Hello and welcome back to Brain in the Game. Brain in the Game is a podcast that's been specifically designed for athletes, coaches and parents who are looking to do their sport just that little bit smarter. And I'm your host, Dave Diggle.
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So let's get into this episode, episode 79, which is Momentum, Confidence, and Snowballs. In this episode, episode 79, let's dig deep and really work out exactly what an athlete does and doesn't need in order to perform: momentum, confidence and snowballs. Exactly what an athlete needs in order to be the best performer.
When I was an athlete, my coach, Mitch Fenner came up to me one day and he said to me, "Diggle, you've got all the motivation that you need, but you're stuck inside your own head." And look, to be honest with you, that was back in the early 80s, and it wasn't really an era where you would ask questions or be given any kind of explanation of why your coach just said that to you. So I just smiled and went, "Okay," and wandered off to overthink what he'd said. To sit there and ponder why he'd said it to me. I certainly really had no idea back in those days what he was actually talking about. But as years went by and I took off in my coaching career and now in the mental performance world, it's really obvious to me what he was trying to say. I had all this momentum, I was motivated, I was driven to become a great athlete, but I would sit and I would overthink everything. I was such a thinking athlete. I never really trusted myself; I was always wanting to tick every single box before I moved on.
Now there's always an aspect where that's a great thing. As an athlete, you want to make sure you're diligent, you want to make sure you're giving it your all. But there's also a time where you've got to trust and you've got to be a little bit comfortable with the uncomfortable. And at that time, I certainly wasn't. I had to retire from my competitive career through to a very serious back injury. And I think a lot of the problems I had as an athlete came from the fact that I overtrained. I wanted to do more, I'd go out and I would do my normal training session, and then some. I remember there was a couple of years where I was really upset because we had to take Christmas Day off. I was in the gym every other time.
That overtraining probably contributed greatly to the injuries in my back. And instead of improving my competitive career, it certainly hindered what I was trying to achieve.
So in some of today's podcast I really want to address that and understand what is the balance between making sure you tick every single box that you need to tick in order to be prepared and be the best athlete you can. And what part of overthinking and too much emotion can be such a handbrake and potentially a platform to get injured from. And understand what we can do moving forward for you to probably get the most and the best balance from both of those.
So as a young athlete and as an overthinker, I really did try and understand everything. I tried to intellectualise everything that I did. And, spoiler alert, doing that doesn't help. Overthinking is like quicksand. The more you struggle with it, the more you try and fight against it, the deeper and deeper it pulls you in. So that mental quicksand that I was going through, I initially thought was just a me thing. I thought I wasn't smart enough or I wasn't understanding enough or everybody else got it and I didn't. Whereas the reality was they were trusting and they were just going ahead with what it was way more freely than I was. I would get caught in my thoughts. I was certainly a perfectionist. I drove for everything to be completely how it needed to be before I felt comfortable to move forward. And with being an overthinker and trying to be a perfectionist, it's not a great combination for momentum, which is the first thing that I want to talk about in this podcast.
Momentum, what it is, why we need it. In order to understand momentum, we need to understand motivation. And there's a lot of different styles and formats of motivation. I'm going to focus on two of them: towards and away-from motivation. Now, away-from motivation, the analogy I use is it's like a rocket. It's huge. It's sitting on the Earth, it's waiting to go off into orbit and do all the things that we want it to do. In order for it to do that, it's got to have propulsion that comes out at the bottom of that rocket to get it off the ground, to get it moving. Away-from motivation is exactly like that. It's emotional, it's powerful, and it's that "I don't want to lose" "I don't want to make a mistake" "I don't want this to go wrong" "I don't want to not be selected". So that away-from "something" is a huge driver for most people. And it's what you find most athletes focus on the most.
With that same analogy of being a rocket, if that rocket takes off because it's got all that propulsion, all that pushing away from the ground, but we don't necessarily have any direction, we just end up in more places that we don't want to be. So we'll get off, we'll move, we'll get here and go, "I don't want to be here either" "I don't want this" "I don't want to be not performing" "I don't want to be in this team or in this group" "I don't want to be in the B-rate team. I want to be in the A-rated team". So then we repulse from there and we get to somewhere else that we probably don't necessarily want to be either. So away-from motivation, albeit incredibly powerful, it's that emotional drive, it doesn't necessarily have direction.
