My Favorite Things

It’s Thanksgiving week. Some people show up in the office many times in a much better mood. I think it’s because it’s a short week, and because they are getting ready to pause and give thanks.

 I know that’s the case for me. Football, food, and family are some of my favorite things about Thanksgiving.

You have heard me talk about Inner Balance Breathing from It’s a nonprofit that specializes in biofeedback. Their app and device measure your ability to get your heart and mind into a coherent place. 

The key to creating that body state is focusing on something you love, care about or appreciate.  Last week, I had the song “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music stuck in my head. It struck that the song is basically a prescription for High Coherence. I haven’t done it yet, but I am going to write and sing a version of it for mental fitness. That should be fun for all. 

One thing I want you to hear is something I did a couple of weeks ago. 

Several years ago, I met a guy named Lance Pitlick. He played hockey for the Gophers and had a long career in the NHL. You’ve probably heard of his sons, Rem and Rhett. Rem is in the NHL and Rhett plays for the Gophers. 

One of my clients told me about him, and described his hands training as a cheat code for hockey. 

I am thankful to share with you an episode of his podcast that featured my work. Click here to listen.  

I loved doing it, because it’s another way to change the conversation about mental fitness.  Having people like Lance talk about and share mental fitness is essential to changing the conversation. This is a family that gets the importance of it. Maybe that’s why there are two generations of Pitlicks at Minnesota.

For those of you following on a social media platform, I will post it in the comments. 

Change the conversation. Talk and learn about mental fitness.

Getting Ready

This is Mental Fitness Fridays, and I’m Hans Skulstad.

Last week, I went to a conference called Elite By Choice. It was hosted by a woman named Lauren Johnson, who is a leader in the world of mental performance. She used to work for the New York Yankees and had many great experiences to share. 

But it didn’t stop there. Many of the participants and speakers shared experiences as well. It was outstanding. They were like farmers — outstanding in their field. 

Others there included Brain Miles, who works for the Cleveland Guardians, and Hannah Huesman from the Texas Rangers. There was also Mike Kim, who has helped many people build personal brands, and Brent Kocal, who is a master of building effective relationships with others, and Jake Thompson, a keynote speaker. There was Val Demmings, an Emmy Award winning producer, and Lauren Whitt, who developed a resilience program at Google. Another impressive person was Marius Aleksam who teaches mental performance to the Army and Green Berets. The best part was they all stuck around the whole time and were available to talk and share. 

I left energized and determined. It was awesome to be among people who shared a love of mental fitness and its power to make a difference. There was a spirit of cooperation, learning and equality.

The presenters got me thinking about purpose and my theme for next year. It’s a theme I am excited to share soon.  

I’ll give you a hint. I want to put something in every athlete’s pocket. Although some of them will think accepting would be mean — considering thinking deep and from a whole different perspective. 

We have just scratched the surface on the mental toughness myths, their impacts and what to do to change them. It’s time that we work together to change them. It can be done, but it won’t be easy. After last weekend, I am convinced it’s the key to changing the conversation.  

My hope is that when I tell you more, you will be willing to join me to redefine the role of mental fitness in sports and our lives.

Change the conversation to mental fitness. Share our emails and share us on YouTube, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Finish and Impact

Last New Year’s, I told you I was going to focus on two words for the year: finish and impact. As the end of the year comes, I have been reflecting. And not just with the mirror.  

I am proud to say I think I have lived up to those words. I am not quite finished. I am actually 50 percent Norwegian — not Finnish.  

Today, I am asking for your help to finish the year strong and make more of an impact.  

If you are paying attention to anything, it’s clear we need more mental fitness. Two weeks ago, we saw poor mental fitness again. Several Michigan State players attacked a helmetless player in the tunnel after the game and assaulted him. It’s hard to know if it feels like this is happening more, or if we just hear about it more. Either way, it’s sad and it sucks. Why? I grew up with a code — once the game’s over, so is the competition. When I watch opposing players kneel to pray, I often wish everyone did, regardless of what they believe. We are all human at the end of the day.

My goal is to share mental fitness one person at a time. Here’s how you can help me make an impact. I am offering a six-week pilot program for hockey players called Mental Fitness Mastery.  Really anybody can learn from it, including coaches and parents.  

Here’s how we help each other. You get to learn from my 25 years of experience and knowledge. I get to learn from you as we move through the course, and you give me feedback to make it better.

I really don’t want to charge for it, but I have found that if there is no financial investment in things, we rarely follow up or follow through. After throwing it around in my head, I decide that this round will be $197 for sessions.  But it’s a steal of a deal, because courses like this usually cost about $700 to $800. Here’s a link to it:

Please consider joining me. Improving your mental fitness as a player will help you to be the consistently confident player you want to be. As an added bonus, you’ll be consistently confident off the ice, too.  

