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Charlie Unwin - Episode 4 - Managing Your Bubble

Watch Episode 4 here


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

Amy Williams:

Welcome back everyone to the U Perform channel. I'm Amy Williams and I've got Charlie Unwin with me. So last week we chatted about our performance and how to control that. We did an exercise together with some triangles, with our thinking, our feeling and are doing. Now this week we're talking about controlling the controllables and you've got a bubble exercise for us.

Charlie Unwin:

We have and again you're going to be doing that for us. So we'll come onto that in a minute, but I know this idea of controlling the controllables is really important to you. And by the way, if you go back to that triangle that you did last week, this is really focusing on that thinking part, which is very often the part that people feel in their really out of control. Their thoughts, just start jumping from one thing and another. And your example is that you start to question yourself and question really simple things sometimes. So we're going to explore using the bubble exercise, how just one technique for being able to manage our thoughts more effectively. But I know controlling the controllables is something you've spoken about a lot. And it was a really important thing for you.

Amy Williams:

Yeah. I mean, it became this mantra in sport, and I think a lot of people have used it. These control the controllables, and I use it now, when I go off and do business talks with people and talk to businessmen, you can only control the controllables. For us in our sport, the controllables could be, or I can't control the weather. I can't control what the other athletes are doing. So it kind of links back. I can't control how fast another girl has gone down the track, but I can control me, my thoughts, my feelings. So it really was this little mantra. Don't stress about the weather. Don't stress, if it's about to snow, because it's snowing for everyone. It was that kind of a thing just to kind of take check of your own thoughts and feelings.

Charlie Unwin:

And how many times have we seen people in gold medal position, especially sports like skeleton, which are so exciting. And there are very few people in the world have experienced what you've experienced going into that sort of gold medal run, where you're the last to go, but that can easily make you think differently to stop thinking about the possibility of doing this amazing thing. And of course the more you've invested in that in the years, building up to that tiny point in time, the more that pressure almost gets concentrated to that moment. And therefore the more important our capacity to feel confidence about our routine, what we're thinking and how we manage, how we're feeling.

Amy Williams:

I think that's the thing in an Olympic sport, people forget that it's a four year buildup you have from an Olympic games that you maybe missed out on. And for me, I missed out on the Turin Olympics in 2006. So from that I had four years until my feet were going to be on that start line in Vancouver. And like you say, pinpoint into this one moment in time, your very last run, I've got one minute in front of me the last four years coming together to either perform or not perform.

Charlie Unwin:

Wow. Yeah. Incredible, incredible. So I'm really excited about doing this exercise. So I think we're gonna learn a lot about you through doing it.

Before we get into the exercise, I just want to share a quick story that kind of brings to life what we're trying to do here, I suppose, and how easy it is from a very young age to start getting this wrong. And what we can be doing is we're developing as an athlete to start thinking in this way for me.

So shooting was obviously a part of the sport that I did and shooting was actually something I did from a really young age at the age of, it must have been 10, 11. I built my own shooting range at home. I lived on a farm, so it was okay. And, and we're talking about target shooting as well.

So I built my own range and I started to practice the sport of shooting and I loved it. It was great. I could do it for hours. I started to invite other kids in from the local area to coach them because I wanted friends maybe. And, and I wanted to share with them what I was learning. And over time it became sort of very evident that initially all these kids kind of improved at the same rates because I was giving them stuff to think about giving them stuff to focus on. And by and large, they did it. And as they did it, they got better. And then as expectations started to creep in, as they knew that they could achieve that score and really they should be beating that person next to them, they started to think more about the results, what was going on at the other end of the range.

And shooting is a wonderful analogy for this because you've got the outcome into the range and you've got the input of the range. And there is this clear differentiation between these kids who remain focused on the quality of what they were doing and their inside performance. And then the kids who, every time they took a shot, they would crane their neck to see where the shot went. Of course, the moment they did that, they were unaware of what had led to the outcome. So really they get very little information, data back that allows them to build this awareness we're talking about of what good technique feels like and how my thoughts and emotions actually affect my ability to do something very simple. So now ramp up the pressure which we did by offering jelly babies - that normally works.

And now we're doing a competition. It's not a gold medal, it's a jelly baby. It was enough when you're 12 years old. And suddenly this affect almost amplified. It got even worse. When you started putting pressure on kids. And of course the same thing happened. You got the kids who would take a shot and immediately looking there.

