• Flow In Performance, Life

    "Flow" and "Peak Performance" are terms used by today's scientists to describe extraordinary levels of performance and creativity. However, this state of mind/body has been recorded for thousands of years. For example, in Zen, the experience is referred to as Jishu-zammai, the ancient term used to describe the extraordinary state of being characterized by exceptional levels of performance, creativity and personal well-being [“Ji” means “self”, “shu” is “mastery”, “zammai” refers to the highest level of concentration]. 

    The most common characteristics of this experience are:

    (i) The mind and body are perfectly integrated. Mental concentration is 100% with no thought given to success or failure, self-evaluation, what is at stake or to other competitors.

    (ii) Every movement is seamless, effortless, flawless and flowing.

    (iii) Extraordinary feats can occur including exceptional creativity, energy, strength, speed and endurance.

    (iv) “Spectacular” levels of performance are attained that seem “superhuman and almost impossible”.

    (v) Time perception is affected to the point where everything seems in slow motion.

    (vi) Feelings are experienced of “total mastery”, “a sense of invincibility”, “transcendence”.

    (vii) The experience is “perfect, complete…reacted to with wonder, amazement…and even reverence, exaltation.”

    All of which sounds terrific, but begs the questions, how often does it happen and what are the odds you will ever experience it?

    You might be surprised to learn that a large majority of people have attained this wonderful state (the intensity and legnth can vary). The trick is getting back there!

    The first step is to understand what can block the way.

    Imagine a circle.

    When you compete and/or perform at your very best, the circle is 100 percent complete. However, when distractions get in your way, each distraction removes a slice of the circle until you are performing at only a fraction of your potential.

    By far, the most serious distraction is that voice in your head that shows up at the worst possible time to comment, question, and criticize.

    It doesn't have to be that way.

    Peter Haberl, senior sports psychologist for the U.S. Olympic team, says: “Nothing effective happens without awareness. If…I am not aware of where my mind is at, I am much more likely to be locked into an automatic, absentminded reaction…if I am not aware that I am overcome by nerves, I cannot work with the emotions effectively. I will be ruled by them, led down a path of automatic reactions, rather than a mindful response…Knowing where your mind is at, and having the ability to put it where you want it to be, is a crucial skill … when it comes to performing well.”

    That's why this book has been written.

    Quality results require quality preparation.

    The most difficult challenge is just a series of steps. How you put those steps together is critical. 

    Pressure Proof-Mental Training For Competition, Performance explains:

    -how to identify distractions;

    -reviews competitively-proven, practical, easy-to-do techniques (based upon powerful, comprehensive research applied in world class, elite, training programs- see "References" at the end of these excerpts) that can be done quickly and effectively anywhere, any time- a critical advantage in high-pressure situations.

    Take the Pressure Proof  test to identify those specific techniques and attitudes that can most improve your performance and creative abilities.

    The program is provided in the following with free access. (The program also is available in ebook and print form. A few years ago, articles were published about managing stage fright. The articles were available with free access, however, I had a surprisingly large number of requests for ebook or print versions.)

    Let's get started.

    We begin with "Three Important Questions" (which follows below)...



    Neil F. Sharpe has extensive experience with the emotional and psychological aspects of performance, health, and well being. 

    Neil F. Sharpe, Ronald F. Carter (2006) Genetic Testing: Care, Consent and Liability. Contributing Eds/Authors. 594 pages (Wiley-Liss-John Wiley & Sons). Hoboken, New Jersey.

    “A unique and valuable resource that should be included in the library of physicians.” Annals of Internal Medicine

    Neil F. Sharpe (1997) In Control: Making The Most of the Genetic Test for Breast Cancer. 228 pages (Prentice Hall). Toronto, Canada.

    “An invaluable resource for patients, their families and the health care community.” The Medical Post

    Pressure Proof- Mental Training for Competition and Performance.

    Ebook- $2.99 USD (the lowest price Amazon will allow me to charge)

    PRINT Edition- Softcover- $16.95 USD plus shipping (the lowest print cost I've found)

    Outside North America, airmail shipping costs are $10.00 USD to most countries. To date, this is the lowest rate available. 


    Thank you for your payment via PayPal. After your transaction has been completed, a receipt for your purchase will be emailed to you. 

    Copyright-Neil Frederick Sharpe.

     All Rights Reserved

     ISBN 978-0-9868221-0-0

  • 1- Three Important Questions

    It is spiritless to think that you cannot attain what the Masters attain. The Masters are just people. You are also a person. If you think that you are inferior in doing something, you will be on that road very soon.

    Yamamoto Tsunetomo


    Hagakure- The Book of the Samurai

    Harmful stress results from thinking about the "uncontrollables" (“anxiety” is from the Latin term meaning “anticipation of problems”) such as what is at stake, the audience, strengths of the other competitors and so on.

    You can’t control everything; in reality, you may be able to control very little. 

    Sometimes you prepare as hard as you can, but things don’t work out the way you want them to. Sometimes you perform as well as you can, but still fall short; there are simply too many factors outside your control. Sometimes, you commit no errors and still lose.That's why there's little to be gained by worrying about winning or losing. As world famous poker player Daniel Negreanu remarked, “I prepared the best I could, played as good as I could, but sometimes even that isn't enough…All you can do is try to be as prepared as well as possible and hope to catch a few breaks."

    What you can control is your approach to the event.  Sometimes, your perceptions about your chances for success and/or the strength of the competition and/or the amount of work required to attain your goal may seem like massive mountains, impossible for you to climb. These are your worries and fears talking. To manage these stress-triggered emotions/thoughts, break your goal into long, intermediate and short term steps. Break the short-term steps into what you want to accomplish today, tomorrow, the day after, and so on.

    Of course, when following this schedule, understand that the unexpected always will occur, such as a poor night's sleep, sickness, distracting telephone calls and texts, other sudden pressing responsibilities, cancelled meetings, etc. Therefore, break your schedule down into those items that are the most important and must be taken care of today. Remember the famous 80/20 "Pareto Principle" (named after Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist) that 80 percent of your results come from 20 percent of your time. As long as you can manage the most important daily steps, your momentum and development will continue to move forward, building a firm foundation of strength upon strength.

    When unexpected setbacks occur, apply the following three questions to refocus and get back on track.

    (i) What Am I Doing?

    This question shows where your focus is. Are you focused on what you’re doing or thinking about other things?

    When you perform, two mental states can control your performance. The positive "Implicit" state is acting without conscious evaluation, such as walking. The negative "Explicit" state is acting with thought, such as a carrying a bowl of soup while trying not to spill any.

    When you are performing well, this is the Implicit state. However, as soon as you become self-conscious, the Explicit state springs into action and your concentration and confidence begin to waver. That’s why coaches call a timeout before a critical free throw in basketball or a field goal in football (American). They want the player to start thinking about what is at stake.

    Neil Young (in an interview on PBS's Charlie Rose) explained how "thinking" can interfere: "When I fail, I get distracted...Thinking gets in the way. When I'm doing something, when I'm creating something, the last thing you want to hear from is your commentator, the guy inside your head going 'Oh that's good, that's pretty good, oh I don't like that'...a very big distraction to me."

    The greater your external focus, the higher the level of performance. In other words, the more you focus on interior thoughts and emotions, the more likely you’ll fall short.

    The most common mental distractions are:

    • wondering what people may be saying about you
    • thinking about potential outcomes and what is at stake
    • worrying that fear, nervousness and anxiety will cause you to fail, instead of acknowledging that they are normal responses of the body/mind to get you ready to perform
    • focusing on past mistakes and setbacks
    • thinking about what you perceive to be the strengths of competitors (which are always magnified while at the same time, your own strengths will be ignored or considered inadequate).

    To perform your best, focus on the "controllables"– your preparation- and let the rest go.

    When mistakes happen, accept them and move on. They are a normal part of competing and performing. You take the good with the bad. If you fail, that’s in the past behind you. The next challenge is just around the corner and if you aren’t ready to give that your full attention, you’re likely to fall short.

    (ii) Why Am I Here?

    To better maintain focus, imagine a box is resting beside you. Mentally make a list of what is distracting you and place the list in the box. Don’t evaluate what you’re writing. Whatever is passing through your mind, mentally write it down.

    Remind yourself that right here and right now, nothing can be done about the items on your list. If you like, promise yourself that after finishing the task at hand, you will return to the list. For now, the only thing you can control, the only thing you need to focus on, is what you are doing.

    When mistakes happen, accept them and move on. A new situation is about to present itself and if you’re still thinking about a past mistake, your concentration and performance will be affected.


    (iii) Am I Having Fun?

    It’s important to keep things in perspective.  One of the greatest sources of stress is the fear of not meeting expectations. If you perceive an upcoming event as a validation of your reputation and self-worth, this is putting far too much pressure on your shoulders.

    During the Olympics, too often we hear a competitor say that they feel they’ve let their entire country down? How can anyone hope to perform well with this type of self-imposed pressure riding on the shoulders?

    It is critical to distinguish between who you are as a person from who you are as a competitor/performer. A great result does not make you a great person; a disappointing result does not make you a failure as a person. The ability to distinguish between what you can and can’t control is critical.

    Trust in your ability and training.

    Prepare the best you can. Perform the best you can.

    The rest is outside of your control.

  • 2. The Five Deep Breaths

    They who hold balance beyond sway of love or hate,

    Beyond reach of profit or loss,

    Beyond care of praise or blame,

    Have attained the highest post in the world.


    The Way Of Life

    Pressure and anxiety flow from:

    • expectations (e.g. from family, friends, bosses, coaches, the media, and especially your own).
    • the perceived importance of an event. Any event, whether an audition, speech, meeting, presentation, etc., can trigger unique forms of pressure; e.g. for some elite athletes winning a national competition is one thing, competing in the Olympics can be quite another.
    • the audience.
    • competitors whose perceived strengths, experience and skills may intimidate you.

    In pressure-filled situations, the body takes faster, shallower breaths, decreasing the amount of oxygen in our system. The result? Your heart rate and blood pressure shift into overdrive to make up the difference. This can trigger the fight-flight syndrome; muscles tighten and your mind becomes more emotional and anxious.

    Breathing from the abdomen instead of the chest is an effective tool to cope with pressure.

    Focused breathing helps to replenish the supply of oxygen, slows the heart rate, and gives you a break from negative inner conversations with that voice in your head. Golf legend Bobby Jones said, "The enemy in golf is tension” and used breathing techniques to mentally calm himself before taking a shot.

    Let’s try a simple experiment:

    -Stand quietly.

    -Take a slow deep breath and say the number “one”. Pause, and let your breath out slowly while saying the number “two”.

    -Take another slow deep breath and mentally say the number “three”. Pause before letting your breath out slowly, while mentally saying the number “four”.

    -Continue until you reach the number “ten”.

    When you were focusing on your breath, what happened to your thoughts and emotions? They were there before you started counting, they returned as soon as you stopped. Where were they while you were counting?

    This simple experiment demonstrates two important principles. First, you are not your thoughts and emotions. They are transitory, flowing through and beyond you. What were you thinking or worrying about a year ago today, or a month ago?

