Mental Toughness is Not Just Mental
Learn how to maximize your personal energy in an exclusive interview with Dr. Jim Loehr, co-founder of the Human Performance Institute and pioneer in energy management.
- What is mental resilience and how do we make more of it?
- The human being is built as a composite and broken into pieces that each operate as its own kind of individual capacity.
- Physical, emotional, mental energies and spiritual (purpose driving) energies are the composites that comprise mental resiliency, and are all connected.
- The more you can repurpose your life to a purpose that is way beyond what you might think of as your own self-interest, something magical happens.
Coaching Call: Mental Toughness is Not Just Mental
John L. Evans Jr., Ed.D.
John Evans: Hello and welcome everybody. I am John Evans, Executive Director of Knowledge LabsTM. And I am delighted to be here with Dr. Jim Loehr, co-founder of the Human Performance Institute here in Lake Nona, Florida, The Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute. Dr. Loehr and Dr. Groppel are pioneers in energy management. And when we talk about energy, we are not talking about hydraulic fracking or anything of that sort, we are talking about personal energy. And Dr. Loehr, first, welcome. Thank you for your tremendous contribution to Janus Henderson Investors over the years, it has been amazing, transforming lives. Straightaway, as my Henderson friends would say from London, straightaway, Jim, why are you doing what you are doing, why all this?
Dr. Jim Loehr: Well, first of all, thank you, John. It is a privilege to be with you. I have known you for a very long time. And I have always had a deep appreciation and admiration for you as a person and for the kinds of things that you are looking to achieve in your life, so I consider it a privilege. And we have had a long-standing relationship with Janus Henderson and I will tell you they are extraordinary people and I am glad I can spend some time with you talking about things that affect you and the new kind of company that you are now part of.
So what got me started. A very convoluted type of path to where I am today. I started out in psychology and got my doctorate in counseling psyche and went on and I specialized in community mental health and working with broken people. I became licensed and Board certified as a pretty young guy, maybe the youngest ever. I became Chief Psychologist and Executive Director of a very large community mental health center system that served the whole central and southern part of Colorado, the San Luis Valley Comprehensive Community Mental Health Center. And we had a very large catchment area, 8,600 square miles, we had 11 offices, we had every conceivable type of staff from medical directors all the way down to paraprofessional outreach workers. I was trained to be in that arena and I was very excited about the challenges that I was facing. And after several years in that role, and we were very successful, I was able to put a lot of innovative things into place, quite by chance I became associated with an exercise physiologist who has become a track and field legend by the name of Dr. Joe Vigil. And he started to get under my skin and kept asking me what could he tell his runners and his track and field specialists that would help them perform better as a psychologist? And I said, “I have no clue, none.” I said, “I was trained to help sick people, broken people, become well.”
I had never thought of psychology, applying psychology to really healthy people and helping them to be extraordinary. He said, “Well, you ought to think about it, because that is my business,” he said, “And we don’t have people specializing in this,” and he said, “To my knowledge.” He kept pushing me and the more, so I started doing research on the Internet, at that time it wasn’t the Internet, I was just looking at all the worldwide publications that had anything around the application with psychology to human performance. It was so thin, there were a couple of people in the United States associated with universities and it captured, I can’t tell you, I became intoxicated with the idea.
I started working with his teams and with some other athletes and I decided I wanted to make a career shift that would specialize and I could be a pioneer in that area. So I moved to Denver and set up a private practice, specializing in really helping people do extraordinary things. I was really looking at athletes at University Park Psychological Center. People thought I had dually lost my mind. My Board, I had a 23-member Board of Directors who when I told them I was going to go into sports psychology, they thought it was a ploy for more money. They asked me to leave the room and they doubled my salary. I came back and I apologized and I said, “Oh no, that is not it.” Then they said, “Aw, he has melted down, he can’t handle the pressure.” Because no one could believe that was a very enviable position.
