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Charlie Unwin - Episode 3 - The Power of Positivity

Watch Episode 3 here


If you would prefer to read the text version of Charlie's latest vlog - check out the video transcript below

Amy Williams:

Hello! it's Amy Williams here with Charlie Unwin for the U Perform channel. Thank you very much for joining us again today.

Last week, we spoke together about the inside and outside performance. Today, we're going to talk about making your best more predictable. What do you mean by using the word predictable?

Charlie Unwin:

Yeah. I realized that when we look at the outside world, very little is predictable in sport, we don't always know what our opponents are going to do or what the track conditions are going to be like. What the weather is going to do. So really predictability can only come from the inside.

And why is it so important? Because I think when things are predictable, we can have a degree of confidence. So last week we spoke about where predictability comes from? Ultimately it comes from this notion of the birth of performance inside. I.e. We can do the same things. We can think the same things. Um, and we can, we can train our physiology and emotions to give us more predictability, to respond to certain situations in a predictable way. If we're responding to them in a different way, every time, whatever we're trying to do on the outside, whatever the sport is, whatever the skill is or technique, it's going to be unpredictable.

So that's where we're going with this. Now this is backed up by a lot of research and it continually shows that 50 to 90% of our variants as certainly elite performers is down to mental skills. Because by the time you've learned how to do something, it is now about whether you can do it when it matters. If you can't do it when it matters, you're going to be up there one day down the next. So that's the principle.

Amy Williams:

Okay. Well, I'm interested to then hear how we can all go about that. I guess, daily life, not daily life, sporting life. We all kind of know that if you've got 10 athletes that are physically the same, the one who's got that mental edge is going to be the one that comes home with the medals.

Charlie Unwin:

Yeah, definitely. Let's define a goal here because we're going to be doing this with you.

So, um, what are we trying to do here? If I could say to you, or perhaps you with your athletes hat on from not so many years ago. If I could get you to think about you on a really good day, so you at your best, and don't just think about it. Almost imagine yourself, like get into the picture. You might imagine yourself at the top of the mountain, you might see, or even feel the snow coming down. You might notice what goes on around you, but really immerse yourself in that imagery.

And if you can think of a time or even a competition where you were at your very best, a time where everything went to plan where you almost couldn't put a foot wrong, you were in that flow in that zone. So it's really good to practice immersing ourselves in that environment.

Now, you know, whatever you did that day, you know, you're capable of achieving that physically because you've done it. So the question here is if you could simply recreate that day every single time, how good would you be now? Mostly when I ask this question, people think, Oh, probably be the best in the world. And you can actually prove that. But I think most people would agree, right? That if they could simply recreate them at their bests, they would perform pretty well - they would be at that next level.

Amy Williams:

That's very, very true. Okay. I'm going to take myself back there. I nearly was when you were explaining it.

Charlie Unwin:

The goal here is, we're trying to simply perform the consistency. Which isn't always the most sexy idea. Because I think people want to learn new things and get better at what they do by doing things differently. But there comes a point where we need to do what we already know how to do, but just do it really well and really consistently. And that's where I think keeping things simple can be really valuable as a concept. And that will be the subject of another week. Cool. So are you up for a bit of an exercise?

Amy Williams:

I am up for it. Let's see. I'm intrigued. Cause as a sports psychologist, I never worked with you. And I know that you've worked with Lizzy Arnold and the other skeleton athletes that came through in my sport. So I'm intrigued to know what you're going to do with me.

Charlie Unwin:

So one of the first books I ever read on psychology, it was called ‘An Introduction to Psychology’. And on the very first page, it had this triangle, which I'm going to share with you now. So this triangle stayed with me ever since. It's so simple and yet so important and effective by way of working with athletes. So in each corner of the triangle, we have one of three things. The first one was doing, The second one was thinking, Amy, what do you think the third one was?

Amy Williams:

Acting? Oh, no, that would be, you're doing, Oh crikey. Now you're putting me on the spot!

Charlie Unwin:

Feeling! It's all right. It's the one that most people don't have. So we'll learn more about that in a second.

The only point I'm trying to make here is that this performance inside that we keep talking about, how do we break it down? How do we make it a controllable entity? Well, the answer is by breaking it down into these three areas. Why? Because if we focus at any given point in time on what you were doing, we can always control what you're doing. If we focus on what you're thinking, what's going on in the heads, we can control that. Okay. Let's think about this. Let's focus on that. And if we're looking at feeling, we can also manage that.

