This post originally appeared in my newsletter, Borrowed, Learned, & Thought. BL&T is a weekly newsletter sent on Mondays. In every edition, I share weekly themes and progress in running an agency business/team and doing my best to live a good life. Published posts do not include all details shared via email to subscribers. Subscribe here.
I hit a bullseye last week at archery class. For the first time, my arrow hit the target dead-center.
Dana and I have been taking archery lessons for the last month or so. We've enjoyed the time to disconnect and get out of our comfort zone. When we showed up on the first day, I was in awe of the carefree kids wearing arrows on their belts, shooting 20 yards. As it turns out, archery is a lot harder than they make it look.
When I first started powerlifting, I remember getting stuck in my head as I learned the proper form for each movement. The more I focused on doing it right, the worse I did. In time, I got better at finding comfort when I gripped the barbell, but beginning archery took me back to those early days of powerlifting. The more instruction I got, the more distracted I felt each time I went to shoot.
Little did I know, Olympic champion Lanny Bassham's book With Winning In Mind is a deep dive into this phenomenon. I've had it on my list since listening to athlete Stefi Cohen's interview on The Tim Ferriss Show. As a 25x world record-holding powerlifter and the first woman in the sport's history to deadlift 4.4 times her body weight, Cohen shared how the book helped her perform in competition.
I was looking for a book to read during my trip to Shoptalk in Vegas and decided on With Winning In Mind. I had no idea how relevant it would be to archery. Before Lanny Bassham was an author and instructor, he was an American sport shooter, winning a gold medal in the 1976 Summer Olympics and a silver in 1972. Bassham became interested in mental discipline under pressure. When he couldn't find any resources, he developed a framework and began teaching others, eventually writing With Winning In Mind in 1988.
After returning from Vegas and finishing the book, I was excited to take what I learned into class. Within a few shots, I hit a bullseye. Our instructor, AJ, came over and remarked, "a lot happens in a week." I asked him if he had read With Winning In Mind. Sure enough, he had. He added, "Once you learn the technique, it's all in your head."
From goal-setting to training to writing affirmation statements, Bassham covers a lot of ground in less than 200 pages, including some fun anecdotes from his journey, like what drove him to become an Olympian:
"People say that it doesn’t matter if you win or lose. But when you lose, it matters, and it hurts. One day, after studying the Olympics in class, our sixth-grade teacher said, “It’s possible that one of you might one day win an Olympic Gold Medal. Who do you think has the best chance of winning a medal in this class?” A boy sitting next to me stood up and said, “I don’t know who has the best chance but I do know who has the WORST chance; Lanny!” That’s when losing hurts, and I was losing a lot. I made up my mind that some day I would show that kid. I had to find a sport that would take a short, slow athlete to the Olympics."
Underlying everything, though, is a series of 7 Mental Management Principles. In today's newsletter, I'll cover these principles, what they mean to me, and the action statements included in the book. I found them helpful in understanding the action taken when applying each principle.
Back when I was performing music regularly, I vividly remember being worried about forgetting the lyrics when we were playing new songs or covers. Even if I did fine in rehearsal, I would worry about going blank on stage. Sure enough, whenever I let those doubts creep in when singing on stage, I'd go blank. The lyrics couldn't flow when I was also trying not to forget them.
"If you are picturing something positive it is impossible, at the same time, to picture something negative. And, if you have a negative thought, you cannot, at the same time, think positively."
Action statement: “I take control of what I picture, choosing to think about what I want to create in my life.”
Later in the book, Bassham goes in-depth about the power of rehearsing your desired outcome in your mind before competing. The more you imagine it, the higher the likelihood it will happen.
"Not only does positive imagery increase performance but when we think about creating error we improve the chance of error occurring as well. When we worry that bad things might happen to us we are actually rehearsing them. We are building new neural pathways toward failure."'
One way to create negative imagery is through language, whether with ourselves or others. As a mentor of young designers, learning to lead an effective presentation was always the most challenging skill to teach. I would spend time rehearsing with them and envisioning what it would look like to lead a successful presentation.
When it came time for the presentation, I tried to be encouraging and focus them on the desired future state. They often feared what might go wrong, but according to Bassham, mustering "Don't choke up when the client asks a question!" to themselves would only make them visualize their fear and therefore create it.
I used to laugh when I saw people at the gym talking to themselves. But sure enough, when I'm competing or taking on a tough workout, it's often giving myself simple words of encouragement that help me push through.
Action statement: “I always give myself commands in a positive way. I remind myself that what others are picturing, as a result of hearing me speak, is crucial to proper understanding.”
Bassham talks about the often frustrating start to learning a new skill because our conscious mind is taking on more than it can handle.
"Skill is defined as doing something consciously long enough for the process to become automated by the Subconscious Mind. Unlike the Conscious Mind, the Subconscious can do many things at once."
When I first got on a motorcycle, I remember the overwhelming feeling of coordinating between the clutch, throttle, shifter, and brake, all while navigating. I couldn't imagine it would ever become second nature, but knowing it had for millions of others, I learned to quiet those thoughts. Eventually, with more practice, it did. I still find it hard to believe when I get on and run through the motions.
A key callout here is that it takes training for the Subconscious Mind to do its job. To let the Conscious Mind rest and focus means you've put in the time to equip the Subconscious to perform.
Later in the book, Bassham shares a simple equation: thinking about outcome = over-trying. I think a lot of over-trying happens early in learning because we're anxious to master the skill, win, or achieve whatever outcome we want. We don't think we have a strong foundation to lean on.
