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. 

Yelling at Refs Doesn’t Work

I hear people complain about reffing. If you want better, shut up. it’s OK to notice and be critical. Refs know when they make mistakes. 

So why do I say shut up? I’ve spent endless hours watching sports at all levels. I’ve heard lots of useless yelling at officials. I’ve sever seen a call change. When I was younger, I was one of those people.

Yelling activates the fight or flight response, which makes it harder for refs to do their jobs, especially if they are under 18. 

We know yelling at refs doesn’t work. So why do we do it?

Safety. We mistakenly feel like we are protecting our people, our kids or our team.   

It feels unfair, like we’re getting screwed or the refs are out to get us and our team. It creates an enemy, and we need to create a purpose that distracts us from our own.

Even though there is no danger, we will react — maybe overreact. That’s normal. Swearing, personally attacking, raging and bullying is not. I’ve heard numerous stories of overreactions — even a 16 year old referee being followed home.

You know this. How big of a problem is it? 

In my work with people who lose control at refs or anybody, it’s usually because their past hurts get triggered. 

When my son was born, I knew I had to be better. My wife said so.

How did I do that? First, I made a commitment to myself and a higher purpose — to God, my kid, the legend of Hobey Baker, and my clients. 

Every game I went to — I made a decision to just shut up.

It was hard, but over time it got easier. I had to reflect on inside reactions and address the hurts that drove it, the mindset and the self talk.

I ran the clock and goal judged at Augsburg hockey games, which required me to shut up.

As I met and worked with people from programs around the country, it got even easier. Friendships and relationships with the “enemy” humanized people.    

Being a responsible person means being aware. You may not be able to get others to stop. My experience is that it’s difficult and can be scary. The minimum you can do is to shut up and not contribute to the atmosphere. 

So how do you know if you need to do more work on this? Do you have to leave games often because you feel out of control? Do you get verbal and non-verbal feedback that you are out of control? Have you gotten kicked out or been warned by officials or a team manager or a coach?  If so, you might want to consider talking to someone about it. After all, that shows mental fitness and commitment to others and your community. It’s uncomfortable for others when you can’t control yourself.

Add on another simple but effective tip: limit your use of alcohol before games. I know that may not be fun, but most of the worst incidents with refs are aided by alcohol.

Sticks and Stones

Welcome to Mental Fitness Fridays. I’m Hans Skulstad.

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me. 

I heard that a lot as a kid. The intent was to lessen the impact of name calling and words, when dealing with bullies.

At the risk of sticking out, I think it’s a harmful phrase. It creates and feeds mental toughness myths. Emotional pain doesn’t matter. When someone hurts you — be emotionally perfect. 

That’s harmful. Why? It means there is something wrong with us when words hurt. Just get over it.  

Its impact extends beyond just you. It gives permission to others and ourselves to say whatever we want. That damages mental fitness. And we have a lot of that in our world today. 

In “101 Essays That Will Change The Way You Think,” Brianna Wiest writes: Emotional pain is worse than physical because it’s easier to recall and hold onto.  

My work and life experience confirm this. I remember how it felt when I had a professor tell me I’ll never make more than $30,000 per year.

The mentally fit approach? Have the stones to accept that it will hurt you. Remember acceptance doesn’t mean it’s OK.

Remind yourself it’s not your job to get them to stop.  

Your job is to set emotional and physical boundaries to be empowered. Don’t be aggressive. Be direct, assertive and calm. Be specific in asking them to stop.

If they don’t, it says more about them than you. An asshole can’t be convinced they are one by you. But you can convince them you are if you lose your shit. Run your mouth. When you avoid doggy dodo it doesn’t mean you are weak, it means you don’t want to carry it and the stink with you.

The next step depends on relationships. If it’s someone you are close to, work to share and repair.

If it’s someone who believes more of the mental toughness myths, you may have limited impact.

They want attention. Direct your attention elsewhere. Eventually, their attention will turn.

If you have a hard time being direct and assertive, you may need to ask yourself a few questions. 

