The New Performance Paradigm

Ok, let's level with each other for a moment.

Observable measurable statistics are absolutely essential. If a football athlete is aiming to join an NFL roster, his 40 yard dash time, vertical jump height and broad jump distance are essential metrics. If he cannot demonstrate an adequate physiological benchmark, he simply cannot play at the next level. It is as simple as that. Or, as we are about to see in the coming weeks with the NFL draft, shaving off or adding on 3 tenths of a second on a linebacker's 40 time can be the difference of gaining or losing tens of millions of dollars.

These measures are what I like to call the tangibles, because they are more easily measured, grasped and observed.


In strength training we can measure tangibles such as starting power, progressive acceleration and total power output. These all provide measures to performance metrics relevant for just about every sport on the planet. Our above NFL aspirant is wise to grow these metrics as efficiently as possible if he is serious about that contract and the opportunity to play at the highest levels.

But we cannot stop at the tangible metrics, there are also what I like to refer to as intangibles.

Intangibles are subjective and intersubjective capacities that are not separate from the tangible dimensions of performance. These subjective facets of training and performance are also measurable capacities that are just as essential to performance assessment.

What is the complexity the self-system is capable of managing? What is your mental fortitude for pain tolerance? What is our NFL hopeful's level of emotional resiliency under stress? How efficient can a person's conceptual framework integrate coaching cues? These all point to subjective, yet measurable, dimensions to performance. Just like starting power, these are essential measures of capacities required for high level performance.

Strength to Awaken integrates the split between tangible and intangible, between what is objectively measurable and what is subjectively measurable.

We need both because the highest levels of performance are integrative in nature. 


Myopically focus upon one, either one at the exclusion of the other, and you will never see your highest performance capacities, period.

While Strength to Awaken is high-grade rocket fuel for developing the all to commonly neglected intangibles, I want you to consider carefully who is training, developing and refining your intangibles? Who has the requisite experience and skill? Who demonstrates the "inner" mastery and who can guide you toward your "outer" mastery?

If you're interested in an example, see one of the top athletes on the planet rigorously working both the tangibles and intangibles: Trevor Tierney. Carefully study what he does and says.

These are essential questions if performance is something you really want to devote yourself to.

Become curious about how intangibles integrate into the full spectrum of tangible performance metrics. Be careful though, many people who love tangibles (at the exclusion of the many intangibles) are not even seeing the whole picture of the tangibles clearly and thus leaving out essential parts.

Whatever you leave out ultimately stunts performance, regardless of whether it is tangible or intangible. 


When considering growing aptitudes for performance the following manual guides you into how to consider the full territory of the human being and its capacities.

One of the ways I like to frame strength training as is it can become a training ground for this integrative approach to refining your tangible and intangible abilities to perform. Learn it in the gym and apply it in any area of your life.

Anything less than this integrative embrace of your full complexity is bound to conceptual limitations (itself an intangible that can be measured) that itself closes down your greater possibilities.

Get curious. Keep your mind nimble and open as you refine the tangible and intangible dimensions of yourself. And, get suspicious of yourself and how you are approaching performance and training. You are practicing something, rehearsing something whether you are aware of it or not. There are likely hidden limitations to your methodologies and approaches. Curiosity can lead you toward greater performance capacities.

Rob McNamara
Author
The Elegant Self & Strength To Awaken
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The Role of Meditation in Sport

I remember going into the green turf room just down the hallway from my locker room before my lacrosse games in college at Susquehanna University. I would disappear from the locker room for 5 or 10 minutes to find my posture of stillness. These brief sessions are amongst the most important meditation practices I did throughout my time in college. They were always, without question, the most enlivening meditations. Meditating before a highly competitive game that you pour hours of practice into every day is a different beast altogether than the meditations I would do outside of athletics. Even today, as I write about this experience, I can feel the subtle threads of anxiety coursing throughout my body, my mind trying to figure out a way to cope with the stress of competition and leadership and the vibrations of aliveness that would build throughout my meditation.

To be honest, I was trying to calm myself down. I was sitting in an attempt to be less attached to the outcome of the game. I was sitting to be more accepting of my performance, good or bad. I was in my meditation posture to be more present to the game so that I could perform better. But underneath I really wanted to get rid of this intense vibration of aliveness that felt like immense anxiety.

Did it work?

Yes and No.

