Thursday, July 7, 2016

Resilence and Choking: Federer vs. Cilic Wimbledon Match

Yesterday Roger Federer narrowly avoided being eliminated from Wimbledon at the hands of Marin Cilic. He was down two sets to none and even had a couple match points against him. Yet he prevailed. We think that Roger has nerves of steel and therefore never chokes but he did shank several balls, revealing that, yes, even Roger is human. In fact, I read a book on Federer recently that reveals he was very temperamental as a junior player. He had temper tantrums that made John McEnroe look mild. If he lost a match he would cry and pout for a while afterwards. Roger made a conscious decision to change his ways and become more Stoic.

This post by Allen Fox talks about how Roger handled choking by not panicking.

I should add that if there was anything to learn from this match it was that you can choke and still win as long as you don’t get rattled about it. And the topic of “courage” comes up when people think about choking. In my opinion, it doesn’t show courage to not be nervous and make the big shot on the big point. It takes courage to choke on the big point, not get upset about it; fight your way to another big point; and finally come through, either by making a good shot or your opponent missing.
Fox's point can apply to other situations beyond sports. That it's OK to tighten up under pressure as long as you recognize it and keep trying to do your best.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Late To The Ball: Tennis and Relationships

I just finished reading Late To The Ball by Gerald Marzorati, a former editor of the New York Times Magazine, in which he tells his story about taking up tennis in his early 60s and the lessons he learned, both in terms of technique/tactics and lessons about himself. I liked his book (and the clever title) very much. He started playing singles competitively but toward the end of the book he shifted to play doubles. He quotes an email from his wife on the differences between singles and doubles that I like.

“Singles is a fearsome struggle for independence at best; at worst it is a denial of the other’s humanity. But doubles is different. A devoted team can help each other grow so much. You’re talking about fellowship, and the delicate, intricate, wondrous balance between autonomy and dependency.”

I think her description of the dynamics of doubles actually applies to relationships in general whether it’s friendships, family or marriages.

I also think her depiction of singles is a bit harsh. I’m sure many people who play competitive singles do indeed want to impose their will on their opponent. I lean more toward Tim Gallwey’s idea that a goal of playing tennis, whether it’s singles or doubles, is to bring out the best in yourself. To do that you need the best from your opponent. Therefore playing ultimately is a cooperative exercise. I figure if you’re playing on the professional circuit your goal is strictly to win, rise in the rankings and make enough money to survive, without being concerned how your opponent feels about losing. The same for playing in USTA amateur leagues and tournaments. Yet, I noticed at the very top of the pro ranks (Djokovic, Nadal, Federer and Murray) there is mutual respect and appreciation for a well-played match. Even in the mixed doubles USTA matches I played this winter (for the first time in my tennis career at the age of 65!), there usually is mutual respect. Most of my opponents were fair and friendly. A few resorted to gamesmanship in an attempt to get into my head. (Good luck finding anything in there!) But overall all four of us on the court were looking for a competitive, well-fought match.

Getting back to Marzorati book, you could also take the title to mean arriving late to a ball as in a formal dance party. Whether or not this double meaning was intentional I’d say the second meaning of the “ball” is appropriate too. Playing tennis can be thought of as a dance.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

How I Lost 25 Pounds in 30 Months

Yes, you read that correctly. 30 months. Not 30 days. Not 30 weeks. 30 months. It's not very exciting, is it? It isn't. In fact, at times the rate of weight loss has been excruciating. But the weight has stayed off! When I decided to lose the weight on January 1, 2014 I weighed 208 pounds. This morning I was 183. Over the weekend when I played tennis three times and refereed a U11 girls soccer game I was as low as 182.5.

How did I do it? I've lost weight before using a variety of diets but always put the weight back on once I hit my target number. I also made the mistake of no longer weighing myself. I fooled myself into thinking I'd notice weight gain when my clothes started to get tight again or had to use loosen my belt. This time I decided to use a different method influenced by Gary Taube's Why We Get Fat and The 8-Hour Diet by David Zinczenko. As a result I changed what I ate, when I ate and what I didn't eat. I won't go into the details of why. The books I cited explain that.

What did I eat? Foods with low glycemic load. Food with high protein content. Fruits and veggies. Nuts. If I want snacks instead of munching on chips or cookies I'll have cocoa dusted almonds or Atkins chocolate coated almonds.

What did I avoid? Carbohydrates such as bread, pasta, cereals and cookies. Also watched my sugar intake. Notice I didn't say “eliminate carbohydrates.” I limit them. For instance over the weekend my wife and I went out to dinner with friends. I had the obligatory pre-meal piece of bread and my main course had risotto in it.

When did I eat? Between noon and 8:00 p.m. A form of intermittent fasting. The idea is that restricting calorie intake to 8 hours allows my system to burn other calories stored in my body.

A typical lunch consists of: Greek yogurt, carrots with dip, cheese sticks and an apple, pear or banana. Dinner is the usual: chicken and veggies, home-made soup, or microwave dinners by Weight Watchers or Kashi. (The ones with the lowest sodium content. Some have an astonishing amount of sodium! Some have close to 1,000 mg!) No seconds! And for dessert a Weight Watchers frozen treat.

