The Art of Emotional Regulation: Level Up Your Energy and Performance

If there was ever a need for emotional regulation, I sure could have used it when I walked into the Olympic Stadium in Montreal in 1976. The stadium was packed with tens of thousands more people than I had ever competed in front of before. 

On the outside, I might have looked cool, calm, and collected, but internally I was anxious, I was afraid, and I was having a hard time breathing. The whole experience was just overwhelming, and I was having a hard time not going bonkers. 

I had forgotten all about it until the other day when I was listening to Tim Ferris’ podcast interview with Chip Conley. I had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know  Chip recently at his home near Todos Santos, Baja. So glad I happened upon his interview to open my memory banks.  

Chip’s work on becoming a modern elder really resonates with me because it is so like Life Athlete in its intent to give people a choice on how they want to grow into their bodies and their minds in the middle stage of life. What Chip was talking to Tim Ferris about was, in part, about the importance of regulating emotional output. His comments reminded me of how pivotal these skills can be. In the Olympics, it’s really easy for emotions to run us into a rapid stage of anxiety, fear, and doubt, which can also, as I have noticed, take away a great deal of much-needed energy. 

I’m thankful for Chip to bringing my experiences to mind as a jumping off point to talk about how can you regulate your own emotions. These techniques can be a life-saver in high performance situations, they can give you a competitive advantage, and they can also keep you calm and collected in your day-to-day life.

In competitive sports, the ability to regulate your emotions gives you a leg up on your competitors. It allows you to perform with a sense of ease and relaxation, knowing that the skills that you have honed can be expressed at the highest level possible, even where there’s a lot on the line. 

A great example of this is a student of mine who is now in the Hall of Fame, Edgar Martinez. He was a phenomenal baseball player for the Seattle Mariners. Over the eleven years that we were on the same team together, he as a player, me as a coach, I observed a person who was able to control himself so that he never got too up or too down. His energy level essentially stayed in the middle, and therefore he was able to focus on performing at the highest level possible. 

If he didn’t get a hit for one night, two nights, three nights, it didn’t matter. He kept practicing every day, the same disciplined routine, and never thought about what happened before. He simply took in what he needed to do to be better, and then got out there to practice. If he hit five home runs in a row, he didn’t think about going back and hitting six. He didn’t get too excited about it. He stayed firmly in the middle. 

Being emotionally self-regulating is walking that center path. It’s not allowing what happened in the past or what might happen in the future to take you away from that sense of self-control. It allows you to go about your business with the highest level of focus possible. 

We all want to perform well. The professional baseball player at the bottom of the 9th inning wants to score the winning run, the thrower in the Olympics wants to win on their last throw to take the gold, and the Tour-de-France cyclist wants to overcome the competition to win it all in the last mile. These are all situations where control of one’s emotions, and therefore one’s energy, is paramount. Learning to do this takes time, but I have identified some key strategies in my own training and in my work with high level athletes and top performers in business. These are tricks you can use on a daily basis to regulate your emotions more effectively. The first tip I have is this:

1. Identify the need for emotional regulation.

One of my top priorities in my later athletic career, was to start to recognize when my emotions were not in check. I could see that when I was not in control of what I was feeling, it would affect the level of tension in my body as well. 

A primary concern for athletes, and really anyone who is expected to perform in front of huge crowds of people, is how to not let doubt or fear control their output. What if I can’t do this? What if I’m not good enough? What if I didn’t practice enough? What if I’m not in good enough shape?  All of those questions can lend themselves to an emotional state that is neither calm nor focused. Recognizing and catching that switch as early as possible is critical to getting your body and mind back on track. 

To recognize when that shift is happening, pay attention to things like the tension in your shoulders and the depth of your breathing. Are you holding your fists tightly or are you able to relax your hands without any shaking or tightness? Checking in on these subtle body cues is the first step to understanding how to regulate an excess of emotion.

2. If you can’t change your situation, take control of your reactions.

In any circumstance that you’re in, you can change something. If you can’t change the situation you’re in,  then you can change your reaction to it. For instance, if somebody cuts you off on the freeway, you can’t do anything about it, but you can choose how you are going to react to it. In that moment between the incident and your reaction, you may find that you can take a deep breath and remind yourself that everything is working out in your favor. Perhaps that person was not even aware of their actions, so your anger would be out of place. 

