How often do you have a day where every event planned for that day is actually experienced according to the plan? 

Personally, I have very FEW of these days. On more days than I would like to admit, I find myself facing and adjusting plans according to the obstacles and detours.  Sometimes the “detours” can be welcome surprises. For example, a phone call from a friend I haven’t heard from in a very long time.  I feel excited and loved when this happens.  These types of unexpected events are welcomed because they charge me and give me the energy I need. Then there are other “detours” that are frustrating and distressing.  You can probably relate to feelings of frustration when there is an accident or back up of traffic preventing you from reaching an important appointment on time. The ‘welcome surprises’ are events that I like to refer to as “challenges”.  They are events that we infuse us with a positive and focused energy that frequently lead to improved performance.   The second type of  “detours” is understood to be adversity.

Adverse events happen all the time, especially for performers who are seeking to push their physical (and mental) limits.  Charles Carver, Professor of psychologist at the University of Miami argues that there are four possible performance pathways while experiencing adversity: Succumbing, survival, resilience, and thriving.

  1. The athlete can succumb to the adverse event and performance is significantly diminished.  For example when an athlete has a serious injury, such as an ACL tear, during play.  This type of injury usually prohibits activity without major intervention (surgery and several weeks/months of physiotherapy).
  2. The athlete can survive the adverse event with performance affected by slight impairment.  A good example of this type of adverse event is self-doubt.  Sport science researchers have consistently demonstrated a strong relationship between low self-confidence (confidence is the belief that an individual has about his or her ability to meet the demands of a situation) and a reduced sport performance.
  3. The athlete can be resilient during adversity with little to no change in performance following the adverse event.  This performance pathway is typically associated with a positive shift in how the event is perceived.  Recently, I learned about a Canadian national team athlete who passed over by his sport federation to be predicted as a potential contender for the overall champion of the World Cup competitive season.  This was frustrating and irritating to the athlete for two reasons.  First, he had come runner up World Cup Champion the previous season. He felt that the federation must have viewed that accomplishment as some sort of fluke and not a legitimate result that could be reproduced or improved upon.  Second, his training and preparation for the upcoming season had been of the highest quality. Consequently, he felt that he had the potential to be even stronger and faster than the previous year.  The athlete let the comments of the federation impact his preparation for his workout. He was thinking about what a loser he must be rather than what the upcoming workout was about and what he needed to accomplish it with a high degree of quality.  When he realized what he had been doing, letting the adversity get the better of him, he quickly changed his mind set determined to use the energy towards ‘proving the federation wrong’ in its prediction. In this story, the athlete used the adversity to his advantage.  He redirected the adversity so that his thoughts focused on only that which was necessary for producing a high quality workout.
  4. The forth possible performance outcome following adversity is thriving. Thriving is defined as an elevation in performance in direct response to adversity.  Thriving is best exemplified by the heroic efforts that are produced by athletes.  At the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Thérí¨se Rochette, the mother of Canadian figure skater Joannie Rochette, passed away suddenly on the eve of Joannie’s first short program event from a sudden heart attack.  With the assistance of friend, family, and her sport team, Joannie channeled her adversity into a brilliant performance, earning her a podium finish.

Surviving, being resilient, and thriving during adversity shares one common element: Choice.  In these latter three pathways the person to whom the adverse event is happening often has a choice about how to think about and act with the energy that the adverse event brings.  Indeed, an athlete facing an adverse event has a choice whether to be at the whim of the “obstacle” reducing his or her performance (surviving) or to redirect the “obstacle” towards actions that are necessary for achieving success (resilient/thrive).


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Permit me a moment to share a conversation with an athlete I recently consulted with….

Me: What is competition?

Late teen athlete: Your one chance to prove yourself. You get one chance to show that you are better than someone.

Me: OK. What is practice?

Late teen athlete: Training is boring. It is where I learn my sport skills and develop my physical skills. I have to do the drills over and over. You get a lot of chances to get it right.

Me: I agree.  Let me ask you this…do you think that there a connection between training and competition? If so, how are the two connected?

Late teen athlete: Yes.  In practice I develop the skills and physical shape I need to compete well…. [I see the wheels turning now, so I decide press on]

Me: Do you believe that you can achieve a ‘magical performance’ in competition. That is, can you achieve something that you haven’t been able to do in training, but need to do in order to beat an opponent?  Or do you believe that what you are able to do during a competition performance is what you typically do in training?