But I had this vision and it wasn’t easy when I got to Denver and started doing it, I couldn’t really tell people what I had done, because it is all confidential. So I started working in the different sports and eventually I realized we couldn’t do it in Denver, the athletes hate going into the high altitude of Denver. I looked and it was either California, Arizona, Florida and at that time Jimmy Connors was the most extraordinary competitive athlete in town at that time. So I went to Sanibel Harbour is where the Jimmy Connors USA Tennis Center, I spent two years with Jimmy Connors learning all the stuff and I managed that facility down there. Then I felt like I still didn’t know enough, I moved my entire operation to the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy where we had 240 of the very finest tennis players in the world. It was the most prolific period of player development in the history of tennis with all the people there. I had this as my living laboratory. This is worth two or three Ph.Ds. And I really learned, I was able to do all kinds of things, because I had access to all the kids, from Andre Agassi, Mark Knowles, David Wheaton, I mean this was an unbelievable group of extraordinary athletes, Jim Courier. And after finishing that six years, I decided to join forces with Dr. Jack Groppel and do, in performance psychology, start our own company.
Evans: And were you turning heads at this moment with Dr. Groppel?
Dr. Loehr: Well, there was a lot of attention in the role of tennis with the work I had done. I had broken through a lot of unbelievably gifted athletes who were stuck, so I started getting a lot of attention all over the globe. I traveled with players all over the world and it was an enormous source of insight to me. And Jack really specialized in biomechanics, he had his Ph.D. in bioengineering and he was specializing in the whole physical side and I was specializing in the psychological side. We felt we would make a great marriage. We looked at all the different places and decided that Lake Nona was the best place for future growth. We built this campus here on nine acres and this has been for me, I can’t imagine a career that has been more fulfilling. We have had over 250,000 people come through the Institute.
Evans: And they have joined the cult?
Dr. Loehr: Yeah, exactly, exactly. And then when we merge, I mean we had an acquisition with Johnson & Johnson in 2008. They helped us to do all kinds of research and to test the impact. They have had 80,000 of their people go through the program.
Dr. Loehr: 80,000. And they have done pre and post studies, of course, they are a research organization, scientifically focused. So this was an unbelievable opportunity for us to really find out in an evidence-based way, what were the outcomes of what we were doing. We had other people, like GlaxoSmithKline took 35,000 and did all their metrics. We had Proctor & Gamble did 45,000 of their people. We have had some very large opportunities to test and to really understand what are the real outcomes of these interventions. And for me, I am a science guy, I love science, I love numbers, I love trend data. If I don’t have large data sets, I feel uncomfortable. That is how we have built this whole system. So it is a long answer, but I wasn’t really intending to do this when I started, but I feel so grateful and so fortunate to have been in this place, to have been able to impact so many lives.
Evans: So hear hear to Joe Vigil first and foremost. He was the catalyst. That conversation with Dr. Joe set this in motion.
Dr. Loehr: Pretty much I would say that is the case.
Evans: Now let’s fast-forward, Dr. Loehr, please. Here we are and we are doing work obviously with financial advisors the world over. Moreover, we work with their clients, busy executives, CPAs, attorneys, philanthropic executives and so forth. There seems to be a real need, a desire for improving mental resiliency, mental toughness. I would say it is dire at this point. Financial advisors are dealing with the likes of DOL regulations, they are dealing with the price of Puerto Rican bonds, myriad issues across the bar, bringing them down, sucking their energy. First of all, what is mental resilience and how do we make more of it?
Dr. Loehr: You know, that is a question that has been kind of in my wheelhouse for a very long time. It still is something I am particularly interested in. I kind of established a different paradigm than was out there, particularly in the academic world, I was kind of seen as kind of a renegade in how I positioned this, but I had so much success.
Evans: You were thinking different like Steve Jobs might suggest?
Dr. Loehr: Well, I don’t know if I could be compared to him, but I will tell you, I had a very different understanding. I like to look at things from the big picture. The human being is built as a composite, we are not broken into pieces and each piece operates on its own kind of in an individual capacity. So when you say “mental resilience,” one of the things that we did here, we built a model that showed we are fundamentally energy systems, reservoirs of potential energy. And there is physical energy, there is emotional energy, there is mental energy and there is spiritual energy, and they are all connected. There is physical resilience, there is emotional resiliency, there is mental resiliency and there is spiritual resiliency, and you can’t pull one out without seeing how it is connected to all the others. So I work with tennis players on how they walked. I am putting their shoulders back on I call it the Matador Walk. I developed a whole routine in tennis and almost all the sports golf between shots, the way they carry themselves so they could actually project in their face, in their eyes, in the way they walked, the kind of confidence that they really wanted to have.
Evans: You have got me sitting up now, Dr. Loehr.
