Episode 22 – Road to Kona 2020: Dr. Lisa Lewis- Using Your Superpowers for Good

Dr. Lisa Lewis

When it comes to performance, it seems we’ve learned quite a lot about what we need to physiologically develop in order to perform…but the physiological aspect is only a portion of reaching your full potential.  While the mental aspect is seen as a “soft science”, it produces cold, hard results- when you do it right.

In the first episode of our Road to Kona 2020 series, we talk with Dr. Lisa Lewis about developing the skills & tools we need to develop that will allow you to tap into your superpowers and unlock your full potential.

Dr. Lewis is a licensed performance & addictions psychologist, who specializes in working with athletes for sports performance, as well as coaching & education for fitness professionals looking to help their clients & athletes tap into their super powers. She is a wealth of knowledge and has been passionately helping others since 2003, when she first became a licensed psychologist.

She currently serves as part time faculty member at Northeastern University and teaches classes including developmental psychology and abnormal psychology. She has also taught at Wheelock College and Salem State University, teaching undergraduate courses including developmental psychology, sport psychology, and exercise psychology.

https://drlewisconsulting.com/

https://www.instagram.com/drlewisconsulting/

 

Transcript

Speaker 1:

Human Vortex Training and Menachem Brodie present the Strong Savvy Cyclist & Triathlete Podcast where we talk strength training, physiology, psychology, tech, and much more to help you get fitter, faster, and stronger in and out of your sport, giving you expert insights, talking with other leading experts. And now your host, world leading strength coach for cyclists and triathletes, Menachem Brodie.

Menachem Brodie:

Hi, everyone, and welcome to this episode of the Strong Savvy Cyclist & Triathlete Podcast. This week, starting with episode 22, we are going to get into the road to Kona 2020. Now don’t worry, if you’re listening to this in the future in 2025 or 2035 or 2055, I don’t know why I choose fives, but why not? Don’t worry. The principles will still apply, but hopefully by then, we’ll have quite a few new and updated podcasts in helping you be able to better train to qualify for Kona one year and one week, or one year away from now.

Now this episode series or series of episodes is not geared to beginner Iron Man triathletes. It’s not geared to you guys. However, the information we’re going to talk about is extremely beneficial for you. Now, the reason it’s not geared towards beginners is because in order to get to Kona and any Iron Man distance where you’re competing or have to qualify for, there needs to be a certain amount of training stress that you have gone through and built up over a number of years.

The way I approach it is if you’re coming to me as an Olympic distance triathlete who’s been racing or doing the Olympic distance for at least a year, we’re looking at a two to three-year buildup for an Iron Man depending on your sport background. Now, we won’t get too far into the rabbit hole with that, but just know that what we’re going to talk about the next couple of episodes are extremely useful for beginners, but don’t take these things and think that automatically you’re going to qualify for Kona next year. It takes two to three years to build up the training stress and the mental strength that you need and the mental tool and skillset that you need in order to be able to qualify and push your body to the next level.

That’s what we get into in our first of these episodes, and that is with Dr. Lisa Lewis. I’m very excited to have her here today. Lisa is an incredibly knowledgeable and passionate individual. What makes her very special beyond others that I’ve spoken to is not only is she a student and a therapist, she also teaches. I find that to be highly valuable because there’s something to be said about someone who’s a practitioner and also a teacher. When I say she’s a teacher, I’m not just talking about her online courses or the one that she has coming out here in January of 2020 called Psych Skills for Fitness Pros. I’m talking about actually teaching in a university setting. She’s currently at Northeastern University. She has taught also at Salem State University, amongst others. So she has classroom experience as well as over 15 years of working as a therapist with individuals across the spectrum of mental health and performance. So all the way from individuals who are suffering with addiction all the way up to those who are looking to increase their peak performances, as perhaps you are.

So it is an incredibly, just tons of diamonds in here in the rough and also already cut and shined for you from Dr. Lewis. So I’m very excited to get into this episode. Make sure you’re liking and subscribing to the Strong Savvy Cyclist & Triathlete Podcast and share this. These next few episodes are incredibly powerful. We talk with Lee Taft again about building speed and power and explosiveness for your run. We talk with Jason Fitzgerald about how to build in strength to your program. And then I’m also going to talk about the programming side of things in an episode as well, helping you to understand how to tie everything together.

Now, last housekeeping piece before we get into the interview with Dr. Lewis here is if you haven’t already, get your name onto the wait list for the Strength Training for Cycling Certification. That’s right. Those of you who have taken my Training Peaks University courses, Strength Training for Cycling Success, or Strength Training for Triathlon Success know that those were not certifications. However, over the last 19 and a half months, I’ve been working very hard to put together an actual certification course, which is going to be released first to those on my newsletter list.

So if you’re interested in getting first dibs and a just absolute crazy price on it that will never be seen again in history because it’s just going to keep getting better and be revised and added to, make sure you sign up for the newsletter, or you can email me, and I will add you to the newsletter list, Brodie, B as in boy, R-O-D as in dog, I-E @humanvortextraining.com. We’re looking hopefully at a launch to the newsletter group here at the end of October 2019. So October 31st, 2019 is your last chance. If you send me an email November 1st, I’m sorry, you missed the cutoff, because we are going to be very strict and rewarding those who have been on the newsletter.

Now as we get into the interview with Dr. Lewis here today, please keep in mind that mental skills and tools and training the mental side of things is the new frontier in training. Some of you may be thinking it’s recovery or adaptation or nutrition. For the most part, we know the nuts and bolts, whereas when it comes to mental performance and helping us tap into the mental and developing the mental skills and tools that we need to perform, there’s so much we don’t know or so much that are still myths and fallacies, much more so than what we have in strength training.

So get your notebooks ready, get rewind ready, because you’re going to want to go back and listen to a bunch of these diamonds that Dr. Lewis drops for us here and gives us as presents in the next hour we have coming forward. So without much further ado, let’s get into the interview with Dr. Lisa Lewis from drlewisconsulting.com. Dr. Lewis, thank you so much for joining us here today.

