JENNY R. SUSSER, PH.D.

POWER & PERFORMANCE SPORT PSYCHOLOGY SERVICES

The not-so-calm before the storm…

Posted by on Aug 31, 2019

No matter where you live, weather and nature are factors. Living in Southern California for twenty years, the threat of an earthquake was mostly subliminal. The earthquake kits in your trunk and hall closet become part of the fabric, failing to notice them until it is time to change the batteries. You install cabinet door latches to keep your dishes and items from flying across the room when the earth shakes, and even though you don’t really think about it every day, there is that flash of it every single time you have to use your fingers to open not only the door, but the safety latch. A small but significant reminder. Then, it comes in cycles as “new” research brings new warnings of California falling off the rest of the country. And then the earthquake, at 4:31 am, rattles you awake and after less than a minute, the world has changed. Now, I live in central Florida and it we are preparing for Dorian, a storm that has me terrified. With too many horses to evacuate, we are in full prep mode. Three days of non-stop already with three days left until we have three days of storm. My sympathetic nervous system is in over-drive and I can’t seem to find that place of normal right now. Worry is my thing. I worry about everything. As tired as I am, I am having trouble sleeping. It’s the worry. Repetitive note taking of things to check and then double check. Lists everywhere. Constant scanning of the property mentally to make sure I haven’t missed anything. Do you know how many things there are lying around a farm that you have to pick up? Countless! Testing the generators, hay, shavings, grain, and water buckets. After the horse food is secure, then people food. And then gasoline. I learned the gasoline problem during Irene, the year before Sandy, when we lived in New York. It is not just that they run out of gas, but the stations lose power, too, and then the pumps don’t work. Yesterday, days before Dorian will arrive, I had to drive twenty miles north to find a gas station that still had gas. Who knows how many days we will be without power so gasoline is important. Panic is like a blanket covering Florida right now and we are all a hot mess. I helped a...

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The Cumulative Effect of Life

Posted by on Aug 24, 2019

Can you ever achieve perfect balance? Have you ever heard the parable of the frog in boiling water? If a frog is placed in tepid water that is slowly brought to a boil, the frog will adjust to the rising water temperature without noticing it, resulting in boiling to death. In contrast, toss a frog into a pot of boiling water and it will immediately recognize the danger and jump out, avoiding death. As a metaphor we ask, what do we fail to recognize over time that might slowly be harming or even killing us? Patterns, like slowly boiling water, can be difficult to notice, especially if they are yours, but when identified, can be powerful. In my work with both individuals and groups, over the last few decades, identifying patterns has been a bit of a hobby. It is much easier to sit back and watch the collective movement of others than to realize you are just as swept up in the group as everyone else. We tend to think we are making all these decisions about our direction or movement when really, we tend to move as a group. Think about the grouping of generations. Are you Gen X? A baby boomer? A Millennial (Gen Y)? Or even Gen Z? In 1928, Karl Mannheim, a sociologist, published a paper proposing a theory of generations and our Gen terminology and identification was born. He posited people are heavily influenced by their socio-historical environment of the shared experiences of their youth, which in turn influences the following generation. Makes sense, especially if you compare your “behavior” and tendencies with the generation before or after yours. I’m Gen X, all the way. As a latchkey kid, my freshman year in high school, I watched the launch of MTV at my neighbor’s house, whose father worked for a cable company. It was 24-hours a day of full-length concerts initially, until video killed the radio star, of course. Women were moving at a rapid pace into the work force, hence the need for the latchkey because mom was bringing home some bacon, too, before frying it up in a pan. Baby Boomers were the 9-to-5 world, and leave it to Beaver’s mom to stand at the door at 5:30 pm, dress pressed, hair and makeup perfect, cocktail in hand, ready to leave her hard-working husband alone until dinner. As technology in television...

