over 20 years. Most people do not know this, but neurosurgeons do probably 80 percent of their practices spine surgery and 20 percent of it is intracranial surgeries, so I do intracranial surgery in terms of trauma to remove blood clots and to take care of traumatic conditions associated with the brain. I also treat this disorder called trigeminal neuralgia, which is a severe facial pain syndrome, and I also provide support for patients that have tumors and other structural compressions of the brain and spine, and I spend about 50 percent of my time seeing patients in the office, evaluating them, and about 50 percent of the time in the operating room, which is definitely an area that requires a high level of performance, although I also feel that the office requires a similar level of performance in terms of being attentive to hearing your patient complaints and making sure that you make proper decisions in terms of whether they need neurosurgical care or whether they need to be dispatched to another type of medicine. On a day-to-day basis, just like I take care of patients with neck and back diseases and cranial illnesses, and in my free time, I coach youth wrestling, which is another very interesting laboratory for performance. So, I will hand it over to you, Ashley. Tell us what you do on a day-to-day basis.

So, day to day, I primarily work with individual therapy patients, ranging from anxiety to depression, autism spectrum disorder, sport performance concerns, and then just a number of adjustment life disorder issues—transferring into colleges, graduating high school, you know, various life movements that people typically have. Part of that also, I work with a couple of different school districts in different settings, so I do consultation in their athletic department for sport performance. I also do neuropsychological assessments and psycho-educational assessments, so I get to work with individuals who are experiencing complications in school or in the work setting related to ADHD, maybe anxiety, depression, specific learning disabilities, things like that. So that takes up the majority of my workday. Then, in my spare time, I'm an equestrian, and that's one of my areas of sport psychology that I actually work with a few equestrian athletes as well, which is really cool. And then, so my horse and I compete in dressage, so that's been me trying to bring back my sport glory from high school and college into my adulthood. Excellent, excellent.

Thank you, Patrick. Tell us what you do on a day-to-day basis. You're muted right now, yep. So, each day, on a day-to-day basis, my current job is to ensure that all the Marines within my company are ready to deploy. We're focused on our upcoming deployment, everything from mental preparation, making sure that everyone receives the proper training through both academic classes, practical hands-on application where we're actually out there doing things, as well as making sure that everybody's staying up to date on medical readiness, making sure that their bodies are prepared to deploy, and really just making sure that everything in the company is running as smoothly as possible. So that we're ready whenever we are called on eventually to execute whatever mission we might have coming. Nice. And what do you like to do in your spare time? In my spare time, I spend a lot of time in the gym. Typically, after I get off work, I'll head over to the gym and get my own workout in, and also, I like to read a lot. I've been trying to expand my portfolio on reading recently. Excellent. So, I want this to be an organic conversation about performance, and I want to start light. Actually, I want to pick your brain a little bit because I had a chance to play golf yesterday, and what an experience golf is for the mind. So, I am a weekend warrior golfer, which I'm probably even less than a weekend, maybe a monthly golfer.

But you know, I actually played quite well yesterday, and I was hitting the ball beautifully off the tee and I was combining some secondary shots, and my putting game was terrible, it was absolutely horrible. But tell me, like as the amateur golfer, you know, what are the sorts of things that you do to work with people to get more consistent because obviously those good shots are in us every time, but I just can't seem to produce them. Yeah, absolutely. So, one thing I work on with my golfers is focusing on correct shots, right? So once you are pretty proficient in terms of technique, then what happens is we maybe start to let other things kind of float in and impact us a little bit. So we might notice that you're getting distracted or you're focusing on, "Oh, if I make this putt and I do it just right, then you know, I'll have a birdie," or "Oh, you know, if I make this, then I'm having a double bogey, and you know, it's gonna be a rough day." And so sometimes those things tend to distract us, and we kind of lose our focus. And so what I like to come back to the basics on is some grounding exercises, and so what that might look like, something as simple as feeling your feet in your shoes, right? Just wiggling your toes, noticing the feet, noticing the grass under your feet, and from there, we bring it up the body. So as you become more mindful, as you become more grounded, then you start to notice how the club feels in your hand. And one thing I do with one of my amateur golfers is, "Hey, as much as you can, hold that club five minutes, ten minutes throughout a week." Then you really become more comfortable with that sensation of feeling the club in your hand, getting set up in your putting stance, and then everything else. Oh, it alleviates a lot of the pressure, and then you can focus on making that correct swing or that correct putt.