Dr. Loehr: I began to realize that mental toughness, it is not mental, it is physical, it is emotional in a big way and it is actually also spiritual in the sense of what is your purpose driving, what are the values you hold, what is your character …
Evans: Beyond self.
Dr. Loehr: Beyond yourself. You think, “Why does a competitor need that?” Well, all I can tell you is that maybe the most important dimension is always neglected. So the whole notion of toughness kind of begs the question of how we are designed as a species and we are, toughness is engrained in every dimension of our energy dynamic. So if we are really going to address it, we have to first of all, the fitter you are, fitness is defined by your speed of recovery physically. Let’s say you jump on an exercise bike and we measure, your heart goes up to 80% of max and then we have you rest, we time how fast your heart rate goes back to baseline. That is a measure of resiliency, physical resiliency. When you watch a golfer hit a bad shot in a playoff and you see them start reeling, sad, talking to themselves about how bad that whole situation was and it affects the next shot and the next shot, that is a measure of emotional resiliency. Their ability to literally reset, reboot that emotional calculus and get them back to where, I refer to it as their ideal performance state, and there is a physical, there is an emotional component. And then on the mental side, there is clearly a component mentally, how quickly do you maybe lose focus and get it back? How quickly does your private voice kind of go off the reservation …
Evans: And that is going to happen.
Dr. Loehr: That is going to happen. And then all of a sudden, then before you actually have to execute again, you have brought it back home, you are now talking a language, your cognitive mindset is back to what it drives your best performance and when you watch someone like a Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal play, you see that their between point time, they are representing resiliency at the very highest level.
Evans: Yes, Venus Williams, I might add.
Dr. Loehr: Venus Williams has in her match again just today, she shows such composure, such remarkable ability to stay in the moment, to maybe make a mistake and get right back, which wasn’t always true of her. She has actually been gaining ground. Roger Federer, for instance, was very, very kind of angry and very temperamental when he was a young boy and he had to work this all out. Now he is the picture, that is what we want to see is individuals grow in their capacity to return to this state where they are their very best. And that is a skillset that needs to be honed until you die, because the most important dimension of being a human being today is resiliency. You need resiliency at all levels. If you don’t have physical resiliency, if you don’t take care of yourself and sleep well at night, if you don’t eat properly, if you are not fit, if you don’t hydrate, I don’t care how mentally tough you are, you are going to come apart. If you can’t handle negative emotions and get rid of them quickly and all the self-defeating feelings that we get sometimes, nerves, if you don’t have a system to kind of clear that out pretty quickly, it is going to take you down at almost every dimension of your life. It will affect your storytelling, it will affect your private voice, it will actually fog you out in terms of your purpose and why you are even doing this work that you are doing. So my whole thing about mental toughness is not just mental. It is the whole person and it is the best indicator of who you are in a high-performance arena.
Evans: That is excellent, Dr. Jim Loehr, you have got me all fired up. Now listen, I want to get very granular and specific. I want you to talk to an advisor out there in Chicago or Tokyo or London and she is frenetic right now, she has got so much to deal with, right? She is overwhelmed. What is the one new ritual she can put in place as of now, Dr. Loehr, and I define ritual as learning from you, is a habit, an intentional habit that is going to improve the trajectory of an individual or a team? What is the one new ritual she should put in place to improve her mental resilience?
Dr. Loehr: I need to know a little more about her. But I will tell you this, that if she is finding herself worrying too much about the future, afraid of what is going to happen if she is actually getting stuck in the past, if she is actually finding it hard, very difficult to focus in what she is doing, I will tell you, one of the most powerful vehicles we have is, in this realm of mindfulness training, and going and just doing a very short meditation, mindfulness meditation, that brings her to the present moment, brings her to everything from gratitude, it could be a gratitude meditation, could be a kindness meditation, anything that kind of takes her away from the clutter and brings her to a point of being peaceful, being able to focus in the now is priceless.
Evans: And that should be happening routinely for her?
Dr. Loehr: And that needs to happen almost on a daily basis. I would start doing one minute, maybe then two minutes after a while, and eventually she will get comfortable and her body learns to turn, we have this sympathetic system which raises energy levels and arousal, then we have the parasympathetic system, which decompresses you, which enables you to relax and to recover. And what she is working is the parasympathetic arm of the autonomic nervous system. And she needs to be able to calm down, I am just guessing who she is. But that is training for resiliency. She is training how to reboot physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.
