JENNY R. SUSSER, PH.D.

POWER & PERFORMANCE SPORT PSYCHOLOGY SERVICES

Focus!

Posted by on Sep 28, 2019

How do you train your focus? “What is the secret to success for an athlete?” When someone finds out I’m a sport psychologist, frequently, especially if they are a weekend warrior kind of athlete, they will ask this question. My hesitation to answer comes from multiple sources. One, there is no “Holy Grail” for anything so there is no one secret to success. Two, there is no secret to success, success is a result of so many things, making it impossible to narrow down to one. And three, if I could answer that question, I’d be famous. But, IF I had to pick one element of performance that always impacts the outcome, whether athletic or other, it would be focus. Keep in mind there are countless factors that influence focus, but at the end of the day, focus drives outcome. There are many problems with focus and having great focus. The first is that we suck at it. Yep, we do. Our brain is actually designed to be terrible at focus so if you suffer from poor focus, you are not alone and certainly normal. My focus litmus test is asking about meditation. The majority of people will answer something to the effect of, “I have tried, I’m just not very good at it. I keep getting distracted.” Well, welcome to the human brain. We are designed to become distracted at everything and anything for survival reasons. However, we do have the ability to train our focus by working on it and developing strength there. The problem is that working on your focus muscle is terribly tedious, boring, and failure-filled work. So, most people don’t. Think about focus as simply where your thoughts are. Did you notice I said “simply”? I know it is not simple in practice but what if we thought it about that way for a minute. Focus defined relates to “image clarity,” as in a camera lens. Think about that for a minute, what is it like to look at an image that is out of focus? It is not enticing or fulfilling, more like frustrating and irritating and usually, I want to look away from a fuzzy picture. When your thoughts are without focus, they don’t keep your attention either. Our thoughts are “fuzzy” when they are on their own, unmanaged, and random. Working to focus thoughts is, well, work, but changes everything about...

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Put ’em up, put ’em up.

Posted by on Sep 21, 2019

How well do you fight? No, really, how well do you fight? Do you fight fair? Do you start on equal footing? Do you take it as well as you dish it out? Are you known for throwing sucker punches or do you make sure they see you coming? And when someone goes down, do you stop throwing punches and offer a hand to help them up? How about when you go down? Do you take the hand offering to help you up? And would your partner offer to help you up if they knocked you down? This is all metaphor, of course, but it is interesting to think about “fighting” with someone you love in this context. We are not our best selves when we fight, and you might find a “duh” escaping your lips, but what if you could fight better? Not punch harder or knock them out faster but get all the way to the other side of an issue that is emotionally charged. As a psychologist, helping people learn how to fight seems counter-intuitive, however it is a very useful skill. You will get mad, you will do stupid things, you will make bad choices, you will do and say things that hurt people you love, and you will do these things both intentionally and unintentionally. And so will the person you love. It is the way of the world but somehow, it seems to amaze us when someone does something wrong. Dan Ariely, a professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University has a “deception” lab and studies how, why, when, etc., people lie. His work is fascinating and can be incredibly counter-intuitive. One of the things I learned from him is that we judge other people by their actions, but we judge ourselves by our intentions. So, “I didn’t mean to do that,” psychologically gets you off the hook in your own mind, yet we fail to apply that kind of generosity to anyone else. So, you might feel off the hook, but your partner will not see it that way… oh yeah, and vice-versa. This simple mind twisting causes more fights than I can count. Why do we fight in the first place? Think: fight or flight. We are designed for survival and our fight or flight mechanism is the main feature. So, any time we feel the least bit threatened,...

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Less than a village…

Posted by on Sep 14, 2019

Who is in your tribe? “It takes a village to raise a child,” is an African proverb found in many languages, reflecting a culture of family and community, people working together to create community and growth. We all have our tribes, families, communities, neighborhoods, groups, teams, and even work groups surrounding us all of the time. Each of us has several important groups we rely upon in each of the areas of our lives without even realizing it. They are rarely thought about as community or village, I would contest, instead we just think of them as the people we engage with. But from a system’s theory, every person in every group, has a much greater impact on you than you realize because we are all more than the sum of our parts. Lessons from this proverb are much easier to see in sport. For example, how parents impact the performance of a young athlete is unmistakable. If your reaction was, well, of course parents impact the performance of their child, that is obvious. But what about the impact of the roommate on a college athlete? Or the impact of the rest of the team on performance? Or the coach? Or the boyfriend/girlfriend? Those instances aren’t as obvious as the parent impact on a child, but are they less impactful? And what about adult athletes? How much impact does a parent, or anyone, have then? The answer is more than we will ever know. Only one person stands on the podium, but the number of people contributing to that can be countless. Maybe our podiums should have room for more people… I have worked with hundreds of young athletes over the course of my career and each one proves the point of the system’s theory, that we are greater than the sum of our parts. Some parents are great sport parents, and some are not, even if they all want to be. Years ago, I did a presentation at Lendon Gray’s Dressage 4 Kids show in upstate New York on “How to be a great sport parent.” It was a fun talk, with lots of participation from the parents. I thought I was killing it because they all seemed to love what I said, cheered when I stood on my soapbox and told them how to behave and especially how NOT to behave, and clapped loudly as I finished....

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Risk vs. Fear: Chicken vs. Egg

Posted by on Sep 7, 2019

How I felt during Dorian’s approach. Hurricane Dorian brought much more than wind, rain, and fear to my little, eventually unaffected part of the world. For someone who loves to over-analyze, it brought an interesting inquiry into my relationship to risk. My risk “profile” was something that had never occurred to me, it just was. It was one of those personality traits that goes unconsidered, like my favorite color, I don’t need to think about it, it just is. Have you ever thought about your relationship to risk? I wonder how many of us really do. If you do a search on the word, “risk,” right after all the dictionary definitions, it goes into risk management pages. Analyzing risk in a business context is full of equations and investment guidelines for how to “safely risk” your money. Sounds like an oxymoron to me. I hadn’t thought very much about risk since Hurricane Sandy, when we lived in New York, but once again, the threat of the storm teased out some awareness. Calculated risk is comfortable for me. As you know, I like data and research and to evaluate past behaviors and trends to predict future ones. My problem is I also like intuition and instinct so balancing the two is my challenge. The problem with a hurricane is prediction, and this one was a doozy! Having horses means the weather is important. Living in Central Florida means the weather is important because it can have a great impact on the health and safety of our animals. The weather apps showed Dorian forming days before anyone was really thinking about it, but August is early for hurricane season so based on that “data,” my concern remained low. Ha! In a blink of an eye, it went from being a disturbance to a major threat, headed right for my farm. The earliest forecast maps had it engulfing all of Florida in the category 2 – 3 range. Two years ago, Irma was over 450 miles wide, covering the entire peninsula of Florida, so this map didn’t seem so impossible. For me, panic ensued, for my wife, Mette, not so much. Risk and preparation are “married” in my mind. When thinking about risk and taking chances, my mind immediately and naturally goes to the questions of how prepared I am, can be, and need to be. So, as Dorian became a terror,...

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