And of course what's happening inside of them is that they're experiencing this roller coaster of emotions and different thoughts with every shot they take, whether it's a good shot or a bad shot. So they almost, the performance is controlling them. Whereas with the other kids who maintain focus on what they were doing, on their routine or maintaining a nice, simple flow. On staying relaxed between every shot, taking a deep breath. The kids, you focused on that, it didn't matter how good or bad the shot was because they knew what to come back to every time. So they were always in control. So for them, they were controlling their performance.

Amy Williams:

Makes sense. Yeah. But only when you know

Charlie Unwin:

Exactly. And that's it, isn't it. And that's what last week was all about is we've got to understand what this looks like, and we almost need to see it on paper and talk about it. Cool. So we're going to do this exercise. Let's do it.

Amy Williams:

Your pen, you got your paper. I'm a little bit nervous about what you're going to ask me to do, but I'm up for the challenge. And hopefully everyone at home can grab their pens, grab their papers and do this exercise that you were about to explain to us.

Charlie Unwin:

This is going to be great. Right?

So the first thing I'm going to do is I'm going to draw, not a circle. It's a bubble, okay. And I want you to do this as well. And this bubble represents your performance. So the reason I like calling it a bubble rather than a circle is because imagine a bubble, a big bubble in front of us here. If you put pressure on that bubble, by and large, it can kind of mold and shape, you know, to that pressure. Put too much pressure on it though it bursts. And this is kind of what happens to us and what it can definitely feel like when we were put under too much pressure. So there are two things that we can do. The first thing that we can do is we can try and release pressure from that bubble.

So imagine in your world, Amy, that an example of that might be okay. I need my coach to know what works for me, because if they can go and do that, that, and that I can take it out of my mind, it doesn't have to be something I need to control. This is a simple example, right? It's a way that we can release pressure.

But of course there are some things we can't release. We can't release the media being there right next to you. We can't release the competitor or the competitor's coach saying something they shouldn't do to you before you're about to go down. So these are the things that exist there. And we almost need to accept to some degree.

So that's releasing pressure from the outside, but of course, the other ways that we've got to strengthen the bubble from the inside, which is all about this theme that we've been talking about - about strengthening the quality, our awareness, and our capacity to control what we can control, make sense?

Amy Williams:

It does actually. Yeah. I wish someone explained it like that to me 10 years ago. I figured it out myself, but not quite so. Yeah, it does make sense.

Charlie Unwin:

You got there, you got there in the end and there are loads of different ways of explaining this and working it out. I just think it's nice to borrow ideas sometimes isn't it from people.

So the first thing we're going to do in relation to this, we're going to focus on the outside first. Can you think of, and I want you to do exactly the same. So I want you to think of a specific situation you might find yourself in where you might feel the pressure you might experience quite a lot of pressure and a situation where you might be susceptible to thinking about things you shouldn't think about, or just perhaps just losing a bit of confidence in what you are doing.

Amy Williams:

I will think of a scenario. Let's just say a testing day. So as an athlete for us throughout the summer months, we would get tested a lot as athletes. You have to reach certain performance targets, sprint times, to stay on the team or not stay on the team. So nothing to do with our winter slide on the ice, just pure physical testing. So a testing day is rocking up on a weekday. Let's go.

Charlie Unwin:

So I find this fascinating that testing creates as much pressure or potential stress for you as the competition itself. Maybe this will help us understand what's going on there a little bit. So we'll see what happens. We'll see what happens. Okay.

Picture yourself there. Imagine yourself, visualize yourself in that situation. Because this is going to be the situation where we need to manage ourselves more effectively. So, let's be there. Let's do it. What are some of the things that you might find yourself worrying about that you simply can't control? Can you try and give us a list of as many things as you can and keep going and I'll try and write as many of them down as I can.

Amy Williams:

My little scenario is that I'm on a testing day, I'm going to the University of Bath. I'm going to the indoor athletics track. Because that's where we would have all our sprint testing. So first of all, it could be that I can't find a car park space. Let's start off that because it's always busy. So can I get a car park space so that I'm not late? Because I've left enough time, but maybe I've pushed it a bit and I'm actually driving around for 10 extra minutes instead of two minutes.