Late teen athlete: But I get so jacked for competition. I can totally push myself more than what I do during training. I think I can do things in competition better than I do in training?

Me: So you think that you can perform better in competition than you do in training?

Late teen athlete: Yes….oh…I see where you are going…well, no.  Most of the time I make mistakes and get frustrated because I want to be better than I am while I am competing. …I think …I think… that my performance is more like what I do in practice, I guess?

 This conversation is pretty typical when I work with athletes.  Competition is viewed to be very exciting and very important.  When I say it is ‘important’ I mean many athletes view competition as the essence of being an athlete.  Athletes choose to be an athlete because they love to compete. Competition is the venue where an athlete gets to publicly demonstrate his skill and provide evidence that he is better than another athlete.  And you get only ONE CHANCE to get it right. And IF you get it right, you can be the hero (of the moment).  You are a winner.

Training, on the other hand, is repetitive and boring. There is less urgency to ‘get it right’ when training. Why? Training is the venue where athletes expect to make mistakes. During training performances are repeated over and over, and for some athletes they must endure these hours in solitude or with coaches yelling at them demanding more.  Marnie McBean (Canadian Olympic Rowing medalist, and member of Canada’s Sport Hall of Fame), estimated that she spent 720 hours training for 12.8 hours of competing/racing in a year (see The Power of More, 2012). That is about 98% of her athletic time spent in training activities!  Training is all about learning and pushing ones limits, physically and emotionally.  And let’s face it, training hurts!


Nothing magical happens in competition.  An athlete’s competitive performance is the direct reflection of what the mind and body can produce when under pressure.  To achieve a specific competitive performance, an athlete must be prepared to train for that performance.

I’ve always believed that if you put in the work, the results will come. I don’t do things half-heartedly. Because I know if I do, then I can expect half-hearted results.    –Michael Jordan, Basketball.

So which setting is the one where an athlete needs to “get it right”?

Competition or Training?

Correct answer: Training. 

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Setting Priorities during Busy Times

If you have been following this blog (oh no!) you have notice that I’ve been absent again. This wasn’t intentional. I really love writing this blog. Like so many of the other bloggers out there this is a personal space for me to express myself to my world. This blog is my creative outlet. Brene Brown Brene Brown says that taking time to creatively express oneself is critical to living authentically. Based on my scholarly reading and work with high performing athletes, being authentic enables peak performance moments.

But my creative side isn’t the only aspect of my day-to-day activities that has been neglected. I’ve been behaving like a stereotypical type A high stress, over-extended working adult – little sleep, poor diet, insufficient exercise, and neglected or worse-avoiding social contact with my friends. (I don’t need to go into all the gory details. I am sure that you have a decent visual of my past month).

Here’s the point of this confession – In busy times, times of high stress, we need to be all the day-to-day behaviors of sleep, diet, exercise, creative outlets, social relationships right.

I believe that has to be the priority. It is going to be hard for me (or anyone who is behaving like me) to achieve (greatness?) without getting these other aspects of my life right.

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Mind Traps

Before you begin the journey of mindfulness you need to know that the mind is it’s own entity.  The mind can not be easily controlled.  THE MIND WILL WANDER. That is it’s nature.

Is this a big deal? Simply, No.

A lot of my athletes who I work with really struggle with this idea.  They believe that they may not “be good” at mindfulness because their minds do not stay with the focal point that has been given.  The athletes tell me that they are constantly having to ‘refocus’.  It feels as though their minds are jumping all over the place.  Or even worse, that they missed the whole mindfulness session because their mind went elsewhere and they didn’t realize it.  I want to share with you, that this is completely normal and the whole point to mindfulness training.  You must learn how to deal with the MIND TRAPS.  It is important to create awareness that your mind has wandered and then have the ability to bring it back to the place of focus.  That is the essence of ‘mindfulness’.

The mind traps are the “hooks” (see Don’t Bite the Hook by the wonderful American Buddhist Pema Chödrön) that take the mind from being completely in the present.  Here is a summary of the HOOKs  as explained by my Mindfulness teacher Barbara Downie.

1. Our mind travels to a PLEASING SENSE.  Going to the music, clothes, tastes, smells, and textures that is LIKED. Also, going to the THOUGHTS of MY CHOOSING.