Recognizing that no matter the situation, you still have the ability to change something is key. You can’t change the weather or the tides on a day when you wanted to go surfing. Some things will always be out of your control, but you can choose to let them go. With that choice, you have emotional regulation. You have the ability to hold onto your energy and not be drained.  

3. Take action on the things you can control.

The third tip is to take control of the situation. I can think of a time my freshman year at the University of Oregon. I had come from Southern California, where it doesn’t rain much, to Oregon where rains quite a bit during the fall and winter months. Outside when I was practicing, it rained often, and when the 7-foot circle from which you throw a shot put becomes wet, it gets slick. So, I would get very concerned. I would get uptight, wishing it were dry, and my energy and focus would be diverted to my discomfort. What I realized many years later, was that, unfortunately, I had lost that energy and focus to something that was entirely out of my control. I had let my emotions run away with me. 

Interestingly enough, I later learned from another thrower that if you put even more water down on the ring, it actually makes the circle less slick. So the very thing I was getting all anxious and up in my head about had a solution that I could control. 

Sometimes we get so up in our heads about our stress that we forget we still have the ability to improve our situation. I can put more water into the ring to keep it from being slick. I can put on a rain jacket and set up an umbrella. My options to adapt to the circumstances may not be to my liking, but wishing it was different only generates more anger, anxiety, and distraction. And sometimes, simply putting a solution in place is enough to get moving in the right direction again.

4. Get into your feet.

Getting into your feet and out of your head is crucial to emotional regulation. Feeling your feet against the ground distracts you from wishing that things could be different. It brings you back into your body and gives you the opportunity to take three deep breaths. In those moments, you give yourself a chance to come back into yourself. It is a reminder that your body is all that you can control, and the rest of the world is separate from you and it will continue on as it may. You do not need to control it.

You come back into your body by first noticing your feet on the ground and then feeling them there, letting the thought of changing things dissipate, letting the fear go, and letting go of that which you cannot change. Feel the ground beneath you, take those three deep breaths, pause and be in the moment at hand, and then let the rest happen as it will. 

5. Go with the flow.

The last tip is simply learning to flow with life and not pushing against it. It is rare that things will go exactly as we’d like them to. In fact, that is an essential part of being in this life, being in this body — not having the energy we want some days, feeling sick other days, people not being kind to us when we think that they should — these are all just a part of life. Wanting to control life is like trying to fit a round peg into a square hole. You likely won’t be happy with the results. Find the round hole instead. 

When I first started to flow with my body and give it what it needed, I found that not only did my performance improve, but I enjoyed the process of improvement and achievement much more. Rather than going into tirades about not getting what I wanted out of my body and not having the energy that I wanted, I got out of my own way. I regulated my emotions by not letting myself spiral into anxiety, anger, and pain, and this allowed me to perform better and enjoy my experience more. 

From the playing field, to top level performers, to day-to-day life, it’s very easy to allow our focus to be taken over by thoughts of fear, doubt, and what-ifs. This not only leads to a lack of emotional control, but also to a massive drain of energy at a time when we need every ounce we can get. If you’re mad, if you’re pissed off, if you’re unsure, if you’re fearful and anxious, you are draining your system of critical energy and vitality.

The goal of emotional self-regulation is to have more energy and more mental clarity. The goal is to be able to achieve at a higher level by living life from a place of cool clarity. Don’t force life, flow with it. Allow things to happen as they will, notice where you can make a difference, and recognize that you always have choices. Let it go and flow.

I’ve seen this happen over and over again with my clients, whether it’s the baby boomer generation, the teens that I have the pleasure working with, or the high level athletes. Showing them how they can self-regulate is self-mastery at its best, and in doing so, they find that they have more enjoyment, enthusiasm, vitality and higher levels of performance simply by applying a daily practice. If you want to learn more about the Life Athlete approach to emotional regulation, read chapters 4 and 6 in my book, The Way of the Life Athlete available on Amazon. You can also subscribe to my YouTube channel.  

By | 2019-08-13T12:08:38-07:00 August 13th, 2019|Uncategorized|0 Comments

A Level Up

How to Be More By Doing Less 

There was a turning point in my athletic career. I had hit rock bottom and had to climb out, and by the grace of the great whatever, I made it out of the hole and into a new trajectory towards success. But it wasn’t until that point that I had to get, as Jamie Moyer once told me, brutally honest with how I was feeling in order to know exactly what I needed to do. 