What buttons is this person pushing? Fairness? Helplessness? What can I do to disconnect them? What fears, wounds, or scars are they touching? 

Answering that will help you to focus on what’s happening now and not old wounds you need to let go of. 

Stick out — challenge the myths. Talk and learn about mental fitness. Share our emails and share us on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. 

The Frosty Atmosphere

This week, Scott Frost, the head football coach at Nebraska, got a frosty response to comments he made about his offensive line coach. He’d coach them so hard that they would throw up 15 to 20 times per practice. 

He said he laughed when it happened, and said he thought they liked it. Here’s where I first saw it. 

He got creamed on social media.  

Kevin Seifert — who covered Korey Stringer’s death — pointed out that Stringer was vomiting as he left the field to be treated for heat exhaustion. Frost’s thought process is tied to the mental toughness myths and its traps. 

The responses struck me, and not just the ones about Korey Stringer and others who have died from overexertion. 

The ones that got me were those that said they want to vomit at Scott Frost’s record or watch them play. Or, here is a new game plan — have your line vomit on the opponent.  

Wow. It doesn’t help to respond by continuing the cycle. You cool the power to influence. 

I wondered why Frost would say that. I listened to the podcast for context. In the beginning, he talks about how they have changed camp schedules to ensure the players are ready and rested. I am not sure he truly believes that. The interviewer asks legit questions, and ones that acknowledge the lack of success. 

The guy is under a lot of pressure. He won a national championship back in the day. He’s viewed as the guy to restore the program.

I have some empathy for him. Maybe he feels desperate to show progress, getting after it and building mental toughness. He’s dialed in — inflicting the pain needed to win. He — like many of us — was raised with mental toughness myths. That’s the default when you’re desperate. In fact, in his follow-up comments, he actually says: “I was trying to portray that we’re working hard.”  

In other comments, he said he was exaggerating the number. This just confirms my view. 

Even though he signed up for it, I bet it’s hard to sit in The King’s Chair. There’s pressure to win and be the savior. It hasn’t gone according to plan. Cults of personality rarely last long.

It’s hard to build a committed culture instead of a compliant one under those circumstances. I don’t doubt some of the players love it. Vomiting after a workout feels weirdly satisfying. But if even one player sees it as abusive, it becomes difficult to create commitment to the program. It makes it hard to speak up when big values are crushed. 

Those comments, and the public nature of them, may make it hard for players to speak up about their physical and mental health. 

We’ll be taking a mental break next Friday, but look for the next newsletter after Labor Day.

Let It Go

Do you have butterfingers?  

Don’t worry if you don’t — I’m not going to smear you or bar you from anything. I’ll actually pat you on the back if you do.

Why? Because we stick with a series of thoughts and feelings that we won’t let go. 

Recently, I was talking with some athletes about letting go. One of them said they just can’t let things go. It got me thinking. Why do we do that, even though we know at some point it won’t help, or maybe even hurt?

I learned a few things when having these conversations.

1) Your amygdala is wired to hold on to things. It helps to keep you safe. It’s a default setting.

2) Danger and safety are on continuum. Fear might be hanging out in the middle.

3) To let go, you need to ask yourself at least two key questions and maybe in a couple different ways.

The first question: Is it safe to let this go?   

The action to follow: Make a list of all the reasons it’s safe for your butterfingers to let it go.

The second question: Is it dangerous to let it go?  

The action to follow: Make a list of all the reasons it’s dangerous. 

Some adjustments to the questions: If I let it go ______ will happen.

If I let it go, my coaches, parents, and teammates will think ________.

If I let go, it means I am ________.

Here’s a great resource on letting go and emotional agility. I would check out the book Emotional Agility by Susan David

Talk and learn about mental fitness. Have butterfingers. Melt the stigma. Spread the word. Let go and change the conversation.

Utilizing a Fixed Mindset

Last week I talked about reframing. Mindset is an example of framing or a mental model. 

Carol Dweck’s book Mindset popularized mindsets — specifically the growth mindset. Her work has had a significant impact on psychology, education, business and relationships. 