Without fail, the longer I did my meditation before a game the more anxious I became. I couldn't distract myself from the energies coursing throughout my body and mind. While I calmly breathed and the experiential intensity grew I started noticing that my body and mind had an intelligence all to it's own for conducting this energy fluidly throughout myself. The more "conductive" I became, the more powerful of presence I had to lead my team on the field. Meditation appeared to galvanize more strength and energy within me. This undoubtably made me a better competitor.

What was failing in my mind was I wanted meditation to make me more comfortable before games. This never worked, ever. While I didn't know it at the time, meditation was powerfully sculpting my nervous system. I was becoming more "vertically integrated" as Daniel Siegel eloquently describes it.

Intense anxiety for athletes often results in a fragmentation in their nervous systems which compromises performance... always. The mind usually starts to spin out into various scenarios following a few basic fantasies. The first involves disaster scenarios the second involves fantasies of everything turning out positive and for the best while one of the most fearful fantasies formulates a story that the game doesn't "really" matter. The first two are an imaginary world that is disconnected from the actual territory of what's happening in the larger reality around the athlete, while the last option is a fantasy fueled with a blunt lie to themselves to buffer just how much the game (and their life) does mean to them. For athletes caught within their own private fantasies they are "sitting ducks" to a competition who's nervous systems are sculpted to attend to the specificity and nuance of what is actually going.

For me, my anxiety was increasing but my mind was getting closer into contact with what was going on in my body. While I didn't realize it at the time, this was growing my nervous system in essential ways.

To cover just one point, meditation practice strengthened my anterior cingulate cortex, or ACC as it's often called. By growing my brain's connectivity to the ACC I was able to have greater influence and control over my attention. I was becoming more in control of what's called my "executive attention," not my less complex and impulsive facets of my brain.

For you young athletes, the one's who are traversing the territory out of adolescence and into young adulthood take this into consideration: Your ACC is often called the Chief Operating Officer of your brain. You started to grow a tenuous connection to your ACC between the ages of 3 and 7. But this integration will not be complete well into your adulthood.

Accelerate your ability to aim and sustain attention with your intention. 

The better you get at this, the more mature your brain becomes, regardless of your age. The more mature your brain, the greater your capacities become for performing on the field and in life.

This translates into you focusing on the right cues under pressure and in the face of distractions. It means you can process emotions quicker and not get suck in the stories that surround challenging emotions. During games the ACC supervises what is happening with your attention. For example, if you start focusing on outcomes during a play, the ACC can stop this daydream and sharpen your attention onto the specific cues your mind needs to be tracking to be successful. Furthermore, in the face of adversity, which good competition always provides, you can stay focused on you, your behavior and your strategies instead of uncritically watching your opponents.

So, meditate. As I often call it, practice managing your attention. Do it rigorously. Do it regularly. What you are capable of achieving depends largely on your ability to manage attention.

If you're interested in joining attention management to strength training, consider killing two birds with one stone and do them simultaneously. Strength to Awaken is the most nuanced and sophisticated approach to integrating attention management into the discipline of strength training.

Rob McNamara
Author of The Elegant Self & Strength To Awaken






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The Weakness of Conventional Goals

To begin, there's nothing inherently wrong with your conventional goals to get stronger, leaner, faster, more powerful and so on. Conventional goals are needed, helpful and in many cases necessary ... AND they are inadequate and insufficient for most people. Conventional goals fail us more often than any of us would like to admit.

Furthermore, if you are interested in your greater abilities as a human being, conventional goals almost always fail to yield post-conventional capacities. Occasionally I see conventional goals creating a training or "practice" environment for eliciting post-conventional capabilities; however, these are what I call a form of "accidental progress." These certainly happen but they are rare (my suggestion is not to wait around for a miracle).


So, conventional goals are good in many ways. The more specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and defined in clear timelines the better, or so the researchers tell us again and again. However, they continue to be ineffective for most of us and they are largely impotent at eliciting integrated adaptations to the complex demands of your life.

We will briefly unpack inefficiency but we will save post-conventional integrated adaptations for another blog. I will que you into some important tips for how you can move forward.

1. First, conventional goals tend to be focused on outcomes. 


That means they happen in the future. Keeping your eye on the future is fine, but if this is the posture of your mind during your training it will take you ten times as long to get to where you want to go. Sometimes much longer. Depending on the specificity of the goal you may never get to your desired destination. There is no short supply of drives for future change that yield negligible results.

