Is self-doubt and negativity holding you back—in business, sports, or life? Craig Willard, author of The High-Performance Mindset, believes that you need more than just exercise or a change in diet to achieve peak performance. You need to change your thinking.
In this episode, Craig shows you how you can immediately sharpen your focus, boost your confidence, and shift your personal performance into hyperdrive. Whether you’re an athlete, executive, or an entrepreneur, this episode is for you.
When did Craig Willard first become interested in mindset?
I actually was diagnosed with general anxiety disorder, so I was on some pretty strong medication. That experience became a bit of a turning point for me as I felt like I was in this fog of sorts; the medication had gotten me to a point where I was just bland.
I didn’t have the highs, I didn’t have the lows, I was right in the middle and at that point I said, “This isn’t okay. There’s got to be a better way than medication to help my anxiety and I have to figure this out.”
I literally went on a road trip of sorts to figure out what it was about our mind that created this fear. I wanted to figure out what anxiety was. A lot of that I put into this book. I go into great detail about anxiety because I think it steals so much from us.
From that point moving forward, I realized that the mind was key to everything and thus, I was able to move on from my anxiety.
What did you learn from your anxiety?
Let me fast-forward a bit to my coaching career.
When I started working with people with all different backgrounds, I started to recognize that people all have different opinions of the word. It’s almost as if my clients were creating their own dictionary of sorts.
It was a really big breakthrough for me to recognize that because I could then begin to change how people perceive the world and how they think based on the words they use.
If you think about motivational speakers, they love to tell you what to do and why you should do it but they don’t really tell you the how; that middle ground seems to get missed quite a bit.
You hear this phrase, “Change your mindset, change your life.”
But if I just tell you to “change your thoughts, change your outcomes,” that doesn’t help you. I know that I need to do that, but how?
Figuring out the how was a really big breakthrough for me. I’ll go through it with you.
First, ask these questions, “What is self-talk?” and “What is thought?”
When I would ask my coaching clients they’d give me sometimes odd, strange answers. Then I would ask them “What is focus?” and they would usually say something like “concentration.”
Well okay, “What is concentration?” and they would kind of laugh and say, “Focus?”
So people really don’t have a true definition of these words, yet we tell people to focus, to concentrate, all the time. But what does that mean?
Well, here’s how I break it down. If you have a thought in your head, you’re consciously thinking to yourself about that thought; essentially you’re talking to yourself about that thought. Over the course of a day, we may have 40, 50, or 60,000 thoughts. So we talk to ourselves all day long.
While we have a thought in our head, we’re focused on it, because we can’t really focus on two things at the same time. The conscious mind can only have a single focus at any one time. Whatever it is that you’re focused on is your concentration; it’s what you’re giving your attention to.
For me personally, I was always asking myself why and never accepting the fact that I didn’t know the answer to these questions that I would have in my head. In terms of anxiety, I wanted to know why people have anxiety? I wanted to know what anxiety actually was.
People have these identities that they carry around with them. They may think, “I have anxiety” and I kind of laugh and say “Well, you don’t really have anxiety because it’s not like the chickenpox, it’s not the flu, it’s not a broken arm.” It’s an experience, but you don’t have it. If we know that it’s an experience, well how can we get over that experience?
Well, how we experience life is based on our own thoughts, so how can I change the way I think about my anxiety so that it isn’t an issue anymore.
Most people when they find themselves in an anxious state go visit their doctor. They tell them, “Doc, my hands are constantly clammy, my heart rate is through the roof, I’m a mess, I can’t sleep. What can I do?” Well, the doctor is going to say, “It sounds like you might have anxiety, let me give you a pill for that.”
All that does is mask the actual problem. As soon as you stop taking that medication all your symptoms are going to come right back because you haven’t fixed the issue; you haven’t treated the root cause.
What is the cause? The cause is in our mind. Once you realize that, you become so much more powerful.
“Once you have the power to control the way you think about certain situations then you have the power to overcome anxiety.”
How can we change our thinking?