Feeling Embarrassed

Lately, I have been telling people about the benefits of dried grapes. Why? I’m raisin’ awareness. This video will definitely create a wrinkle. Let’s break out of the little red box. 

Last week, we covered the difference between feelings and emotions. Let’s talk about embarrassment. Unprocessed and unexpressed embarrassment can lead to shame. The mental toughness myths create this, because they say to hide everything. 

The emotion of embarrassment serves a purpose for us. Think of your most embarrassing moments. Embarrassment makes us aware of other people watching. The evolutionary purpose is to stay within the norms of our groups. Centuries ago, if a person acted outside of the norm, it could endanger lives. Shame led us to stop.

In today’s world, most of our embarrassing moments don’t lead to danger. They just create the uncomfortable. But for most of us, we can give compassion when others feel uncomfortable or embarrassed.

I worked with a young athlete who said they didn’t like their coach because when they lost, he told them they were an embarrassment to their entire town. 

First, that’s not accurate. Second, it labels the feeling as bad.

Telling someone they are an embarrassment is a hook. Feeling embarrassed means just that. It’s a moment, and then it’s over. It’s temporary. Feeling embarrassed does not mean you are an embarrassment. 

That’s the wrinkle that causes problems. We get fused to what we feel. Feeling crazy doesn’t mean you are. Feeling scared doesn’t mean you are weak. Feeling incompetent doesnt mean you are.

So what’s the adjustment?

  1. Accept that what you feel is information. 
  2. Remember it’s temporary — nothing lasts forever. Sometimes I view it as the scroll of scores on a TV screen. It comes and goes.
  3. Recognize and be aware of when you fuse with your emotions and shame yourself. Defuse. Tell yourself that you’re feeling embarrassed, instead of that you are embarrassed. 
  4. Like we talked about last week, change or interrupt the pattern. Too often, we believe our emotions need to be decoded, because they are sending us secret messages. Usually, they are not.

If you can separate feeling embarrassment from being an embarrassment, you can own up to what you did and problem solve. If you don’t, you risk doubling down and creating a spiral that distances you from others and reality.

Emotions vs. Feelings

I read and listen to a lot of books. I put a concept on the shelf, but it keeps coming up — so I’m ready to turn the page and bind the ideas together. Mark my words. This video is a new chapter in comprehension. 

The concept is there is a difference between emotions and feelings. Most of us don’t see it that way. Mental fitness requires noticing small details like this. 

There are basic emotions: love, joy, anger, sadness, fear, surprise, contempt and disgust.  They’re instinctive — like disgust when you smell B.O. Unless it’s a hockey bag, it’s a sweet smell. The feeling is what it means. It smells like hard work, learning and fun. No sweat for me.  But it disgusts my wife. She feels that hockey bags are gross. When our son is done playing, her view may change.

Mental fitness requires knowing the difference. When faced with a big moment, fear is an instinctive emotion. The feeling is panic. Sometimes we use feelings to explain away emotions we don’t want to experience. 

Unexpressed embarrassment leads to shame and hiding. Unprocessed and avoided fear can lead to anxiety and worry. Disgust leads to judgment, condemnation and conviction.  

Three books explain this concept well: Emotional Agility by Susan David, High Performance Habits by Brendon Burchard, and The Mountain is You by Brianna Wiest

How do you take action? Think about your strong reactions to things. We often cheat ourselves by viewing them as unfixable personality traits.    

Lean into strong reactions. Observe patterns. Write notes in your phone. Think about the trigger,  the basic emotions and the feeling attached to it. Think about the racing thoughts that result. If you’re mad at others, they are usually vengeful and attacking. If you’re shutting down, it’s the same, but directed at yourself. If you’re frozen, you think helpless statements and that you’re screwed.   

You gain power in two ways if you do this. First, the loop is predictable and you know that it ends. Second, it allows you to interrupt the pattern of thoughts becoming things and things become truths and truths become distractions. Creating a new pattern may mean some extended struggles. You may have to start with just rebooting your brain until you learn more or try more. 

Change the meaning. It’ll change the feeling. Pressure is a privilege. Struggles mean I am excited for the challenge. 

Avoiding Criticism

Avoiding criticism seems like a good goal. But guess what? It’s not possible. It requires perfection. If you try to avoid criticism at all costs, you will create a void in your life. You won’t grow. Doing important things requires facing criticism.