Charlie Unwin:

It's a thing. Yeah. It's an extra stress that we think we don't need.

Amy Williams:

I guess the environment is different. Yeah. There could be some extra support staff, extra coaches that aren't normally there on a day to day. So already there's that feeling of nervousness in the air?

Charlie Unwin:

Was there anything in that environment specifically that kind of gave you that feeling?

Amy Williams:

It was probably seeing the timing gates. So these black rods with these little cameras that you physically had to run through that wouldn't have normally have been there. Normally it would have been an empty athletics track. Now there's equipment and wires and plugs and yes stuff and things around that. You're like, I have to run in between those timing gates for me to get my time, which I'm being tested for.

Charlie Unwin:

Yeah. Brilliant. I'm going to remember that because in a future week we will talk about managing pressure and visualizing as well and practicing stress. Those are exactly the kind of things I'd want you to bring to mind so that we can practice how we want to feel, think, and act when you see those timing blocks, we'll leave that for another time. What else?

Amy Williams:

More athletes, so we could have all been there on one day at one specific time. Whereas on a training day, you might have been split in different groups or you might have had world cup athletes together. The lower levels of competition and you wouldn't necessarily all train at the same time. So suddenly you might have 20 of you together instead of only 4 of you. The volume of athletes around you.

Charlie Unwin:

And were there any things that you thought differently in that situation? Was it different to have British athletes versus being in an international competition?

Amy Williams:

Yes. When you're in an individual sport, but you're training as a team, you're competing against every single one of those individual athletes, even though you might be representing Great Britain together, you've all got that flag on and I'm team GB, I'm Great Britain and I'm there for my sport, but you're an individual athlete on that start line.

Amy Williams:

So all of a sudden these other athletes, your sort of teammates, are your competitors. Day to day you don't see them as a competitor. You do until you don't, it's this really weird synergy that they're your competitor, but they're not your competitor, but today they are because it's testing day. That changes the relationship.

Charlie Unwin:

Because it is about relationship, isn't it? Because it could just as easily be relationship with your coach. If you have a difficult relationship, it's going to add pressure to your bubble, isn't it? And that might sort of spur off into other things as well. And of interest. Was there additional pressure by being the top athletes when you were having to compete or expectation to get good results against your own?

Amy Williams:

Yes, I've been through testing days when I haven't been top athlete; that one in the middle, the one at the bottom. And then when you are that top athlete, I guess you're very aware that everyone else is watching you. And I had to accept that, let's just say for flat-out 30 meter sprint, I wasn't necessarily the fastest, but if you put me on the ice with my sled, then I could have been faster. So you have to accept (and this was a kind of difficult one in this bubble) that in some things I wasn't the best, but it didn't matter because when it translated onto the ice, I was.

We also tested, pulling a sled. So I don't know if any of you have seen when you've literally got like a rope around you and you're pulling a tractor tire or a metal slider weight on, we would have a percentage of your body weight on that sled and sprint with that behind you. And strangely, I have faster times comparison to the other athletes if I was pulling the sled rather than if I was just sprinting on my own. I might not be so good at this one, but I am a bit better at that.

Charlie Unwin:

Yeah. Okay. So if I put down something like 'questions that we might ask in ourselves', is it helpful to me at this point in time? We always ask questions.

Okay. I mean, we could probably go on, but that's more than enough, I think to make the point, it just goes to show doesn't it how there's a lot of stuff that we're already thinking of.

I probably would want to exhaust it a little bit more, but you get the idea of what we're trying to do and please do, press pause and just take time whilst you're thinking about it to put as many things down as you can.

Okay. Let's go in the bubble now. So obviously these are the things that you can control, the things that you do want to do and do really, really well. Now again, I know there will be hundreds, if not thousands of things, if you really thought about it, but as you see yourself in a very specific situation or part of that day, what are the kind of things that you really want to control?

Amy Williams:

I want to control the way I warm up.

Charlie Unwin:

Tell me more about that. Be more specific.

Amy Williams:

I guess, controlling where you want to sit down and put your bag, put your rucksack. How do I want to take my spikes out my bag and my water bottle? And just set up your little space again, your happy bubble within the bubble.

How am I going to warm up? Can I do my warm-up how I want to in the area and get my body physically ready to do the test.

