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Charlie Unwin - Episode 8 - Building Your Mental Blueprint

Watch Episode 8 here


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

Amy Williams:

Hello, it's Amy Williams here on the U Perform channel, and we've got Charlie with us again, a psychologist and our expert. Today we are going to speak about the mindset and the blueprint for performance. What do you mean by that?

Charlie Unwin:

Last week we spoke a little bit about mindset. This is kind of an extension on that and knowing our process. I think so many experts, athletes, they talk about sticking to their process or running their own race, which sounds great, but what is it and how do we do it?

It first kind of came to light for me. I remember the very first day I rocked up at British Skeleton and all the athletes were there kind of doing their own thing, going through their own warmups, their routines. And I went up to them all individually and I said 'Oh, just tell me why, why are you doing that?' And they came up with a number of answers: because I've always done it, because my coaches told me to do it, because the world champion does it and if they do it, it must be a good thing; but they didn't seem to have their own process, necessarily. The things that they did, whether it was listening to music, whether it was a certain warmup exercise. It wasn't anchored in a real sense of, I am doing this in order to; so what the blueprint is, is it's a bit of homework. I'll tell you that now.

And it allows us to join together or the various different parts of our performance. If we're trying to achieve that, how do we break that down into chunks that our brain will understand and will therefore allow us to stay focused on doing the right things.

Amy Williams:

So when we get this blueprint right, what effect is that going to have on our performance?

Charlie Unwin:

Well, actually loads. I think this is, this is one of the most important things that an athlete, it's very personal to every athlete to have in mind because, I think it always improves their confidence because they have a clearer sense of not just what they're trying to do, but why they're doing it. Which means that they can adapt when the situation changes. When the weather changes, when you know they're going last or they're going first.

So they're much more adaptive. They're much more confident. I think it gives them motivation as well because they realise that this little thing combined with that little thing, adds up to that. And then that adds up to that and they can see a path to their ultimate goals, which is very motivating and inspiring. So I think it has a motivational element to it as well, but also in terms of the performance itself, it helps a lot of athletes to be able to internalise their performance. To know exactly what it is that I'm trying to do here.

What is it going to feel like? So it's a really important precursor to visualisation, which is the act of being able to internalise, think in my head before I do something. Now, I mean, really good example of that was working with kids (mid-teens) and they had to run 3000 meters.

The thing working with kids, kids are really enthusiastic right. I mean, you know this you're there and you tell them you've got to pace yourself. Okay. Do they know what that means? No they don't. And when gun goes? Of course they're quite excited, and they're off. And then really it's a case of, by the time they get to the finishing line, who can hold on more than any of the other kids. So, this was a really good example of a technique that I use with younger kids. And like I said, they have 3000 meters to run and we work really hard in training and building this blueprint. What does the perfect race look like? Like what are you trying to do?

And then what they realised very quickly is that that translates into, okay, well, what does that actually feel like if I'm trying to run an even split every 100, 200, 400 meters, but I'm really excited and blood's pumping to my muscles on the start line. How do I just control my pace? And you can see them having to start to really think about that. And then we practice their blueprints for their perfect race. In reality, they got it wrong. So we came back and said, okay, how was the reality different to the blueprint? And over time, they were able to merge the two. And so they were a hundred percent confident. Fundamentally, they turned up on that race day, confident that they could run their own race.

What actually happened, it was very nerve wracking. The gun went and all the other kids from all the other schools went off and we knew this would happen. All the kids from our school went off at their own pace. They would internalise this. They knew their own blueprint. But of course it meant they were at the back of the pack. Now, at this point, I had parents coming up to me saying, you know, what have you been teaching our kids? And they were shouting, go on run faster, faster, catch them up. I would say they're working on their own race. You know, they're operating their own blueprint. They know exactly what they're trying to do and what it's going to feel like to do it. Oh my word, I had to have faith in this process because if it didn't go well, I was going to, you know, be hounded by all these parents.