Dr. Lisa Lewis:

Thank you for having me on.

Menachem Brodie:

Absolutely. It’s been a lot of fun to watch your Instagram grow the last couple of months here, especially with how you’re sharing your own personal journey. But I don’t want to put words in your mouth. Do you mind sharing with us your journey and how you got to be where you are today as a sports performance coach and counselor, all this stuff that you’re doing so much, and how you got into sport coaching pretty much?

Dr. Lisa Lewis:

Aww, thank you. That is a great question. I’m thinking about how to abridge it because of course it’s been a long journey, starting with being an athlete as a kid and being a collegiate athlete, and just loving everything about not just about sport, but about being an athlete and not just being an athlete in the game, but having an athletic approach towards life.

So I started my journey with a master’s degree in clinical psychology. I graduated in 2003 and worked with many individuals who were mentally ill. So I worked with psychiatric hospitals, and detox centers, community mental health centers, outpatient psychological centers, and then went back to school in 2006 to earn a doctoral degree in counseling psychology with a focus on sports psychology. In that degree, I got to work with people not just who had mental illness, but who were very mentally healthy and just wanted to improve either their performance or their relationships, their approach to life, their mindset, and that really was an exciting world for me to be able to step into. I got to work with athletes.

I currently work with a lot of executives, people who are just type A high achievers, and aren’t coming in because something is wrong, but they want to work on things being more right, reaching higher heights and pushing themselves harder. So now I teach at a local university. I have a practice where I do some psychotherapy, but then a lot of performance enhancement and performance psychology coaching. I’m working more and more in the fitness world with people who don’t just do exercise, but who consider themselves athletes, maybe not because they’re competing on an athletic team, but because they’re pursuing events like we’re going to talk about today, like triathlons, races, other kinds of events where having an athletic mindset can really help them to perform better.

Menachem Brodie:

That’s a really interesting journey. My wife just finished her master’s in clinical psychology, and the training for that is very interesting.

Dr. Lisa Lewis:

Yeah, congratulations to her. You must be happy that she’s finished.

Menachem Brodie:

Yes, and you would know much better than I. But it’s really interesting in that there’s a large crossover between how the brain works. It doesn’t really seem to matter too much the setting because we respond in certain ways, but there are different tools that we need to have access to or build. Now that’s a very, very rough overview, I know, and there’s a lot more to that, but it’s interesting to hear that those skills that you’ve developed in the clinical setting also carry over to those who are healthy, doing more of the executive or performance coaching, who are looking to be the best possible.

So how do you see that crossover of especially Iron Man is such a hard sport, and it’s so mental, and it seems to attract cycling as well. It seems to attract individuals who are very focused on one thing at a point almost to where it’s unhealthy [crosstalk 00:09:27].

Dr. Lisa Lewis:

Good, yes.

Menachem Brodie:

But also they have to learn how to balance things, especially recovery.

Dr. Lisa Lewis:

That’s right.

Menachem Brodie:

What would you say are some obstacles or some things that we should be thinking of as athletes and coaches that most of us miss or may not be aware of?

Dr. Lisa Lewis:

Yeah, so there’s two ways that I want to respond to what you just said. In first part of what you just said, you used the word crossover. The way that I think about mental health is that it exists along a spectrum. You can think about the spectrum like a bell curve. All the way down at the bottom, you have people who are super duper mentally ill who really can’t function. That’s a pretty small percentage of the population. Then you have, at that end, people who are struggling. Then as you go into the bell curve, you get more into this kind of medium, normal, if you will, range of functioning, which is like people have stressors, people have issues, and people have [ishes 00:10:21]. What I mean by ishes is when you get stressed, there is some kind of pathological behavior that comes up, and we all have our own pathology. It may not be that it’s obsessive compulsive disorder, but you might get a little OCD-ish when you get stressed, or you might get a little depressed-ish when you get stressed.

Most of us are operating in the middle of the spectrum where sometimes we’re kicking butt in our day-to-day lives, and sometimes we get a little -ish and we get a little symptomatic, which expresses itself in a unique way. Then all the way at the other end of the spectrum, we have these rock stars who are really high-functioning. We all exist along the same spectrum, and that’s why I think starting my career in clinical settings and then working my way across the spectrum has really helped me to understand the universality of mental health.

We all have good days and bad days. We all respond to stress in different ways. Some of those ways are helpful, some of those ways are harmful, which brings me into the second part of your question, which I love this question because it is so specific to type As, which is about, in some ways, it can be very functional to be wicked structured and really hard on yourself and be perfectionistic and be almost obsessive compulsive, particularly when it comes to training for endurance events, like cycling, running, swimming, just because of the rigor and the discipline that you need to have.

And so, when I work with clients, typically what we talk about is how to wield your power, how to use your superpowers for good because being obsessive and being regimented and being rigid and being hard on yourself can actually push you farther and help your performance. However, it’s not a black and white issue. It’s not go all out until you’re on empty. You have to wield your power and manage those strengths so that you can keep yourself healthy, keep yourself from burning out or getting injured. So usually the athletes that I work with, they don’t need help on pushing themselves harder. They need help on balancing, giving themselves a break here and there, or learning how to operate in their optimal level of performance without pushing over into burnout or injury.

Menachem Brodie:

That’s incredibly common in Iron Man, in all honesty. Those who have worked with me know that I no longer advertise Iron Man coaching anymore. I just had so many people contacting me-

Dr. Lisa Lewis:

Oh really?

Menachem Brodie:

I don’t advertise it. I will take people after they go through… We use the motivational interviewing approach here, very positive, very building, non-leading to make sure it’s a good fit. But I stopped advertising because most of the triathletes who were drawn to me, “You’re going to give me the hardest strength training program that I can handle, and I’m going to be crawling out of the gym.” Like, dude, you need to learn… Your term “wield your powers for good” is fantastic because they’re just so focused on, “I have to go hard.” Back in 2007 when I started in the triathlon world, HTFU or harden the F up was prevalent. As you can imagine, that led to a lot of mental burnout, physical [crosstalk 00:13:44]-

Dr. Lisa Lewis:

Oh yeah.