2. Feelings of resentment, anger, jealousy, hatred, and greed.

3. Restless & Worry.   (This is my big one!!! My mind gets ‘bored and restless’ with just sitting in the present. It constantly wants to PLAN so that I don’t have to worry about what I am missing my using my time to just sit  — Can you relate to this???)

4. Indifference and carelessness of attitude.

5. Doubt.  (It really doesn’t matter what the object – self, coach, teammates, mindfulness activity, ect.)

These are the common places that take your mind away from the focus point during a mindfulness activity.  What to do when you realize that your mind has been ‘hooked’?  Jon Kabat-Zinn says that you consciously bring the mind back to the focus in a way that is gentle and accepting. Continue to do this no matter how persistent the mind is to wander.

It is my hope that now that you know that it is natural for the mind to be hooked, that you will persist with mindfulness.  I’ve learned to accept that there are days when my mind is so much more susceptible to being hooked compared to others. As the saying goes, “it is what it is”.  On those days, my intention is to catch my mind wandering and gently bring it back to the focus.  It is on those days that I benefit most from my mindfulness training. It is on those days that I am offered the opportunity to learn to be still and present amidst the chaos of the day.

I found this video on you tube of Jon Kabat-Zinn.  He is a world leading teacher of mindfulness. In this video he speaks about mindfulness to a group of Google employees.  I hope that you enjoy!

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Happy New Year!

I’m going to buck the trend this month. Rather than start with a new topic, I am going to speak about what I wanted to share last month. Yes. I am going to start the new year with old postings. Or at least, postings that I had composed in my head last month but didn’t actually commit to writing them down. I want to write about MAC training in general, and mindfulness, specifically. And so, I will.

Happy New Year!

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Give Mindfulness a Try

My adventures into Mindfulness and the MAC approach began when a sports team that I work for challenged me to find an innovative psychological method for achieving excellence. I chose to explore the MAC approach. Why? Simply, because good science has demonstrated its utility to maximize one’s access to their mind, and to follow, one’s performance.

I like this definition:
“Mindfulness is deliberately paying attention to what is happening around you and within you – in your body, heart, and mind. Mindfulness is awareness without criticism or judgement” (Jan Chozen Bays, MD, 2011, p. 2)
Or you can think of it as “paying attention to what you pay attention to”.
And in sport, and other achievement domains there is plenty to pay attention to when one is performing or competing. For example, an athlete will certainly pay attention to (a) the physical and mental techniques and strategies used to execute specific sport skills (we refer to these aspects as Instrumental Competencies); (b) the physical conditions of the setting where the competition is held, competitors and spectators, where coaches are located, and his or her feedback, and who are the referees (we refer to these aspects as Environmental stimuli and performance demands); (c) general personal attributes like feelings of anxiety and excitement, and predictions about what is about to occur during the competition (Dispositional characteristics); and (d) the athlete’s coping skills to regulate their behaviour during the performance (Behavioral self-regulation). These are just some examples of all the internal and external stimuli that must be attended to during a performance. I am sure that you can think of more examples and stimuli that is specific to your own performance.


Because there is so much information that must be attended to and processed (comprehended, decision making) before we execute a movement (and an entire physical performance!) our brains develop efficient systems to avoid overload. Movements that are well practiced, like eating, are often done with little conscious thought. Being able to do the ‘simple’ movements unconsciously can be quite effective for freeing the mind to focus on other things like the conversation that you are having with someone simultaneously or the latest email on the iphone. But it is not always effective: I can’t tell how many times I’ve been on the 10 km running course only to take a drink at a feeding station only to have sports drink all over my face, shorts, and racing jersey! I really don’t enjoy that sticky feeling.

So it is important to maximize our performance that we re-learn how to pay attention to specific stimuli. And this is the power of mindfulness.

Mindfulness is a tool that performers can use to fully engage with their internal and external environments while performing.

And like most tools, without regular use it can get rusty and be less effective for when you need it most.


When I was struggling to complete 10 minutes of mindful breathing everyday this exercise was recommended to me by my Insight Meditation teacher. It also appears in Jan Chozen Bays’s wonderful book: How to Train a Wild Elephant & Other Adventures in Mindfulness. I find this exercise helpful and doable! (The athletes I work with state that they enjoy this exercise too).


Each day over the next week (or until my next blog posting) try this exercise. As many times a day as you are able, give the mind a short rest. For the duration of three breaths ask the inner voices to be silent. It’s like turning off the inner radio station or TV for a few minutes. Then open all your senses and just be aware – of colour, sound, touch, and smell.