Anyway, funnily enough, the race goes on. And with a couple of laps to go, our kids, have slowly caught up with the pack and with a lap to go, they move ahead. They've finished on average, probably about 200 meters ahead of the rest of the pack. And you know what, that was a lesson for them. And I think as much a life lesson as anything else. And so going through this process of creating a blueprint and then internalising this blueprint is so powerful when it comes to running our own race and you know, operating on our own terms, owning the performance.

Amy Williams:

To be fair, I love watching 800 meter races because you know, you think of your Dane Kelly Holmes, you see, okay, they're not at the start. You know, they're not right there. She might be back a little bit, 10 meters behind and you just, no, no, no, it's going to be fine. She knows exactly when to push it. Exactly. And if they followed that blueprint to the T then you know that they come on through at the end and win the race.

Charlie Unwin:

Absolutely. That is a really good example. Dame Kelly Holmes. I definitely encourage everyone to watch on YouTube, her 800 and her1500. They are amazing. A lot of people, they commentate and they say, Oh, she's sticking to the back of the pack. She wasn't trying to stick to the back of the bag. She was trying to race her race right. The fact that other people happen to be in front of her was neither here nor there. If they were behind her, she still would have stuck to her own race, but it was so internalised. But the great thing with that, I'm a bit of a geek. I watched that race and I did her split times for each 400 and every time bang on. In fact I think she just negative splitted them. So got a little bit faster every time when the rest of the field got a little bit slower. So it's a really great example. I definitely encourage you all to watch it as an example of running your own race and sticking to your own mental blueprint.

Amy Williams:

Is this now I think a moment that maybe, press pause, grab yourself a giant piece of paper and some pens. And are we able to now get everyone to properly start mapping out their blueprint?

Charlie Unwin:

Yeah. We're going to take you through an example. So it's good to have a pen and paper with you. You won't do this all whilst we're talking, you may want to pause it and kind of start doing it for yourself. Getting this on paper, you're absolutely right is essential because the process we're going to go through is a very logical one. The mind doesn't always work. And we think we work in a logical way, but we really don't. We don't think in joined up lines. Absolutely. Get yourself pen and paper.

Okay, so you don't know this, but I've actually used an example that involves you for this because I thought you'd be able to talk to that a little bit more. I called this here, our mental map it's same as mental blueprint. You can use whatever words you want to use. I guess the reason I use the term blueprint is quite deliberate. Because when you think about what a blueprint is, a blueprint is a precise representation of something. So we use it for a building like this. There is a blueprint that had the exact dimensions, materials, everything that was going to be used.

The real world is less precise, but if we didn't have that blueprint, we would be more likely to make major mistakes. So it's the same principle really. That's why I call this a blueprint is because what we're mapping here is kind of an idea of perfection, but recognizing that the real world isn't perfect. But if we don't have this map, we have nothing to come back to understand the real world. So hence blueprints. And it's going to help us to perform much more intelligently. Here's a picture of you winning your gold metal, I'm sure you must've seen that picture so many times. So, achieving your potential, that's kind of what we want to do, right? Was your ultimate goal always to win a gold medal?

Amy Williams:

Yes. But weirdly growing up, it was just always to be the best that I could be.

Charlie Unwin:

Which probably really helps. If you go back to our one on mindsets last week, then really that's probably what got you to where you are and maintaining that for as long as possible. But this was the outcome. And at some point, I'm sure you would have invested your thoughts and emotions in the idea of winning a gold medal, which is great and achieving your potential bearing in mind that 0.0001% of people win Olympic gold medals. And really this is for you to decide what your ultimate goal is.

So achieving our potential is always something that should inspire us and get us thinking, how good could we be at this? Given the time available, given the resources that we have. So that's our starting point really with this. I put a picture there by the way, deliberately, because sometimes I think it's nice to have a picture that represents this rather than writing it in words, we might want to write it in words as well, but it's nice to have that visual imagery, isn't it? To see yourself doing that.

