Winnie the Pooh, Sport Psychologist
Winnie-the-Pooh was a childhood favorite of mine. Little did I know then how thoughtful and profound his words were and the life long lessons embedded in those cute whimsical quotes.
Several books have captured the wisdom of Pooh Bear such as the Tao of Pooh, and Pooh the Psychologist. But specifically in the area of Sport Psychology Pooh Bear has much to teach. Here, I illuminate the wisdom of my hero, the “Power Of One Hero” (POOH), with some of his thoughts that relate to his expertise in the area of sport psychology and sport performance. Regardless of who you are or what you are trying to accomplish, there is much to learn from sport psychologist Pooh.
On the difference between knowledge and understanding:
Pooh: “Rabbit’s clever,” said Pooh thoughtfully.
“Yes,” said Piglet, “Rabbit’s clever.”
“And he has Brain,” said Pooh.
“Yes,” said Piglet, “Rabbit has Brain.”
There was a long silence.
“I suppose,” said Pooh, “that that’s why he never understands anything.”
The mind is a powerful thing and most people don’t use it properly. – Mark McGwire
The brain is a remarkable thing that can have astonishing effects on our physiology and other body systems. When focused on the right thing, we can accomplish amazing feats with our brain. Unfortunately however, all too often we focus on the wrong thing, and we go in the wrong direction. Learn to train your brain to be positive and powerful. If you don’t take control of your brain, then what will? Actions follow our thoughts and images. Don’t look where you don’t want to go.
On trusting your ability to deal with anything:
Pooh: “Promise me you’ll always remember you are braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”
Don’t let what you can’t do interfere with what you can do. – John Wooden
Belief is a state of mind in which you trust someone or something. Trust in yourself because beliefs drive behavior, and behavior affects performance in everything we do.
Know your ABC’s: A is the Activating event: you enter your greatest challenge/race. B is the Belief about your event: you must tell yourself that you are ready, you’ve prepared, you got this. C is the consequence: the feelings and behaviors about the outcome. You won because you gave it your all.
When you are doubting your ability and negative thoughts emerge such as I’m not strong/fast/good enough, the question is, where’s the evidence? Believe in your dreams, your goals and your abilities. What your mind can conceive and believe, you can achieve.
On the importance of the little things:
Pooh: “Sometimes, the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.”
I’m a firm believer in goal setting. Step by step. I can’t see any other way of accomplishing anything. – Michael Jordan
There’s the saying “progress not perfection.” All too often performers get drawn to the outcome. But there’s only one way to 1,000 steps and that’s the next step. Whether it’s personal growth in your life or peak performance in your sport, proper goal setting is a crucial skill to master.
By setting proper goals you focus on the importance of the little things here and now. It’s a way of bringing the future into the present so you can take action now for something you want to accomplish later. Embrace the mindset that goals are dreams with time lines. Dreams start with a visualization. Turn that vision into action with setting proper goals, seeking progress not perfection.
On being present:
Pooh: “What day is it?”
“It’s today,” squeaked Piglet.
“My favorite day,” said Pooh.
Each point I play is in the now moment. The last point means nothing, the next point means nothing. – Billie Jean King
Successful athletes say they “play in the zone” but what does that mean? It means to perform with their mind and body focus completely in the present. Why is the focus on the present so important? Shouldn’t we learn from the past and prepare for the future? The answer lies in where we find pressure. There is no pressure when you are in the present. Pressure lies in regret of past failures and worry about future mistakes. Focus on the present and you will be fully prepared to win.
On the futility of worry:
Piglet: “Supposing a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it?”
Pooh: “Supposing it didn’t,” after careful thought.
Piglet was comforted by this.
Of all the hazards, fear is the worst. – Sam Snead
Fear has ruined more dreams than failure ever has. Fear starts out as a mental idea, a perceived danger. But a physiological response can soon follow fear that inhibits performance. Fear can release hormones that shut you down. When you are afraid and you focus on making mistakes, guess what you do? Make mistakes.
Our attempts to avoid fear result in missed opportunities. Success lies in embracing fear, as a source of energy, and doing the thing that scares you anyway. More often than not the fear was the tree that was never going to fall down. Get your butterflies to fly in formation.