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Tired of Not Mattering

Posted by on Aug 17, 2019

For twenty years, I lived in Southern California, 1981 to 2001. High school, undergrad, a couple of years of work and trying to figure out what I wanted to be, and then graduate school. Traffic was a major theme for anyone who needed to go anywhere if you lived in LA, and over time, I watched it worsen, if you can imagine that. When I started graduate school, I moved from Santa Monica to Culver City to prepare for the financial strain of an advanced degree. At the time, Culver City was not yet posh or hip, it was a very mixed community with collars of many colors and little stucco houses that were “affordable.” If you drew a line from the airport to the beach, Culver City was half way. I lived there for nearly a decade and so bore witness to changes from a somewhat stable point of view. I watched as Overland Avenue went from the local road connecting local travelers to their local community to a bumper-to-bumper nightmare of red break lights and honking horns seeking an evening commute alternative to the freeways—which were anything but free. As the traffic and congestion in my previously little town created a monster, it began to occur to me that there were just too many people there. Sounds obvious, I know, but what wasn’t so obvious was our human reaction to the over-crowding. It felt like we were tiny fish in a big, swirling ocean, carrying us at its will, leaving us powerless and without a say. I started to notice the frustration in people’s eyes. I could see the fight with hands tied but fighting anyway. I felt lost and unimportant in the sheer volume of other bodies, wondering if everyone else felt the same. If you can’t see me, hear me, and I don’t count, do I really matter? Value is a big deal to a human being. Again, obvious, but think about it for a minute. What does being valued mean to you? What does not being valued (invalidated) feel like? This is a conversation for the ages and will remain salient for those to come. Like success, most of us don’t think about what being truly valued feels like, but we do know what NOT being valued feels like and react instantly, if not unconsciously, to it. Many people have gotten into the trap...

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We are missing the point here.

Posted by on Aug 10, 2019

A fallen hero being taken down. It has been a very bad week for equestrian sport in the United States. On Monday, George Morris, a former Olympian and Olympic coach, received a lifetime ban from the United States Center for Safe Sport for sexual misconduct with a minor. On Thursday, Michael Barisone, also a former Olympian and Olympic coach, was charged with attempted murder for shooting Lauren Kanarek at the barn he owned, where she boarded her horses and lived with her fiancé. It sounds more like a movie trailer than reality. One massive and one not so massive figure in our sport have fallen and fallen hard. I found out about both of these events the same day and have been surprisingly upset by them. The interesting part is that while sexual misconduct and attempted murder are upsetting enough on their own, what has upset me the most are some of the reactions from the community to these events. The intention of this article is to stoke curiosity and encourage critical thinking. Curiosity should cause us to look deeper, to ask better questions, to ask more questions, and to keep us from being so “positional.” Critical thinking should cause us to see more than our side of things, allowing us to examine a situation with a combination of information, data, experience, and the ability to put it all together to form a theory not a determination. The main barrier to both of these concepts is…emotion. I’d like to say as soon as we become emotional, our ability to be curious and think critically is drastically reduced, if not eliminated, but it is hard to find a time when a human being is not emotional. So then, what is the solution? For me, it is noticing the emotional reaction and impact, and then striving to recover the critical elements of thought and processing—and keep doing this as emotions keep coming up. Tall order, I know, but worth every minute. People are reactionary. Once your heart rate gets involved, your brain changes, and blood flow moves out of the frontal lobe, or executive function part of the brain, down to the lower brain where survival reactions occur. Interestingly, heart rate variability is just that, variable, and incredibly variable. A “simple” thought can cause heart rate to spike and because this happens so frequently, most of us don’t even notice it....

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Overnight Sensation? Ha!

Posted by on Aug 3, 2019

I remember listening to an interview years ago with Lady Gaga when she first became wildly popular. The host asked her what it was like to be an “overnight sensation.” The pause before her answer was not because she was trying to figure out how to describe it, but out of a collecting of energy. “Overnight sensation?” she asked calmly, “I have been playing clubs all over the city until 3 am for over a decade. I have worked every day on my craft for most of my life, and you think that because you just heard of me, I am an overnight sensation? Ha!” The Beatles have a similar story, one of traveling all over London and Hamburg, Germany, playing any venue that would allow them, including festivals where they played for days straight. Again, because you just heard of them, does that make them an overnight sensation? We have a fascination with instant success, glamour, and the stories of overnight sensations. Childhood bedtime stories set the stage for magical thinking and a suspension of reality…except for Dr. Seuss, who’s suspension of reality has nothing to do with reality. Snow White, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Sleeping Beauty…all fantasies about a beautiful princess awaiting salvation from a handsome prince to take her to live happily ever after in a castle with their loving, supportive, wealthy parents waiting for them. So, you are either a beautiful princess or a handsome prince, anything else is unimportant, in case you were wondering. Click your heels together and you will be home safe and sound. Wish upon a star and you will have anything you desire. Make eye contact across a crowded room and get married the next day (with mansion and limitless wealth to follow). I’ll never forget the first Humphrey Bogart movie I saw, Sabrina, and how before he knew her name, he had to marry her. Yep, those are the marriages made of substance, the ones founded on patience, vulnerability, mistakes, discourse, and true commitment. I laughed out loud at the utter absurdity that Hollywood has spun us into believing. These repetitive, familiar, and tall tales make us all have similar reactions: I shall sit and wait for mine. Ask anyone who knows me and they will tell you this kind of stuff makes me crazy. I absolutely loath the “success in a bottle” pitch, snake oil salesman, and...

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