In sports as in business, we tend to associate peak performance with a poker face. The superstar player who never breaks a sweat, the leader who never raises her voice -- these are powerful models of mental toughness. This is one reason why many people believe you have to put your emotions aside to reach the top of any field. But that's not how it works.
Despite the myth of the emotionless superhero, performing at your peak and staying mentally tough isn't about overlooking your emotional needs. It's about meeting them, acknowledging them, dealing with them, and then moving on on.
This takes mindfulness. Taking the time to become mindful of our own issues is what gets us a genuine game face: the vision of sheer focus and determination that can unsettle opponents and make them feel like we're determined to simply remove them from our way. But first, we need to unseat the emotional obstacles in our way.
High performers and Type A personalities don't always have the time or inclination to sit themselves down on a couch for years and dig in. British psychotherapist William Pullen has developed a unique approach to helping us learn to get out of our own way. He calls it Dynamic Running Therapy (DRT), and it combines mindfulness with movement.
Pullen coaches people to get on their feet and talk as they move. While in motion, they say what's on their mind and find out what's holding them back. It may seem too easy, but for anyone who doesn't want to sit still to evolve emotionally, it's a powerful, proven method. All you need are a good pair of running or walking shoes and the will to move.
Pullen explains in his book, Running with Mindfulness: Dynamic Running Therapy (DRT) to Improve Low Mood, Anxiety, Stress, and Depression, four tips on how to get moving, break free of the emotional issues holding you back, and truly start achieving your goals:
1. You're going to feel things. Movement will shake up long-hidden emotions, according to Pullen. Don't try to deal with them, but let them rise, and then let them fall away naturally. All that's important is to be aware of them, and to keep moving.
2. Listen to what your body tells you. Mindful movement teaches us to pay attention to the body and to make the physical and practical adjustments that feel better. For instance, a stressful memory may tense your shoulders and constrict your stride. Shake them out, let the memory go, and keep moving. You're teaching yourself that you can, and will, escape the clutches of tough emotions.
3. Don't overdo it. The objective is to wake up the body, get the blood flowing, and maintain about a half hour of forward motion. At the end you'll feel revitalized, but not wiped out or stressed from pushing too hard.
4. Agree to keep going. Veteran athletes know the value of consistency and typically follow training programs that will enable them to train over a long period of time. Mindfulness takes practice, but it's a cumulative skill you can improve. As you naturally get stronger while allowing your emotions to come to the surface without stopping you, you're increasing your capacity for movement emotionally as well as physically.
High performing athletes have a way of looking like they're in motion even when they're at rest: they're fit and lean, whittled down. We admire their appearance not only because it's attractive, but because it represents incredible commitment and discipline. Too often we assume it's sheer talent and luck that got them to the top of their game. It's not -- it takes focus and will. It's also not a matter of ignoring those emotions, or eventually, they'll bring anyone to a halt. To truly handle the emotions that stop us, we need to have a powerful way of meeting them face to face. Give Pullen's method a try and learn how to be emotionally accountable to yourself.