Arguably this one is more difficult to manage. However we can change the way that we feel, whether that's emotionally or kinesthetically - what's going on in our body.

So we're going to break down your performance into these three areas. And what we're going to do is we're going to look at you at your bests and you at your worst. And what I'd encourage you all to do is to do this at home. It helps actually writing it down with a pen and paper.

We're going to take Amy through this, uh, and you can follow on at home. So let's start with you at your best, because it feels like a nice starting point. And when you imagine you as an athlete, and again, going back to that, that place where you were at your best, you're really in the groove. What did you notice about what you're doing? Your routine? Might be something about technique?

So now I want you to go back to that place when you were at your bests. Normally people love thinking of that time, but really immerse yourself in that place. And as you do, I want you to think about what you were doing. So if I was there watching you, what would I notice? What would I notice about your body language? What would I notice about the specific routine that you were adopting? What would I notice about your technique? So can you think of just an example, one or two things?

Amy Williams:

Well, I will probably obviously take you back to the Vancouver Olympic Games.

So what was I doing? I actually had taken myself up to a different level of the changing room, where there were no other athletes. They were all down in another level. Because for me, and this will flip onto my worst bit, I had to be happy and not concentrate about the other girls. So I was on my own with the physio where all the physio beds were with actually other athletes of other nations popping in and out getting their legs warmed up. But I created my own little happiness bubble. So I was actually very calm. My body language would just have been - there's a girl looking pretty chilled out and calm.

Charlie Unwin:

Perfect. Okay. I think you've highlighted how you were feeling there as well. Calm. And would you describe that calmness in any other way, in terms of how you feel, whether emotionally or in your body?

Amy Williams:

I mean, thinking you're not going to kill yourself but I was a nervous wreck at the same time. You knew that, there were butterflies, but I always said that those butterflies was me excited to perform. So it was a sense of calm and excitement all at once.

Charlie Unwin:

Okay. So we've got calm and excitement, that's you at your best. So you're not pretending that the nerves weren't there, but you're interpreting them in a way that you felt them as excitement. Perfect. So we've actually covered it: a little bit of doing a little bit of feeling.

I'm sticking to these two now, whilst you're on that. What about you at your worst? What was the opposite of those things?

Amy Williams:

I was always looking at the other athletes, the other competitors, always thinking, what are they doing? Are they warming up? What are they doing that I'm not doing? Why did they get down to tenths quicker than me and comparing myself, but in a bad way? Because in our sport we have to watch other competitors. That's how we learn how to slide, but this was then in a negative kind of way.

Charlie Unwin:

Okay. So on that, looking at others, I would have noticed that in you. So we'll put it on doing.

Amy Williams:

I probably would've looked grumpy as well. Wouldn't have been smiling.

Charlie Unwin:

Perfect. Okay. So you might not be able to read this, but we'll put up a readable version for you. So you might've been a bit grumpy, not kind of feeling particularly happy within yourself now, because you were looking at others, but you were also focusing on others and it's important to make that differentiation. This is why we do this triangle. To separate what we're doing and what we're thinking because yes, the two kind of meshed together. But if we're going to create control, we need to be able to control one and or the other.

So you were actually in your negative focusing on others. Okay. Out of interest, you at your best, what were you focused on?

Amy Williams:

Just me, my performance, knowing that I had prepared in the very best way gave me the confidence just to have that kind of peace and calm because I've done everything I can, this is it. I'm going to stand on the start line and I'm going to go and perform. There's nothing else to think about. So actually in a weird way, your brain is empty because you've done it all. But then the very last minute, just before, I'm about to sprint with my sled. I mean, you'll go in through these little cues, right. Drive my knees forward when I'm sprinting basic things I need to do that's to do with my technique. Yeah. But then you're empty.

Charlie Unwin:

Brilliant. It's important because this might look different at different points in time. So as we are there with the potential distraction of other competitors, the media, we need to know what a good triangle looks like when we're there on the start line or focus might shift and it might need to be much more focused, much sharper. So this might look different and that's fine because we'd have the time to explore this for different areas. Finally, this is the only one we haven't got is how, how would you feel when you're at your worst?

Amy Williams:

Well, just rubbish. Yeah. You would have that internal feeling of either you just want to go off and cry or why aren't you questioning yourself? Why aren't I doing well? Why do I feel so gutted? Why do I feel frustrated? And I guess it could be that frustration building up. I can't get that corner right on the track or why can't I just bring that little bit more, so I guess it's probably a frustration and annoyance in yourself.