    Second,  you can control your thoughts and emotions; initially, this may last for only a few seconds, but this is the first step in learning how to maintain your focus and push through distractions under any type of pressure.

    Experiment by repeating the above technique, three times, then six, and so on. Although counting your breath repeated times may seem boring, it:

    -identifies negative conditioned responses

    -illustrates the focus needed to perform consistently well, especially when everything around you seems to be falling apart

    Tennis champion Roger Federer, down two sets to none, (in 2012 at Wimbledon) and two points away from being eliminated, said “Oh, my God, it was brutal. The thing, when you’re down is to stay calm, even though it’s hard…You just try to play tough and focus point for point. Sounds so boring, but it’s the right thing to do out there.”

    Change your focus, change the mind.

  • 3. Anxiety

    The enemy, the instructor, the learner, the healer, are always within the heart.

    Anguita 11, 17

    Your stress-response system is made up of two parts, the “sympathetic” and the “parasympathetic”. The sympathetic system responds to stress by gearing up the body and mind for action. The parasympathetic helps to calm the body, lowers blood pressure, and improves concentration and consistency.  Knowing how to activate the parasympathetic system is a critical skill. The more relaxed you are, mentally and physically, the better you’ll perform.

    Nerves, anxiety and self-doubt aren’t the exclusive domain of amateurs, professionals experience them too. Pros, however, are more likely to view these emotions as a normal, and energizing, part of getting ready to perform.

     In The Journal of Sports and Medicine, Richard Neil, Stephen Mellalieu, and Sheldon Hanton report, “Studies examining competitive anxiety as a function of skill have shown that…performers who perceive themselves as being in control and able to cope with their anxiety and achieve their goals, are predicted to interpret symptoms associated with competitive anxiety as facilitative. In comparison, those who do not perceive themselves to be in control, and possess negative expectations…are predicted to interpret symptoms as debilitative.”

    Imagine you’re about to pour some milk over breakfast cereal, however, you inadvertently tip the pitcher too far and milk floods out, quickly overflowing the cereal bowl. Much the same can happen to people in high-pressure situations. Stress-driven hormones flood the brain’s prefrontal cortex, washing away the ability to focus and concentrate…at least for some of us. Others, however, thrive in high-pressure situations. Why?

    All of us have a gene, called COMT (Catechol-O-methyltransferase), which has been associated with the control of the pressure/stress-related hormones. Researchers have argued that the gene works slower in some people than in others, making them more susceptible to nervousness, anxiety, self-doubt and even depression.

    An independent study examined Taiwanese students, who were required to write an important test that could dramatically affect their futures. Researchers compared the blood samples of 779 students who had just taken the exam. They reported that although all the students carried the COMT gene, there appeared to be two varieties of the gene-one that worked quickly and the other more slowly. The faster acting gene appeared to clear the stress hormones from the prefrontal cortex faster, thereby assisting problem-solving, planning, thinking and reasoning; the exam scores for the students, with the faster acting variant, were reported to be significantly higher.

    The same study, however, argued that when students with the slower-acting COMT gene understood and accepted that nerves, self-doubt and anxiety are a normal process of the mind to get them ready to perform, the more their results improved when they practiced targeted training techniques.

    Their opnion is nothing new. Centuries earlier, Dogen (1200-1253 A.D.) wrote, “Anxiety is the driving force to enlightenment. Without it as a spur, we are left to flounder in a shallow, insecure life, eternally caught in the vicious circle of ignorance. Anxiety, when accepted, works as the striking of a match in the dark, giving us a glimpse of our impasse and at the same time, igniting our desire to break out of it."

    Every day will bring new challenges, new crises and new opportunities. The difference is that once you learn how to mentally conquer these hills, you can do it again and again.

    Star Stretch

    This yoga-based technique is a popular relaxation exercise.

    -Lie down on your back and spread out your arms and legs to resemble a star.

    -Breathe in gently and slowly stretch out your right arm. Hold your breath to a count of “four”.

    -Relax your arm and slowly breathe out.

    -Repeat two or three more times. Feel the tension flow out, feel relaxation flow in.

    -Repeat this exercise with your other arm and both legs.


    -Close your eyes and do “The Five Deep Breaths”.

    -When finished, imagine that you are standing next to a road, watching traffic flow by. The image doesn’t have to be precise, a general impression is fine.

    -Label each car or truck with an emotion or thought and watch it flow away.

    -If a particular person or event triggers Conditioned Responses, imagine placing that person and/or the event in a car or truck and watch them flow away.

    -Watch your thoughts and emotions come and go while you sit centered and focused.

     Next, we discuss a critical factor in attaining goals, “Attitude”.

  • 4. Taking Control

    Mastering others is strength;

    Mastering yourself is true power.

    Tao Te Ching

    For the past twenty years, I've had the opportunity to explore performance-related issues on a journey that has taken me from sports arenas to genetic research labs, from corporate boardrooms to the world of music, from court rooms to medical clinics, from professional poker to martial arts to the theatre stage.

    This knowledge, and the people I met along the way, I now share with you.

    Divided into eight parts, each designed to fit into your busy daily schedule and requiring only a few minutes each day, this book reviews a variety of targeted techniques, enabling you to tailor this program to your particular requirements. Try out each technique- what it is like, what it can accomplish, and whether it is appropriate for you.

    Occasionally, you may have trouble finding time to practice. This typically happens during the initial two-three weeks. Schedules, responsibilities and the unexpected can bombard you with reasons to put off practice to another day. Worry and frustration may be chewing at the edge of your good intentions.  Acknowledging how these distractions can affect you is an important step in learning how to maintain your focus and to push through emotional and mental distractions.

    For the techniques in this book:

    1. If possible, select a practice area that is free of distractions and minimizes the possibility of interruption.

    2. Choose a practice time that fits into your existing schedule.

    3. Whenever possible, always practice in the same place at the same time.

    4. Always observe how your mind responds to a new technique in order to identify distracting thoughts and emotions, such as impatience, self-doubt, and frustration.

    5. Write down any difficulties (including thoughts and emotional responses) that occur during practice as a reminder to work on these areas. If you like, record the results for the various techniques at the end of each practice session. Keeping a record helps to reinforce positive habits and behaviors.

    NOTE: Throughout these pages, you will find examples taken from a wide variety of interests and occupations, including athletics. Why should the experiences of a golf, tennis, basketball, football, rugby, or hockey player be of interest to you? Athletics -especially in Olympic training programs- provides regular, if not daily, quantifiable assessments of performance under pressure, especially with regard to the emotional and psychological factors, enabling researchers to identify those techniques that are most likely to produce optimal, consistent performance under pressure and change.

    Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz wrote in the Harvard Business Review "If there is one quality that executives seek for themselves and their employees, it is sustained high performance in the face of ever-increasing pressure and rapid change…. performance management addresses the body, the emotions, the mind, and the spirit… If they were to perform at high levels over the long haul… they would have to train in the same systematic, multilevel way that world-class athletes do.”

  • 5. Attitude

    If you take steps to accomplish something, that action will have a result- either failure or success. When you shoot your arrow, either it will hit the target or it will miss. Trust is knowing there will be a message…Those messages are neither regarded as punishment nor congratulations. You trust not in success but in reality…the result is not an end in itself. You can always go beyond the result; it is the seed for a further journey.

    Chogyam Trungpa

    Shambhala: The Sacred Path of The Warrior

    Mistakes and failures are what you need to succeed. 

    Mistakes and failures pinpoint the things you need to improve. They happen to everyone, no matter how talented. Frustration is the name of the game.

    When mistakes are made, it can be too easy to be self-critical and frustrated, to lose confidence in yourself.

    Attitude is the key. Johnny Ferreira, who has been featured on Billboard Top Ten hits, was asked when he started out what he planned to fall back on should his music career not work out. He replied: "You only need something to fall back on if you plan on falling back. I never thought of getting into something and 'falling back'. I always go forward." 

    Be fair to yourself; learn to roll with the setbacks and disappointments. Understand and accept that mistakes and setbacks are a normal part of the learning process. No matter how experienced or talented, you will never stop making them. Great accomplishments are built on a foundation of failure. 

    Neuromodulators map out “pathways” in the brain. In everything you do, every effort you make sends out a tiny signal. Over time, these signals form a mental “pathway”. The more you practice, the more effective and deeply entrenched will become the pathway until an action can be performed quickly and efficiently. Which is how you learned how to walk, run and talk at an early age.

    Perfectionism was an abyss I fell into far too many times when growing up. Although perfectionism was the driving force that made me work harder and always try to improve, it also was the voice inside my head that loudly would criticize every mistake, and demand that I perform perfectly and win every time, no matter my amount of experience or skill. However,  I eventually learned that when things aren’t going well, not to get down on myself, not to beat myself up emotionally. What separates the best from the rest is the ability to be honest about mistakes and setbacks and to put those lessons to work.

    Ken Fornetran, a Downbeat Jazz award winner, said, "I felt like I had to come up with the perfect song, the perfect set, and would get upset if there were mistakes...I used to think that if I made a mistake, the entire set was messed up and horrible. But, if you really break it down to the first song, then the second and so on, some will be good, some less so, and you suddenly realize that out of the two hours, maybe only 5 percent wasn't that good. But, that 5 percent shouldn't be the only part that you remember and therefore make you feel bad about your playing. The memories of that negative emotion can carry over to the next gig, and after a while, you're in trouble...Worry turns you inward, cuts you off. We begin to have issues about getting up in front of people and playing. We can begin to get nervous about it, to constantly worry. I used to have those kind of anxiety issues. But, I learned to just let things happen. It's not going to hurt you if you make mistakes. That's how we learn..."

    Nothing is gained by being afraid to fail; failure is a process of exploration and discovery that provides invaluable insight and feedback. Rather than fearing the risks of failure, give it your best try and see what happens. After all, what have you got to lose? At the least, you’ll just end up where you already are. By accepting the opportunity, by trusting in yourself and going for it, you create the chance to explore, discover and learn something new.

    Famous jazz musician David Sanborn (who has played with a wide range of musicians including The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Steve Wonder, Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins to name just a very few) said, "That’s what really keeps the music healthy and alive, when people step out of their little boxes and try different things. Even if it fails…I think it is more interesting to fail than it is to succeed, really. Because you learn so much more from your failures than you do your successes…That’s something that’s a little bit lost today...people are so concerned with getting this perfect product out there, that people aren't as willing to take chances...because they feel that the stakes are so high, and that music becomes rather than a means of expression, it becomes more of a commodity, and something that is packaged and sold like cat food...There’s nothing wrong with that, but you can have other things as well. You need that spirit of experimentation in order to find these new things…that’s the only way the music is going to grow and stay alive."

    You never “fail”. You are always learning.

  • 6-Distractions

    We are not fit to lead an army on the march unless we are familiar with the face of the country-its mountains and forests, its pitfalls and precipices, its marshes and swamps.

    Sun Tzu

    544-496 B.C.

    The Art of War

    When performing and competing, your “stress-response” system -called the fight or flight response- jumps into action. Stress hormones, including “catecholamines”, are released to mobilize energy, strength and increase reaction time.

    But, there’s a trade-off.