I was recently scrolling through Twitter, and I ran across a Tweet that made me pause and reframe the way I looked at the concept. Alex Auerbach, a performance psychologist, got me thinking. He wrote: “great performers use both a fixed and growth mindset.” Here’s a link to the tweet. 

At first I thought, no way. Growth or high performance is the answer. Our culture often likes to glorify one thing and demonize the other. I once had a client tell me he never engages in all or nothing thinking. I laughed. Because he just did it. 

What’s emerged is the belief that a fixed mindset is the enemy of greatness. But, is it? Could there be a benefit to a fixed mindset? I actually think there can be. When a growth mindset is your foundation, there is a benefit to using fixed beliefs in some contexts and situations.  

Mental fitness requires knowing when to use it, and when not to. When you are in a performance zone, a belief in your skills, talents, and yourself is important. It’s necessary for resilience. I am a resilient person and could be categorized as a fixed mindset. 

Unfortunately, we all too often used the fixed mindset in the opposite way — to believe we are not good enough or not capable. It’s generally not to your benefit to use it that way. 

So, what’s the adjustment? Do both and in the right amounts. 

In practice and training, a high performing mindset focused on learning seems like the best approach. In games and performances, belief in your skills, traits, talent, and ability to get the job done creates determination. 

Remember that mental fitness requires adjustments, attention to detail and nuance. All of this is at high levels. Small adjustments over time lead to change.

Let’s change the conversation. Talk and learn about mental fitness. 

Share our emails and share us on our social channels.

Reframing Your Perspective with M&Ms

Welcome to Mental Fitness Fridays. I’m Hans Skulstad.

I used to work for M&M Mars in quality control. The rejects were mine to eat. I got fired for throwing away each M&M with a W, 3, E or B on it. I was dumbfounded. I didn’t understand the problem.  

There was no melting their perspective. Reframing was needed, and it’s much more than Forrest Gump’s line: If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

I’ll add a wrinkle. It means looking for multiple perspectives. Emotion often keeps us stuck in one view. Adapting sometimes means backing away from strong and long-held assumptions. That’s scary. Changing course makes us feel vulnerable and unsafe. It creates a fear of power loss — being called a liar and idiot, or getting turned into a flip-flop.

You are faced with a situation with no great choices. They all suck. It’s like when I had to tell one of my clients he had bad body odor. There’s no good way.  No matter the choice you make, something stinky happens.

Here’s a take. Before deciding your best options, challenge yourself to look at the situation from at least four different perspectives. If there are multiple stakeholders (not the kind that hold up tents), look at it from each of their perspectives. Impose artificial limitations to potential adjustments. Change the angle at which you look at, like I did with the M&Ms. The M could have been a W, 3, E or B.

Look at difficult situations head on, upside down, and with relaxed or more rigid rules. You may see things differently and find adjustments. 

A great resource for reframing is Adam Grant’s book Think Again, as well as his four TED Talks.  

1,000 Mental Skills in Your Pocket

This week I turned 50 — a big milestone. 

A big birthday like that is a reminder that I have done a lot of living, and that I have a lot of living left to do. 

One of my friends knew this milestone was coming, and told me I have made a really good swing with my time on this planet. I agree, and I am going to continue to make an impact. 

Each and every one of you has the same ability, and I need your help. You have heard me say that there is nothing we can do as parents to prepare this generation of kids to parent — besides teach basic values and skills. It’s so clear that we need to teach basic and effective emotion and stress management skills. 

That leads me to this: Steve Jobs and Apple have changed the world. When the iPod debuted, Jobs told us we could have 10,000 songs in our pocket.

I want to make sure the athletes of today and tomorrow have the mental fitness skills they need in their pocket. I’m not sure I can find 10,000 different mental skills to put in your pocket. But together, I bet we could come up with a 1,000. 

I’m not sure exactly how I am going to do this, but I know I am going to need you to share some that work for you. Keep watching these for details. For now, email me, or post on our social channels with skills and concepts you use to build mental fitness.