I recommend that you choose a focal point with your breaths. Some people like to direct their attention to the stomach fall and rise, others like feeling the breath from the nostrils, some people like the count of the breath going in and out, you pick what works best for you. The point of this exercise is NOT TO CHANGE the nature of the breath. It is only to simply be aware that you are breathing! (This is not something that usually occupies our conscious awareness, but is extremely important for performance!).


I admit that I had a number of misconceptions about mindfulness and mediation prior to beginning my journey. My bet is that you do too. Now that you’ve experienced mindfulness (hopefully you took your three breaths and have rejoined us) your perceptions/beliefs about mindfulness may have changed.

Mindfulness DOES NOT involve the intense repetition of a word or phrase. For example, that you keep your mind intensely focused on an internal dialogue where the word “ohmmm” or “one” is repeated over and over. This is a FALACY. In mindfulness the thinking mind is only used to initiate the practice – for example be aware of how your breath enters and leaves the nostrils. When the mind wanders, like it is apt to do, we gently and acceptingly bring it back to this thinking command.
Mindfulness IS NOT a set of breathing exercises. You can be mindful regarding just about anything. I picked up Jan Chozen Bay’s book recently and she has 52 wonderful chapters (yes one for each week) of mindful activities that you can do. I’ve been mindful about opening doors, eating, walking, and interpersonal conversations. I can’t wait to try the exercise “seeing the colour blue” and “appreciation”.

Mindfulness DOES NOT happen in slow motion. It is completely possible (and even advisable) to be mindful in ‘real time’ as events really do unfold. I encourage my athletes to learn to be mindful during a warmup and cool down to begin with, then during certain ‘sets’ during a workout.

Mindfulness IS NOT about sustaining a focus 100% of the time. Many of the athletes I’ve been working with are concerned that they are not getting good at the practice because their mind wanders. The fact that the mind wanders is exactly the point. This is the NATURAL STATE of the MIND. The mind has a life of its own and it loves to go to one of three places: (1.) the Past, (2.) the Future, or (3.) a Fantasy Life. The ability to be mindful is reflected in the awareness that the mind wandered and the bringing it back to the instructional command (i.e., the door knob, or the conversation, or the breath, ect.). In other words you are getting good at mindfulness when you can detect that your mind has wandered from the focus and that you can bring it back to the matter at hand.

Mindfulness IS NOT a religion. You do not need to follow specific religious teachings to benefit from the practice of mindfulness. I think of it like yoga. There are spiritual teachings and language associated with both yoga and mindfulness. But to absorb the benefits of either does not necessitate that I learn these teachings. There is good science regarding the benefits to our physical and psychosocial health from the practice of mindfulness.

TAKE HOME MESSAGE. Mindfulness is a tool and the foundation for the MAC psychological approach to performance enhancement. Mindfulness can be used in a variety of ways to learn to pay attention to what our mind is attending to in any given moment. It does require a regular practice to finely hone the tool. Try it out – make a commitment to yourself to do the simple exercise of just three breaths. Then write a message about your experience in my comments section.

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Let’s MAC it!

Happy Dec. 1st!  I’ve had my first Eggnog latte of the season, have began to play my Christmas Carol playlist, and officially have my Christmas tree up and decorated. Presents have been purchased.  Some (most) have been wrapped. Let the festivities begin!

December is my favourite month of the year.  I confess that I still believe in the magic of Christmas.  I want to believe that there is peace, love, and goodwill in each and everyone of us.

Why, then, is December an incredibly stressful month?

Perhaps it is the hustle and bustle of shoppers and trying to locate parking spaces.  Maybe it is the increased effort to get together with family and friends that you don’t typically see during other times in the year?  Is it the change in sleep, eating, and exercising routine? The year-end Christmas performances and exams? The beginning of the competitive season? …. there are probably a number of reasons why December is so stressful.

