Feeling under pressure? Whether it’s in the boardroom or in sport, renowned high performance coach Peter Jensen gives us skills that elite athletes and executives use every day to reach peak performance without sacrificing health and well-being.
What do Olympians and high profile executives have in common? They both experience a tremendous amount of pressure to perform. Peter Jensen is a renowned high performance coach to Olympians and founder of Performance Coaching. And he has taken his lessons of motivation and efficiency to the Fortune 500s. And he had a chance to speak with me at the Personal Performance Summit sponsored by TD Wealth about how to thrive in a world that doesn't shut down at 5:00 PM anymore.
The last time I checked, there was like 24 hours in a day, right? And that hasn't changed recently. And people that don't notice the constant in that equation, the 24 hours, they try to maximize what they can do a day by time management. And as their workloads get greater, whether they're students, whether they're professionals, whether they're moms or dads, they're trying to handle more, and more, and more simply by managing their hours better. And they just run out of options. Whereas learning to manage your energy, that's something you always have control over, taking it up when you need to take it up, taking it down, conserving energy.
For example, how many people stay up late at night to finish a project, where they've got very little working glucose left in their brain? It takes them three hours. They forfeit a good night's sleep. They could have gone to bed and got up in the morning and done it in 20 minutes.
It takes so much self-awareness, though, to actually one, recognize it and two, then manage it. So I think it sounds simple, but I'm sure it's hard to do.
Yeah, it is hard to do. But we have to realize that there's only two ways you can change as a human being. One is emotion and the other is imagination. And those are the two vehicles. We think that logic will change people, but logic changes nothing. I mean, if logic changed human beings, who would smoke? You know, who wouldn't exercise? Who wouldn't eat healthy? People change by emotion and imagination.
And with emotion, often it comes with setbacks, disappointment, adversity, all of those kinds of things. And what I'm trying to teach performers is that if you layer it-- if you think of the layers-- you have the disappointment, all right? But now, the minute you start to talk to yourself about it, and more important you start to imagine pieces of that, your physiology changes in the same way that if you were alone late at night in a house that you didn't feel comfortable in, and you start to imagine things-- not much that's ever happened to you, but movies and who goes down in the basement--
Don't go in the basement, yeah.
--that sort of stuff. Then your physiology changes. And so now you get the emotion. Because the emotion doesn't come out of the sky, it comes from the stories we tell ourselves. But there's one more layer, of course. And underneath the emotion is energy. And I don't care what the emotion is. It can be shame, sorrow, disappointment, anger, frustration, excited, happy, competitive. What are you going to do with that energy that's under the emotion?
So I'm constantly saying to athletes, what are you going to do with your disappointment? Like where are you going to put it? Are you going to put it into talking to other people who feel just as disappointed as you do and do what Joan Borysenko once called awfulizing? You know, how horrible it is. Because when we have that conversation, you and I feel really tight, we feel really close, but it doesn't take us anywhere.
Ben Zander, the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic, calls that the conversation of no possibilities. And so my comment to the players always is, what are you going to do? What are you going to do with that? Where are you going to put it? If you're angry, vacuum the house. Put it into somewhere that's useful. So redirecting energy is often important.
How do you put that into-- I guess for people who are watching, you know, from an athlete, I can say I'm going to channel that disappointment into training harder, doing more, becoming a better athlete or being better at what I do. How do you put into an executive context? I mean, is there a way to do that?
Well sure. I mean, first of all, you have to think, OK, what is the setback or the disappointment telling me?
And that's what-- adversity is just telling you something. It's telling you that you're not there yet. It's not telling you that you're not going to get there, but it's saying there's something you need to start doing, or stop doing, or change, or modify. Because if you had what it took to get there, you wouldn't have the setback. And so you're having it for a reason, and starting to pull out the bigger lessons.
I have a pole vaulter I'm working with now, and she has to change everything this year in order to vault higher to be better at the Olympics in Tokyo. And so her pole length, her flexibility in the pole, her runway speed, and she has to be willing to stick with that strategy even though she's not going to perform as well as she performed last year. But we find a way of talking about it. We talk about we're going to school this year.
And when are you going to make your mistakes? Are you going to make them four years away from the Olympics, or are you going to make them one year away from the Olympics? If you can't make change now, if you can't adapt now, how are you going to make the adaptations later on? And so it's finding a way of reframing it, finding a way of looking at it where you begin to see it as an opportunity.
You know, when you're under stress and strain, there are a lot of things going on, but as Kelly McGonigal, perhaps the leading researcher in it now at Stanford says, when you're under stress, it means two things. It means you think you can make a difference, and you care. And when you start to reframe stress as that, as is I care and I know I can make a difference, it's you don't get anywhere near the harmful effects that people who see it as harmful get. Her thing is your perception of stress is just as important as the stress that's happening to you. So you learn to look at things differently.
So how-- so I love this, the reframing in terms of saying it's just showing that OK, I care, and that I can make a difference. But what about the imagination part? I mean, that's the part sometimes if-- you know, we're in a 24/7 world, and there's a lot going on, I'll go, OK, I'm going to remember what Peter said. I'm going to say, OK, this just means that I care and I can make a difference, I just don't know how yet. How do you take that next step, I guess, in terms of crafting the framing the imagination to actually get a different way of looking at things?
Well the next step is the first step that I failed to mention.
And the first step, of course, is awareness. And not just awareness, but what we call active awareness. And it has so many names today, right? Mindfulness, you know, all of these things are connected. But the point is this capacity to step back and notice what you're experiencing. That is uniquely human, as far as we know. Although apparently dolphins get close to it.
I've heard, yes.
Yeah, but the point being that as a human being, what distinguishes you from more primitive animals is your capacity to notice. The snake does not consider its options, the snake goes with its wiring. But as humans, we are really least human when we are reactive. Tara Brach, who teaches meditation and is a psychologist in the United States, said the other day, revenge is the laziest form of grief. And I love the power in that statement, that I'm just being lazy when I strike back.
But when I stop and notice, what's going on at the mind level? What am I thinking right now? What's going on in my imagination? What am I imagining? What's going on at the body level? My heart rate's increased, my palms are sweating, et cetera. And what am I feeling?
And noticing those three, but not being controlled by them. Because when you become those three, we have a word for that in sport. We call it choking. And that's when you're arousal level gets too high, your attentional focus gets too narrow, and you dismiss critical information.
And you don't answer questions properly. You leave an interview saying, why didn't I ask that? I should have said this. Well if you can think of it 10 minutes later, how come you couldn't think of it in an interview? You became what you were experiencing. And learning to see those things as not who we are, but what is happening to us.
Last question for you just for the group you're going to be speaking to today, is that kind of the message you want to understand is just to kind of be able to have that external cue to stop and look and just understand what's going on? I mean, what is the one thing you want this group to take away?
That's the foundation. You know, that's being consciously competent. Like you notice and you make changes. Learning goes from unconscious incompetence-- we don't know-- to conscious incompetence-- we know, but we don't do anything about it. I know I should be more patient, but-- I know I should breathe differently, but. I have a coach I work with in Alberta, he always says, stay left of your but. In other words, stay over on the other side of the sentence.
Conscious competence is when we notice and we practice it. But after you've done that for a couple of weeks, you become unconsciously competent in the same way that when you drive a car you often get home and you go, jeez, I'm home. You don't remember turning left, right. You don't have to. You're unconsciously competent-- automatic expertise.
Peter, thank you very much.
It was my pleasure.