Charlie Unwin:

Great. So what would you do to, to know that and be sure of that. So would you have to kind of go through it in your heads, your routine?

Amy Williams:

Yeah, I guess so. I need to walk back to the gym and sit on a Wattbike for five minutes and then come back. Or is there enough physical space that I could do all my warm-up drills.

Charlie Unwin:

I imagine all of this requires time, right? Because if something unexpected happens, you haven't got the space you need, you need time to adapt your routine to be able to do it. So would giving myself extra time, be in itself a controllable element.

Amy Williams:

Yes. I think we were given schedules of roughly when things were happening. So you as an athlete would have to manage your time; how early do I want to rock up? If I know testing starts at 10:00 AM, actually I want a good hour to be able to physically warm up, get ready, get prepared. So you've got to figure that out yourself as to when you start working backwards.

Charlie Unwin:

Sounds really easy, doesn't it sat here. But the closer you get to that pressure of competition or testing, the less inclined weirdly we are to really cleanly go through things in our head. Whether it's about our kit. Have I thought about where I'm going to put my kit? Have I thought about how I warm up in a very tight arena? Have I thought about how I'm going to feel when I see the starting block and how I want to feel when I see that? It takes headspace, doesn't it to do all this?

Amy Williams:

I guess if you're someone who always likes to stay and sit in the same spot, you're an athlete, you do athletics. You're around that athletics track and you always sit in a certain bit. If your competitors purposely sat there where you always sit and you rock up with your rucksack to the stadium, what do you do? It's that kind of thing. Isn't it of not panicking.

Charlie Unwin:

Would you ever do that to anyone else?

Amy Williams:

No, but I've had it done to me. So, it was like, all right, you're trying to play a mind game with me. I don't care. I'll sit somewhere else and still be in control.

Charlie Unwin:

It's interesting the mind games, isn't it? Because if you're going to pay a mind game, you have to be very clear where you sit on this bubble, because the moment you start to take yourself out of this, what are we doing? Look, we're focusing on other athletes. So we have to do that in a way that's completely in our control. In which case we have to be very premeditated.

Amy Williams:

It's that mantra we have spoken about right to begin with. We said, control the controllables. I can't control where my athlete wants to sit. Not going to worry about it.

Charlie Unwin:

Yeah, absolutely. Awesome. Okay. Maybe just one other thing we'll get in there. So, and this is about your technique itself. Was there ever anything like an anchor that you had that if you had to just remind yourself of one simple thing, it was always ___?

Amy Williams:

I would have a few things, but it was, I had a little saying called 'eat the ground'. So that was me. Imagine a hundred meter sprint but for us in skeleton we're sprinting off the blocks, but we never stand up because we're pushing our sled. So for me, it was about driving the knees forward. And if I said to myself, eat the ground, I just knew to really drive my knee forward, had my spikes on and claw the ground back and push away. So it summarized a lot of techniques. If all I said to myself was eat the ground.

Charlie Unwin:

Perfect. That's something we call analogy learning. And we're definitely going to be exploring that. It's a fascinating area of being able to recreate and repeat very technical skills because you trained within yourself, mind, body action, the precise technique that you needed embodied by this notion of' eat the ground'. So now all we have to do is say 'eat the ground. And your mind and body clicks in, which is awesome.

That's more than enough. So hopefully you've been doing that at home. What I want to do now is a bit like last time, what do we do with this? Because up until this point in a way looking at it, like that sounds obvious, although I'm sure it would have raised your awareness of things that you perhaps weren't aware of before,

Just for you Amy, looking at this and all of this stuff there. Does it raise your awareness of anything?

Amy Williams:

You realize that you did things and didn't put a label on it or you did things and thought about that. You either processed it in a good way or a bad way. A lot of this I didn't learn by a psychologist telling me, I learned just by trial and error and realizing that you became tough over as the years went on. But if someone was teaching you this and you learned it quicker, you could to save yourself 10 years of heartache.

Charlie Unwin:

Yeah and a few bad results along the way.

And that really speaks to the first point that I want to make about this. It's about making it more deliberate when we're understanding our minds and our psychology. It can feel very intangible. It's not always obvious these thoughts and feelings, race around inside of us, but we never capture them properly. We never get them out, put them on a piece of paper and say, Oh, okay.

