Thursday, August 27, 2009

Peak Performance: Emotional Fitness and Emotional Energy

In sports psychology, peak performance includes many components: physical fitness, emotional skills and mental focus are among the top.

I often think emotional skills are treated as the too-distant cousin at the wedding of physical fitness and mental skills. Everyone talks about the physical and mental aspects of performance. I used to be a Wellness Director at a University, and the administration thought that by simply offering fitness classes we could keep the faculty and staff happy. What people needed was a sense of being valued, a feeling that they were cared for by the administration, they wanted some "feeling" kinds of things. I know this because they told me. In my consulting room with athletes, what is it every single client brings up? -- their distressing feelings about their performance, sometimes feelings about their coach and undue pressure, or feelings about their inability to do what they absolutely know they have the talent to do.

I know - the world of emotional healing is my deal. I've been doing this work for 23 years. You could imagine that I'm the one that elicits them talking about emotional ability or their present lack of it. But it's not how it happens. They just start expressing their distress to me from the minute they sit down.

I just worked with a very talented gymnast. She's on full scholarship at a very prestigious east coast university. She's the one on the team given the hardest skills to perform. Level E skills are what Olympic gymnasts perform, which she is not. You can't go any higher in difficulty. This one particular move, the Yaeger, is really tough. She's done it well she estimates 50 or more times. But over her sophomore year she has struggled big time to complete it successfully. This is a move that, when not completed well, finds you flat on your belly on the mat from the high bar of the uneven parallel bars. Ouch! It hurts physically, and drains your energy, not to mention your confidence.

What's the emotional side of her sports performance problems? There is the intense desire to please an unpleasable coach, the fear instilled by the coach threatening to take her scholarship away, the fear of disappointing her parents . . .there are a lot of things going on. It's hard for a young junior in college who has always been the darling of the gymnastics world and had supportive and encouraging coaches to now be living for over 4 hours every day with a coach who uses threats and lack of encouragement as a method of coaching. Combine that with this young athlete's mechanism of working to please people her whole life and you have a situation that spells disaster for her ability to perform what she could normally perfom very well. These emotions of fear, lack of self confidence, worry, needing to please or else "I am not worthwhile," feeling "I'm never good enough" (very easy for a gymnast to feel) are creating havoc for this talented, dedicated, very hard working athlete. She said to me with tears in her eyes, " I'm just not enjoying this; I'm not having fun. And I love gymnastics."

Here is what Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz ( The Power of Full Engagement, page 72) say about the role of emotions in peak performance for athletes (or anyone).
In order to perform at our best we must access pleasant and positive emotions: enjoyment, challenge, adventure and opportunity. Emotions that arise out of threat or deficit -- fear, frustration, anger, sadness -- have a decidedly toxic feel to them and are associated with the release of specific stress hormones, most notably cortisol. From our perspective, emotional intelligence is simply the capacity to manage emotions skillfully in the service of high positive energy and full engagement. In practical terms, the key “muscles” or competencies that fuel positive emotions are self-confidence, self-control (self-regulation), social skills (interpersonal effectiveness) and empathy. Smaller, supportive “muscles” include patience, openness, trust and enjoyment.

Please don't ever sell short the importance of emotional healing, emotional energy, and emotional skills when it comes to sports psychology and peak performance for athletes. It is woven into every thread of the fabric of a talented athlete being successful, having a long career, and feeling their sport has developed them intrapersonally and interpersonally. My hat goes off to every competitive athlete. I am honored and thankful to work with them.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Conquering Stage Fright for Musicians with Emotional Freedom Technique

Stage fright is a special challenge for musicians and singers, as well as others who perform in front of audiences. There are a wide range of challenges, from simple jitters to debilitating stage fright.

There is plenty to worry about: dry mouth and shaking hands to begin with. And what about that difficult passage, what about forgetting entire passages, what about hitting the high notes? And what happens if we have to deal with all of these worries in the context of an important singing or instrumental audition? Or if we’re playing or singing before musicians with intimidating credentials? There is a method that can erase these blocks so you can shine with your peak performance.

When stage fright hits, fear grips our muscles, tendons and ligaments - and music cannot flow when the body tightens What’s driving that physical response and fueling that fear are our anxious thoughts and inner beliefs, many of which we don’t even know we have, since over 95% of our thoughts are unconscious.