Almost 95% of our thoughts are repetitive, so you can use that to your advantage. You can use positive thinking to change your beliefs and your thinking habits just by having the same positive thoughts over and over again. It’s going to start as a conscious effort, but over time those conscious thoughts begin to enter your unconscious mind.
Now, how do you actually consciously change one single thought?
In order to have a thought, you have to talk to yourself about it, that’s your inner self-talk. If you want to change your thought from a negative one to a positive one, it’s as easy as changing that conversation. That immediately changes the thought. It changes the focus. It changes what you’re concentrating on and what you’re giving your attention to.
To keep that up long-term, it’s simply a matter of continuing that conversation; that self-talk.
In the book, The High Performance Mindset, I talk specifically about how the subconscious mind gets involved. For example, maybe someone at the office has just informed you that you need to give a talk in front of the executive team at your company the following day. The first thought that immediately enters your mind might be “Speak in front of the executive team? I can’t speak very well, I’m a horrible speaker. How do I get out of this?”
It’s not as if you consciously wanted to think this, but you did because we’re pre-programmed to react to certain situations in a certain way based on our past experiences. Our subconscious mind follows patterns and reacts based on what it recognizes as being similar to the past.
Perhaps you had a horrible experience giving a talk in front of a group of peers outside of work, well now you have to speak in front of the executive team, your mind recognizes the similarity between the two situations and reacts as it thinks it should. But you have the power to change that reaction.
Can you give us an example of the power of our thoughts and how they impact how we respond to situations?
Sure. My mom called me one day while I was at work. She was in tears and clearly upset and she told me, “I’ve got something I need to tell you. I just left the doctor, and I’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer.”
While she’s in tears, I ask, “Are we able to fix this?”
She said, “Yes.” And I replied, “We’ll do this together, we’re going to get through this.”
After the call ended, I sat there for probably 10 minutes. I was not emotional, I was nothing. Then I get up and I go tell the lady that works beside me. As soon as I verbalized the fact that my mom had breast cancer, I had to actualize it, I had to make it real, and I broke down. Literally, I just started crying.
“We don’t realize the power of the thoughts that we have and the words that we use and most time we don’t even realize what the words that we’re using mean.”
How do you coach people through a mindset shift?
People say that shifting someone’s mindset is un-coachable but I’ve seen the power of changing the language you use to talk to yourself firsthand. In fact, there’s a very simple way to see for yourself how powerful your inner self-talk is: stand in front of a mirror and start saying nice things about yourself.
It sounds incredibly simple, but it’s actually a really difficult thing to do. People find this simple exercise really uncomfortable.
Usually, we’re pretty mean to ourselves when we think about ourselves in our head. If you talked to your friends and your family members like you talk to yourself, everyone would hate you. So that needs to change.
“They say that about 95% of our thoughts are repetitive, and about 80% of those are negative.”
Of course, it takes hard work to break down years and years of negative self-talk but its possible to do.
So start today by standing in front of a mirror and just try being nice to yourself. Do it on the way to work, do it while you’re in the shower, do it while you’re making dinner, do it over and over again, until it’s no longer uncomfortable.
Another thing I coach people to do is to debate themselves. Don’t assume that what you believe is the truth.
It is your truth but we have to recognize that we always have the power to change what we believe to be true. Ask yourself, “Is that really right? Should I really be worried about this? Is this something I can control? Should I even try to control this?”
Lastly, I tell clients that there are only three points in time: the future, the past, and the present.
Yet the only time when you get to actually experience life is in the present. When you move to the future, you’re inviting anxiety into your mind, when you move to the past, you’re inviting negative self-talk into your mind.
“So live in the present, prepare for the future, and learn from the past.”
We can all prepare for what’s going to happen tomorrow, but we also have to recognize that we only have control over what’s happening in the present moment. There will always be things that are out of our control until tomorrow becomes today, so don’t waste time worrying about the things you can’t control.
Similarly, when thinking about some past event, don’t dwell on it or beat yourself up over something that didn’t go the way you had planned. Reflect on the experience and move forward having learned something from it.