    If left unchecked, these hormones can suppress the calm, rational parts of the brain that help you to focus and perform well under pressure. Emotions take over. You tense up, become anxious, self-conscious, distracted, and more likely to make a mistake.

    Analogous to Sun Tzu’s “pitfalls and precipices…marshes and swamps”, these distractions (termed "Negative Conditioned Responses”) include:

    Physical Stages

     Initial Stage

    -dry mouth

    -increased heart beat

    -sweaty palms


    Secondary Stage

    -always feeling tired

    -loss of energy and motivation

    -troubled sleep

    -loss of appetite

    -tense muscles (e.g. neck, shoulders, lower back)

    -excessive blinking of the eyes


    -upset stomach


    Advanced Stage

    -difficulty in breathing and swallowing


    -sharp pain in chest and heart areas

    -potentially severe lower back pain


    -panic attacks


    Emotional Stages

     Initial Stage

    -repetitive bouts of anxiety and worry



    -a feeling that something has been left undone


    Secondary Stage

    -difficulties with focus

    -maintaining concentration

    -repetitive bouts of frustration, irritability, anger

    -a lack of interest for things one usually enjoys

    -feelings of jealousy, regret, guilt


    Advanced Stage

    -intense feelings of loneliness, isolation, worthlessness

    -avoidance of social contact- e.g. a reluctance to answer

     the telephone, to go shopping



    Mental Stages

     Initial Stage

    -increased self-consciousness with a magnification of self-perceived imperfections and shortcomings including physical appearance, clothes, etc.


    Secondary Stage

    -repetitive thoughts that one’s efforts are inadequate and will never be good enough

    -falling into the "shoulda-coulda" cycle; mentally returning to scenes of self-perceived past inadequacies and failures accompanied by negative thoughts such as, "I could have done more," “I let the pressure get to me”, “I’m not as talented as other people”

    -feelings that others don’t like you and/or are being unfair to you


    Advanced Stage

    -loss of confidence and self-worth

    -impaired concentration and memory (e.g. difficulty in remembering names and dates)


    Understanding and accepting how Negative Conditioned Responses can affect you is critical.

    By way of example, in traditional, full contact, karate, to advance to the next level, a student has to pass a test, called a “grading”. Gradings can last from 6-12 hours long. They are designed to take the student to the exhaustion point, both physically and mentally. At the end of the grading, the student has to fight three senior students, including those with black belts.

    During these sparring sessions (“Kumite”), students typically experience Negative Conditioned Responses like acute anxiety, self-doubt, shortness of breath, a rapidly beating heart, problems swallowing, increased self-consciousness, and feeling that they can’t do anymore, that they need to rest.

    Which illustrates the real purpose of these gradings- by enabling students to experience these types of Negative Conditioned Responses, the instructor can explain to them why they happen and what to do the next time they occur. 

    I've seen too many talented people who, after disappointing results, thought that they had choked. It's too easy to fall into this negative cycle of self-criticism and self-recrimination, which adds that much more pressure and stress the next time they have to perform.

    Rather than denying or feeling embarrassed about how you responded in a pressure situation, a basic technique to regain control is to write down how your body and mind were affected emotionally, mentally, and physically. With this information, the targeted techniques described in this book can help put you back in charge. By way of practical example, during an interview (on the Charlie Rose Show on PBS), Steve Nash, the two-time M.V.P. for the world leading National Basketball Association, said:

    “Learn your lessons. If you make a mistake or something worked for you, that’s got to go into your memory bank. So, the next time you’re more equipped to deal with that situation…take note of everything that happens. Take note of why you failed on this particular play or this game or this season. Take note of why you succeeded on this particular play or this game or this season. And then use that. That’s all free information for you for next time, so when the test comes around again and you’re in that situation you have a better chance to succeed. That’s what it is for me. Continually taking notes and then using that information.”


    In the next chapter, for the techniques we've discussed so far, you'll have the opportunity to immediately put them to work!

  • 7. Putting Techniques To Work

    Scoop up the water and the moon is in your hands.

    Hold the flowers and your clothes are scented with them.

    Mountains and rivers, the whole earth.

    All manifest the essence of being.

                                                                                                                   The Zenrin

    Find a place where you can sit undisturbed for 10 minutes.

    This could be a park bench, a back yard, a balcony, a bedroom, a window looking out onto a city street, and so on.

    Sit down and for 10 minutes focus only on what you see without thinking about what you need do, what’s already happened today, what is planned for tonight or later in the week, etc. When distracting thoughts or emotions appear, apply any or all of the techniques discussed so far to regain focus.

    Distractions that typically occur during this exercise include restlessness, frustration, impatience, and even questioning the purpose of the exercise.

    You may find it surprisingly difficult the first time, even when applying the techniques. This is normal. However, if you aren’t willing to learn how to keep your focus for a few minutes in a friendly environment, how can you expect to maintain focus in a high pressure situation?

    We don’t mind sitting for an hour or two while focusing on a television show or a movie, what’s the problem here?

    Like a karate grading, this test is designed to show how Conditioned Responses can affect you, and demonstrate how to regain focus by applying techniques.

    With this information in hand, there are no limits. Anders Ericsson (Conradi Eminent Scholar and Professor of Psychology at Florida State University), a world leader in performance enhancement, says that everyone has the capacity for greatness. The key? Deliberate, focused practice.  This means working on specific problems and applying the right techniques at the right time.  “You need to know how to do it correctly, monitor what you’re doing, and how well you’re doing it…There’s so much potential. The constraint lies with being able to develop it… I’m convinced that everyone can improve…There's no cell type that geniuses have that the rest of us don't.

  • 8-Memory

    Because one does not want to be disturbed, to be made uncertain, [one] establishes a pattern of conduct, of thoughts, of relationships…becomes a slave to the pattern, and takes the pattern to be the real thing.

    Bruce Lee

    Tao of Jeet Kune Do

    Memory is not to be trusted.

    Memory isn’t a matter of precisely recording and filing information. Memories are sensory impressions of events. Emotions dramatically affect what we see. By way of example, when various people witness an event, each can have a significantly different memory of what happened. This occurs because:

    a) observations can be less accurate in stressful situations;

    b) the memory of what happened can begin to deteriorate soon after an event;

    c) every time a memory is recalled, we subconsciously can reconstruct and re-edit it; and,

    d) memories can be subconsciously replaced by our changing perceptions and values as well as the suggestions of others about “what must have happened” compared to what really did happen.

    That’s why “eyewitness” testimony can be unreliable in courts of law. Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s story, “In A Grove” -from the classic book Rashomon- is typical. It’s a story about the slaying of a samurai, told through the testimonies of witnesses including the spirit of the dead samurai. Each testimony is dramatically different.

    Emotional Editing

    When we compete, we may perform well for most of the time, but mistakes will happen. When you recall an event, do you remember all the things you did well or focus on the few mistakes?

    “Trigger” is the technical term for stress stimuli that cause a specific pattern of Conditioned Responses. If past mistakes and setbacks are associated with a particular event, place, and/or person, every time you think of that event, place and/or person, this can trigger the same negative responses you experienced when the mistake first happened.

    Suffering a loss is bad enough, but long term damage happens when Negative Conditioned Responses like self-criticism and self-doubt attack again and again, eventually shredding your confidence and self-worth.

    Negative self-images and troubling memories eventually can knit together into an emotional cocoon that comes to define who you think you are and what you can achieve.

    Mentally beating yourself up again and again over past mistakes and failures accomplishes nothing other than to increase the chances you will repeat them again and again. If there are lessons to be learned, write them down and move on. How many times must your memories run over this same track, these same emotional hurdles? For what purpose?

    Bitterness is a useless emotion. Dr. Irene Uchida, the famous geneticist, lost her home, possessions and was unfairly interned during World War II, however she commented: "What's the use? Everything that comes to one is a new experience and you grow with different experiences, whether they're good or bad. There's no reason to worry or brood about it."

    Grant Fuhr (later elected to the Hall of Fame) a goalie in the National Hockey League, once gave up twelve goals in a single game. Yet, after the game, he told reporters that he had faced more shots than normal, had made a number of skilled saves, and that after looking at a video of the game if there were corrections in technique that needed adjustment, he’d work on it in the next practice. But, that was it; it was time to move on to the next game. “You need a bad memory to be a good goalie”, said Fuhr.

    The past influence of parents, teachers, and coaches also can play an important role. Unrealistic aspirations for a child, and/or the continual failure to provide praise and encouragement for what has been accomplished, can result in self-doubt and a lack of confidence in the child. This can become so deep-seated that when the child becomes an adult, he or she becomes their own ceaseless self-critic, always critically judging what he or she has done and said, never praising themselves, always finding the need for improvement, always “raising the bar a little higher”.

    Takuan Soho writes, in the book The Unfettered Mind: Writings of the Zen Master to a Master Swordsman: “This is like Mount Fuji being concealed by a single tree thick with branches and leaves…But how can Mount Fuji be concealed by a single tree? It is simply because of the narrowness of my vision because the tree stands in the way of my vision. We go on thinking that the tree is concealing Mount Fuji. Yet, it is due to the narrowness of my vision.“

    Memories are not destiny. When traced back to their root, memories are “clouds” of images and emotions lodged in a crevice of your mind. In reality, these events no longer exist. The actual event has long since disappeared. It lives now only in your memory; it lives only when you remember it.

    Reviewing past mistakes and setbacks is a learning tool that provides valuable insight, however, it is essential to keep things in perspective. In the past, when you made a decision, you didn’t blindly rush into it; you chose what appeared to be the most appropriate course of action given your knowledge and experience at that time. A few years later, when assessing past actions, you’ll be doing so with a much broader base of knowledge and experience; isn’t it only fair, therefore, to take into account the comparable lack of experience and knowledge you had when younger?

    Lin-chi (?- 866) wrote: “If you do not trust yourself completely, you will find the same faults and mistakes in all situations. Make no mistake; if you do not trust yourself now, you will find the same faults and mistakes on every occasion a thousand times over again.”

    To “trust yourself” is to accept the risks of failure, criticism and rejection. As Oscar-winning Film Director, Actor and Producer, Sydney Pollack commented, “How fragile the creative process is, and how complicated and even frightened you are, when you’re out there on the edge of your own abilities as an artist…’what have I done’; ‘will they let me get away with this’…there’s always that kind of fear when you’re working with your wits and imagination. Then, something magical happens. You may not under understand it, know why it happened, or even feel connected to it. But, you just go with it, accept it, because that's how the real magic happens.”

    Regret is for a past that has disappeared. Fear is for a future that may never occur. Isn’t it just common sense to focus on reality, on the here and now and, at last, be free?

  • 9. Satisfaction And Self-Doubt

    What I teach people is to not take on the confusion of others…

    When students today can’t do this, what is their problem?

    Their problem is not trusting in themselves.

    If your inner trust is insufficient, you will frantically be driven by changes in situations,

    constantly influenced and affected

    by others, unable to be independent.

    If you can stop the mentality of constantly seeking and wanting,

    then you are no different from Zen masters.

    Master Lin-Chi

    (?-d. 866)

    What would it be like if every day you had to deal with a person who criticized your every effort, who rarely offered a word of praise or encouragement? That’s what Negative Conditioned Responses can do to you.