On knowing by simply being:
Pooh: “Sometimes, if you stand on the bottom rail of a bridge and lean over to watch the river slipping slowly away beneath you, you will suddenly know everything there is to be known.”
You can observe a lot just by watching. – Yogi Berra
Living fully in the moment starts with being centered with breathing – nothing else. Just that simple focus of breathing deeply and rhythmically is all you need to prepare yourself to be fully present in the moment.
When you feel anxious your breathing can become shallow, and tension in the body rises. This started in the mind, but now it pervades the body and soon will negatively affect performance. Notice this, and re-center yourself with your breath.
Pooh: “The things that make me different are the things that make me.”
What you’re thinking, what shape your mind is in, is what makes the biggest difference of all. – Willie Mays
In psychology there’s a theory called self-consistency. It suggests we act consistent to our self-concept/self-image. Successful performers see themselves as successful, and their performance follows.
“Feed the good wolf” is an important reminder about positive self-talk. It comes from an old Cherokee legend known as the Tale of the Two Wolves. There are two wolves within each of us: one wolf is positive and beneficial, while the other wolf is negative and destructive. The two wolves fight for control over us. Which wolf will win? The one you feed.
Thoughts determine feelings and feelings influence performance. The first step in feeding the good wolf is learning to identify your own negative self-talk. Then alter those thoughts and self-critical statements with encouraging and positive statements. When you catch yourself thinking or talking to yourself in a negative way, remind yourself that our minds change our behavior and our behavior changes our outcomes.
On comfort zones:
Pooh: “You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.”
Build your weaknesses until they become your strengths. – Knute Rockne
The Japanese have a term called “kaizen” which means constant daily learning and improvement. In order to continue to improve you need to explore going beyond your comfort zone – your strengths – and explore what limits you – your weaknesses. You need to embrace what’s called the “parachute principle”: The mind is like a parachute, it only works when it is open.
On not overthinking:
Pooh: Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits…
Slumps are like a soft bed, easy to get into and hard to get out of. – Johnny Bench
Paralysis by analysis. Over-thinking leads to over-trying. When athletes think too much and try too hard instead of just letting things happen, that’s when all the negatives start flooding the mind.
Athletes begin to struggle when they over-think and over-analyze. They fall prey to the “monkey mind” – they think too much. And over-thinking often leads to over-trying. Focus on the process and let go of the outcome. Sometimes less is more.
Piglet: “How do you spell ‘love’?”
Pooh: “You don’t spell it…you feel it.”
My baseball career was a long, long initiation into a single secret: At the heart of all things is love. – Sadaharu Oh
Pat Riley said, “every time your back is against the wall, there is only one person that can help you. And that’s you. It comes from the inside.”
Inner excellence is a quality that starts from the inside. It includes a way of thinking and a way of acting, or carrying yourself. It includes a quality of mind and attitude that believes no matter how difficult things become, you are in control. You get to determine how you respond, you are responsible and accountable for your thoughts, feelings and actions.
On clearing your mind of all thoughts:
Pooh: Don’t underestimate the value of doing nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.
When I’m in my groove there is no thinking. Everything just happens. – Ozzie Smith
Athletes describe being “in the zone” as a surreal experience, with no thought, just action. Some describe it as if they’re watching a film of themselves, a sort of out of body experience. This state has also been called “flow” in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.
On the value of dreams:
Pooh: I think we dream so we don’t have to be apart for so long. If we’re in each other’s dreams, we can be together all the time.
I have a dream. – Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t say “I have an idea.” He had a positive, vivid dream of the future he wanted to see, hear, touch. What’s your dream? Close your eyes and visualize exactly what you want to accomplish. But don’t just see it. Immerse your senses: smell it, listen to the sound of it, what does it feel like? Believe in the power of your dream.
On finding joy in everything:
Pooh: Nobody can be uncheered with a balloon.
I firmly believe that the only disability in life is a bad attitude. – Scott Hamilton
Two people can be looking at the same situation and see two very different events. Positive-minded people choose an attitude that gives them a clear lens to view through. Negative-minded people choose an attitude that makes them squint through a dark, gloomy lens. The choice is yours.
It is said that life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we choose to respond. So through your lens, how do you see your challenges, achievements and struggles? Your attitude determines your altitude.
How high will your balloon fly?