We remember past failures (“I know I’ll blow this again”) and wonder about our talents and capabilities; in the middle of a song or a sonata, we realize that we may be rejected; or we may never get to the stage because we believe we have to be flawless and impress others in order to even perform.

And have I mentioned the fear of success?

All in all, this can be a lot to deal with.

Music teachers carefully prepare their students musically. Most have heard their students perform seamlessly in practice sessions, yet continue to watch some of them botch their performances because of anxieties they feel powerless to conquer.

One remedy that is becoming widely used among performers is Emotional Freedom Technique - EFT. Emotional Freedom Technique was introduced in 1995 by Gary Craig, a Stanford educated engineer who was struck by psychological research showing that, despite treatment, people with performance anxiety did not show significant improvement.

Based on the ancient principles of acupuncture, EFT is a simple tapping procedure that gently realigns the body’s energy system. The process is easy to learn and excellent results have been documented by people all over the world. ( see and additional resources on my website;

Conventional approaches tend to focus on one’s memories or other mental processes only, ignoring the body’s energy system. The premise behind EFT is that the cause of all negative emotions is a disruption in the body’s energy system. When a pianist, for example, entertains thoughts such as “I don’t know this song well enough,” or “I always get nervous before competitions,” the negative thought starts a series of reactions. Chemicals from the hypothalamus flood into the cells and these chemicals are experienced as emotions - fear, self-doubt and the like. The resulting muscle tension interferes with the musician’s ability to perform.

There are a myriad of physical results from limiting beliefs that powerfully affect the beauty and strength of one’s sound. This is easy to see in symptoms like “butterflies” in the stomach, sweaty palms, the throat becoming dry, fingers getting tense and anxiety creating memory lapses. Our conscious and unconscious thoughts create a powerful biological dynamic, determining whether a performance soars, is “good enough” or just plain goes south.

With EFT treatment, the musician focuses on the negative thought or emotion while simultaneously tapping on basic acupuncture points on the face, collarbone, under arm and wrists. This stimulation is paired with having the client mentally engage a troubling feeling, thought, or image. When a person thinks about a troubling situation, brain-imaging techniques reveal that signals are sent to various regions of the brain. The signals sent by tapping energy points on the skin, and the signals generated by engaging a mental problem, interact in a manner that reduces and eliminates symptoms.

In preparation for her New York City audition, my client, a very talented opera singer, used EFT to clear the paralysis that had always kept her from practicing before important auditions. Tapping on specific points ( see “How does EFT work” on while focusing on the negative statements she was telling herself about practicing, created a significant shift in her mental outlook about practicing. After applying EFT she awoke to a day of easy and productive practicing, something she had not been able to accomplish for over a week. “I wanted to sing! . . . the act of practicing felt natural and easy!”

A little tweaking of our thought processes makes a vast difference in how we bring our music out into the world. Emotional Freedom Technique has proven to be a highly effective tool for erasing performers’ self doubt and physical tensions while tapping into their most superior talents. Let the music begin!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Weight Loss: Permanent and Powerful. - Making Peace with Food and Your Emotions

Weight loss methods become more important as our nation proliferates diet gimmicks that cost lots of money and don't deliver permanent solutions. Perhaps more importantly, they most often cost the buoyed self esteem of the dieter once they "go off" and the pounds come back rapidly.

This kind of sucker weight loss system has been a thorn in my side for decades now. I've experienced it up close personally and professionally. But there is a solution and it offers you permanent weight loss.
The solution to people continually gaining weight back after dieting contains several considerations:

1. Do you really want to lose weight? Yes or No? If no, you can stop reading and talking about wanting it. Spare yourself the agony of the unaccomplished desire, not to mention the anguish of guilt. Eat and be merry!

2. If #1 doesn't sound promising, find out how you can authentically want to lose weight.

3. Resist the temptation of diet books, diet programs, even well-designed nutritionist-recommended programs if they do not contain a proven method of helping you manage your emotions without the aid of food.

4. Resist any "program" that is led by someone who does not have total freedom around all foods and ever mentions feeling "guilty" about eating certain foods or calls certain foods "bad."

5. Develop emotional neutrality around all foods; ice cream is the same as broccoli in your emotional world.

6. Clear emotional baggage that causes you to eat when you really wanted something more nourishing.

7. Hone your ability to identify what you really need in the moment [of your discomfort] - It's usually not food.

8. Learn respect for your body and it's ability to tell you when you're hungry and when you need some other specific thing to quench your desire.