Just Keep Pushing

Early on in my teen years, I was educated on how to push. Taking the example of older teen gym rats and through the gentle nudging of my first mentor, Rapha Kroger, I learned to push my body hard and still harder. The pure application of mental will over my body’s resistance resulted in the simple takeaways being: 1) I could always push a little harder than I thought, and 2) overriding my body wasn’t going end in death. At least, I hoped not. 

The Sisyphus Days 

I accepted the role of Sisyphus and actually had fun because my strength boomed upwards and my then 16lb steel ball landed farther and farther away from me. That’s the goal. Kinda simple. Pushing my shot put version of Sisyphus’s boulder up the hill didn’t feel like torture, and this strategy was far from ineffective. My gains were accumulating. 

I had accepted grit as the god that I would always need to bow down to and embrace as the path to achieve greater success. Pushing had worked in the past, so I figured it would fulfill my dreams in the future. Also, it was the only path I knew. 

Fast forward. It’s two years before the Olympic trials and a siren is going off in my head. It was ringing out, “Houston, we have a problem.” A stark realization had come over me. All of my progress had ceased. I wasn’t throwing farther, even though I had pushed harder, lifted more, trained more often, and dedicated every waking minute of my life to thinking about pushing towards my goal. Nothing was changing. Zilch.

Time to Go Within

I knew I wanted to make the Olympic team, but up until this point, I hadn’t progressed in years. I was desperate to find a solution, and only through this desperation did I realize that I needed to pivot in order to grow. I threw out all my old tools and methods and started over.

Little did I know at the time, but I was leaving one orbit of success and entering a new one with a higher potential. The characteristics of this new orbit were powered by tapping into an internal wisdom that would allow me to decide how to move forward with greater economy and results. 

This new path required that I pay more attention to the signs of my body and what it was telling me when I was feeling fatigue, pain, nervousness, or fear. I became aware of the signature patterns in my body and the tendencies of my thoughts. I taught myself meditation and learned how to calm my mind, putting that into play as part of my training program. 

Before all of this, I had been successful, but not at a sustainable level. I needed to tune in to my mind and body in order to level up, and when that happened, my throws started going farther.

After that, the whole process became more fun because I wasn’t pushing against a wall thinking that if I pushed harder, I would get there. All of a sudden a kind of ease just overtook my body. 

How to Level Up 

Must of us were taught that pushing yourself, grinding it out, and giving your all always, will get you to your goals in the most direct way. Plus, we get a certain satisfaction when our business partners, teammates, co workers, clients, family members and coaches view us as a successful, “they got what it takes” character. It’s addictive and alluring. I know.  

But if you’re interested in up leveling to an awareness-based method of achieving personal, physical, or business success, or if you just want to be more at ease with life, what I suggest is this:

  1. Without judgement, identify one area or task in your life where your belief that you have to push harder and endure more is taking away from either your enjoyment, satisfaction, or your goals of achieving more.
  2. Commit to 2 weeks, an experiment, if you will, to start becoming more tuned into your body’s energy needs. Then, be willing to accomodate them as best you can. Watch that you don’t go into depletion mode, and instead, focus on the activities that leave you feeling energized and vital. Your body is always talking…are you listening?
  3. For the same period of time, be hyper vigilant in noticing when habitual thoughts creep in. Notice the ones that say you can’t slow down, take a break, or make time for yourself because if you do, you’re lazy, not giving it your all, or being unproductive. Be honest.
  4. Try doing less to become more. Awareness is King and the choices you make from it are Queen. Both are equals in helping you use your internal wisdom to guide you effortlessly towards your desired goals and achievements.
  5. Your Mantra: I seek energy and am compassionate with myself in the process.
  6. Please let me know how this works for you and I’ll share it with others in the Life Athlete community for their guidance, feedback, and inspiration. We can use your name, or keep it anonymous. You can email me directly at peter@lifeathlete.com

One of the things that Life Athlete has to offer is that practice and that pathway and that journey. Life Athlete can find a deeper connection in each and every one of us, wherever we are. It allows us to take a step in a new direction so that wisdom can become a building block towards a kind of transcendence. It is an easier way of moving in this world and being successful in whatever path is most important to you.

If you’re interested in learning more about Life Athlete and what it can offer athletes, CEOs, baby boomers, teens and anyone wanting to strengthen their mind/body connection, you can follow me on Instagram @LifeAthleteWay or subscribe to my YouTube channel.

You are a Life Athlete

By | 2019-06-28T08:23:01-07:00 June 28th, 2019|Uncategorized|0 Comments