    When you have success, your self-confidence may not be strong enough to accept it or to take credit for it. You may feel like an impostor. You may think that you were lucky to attain the result, that those who praise you don’t really mean it, that someone will see through your efforts and point out the faults. Sometimes, self-doubt can be so strong that you focus only on your self-perceived shortcomings without giving equal time to your accomplishments.

    Two groups of athletes, who had experienced success, were asked to recall past events where they had performed well. For those with low levels of self-doubt, the result was beneficial. However, for those with high levels of self-doubt, not only did they have difficulty recalling past successes but they also blamed themselves for not being able to remember any examples!

    Why can we be so quick to respect the attributes and accomplishments of others but so slow to respect our own? Why can we focus so much on a criticism while quickly dismissing or explaining away a compliment?

    It’s important to take pride in your efforts, discipline and perseverance. The primary source of confidence is to acknowledge positive accomplishments.

    Studies report that expressions of pride can represent “the strongest status signal we know of among the emotions; stronger than a happy expression, contentment or anything.”


    This is an alternative to the relaxation technique “Star Stretch”:

    • Standing upright, first gently shake your right arm then your left arm to relieve any tension. Do this several times. Repeat with each leg.
    • Let your arms hand loosely at your sides, while keeping your back and neck straight.
    • Close your eyes, inhale gently and swing your arms outward and upwards in a large circle until they are touching above your head.
    • While inhaling, say the word “Relax”.
    • Slowly lower your arms to hang loosely at your sides. As you do so, let your breath flow out and again say the word “Relax”.
    • Repeat two more times.

    If you prefer, imagine that you are breathing in a cool, relaxing blue mist and breathing out hot, tense orange air  (note: if you have difficulty visualizing color, don’t worry about it, some people visualize color more easily than others).


    Write It Down-I

    Take a pen and a piece of paper and jot down in point form the positive aspects (ignore any negatives) of your practice habits for the past week and/or the past month; of course, the fact that you have taken time to practice is a positive in itself. As well, for each day, include the ways that you have helped others.

    This may seem difficult at first, but you didn't get this far without achieving certain goals, acquiring certain skills and occasionally lending a helping hand.

    Write down a phrase or a positive word to remind you of these events.

    Use this phrase or word to help to regain focus when slipping into negative thoughts about past difficulties and setbacks.

    Review your “Satisfaction” list every day, such as first thing in the morning.

  • 10- The Magic Taps

    Let us describe what we mean by the conscious ego. It is those thoughts, emotions, ideas, memories, wants and objectives through which we subjectively analyze, judge, evaluate, reflect, categorize, construct, and interpret everything and everyone...As the hard shells of our egos begin to rub and bang against one another, we create all kinds of unnecessary pain and misfortune...Our conditioning surfaces...it triggers emotional responses that haven't been resolved...

    Most of us are preoccupied with our concerns. We are preoccupied with the past or with the future. And while we are so involved with the past and future, we miss the moment-to-moment awareness of our lives...When you miss the moment, you miss your life, because life takes place only in this moment.

    John Daido Loori

    Two Arrows Meeting In Mid-Air

    Fatigue breeds anxiety.

    That’s why this relaxation technique can be beneficial, whether performed first thing in the morning, during the day, or just before you go to sleep. I really enjoy this exercise, especially for the places it can lead to, and use it daily.

    With your eyes closed, imagine a tap has been placed on each of your fingers and each of your toes.

    Open each tap one at a time.  Start with the little finger on your left hand, next the ring finger, and so on.  Next, focus on the right hand, finger by finger in the same order as the left. Follow with the left foot, then the right foot, toe by toe, again in the same order. A precise image isn’t necessary.

    Imagine your body is filled with a clear liquid that gently flows out when the taps are open.

    Start with the top of your head and feel the liquid flowing down from your forehead, the back of your head, your eyes, cheeks, throat and neck, leaving them relaxed, calm and peaceful. Continue this for each part of your body down to the toes.

    If there is any tension remaining, feel the tension. Feel through the tension. Feel the tension dissolving and gradually flowing away.

    Slowly take a deep breath, count silently to four and exhale slowly. As you do this, gently press the thumbnail of your left thumb into the next finger. Feel a wave of relaxation flow down from the top of your head throughout your entire body like a wave gently washing to shore, leaving your body relaxed, calm and at peace. With practice, the thumbnail press can become a “Positive” Conditioned Response to relax your body and mind.

    Repeat twice more.

    When finished, open your eyes. Beginning with the top of your head mentally trace down through your entire body, moving various muscles. If you like, perform the Star Stretch.

  • 11- Confidence

    Anybody can make good plays. You wouldn't be in this league if you weren't capable of making good plays, but ... I think that you have to make the bad plays and then you learn from them. I've made plenty of those over the course of my career.

    Tom Brady


    National Football League

    Have you failed enough?

    Confidence flows from poor practices and unexpected setbacks.

    Two world champion rowers who had dominated their competitors and had what they termed “great practices” before their first Olympics, unexpectedly came third in a semi-final, losing by a wide margin to a team they had beaten earlier. Their confidence was shattered; they had never before experienced this type of setback and didn’t know how to regain their focus and confidence. They finished out of the medals.

    In the World Skating Championships of 2013, defending, two-time, champion Patrick Chan fell twice and nearly lost in what would have been one of greatest upsets in the history of men’s skating. “Falling on the triple Lutz was a bit of a shock because I never fall on it, even in practice, so I didn’t have the experience of having to pick myself up from it.”

    Poor practices and unexpected setbacks are “free information” that you can put to work to identity your susceptibilty to specific emotional responses and to learn how to regain focus and confidence.

  • 12- Attitude II

    If your mind is diverted in any way,

    your actions will falter, and

    this can mean you will be cut down.

    Takuan Soho

    The Unfettered Mind: Writings of the Zen Master to a

    Master Swordsman


    During a game in the National Basketball Association’s Championship, a player, trying to guard the center from the opposing team, leaned heavily against his opponent. In the previous game, the referee had allowed this tactic. In this game, the new referee called a foul.

    The next time down the court, the player did the same thing. The referee called another foul. The player became angry and swore at the referee, who called a technical foul. The player became so enraged that he had to be escorted to the sidelines by his teammates and coach.

    The player thought that the referee had been unfair to him. The referee was not being unfair; this referee judged things in a different way from the other referee. In this game, the tactic was judged a foul, in the previous game it wasn’t.

    If we cannot fit a situation to our actions and strategy, our actions and strategy must adjust to the situation.





  • 13- Being Dead

    Ignorance is the lack of understanding of how our mind is attached to impermanent things. The reasons for suffering are desire, passion, ardor, pursuit of wealth and prestige, striving for fame and popularity, or in short: craving and clinging. Because the objects of our attachment are transient, their loss is inevitable, thus suffering will necessarily follow. 


    Three hundred years ago, in the book Hagakure- The Book of the Samurai, Yamamoto Tsunetomo wrote, “The Way of the Samurai is found in death…If by setting one’s heart right every morning and evening, one is able to live as though his body were already dead, he gains freedom in the Way. His whole life will be without blame, and he will succeed in his calling.”

    Emotional attachments to people, events and rewards not only trigger Negative Condition Responses, but often are the difference between accomplishment and setback.

    Examples include emotional attachment to:







    -material goods


    -past setbacks and errors

    -people who were present at the setbacks and errors

    -the places/events where the setbacks and errors occurred

    -regrets and guilt



    “Being Dead” is to understand that emotional attachments serve no purpose when you need to focus on the task at hand and only distract you from what needs to be done.

    When Nadia Comaneci attained the first perfect score in gymnastics at the Olympics, she remarked, “I did not even look at the scoreboard when my routine was done…I thought it was pretty good, but athletes don’t think about history when making history. They think about what they’re doing, and that’s how it gets done.”

    In the Olympic figure skating championships, held in Salt Lake City, USA, the overwhelming favorite, Michelle Kwan, missed a jump that she had flawlessly done countless times before, costing her the gold medal. She blamed herself for the loss. She later admitted that her focus had been on the importance of the event and her hopes for the gold medal, not on her skating. 

    Sarah Hughes, who had finished fourth in the preliminary event, had been given little, if any, chance of winning the gold. She decided to forget about the medals and competing in the Olympics, but just go out and have some fun. Before the skate, she was smiling and obviously at ease. Sarah Hughes stunned the audience by winning the gold. Michelle Kwan tumbled to third.

    A year later, at the world championships, their roles were reversed. Although Sarah had suffered a muscle tear, her coach said that Sarah had begun to feel “the pressure of keeping herself at a certain standing in the sport. And focus-wise, that’s not the best way to come to the practice rink.”

    Michelle Kwan won the championship. Sarah Hughes tumbled out of the awards.

    In the following chapter "Without Blame", we'll discuss the critical importance of the remainder Yamamoto Tsunetomo's quotation.

  • 14- Without Blame

    You, yourself, as much as anybody in the Universe,

    deserve your love and affection.



    No paradise of the East.

    No paradise of the West.

    Seek along the way you have come.

    They are all within you.


    Trans. Thomas Cleary

    In the previous chapter, we discussed Yamamoto Tsunetomo’s quote from Hagakure- The Book of the Samurai. The last part of that quote –“His whole life will be without blame, and he will succeed in his calling”- is of critical importance.

    Living “without blame” is to accept every emotional part of yourself, including any incidents of nervousness, anxiety, self-pity, self-doubt, anger, jealousy, even overconfidence, condescension and arrogance.

    Milarepa (1052—1135), a Tibetan teacher and yogi, taught that emotions should neither be regarded as “good” nor “bad” but only seen as another type of distraction. Accepting your emotions, rather than trying to deny or to suppress them, provides the opportunity to pass beyond them.

    There’s no point in feeling embarrassed about your emotions or trying to ignore them. Emotions always will be there, switching on and off. If you try to reject or ignore your emotions, you constantly will be fighting with yourself.

    Everyone is susceptible to emotional difficulties, even the world’s most elite performers. Felix Baumgartner, who made a record skydiving jump from more than 24 miles above the earth, and broke the speed of sound before releasing his parachute and landing safely, was susceptible to panic attacks when confined within his pressure suit. The attacks became so severe that, in 2010, to avoid taking an endurance test in his suit, he fled to the United States. However, by eventually accepting his susceptibility, he was able to learn techniques for dealing with claustrophobia, which included keeping busy throughout his flight and constantly talking to his manager.

    Living a life “without blame” enables you to be honest about how your emotions affect you and what situations and/or people can trigger them- all “free information” you can put to work.

    Chogyam Trungpa writes (in the book Meditation in Action): “You see, you are your own best friend, your own closest friend, you are the best company for yourself. One knows one’s own weakness and inconsistency, one knows how much wrong one has done, one knows it all in detail, so it doesn’t help to try and pretend that you don’t know it, or to try not to think of that side and only of the good side; that would mean that one was still storing one’s rubbish. And if you store it like that, you would not have enough manure to raise a crop from this wonderful field of ‘Bodhi’ [a term that can be translated as ‘wisdom’ and ‘enlightenment’].

