John DeRosalia recently helped Sebastian XL place fourth at the 2001 World Air Games in Spain. Peak performance in sport is about achieving personal bests in competition, when it really matters. What you do in training is irrelevant, it is how you perform at the Olympics or World Meet which will put your name in history. Often mental toughness can make the difference at this elite level where technical ability is similar.
A skydiver himself, John is the only licensed psychotherapist in the sport dedicated to working with peak performance.
He also has a successful private practice in New York, where he works with athletes, musicians, writers, and business professionals.
Why is there a need for peak performance training?
For most people, old and faulty belief systems interfere with our ability to achieve peak performance. These systems damage, limit and narrow our belief in ourselves and our abilities. They rob us of the joy we used to feel about making our dreams come true. They tell us, 'Don't bother trying. You'll never get there anyway. It's just a waste of time.'
What's the secret to believing in ourselves?
Think of a child at play. Children don't 'try' to learn or succeed. They just learn and succeed. They're not playing at being firemen. They ARE firemen!
Adults find it more difficult to dream and think positively and joyfully about our goals. We've lost the courage to dream because, over the years many of us find that our enthusiasm for life somehow vanishes. That's when it's time to fearlessly look inward. We all have a passion for something. Sometimes it just takes a while to uncover or rediscover it.
How do we get in touch with that passion?
I begin by helping people reconnect to what they love to do and why. Only then are they able to achieve a level of personal excellence. Once they discover a goal they're passionate about, we design a realistic plan to achieve it. Hypnotherapy is one of the tools I use because it puts people in alpha and theta brainwave states; highly receptive levels of consciousness where suggestibility is at its maximum. Working in these states of consciousness enables me to access dynamic and creative centres in the brain that are generally unavailable during a normal waking state. Powerful, positive suggestions can be programmed into the unconscious that greatly stimulate the ability to learn, improve and even perfect technical skills, as well as increase confidence and self-esteem.
Why is picturing success important and how is it done?
In order to be successful, you need to have a clear picture of what your goal looks like. You also need to be very certain about why you want to accomplish this.
To be able to picture success requires learning and practicing some mental skills such as visualization and imagery which can help you experience and benefit from achieving the goal even before it occurs."
Ultimately, peak performance isn't just about technical excellence. It's about the purpose behind the whole experience-your deepest motivation.
Remember that success comes in many forms. Realising a goal you've set - even if that goal is just to enjoy yourself - is success.
What should a skydiver do when negative thoughts interrupt their mindset?
Positive images are a good place to begin. If you're having negative thoughts in the plane, you can 'change the channel' by replacing the negative thoughts with positive or neutral ones. Think about anything else; a great skydive, the band you saw last night or an exciting movie. A technique I sometimes use is to pretend I'm a great skydiver (I get a clear picture in my mind of my favourite skydiving hero) and then I ask myself, 'What would he be thinking now? How would he be acting now?' Then I act and think as he would. Pretending you're someone else can produce amazing results because you wind up doing things that you couldn't normally do. You temporarily forget your limitations and then they're not limits any more.
Why is mental training important?
Mental training helps to ensure that, at least for the duration of that skydive, negative thoughts won't return. If you've practiced, you can learn to get rid of self-doubt the first time it invades your mind. This isn't to say that those thoughts don't warrant your time and energy at a later point. It's important not to ignore your feelings. But for the time being, you need to concentrate on the task at hand.
The point is to have a number of mental techniques at your disposal. Carpenters don't walk around with just a hammer in their tool box. When negativity invades, and it does for everyone at some point, you need to be well prepared.
What other tools are useful?
Try looking at a situation from a different perspective. I have my own way of looking at things. So do you. Most of us believe that ours is the only one. But you can make a mediocre experience into a great one just by thinking about it in a different way. We move towards what we see - and if you see a mediocre skydive, that's probably what you're going to create. That's why you hear smart people say, 'Don't practice mistakes.' It's not a good idea to watch a video over and over, focusing on the errors. If you make a skydive with ten mistakes and one good point, take a quick look at the mistakes, learn what you can from them, but then delete them from your mind and magnify the good point. Fix it in your head. You're not changing the reality. You're just being selective about the reality you're choosing to hold onto.
What's the most powerful peak performance tool?
My 'miracle tool' is a Personal Vision Statement; a written description of the goal, its time-frame, the steps you'll take to achieve it, and a list of reasons that make it important to you. Writing this out can be time-consuming but it's worth the effort. Most people have thoughts, ideas and dreams of what they'd like to do. But thinking about something is only the first level. Putting your thoughts into words is a second, much more powerful level. A recent study revealed that over 90% of Olympic gold medal winners had their goals down in writing. The third level is taking action in the direction of your goals. The idea is to begin living your dreams and not just thinking about them. Thought, word, and deed are cornerstones in every major philosophy and religion throughout time. The idea in peak performance is to reach for the highest thought.
Mental Training for Skydiving and Life
Why is this tool so powerful?
It forces you to answer the question, 'Why am I here?' That's the hardest question for most of us to answer, which is why it's usually the one we're afraid to ask. What keeps each of us moving toward what we want to achieve is our level of passion. If you desire peak performance in any area, you first have to access the passion behind it - the passion that created the goal to begin with - and then you have to constantly draw on that passion as fuel, especially when the going gets tough.
If you want to run a certain time in a marathon or achieve a level of excellence in skydiving - or whatever it is you aspire to - you have to face the fact that there will be days when you don't want to train. But if you hold fast to your highest thought, which ultimately turns out to be your deepest and most compelling motivation, then you can continue through the difficult times. And then anything becomes possible.
John was talking to Margaret Winchell Miller ([email protected])
Contact John DeRosalia at [email protected] for his book, Mental Training for Skydiving and Life, and performance enhancement tapes