Being under increased stress affects our performance.  This is a well known fact.  Increases in stress can ‘enhance’ our performance.  For example,  some students I speak with are emphatic about writing papers at the last minute.  They state that the increased stress of a deadline helps to focus thinking and writing (Unfortunately I’ve never been one of those people).  Increases in stress can also ‘debilitate’ our performance.  Stress may cause one to freeze, stutter, or produce an asynchronity to our performance.  Just this past weekend, stress had this type of an affect on me.  I’ve travelled to visit my family from my current location at least 7 times in the past 4 months. Packing for this type of trip has been well practiced – I know exactly what to bring and how much time it should take to put it together.  However, this time, several blunders occurred. Fortunately the blunders were not serious and were merely inconveniences:  I forgot to put my memory card back into my camera (causing me to miss the priceless photos of a 2 year old’s birthday party, and my daughter’s expression at her first Disney on Ice performance), I misplaced my wallet (Mom picked up the tab), and I forgot my contact lens case.

A NEW IDEA.  I can be my best performing self even during an increased stress state.  An IDEAL environment (internal or external) IS NOT NECESSARY to perform my best. 

This is the central idea behind the MINDFULNESS-ACCEPTANCE-COMMITMENT (MAC) philosophy towards peak performance.  During the month of December, I want to talk about mindfulness training and MACing performance.  I want to share what I’ve learned about staying in the moment and seeking an awareness (mindfulness) as to what is most important for a given performance.  I want to share some ideas about stress and “suffering” and how you can release yourself from this state. Finally, I want to inspire you this Christmas season to be your best self despite the ‘hustle and bustle’ and chaos of the holiday cheer.

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A Change in Perspective

Stop!  Don’t think.  Just note what you see when you look at this picture?

Did you say faces?  Did you say a vase?  Can you see both?

Last week I talked about motivating the elephant (Heath & Heath, 2010) as a critical piece from moving from intention to action.  I still want to talk about motivating the elephant.  Last week the emphasis was on ‘Shrinking the Action’, so that the action from the intention didn’t seem so overwhelming.  This week I want to flip that perspective.  Rather than using tool that help to ‘shrink the action’,  we can ‘grow the person’ (Heath & Heath).

Carol Dweck, an educational psychologist whose work examines how people cope with failure, suggests that “success” (that is, what a person defines as success) is understood according to one of two perspectives.  Try her quiz (Dewek, 2006, p. 13).

Look at these statements about personality and character and decide whether you mostly agree or mostly disagree with each one.

1. You are a certain kind of person, and there is not much that can be done to really change that.

2. No matter what kind of person you are, you can always change substantially.

3. You can do things differently, but the important parts of who you are can’t really be changed.

4. You can always change basic things about the kind of person you are.

Questions 1 and 3 are associated with a fixed-mindset. If you agreed with these questions, you might see the world through a fixed-mindset lens.  A fixed-mindset is a set of beliefs that views qualities to be ‘fixed’ or is something that you are born with and can not be changed.  People with a fixed-mindset are motivated by the need to constantly prove themselves.  Each action essentially becomes a test, an evaluation, and an opportunity to prove their talent.  “Will I succeed or fail?  Will I look smart or dumb? Will I be accepted or rejected? Will I feel like a winner or a loser” (Dweck, 2006, p. 6).

Questions 2 and 4 are associated with a growth-mindset.  If these questions were judged to be more true for you, this is your world view.  This lens is exemplified in the following quote:

Risk more than others think is safe. Care more than others think is wise. Dream more than others think is practical. Expect more than others think is possible.  Author Unknown

With a growth-mindset, a person believes that traits and abilities can be cultivated and developed through efforts. It is the perspective that attributes, skills, and abilities change and develop with time.  Without constant effort, a person’s basic characteristics can diminish (use it or lose it) or stretch and grow.  Failure is not threatening to growth-minded individuals.  Like Michael Jordan states

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Motivating the elephant, therefore, can be accomplished by taking on a ‘growth mindset’.  The action that is desired from an intention can be viewed as simply the opportunity to grow.  With this type of mindset, success or failure, there is growth.  You win either way!!!  If I know that simply trying the behaviour means that I win, I am more likely to turn that intention into an action. Would you too?


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“Motivating the Elephant”

Motivating the Elephant (Heath & Heath, 2010).  I like the ring of that statement.  This statement reminds me that the brain has two sides when it is choosing to do a behaviour: a rational side (The Rider) and an emotional side (The Elephant).  Once I have a clear pathway to move (i.e., have made my schedule and have set up reminders or implementation intentions), I often must motivate my elephant in order to turn my good intentions into actual performed behaviours.

Let me explain.