    And one should also examine one’s mental image of oneself, and anything to feel bad about…Sometimes one touches a very painful spot where one is almost too shy to look into it, but somehow one still has to go through it. And by going through it, one finally achieves a real command of oneself, one gains a thorough knowledge of oneself for the first time…now we have to study it and see how to put it to use.”


    You may think that you can’t do anything about who you are because that’s the way you were born. Some of us are more genetically susceptible to anxiety than others, but this does not mean this tendency is carved in stone. 

    Earlier, we discussed how stress hormones can suppress the calm, rational parts of the brain, enabling negative emotions to take over. The courage of living a life “without blame” is to understand how your mind and body react in certain situations, and knowing how to apply those techniques that help you to maintain concentration and attain your goals.

    For example, start each day with Five Deep Breaths, relax with the Magic Taps, or Star Stretch or Blue/Orange, clear your mind with “Traffic” and “Three Important Questions”, and take a few seconds to review the “Satisfaction List”. In doing so, you create the opportunity to discover an inner center of strength, called “Kensho”.

    Ken means seeing deeply; sho means your true nature.

    Kensho: your true potential, your true self.


  • 15. Mental Rehearsal-1

    A good martial artist puts the mind on one thing at a time…takes each thing as it comes, finishes with it, and passes on to the next. He is not concerned with the past or the future, success or failure; only with what he is doing at that moment. Because his mind is tight, he is calm, and able to maintain strength in reserve. And then, there will be room for only one thought which fills his entire being as water fills a picture. You waste an enormous amount of energy because you do not localize and focus your mind.”

    Bruce Lee

    as told to Joe Hyams

    Zen In The Martial Arts

     In the collection of writings Zen Flesh, Zen Bones  (translated by Paul Reps and Nyogen Senzaki), the story is told of a wrestler named O-nami.

    In the marital art’s temple, O-nami was able to defeat his teachers, but in public he would be so overwhelmed with self-consciousness and embarrassment that other students easily defeated him.

    O-nami was scheduled to participate in an important wrestling meet and was worried that he would fail again. He sought out a Zen Master and told him of his troubles.

    The Master reminded him that the name “O-nami” meant “Great Waves”. He told O-nami to stay in the temple that night. O-nami was to imagine that he no longer was a wrestler who was afraid of what other people thought about him; instead, he was to imagine that he was a great wave that swept away everything before it.

    That night, O-nami tried to mentally imagine himself as a great wave. His mind kept wandering, thinking about many things. But, gradually, he began to focus more and more on what it would be like to be a great wave. He imagined that he was a wave growing larger and larger, until suddenly it rose up and swept away everything in the temple.

    By dawn, O-nami was able to imagine that the temple was gone and an immense sea of waves surrounded him.

    In the morning, the Zen Master found O-nami still meditating. O-nami told the Master what he had imagined.

    Nodding, the Master said to him, “Now, nothing can stop you. You are a great wave. Nothing can stand before you.”

    That next day, O-nami won the public wrestling competition. After that, no one was able to defeat him.

    Mental Rehearsal I

    The following introduces the basic technique. The suggested time frame at the end of this chapter is to provide sufficient time to become familiar with the technique before moving ahead to Mental Rehearsal II. 

    Begin by writing down your plans, things to do, responsibilities, expectations, worries and so on. Don’t evaluate what you are writing. Whatever is passing through your mind, write it down. This can be done by jotting down one or two words, or writing in sentences, or whatever way you like.

    If you’re reluctant to write anything down because you’re worried that someone will read it that’s normal. If you like, after you’ve finished this exercise, rip up the list. It will have served its purpose.

    During Mental Rehearsal, if you keep thinking about the items on your list, remind yourself that right now nothing can be done about them. 

    Complete the The Five Deep Breaths technique (include Star Stretch if required).

    Next, close your eyes and mentally see the general shape of the room including the window, the walls, the location of the door, etc. A precise image isn’t necessary, a general impression serves the purpose. After a few seconds, open your eyes and compare your mental image to the actual room.

    Repeat three or more times.

    Do this technique once or twice a day for 3-5 consecutive days.

  • 16- In Control

    If a person refuses to recognize a hardship, no hardship exists.

    Koichi Tohei

    Tired and frustrated from being hit repeatedly during a sparring match, the young karate student tried to catch the instructor’s eye. Finally, the instructor walked over.

    “How we doing here, anyone need a break?” The other student didn’t reply, but the young student said, “Yea, I do”. The instructor told the student to do twenty-five push-ups.

    When finished, the instructor gave a sympathetic smile, “Now, you definitely are tired, right?” The young student again nodded. The instructor told the student to do another twenty-five push-ups.

    The instructor again asked if the student was tired.

    The young student, in a strong voice, replied, ”No, I am not tired”.

    From the inexperienced karate student, to the professional ice hockey player, Ian Laperrière, who lost five teeth and received nearly 100 stitches but returned to the game, to the Olympic figure skater Joannie Rochette who, after learning of her mother’s death before she was scheduled to skate, maintained her focus and composure and skated to a bronze medal before giving way to tears, the question (courtesy of psychologist Dr. Colleen Hacker, who has served as the Mental Skills Coach for the U.S. Women’s National Team) is always the same: “Are you in control of the situation or is the situation in control of you?”

  • 17- Weapons

    If your opponent has a quick temper, try to irritate him. If your opponent is arrogant, pretend to be weak…

    Protecting ourselves from defeat lies in our hands, but the opportunity to defeat the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.

    Sun Tzu

    The Art of War


    More than any other game, poker depends on understanding your opponent. You’ve got to know what makes him tick. More importantly, you’ve got to know what makes him tick at the moment you’re involved in a pot with him… Since I’m obviously going to make this call anyway, I might as well do everything I can to unravel his temper…

    Doyle Brunson

    Super System

    Everything is a weapon.

    In the classic book Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, a tale is told of a samurai.

    A warrior approached a Zen monk and asked if there was a paradise and a hell.

    The monk asked the man what he did for a living.

    The man replied that he was a samurai.

    The monk scornfully laughed, saying the man looked more like a beggar than a samurai.

    The warrior became so angry that he reached for his sword.

    The monk only laughed again and said the sword was probably too dull to hurt anyone.

    Furious, the samurai drew his sword, only to hear the monk say, “Thus, open the gates of hell.”

    Recognizing the monk’s discipline, the samurai sheathed his sword and bowed.

    “Thus, open the gates of paradise,” said the monk. 


    Psychological Warfare

    False praise, intimidation, trash talking, humor, arrogance, condescension…like it or not, these are just a few examples of how some people wage psychological warfare. If a competitor thinks such tactics will give them an advantage, they'll likely to give it a try.

    You may not understand why some people think and act this way, but like it or not, they do. During the Wimbledon tennis championships, in 2012, world champion Rafael Nadal played poorly, falling behind his 100th ranked competitor Lukas Rosol. During the third set. Nadal bumped into Rosol as they crossed to take a break. “I was surprised he could do it on the Centre Court at Wimbledon”, commented Rosol. “He wanted to take my concentration. That’s O.K. I knew he would try something but I was concentrating.” Rosol, who had never survived the first round of qualifying in the past five Wimbledon championships, kept his mental focus and composure, eliminating Nadal.

    Earlier, we had discussed the importance of distinguishing between who you are as a performer/competitor and who you are as a person. This is equally true for these types of tactics. When they are directed at you, it’s rarely personal although it certainly can feel that way. Always perceive such tactics as part of the game, weapons applied to try and gain an advantage over you as a competitor; never take them personally. As Bill Romanowski, professional NFL player, said, "When you're out there, just because someone says something about you, or your wife or your family, you just can't retaliate. You have to remember that they're trying to get you away from your game."

    Think of a time when someone tried to affect you through criticism, false praise, condescension, etc.; how did you react? Put this free information put to work; the next time these tactics occur, you’ll be better able to manage and control the situation.

    Favoritism and Betrayal

    Favoritism and nepotism are opractical realities. A team-player attitude will take you further than being sullen, angry and voicing accusations of favoritism. If someone has been unfair to you, does this mean that later you should always be equally unfair to them? If so, doesn’t this mean that they are still affecting how you respond?

    Betrayal is also something you’re likely to encounter. Some people will stop at nothing to attain what they want. Relationships, values and standards can be swept away by the emotionally-fuelled needs of ambition, power, control and greed. Good personal relationships don’t always make for good business relationships. 

    When this happens to you, there’s no point in becoming angry, frustrated and emotionally upset. Like it or not, that’s just the way your opponents play the game. In the heat of competition, you can’t afford the luxury of letting these types of distractions affect you. You’ll lose concentration at critical times, putting the competition that much further ahead.  Do you really want to let them succeed with tactics like these?

    Anyone can be "ruthless". Anyone can betray someone. These are not strengths, but weaknesses. A failure to take into consideration the needs, wants and values of others is a failure to take into consideration the factors that later could sink you or the support that could save you.

    Suspicion and caution, of course, are necessary in certain environments. For example, in corporate-commercial transactions, maxims such as "You have to be a functioning paranoid" and "Trust is written in black and white" reflect the practical realities of how too many business negotiations are practiced. Common tactics include partners who, without warning, suddenly switch sides during a critical meeting, or when a contract is about to be signed, one party makes an additional demand and threatens to terminate the negotiations unless the demand is met; each tactic is designed to upset the other party and take advantage of the resulting emotional/psychological effects.

    Equally unfortunate is the adversarial approach adopted by lawyers who resort to every tactic to gain an advantage. This manner of negotiating has been cited for the reason stress/pressure-related ailments can be so high in the practice of law. Alcohol and substance abuse have been reported to be nearly twice as high for lawyers compared to the rate of the general population.

    Save yourself by being aware of how you can be affected by these types of distractions and mentally prepare for such situations, as well as adopting a code of values, standards and behavior that will steer you through in the long run. A maxim of track and field is appropriate- never focus on a finish line, always focus on a point beyond the finish line.

    Remember that you also have a variety of weapons at your disposal. The key is to know what they are, when to apply them and the nature of your opponent.

    By way of example, people who attempt to intimidate may continue to do so if you do not respond in an incisive manner. Having said that, the practical meaning of “incisive” can vary significantly (e.g. humor vs. anger), dependent on the nature of the opponent and the situation.

    That’s why the weapons you choose, wherever possible, should be driven by strategy, knowledge of the opponent and the nature of the situation: e.g. if anger is applied and it proves ineffective, what weapons remain?

    A young lawyer had a habit of reacting emotionally to every perceived insult and slight. One morning, the lawyer was taken aside by a senior partner. The partner made a few suggestions about how to emotionally manage certain situations and instructed the young lawyer to give them a try.

    A few days later, the young lawyer attended a contentious company meeting, where a dispute between a minority shareholder (the young lawyer’s client) and the controlling shareholders had led to angry threats of litigation.

    The lawyer for the controlling shareholders took the floor, and made a loud, impassioned speech, hurling accusations of incompetence at the young lawyer for refusing the “generous” buy-out offer made by the controlling shareholders.

    The young lawyer’s emotions were seething. However, the young lawyer followed the senior lawyer’s advice. The young lawyer took a few, slow, deep breaths, and visualized the opposing lawyer’s words as rain harmlessly running down the outside of a window, while the young lawyer remained dry and safe inside.