So of course that would be towards motivation, right? If away-from motivation is what I don't want? Towards motivation must be what I do want. And if we're going to talk about what we do want, we've got to be really clear, really concise, and how many people do you know who stand there and go, "I want to be this" "I want to be a champion" "I want to be the best on the planet" "I want to be this, this and this, and this". So it's very easy for people to focus on what they want, but not go anywhere.
We all come across, and in my world as a mental performance coach – these people come through my door like a rotator every single week – I get someone coming, "This is what I wanted. I'm not there. Why?" So having towards motivation gives us clarity. It's more pragmatic, it's more process orientated. Away-from motivation is way more emotive and more powerful. So what obviously that rocket needs is both of these. It needs the power to get off the ground and get moving, but the clarity of where it's going to make the most of that. So if I was to ask you, when you are having those dialogues inside your head, you're thinking about your performances, your trajectory, where you're going, what do you focus on most? Do you focus most about the things that you don't want? The emotional, "I'm not good enough yet" "I've not hit where I need to be yet" "This is not working yet"? Or do you focus on what you do want, predominantly. Overly communicating or thinking about, "This is where I should be" "This is what I want" "This is what it looks like to me", and finding yourself not going anywhere...
We've got to have that mix. We've got to have both of these different components of the same vehicle working together. So that's motivation. We want to make sure we know what we don't want, we know what we do want and we've got that mix of, yep, this really doesn't work for me. I'm going to really work hard towards this.
So that pragmatic process, building a strategy, this is where our funnel process and our decision matrix are prime targets for us to focus on in preparation. To utilise the emotion with the process, we get the biggest and best bang for buck.
So how does that fit in momentum? And what is momentum? Momentum is motion. And the analogy I use is, if you had a big boulder in front of you and you were trying to push it, that you use so much energy to get that initial inertia. To get it moving. To get that boulder moving just a fraction. Every piece of leverage and energy and power that you have just to get it moving. Once it starts to move it's a lot easier, isn't it? Because it's got momentum. Because it's got motion with it. The energy we need to power that, is reduced. So that energy can be used in more sport-orientated, skill-orientated processes.
That's why creating momentum is important. Also with momentum, it allows you to overcome some of those challenges, some of those negative thoughts you're having, some of those skill acquisition challenges you're having.
Remember I said to you before, I was paralysed as an athlete from overthinking and looking to be that perfectionist. My big boulder was not going anywhere. I had to put so much time and effort and energy into moving every single time. If I had been better at creating momentum, I wouldn't have had to work so hard. I could have focused and used my focal energy and my focal currency on things that are going to give me a better bang for buck.
So we want to create momentum. How we create momentum and what momentum gives us – think of this – think of it like a big snowball on the top of a mountain. You've put all this time and effort and energy into creating this beautiful snowball. It's nice and round, it's got a good shape to it, it's smooth, but it's sitting at the top of this mountain. What we want to do is roll that snowball down the mountain. Because when we roll a snowball, a couple of things happen. As that snowball goes down the mountain, it accumulates more snow, so it grows in mass, so it becomes bigger. And we know bigger things create better momentum. So as that snowball grows, it gets faster and faster and it grows more and more. It accumulates more and more knowledge, skills, processes, confidence. That's our mental snowball. And the more we're getting momentum, any little things that are in the way, we will tend to roll over the top and keep moving. So momentum is super important to create. If you look at our funnel process that I take athletes through all the time, it's in a funnel shape for a reason.
Now, one of my clients, and I know he won't mind me mentioning his name, Dane Haylett-Petty, a former Wallaby, he took my funnel process, which is in a traditional triangle shape, and said "I've laid it on its side, because it shows me your snowball analogy much better." And he built that into his weekly preparation funnelling. And I've now adopted that. We've got the normal triangle shape, and you've also got the down the mountain looking snowball rolling version, thanks to Dane. So athletes have helped me evolve this for how it best works inside their mind.
So we've got this snowball on top of the mountain, how do we get it moving? Now you're going to say to me, apply pressure, push it. Well, yes. But if you just push and you push really hard in one place, what would happen to that snowball? You'd probably break it. You've got all that energy in one small area and you're pushing as hard as you possibly can, like that boulder all that energy, all that force that you're applying is applied in a very small area. And you'll probably break your snowball. That beautiful process that you built gets cracked. It has a fracture. So when it rolls down the hill, it will probably fall apart. Or what I often see some people trying to do is force that snowball and they apply downward pressure. That's, that "I'm not good enough" "It's not working for me" "I'm not where I need to be". So trying to change the shape of that snowball, the round snowball is not working for me. I have to do something really different.