Menachem Brodie:

So, it’s really interesting to hear how these are important and positives that they had, but there’s also a lot of negatives. So we’re talking about Kona, building to 2020. We have a year here. What are some of the, I guess, bedrock mental skills or tools that those listeners should be looking at building to allow them to be able to get what they need out of their training and not just following the mantra of HTFU and digging themselves into a hole that they miss Kona again because they were over-trained or broken?

Dr. Lisa Lewis:

Yeah. This is such an excellent question. I think it is so pertinent not just to these kinds of athletes, but to everybody who pushes themselves hard or is a high achiever because on the one hand, the HTFU, people who are listening and people who are endurance athletes have gotten a lot of mileage out of that mindset. It has helped them to succeed in life. So, we don’t want to take that away.

The way that I talk about that with clients and try to… I also use motivational interviewing to help negotiate with them if we can use some other tools besides HTFU is that that is really the icing on the cake. That is really the part that when you’re in competition, when you’re in those hard moments, you can fire that mindset up and use it. However, when you are a year out or when you are just starting to train for an event, don’t worry about the icing on the cake. What you want to be is methodical and intentional and plan your butt off so that you can approach being healthy and rested and ready and your strongest when you get to that day of competition.

So it’s almost like using a different part of your brain. HTFU is kind of an emotional place that’s using your heart or going with your gut or digging deep, whereas planning for an event that is a year out or planning for an unbelievably challenging event requires a lot of cognitive power, a lot of thinking, a lot of executive functioning. What I mean by that is planning and deciding whether to engage in certain activities or not, sort of being your wisest self.

So that tends to be what I recommend for people who are far away from a competition, and most people who are high achievers have injured themselves or have missed a competition, which they’re wicked bummed about because they’ve been burnt out or because they’ve had some kind of injury or setback just prior to being able to qualify for a competition. So sometimes we can go back to that experience and say, “You don’t want to set yourself up for that again. So let’s talk about how to prevent that from happening.” So I might not be able to appeal to the emotional part of an individual who wants to go full throttle and really dig deep and use just heart, but I will be ale to appeal to the rational side of the individual who can take a step back, look at their athletic career, and notice with me what were things that kept them healthy and what were things that got them run down.

It’s almost like looking at the data, just reviewing the career or the lifespan of the athlete, and using that wise mind to say, “How can we orchestrate this next year of your life so that when you do get out there the day of the competition, you’re ready to HTFU in those moments when you need to, because you’ll be available for that. You’ll be healthy enough for that.”

Menachem Brodie:

So how would we then build that into the training program? Because there’s so many times, and the athletes that I do wind up working with just on a personal level tend to be very coachable or very involved at least. They ask a lot of questions. But the vast majority of emails I get specifically from Iron Man, “I have X number of overuse injuries, and I really want to get to Kona next year. I’ve been the cut off within three minutes,” which is relatively small, but you talk to them and you realize they are so amped up in August, September, October. They just think that they can go out and grind themselves into the ground and then use compression boots and ice baths and all these really advanced recovery tools instead of building the mental tools that’ll help them get to success.

Dr. Lisa Lewis:

Yeah, it’s so unsexy to say, “You’ve got to go back to basics and eat and sleep and chill,” because nobody wants to hear that, especially people who are amped and who love to do insanely challenging athletic events. So you’re sort of telling them the worst news possible, which is like I don’t want you using the magic tricks, there’s no sexy solution. I think that that is a delicate balance. You mentioned doing coaching for athletes like this because you want to keep them engaged, and you want to collaborate, and they know that one of the superpowers that they have is to be able to grind it out.

So what I try to do is say, “How can we use that superpower but also add other tools into your toolbox?” The ways that I try to negotiate or increase motivation to maybe try things a different way is to say we have a whole year. We have all this time. So introducing things like, “Are you working with a nutritionist? How is your nutrition working for you?” I think maybe you would be able to provide some more specific examples of just if you’re working with these people and they’re a year out, other referrals or recommendations you might make to them. But I think you’re starting from nuts and bolts of what does strength training look like? What does rest and sleep look like? What are stress levels like, and how are the stress management coping skills? Then what does nutrition look like?

Because if those four big rocks are in place, then they’re set up for a year to be able to progress and work diligently toward their goals. If those four big rocks are not in place, then it doesn’t matter how many pairs of magic boots or how much manual therapy or anything else they have. They’re not setting themselves up to be ready when they get to the performance day. I’m not sure if that’s answering your question. Let me know if I can say more.

Menachem Brodie:

No, no. It is, and it’s more like a conversation than a question, I guess, for that one, because there’s so much that goes into that. Many of the individuals that come to me are also coaches themselves. So a lot of it is stress management. I find myself personally in these relationships tapping more into my business consulting than the training side, but most people, “No, no, no. I don’t need stress management. Look, I just need you to change the bike from Tuesday to Thursday and put the swim on Wednesday.”

Dr. Lisa Lewis:

I know. I know. So they start coaching you.

Menachem Brodie:

Well, that’s what they-

Dr. Lisa Lewis:

Supervising you.

Menachem Brodie:

Exactly. So it’s that mentality switch of let’s step away from this perfectionism and realize that it does have a positive. There’s a very big positive value there that when you need to tap into that mental reserve, you can do it, because you have that ability. But hey, let’s learn how to mitigate that and use it as more of a dimmer than an off/on switch. That’s a really hard skill to coach as far as stress management. Is there anything that you’ve found or am I missing something here that people should be thinking of for stress management and how and when to tap into, “Okay, now I need to just laser focus and be perfect or as close as possible for this,” or is it a matter of completely changing their mentality of, “I don’t need to be perfect. I need to get it 80% done, that it’s high quality, and I can move on to the next thing.”