Why do we work so hard sometimes to avoid it? After all, it’s a hazard of community, relationships and life. The answer is we hear criticism with add-ons. For example, why did you load the dishwasher that way, you big bleeping dummy? I’m better than you, you big loser. If that’s our default, it doesn’t matter if FedEx, UPS or the Post Office delivers it. We get defensive of who we are, even though we created the judgment.

Everyone who is human struggles with this. I have. It’s why the dumbest fights happen, like over the best way to load the dishwasher. 

This idea impacts us as athletes. Some try to impress everyone and disappoint no one, whether it’s coaches, teammates or scouts. It can’t be done. Each has different views of the kind of player they want on their team.

I learned the hard way that trying to please everyone and avoiding criticism pleases no one. I thought I could and should. A chase for approval and love ensued. Here’s the hard part –  you can’t make someone. They have to choose to. The fact is that someone somewhere thinks you’re a big deal because they have their own fears. You can only confront yours.

How? Drop the add ons. Listen for constructive adjustments. Self-assess. Does their different perspective change me or the value I add to the world? What do they need from me right now? Have I demonstrated a willingness to accept feedback? Do I demonstrate the courage and strength it takes to change? If the answer to both is yes, criticism is the compliment.

Failing to ask these questions risks confusing accepting influence with getting walked over. The result is we often clear up the confusion with aggression, and we believe we are just standing up for ourselves. Be aware of your add-ons. Drop them, so you don’t have to defend yourself.  Instead, you can problem-solve and be more mentally fit.

Insight Into Action

This is Mental Fitness Fridays. I’m Hans Skulstad. Want to make an impact? Then listen up.

Insight. It’s one of the foundations of mental fitness. In order to change, you need insight into yourself. It’s necessary for self-awareness. 

I have another observation from the show Quantum Leap. The time traveler often comes up against people who need insight into themselves. Through insight, he gets them to change their view. 

Insight without action is like empty promises. Here’s the thing with insight — some insights actually shift our perspective to make changes in the ways we relate to ourselves and the world. 

For example, having a strong emotional reaction to four set mouse traps in your lap means you are human. The mental toughness myths would say it means you’re soft. A shift changes the meaning. 

If I realize I need to change my diet and not buy oreos — but keep buying them and eating them — the insight does nothing.

I have realized that the same is true with teaching mental fitness. My belief is that we need more emphasis on mental fitness and the skills needed to react to adversity in a productive way. 

When you understand things differently, ask yourself: 

What can I do to support this new belief? 

What concrete steps can I take to integrate this into my life? 

Cement it. If I did, how would my life change? 

Is there anything blocking integration? 

Is there anything I need to stop doing?

You may have received an email from me this week about a course I am thinking about doing.  It’s my concrete step to put insight into action. To be honest, the whole idea of building it and sharing it scares me. I believe there is no amount of talking about mental fitness that is too much. We need to pour it on. We cannot believe our future is set in stone. 

Let’s work together to change the conversation. Share my emails. The survey in my email from Wednesday is a way you can help, and so is sharing us on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

P.S. In case you didnt get the email referenced I wanted to add it here:

Hi – 

 As a youth, I loved playing football and baseball, but it was a struggle because I got little guidance on improving and managing my emotions. No one ever told me that if I worked smarter and harder, I could have more success. Instead, I was pushed out of sports by coaches who told me I was not talented enough.

It had nothing to do with my physical talents, it was all about what was going on in my mind. Sadly a lot of coaches don’t understand this because they’re hyper-focused on physical performance.

Playing racquetball with my dad in college, I discovered the power of my mind to influence my performance in a positive way. But there were few resources available about these techniques, and all from people who weren’t playing organized sports. 

So I went to grad school to become a therapist. I became the expert I needed when I was starting out in sports. To this day, I’m working to create the resources I never had so that no young athlete has to be pushed out. 

Lately, I have been thinking about a way how I could support young athletes even better. As a therapist who operates locally, I can only reach a limited amount of athletes, and therefore my knowledge can’t reach as much athletes as it should. 

I know all the techniques you need to train your mind in a way that supports your physical performance to a point where every game feels like your best game. I have seen many of my clients turn pro players and stay pro. 

If you’re interested, I’ll teach you exactly what you need to know to “get out of your head” to always perform your best. 

I don’t want to build something and then find out that nobody’s interested, though, so if you are, please take a minute to fill out THIS SURVEY

Should I build a product to teach you how to train your mind so that you will always play in your optimal performance zone?

Thank you very much for your help,

Hans Skulstad 

Trying to Change the Past

This summer I got COVID-19. During my downtime, I watched the 80s show “Quantum Leap.” In the show, a time traveler leaps into other people’s lives with the knowledge to change their future. There is a reboot now on Peacock.