And don't underestimate the value of just doing that as well, because the first thing really is about the stuff on the outsides. I think you probably mentioned that earlier, but acceptance. What are we trying to do with this stuff on the outside? We're not trying to ignore it because we can't pretend that doesn't exist. Then if we try to, we end up playing all sorts of mind games with ourselves, what we can do, however. Making it explicit and seeing it on a piece of paper, we can say, that it's going to happen, it's a thing. Which of course means that you can accept it. It makes it much easier to accept. Would that be fair?

Amy Williams:

I think it makes total sense and nothing will then come as a surprise.

Charlie Unwin:

Exactly. People don't often like talking about this stuff because it is the stuff that makes them a little bit queasy or a bit nervous. They don't want to think about the start line but we absolutely want to, and we want to be really explicit about this. But of course the goal is that we accept this and that we focus on the inside. What goes on, on the inside.

Now another thing about this is something I call emotional distortion. It's a very technical way of saying that our mind doesn't work in a logical fashion. This is quite logical, right? I've simply asked you, what can't you control? What can you control? Your brain will not interpret this - will not represent this in this way. And there's a reason for that.

Amy, when you look at all of this, would you say that the stuff from the inside or the stuff on the outside that makes you feel more emotional or scared?

Amy Williams:

Oh, probably the outside.

Charlie Unwin:

Yeah. I was hoping you were going to say that

Amy Williams:

Because that comes to your mind a lot quicker and easier than the inside.

Charlie Unwin:

Thank you. Because that's exactly how the brain is wired. So we are four times negatively biased. And the problem is that all of this stuff is the stuff we can't control, which means the brain is scared of it effectively. In order to survive as caveman, we needed to be much more aware of threats than we did, you know, all these niceties in the middle.

So a lot of neuroscientists say that this sort of negative bias is about four times stronger inside of us. So that is the equivalent of taking this and making the stuff on the outside about four times bigger than the stuff on the inside, which you should now be able to see. And it looks crazy, doesn't it? Suddenly you're struggling to read the stuff in the middle and the stuff on the outside is massive it's demanding your attention.

So that is why we do this on a piece of paper is because this is real. Okay. And we can deal with this. Yes. That stuff's there. We can accept it, but your brain, okay. If we don't do this on a piece of paper is going to amplify all of this stuff. So that's what we call by emotional charging. Did you ever experience that?

Amy Williams:

No, not in that way. But it's all making sense to me because I have thought and felt all of that and you're right the outside ones now that they're written down; were definitely the only things that you really ever thought about and definitely were the negative battles that you had to get around every day as you were competing.

Charlie Unwin:

And very often by trying to ignore them or pretending they're not there, they just existed in the background regardless.

Amy Williams:

They're still there, yeah.

Charlie Unwin:

Exactly. Yeah.

Brilliant. I think that's more than enough at this stage. The only thing I would say is that going forwards, there are lots of ways of being able to amplify the stuff in the middle. We can use techniques like visualization to help us tune in to those controllable elements.

We can shift the way that we feel about that start line, such that it draws us into what we can focus. Therefore we're going to feel excited rather than scared, but hopefully that's more than enough for you to get you thinking and reflecting.

Amy Williams:

To be fair, absolutely fascinating stuff. I have loved you going back into my head.

Charlie Unwin:

Thank you for sharing it with us.

Amy Williams:

Hopefully I haven't scared people off with what goes on in my head. Really interesting stuff.

Next week, what are we going to be doing? What are we going to go through next week?

Charlie Unwin:

All of this is about thinking positive and being able to train ourselves to think and focus differently. So we're going to expand that area of positive thinking, positive feeling, positive. And in doing so we'll look at the advances in positive psychology as a really important approach to what we do and how we can train ourselves to do that more effectively. Even if you're the kind of person that likes to focus on your mistakes a lot, and you get yourself quite down sometimes about what you're doing. We'll look at how we can train ourselves to almost rewire what's going on there.

Amy Williams:

Okay. A negative to a positive. I love that.

So thank you very much again for joining and thank you, Charlie. We've loved having you with us here on the U Perform channel.

Please don't forget to click on the bell. Get your reminder in for next week. Don't forget about the positivity that we've got coming your way. So once again, thank you for being with us. Take care.


Make sure to tune in next Thursday for Episode 5

See you then!

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