Dr. Lisa Lewis:

Yeah. So there’s different levels at which I want to answer this question, because completely changing someone’s mindset takes time, as you know. You can’t just… Especially when people are coaches, my heart went out to you right when you said, “A lot of the people that I coach are coaches,” because we say in the healthcare side of things, doctors make the worst patients. And so, sometimes I think coaches make the worst clients for other coaches because you just want to get control of the situation. If I can just control it, that’s one of the core passions of the perfectionist is to be able to control and micromanage the situation because if you got it and you’ve got control of it and you just make these little tweaks, then you have it exactly the way you want it, and then you’ll get what you want. But actually seeking out a coach is about releasing or relinquishing or handing over some of your power because doing it by yourself gets you in trouble, whether that’s injury or burnout or whatever the case may be.

So I think that as a coach, you are doing this dance with your client where you’re holding both. Where you’re recognizing their strengths, you’re validating the things they want, the things they like, but at the same time you’re consistently and with faith making these recommendations about unsexy things, like stress management, because what you’re doing is planting a seed. You probably are not going to say to a perfectionistic coach on session one, “You know what? Forget all this, the bike on this day and that day and nutrition timing and all these other things. What I want you to focus on is some meditation and some stress reduction and some stress management.” The first day, they’re going to be like, “Yeah. After we get off this call, I’m going out for a 20-mile run,” or whatever their mindset is.

Menachem Brodie:

That’s about right.

Dr. Lisa Lewis:

So you don’t go at it guns blazing. What you’re doing is you’re entering in the information, you’re bringing that into the conversation, and you’re planting the seed because it’s probably going to take, depending on the individual, five to 305 times of you saying, “Stress management is a core component of health and wellness. And if you want to be prepared for your competitions, you need to be managing your stress on a daily basis.” It takes a while for that seed to grow.

So I think my overarching answer to that entire question is it takes time to make these changes. By the time an athlete comes to you, if they are training for one of these really intense competitions, they have expertise. They can push themselves hard. They can manage their nutrition. They can do their workouts. They’re coming to you at this pretty high level of functioning. So the little rocks, those are not the issues. Probably there’s something… Sometimes I call it the Princess and the Pea problem. I don’t know if you know that reference.

Menachem Brodie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Lisa Lewis:

But the fairy tale of there’s something deep, deep, deep, deep, deep, deep, deep down under the surface that is probably sleep, nutrition, stress management, relationships that is echoing and having these effects on the surface. And so, it takes time in a coaching relationship, number one, to build rapport, number two, for your client to open up to you about the idea of changing their mindset. That is a big deal. Their mindset has gotten them pretty far in life. It takes multiple suggestions, and it takes suggestions on your part and I takes rejections from your client because your client is probably… They’re either going to, “uh-huh,” you or they’re going to dismiss or reject what you’re saying, but that doesn’t mean that you’re not planting the seed and it doesn’t mean that you’re not having an effect. I think it requires a lot of faith and patience on the part of the coach.

Menachem Brodie:

Yeah. Love it. I like the Les Brown comparison of the Chinese bamboo tree. It takes nine years or seven years of watering every day, nothing happens, nothing happens, nothing happens. Then all of a sudden over two weeks it grows 20 feet. So, that’s exactly right. Now that’s an easy answer, now and we both know that’s not easy, but that’s an easy answer for those of us who are being coached or coaching others. What about those who are self-coached? How can they sort of… Most of them recognize it. I know it’s not healthy, but this is what a triathlete is, and they have this pre-conceived notion of every second of the day is metered out. How do we plant the seed for those folks who are listening who are self-coached to be able to allow them to go on that self-realization journey? Or is it something they should sign up for a session with you for your performance coaching to help them along that path?

Dr. Lisa Lewis:

Well, that was a loaded question. I would love to talk to them and help them on their journey, but you don’t necessarily need a coach. Change is a process that occurs in all humans, and there are stages. There are predictable stages of change, which this is according to the transtheoretical model of change, or TTM, which is often kind of runs parallel to motivational interviewing. You’re probably familiar, and some of your listeners might be familiar with the stages of change, which are pre-contemplative like, “I don’t have a problem. I’m not thinking about it.” Contemplation, which is kind of that client that you just gave an example of who’s like, “Yeah, I’m doing X, Y, and Z, and it’s kind of working for me, but I think sometimes that gets me in trouble. Maybe I should think about it differently.”

Then there are subsequent stages of the change process. We are self-changers. Actually, the book about the transtheoretical model, TTM, is called Changing for Good, and it is written for people to change themselves. So if you are in that place in your life and you’re starting to have some insights and you’re starting to notice, “I have this way of thinking,” or, “I have this way of approaching my training or my preparation for competition that has some benefits, but I think it could be better.” Or, “I think there’s certain ways that I talk to myself or think to myself or treat myself that get me into trouble and hold me back.” That is an opening for you to lean into. So if you’re contemplative, what you need is more information and more education. So you need to get online or talk to an expert or just get more about how could the problem be different? How could it be solved? How could your performance be improved? How could you change your mindset?

So seeing what’s out there often helps people to move from noticing and being contemplative that maybe there’s a way to change and improve to actually preparing and thinking about, “You know what? I might commit myself to changing things up a little bit here.” Then they’re in this stage of using that education and information to start preparing and planning to take action and make a change. So there are many ways to do this on your own, and I do also think, and this is also parallel to motivational interviewing, that the individual is the one that changes themselves. We’re here to help and collaborate and give high fives and provide technical information when it’s necessary, but really the individual, the athlete is driving. So sometimes you don’t need a helping professional, but it’s another tool in the toolbox, and it’s pretty awesome. Often what I find is it’s hard to think about your own thinking objectively.

So if you have perfectionistic ways of thinking or if you’re really critical on yourself, if you have some negative or harmful ways of thinking about yourself and the world and you’re noticing it, it’s kind of hard to use your own thinking to fix that thinking. You know what I’m saying?

Menachem Brodie:

100%.