It's been working! What's nice about this approach is that I'm not obsessed on counting calories. I do keep rough track of the total so that it stays below 1,500 calories a day, preferably 1,200. What's not so nice is that it takes a while to notice a change in weight. It has required steadfast patience and resisting the urge to give up in despair and dive into a bag of chips or cookies. At first I was averaging a pound a month. I've hit a plateau around 187 for several months before starting to nudge downwards again recently. At least it's not trending back up! And it's not going to.

Of course there have been some nice benefits such as looser clothes, being able to play more tennis, ski or referee soccer with fewer pounds to pound on my knees and just feeling better. My cholesterol numbers have dropped dramatically too.

I've also made it a point not to call what I'm doing “dieting.” Instead I prefer to think of it is a permanent change in what I eat and when I eat. It's a new and permanent regimen.

Monday, December 30, 2013

How To Ace A Job Interview: 7 Research-Backed Tips

The tips in this article are aimed at helping you interview better but a number of them apply to relationships and communication too. Be sure to follow the links to other sources. In particular look at these steps:

Be Similar To The Interviewer. This touches on mirroring the other person.

Frame The Conversation. “Optimize first impressions from the outset by framing the conversation with a few well-rehearsed sentences regarding how you want to be perceived.”

Feel Powerful. “People who felt powerful before going in to an interview performed better. … How can you make sure you feel powerful? Harvard researcher Amy Cuddy recommends doing a “power pose” in private before the interview.” Cuddy’s research showed that people who used a “power pose” before an important meeting performed better than those who didn’t. I’ve tried it and believe it works.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Difference Between Saying "I Don't" versus "I Can't"

This article reveals the drastic affect of saying "I don't" do something such as eating a tempting snack or skipping an exercise session versus saying "I can't" allow myself to eat that snack or skip my workout. The author explains why.

Monitor your immediate emotional reactions and you'll probably see what's going on. The "can't" framing implies an external restraint, which feels disempowering (even if you imposed the restraint on yourself). You might even be tempted to disobey solely to assert your independence. To say that you "don't" do something, by contrast, suggests autonomy, as well as long-term commitment.
 Be sure to check the links in the article for the research behind this conclusion.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Power Posing

This article by James Clear summarizes the research of Amy Cuddy, a Harvard University researcher, who studies body language. It includes a link to Cuddy's original article on what she calls Power Poses and her TED talk. Check it out!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Seeing Challenges, Not Threats

Tomorrow you’re going to give a presentation to your most important client. Or you’re going to face the toughest player in a tennis tournament. Or your manager just handed you a critical project. How do we react when faced with these challenging situations? Most of us would feel a tightening in our stomach or the blood in our veins run cold. Yet, there are others who are unfazed by these situations. Why? What makes them different? This article, The benefits of seeing a “challenge” where others see a “threat”, sheds some light on this.

As the title suggests, “viewing a situation as a challenge will lead you to perform much better than viewing the same exact situation as a threat.” The article describes studies on why some people thrive on pressure while others dread it. It comes down to how a person perceives the challenge relative to their abilities.

People who are preparing for an event that they construe as a threat find the entire process far more demanding and stressful, while those who are preparing for a challenge end up performing much better.

The article shows that we can be taught how to prepare for this.

People can be trained to actively and intentionally engage in reconstrual; in fact, this process is one of the hallmarks of cognitive behavioral therapy. This model and its effects may rest on the assumption that people are prone to consistently construe situations in one way or the other based on their resource assessments, but that doesn’t mean that this tendency is immutable. If you actively re-frame stressful situations as challenges and your elevated heart rate as excitement (or “efficient effort mobilization”), you can improve your health, well-being, and performance level, all at the same time. [Emphasis added.]

In other words I think we can tell ourselves that we’re looking forward to the challenge rather than dreading it. We can tell ourselves that we welcome the opportunity to show what we can do. Yes, it’s a form of “faking it until we make it.” And, yes, there are limitations to when this works. For instance I can’t fool myself into thinking we can, say play star quarterback in the NFL. Nonetheless, I do believe in our normal daily environment we can improve our performance by self-talking ourselves into looking at it as an opportunity to excel, not a threat to fail.

I’ve tried it before important presentations or meetings and before key tennis matches. I do believe this has helped me perform better by keeping me loose and relaxed. Anyway, the article starts off with a quote about how gymnast Aly Raisman handles pressure.

You ask [Aly Raisman] about feeling the pressure and she says, ‘I don’t really feel it,’ and you know, I think it’s because she labels it something different in her head. Some kids feel anxiety, feel pressure, she feels excitement. It’s just how you label that.

I’d say it’s more than just labeling a situation. It’s how you visualize the outcome. When I know I’m heading into a potentially stressful meeting or encounter I’ll take a few seconds to stop, close my eyes and visualize a positive outcome. I think it helps because doing this keeps me relaxed as opposed to tensing up. I also think it shifts the focus from internal (“I hope I don’t screw up and look bad!”) to external (keeping my focus on the outcome and on the person I’m dealing with).

One last point. I think framing situations as challenges instead of threats helps us reach “flow.” Flow is a concept identified by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. See this Wikipedia entry on flow. We reach a flow state when we’re completed absorbed by a task, when the challenge of the task stretches our abilities but without overwhelming us. If it doesn’t challenge us to stretch the activity bores us. If it’s too daunting it intimidates us. I think Aly Raisman and other people who calmly face challenges believe they’re up to the task or they’ve labeled the task as a challenge, not a threat.