To explain how both sides of the brain function when choosing to do a behaviour, the Heath brothers in their book “Switch: How to Change Things when Change is Hard” cite an analogy written by the psychologist Jonathon Haidt.  The rider, or the rational side of the brain, must be directed. The rider must be given information such as what is the outcome behaviour to be performed, how should it be performed, the sequence of movements or actions that must be taken to achieve the outcome performer.  For example directing my rider for writing this post would include information such as the number of words I intend to write, the ideas that I will write about, the ordering of ideas to communicate, the tone in my language I will use, and so on.  In essence, to direct the rider cold factual information describing the behaviour that is to be actualized from my intention needs to be absorbed.  This is not what the elephant needs.

The other side of my brain, elephant side, needs hot emotional energy that produces an impulse to act (in this case towards the desired behaviour that is defined by the intention).  The mouse in the picture produces hot ‘fear’ or ‘fright’ that is associated with impulse to move away.  The elephant doesn’t take the time to think, “Oh look, that mouse is closer to me than I want it to be. Perhaps I should move away” (which is the Rational side of the brain).  Rather, the mere sight of the mouse stimulates an emotion (fear) that is associated with an automatic action pattern (in this case to flea). If I am to impose this same line of thinking to my intentions to write a blog post, I need to associate the blog post with an emotion that has an automatic action pattern to move towards action.

To motivate my elephant and follow through on my intention to write this blog post I used two strategies recommended by the Heath Brothers to “Shrink the Change”.  For me, the pressure of writing blog post that is under 300 words, is ‘perfect’ (or at least witty and informative) is my mouse.  Those are daunting and overwhelming expectations.  It makes me want to avoid coming to my computer to write.  So instead I ‘shrink my expectation’ of what the outcome of the behaviour is to be.  I also use this same strategy  when I  ‘restart’ my exercise routine after being away from it for a period of time.  I ‘shrink’ the exercise.  I can do 30 minutes without expending to much energy or taking significant time from other activities.  I am sure that you can think of plenty of ways that you can ‘shrink’ that activity that you are procrastinating on.  The Heath brothers mention another ‘delicious’ example in their book.  My friend, Rebecca put me on the FLY LADY about four years ago.  Do you know her?  She is wonderful.  She advocates a system for home organization and cleaning that is not overwhelming.  Why? How? You do your cleaning (everyday) but for only 20 manageable minutes. Following the Fly Lady has changed my outlook on this  chore.  The first tool used to Shrink the Change was to break down the behaviour to something that is (perceived) to be manageable.

Another strategy that I used tonight was ‘priming’ my writing.  One of my implementation intentions is a reminder set into my calendar.  The calendar pops up a message on my computer and sends me emails to remind me.  This happens the day before I intend to write.  What happens is I start (day) dreaming about my writing, composing several sentences while I brush my teeth and make breakfast for my family, and so on.  I think that you get an idea of what is happening here.  When the designated time to write my post rolls around, I’ve already got 10 – 15% of the job done.  Voila, the I have shrunk the behaviour.  Instead of thinking that I’ve got to compose and write a whole posting, I’ve only really got to compose 85% of it.  Thinking this way, I actually find myself excited to write down my (clever?) ideas and then work my way through the rest.  I confess that it is a little more difficult for me to use this same same strategy with my exercise pursuits.  A workout is a workout is a workout. I can’t really do the ‘work’ prior to the workout.  This may happen if I do my ‘warmup’ through running or cycling to the gym or agreed meeting spot with my group.  What I have been thinking about is the fitness or the quality of my ability that I am working on.  All my workouts payoff towards building my fitness.  It isn’t like I have to start from the very beginning with each workout (although some days it really feels like that!).  I’ve made X% towards my fitness goals with each workout.  I find that I am way more excited to workout when I think about my workouts in this way. I’ve shrunk the behaviour.

Taken Home Message:  MOTIVATING THE ELEPHANT needs to be considered when actualizing intentions.  I’ve been using the “Shrinking the Change” (Heath & Heath, 2010) principle to motivate my elephant to write blog postings.  Specifically two strategies or tools have been exercised: (1) Reducing the expected behaviour to something perceived as manageable, and (2) Priming the behaviour, or viewing certain unintended actions as actions that are apart of the intended behaviour.  How can you Motivate your Elephant?  What ways can you implement the principle of ‘Shrinking the Change’ towards your intentions?