Dr. Lisa Lewis:

It’s hard to fix the part that’s a little bit off to fix the part that’s a little bit off. So what is so beneficial to coaching, whether it’s a psychological expert or not is that you’re getting a set of eyes that are outside of your own thinking. It’s another brain. And yes, that brain has its own issues, but they’re not your issues. So you can get some objectivity. The trick is being open to that objectivity, which we all have trouble with.

But I think that’s where helping professionals can really, really come in. So if people are listening, and they’re like, “Yeah, I’ve been contemplating, but I get stuck or that I start to read and then I say, “Ah, this is still working for me.” When you have a hard time getting out of your own way, that’s when it’s time to reach out to someone like me or someone like you or some kind of helping professional because that can often just kind of help to shake it loose a little bit, so that you then increase your motivation to want to change. So it’s not that the helping professional injects you or infuses you with the ability to change. It’s just that they help you unpack the issue and look at all the data so that you can shift your focus and be like, “Yep, I want to change and this is the direction I want to move into.”

Menachem Brodie:

And that’s I think one of the hardest things for triathletes because a lot of coaches myself included for the first eight or nine years, you’re either with the coach or you’re not with the coach. Very few people will do consulting because oftentimes the question will be I want to get to X functional threshold power or running pace in six weeks. How do I do it? Or what one workout? And as we know, there’s no one answer.

Dr. Lisa Lewis:

No.

Menachem Brodie:

There’s always… But when it comes to the mental side of things, it’s at least in my experience, which is very small and the big scheme of things is that when you realize as a coach that someone really needs someone else to just give them that objectivity, answering those open-ended questions and letting them come to that realization. They oftentimes, “Oh, I don’t really need that. I don’t need someone to talk with. I just need to figure it out on my own.” But they just keep going through that loop over and over again. What would be something that the listeners would kind of be tipped off that, “Hey, I’m stuck in a loop right now. And I can talk with somebody for half hour, hour or whatever may be a session to give me some objectivity.” Is there anything? Any red flags or themes that they would notice in their training, or their training logs?

Dr. Lisa Lewis:

Well, the first is pattern. So, if they can look at their athletic career, and there is a way in which they injure themselves, get themselves into trouble, experience failure. There used to be… I don’t know if Dr. Phil is still on television, but there used to be a show with Dr. Phil on it. And his catchphrase would be, how’s that working for you? So you can ask yourself, how is this working for me? Is this pattern of thinking, is this approach to training in the service of my goals or not? And if I am not going where I want to go, and if I’m not achieving the things that I strive to achieve, what do I need to address to get me there? Because it’s something. Something is wrong. Something is off.

So, the first thing that anybody can do is look at the data and get honest with yourself. And the getting honest, that’s getting ready to change. I think some people are just not ready. And one of the things I’ve learned in working with clients, if they are resisting me, or if they are saying, “I don’t need to go into that. I just want to leave with a list of five things to do.” Sometimes I just say to them, “Well, over the course of this session you told me you need to do A, B, C, and D. So maybe you’re not ready to dive deeper. And you can just work on those things you mentioned.” I’ll tell you what no perfectionist likes to hear, maybe you’re not ready. [crosstalk 00:33:35]. So, it’s a little bit of a rib. However, it is honest, maybe you’re not ready to change.

And so, when people are kind of ambivalent, and they’re sitting on that fence of change. If you say, “Maybe you’re not ready to change.” Boom, you get a little shift into, “No, no, no, no, no, no, no. I’m ready. I’m ready.” And so I use the word negotiation a lot. You use the word collaboration and talking about motivational interviewing, but part of negotiation and collaboration is convincing. So you are I think, as a coach, you are doing some convincing using feedback, using educational information, and using repetition of solid sound, evidence-based advice.

Menachem Brodie:

And what’s interesting is that, I think we can call it a tactic would be safe. But maybe you’re just not ready to change is something that I’ve used with athletes who are really in dire, dire need of help, but they didn’t see it, and I’ve used that. And that was something I picked up actually from Chris Voss’ book Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It. I think that a lot of triathletes fall into this trap where it’s become accepted, unfortunately, in that sport, especially training for Iron Man. As soon as you’re training for Iron Man, oh, yeah, what little injuries are you training through? It’s about just honor and [crosstalk 00:35:07]. It shouldn’t be. And that’s part of the “struggle,” which it shouldn’t be as strength training for triathletes. It’s always like, well, where are you going to get the time? Well, would you rather have this achy knee and back for the next rest of your life? Or would you rather decrease your load, your volume, and be able to run faster, bike stronger and swim faster, with less aches and pains?

So telling them like, “Oh, well, you want to get to Kona and chop off 14 minutes in a year, which is pretty significant [crosstalk 00:35:37]. Maybe you’re not ready to change your routine to get the strength that you need. And they’re like, “No, no, I’m ready.” And it’s so interesting because you see this also, when you talk about race strategy for Iron Man in particular. I remember the first Iron Man I worked with he laughed when I said to him, “Jeff, you need to find eight to 10 songs, and you need to memorize them because the bike and run are very long. And if you just remember one or two songs you’re going to go crazy.” And he listened, but he came back at the end and the first thing he said at this phone call was like, “I’m so glad I had nine songs.” It was a little bit more. It’s this central governor is a term that people throw around. Oh, my central governor won’t let me push past this effort in a race or-

Dr. Lisa Lewis:

That’s interesting. Central governor.

Menachem Brodie:

Yeah, and it’s just something that someone used out throughout there is a central governor of the nervous system. And maybe it’s just the way I look at is it’s an excuse. You’re having performance anxiety. You’re not allowing yourself or you’re not able to tap into that because you don’t have the skills or the tools necessary. You haven’t done this through your practice. Can you talk a little bit about the mental blocks, and all this kind of jargon that people throw out there when it really comes down to sports psychology and getting the mental skills that you need to be able to elicit the best performance on that day.