When you change the shape of that snowball, it's no longer going to roll, which means it's no longer going to create momentum. It's not going to pick up any new skills or any new layers to it. And you have just created an environment where you've got to constantly keep picking it up, tipping it over. Picking it up, tipping it over. So we don't want a fractured snowball because we pressed too hard. We don't want to changed shape snowball because it's not going to work. It's not going to roll down that hill. There's going to be no momentum. So what we've got to do is use leverage. The way that we use leverage to create momentum for an athlete is looking at things that are working. So, like our funnel system, we've built this process, we need to create this whole recognition and reward process. Yep, that's working. Every little bit of pressure, little bit of power, we apply to that leverage is going to start to move that snowball.
Look, we know by using something under a rock, we can push down on it and create leverage to create momentum in something that's big, like a snowball or a boulder. We've got to think the same way as an athlete. We don't want to become emotional and panic and just push really hard and break the thing that we've created. Our routine, our skill, our process, our competition. We don't want to panic and try and change all that, because then what's the point of training? If we change what we do in training to be different in competition, then what's the purpose of training? That's the same as changing the shape of your snowball. It's not going to roll, it's not going to work for you. So we want to use that leverage.
So if we know what motivation we want; we know what we don't want, we know what we do want. That's also part of our leverage. We know what our snowball is, our process, our preparation system. We use that leverage that we've got to create momentum. Once we've got momentum, we accumulate skills, we accumulate knowledge. We collect the data, we build a plan, we apply it. We collect better data, better plan, better application. All of these things allow us to create a system that works for us, not against us.
So if we go back to what Mitch Fenner was saying to me, which was, I had the motivation, I knew what I didn't want and I knew what I did want. But I was in my own head, I wasn't creating any momentum. I wasn't allowing myself to take these and use them, which meant I probably changed the shape of my snowball. I was working way too hard, picking the damn thing up and flipping it over, picking it up and flipping it every single day, which probably contributed to my fatigue-based injury. We don't want to go there; none of us want to go there. So we need to learn from this.
So we've looked at snowballs. We've looked at momentum. The next thing we've got to look at is confidence, and I've already touched a little bit on that, which is that recognition and that reward process that I spout about all the time. And I was taking some athletes through this training around the three Ws: what worked, what didn't work, what do I do different. And I was trying to explain to them why it needed to be in this order. We've always got to start with what worked. Now, if you think about how you unpack your training or your competition, I guarantee you probably go to the thing that didn't work first. That's been trained into us from a very young age at school. And what we used to do as teachers, myself included, was a big red pen, "That didn't work".
You'd go to school, you'd do an exam, you'd come home, you'd get your results, the first thing you'd look at would be what didn't work, and you'd over focus on the bits that were missing or were broken or you hadn't got right. Even if you got 95 out of 100, you'd be consumed with that five that you got wrong. Well, that's part of what makes you such a great athlete, is you're striving to be really good at what you do, but it's also probably the thing that's holding you back; the sticky part of the process that you don't necessarily want to be part of. That perfectionism.
So how do we do this better? Why and where and how do we do the – What worked? What didn't work? What do we do different? – better? So, like I said, I was walking these athletes through this training programme and particularly this part of the process, and this one athlete kept saying to me, "But if I go out of sequence, I'm still collecting the same data." And I've gone, "Yes, but you're doing different things with it. You're starting from a different place."
When we think about collecting data in a way of, right, let's accumulate everything that's worked first, then we can replicate. We don't have to recreate. We just replicate. That's working. That's that leverage to our snowball. So recognising what worked first also shifts the dopamine and the serotonin in our brain. It makes us feel good. Yeah. Look, even in the worst competitions or the worst performances, I always encourage my athletes to start with, what worked. Because if you're looking at something and you're saying, yeah, that worked, that worked, that worked and that worked, by the time you get to the things that didn't work, you're starting from a higher platform. So the analogy I use when we talk about what worked, what didn't work, what do I need to do different is, the what worked is the raising of the platform. We're going to start from a way higher position. We're going to recognise all the things that worked. We've now reduced the amount of workload because all we've got to do for these ones is press go again. We know what we need to do, we know we can do it. We've got a history of success, we're building confidence.
