There is an intense mental toll of reaching—and remaining—at the pinnacle of a sport. “The top six inches of the body matter just as much the rest,” says Matthew Cunliffe, a sports psychologist, who spoke with Quartz about what goes through the minds of elite athletes and how psychologists can help them win. The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
There were a lot of surprises. Foodwise, now I actually crave vegetables. Also, there unfortunately is definitely a difference in how people treat you when you’re bigger versus when you’re smaller. But I think the biggest surprise for me is, physically, it’s crazy how much I can walk without getting winded or how many sports I’ve found I actually enjoy, such as cycling and skiing.
My weight had been an issue my whole life. I was always the chubby kid, always taller and bigger than my peers. Because of that, I was uncomfortable and depressed. I remember gym class in particular, because I was slower than all the other kids. It was an especially difficult time for me because it’s where I experienced the most bullying. When I was 18, the summer I had just graduated from high school, I lost all my friends. I was miserable, alone, depressed, and suicidal. It was after a failed suicide attempt that I realized I didn’t want to live my life like this anymore. I wanted to be comfortable and confident in my own skin.
Consider Jim Mirabella, an executive earmarked for leadership at an electronic games manufacturer. Ever since the CEO had promoted him to head of marketing, Mirabella had become impossible to work with. Colleagues complained that he hoarded information about company strategy, market indicators, sales forecasts, and the like. The theory circulating through the grapevine was that Mirabella’s aim was to weaken junior executives’ ability to make informed contributions during inter-divisional strategic-planning sessions. He was assigned an executive coach.
Weight loss occurs when the body is expending more energy in work and metabolism than it is absorbing from food or other nutrients. It will then use stored reserves from fat or muscle, gradually leading to weight loss. For athletes seeking to improve performance or to meet required weight classification for participation in a sport, it is not uncommon to seek additional weight loss even if they are already at their ideal body weight. Others may be driven to lose weight to achieve an appearance they consider more attractive. However, being underweight is associated with health risks such as difficulty fighting off infection, osteoporosis, decreased muscle strength, trouble regulating body temperature and even increased risk of death.
Elite athletes, dancers and singers all have coaches. It would be inconceivable to expect a person to go it alone in professions like those without one. They require consistently high performance and support. The business world is no different. Executives interact in an equally demanding environment leading people in today’s complex, competitive global marketplace. Therefore, being offered a professional coach is often seen as a perk on most jobs; it’s a sign that an organization is investing in a leaders’ success.
“Does anyone here feel like cigarettes are their best friend?” Hall asked, telling us to clap our hands, then to clap them again, this time leading with the opposite hand of what we were used to. It felt weird. The sound in the room changed noticeably as well. The point, Hall said, was that smoking is a habit we all perform as involuntarily, through muscle memory, as the way we choose to clap our hands.
According to many sources including the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) which is part of the United States National Library of Medicine and a branch of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), hypnosis is scientifically proven to help relieve both mental challenges and physical pains. Hypnosis can alleviate stress and reduce pain after surgeries, has been shown to relieve anxiety in children in the emergency room, and can be useful for managing pain associated with everything from arthritis to migraines. Hypnosis is non-invasive and gives you a way to control pain or discomfort that might otherwise seem out of your hands. Hypnosis shouldn’t be used as a substitute for medical care, but may be an excellent complementary tool that is best provided by a trained therapist or licensed medical provider. The University of Maryland Medical Center shares many conditions for which hypnosis can be useful:
Confusion can occur when one seeks a hypnotherapist, as a result of the various titles, certifications, and licenses in the field. Many states do not regulate the title "hypnotist" or "hypnotherapist," so care must be exercised when selecting someone to see. As a rule, it is best to consult a professional in the field of mental health or medicine, although alternative sources for hypnosis are available. Care must be taken also by the therapist to ensure adequate training and sufficient experience for rendering this specialized service. The therapist must be well grounded in a psychotherapeutic approach before undertaking the use of hypnotherapy. Professionals should not attempt hypnotherapy with any disorder for which they would not use traditional therapeutic approaches. The patient seeking hypnotherapy is reminded that unskilled or amateur hypnotists can cause harm and should not be consulted for the purpose of implementing positive change in an individual's life. The detrimental effects of being subjected to amateur or inadequately trained persons can be severe and long lasting. (See abnormal results below.)
In 1996, as a result of a three-year research project led by Lindsay B. Yeates, the Australian Hypnotherapists Association (founded in 1949), the oldest hypnotism-oriented professional organization in Australia, instituted a peer-group accreditation system for full-time Australian professional hypnotherapists, the first of its kind in the world, which "accredit[ed] specific individuals on the basis of their actual demonstrated knowledge and clinical performance; instead of approving particular 'courses' or approving particular 'teaching institutions'" (Yeates, 1996, p.iv; 1999, p.xiv). The system was further revised in 1999.
Research in sport psychology involves studying and observing athletes in order to find out what motivates them to keep pushing on, and what gives them the thirst for landing in the winner's circle. A sport psychology researcher might also try to find ways for athletes to perform better and with fewer obstacles. The knowledge gained through this research can then be applied during counseling sessions with athletes.
Hypnotherapy is guided hypnosis, or a trance-like state of focus and concentration achieved with the help of a clinical hypnotherapist. This trance-like state is similar to being completely absorbed in a book, movie, music, or even one's own thoughts or meditations. In this state, clients can turn their attention completely inward to find and utilize the natural resources deep within themselves that can help them make changes or regain control in certain areas of their life.