Right. Let's go into the hard stuff, right. The homework, how do we break an Olympic gold medal performance down into smaller chunks? Now I've saved you the headache of doing this with me because the reality of it, this process can take months, even years to refine and do. Sorry guys. You can always tell me I'm wrong, but this is my kind of very generic version of what I've learnt about sport over the years. And really the idea is that we keep it as simple as possible.

So if I said to you, if you were to break that gold medal winning performance down into two or three areas, what would you break them down into? You know what it is unique to everyone and individuals. So it doesn't really matter. Yeah. What would they be out of interest?

Amy Williams:

I would have said something like my physical performance, my technical side. So my equipment understanding and learning the ice track. Yeah, the psychology side. I kind of made a little pie chart of my life and had all the different areas that all came together

Charlie Unwin:

And you started to compartmentalise different areas that are important. They're all really important. They've all got to come together ultimately to achieve this. But that idea of compartmentalising is an essential benefits of this exercise. Why? I guess if you have a really bad day in one of those areas, it doesn't need to have a knock on effect on the other.

And that's the point. That's what compartmentalising is actually comes from oil tankers, the term. They were carrying huge amounts of oil across the oceans. And what they have to do is if they carried the oil in the hull of the ship, the moment the seas get rough, all that liquid goes to one end of the ship and the whole ship capsizes. So what they have to do is create compartments so that no matter how rough the seas, the oil can only displace so much and disrupt the ship so much. It's a lovely metaphor.

So part of what we're doing here is compartmentalising our goals into segments. Now you mentioned there slightly different things to what we have here, which is again, like I say, just how someone else cuts the cake. But this person has said, well, fundamentally it's about my push starts at the top of the mountain and getting in this case 5.1 seconds, which might be a women's record and then maximizing my speed on ice. And because those two things are very different skills, I'm going to separate them. So that one doesn't have to affect the other necessarily. Now of course you mentioned physical components, stuff like that. That would then for this person come underneath this, what's the physical components of that. So you get the idea and I want you to start thinking about how you would break your ultimate goal down into two or three, three or four maximum, different compartments.

Of course, you've already guessed that as we move down, which we can then break that down into smaller chunks. So I imagine your push start could be broken down into strength and power, the technique of it, and perhaps with that flexibility and the routines that sits around it. To ensure you do it consistently every time. Would that be fair enough to say?

So you can see how the logic of that and how simple it is. I mentioned this process done properly can take months and months. It sounds really simple, but if you're having a go at this already, you're already starting to see how tricky it is to able to organise your mind around your sport. And it is really tough. You've got to commit to a way of thinking. But like I said, the benefits are going to be huge.

So we've got your outcome, which I like to think of as the driving force. That's the motivation that gets you out of bed in the morning. You've got started to map out your performance, which are the things that you can measure. You can measure your push start. You can measure the quality of speed on ice through various ways and techniques and maintaining speed down the mountain. What we start to do now as we get lower down is start to introduce the processes. So if maximising speed on ice, for example, we've broken this down into technical knowledge and decision making. Your actual driving skills and making sure you've got the best equipment possible for example. They seem like good compartments. And as we move down and I'm only going to take one as an example, because you can see how complex this blueprint can start to become.

Even if we just take driving skills, we could say that we've got to maximize the amount of ice time that we have, so as much practice as possible. The more I can practice the better. Maybe the psychological development only because that was the bit that I got involved with. And video analysis might be an important component of improving your driving skills. Now they've got simulations, probably stuff you never had.

And then we can break down psychological developments into visualisation. How can I help you visualise your performance better? So you can see there just as a really simple example, and this is the simple version, right? You can see how we broken it down into something where It's just a case of, I just need to do this now. I just need to do that now. And of course you can imagine how that is very empowering. Suddenly you are given control in what's otherwise a very complex, overwhelming process, and you can only focus really on one thing at a time. So it allows you to kind of pick what you focus on at any, any point in time. And as you work your way up, all this leads to clear line of sight to ultimately what you're trying to do every morning.