The last thing I want to mention is how grateful I am for so many things as I turn 50. My family and my friends have had a large and positive impact on my life. My grandpa Carl used to say: “Be good to each other.”

We can do that. Let’s be intentional. Help me mine the 1,000 skills we need to do that. 

The Power of PAWS

A bear walks into a bar and says: “I’ll have a beer and a ……… hamburger.”

The bartender says: “Why the big pause?”

Why am I talking about it? Because I just took one — 10 days off. Pause as in P A W S. Our dog Charlie has them. What does PAWS bring? Lots.

Periodic pauses, and our dog, have made our lives better. In this video, I may tug at you and toy with your emotions, which may put me on a short leash, and at risk of barking up the wrong tree. That may be the tail end of them now. If I chew on it a little more, I’ll sniff out a few. So, let’s dig into the PAWS.  

Charlie’s presence provides perspective. That’s the first letter: P. He’s got simple needs. He needs a walk, some play time, some water, a full doggie dish, and treats. Sometimes I wish our lives were that simple. Oh, and a nap, too. He dishes out love, and that brings perspective.  

Then there’s the A for attitude. He certainly has one, but it’s not aggressive. He’s exuberant to see us every time. His need for affection makes you stop, and your attitude changes. It’s contagious. It’s a good thing

Then there’s wisdom. The W. Perspective and attitude make it easier to access wisdom. A lack of perspective and positive attitude interferes with your ability to apply and use wisdom. 

S is for slow down. Charlie makes us slow down, unless he wants to chase a rabbit or a squirrel.  Slowing down promotes awareness and mindfulness.

What does this all have to do with mental fitness? 

PAWS Exercise helps us when we get hooked. We need to hit the pause button, get perspective, adjust our attitude, work our wisdom, and slow down — so we can act according to our values. 

Let’s change the conversation. Talk and learn about mental fitness. Share our emails and share us on Instagram, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

Creating Your Own Safety

Safety. It’s something that has been on my mind quite a bit.

We all know it’s more than just a word. We all need it. Lately, our safety feels threatened.

I put a lot of thought into this video, as I was not sure this was a safe topic, or if it was relevant to mental fitness for athletes.

The pandemic, mass shootings, climate change, January 6, fights on airplanes and after NHL playoff games. Constant conflict in politics. The changes are overwhelming.

It all comes back to safety. We all feel unsafe, though not to the same degree. I am aware that unlike my wife, I don’t have to worry about my physical safety walking through a parking lot at night.

The irony is we seem to be trying to create safety by fighting about how to create both physical and mental safety. It seems back asswards. It’s self-defeating. The net effect is zero at best. 

Mental toughness myths do the same. They don’t threaten physical safety, but they do threaten psychological safety.

The book The Illusion of Money by Kyle Cease made me look at this a different way. He asserts we believe we need money to feel safe and secure, or to have status and power. His thought is that if you believe in your ability to be safe and secure, you will change your relationship with the world. Here is a link to his book.

It applies to sports as well. I was recently working with a client on self-talk. Her self-talk was “it’s not safe to make mistakes” to “I feel safe enough in the world to fail.” Pretty powerful stuff for both of us. 

Here are the other adjustments.

Let me preface what I’ve learned with this — it’s hard to create your own safety if you don’t feel safe at home.

My clients have taught me that you need to believe you can protect yourself; recover from pain, loss, and hurt; and stay with it no matter what happens. The opposite makes it difficult to take risks, which seems simple, but not easy. If you don’t know how yet, you can learn. I have seen it.

I asked myself how I make myself feel safe enough to take risks. Then, I realized I help people do it everyday by reframing alleged threats, listening without judging, offering support, encouragement, staying calm, and believing that we can help them make positive changes. 

I’ll steer you toward the last adjustment. It’s something we do everyday.

While driving or riding a car, you assume you can keep yourself safe because you or the driver has the skills to do it. You need to do the same when you push yourself to grow and change.

Please note: We’ll be taking a short break to enjoy the upcoming 4th of July holiday, and will resume our weekly Mental Fitness Fridays on July 15th.