JENNY R. SUSSER, PH.D.

POWER & PERFORMANCE SPORT PSYCHOLOGY SERVICES

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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Discovering Mom

Posted by on Jul 27, 2019

Mom’s tree, a pink flowering Dogwood “Jenny Rebecca four days old, how do you like the world so far? Jenny Rebecca four days old, what a lucky, lucky, lucky, lucky girl you are…” The first two lines from the song, Jenny Rebecca, on Barbra Streisand’s 1966 album, “My Name is Barbra,” and my namesake. My mom was a singer, an opera singer, and a wickedly talented one. At 16, and too young to brave New York City, she was accepted to Julliard during her audition but didn’t go. She loved Barbra and so when she was pregnant with me and this album came out, she said to my dad, “I sure hope it’s a girl because Jenny Rebecca will be a ridiculous name for a boy!” I have always felt as though the lyrics gave me my life…with trees to be climbing on, ponies for riding on, and pillows for crying on when you’re in love. I have never been able to listen to the song without crying in some fashion. It made me feel so special when my mom would sing it to me, her love for me would pour out of her and saturate me in bliss. One thing I never, ever doubted was my mom’s love for me. I never really knew her until she died. Maybe that is not entirely true, but the things I learned and discovered about her after she died have been amazing, astounding, disappointing, and wonderful. Kyp, born Karen Ann Parker, was a force of nature. Whatever power deep within her that gave her that voice also gave her a giant personality. She was tough though, tough to get along with and sometimes her love came with a price. As I have grown and matured, I have learned that everyone is difficult to get along with, and yes, that includes me. Mette thanks me for tolerating her, her self-deprecating way of acknowledging sticky points. I laugh and tell her she’s welcome and that I know I’m perfect and so easy to live with…and then we both laugh. Monday was the one-year anniversary of mom’s death. A year, an entire year has gone by already, having the feel of long yet short. Making it to one year has been a focus for me and so the build-up and arrival were emotional. We are Jewish and in tradition, at one year, we do...

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Confidence: The Emotion

Posted by on Jul 20, 2019

Confident? Confidence is a big deal in sport. And in relationships. And in business. And in life. So, what’s the deal with confidence? What is it? How do I get some or more? What impacts my confidence? I have been studying confidence since graduate school and it was even a factor in my dissertation. If I had to guess, I have been obsessed with confidence because I never felt like I had any when I was swimming. It’s ridiculous to think about; I was a four year All-American at UCLA when the program was top 10, I made the National Team, won Pac-10’s, and qualified for Olympic Trials in 1988. And I can’t remember ever stepping up onto the blocks and feeling confident. Cue all those articles and interviews with super successful people experiencing “imposter syndrome.” Crazy. In the beginning, all I could find was how to measure confidence. Use this inventory, take that quiz, see how lacking you really are. Self-report measures are tough, tough to design, tough to take, and tough to trust. Think back to your last pressure event: how confident were you going in? How confident were you coming out? How the heck can you rely on that memory! If you did well, I bet your report of confidence will be high, no matter how you really felt that day because I guarantee you can’t remember it accurately. If you tanked it, confidence was already at a low, you recall, and that must have contributed to your poor performance. I searched and searched for ways to nail down confidence. It had to be track-able, didn’t it? Then, I went to the annual sport psychology conference and experienced the Groundhog’s Day it typically was for me (after a decade of appearances). “Confidence is situation specific!” declared a well-known consultant whose name escapes me now. Okay, I like that, I can use that. You build confidence around things you are working on because you get better at them and that doesn’t necessarily transfer to other areas. For example, I have horses. After years of handling horses, I am confident in my ability to handle my horses, even if they are upset or scared. I have worked hard to sharpen my in-hand skills and although I might get scared, I am confident I can handle many (not all) of the situations I encounter. Handling skills, check. I think...

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A few of my favorite things

Posted by on Jul 13, 2019

My niece, Hayley, sent me this while thinking about Coriall. He came to me in a dream. I was taking lessons on my Andalusian, Roble, and having a blast. But Roble had back problems and so riding wasn’t so fun for him. Mette, knowing that my forward progress was going to hit a wall soon, said, “Why don’t you get a school master?” It had never occurred to me to have another horse (I know, horse people are shaking their heads in disbelief). So, I told my trainer I was looking for a school master and would she keep her eye out for me. It was Friday. On Sunday night, I dreamt of a big, red horse with a big white blaze down his face. Monday morning, I opened my computer and there was an email from Diane Rodich, my trainer, with links to two horses for sale. I smiled and was impressed with her speed. I clicked on the first link and it was him, Coriall, a big red horse with a big white blaze down his face. The dream came flashing back and filled my body with happiness. There was my horse. I didn’t even look at the second link. We went to try him and as we drove to Rhode Island, I felt like a kid going on vacation, “Are we there yet?” I wanted to ask out loud every five minutes but with a navigation system showing minute by minute our anticipated arrival time, it would have been silly. I did anyway and Mette giggled. Coriall was standing in the cross ties, a hind leg cocked, as relaxed as a professional could be. I knew the trainer where he was living so it was easy and comfortable talking with her and getting some deeper information. I didn’t need any of it, honestly. I wanted to take the trailer that day, not the car, but Mette was being more level-headed. He was seventeen after all. It was spring in the Northeast, so the mud was staking its claim everywhere and the ring was a bit mushy. I remember being that nervous excited combination that makes you a little blind and definitely juvenile. Mette rode him first and was skeptical. But he was easy. Do this and he did that. I got on and felt at home. I did my first flying change that day. Mette told...

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