    Throughout the speech, the young lawyer said nothing. When the speech was finished, the young lawyer allowed a few seconds to pass before saying in a calm, steady voice. “I thank you for your comments.” Then, turning to the leader of the controlling shareholders, the young lawyer said, “Now if we can turn to the contract, if you will turn to page 3 of the agreement…”

    The lawyer, who was still standing, angrily shouted, “You will talk only to me!”

    The young lawyer nodded and said, “Fine. But, I think that we can agree that if we’re going to resolve this, we need to start talking with each other.” Nodding first to the lawyer and then to the leader of the majority shareholders, the young lawyer continued..”So, if we can turn to page 3…”

    The other lawyer was left standing in the middle of the floor, red faced, with nothing to say. During the rest of the meeting, the young lawyer won favorable terms for the client.

  • 18- Mental Rehearsal II

    In “Mental Rehearsal Part I”, we discussed imagery of a specific place. Part II describes imagery of physical movements. This imagery will later be incorporated into mental rehearsal for performance and competition.

    Mental Rehearsal- II

    Begin with the following to help slow and focus the mind.

    -Write It Down

    -The Five Deep Breaths

    -Traffic (if required)

    -Magic Taps (if required)

    Close your eyes and imagine getting up in the morning. This can include climbing out of bed, taking off your pajamas or nightgown, washing and getting dressed.

    For example, begin with taking off your bed clothing. Notice each piece of clothing that you are wearing. Mentally take the clothing one item at a time.  Open your eyes and compare your image to the real article of clothing.

    Again, don’t be concerned if your imagery is sketchy. Each of us will have our own starting points; a general impression serves the purpose.

    At all times, see, feel and believe that you are prepared, relaxed and confident.

    At all times, see, feel and believe that you are mentally focused and emotionally strong.

    Next, mentally see yourself getting dressed to leave, one piece of clothing at a time.

    Add imagery of you getting ready to leave your home or apartment. Follow your normal routine, such as imagery of opening the bedroom door, walking into the kitchen and so on. Take this a step at a time. As you approach the front door, notice the walls, the ceiling and the location of the light(s).

    Repeat this imagery three more times.

    Perform this imagery once or twice a day for 3-5 consecutive days (or as many days as you find appropriate).

  • 19- Self Mastery

    All sentient beings everywhere, fully possess the wisdom and virtues of the enlightened ones, but because of false conceptions and attachments they do not realize it.


    Flower Garland Sutra

    A true story:

    On an overcast, windy, October day, a middle-aged man decided to take one last fishing trip before winter set in.

    Out in the middle of the lake, a can of pop slipped from his hand into the water. Reaching out to retrieve it, he suddenly lost his balance, plunging into the freezing cold waters.

    He desperately tried to reach for the boat but the engine, still running, took the boat further and further away in ever-widening circles.

    Cries for “Help” only brought empty echoes from the fog shrouded shore, half a mile away. The numbing cold began to drag him beneath the surface.

    Panic flooded his mind with thoughts of drowning, of death. His heart pounded frantically.

    Suddenly, a voice appeared in his mind: “Can you give me fifty? C’mon fight! Give me fifty.” It was the voice of his karate instructor, who routinely had students do hundreds of push-ups during class.

    Remembering his training, the man took a few deep breaths to try and calm down. He began to swim, trying to count his strokes as he swam through the water.

    He struggled. Found it difficult to focus. After a few strokes, he began to flail in the water, breathing heavily in short, frantic gasps. He felt that he couldn’t do anymore, that the cold was too much to bear. A terrible fear swept through him.

    The voice reappeared: “Push! C’mon! Push through it. Drive! Give me fifty. C’mon, let’s go!”

    The man began to swim, trying to count each stroke. He kept losing track of the numbers, but stayed with it until he reached “fifty”. He stopped, anxious, breathing heavily, thinking he needed a break, but the voice returned, driving him forward.

    He resumed swimming and gradually slipped into the rhythm. He reached fifty strokes, then fifty more. His mind gradually calmed.

    Whenever his concentration wavered, the instructor’s voice reappeared, forcing him to focus on what needed to be done.

    Another fifty strokes, then a hundred, then hundreds more, until the man safely stumbled to shore.


    This understanding extends to all things.


  • 20- Review I

    Musashi is suggesting there is a higher order of experience than the one you are on now…the realm of all possibilities... With a proper spirit, an honest heart, a dedication to what is just, a benevolence that is boundless, and an iron will to succeed, he says that you can do it too.

    Miyamoto Musashi

    A Book Of Five Rings

     (Commentary on The Book Of Emptiness)


    Ever wonder what it’d be like to compete against world-class competition? Here’s your opportunity to find out.

    An international survey identified the following techniques and attitudes as prerequisites for exceptional performances. In the following chart, the number “5” represents the optimal state of mind and body.

    Don’t be concerned with your initial result. The purpose of this assessment is to identify your starting point, to establish a baseline standard of comparison. With this information, specific techniques/attitudes can be selected to tailor a program that is right for you. 

    Repeat this assessment from time to time to help gauge your progress.


    Never                                   Sometimes                         Always

     I use physical relaxation techniques.


     1                 2                     3                         4                5 


    I focus on what I’m doing and not on what is at stake.


     1                 2                     3                         4                5 


    Every competition is a learning process. I learn from my mistakes.


    1                 2                     3                         4                5 


    I try to mentally block out distracting thoughts and focus only on the task before me.                     


     1                 2                     3                         4                5  


    My goals are specific, detailed, and broken down into the short, intermediate and long term.


    1                 2                     3                         4                5  


    When the unexpected occurs, I know how to regain

    my focus.


    1                 2                     3                         4                5     


    I like to compete with skilled people; it’s an opportunity to learn.


     1                 2                     3                         4                5  


    I understand that anger, negative comments, intimidation etc., are tactics designed to affect my mental concentration.


    1                 2                     3                         4                5    


    I know that unexpected delays and difficulties, and the actions of other people, are out of my control so why worry about them.


    1                 2                     3                         4                5 


    I try to avoid negative self-thoughts and self-criticism.  


    1                 2                     3                         4                5    


    Irritability, anxiety, worry, frustration, self-doubt, and repetitive self-criticism are signs I need to regain my focus.


    1                 2                     3                         4                5  


    Whenever I am aware that my focus and composure are slipping, I begin by applying The Five Deep Breaths, Traffic and Three Important Questions.

    1                   2                    3                        4                 5  


    I only worry about things I can control.  


     1                 2                     3                         4                5 


    Prior to an event or competition, I avoid discussions and arguments with competitors because they could be mental distractions.


    1                 2                     3                         4                5  


    I believe that positive thoughts help to maintain my concentration.   


    1                 2                     3                         4                5 

  • 21- We're All In This Together

    With patient spirit, absorb the lessons and virtue of all of this…Walk the thousand mile road, a step at a time…Today is a victory over the yourself of yesterday. Tomorrow will be a victory over the yourself of today.

    Miyamoto Musashi

    A Book Of Five Rings


    Everyone is susceptible to negative Conditioned Responses. World-class competitors/performers report the following to be their most common:

    Perception and Bias- Abraham H. Maslow, a pioneer in the study of “Peak Experiences” (also known as “The Zone”), wrote (in the text Towards A Psychology of Being; 2nd edition), “Let us take for example the perception of…a person. In order to perceive them fully, we must first fight our tendency to classify, to compare, to evaluate, to need, to use. The moment that we say that man is a ‘foreigner’, in that moment, we have classified him…and to some extent cut ourselves off from the possibility of seeing him as a unique and whole human being, different from any one in the whole world…we have cut ourselves off from the possibility of seeing it with complete freshness in its own uniqueness. To a certain extent, what we call ‘knowing’, i.e. the placing of an experience in a system of concepts or words or relations, cuts off the possibility of full cognizing…It is this ability to perceive the whole and to rise above its parts which characterizes cognitions in the various peak experiences.”

    Non-Assertive- Characteristics include being intimidated too easily. Some people fear their own anger, at the unrest and upset it could cause in other people and will perform less effectively when confronted with a more assertive person.

    Non-assertive people subconsciously can sabotage their own efforts by not trying as hard as they can. By giving up when they fall behind or by putting things off until it’s too late, they hide behind the subconscious illusion that if “I had really tried” they would have won.

    Conversely, some can be arrogant and condescending, reflecting a subconscious need to feel superior to others in order to hide deep-seated feelings of insecurity and worthlessness.

    Over-Assertive- People who tend to be overly aggressive can be provoked and distracted by the actions of a competitor. Chronic irritability, anger and frustration can be indicative of shaky self-esteem and underlying depression. They subconsciously may look for perceived insults as an outlet for such frustration (“insults” can include a broad range of actions such as a traffic incident that triggers “road rage”).

    Over-Sensitive- Generally characterized by acute self-consciousness. Personal resolve, focus and concentration can be emotionally shattered by the words and actions of a competitor and/or by a poor result and/or by advice that is mistakenly perceived to be criticism and not constructive support. The resulting self-doubt can trigger an acute lack of self-worth, emotional breakdowns and even panic attacks.

    Anxious - Anxiety can result from thoughts about an opponent’s perceived strengths and achievements. Research indicates that among elite athletes, male anxiety is affected by their perception of an opponent's abilities. Females are reported to associate anxiety and a lack of self-confidence with non-assertiveness and the importance given to winning compared to a “personal best” result.

    Trust or Distrust- When confronted with uncertainty about the actions of another, a typical Negative Conditioned Response is to think only of reasons to distrust that person, even if this includes friends and/or family. To control your initial emotional response, take time to distinguish between proven fact and emotionally triggered conjecture, to remember incidences where that person has given help and support.

    Unrealistic Expectations- Expectations about how quickly new training methods and techniques will make a difference can be a problem. There are no shortcuts, no free passes, things aren't going to change overnight.

    For example, whether learning a new procedure at work, a new technique in sports, a new piece of music, or a new technique in this book, and so on, you may not get it the first time, however, you keep repeating it until the parts gradually fall into place. Sometimes, this can happen quickly, sometimes you will need to practice again and again. But we stay with it, because if we don't do it now, how will we be able to do it when the pressure is on?

    Perfectionism- Characterized by unrealistic goals and a self-perceived need to perform perfectly. Perfectionists generally focus on their mistakes at the expense of positive accomplishments. Or, conversely, they exaggerate their qualifications and achievements in order to mask deeply seated feelings of inadequacy.

    Perfectionists generally are divided into three groups: 

    -The “All or Nothing” attitude: no matter their level of skill and experience, only a “perfect” performance will be perceived as successful. A single mistake will be seen to tarnish an overall positive result, triggering chronic self-doubt and dissatisfaction;

    -Unrealistic expectations, both their own and others, not only in terms of results but also anticipated praise and recognition. Occasionally, this can cause frustration, excessive self-criticism, panic attacks and even explosive outbursts of anger including physical violence;

    -Demanding perfection from others often at the cost of those relationships, including friends and family.


    Again, a susceptibility to any or all of the above, does not mean that these difficulties define who you are. Targeted techniques plus changes in attitudes and values can make all the difference.