This book reminded me that the more we relax at every stage of the learning process, the more we gain. We may not have a strong foundation, but we can apply what we learn in every training session. I only had four archery sessions under my belt when I arrived at class last week, but I decided to breathe and relax my Conscious Mind. I had plenty of terrible shots, but the less I focused on doing well, the better I shot.
In an agency setting, I think of our initial conversations with prospective clients. When we focus on winning them over, we try too hard and lose. In many ways, every client conversation is a performance of its own. The best way to perform is to come in curious and let our expertise guide us.
Action statement: “I am so well-trained that all of my performance is subconsciously done. I trust my Subconscious to guide my performance in competition.”
A powerful mantra I took from learning to ride a motorcycle was you go where you look. In short, if you look at the tree you want to avoid, you'll probably hit it. The Conscious Mind and Self-Image work together similarly.
(Related: Motorcycling & Leadership: You Go Where You Look)
Self-Image is what makes you, you. It is the sum of your habits and attitudes. Every time we picture or attempt something, we create an imprint in our Self-Image.
"The Self-Image cannot tell the difference between past, present or future events as far as imprinting is concerned. Each time you recall an experience the Self-Image imprints it again as a new event. If you think about a problem you had in the past, the Self-Image imprints it again as if it has just happened. If you imagine a future event your Self-Image imprints it as occurring now. You are in control of the imprinting process."
Another aspect of Self-Image that stood out to me was Bassham's take on critique. Rather than noticing what to fix, he suggests focusing on what’s working in order to build the best Self-Image. This goes for casual chats about performance with colleagues and even personal reflection. He believes exposing yourself to anything but good performance can only bring you down.
Action statement: “I realize that my Self-Image is moving me to perform what I am consciously picturing. I control what I picture and picture only what I want to see happen.”
Bassham's connection between Self-Image and performance reminds me of the a framework called Be Do Have (related: BL&T No. 099). It's the idea that most people think they need to have X to be happy, succesful, etc. Be Do Have flips the mindset, inspiring us to decide who we need to be to achieve what we want.
When it comes to performance, I couldn't agree more with Bassham's assessment. I've been on a journey the past many years of challenging my Self-Image and refining my outlook, habits, and overall way of being to live a happier, healthier life. It's hard to imagine being at my best if I was always putting myself down or only seeing limits.
"Your Self-Image needs to believe that it is “like you” to win. One way to enhance this attitude is to picture that you are having a winning performance every time you train. Your Self -Image imprints that it is “like you” to win and adds to the likelihood that winning will fall within your comfort zone in the upcoming competition."
Action statement: “I am aware that my performance and Self-Image are equal. I am eager to change my habits and attitudes to increase my performance.”
Bassham doesn't use the word ownership when he talks about Self-Image, but it's the word I kept coming back to when reading the book. Changing our Self-Image takes ownership. We have to be self-aware enough to know when we are the problem and that we can also be the solution.
"The problem for most of us is that we know something has to change for our score to improve. We just do not want it to be us. We’d prefer that our problem would be solved by buying that new piece of equipment. We’d prefer that if we read another book or took another lesson we would change. We’d prefer that someone else be the problem instead of me, anything but me. But, no one can change your Self-Image for you. You have to do it yourself and the first step is to admit that you are the problem."
In Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he details the difference centers people operate from (from family to spouse to enemy, the list goes on). The issue with these "centers" is they are erratic. We have no control over them, so if we rely on them, our life is always up or down. If we want to control our Self-Image, if we want to perform, we can't live our life based on the ebbs and flows of the world around us. We must be in control. Covey suggests a life based on principles:
"By centering our lives on correct principles, we create a solid foundation for development of the four life-support factors. Our security comes from knowing that, unlike other centers based on people or things which are subject to frequent and immediate change, correct principles do not change. We can depend on them."
Action statement: “I am responsible for changing my Self-Image. I choose the habits and attitudes I want and cause my Self-Image to change accordingly.”
I haven't finished reading the Elvis biography Last Train to Memphis yet, but one thing that stood out to me about his early life was his quiet determination from an early age. It didn't matter what anyone thought, he was sure of who he wanted to be and would become. This excerpt describes him well (and even uses the term self-image):
"Elvis meanwhile was making a greater claim on his schoolmates’ attention. It seemed as if he was determined to make a statement, he was intent upon setting himself apart, without ever raising his voice or changing from the polite, well-mannered boy that he knew he would always be. By his dress, his hair, his demeanor, though, he was making a ringing declaration of independence. More and more to his fellow schoolmates he was a “squirrel,” a misfit, a freak, as he would later describe himself, but not a freak to himself. Photographs show an increasing self-confidence, an increasingly studied self-image, even as he was being increasingly rejected by others."
When his parents worried about their debts, he'd assure them he'd take care of it "when he grew up." And of course, he did. Here's a quote from his Dad, Vernon, from the book:
"'Elvis would hear us worrying about our debts, being out of work and sickness,; his mother recollected proudly, 'and he’d say, ‘Don’t you worry none, Baby. When I grow up, I’m going to buy you a fine house and pay everything you owe at the grocery store and get two Cadillacs—one for you and Daddy, and one for me.’”
Sure, maybe this is an extreme case. Not everyone will go on to be a music legend, but nonetheless, I found it inspiring. I could be better about regularly charting precise goals for myself, but one thing that has helped me grow in different aspects of my life has been reading and writing.
When I'm venturing into new territory, I enjoy immersing myself in the world surrounding the topic, talking about it with others, and writing about my experience along the way. I've found the best way to grow is to own your interests, put yourself out there, and learn from other like-minded individuals.
Action statement: “I choose to think about, talk about, and write about what I wish to have happen in my life.”