Dr. Lisa Lewis:

Just thinking about the central governor, I’ve never heard that term before, but what resonates with me is how black and white that thinking is. That the interpretation is I get to this place where it’s a wall, and then it’s illegal for me to go farther. I just get shut down, and it happens to me, I’m passive in that process. As compared to thinking about it in a humanistic way, which is this is where I notice this limit right here. I notice this is where I’m bumping up against something. I wonder what that is. I wonder what the ways around that are. So instead of experiencing as something that’s flexible, as information to wonder about and interpret and to work with, they view it as hitting the wall, so to speak.

I just think that is so limiting from an athletic mindset. You’re just shutting down the conversation about what to do next to overcome that obstacle, which is kind of the jam of the endurance athlete. Like a ground zero, which is how do I push myself harder? How do I run faster? How do I work longer? So, that they would… You use the word excuse for central governor. I would use it as a way to shut down the conversation around how to progress in that way.

Menachem Brodie:

Yeah. I say that’s about right. When I say excuse, it’s they’re looking for a scapegoat instead of addressing it and opening and talking it’s, well, this is happening. And I’ve had a couple half Iron Man and an Iron Man in particular, three, four years now, where it’s performance anxiety. We’ve done it in practice, but on I don’t know, the three or four weeks before the race my numbers just dropped 30%. And it’s almost like they’ve… Like we talked about before, they’re in this loop, but they’re not wanting to recognize it. And it’s difficult, even though it’s there. It’s black and white. Look, three to four weeks before your peak race all of your numbers drop because you’re already thinking about how much you’re going to suffer or how you can’t do X or Y. Let’s go back through your 10 minute daily mental practice log and see what you’ve done. Oh, you haven’t done that. Now we’re missing the 12 months leading up to this of mental bedrock that ain’t going to perform now?

Dr. Lisa Lewis:

Yes. And in that… I think that’s a really good example of when it is a psychological problem the solution is psychological. So what clients will often do is say, present something like you just said. Like, “Oh, the last three to four weeks all my numbers are down and…” And the solution that they go to is physiological. So maybe I need to put in more mileage. Maybe I need to eat some magic sauce before I do a training. They’ll go to something that is concrete and that has to do with physiology. But the problem is psychological. So, I just said this to a patient last week. I said, “The issue, the problem is psychological.” And we had just spent 30 minutes talking about it. Talking about feelings, talking about thoughts, so I had this really solid foundation.

So once we built the foundation of this is all having to do with your thoughts and your feelings and your anticipation, then I was able to stand on that foundation and say, “Okay, so it sounds like we both agree that this issue is psychological in nature. The reason you’re stuck is psychological. So the solution is psychological. The solution is not calories, or macros, or nutrition timing, or any of the things that she is obsessed with. That she’s really, really focused on. It has to do with thoughts and feelings.” And so I was able to sell that because we spent most of the session building that foundation. And so, I think in relationships with clients, I know I keep going back to talking about the relationship, the rapport that you build the client, you are steadily building that foundation of understanding their mentality, understanding the positive and negative ways that they think that they help themselves and then that they get in their own way.

Menachem Brodie:

And that’s hard for a lot of people to accept is because they just… It’s almost like they don’t want to believe. They understand sports psychology is important, but it’s still so… Unfortunately, the word would be young in a lot of people when it comes to triathlon, and it’s funny because of all the sports distance cycling and triathlon in particular, you’re out there by yourself for the most part, and you really need to have the mental skills and tools yet so many people just think if they just go out and nail themselves into the ground. You sort of mention, “Hey, let’s talk about your mental approach.” Like, “Oh, no, I’m fine.” How do we get the self coached athlete out there to start to invest in themselves for the mental skills and tools? Is there anything you found to kind of-

Dr. Lisa Lewis:

You’re just shining the spotlight on my ultimate soapbox. So you might have to shut me down in 10 minutes, but-

Menachem Brodie:

Oh, go for it.

Dr. Lisa Lewis:

What you are asking me to talk about is the stigma of mental health and the existence of psychology and psychological life. And this is something that exists all along that spectrum of mental health I was talking about. So, the high achiever who is running and working hard to train for triathlons and other kinds of events all the way down to somebody with chronic, severe mental illness experiences stigma. If I just suck it up, if I just stop being lazy, if I just work harder, if I just deal with it on my own, if I just stop complaining it will get better, it will go away. I have seen it in every kind of person, every gender, every culture. It is baked into the sociology of human beings that even though we’re in this place now where mental health and self care and working on your psychology is becoming more and more talked about, there still is this underlying idea that people have that it doesn’t exist, and it’s not real, which is bonkers to me because your brain is the most complex, sophisticated piece of equipment known to man.

People take all kinds of pills for their liver, or do all kinds of things for their gut health and all kinds of soft tissue therapy for their body. But your brain is the most complicated thing that is known to man. So the idea that working on your brain would not improve your performance is just completely insane. Pun not intended, but it is not rational to think that whatever your issue is it would not be useful to talk about your thoughts, your feelings, and your behaviors around whatever that issue is. It is part and parcel of every single thing that you execute in your life. And it’s so complicated that we have barely scratched the surface of neurology and brain function, and the capacity with which human beings can evolve, and strive, and achieve.

And so, this issue is really hot for me because it comes up with working with people who have major mental illness. People who are depressed or really anxious or have been through trauma, they all will say in their own way and treatment, “I just feel like I shouldn’t take the medication. I should be able to do it on my own.” Or, “I shouldn’t have to come to therapy. I’m just being lazy. It’s not depression, it’s just laziness.” And that is straight up nonsense. In the same way that an athlete who has been running and swimming and biking for years who has dedicated all of their habits and all of their free time and lots of their money and most of their energy to improving their performance to say, “I don’t To talk about my mindset.” Or, “I don’t need to think about my thinking.” Or, “It doesn’t matter how I’m feeling emotionally.” Or, “My stress has nothing to do with this, I just want to talk about my training.”