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I’m excited to be posting on this blog tonight. I am currently in the airport waiting for my flight.  I normally wouldn’t write under these circumstances.  I am one of these highly fickle writers who wants to have the perfect environment for inspiring the written word.  But…in my previous posting I talked about devoting this month to exploring different tools that someone can use to move from having good intentions to act in a certain way to actually engaging in that desired behavior.  What better time but now to start using those tools.  Carpe Diem my friends!

Before I discuss a tool that I am using tonight, I want to devote a few words to the concept of SELF CONTROL.  Ajzen revised his Model of Reasoned Action in 1985 to include a concept called Perceived Behaviour Control.  This revised model was termed Model of Reasoned Action and Planned Behaviour.  In this revised model, Ajzen theorized that moving from positive intentions towards engaging in a behavior required a belief that one could do what was required to adequately perform the behavior even in difficult circumstances.  For example, if I have a strong intention to write a blog posting, it is more likely that I would actually write the blog posting if I believed that I had the skill to do so, and/or I believed that I had the skill to overcome any difficulties/obstacles that could possibly arise preventing me from writing.  This ‘perceived behaviour control’ is also understood more colloquially as self control.

Self control is a ‘willpower’  of sorts.  It is the conscious effort that you exert when you are trying to adhere to a specific diet or maintain a specific training schedule (for your sport). Self control can also be thought of as the part of you that helps you stayon task in a more general sort.

An example of self control:

What studies have taught us about self control is that it is exhaustible. The sales clerk knows that it takes tremendous energy to direct our attention and thoughts to carrying out a behaviour under self control, which is why most of our day-to-day behaviours are under automatic control.  Can you imagine if you had to think deliberately about how you got yourself out of bed? Brush your teeth? Pour cereal into your bowl? Drink your juice? Put on your clothes?  You would be exhausted and you haven’t even made it past breakfast!!  In the Cathy comic, the sales clerk is waiting for Cathy to expend her self control and knows that shoppers are vulnerable to spend more when self control is low.  The Heath brothers ( in their well written book on behavior change state that

When people exhaust their self control, what they are exhausting are mental muscles needed to think creatively, to focus, to inhibit their impulses, and to persist in the face of frustration or failure…So when people say that change [or moving from intention to behavior] is hard because people are lazy or resistant , that is just flat wrong. In fact, the opposite is true: Change is hard because people wear themselves out.  (Heath & Health, 2010, p. 12)

I love this insight!  This insight gives me a whole new perspective on my October ‘problem’.   This insight implies that it is completely possible that I did not set myself up for success in my intention to regularly post on this blog site. I didn’t count on the fact that my SELF CONTROL would be worn out and and that I would need a back up plan to help energize or replenish my self control.  This got me thinking…how could I set myself up to make a blog entry so that it seemed less like ‘work’ and more like habit?

Research suggests that there are several things that I can do. Two important tools are ACTION PLANS and IMPLEMENTATION INTENTIONS (Lox, Martin Ginis, & Petruzzello, 2010).  With an action plan, I simply state the when, where, and how I am going to go about doing the behaviour (i.e., write a blog post) that I intend to do.  In the case of my blog posting, I am going to write on the Wednesday, the location differs from week to week (depending on the schedule of activities of the week and where my work takes me), and with a carefully planned out set of notes on my topic area.  This week I was even more specific in my action plan.  I decided to write my notes on Wednesday. Then I specified writing my post while I was at the airport waiting for my flight (no distractions there!). I would write the post based on my notes that I had composed.  How could you use an action plan to put your intention into action?  The more specific and concrete you can be in your planning, the easier it is to perform your intended behavior.

The action plan is a great tool to use, and admittedly, one of my favourites.  (My husband can definitely confirm that for you if you are in doubt.)  But an action plan may not be for you.  You may not carry the same enthusiasm for planning that I do.  Another powerful tool that will help turn an intention into action is an implementation intention.  With an implementation intentions a strong association is formed between a specific cue and behaviour.  For example carrying a bottle of water in your car signals drinking more water throughout your day.  (One woman I knew use to carry a whole case of water in her car!).  For writing my blog, one implementation intention I have is a email reminder to write my blog post every Monday morning (when I review and plan for my week).  What will be your implementation intention for the intention you are going to act on?

Bottom Line Message:  Self control is very important for turning intentions into full fledged actions.  Self control, however, is an exhaustible resource.  If it is possible to turn the action into something resembling a habit or something that requires a small amount of conscious mental activity, it is more likely that we will behave in accordance with the intention.  Two tools that one can use to do this are action plans and implementation intentions.

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