Amy Williams:

I think it's fascinating. And I think for everyone and hopefully do simple versions, get a bit more complicated. It, allows you to feel calm, not as panicky and even day to day life, isn't it. Forget sport in your life or business or work. How do you step backwards and do those step to step goals to be able to achieve that final top result and, having that map and a plan...

Charlie Unwin:

And not kind of busying ourselves with irrelevant stuff that sort of doesn't yeah, it shouldn't make a difference. So it doesn't make as much difference.

So if you want to see what this looks like done to the extreme, this is kind of hot off the press. So one of my clients very kindly gave me permission to share this, something that he's recently done. He is a freestyle mogul skier, aiming to compete at the next winter Olympics. And he's been working on this process through lockdown because it has been the perfect opportunity for him to get his head straight and around what his mental blueprint is. And it looks something like this.

Yeah. And don't worry, you won't be able to read all of the things that are on the screen. That's not the point. The idea is because it kind of just demonstrates how much goes into what we do.

Amy Williams:

It's intense looking at that. And I'm looking at that level of detail, but I mean, I'm looking at that and thinking, Oh wow, is he now going to sort of lose this like instinctive skill that he has or if you're, you know, rugby player on a pitch and suddenly, you know, the reason you were good in the first place is because you were just really instinctive at knowing what to do, is there a danger that, you know, doing all of this so much can just take that away and take away this passion and this skill?

Charlie Unwin:

It's a great question. It's a really important question as I’m sure you're probably thinking that as well. My answer to that would be where does that instinct come from? Where does the intuition come from? Intuition is the unconscious process of all the connections our brain has made. So when we're in a situation, we just react like that. But what has informed that unconscious process, our conscious learning. So it's the dots that we've allowed our brain to form.

A really good example of that was with Maddie Hinch. Maddie Hinch was the Great Britain goalkeeper for the hockey team when they won I think it was 2012, wasn't it? Yeah. She was brilliant. So they went into penalties in the final against the Netherlands and it was to win the gold medal. So really intense and of course as a goalkeeper, just the intensity of that situation must be crazy.

Well, she loved it. She absolutely thrived off it, but she had done all her homework upfront. You see, I think this process is doing the thinking upfront so that you don't have to later. You're training your brain to make the connections so that you can trust the unconscious processes that go with it. Now as a goalkeeper, you've got to be really instinctive. Right? Well, it turned out that she'd spent years analysing her opponents and she had picked up on the patterns and movements and behaviors of every attacking player in the world who would ever come at her. And she picked up on and wrote notes about, they tend to hang to the left. They tend to hang to the right. She had made notes about every single player she was ever going to be up against. And that's a lot of information, right? And she had this little black book and when it came to the shootout, she knew who she was against.

She looked at the notes that she'd given herself for those players. She just allowed herself to imagine what form that might take. Imagine what they might look like and what they might do, but then completely let go of it. And she had on her water bottle, one simple command that allowed her to let go of that and just stay focused. And it just said, stay big, stay big. And she trusted her unconscious mind to make the right decisions. And you know what they did on that day. If you ever watch that replay, it's incredible. Her instincts, her reaction. So, yeah, it's a really good example I think of your question there. This is about doing your homework up front so that you don't have to, so that you can trust the little things that you've given yourself. Just stay focused on that. Keep it simple and enjoy that rhythm. That flow.

Amy Williams:

Yeah. Great tip to finish up on. Thank you. Awesome stuff. Thank you. I really hope you enjoyed that. And you've got a lot of homework to be doing so over the next few weeks with Charlie, we're going to be going over a bit more practical stuff that kind of mind, body interaction with each other. What happens when you get nervous, tips, breathing, so things that you can physically do to help. So please set that reminder, buzz the bell, subscribe and get your friends and family involved. Thank you for joining us today.

Tune in next week for Episode 9

See you then!

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