Charlie Unwin:

And how would that manifest in you? What would you notice? Heart rates? Or how does annoyance feel inside for you?

Amy Williams:

Oh, you know, I've not really thought about it. Not for a long time. I guess it's just an uncomfortable-ness. My stomach guards up or is that the only way that I can think about it, but there's sort of uncomfortable annoyance, maybe a tighter chest, maybe shoulders coming up.

Charlie Unwin:

And you see, you may not have the words for it, but already in telling me you're doing this. And it's really interesting when people think about, I mean, obviously we don't want you to think about you at your worst too much because the whole point here is that we're moving towards your best, but it's given me a great insights in to how you feel.

Even if you don't have the words for it, even if you can't articulate it. So of course what's the opposite of that. It might sound obvious. Well, yeah, you're just that, and there's a kind of openness, which probably relates more to that. So of course these things, all interact, there are kind of arrows.

Let’s allow these things to interact with one another, but the genesis of control comes from being able to understand in very simple terms, what good looks like? Does that make sense?

Amy Williams:

It does totally. It's like you say, it can be very hard just to put it into words and I guess people might find it quite hard to really think about it; what words to use. Because you've never allowed yourself, maybe the space and the time to be able to sit and as an exercise, physically put the words down on paper.

Charlie Unwin:

Absolutely. Yeah, definitely. And you need that space then to do this and interesting there, for example, you spoke about being frustrated, but you actually spoke about questioning yourself. Well, that's a mental thing. That's not an emotional thing, but we tied the two together. Of course, what that means is you never gained control of this. You never notice the questioning style. You can shift the questioning style to a more directive style, right? I'm going to do this, but you need to know you're doing it in order to do that.

Amy Williams:

Okay. Charlie, so everyone at home has gone and done this, done your exercise. Now what can they do with their words that they've written down?

Charlie Unwin:

Yeah. So there are a few things to do with this. What I'd really encourage you to do by the way is to do a separate triangle for you at your best and your worst. Keep them separate. Just for space I put them all in the same one here, but definitely have these as two separate things.

What we want to be doing is closing the gap between you at your worst and at your best. And the best way of doing that is by focusing on you at your best, that good triangle. So what I encourage you to do is firstly, just do this as an awareness raising exercise, because as you saw with Amy there it's not as easy as you think articulating it and getting it down and trying to separate the various different entities. But if we're having a thought pattern that's affecting the way that we're breathing, which is then affecting what we're doing, then we get into this vicious cycle and we're not in control of it.

So first things first, this is an awareness raising exercise, get it down on paper, add to it, think about you in different situations. You're at your best, you're at your worst. Then the final thing I suppose, which I'm going to leave you with, is to identify one thing from each corner that reflects you at your best, that you can practice and do more deliberately.

This is all about bringing to the conscious minds, the little things that allow us to feel in control of the situation that we're in. So you're going to have that awareness. And then the final thing I'm going to get you to do is just to identify one thing from each corner that you can be more focused on or be more deliberate about doing to the best of your ability.

Amy Williams:

Okay. So for, I guess me, if I was only aware that I was looking at other competitors, when I'm next, you know, in a training practice and I'm like, okay, I'm aware now I am looking at the other girls and I'm aware that what are they doing in their warm-up? It's like, logging it in your own head click. Let's stop doing that.

Charlie Unwin:

Exactly! Imagine for you. It is literally just that, that moment of awareness that says I'm focusing on the wrong thing here. Interestingly what's important is that you have an alternative focus to click back into it. And if we haven't done this, if we don't know what us at our best looks like we don't have anything to click back into. So yeah, absolutely.

Amy Williams:

I have really enjoyed taking myself back 10 years. I hope you all have too! More importantly, what are we going to be doing next week?

Charlie Unwin:

What are we going to do? We're just going to focus in on an area, which I think a lot of people really struggle with, which is managing my thoughts, especially when, when I'm under pressure. So we're going to be looking at this notion of performing in your bubble and ultimately that's about being able to control the controllable.

Amy Williams:

Wow. Thank you from Charlie Unwin and myself, Amy Williams with the U Perform channel. Thank you for joining us. Please subscribe if you haven't already and follow up on our last week and most importantly, please join us again next week, press down on that bell button as well to set your reminders. Bye for now!


Make sure to tune in next Thursday for Episode 4

See you there!

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