JENNY R. SUSSER, PH.D.

POWER & PERFORMANCE SPORT PSYCHOLOGY SERVICES

Communication 201

Posted by on Oct 12, 2019

Hmm, just how DO I communicate? This was the last paragraph from last week’s blog: This is Part I because there is a lot to talk about here. So, my suggestion for you is to examine your communication this week. Homework is my favorite part of therapy and where most of the work gets done. You can talk with your therapist for an hour a week or read this blog for a few minutes a week, but then what do you do the rest of the time? You don’t have to work on it every minute of every day, but if you touched on it daily, imagine the growth that would be possible. See if you can tune into your thoughts during those important conversations or relationships. What do you think? Is it rational or reactive? Is it supportive or defensive? What are you looking for from your other, goodness or badness? How do you frame your view of them? What evidence are you using to come to your conclusion? I don’t know about you, but I have never had an important conversation where I didn’t learn something I absolutely didn’t know about that person. When I take the time to ask and listen, Mette will say something of value, something that reveals a thought or feeling I wasn’t seeing or hearing, and it softens me immediately. We fight out of reflex. Communication is the salve. See what you can see and hear this week and we’ll talk about it more next week. If you were a client and we had ended our last session as I ended the blog, I would ask, “So, how did it go? What did you notice about your communication?” And then, I would wait. Sometimes there will be a long pause and sometimes there will be so much to say, it will flow right out. Usually, spending a week in observation or self-awareness doesn’t come together until you talk about it. I love the saying, “thinking out loud,” because so many insights don’t become visible until you start to talk about it. I guess it is a stream of consciousness exercise of sorts, allowing thoughts to come to the surface and hear what they sound like out loud. There is a lot to manage during a conversation. If we think a thought each second, then we have a lot of thoughts when we...

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Communication, 101 (part I)

Posted by on Oct 5, 2019

How do you communicate? Who taught you to communicate? Not talk, which was most likely your parents, but communicate. There is a difference between the two, an enormous difference, and I think it is under-estimated, under-appreciated, and under-taught. I read an aphorism once that said, “Anything can be resolved in communication.” I must have been twelve. It was a small, green booklet that had dozens of aphorisms from Werner Erhard but that is the only one I remember. It has stuck with me all these years and I have said it more times than I could count when trying to help people find resolution. As a psychologist, helping people communicate is most of my job. We just don’t know how; we were never taught how to communicate in a productive or powerful way, and so we struggle along, talking, but not communicating. I have a wonderful client (I say that about all of my clients), and she is struggling with communication in an important relationship. She is smart, funny, clever, college educated, travelled, insightful, talented, successful, and a good person. She is the kind of person you would want in your tribe or at the very least, your office. Let’s call her Joan. Joan is in her early forties, Caucasian, an amateur equestrian, and divorced. She has sort of embarked on a new relationship, the first one after her divorce, and in an effort to do things better the second time around, is trying to figure out how to have better communication. As I watch her struggle, my own struggles become more and more obvious. I wonder if other shrinks feel this way, a short step ahead of the client, enough to help but requiring work to stay out in front. I love the way the people I work with push me to work on myself constantly. With each moment I help, I learn. I always feel a little funny taking their money… Joan needed to ask a difficult question with a potentially deal-breaking answer. On the surface, it was possible to wonder if she had been betrayed. But the surface rarely tells the whole story and sometimes even confuses us even more. Asking the difficult question had become unavoidable because now that it had become a question, it would fester until it was either answered or it ultimately wrecked the relationship. You can only sweep so much under...

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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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