Improving performance

A study by Leeds Beckett and Loughborough Universities in the U.K. has shown that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a useful tool to help top athletes improve their performance by dealing with stress more effectively. 

CBT and athletic performance

The study, conducted in 2017, conclusively demonstrated that cognitive restructuring can help elite athletes transform things they had viewed as threats into positive challenges, which in turn results in improved performance and greater control over stress. Stressors ranged from lack of communication by the coach to hostile crowds at sports matches. An immediate impact was seen on all stress-related variables and the impact continued after the study was concluded nine months later. One player, a member of a top hockey league, said "If I'm thinking about stressors as a challenge not a threat then I play better."

CBT and workplace performance

High-level executives frequently engage personal coaches to help them develop new skills and strategies for dealing with workplace issues. However, coaches are informally trained and lack the therapeutic background of a qualified counselor. Cognitive behavior therapy is one of the most effective ways to reframe one's perspective and replace ineffective perceptions with more productive ones. It can be applied to a broad variety of workplace situations, from relations with colleagues to decision-making and leadership skills. The profile of senior executives (intelligent, proactive, ambitious) is especially well-suited to achieving the rapid collaborative changes that are possible using cognitive behavioral therapy. In fact, studies have shown CBT programs are effective at the organizational level as a measure to improve workplace performance. For example, a 2015 study conducted at a Japanese electric study found that CBT improved cognitive flexibility, leading to the avoidance of negative concepts and the increased use of positive strategies.

Using EMDR to enhance performance

While CBT is a rock-solid foundation for boosting performance, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is another science-based therapy that has found its place as a way to decrease stress and anxiety surrounding work. Widely used in the treatment of trauma and phobias for more than 25 years, EMDR is useful as a means of resolving specific performance-related fears. For example, it can be used to treat stage fright, fear of public speaking, fear of tests, and the "yips" in golf and baseball. The "yips" is a unique phenomenon among serious athletes who suddenly are unable to perform easy tasks in competition, such as driving a golf ball straight down the fairway or throwing the a baseball back to the pitcher from home plate. EMDR is a short-term treatment that has proven results and enables athletes and performers to overcome fears by revisiting and reprocessing linked memories.

Winning the mental game first

Both athletes and senior executives are under pressure to perform. And, in both cases, the ability to perform begins with one's mental game. As a result, sports and performance psychology has become a growing field. The field embraces numerous modalities in an effort to fine-tune performance. Anxious athletes might learn relaxation techniques to avoid "clutching." Executives might be taught strategies for prioritizing goals and being more productive. Even mid-level executives can gain an advantage by dealing with confidence issues that may be holding them back or by learning to identify self-sabotaging behaviors and thought patterns. Performance psychology has been used in a wide range of settings, from NASCAR to Cirque du Soleil, to help individuals push past unconscious fears, doubts, anxieties, or other obstacles. Like the late baseball catcher and New York Yankees manager Yogi Berra once said, "Baseball is ninety percent mental. The other half is physical."

Why "personal" coaching can be dangerous.

Over the past decade. personal coaching has become immensely popular, especially among executives. It is more acceptable to say, "I'm seeing my coach" than "my therapist." But the typical coach has little more than a certificate from an online program and their wits to guide them. It's the equivalent of allowing an amateur to dig into your psyche. A qualified therapist will be quick to spot the real issues that are holding you back – and will know how to manage your progress more effectively. Overall, every dollar spent on a "real" therapist will show faster and more solid results. On the other hand, unlicensed coaches can inadvertently cause more harm than good. Although they are well-meaning, they simply lack the rigorous training needed to safeguard and significantly improve your wellbeing.
kobe bryantmichael jordanshaquille o'neal

"Mental health coaching" is used by elite athletes, including (top to bottom) Kobe Bryant, Tom Brady, Michael Jordan, and Shaquille O'Neal.

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