While I was watching it, I wondered why time travel is a popular storyline. (Think “Back to the Future.”)

I think it triggers our need for control. We think about how small moments have an impact on the past, present and future.  

Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could selectively change events to our favor? When we dream of it, we are holding on to the past and our regrets.

Ever heard anybody say: “If I knew then what I know now, then things would be different”?

Thanks, Captain Obvious. 

Wishing for the past to change means we are stuck. We’re looking back and avoiding the future and the now. We’re hoping to avoid the difficulty of our present, and we’re afraid that the event we are thinking about will define us forever. 

If you know me well, you know I had a tough time 5 years ago. I was suffering from PTSD from a bike accident, and a cancer scare with my wife. It sucked. I was miserable. I had a hard time keeping it contained.

One different small decision could have avoided the triggering event. At first, I kept asking myself: 

Why did you do that? 

What if I had…, then… 

What if I do ___ then I can make all the uncomfortable feelings go away.  

I wouldn’t change what happened. It was the worst and best. I learned so much about myself and my relationship to the world. I saw my own mental toughness myths and their impact.  

It took me a while to come to some kind of acceptance of it all. If you find yourself obsessing over what you should have done, didn’t do, or could have done, then you may want to ask yourself what you are having trouble accepting. Instead, figure out what you can do to accept it and make the best of the situation — which is the inspiration for these videos.    

I hope that what I know now may help you to be ready for when you hit adversity. Here’s a way to make an impact. Prioritize sharing what you have learned without sounding like you know it all. When you help others, you help yourself.  

If you want to learn more about this concept, watch this TED Talk By Daniel Goldstein.   

The Invisible Scoreboard

Do you want to make an impact? Then listen up. 

I have a unique take on a common sports phrase. It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game. In sports, that’s true. But winning and losing matters, too. If it didn’t, we wouldn’t keep score.

We fired the invisible jury last week. This week: the invisible scoreboard. 

Here’s the take. The win and lose narrative often seeps into daily life. I have often heard people say they won an argument.

In sports, there are times when situations are clear cut win/lose, right/wrong. But more often, context matters. 

In relationships with ourselves and others, competition creates a power difference that destroys problem solving and creates distance.  Ever seen a picture of the guy who won an argument with his wife? He’s sleeping outside.

It’s easy to get hooked into the idea, especially if you have played sports all your life. 

Maybe you say you’re a competitive person. That may be true, but everyone is — that was a part of survival centuries ago. But it doesn’t mean you can’t change your perspective or suspend your game with yourself.

Here’s the thing — life can feel and be a game sometimes. But if you think it is all the time, your games or matches may feel like a blessing or a curse. 

Relationships are not games. We hate it when people play relationship games.

Ask yourself: Am I respectful? Do I listen to understand or refute? To understand the other perspective or look for holes? Minimize or take accountability?

Remind yourself that trying to win or lose arguments usually makes you feel worse and rarely solves problems. No one is keeping track of the arguments you have won or lost. The only scoreboard is in your own head. 

Mental fitness requires identifying the problem, and working to solve it together. 

The Invisible Jury

What’s an invisible jury? It’s a jury you can’t see. It’s one that you create in your head. 

Do you fear its power to convict — of not being good enough, a bad person or a loser?

I used to think there was always one hiding. The mysterious “they.” I didn’t know who. I tried to be seen as innocent of everything.  

I was recently talking with a client who made a life change. 

“I always want to do everything well,” she said. 

“If you don’t, then what?” I said. 

“I will be seen as not good enough”

“By who?”

“People on social media.”

“Oh, the Karadashians.”  

She laughed. 

“Well, now that you say it, it sounds dumb.”  

It’s normal to fear judgment. You are the only one who can be convicted of anything.  

We are told we shouldn’t care what others think. That’s easy to say, but hard to do. It’s necessary to be aware of how others think about you. It’s part of relationships and community. It’s another part of human nature you can push against. Here’s how: ask. 

Whose judgment in the jury do you fear, and why? What real power do they have over you? The problem is we think the jury will forever convict us as fundamentally flawed, weak or damaged.

Use self-confidence. Remember your successes, your best moments and the people who love you.  

Use mental imagery. Identify the jurors. Imagine dismissing each person. When they are the Karadashians, you can dismiss them easily. Replace them with people who have your back. My wife and son are my real jury.

Most people don’t judge you at your worst. If you do that to others, that may explain why you think other people do, too. It means the juror you need to dismiss the most is you.

Want to learn more about how to be less judgemental of yourself? Watch this TED Talk by Susan David. She has also written a great book called Emotional Agility

Want to make an impact and change the conversation to mental fitness? Then share our emails, and share us on Instagram, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.