    Yes, some days will be better than others. And yes, on some occasions, especially when fatigued, you may find it more difficult to regain control, however, eventually you will, because you now have the tools to fight back.

    Tenacity, resilience and commitment are the keys, but you already have demonstrated these strengths. When you were very young, you learned to walk, talk and run, activities you now do without conscious thought. Why should it be any different now?

  • 22-Review II

    There surely is nothing other than the single purpose of the present moment. A person’s whole life is a succession of moment after moment. If one fully understands the present moment, there is nothing else to do and nothing else to pursue.

    Yamamoto Tsunetomo

    Hagakure- Way of the Samurai

    Following is a summary of the teaching points reviewed to this point.

    -“…Knowing where your mind is at, and having the ability to put it where you want it to be, is a crucial skill … when it comes to performing well.”

     -Fatigue breeds anxiety. The more relaxed you are, mentally and physically, the better you’ll perform.

     -What separates the best from the rest is the ability to be honest about mistakes and to put those lessons to work. It takes a whole series of mistakes to achieve something great.

    -You are always learning. You never “fail”.

     -Harmful stress results from thinking about the "uncontrollables" (“anxiety” is from the Latin term meaning “anticipation of problems”) such as what is at stake, potential risks, your perceptions of the strengths of other competitors and so on. You can’t control everything; you may be able to control very little.

     -Emotional attachment is the root of suffering. These can include attachments to expectations, to potential awards and praise, to people and what they may be thinking about you, to past setbacks, regrets and so on. Any one of these can affect your ability to concentrate and to perform well.

     -Are you in control of the situation or is the situation in control of you?

     -Living “without blame” is to accept every emotional part of you.

     -Why can we be so quick to respect the attributes and accomplishments of others but so slow to respect our own? It’s important to take pride in your efforts, discipline and perseverance.

     -Memory is not to be trusted. Regret is for a past that has disappeared. Fear is for a future that may never occur. Isn’t it just common sense to focus on reality, on the here and now, and, at last, be free?

     -Prepare the best you can. Perform the best you can. That is all you can demand of yourself. The rest is outside of your control.

     -Your practice, your discipline, is continuous. Now that you know how climb over the challenging hills, you can do it again and again.

  • 23- The Mind Of One Mind

    The mind that becomes fixed and stops in one place does not function freely. Similarly, the wheels of a cart go round because they are not rigidly in place…Completely forget about the mind and you will do all things well.

    Takuan Soho

    The Unfettered Mind: Writings From A Zen Master To A Master Swordsman


    Repetitive, focused practice is the key to performing well. The less your mind is engaged in self-doubt and self-criticism, the better and more consistent you can be. The focused state of mind is called “The Mind of One Mind”.

     With this chapter, you begin to make the transition from practicing techniques within the “safe” confines of a home and take them out into the ever-changing world.

     Again, although the following exercise initially may seem boring and time-consuming, it really is about focus and concentration. 

    (i) Walking Mind


    Complete the Five Deep Breaths, Write It Down (and Traffic and/or Magic Taps if required).

    Stand up and gently lift your right foot. Slowly take a step with your right leg. Feel your right heel touching the floor, followed by the bottom of your foot and your toes.

     Repeat with your left foot.

    Slowly take four more steps with each foot. When completed, take a slow deep breath, pause and exhale.

     Repeat the above two more times, once or twice a day for 2-5 consecutive days.


    Slowly walk outside for ten or more steps, following the above procedure.

     When completed, stop, look at the sky, the clouds overhead. Feel the touch of the air. Listen to the sounds around you.

     When distracting thoughts appear, apply the Five Deep Breaths and/or Traffic and/or Three Important Questions techniques.

     Repeat this technique as many times as feels comfortable.

     Perform this technique once a day for 3 to 5 consecutive days.

     An alternative technique, especially during periods of chronic stress, is to walk normally, focus on a point, and count your breaths in the cycle of “One” in and “Two” out to a total count of “Four”. Every time you reach the number “Four”, press your left thumb into the next finger and feel a wave of relaxation gently wash through your body from head to toe. Continue this cycle until the mind gradually calms and falls into this rhythm.

     This latter technique is derived from Tibetan “Lung-Gom” training, used by Sherpa mountain guides to walk great distances in bone-freezing temperatures (as described in the book The Way Of The White Clouds by Lama Anagarika Govinda). “Lung” refers to the element of “air” as well as the body’s vital energy force. “Gom” means “the gradual emptying of the mind.”

     (ii) Running Mind

    When you are familiar with The Walking Mind, an optional technique is to jog to a rhythmic count, e.g. “one and two and three and four”…or whatever tempo you like. This can be done while walking fast or jogging a short distance.

     When distracting thoughts appear, apply the Five Deep Breaths and/or Traffic and/or Three Important Questions techniques, and/or press your left thumb into the next finger and feel a wave of relaxation gently wash through your body from head to toe.

     Perform this technique once per day for 3-5 consecutive days or as many as you find necessary.

  • 24- Performance Rehearsal- The Basics

    Attention to self-instruction during performance splits the concentration and prevents the integration of mind and body…Thinking is very disruptive to performance.

    Robert M. Nideffer

    Athletes’ Guide to Mental Training


    If you could be well-rested, relaxed and confident before every performance and competition, wouldn’t that be great? But, how often does this happen? Expectations, issues at work, problems with relationships, travel difficulties, unfamiliar venues, recovering from the flu or a cold, sleeping difficulties and so on, can affect how you perform.

    These situations happen to all of us. Nerves and mental/physical fatigue are a normal part of performing. By way of example, dancers and actors on Broadway perform the same theatrical play thousands of times. They don’t always feel like going out and repeating the same performance. But, they do. They act their roles. They force themselves to sink deeper and deeper into the role, into the pleasant smile, the confident walk. In the same manner that actors rehearse their lines, dancers rehearse the physical movements and mental/emotional aspects of their performance. To attain your goals, so must you.

     Performance Rehearsal

    For this and each of the following chapters, begin with:

    -Write It Down

    -The Five Deep Breaths (or Blue-Orange)


    -Magic Taps (if required)

     Mentally review the imagery developed in Mental Rehearsal I and II. Add to this, imagery of you arriving at an event. Begin with a checklist of everything you need to take with you.

     Again, the imagery doesn’t need to be precise; a general impression is fine.

     Next, break down the imagery into steps, such as parking a car, entering through the front doors, checking in for registration and so on.

     At all times, see, feel and believe that you are prepared, relaxed and confident with your head up.

     At all times, see, feel and believe that you are mentally focused and emotionally strong.

     This positive imagery gradually will help to quiet distracting thoughts and emotions. To be successful, you must act successful.

    Repeat this imagery three times or more. As you become more familiar with this imagery, you’ll gradually add more information and detail.

    Repeat the above for 3-5 consecutive days, or for as many days as required, until you are familiar with the imagery.

    About Your Imagery

    The nature of the imagery can differ from person to person. For example, here's jazz legend Mel Martin's, an excerpt from his article "The Zen Zone":

    "I practice a simple form of meditation for twenty minutes, once a day, usually in the morning. It has nothing to do with religion, purchasing a mantra or following a guru. I sit upright in a chair with my feet touching the ground...my spine should be straight. I clasp my hands together and close my eyes. I may listen to music, a tape I made with music and various affirmations or simply silence. The first ten minutes is for concentration. It could be on whatever I'm listening to, the back of my eyelids, my breathing or an upcoming performance. Being a very goal oriented person, I find that I might do the latter for a week or more prior to my performance using the technique of positive visualization. The second ten minutes are spent with my palms facing upward and allowing my mind to think whatever thoughts come up. As they emerge, I acknowledge them and then attempt to bring back the basic focus of my concentration of the first half. The main thing is to flow with the energy of the mind. At the end, I picture myself surrounded by white light and then close my hands for a few seconds. This helps to 'seal off' the energy that you have gained and not allow you to be open to the negative energy fields of others. If you are readying yourself for performance, this will help you to maintain your focus so that when you hit the stage, you can be totally relaxed and confident. During the meditations and other periods of time during the day, you can mentally rehearse the music you are going to perform. Then, before you go onstage, you can clear your mind of any clutter and all of the mental work you have done will pay off because you have embedded it on the subconscious level."

  • 25- Positive Self-Talk

     Rather than free the body, free the mind.

    When the mind is at peace, the body is at peace.

    When body and mind are both set free,

    The Way is clear and undisguised.

    Abbott John Daido Loori

    Two Arrows Meeting in Mid-Air

    Positive Self-Talk can enhance your focus, confidence and performance.

    Self-depreciation and the use of negative words and phrases to describe your abilities can increase the likelihood that a setback will happen because of the associated negative image in your mind. For example, instead of thinking, “I lose concentration the longer an event lasts”, replace this negative response with the positive, “The longer an event lasts, the more determined I become”.

    When negative self-talk does occur –e.g. “How could I make such a dumb mistake”, or “I need a break, I just can’t do anymore”- remember that these are red flags signalling you need to apply techniques like The Five Deep Breaths, Traffic and Three Important Questions to regain your focus and confidence.

    Reinforce your Performance Rehearsal imagery with “affirmations” and “power words”. Examples include:

    “I am energized, confident and ready to go.”

    “During the competition, my concentration becomes stronger and stronger.”

    “I am a ‘great wave’ that will sweep all the competition away.”

    Strong, evocative language can enhance confidence and focus. Examples include: “Tiger” for strength and/or perseverance, “Cobra” for quickness and/or effectiveness, “Shark” and/or “T-Rex” for power and/or ability.

  • 26- Game Plan

    “… self-pity. It is…something that can destroy you almost more quickly than anything else and is to be resisted with every fiber of your being. Yet, you will be constantly tempted. We are bombarded with opportunities to feel sorry for ourselves. Every day we are misunderstood, overworked, under appreciated, and even abused, and regularly ‘something unfair’ will happen… This is the crucial point. Self-pity will destroy you, not the people whom you might feel rightly or wrongly are attacking you…”

    Richard Smith

    British Medical Journal

     Break it down.

     Break your performance down into sections.

     Break these sections into a step-by-step progression of what you need to do.

    Whenever you step into a competitive environment –whether a business meeting, athletic competition, an audition, poker tournament, asking for a raise, doing a business presentation and so on- every word, body movement, facial expression and emotion, must be prepared, and perceived, as a tactic.

    Experienced competitors constantly will be trying to gain insight into your knowledge, skill level, emotional state, plans and strategies, by closely observing and assessing (termed “reading”) everything you do and say.

    This is why your Performance Rehearsal must be as detailed as is reasonably possible.

    For the Performance Rehearsal imagery, take the first quarter to one-third of your performance (or less or more as you find appropriate). Mentally see:

     -you sitting, or standing, or moving in a relaxed, confident, focused manner;

    -where your head, legs, shoulders, arms and hands are placed;

    -how you move specific parts of your body, your overall body movement;

    -the expression on your face;

    -the manner in which you project confidence;

    -the tone and pace of your speech.

    Repeat this imagery three times or more, twice a day. When finished, open your eyes and bring these same confident, focused feelings into the room.