What I have them practice is saying some sort of very short mantra or a word or two that allows you to really hone in. So, it might be something as simple as "let go," right? Letting go of that tension and that stress, or something that kind of cues that shot for them. So what I would recommend is noticing where your shot might break down and what it is that really allows you to feel more grounded and mindful in your approach, and that's going to really elevate your game a little bit. Because it's those little nuances, especially with something precise like golf, that we start to make those mistakes, and then it becomes sort of a snowball effect. So looking at how we can get you to be in this more grounded space and then kind of honing in on the technique that you already have. Mm-hmm, so let's, that's great, that's helpful because, you know, even just yesterday I was getting ready to get a swing, and I felt I had my favorite club and my favorite hole, and I was getting ready to swing, and then I looked up, and Patrick said, "Watch out, there's a car in front of us. Some joker from another hole was on our fairway; he'd whacked the ball way off," and he disrupted my concentration.

It made me angry, and then I got ready to hit, and I hit a 10-yard flub because of the distraction that came. And I think if I had gone back to my feet and thought, "Okay, I got my feet," and really taken a step away from the ball and taken a few moments, I probably would have played better. And I kind of let the distraction get into my head; it rattled around, and then I hit the club, and I was like, "You see, I knew I'd hit a club because the guy distracted me," and that's what caused me to do this whole thing. So, absolutely, to go back to the values of why do we do this, right? We're not getting paid to do these things; we're not professionals. This is something that we pay to do in our spare time, so why put yourself in that position of being stressed out, right? You're stressed to have fun, and so really connecting to this idea of "I love to do this; it is relaxing, it is enjoyable." That's going to remind you to take a step back a little bit and say, "Okay, sometimes bad things happen, sometimes a shot goes into the tree, or the sand, or whatever, and I'm just gonna laugh it off, right? I'm gonna see the humor in it. I'm going to approach this a little more curiously without that tension and pressure of 'I have to do this perfectly; I have to make this correct,' and then focusing on those fundamentals. That sort of pairing is really helpful for people to not get in their head so much and then get really angry and kind of lose the enjoyment of the day. You get to have your son on the golf course, and if you were angry and like, "Oh, let's just get this over with," as opposed to, "I made a mistake; all right, let's just enjoy the day, and we'll get to chat about it later," then you're gonna have a much more enjoyable time for sure.

Well, you use the great word that I think is really important, especially with golf, and that's the word "perfect." And, Patrick, if you want to increase your portfolio of reading, you should add a book called "Golf is Not a Game of Perfect" by Bob Rotella, who's one of the fathers of sports psychology. I think that would be a good one to read. I've read it years ago, and I probably need to read it again too. Let's step it up a bit, Patrick. You're on the rifle range, or at least that's what I was taught to call it, the rifle range, and you're trying to get one of your men to fire more accurately. What are the kinds of things that you've learned on something that requires even more precision than golf? What are the techniques that you use, and can you share with us some insights on how to get somebody to shoot more accurately, especially when their life may be dependent on it and somebody's shooting back at them too? Yeah, definitely. Something that we do once a year as Marines is we go to the rifle range, as some call it, and we shoot out to 500 yards. The interesting thing is, even with the weapon systems that we use at that range, if you shoot the same exact place every single time using a machine, the bullets will not land in the same place simply because of the outside factors, and they can land within an area up to almost 12 inches wide.

Once a year, you go and you shoot, and when you go up for promotion, how well you shoot can determine if you're getting promoted or not sometimes. So, it's a very high-stress scenario for a lot of Marines when they go to the rifle range and they're shooting. The main thing that we always talk about is your preparation beforehand, making sure that you do the proper things the week before. In fact, there's what's called "grass week," which is where you basically practice going through the motions of what you're going to do the following week, everything from actually having your weapon system and aiming down the sights at the different distances and pulling the trigger without rounds, to moving all the way into when you do the moving drills, when you're as close as 25 meters, and you're actually shooting while you're moving between different yard lines. Also, something that's very helpful that we do is we talk about the fundamentals.


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