That is nonsense. Because your brain is running the show in ways that you have thought about, and also in ways that you can not even imagine. So it would behoove you to know your mind, to understand your psychology, and particularly if you are functioning at high levels, and if you’re an athletic person, that’s the most bang for your buck is how to become mentally tough, and how to push yourself psychologically to higher heights.

Menachem Brodie:

I think that’s something that the top performers have known for decades. I mean, The Power of Positive Thinking, Norman Vincent Peale, the penultimate classic thinking. Think and Grow Rich, I mean, Think and Grow Rich, you don’t even have to get more than four pages into that book where he talks about mentality and mindset. Tony Robbins, whether you like him or not. Jim Rohn, whether you like him or not. They’re all these people out there for years. And we’re talking about when it comes to sales, yeah, mentality is important. Every no was another, just going towards another yes.

But when it comes to sport, think about concussion, and how taboo that was. Like the NFL, I remember my mom when I was in high school. I was like, “Oh, I think I want to try out for the football team.” She’s like, “Absolutely not. Nope.” I’m like, “Why not?” She’s like, “Because you’re not going to have a brain the rest of your life. We’re not signing the waiver for that.” I was like, “Oh, that sucks.” So I played hockey, but I play goalie. So not that always helps. You get run with the puck a couple times. But when it comes to endurance sports I see people using, what’s the meditation app? Mindspace, it becomes a fad then it goes away. But when you talk to them about, “Well, why don’t we take five minutes before your run while you’re doing your dynamic warmup to envision what it’ll feel like running at that 505 pace?” “I can’t do it. I’m just focusing on how I feel physically.”

It’s almost like our society saying on one hand, “Hey, it’s cool.” But on the other hand, “Just say no, or you’re an outcast if you do this.” How do we find that middle ground? Or is it just a matter of saying, “Hey, I want to be the best in this. I need to do things different than the masses are doing.”

Dr. Lisa Lewis:

I think those are both approaches, and what comes up for me when you ask that question is the idea of what balance is. And what I’ll say to clients is, balance is not an achievement you do. It’s not like balancing out two sides of a scale where you hit the balance, and then you’re static, and you’re good. Balance is like surfing. You’re constantly making adjustments. You are constantly shifting your weight, and it is work, and it is uncomfortable to maintain balance because of how malleable and how adaptive you need to be. And often, almost all the time you fall off the surfboard. And so, when you’re asking about how do we do this? It’s like do the dance. Be open to I’m a human being, I have resistances, I have strengths, I have weaknesses, I have things I’m open to. Let me just lean in, learn, see what I’m open to changing, respect myself when I’m closed off to something, but just to continue learning and trying to grow and develop.

And so if people can stay in that kind of leaned in receptive posture, yeah, there’s things they’re going to reject. Or there’s just some things that are just really hard for them to address. But then, another way I think about it is that all roads lead to Rome. And if you can change in one way, you are demonstrating to yourself that you have the capacity to change. So, for example, I have worked with a professional athlete for a year and a half now who was not open to talking about her nutrition. She has an eating disorder. The first year that I worked with her, I mean, it was not on the table. I mean, she was not open to talking about changing the way that she was eating even though it was causing recurrent injuries, even though it was making her feel horrible, even though it was affecting her performance.

However, what we were able to change is the way in which she approached her training, tampering down the volume of that training, addressing one key relationship in her life that was very volatile and very harmful. And she set some limits in that relationship. And over the course of the year, once we crossed over into this year that we’ve been working together, those achievements, and those changes, and that added self respect and taking ownership and responsibility over her life led us to this place where now she’s talking about her nutrition every week. Now we’re talking about getting her to sit down with a nutritionist. Her weight is up a little bit. She’s more open to eating in ways that she identifies as being healthy. And she’s like, “You know what? I need to deal with this issue if I want to run triathlons for the rest of my life. I can’t continue, even though I want to hang on to the way of eating, I can’t continue eating like this.”

So, she’s getting to the thing that I personally have wanted to get to since day one, but she’s doing it on her own change timeline, according to the things that she was willing to change. So I think because in this example, this client was willing, she was open in some ways, we could use that path even though it wasn’t the path I wanted. Or even though it wasn’t all the paths, we could use her path to get us to closer to the other paths.

Menachem Brodie:

So that’s a… It sounds like a really good point to pivot to what are a couple things that the listeners, self-coached athletes at home that are… They know that they’re missing Kona this year. They’re really close, or maybe they’re injured, and they’re being smart, and putting it off to next year. What are a couple action items that they would be able to take to maybe look back at their journey or start this journey like the individual you’re talking about to begin to help them go through that journey in their own personal realization so that when they’re coming up to Kona next year, they’re healthy, they have the mental skills and tools that will help them excel at that event, and to perform and enjoy it.

Dr. Lisa Lewis:

Okay, good. So, I have three steps that I want to recommend, particularly because we have this nice year or this chunk of time. The first thing I would encourage the individual to do is have a self summit. So I want you to sit down with yourself, and whatever data you have available to you about what’s going on with your body, what’s going on with your performance. And just try to see if you can objectively look at the data. Here are the things that help my performance, here are the things that get me into trouble or that impair my performance. Here are the strengths that I bring to the table, here are things I’m really, really good at, and here are the things that I want to get better at. So just looking at the landscape, and getting a clear picture of your career as an athlete, and what it has looked like thus far in order for you to determine strengths for you to utilize and harness, but then also places where you can improve or add in order to get yourself where you want to go.

After the self summit, what I want you to do is strategize, and the way that you strategize is by number one, figuring out how to add in those places where there’s room for improvement. So things you can add is education. There’s all kinds of books and free materials online and things to research to see how to add strengths into your training. I don’t know if that’s nutritional, if that’s to do with strength training, or if that has to do with talking with a psychological professional, some kind of performance coach. Whether that’s someone like me or someone who works more like you, Menachem, and works with individuals from a coaching perspective. But what can you add, that is going to improve those areas?