If you've been dieting for a long time it's easy to want a "quick fix." Being overweight and the process you use to get there is very painful. But if you've been dieting off and on since high school or college and now you are in your 40's, 50's - well, you get the point. You have a long history of dieting and the beliefs you've honed so well. I have never, in over 22 years of working with many different kinds of people, seen such a fierce, terrorized loyalty to a set of rules that are so destructive.

I hope you'll consider a different approach to your weight loss and weight management. Your well-being depends on it. You, too, can enjoy the freedom to eat and the freedom not to! Having a slender body; being comfortable in your body is a true delight you deserve!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Wild Weight Loss - Will it last?

Weight Loss is always a "hot" topic. Rush Limbaugh lost 90 pounds in the last 6 months! Weight loss - it's on every cover of nearly every single popular magazine. Even some content rich magazines will still include weight loss articles sure to be on the cover for increasing sales. While we obsessively put weight loss on everyone's lips and reading material, we are becoming a nation of exponential obesity. There is something amiss when we are so focused on weight loss and becoming fatter in the process. I have plenty of thoughts about what's amiss. It's not just opinion, but based on 22 years of working with people who struggle with this pervasive issue. What's the deal that we can't get weight loss right?

Let's look first at what is applauded as "weight loss." Only a few days ago, the news was all over the fact that Rush Limbaugh has lost 90 pounds in the last 6 months. Yes, 90 pounds in 6 months. Scary! How does one lose 3.5 pounds per week for 6 months in a row? Again, it's scary. Ask any nutritionist, in-the-know eating disorders therapist or doctor and you will hear a resounding voice of this not being a good idea medically or psychologically. And to boot, there is no exercise included in this diet of Mr. Limbaugh's. The "Quick Weight Loss Program" will, no doubt, be inundated with people looking for that quick fix to their weight problem. They will make a lot of money.

This diet has several key ingredients; starvation, structure, supplements and support. It's missing exercise and sustainability. Doesn't sound bad, does it? But sustainability is a big deal. I sat with a client in my office only last week - she came to see me in a total panic after she had spent the last year losing 104 pounds.(I had not met her until she came to me in her panic). She had been down to 135 pounds, 20 pounds below what her goal weight was to be on Weight Watchers. Now she weighed 155, had been eating/binging for a month, and was in literal terror about feeling consumed and out of control with eating. It was so sad to see her terror. She had no freedom around food, and any "slip" whatsoever from her spartan choices and amounts sent her into a full force binge.

This is what happens 99% of the time - and the portion of the diet that no one talks about. People talk about the success of their diets. "Yes, I lost 104 pounds!" But the next stage of the diet is the binging, the weight gain, and the subsequent piling on of guilt and shame. The diet is the faulty factor, not the person. But the person is always amassing more portions of guilt and shame. Then it starts over. "I'm fat, I must diet and do it harder."

Why mention weight loss in a blog on performance? Because appropriate weight is essential to top performance as an athlete, a stage performer, or to anyone wishing optimal health. I have a particular passion for working with weight loss, having taught classes for over 20 years to help people free themselves from their ineffective, harmful patterns with food and their emotional traps with overeating. I've seen the diet cycle up close and it never changes. If you have emotional issues that are unresolved and use food to get you through life, those emotional issues don't go away, just underground while you're on the diet. I repeat, the "loss" part is just one portion of the diet cycle. It's only one portion.

If the emotional or addictive tendencies with food are not resolved, the person, no matter if they've lost 20 or 90 pounds, will eventually have to come "off" the diet. The only other choice is to become an addict - a dieting addict. I'm concerned for Mr. Limbaugh - he's revealed his addictions in the past. This just may be his newest one. And I feel sad for all the well-meaning people sold a bill of goods about diets and weight loss.

The answer? Doing the smarter, harder work - learning how to deal with anxiety without the aid of food. Discovering, identifying what the anxieties really are and knocking them out of the body. Learning how to literally neutralize the cravings that occur from years of habitual ways of thinking and behaving around food. There's a lot of intention involved in not getting swept down the path of dieting. My wish - to give everyone I can the courage and hope that there are ways to do this work that lead to total freedom around all foods. The freedom to eat is the freedom not to. Choice and freedom, no guilt, no obsession with calories --- freedom. That is permanent weight loss.