    Repeat the above for 3-5 consecutive days or for as many days as required. Again, don’t be concerned if your initial imagery is sketchy, with practice, you gradually will include more detail, and a general impression works well.

    When you are satisfied with this imagery, add the next quarter to a third and so on, until your entire performance can be mentally rehearsed step-by-step.

    [NOTE: Although rehearsing this imagery initially may seem time-consuming, with practice, it can be quickly reviewed. The template you are developing later can be applied to other events and situations, decreasing the time required for Performance Rehearsal. 


    Having a game plan in terms of identifying potential problems, and how you will manage each of them, is always required.

    Delays with taxis, technical difficulties during a presentation or a speech, a mixed audience response, the location of an event, the words and actions of competitors, are just a few of the distractions that can occur at any time.

    Include distractions like these in your Performance Rehearsal, taking them one at a time. See you managing your emotional, physical and mental responses with the appropriate technique(s). Generally speaking, 3-5 days per distraction is required, but this can vary depending on the individual. As discussed earlier, quality performance results from quality preparation. 

    Perfection and Consistency

    The goal of Performance Rehearsal is not to achieve perfection but positive consistency. Writing for the Harvard Business Review, Laura Nash and Howard Stevenson wrote, “If we value achievement and adopt celebrity standards, we will certainly fall victim to our own excess. Nothing will be enough, and success will never satisfy. If we're high achievers, we may be plagued with self-doubt, feeling that we've never done quite enough. For many people trying to piece together the best parts of the best performances they see out there, success has mutated into a series of irresolvable contradictions.”

    While critical self-assessment after a performance helps you to improve, again, it is critically important that recognition be given, and emphasized, for all the things that you did well.

    If you have fallen into the habit of self-depreciation and self-doubt, these won’t necessarily disappear overnight. However, what can be done is to provide a better balance and perspective.

    “Success” isn’t measured by result.

    “Success” and “failure” are emotional value judgements determined by your attitude about the result.

     "Success" As A Trap

    New performers often appear who have immediate, even stunning, success. However, experienced competitors will study their techniques, strategies, tactics, and emotional/psychological tendencies. With this in hand, new game plans will be tailored to take advantage of any perceived weaknesses.

    The new performer, flush with success, may not see a need to improve or make any changes, especially when distracted by the sudden attention, praise and media coverage. As Lynda Obst wrote in Hello He Lied, a highly recommended book about the business world, and the shark-filled waters of Hollywood, "For a newcomer, for whom the tendency to gloat and float is natural, this exposure without a thick skin...is especially dangerous. It feels almost due you, preordained, automatic and as such is addictive. The radiation at these heights is toxic..."

    Success is not a place of rest. The need for change and improvement is constant if one is to stay ahead of, or even keep pace with, the competition.

  • 27- Self-Imagery

    Consider the core of the mind to be a wagon with will-power to be carried about in it. Push it to a place where there can be failure, and there will be failure. Push it to a place where there can be success, and there will be success.

    Takuan Soho

    Unfettered Mind: Writings From A Zen Master To A Master Swordsman

     “Garbage in, garbage out!”

     A common cause of setbacks is that chattering voice in our minds. Most of this is harmless “self-talk”, a running commentary about our daily lives that help us to steer through the day. But, pressure and stress can trigger negative “self-talk” that can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, even for world-class competitors.

     A survey of elite athletes reported that negative thoughts of past setbacks occasionally were experienced. When this occurred, even though it involved only a single negative act (e.g. a poor golf putt) and they had performed well otherwise, it often triggered a cascade of Negative Conditioned Responses about past mistakes and setbacks, affecting their overall focus and confidence. Many, however, know how to apply techniques to get back on track.

     Successful people get that way because they’ve learned to be supportive of themselves when things aren’t going well. We want to hear support and encouragement from those around us. Why shouldn’t we do the same for ourselves?

     At a very young age, you taught your body how to walk, talk and run. You now can train the mind in equal fashion.


    Imagine that you are about to participate in an event and are getting ready to perform.

     Images always must be positive (and realistic in terms of attainable goals) from beginning to finish.

     Focus on what you want to happen, not on a past setback and/or what you worry might happen.

     Imagine entering the performing area, such as walking down a hallway, up a flight of stairs or an elevator and into the area (wherever possible, imagine the actual area where you will be competing).

     Mentally see the type of flooring, the walls, where the audience is sitting, the lighting and so on.

     At all times, see, feel and believe that you are prepared, relaxed and confident with your head up.

     At all times, see, feel and believe that you are mentally focused and emotionally strong.

    You may not be able to attain a feeling of confidence the first few times, but with practice, it will come. As acclaimed acting teacher Stella Adler recommended, "When you stand on the stage you must have a sense that what you say is so important the whole world must listen." Remember the example of O-nami.

    Repeat the above imagery three times or more. As you become more familiar with this imagery, you’ll gradually add more information and detail. Repeat the above for 3-7 days until you are familiar with the sequence.

     One Weapon, Every Battle

    The following may seem a bit of an odd example, but it illustrates how performance rehearsal can be used for a wide variety of events.

    After what I thought would be a routine dental examination, I was told that a root canal would be required, generally regarded as one of the more painful dental procedures. In the past, this type of news would have triggered considerable stress and anxiety. However, I decided to prepare by putting targeted techniques to work.

    First, I repeatedly watched a video of a waterfront party that triggered a lot of very enjoyable emotions for me. The video clip was only three minutes long, but I watched it three times per sitting, twice per day, in order to lock the images into my memory.

    After having done that for a week, I chose a music track (The Sight Below’s “Murmur”). This music was chosen because, it was very repetitive and therefore would be likely to gradually slow the mind down to a single point of focus.

    I listened to the music while watching the video, again for three times per sitting, twice per day. I did this for five consecutive days.

    When the day for the root canal arrived, I sat down in the dental chair, placed the headphones in my ears, closed my eyes, visualized the video clip, and turned on the music. My mind and body were completely relaxed, my breathing slow and easy. I hardly noticed what the dentist was doing.


  • 28- The Fear Factor

    No mind, no failure.

    No self, no enemy.

    Master Warrior Tesshu

    The Sword Of No Sword

    Poor performances, losing after being so close to a win, making an error at the worse possible time-these types of experiences are common for all of us.

    Fear is the game we play; fear at the past repeating itself, of letting people down, of not being able to handle the pressure, of the competition. But, fear isn’t going away any time soon.

    That’s why “Fear training” is a standard component of elite training programs. For example, in the always potential dangerous sport of skiing, slalom specialist Erin Mielzynski, who has two World Cup podium appearances, remarks, “Our sport has to do with a lot of fear. There’s fear standing at the start. Fear of not doing enough, fear of the speed. I mean, it’s fast.”

    Deidra Dionne, who won a bronze medal in the 2002 Olympics as a freestyle ski jumper, was favored to win a medal at the 2006 Olympics. However, in 2005, during a practice run in Australia, she suffered a terrible accident, breaking her neck. During a seven hour operation, surgeons fused her broken neck vertebrae by using bones from her hip. With the Olympics only six months away, and restricted from doing any kind of physical activity, other than walking, Deidra Dionne’s hopes seemed lost. But, she set a goal and trusted in her focus and dedication.

    She walked several hours ever day, and enlisted the help of the sports psychologist Penny Werthner to help her with a mental preparation program, including visualizing the Olympics site. Ms. Werthner said: “We don’t try to hide from anything. We lay out the plan and prepare and prepare and prepare.”

    Deidra Dionne knew the risks, but she also knew her ability. "The worst-case scenario was, I might not walk again…I'm not concerned that I'll forget how (to jump)… Will I be afraid the first time I jump again? There’s some fear every time you jump, but you fight that by being as well prepared as you can be. I’m going to be scared. No question, I’ll be scared. It will be nerve-wracking. But nerves—and injuries—are an ongoing thing in our sport. Once I land a jump, I’ll think, ‘Oh, I know how to do this; this is easy.’ “

    Three months later, Deidra was medically cleared to resume training. She understood how important it was to be patient, especially given the difficulties that lay ahead of her. “It's going to take more crashes, more facial scratches, and a lot more perseverance. These things don't come easy”. Against all odds, Deidre Dionne qualified for and participated in the 2006 Olympics in Turin (“Torino”) Italy.

    In the 1700’s, an unknown Chinese author, in the text Anthology on the Cultivation of Realization, told the story of “…a man who used black and white beans to make a record of his self-examination of mind. Whenever he had a good thought, he would put a white bean in a bowl; whenever he had a bad thought, he would put a black bean in a bowl.  At first, there would be mostly black beans. Later the black and white would be half and half. Eventually there were mostly white beans, then nothing but white beans. Ultimately there would not even be any white beans.”



  • 29- Silver Mountains, Iron Cliffs

    There are Zen phrases to describe this state as it develops: ‘millions of miles stretch of steel banks’ and ‘silver mountains and iron cliffs’. It is a kind of spiritual power, which becomes the power of jishu-zammai- self mastery… That, in reality, is the falling off of body and mind.

    Katsuki Sekida

    Zen Training: Methods and Philosophy

    Jishu-zammai is an ancient term used to describe the extraordinary state of being characterized by exceptional levels of performance, creativity and personal well-being [“Ji” means “self”, “shu” is “mastery”, “zammai” refers to the highest level of concentration].

    "Our firm of management consultants had been doing some work with the government, and we were on the short list for a big contract.

    On a Friday morning, I did a presentation to a group of civil servants who would make the final decision. When I started to speak, something magical happened. I seemed to be standing outside of myself, watching myself perform.

    I anticipated the questions they were going to ask, knew precisely what to say and the right way to say it. I never gave a thought as to how I was doing. I somehow knew that everything I was doing and saying was perfect.

    When I finished they gave me a standing ovation. We won the contract."


    "On a cold, blustery, winter afternoon, I walked into a YMCA after work, happy to finally escape the office after a tough week. Stepping into the court to play handball against two opponents -who I usually struggled against- the game began as usual, their first two serves skipping by me for points.

    Suddenly, without any type of warning or premonition, everything became ridiculously easy!

    It felt like I standing next to myself, watching as I moved effortlessly and perfectly, scoring point after point.

    It seemed like I knew what they were going to do before they did, as I swept game after game, until they walked off the court, shaking their heads, saying it was impossible to beat me. 

    Best of all, was the incredible feeling that I’d been swept up on a jet stream of pure joy and exhilaration."


    You are born with the capacity to experience Jishu-zammai at any time, any place, and during any type of activity.

    Repetitive, focused practice is the key. When a skill has been practiced and experienced to the point that it can be performed without the conscious mind having to evaluate, critique and correct, ego disappears and the potential is created for the truly extraordinary.

    A frequently asked question is: “Will I attain Jishu-zammai, if I apply the techniques and attitudes described in this book?”

    The Living Buddha Tao Ying writes: "If you wish to attain a limitless result, you must become a limitless being. Since you already are such a being, why become anxious to bring about any such result?”

    By letting go

    Of what you want,

    You find

    What is true in you.

    Then, nothing is impossible,

    Nothing can stop you,

    Because through you and from you,

    All flows.

    Tao Te Ching