So then if we think about what didn't work, that's like standing on top of that block we've just raised you up on and saying, right, step off that onto this trampoline. The what didn't work is that trampoline. It absorbed it all. We'd learn from that and then we'll go, what do we need to do different? It'll catapult us in the right direction. So starting from the positive allows us to raise you up. It allows us to create a foundation of a rebound trampoline to learn what didn't work from and then catapult you in the right direction.
If we chose to start with what didn't work, then what's happening in our brain is we've got that dopamine, but cortisol as well. So we're starting to feel really crappy about what didn't work and we'll look for validation of why we feel crappy. Well, that didn't work and that didn't work. And with that as well, I can't do this, I'm no good at that. And I haven't worked this before, I haven't performed like I wanted to. So we'll accumulate because that momentum, be it positive or negative, it's still momentum, we still accumulate. That snowball is still going to go down that hill. But what are you collecting? Are you collecting the things that are working so we get better at them? Or you're collecting the things that don't work? So we end up feeling rubbish about what we're doing, and that momentum gets out of hand.
So positive momentum and negative momentum the same as away-from motivation and towards motivation. Both of these, momentum and motivation, help us either go in the right direction or down the rabbit hole in the wrong direction. So if we're starting in a negative place, if we're starting at all the things that didn't work, we're not going to go looking for the good things. Which means we've got to climb and crawl through everything just to try and grow again. And we're taking all this baggage with us. Everything that didn't work. All the validations of "We're not good enough". All the thought process that "I can't do this" "I'm no good" "Maybe I should take up a different sport" "Maybe I should take up tiddlywinks". So choosing to unpack and debrief in a way that gives you the greatest potential to grow is: what worked? Raise you up. What didn't work? Use it as a rebound mechanism into: what do I need to do different?
If we look at what we've unpacked in this podcast today. We've looked at the momentum. And how we get momentum is utilise the motivation. We need that away-from motivation, we need to know what we don't want, for sure. And we need to know exactly what we do want, it needs to be so crystal clear in our head. That way we can build a process towards it. We've got a path to follow. We've got direction that we really do want to go in. We've got that momentum, we've got that snowball. It's ready, it's primed, it's ready to go. We don't want to dive in and just push it. We don't want to jump up and down on it and change the shape. We want to use leverage. We want to use the things that are working around us so that we've got a history of success. We're going to build that confidence. I often ask my athletes, of all three of those areas, the motivation or the momentum that snowball, or the recognition and the reward process from the what worked, what didn't work, what do I do different? Which ones of those are working for you? Do you know exactly what you don't want? And do you know what you do want.
Is your snowball going really, really fast? Is it going in the right direction or is it going down that rabbit hole that you don't want to go down, that negative path. And are you collecting data in such a way that it works for you or against you? What's working? What's not working? Which part of that trio isn't working? Because, to be honest with you, we need all three of them to be firing on all cylinders. Our motivation needs to be so crystal clear and highly tuned, otherwise we're a rocket and we don't hit our target. We want to make sure our snowball is absolutely accumulating, growing all the positive things. Once you recognise you can do this, you can do that, and then the next thing is you start to expect and grow in a way that you're just going to get more and more out of your input. You're not going to work as hard, but you're going to get more ROI for it. And when you've got those two working, we want to create and feed that momentum and the way we do that is we learn. Everything that we go through, yep, that's working, keep doing that. That's on fire. That's great for me. That's not working. Not a problem, great, what do I need to do different? How do I learn from that? How do I refine that snowball?
So, as you can tell, I get really passionate about these three aspects because, certainly as an athlete back in the 70s and 80s, if I had known these little trio of tricks absolutely, I wouldn't have had Mitch come up to me and say to me, "Diggle, you're inside your own head too much." I would have created an environment that fed me, not suffocated me. So it's a really great opportunity for you as an athlete to say, "I can assess what's going on, I can assess my motivation, my momentum, my confidence, my recognition and reward process," because each part of these are either going to make or break how hard you work and what you get out of your sport.
I hope you got a lot from this. It's a real passionate one for me. I really do enjoy teaching athletes all about this because you can do it anywhere, anytime. You're not dependent on being inside a training venue, inside a gym or at a competition. These are all ways to shift the way that you think to get a better outcome from what you do.
Until our next podcast, train smart and enjoy the ride. My name is Dave Diggle and I'm your mental performance specialist.