And then the second part of strategizing is, how do you wield your powers? How do you use your superpowers, your strengths for good? You don’t want to overuse them. You don’t want to totally rely on them. But how can you enjoy the strengths that you have in a positive way so that the process over the course of the next year can be awesome. And sometimes in the strategy portion, what I like to say is sit down with someone else. So, even if you don’t meet with someone like me or someone like Menachem, is there a friend or a running buddy or someone else who trains for these events that you’re training for who you could just say, “Hey, can I buy you a beer? And can we sit down and talk about what I’m doing and where I want to go?” Just to unpack it verbally, just to get a little bit of feedback. I mean, really to hear yourself talk about where you’ve been and where you want to go.

So first, you’re looking at the data. Second, you’re creating the strategy. And then third, you are executing whatever plan or whatever strategy you put in place with a focus or an emphasis on positivity and what I mean by that is self care. So, we all come equipped with negativity bias. So human beings will look at any situation, will come out of any experience with a focus on what went wrong, what the weaknesses were or what was bad. So this is natural. It has to do with evolutionary psychology. We are wired to focus on the negative. That has helped us to survive in the past. However, there’s a limitation on how much a negativity bias can offer you. You also need to be including the whole spectrum of psychology. So things that are beneficial, things that are rejuvenating, things that are helpful.

So I want you to think about it as adding load to an exercise. So since you’re sort of weighted, or you’re loaded to focus on negative, you are going to intentionally in your strategy, add positivity, add self care, add wellness, add recovery in to balance it out because too much negativity is going to push you into psychological or physiological burnout. So, you’re kind of adding that counterbalance so that what you get is this nice, even rounded, holistic, healthy approach to progressing in your training. But you’re not adding any negativity, you’re actually intentionally adding positivity. So what do I mean by this? There’s an awesome book by Barbara Fredrickson that’s called Positivity, and I love Barbara Fredrickson. She takes a very evidence based approach to the efficacy of using optimism, and positivity in performance psychology.

And so whether that is celebrating all of your small wins, or treating yourself to a rocking massage, or a fabulous mani pedi or something else that you really love, or including lots of yummy foods in your nutrition plan or spending nights out with your friends. Whatever it is that recharges you or rejuvenate you, that is part of your strategy. This more pain and more suffering equals more and better results is baloney, for lack of a better term. You need to refuel yourself. So if you’re an introvert, maybe you like to just chill at home and watch movies or spend time with one friend. If you’re an extrovert, maybe you like to go out where there’s lots of people, and that’s activity. But I want you to get really specific about what the things are that recharge your battery. And you need to put that into the strategy, because it is going to keep you going not only over the long haul of the year that you’re training, but over the long haul of your performance while you’re executing whatever the competition is that you get to next year.

Menachem Brodie:

And that’s something that’s often missing. I think we’ll have to have a pause here. We definitely have to have you back because we have a couple of other things to talk about as well.

Dr. Lisa Lewis:

Awesome.

Menachem Brodie:

But that’s something that most triathletes are missing and they laugh when I tell them, “What’s your off day during the week?” Like, “Oh, well, I have recovery…” “No, no, no. What’s the day that you do nothing, except for something that you love?” “Well, I love bike riding. “No, no, no, no, go watch a movie. Go play hockey from work and go out for lunch and a movie.” Well, I can’t do that. I have to use all that training time.

Dr. Lisa Lewis:

No.

Menachem Brodie:

It’s really, really great to hear that that’s the right way for people to go. There’s so much more that we can dive into. But it sounds like Lisa, you have a lot of different things going on that people need to be considering. You’ve given us a lot of resources. You have one coming out here in January actually of 2020. What is it Psych Skills for Fitness Pros? Is that correct?

Dr. Lisa Lewis:

Yes. That’s right. Yes. So this summer, I have gotten most of the way through the process of creating an online course for continuing education. It’s called Psych Skills for Fitness Pros, and this is volume one, so I’m hoping to have multiple volumes. But in this first volume that I’m planning to release January 2020 I address motivation, and specifically the self determination theory of motivation, how that operates and how to harness and develop individuals’ motivation to help them achieve their goals in fitness and/or nutrition. Also, we discussed stages of change, behavioral change, the nature of change, and how people can not only help their clients change, but also how to change themselves. And then also motivational interviewing, which you and I have brought up a couple times during this conversation. So that includes lectures, of course, handouts, worksheets, and also I’ve had the opportunity to interview a number of professionals in the industry to talk with them about how they utilize these theories and these approaches in their own work with clients. So that will be coming out in 2020.

I hope all the listeners will follow me on Instagram. My Instagram feed is @drlewisconsulting. And what I’ve been trying to do pretty consistently is include content at least two or three times a week about mental skills and mental toughness and how to apply those in training settings. So how to utilize those in your day to day life, whether your goals are strength training, or endurance, or nutrition, or even other areas of performance, like at work, and so forth. And then finally, people can access me on my website. It’s drlewisconsulting.com. And I do keep a collection of any of the podcasts or articles that I’ve written on my website there, just in addition to reviewing services I provide and how to contact me and so forth.

Menachem Brodie:

Awesome. And to be clear for everybody, it’s D as in dog, R-L-E-W-I-S consulting on Instagram and www. D as in dog, R-L-E-W-I-S consulting.com. Lisa, Dr. Lewis, thank you so much for joining us today. You’ve given so much. We really appreciate it.

Dr. Lisa Lewis:

Oh, thank you so much for having me. I really enjoyed having the conversation with you.

Speaker 1:

That’s it for this episode of the Strong Savvy Cyclist & Triathlete Podcast with world leading strength coach for cyclists and triathletes, Menachem Brodie. Don’t miss an episode, hit that subscribe button and give us a review. For more exclusive content, visit humanvortextraining.com or get the latest expert videos from Coach Brodie on the HVT YouTube channel at HV Training. Until next time, remember to train smarter, not harder, because it is all about you.

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Menachem Brodie

Menachem Brodie

Coaching since 2000, Menachem Brodie has been working with athletes in a number of settings, and a broad variety of sports.

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