2. Conventional goals often obscure the path to getting to your future destination. 


The more your attention goes toward getting to your future destination the less you pay attention to what you're doing right now and how you're doing it. Having a future aim and direction is important; however, these outcome goals only find their pragmatic strength when held in a larger context that focuses your mind upon the specific actions most essential to getting there. This brings into focus how you are engaging in the required activities. Getting the right steps is essential. What you do is paramount, but how you execute and engage the "whats" often differentiates those who achieve more and those who fail to. So once you have your outcome and you know the necessary steps to get there, focusing on the outcome more will often hold you back.

I often use the analogy of a tire making contact with the road to explain this. The broader or wider the tire, the more contact you have with the road. In contrast, skinny narrow tires slip easily because they have very little surface area in contact with the road. Future oriented goals are like narrow tires aimed at getting down the road but they don't do a great job of bringing your attention into the immediacy of activity.

3. Conventional goals require lots of motivation and energy. 


Perhaps you have too much energy and motivation, in which case have at it. But most people lack these often seemingly scarce resources. It takes quite a bit of self-generated mental, emotional and physical energy to get you from today to your goal that may be 6 weeks away or worse yet, 3 or 6 months out. How do you sustain it? This is inevitably what we all end up asking ourselves unless we fear our survival depends upon attaining our goal. Get big enough goals with enough fear and anxiety around failure and sure you'll be "motivated," however we now have a nice recipe for adrenal fatigue, burn out and a life that is stamped with the "you're miserable" stamp across your forehead.

So what's an alternative? 


My recommendation is goals that take aim at the immediacy of your life. Elite athletes call these "process goals" as these are the cues they must focus upon, moment-to-moment, if they are to be successful, in some cases safe. For example, a downhill skier thinking about future goals at 80 miles an hour down a mountain often results in an 80 mile an hour barrel roll down the mountain, hitting snow fencing at 60 mph, a knee surgery and 18 months of rehab.

While this becomes plainly obvious in elite competitions, it is fairly easy to "check out" mentally during strength training and start thinking about your goals - or worse yet, something entirely unrelated. Your mind and body split, and in this separation goes any chance at progressing with greater efficiency. Just like the elite athlete, if you are interested in your higher capabilities it can be found in the integration of body and mind. This means your mind is focused upon the specific cues you need to execute on right here and now.

My book Strength to Awaken gives you what is perhaps the most nuanced set of post-conventional process goals found in any training manual, so if you're interested in diving deeper, don't hesitate. This book can save you decades of wasted effort. For now, I want to challenge you to differentiate between your outcome goals and your process goals.

Outcome goals are established, preferably with an expert, outside of the gym, before your training begins. Process goals are clarified again and again moment-to-moment in your training. Know what you're going to do before you even start. Then, once you begin focus your mind exclusively upon the quality of engagement you have with your training.

Mind and body come together and then the fun begins.

Enjoy
~Rob McNamara

PS: If you're looking for some process goals that might evolve your training, sign up for my free 12 training tips - you'll learn some within these short tips. You can find it in the sidebar at the top of my home page.
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Performance or Preference, Which Do You Serve?


Performance, genuine elegant performance, requires that you step beyond your habituated preferences.

Performing within the sphere of your conditioned preferences is never an expression of your highest levels of elegance and achievement, but instead rote repetition. While repetition is necessary for performance, it is not sufficient.

Habituation serves adequacy. Preferences are most often in slavery to comfort. Performance moves with elegance. There is a mysterious effectiveness and grace that is simple, direct, fluid and refined. Look into your peak gestures of performance, I think you know what I am talking about. Put simply performance celebrates what is beautiful - not our cultures conventions around beauty - I'm talking about the heart and essence of beauty. I'm talking about your complete rapture in and as the simple movement of joy.


When you train today, when you pick up injunctions to engage your full embodied experience, start with the intention to explore your experience outside of the boundaries and limitations of your habituated preferences. If your preference is not to train the larger sphere of the elegance that is your emergent beauty, all the better!

Cut through preferences and I think you'll find something much more precious, or rather something precious will take hold of you.

Enjoy!
~Rob
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Life Hack at The Integral Center

Join Rob McNamara as he guides readers through a 10 week tour of his book Strength To Awaken. Rob’s personalized tour reshapes your basic understanding of the purpose of training, provides never before seen instruction on the inner dimensions of training and performance while inviting you into what McNamara calls Whole Hearted Engagement. Enjoy rare clarity as you are taken beyond the conventions and limitations presently holding you back in your training.



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