Evans: She is hitting F9, if you will.
Dr. Loehr: Exactly. And yoga is another form of that. But most people who are in very high-stress worlds, who what I would call affectionately speed addicts, where they are never shutting down, they need something to counterbalance the sympathetic system, because you just burn, burn, burn and eventually you can’t support it with the energy reserves that you have. So anything that allows her to recalibrate and refill those reservoirs of energy, so anything that would help her to have fun. If she loves to do aerobic exercises or she loves to play tennis, I would have her play tennis for an hour or 45 minutes or 30 minutes just to get out and change her mindset from work to something else, something that is actually going to trigger this state of fun.
Evans: Yes, we have an expression in the investment world of just putting together a portfolio of non-correlating assets in the client’s portfolio, right? And I think ontologically it may translate, we coach there should be a portfolio of non-correlating activities, is that a fair characterization?
Dr. Loehr: That is 100% correct, it is 100% correct. There is a whole approach in psychology, it is called the portfolio theory. And what it really represents is they found that individuals, and particularly this is looking at very high-performing people, athletes, whatever, and they put all their eggs in one basket and that starts to get, their identity is that, whatever it is, it could be tennis or golf or the management skills of a financial manager, whatever. And that is how you judge who you are, your identity is solely that. What happens with that kind of gets a little rough. You will go into a siege, you begin to panic, you wonder what the hell you are going to do with your life. You can’t really settle down. When you watch Roger Federer, you might say, “Well, it is easy for him at this point in his life,” but he is doing it because he gets a deep sense of joy out of it and he is not threatened if he gets beat by even a turkey. He is going to continue to move forward because he enjoys it. So the portfolio theory says listen, you need to diversify your investments and actually become kind of a multi-dimensional person where you have a lot of things that make you feel good about yourself. It could be that you are fed, it could be that you spend time with family in ways that actually fill the sense of identity for you, that you are a great father or a great mother, that you mentor other people in the firm, you are a great mentor, whatever it is that you are doing, but you are building a number of ways that you can see value in who you are, other than a single dimension. And that is that diversity kind of component, which I think makes a tremendous amount of sense.
Evans: That is outstanding, Doctor, and as you know, I married a Magillicutty, redhead, and I ran into an Irish proverb, “The devil’s boots don’t creak.” So when I think about you staying on task to that ultimate mission with purpose beyond self, the zenith, we can get pulled off, can’t we?
Dr. Loehr: Yeah …
Evans: And what do we do about it, how do we get back on track, Jim?
Dr. Loehr: I am a really firm believer, every day I journal. I am writing a new book that is about the importance of journaling and how you continue to, what you give your energy to grows. When you cut off your energy, it begins to die. So if you want your biceps to stay healthy, you are going to have to find ways to invest energy in your bicep, which means you lift weights and do things. Energy spawns growth, it is the stimulus for all growth in our lives. You tell me who you want to be and what dimensions and what strengths you want to have, you have to give it your energy. If you don’t want them to grow, put your energy somewhere else. So you want something to die, cut off its energy supply. So the more you recognize that you are kind of like a gardener, you can decide who it is you want to be, what you want to grow and what you would like to not cultivate in your life, you want the muscle of patience to grow, then you give a lot of energy to patients while you are driving or anything else and that muscle becomes dominant.
Dr. Loehr: Maybe it is kindness, maybe it is engagement with your clients, maybe it is engagement with your children, with your spouses. That somehow, if it is connected to what you believe is your ultimate mission in life, it is so rewarding. And when you give energy every day to that ultimate mission by journaling about it, thinking about it, visualizing about it, it stays alive. It is your ultimate kind of source code for making all your decisions, all your ethical and moral decisions and it is alive, it is not a document that you read, it is like it has been embedded deeply in the neuro processing system that you carry around with you all day. It is your mindset, it is your road map for getting home and to actually be the success that you hope you will someday be. So it is important that, because there is so much clutter in our lives, we lose touch with what the heck is this all about? Why am I doing this? Where am I going? I don’t even like what I am doing, I don’t even like who I am becoming, I don’t like what I am doing.
You know, that all begins to reshape itself when you know exactly what and who, as a leader, you are influencing the character, the well-being, the health of everyone who is in your sphere of influence. That is all leadership is, it is influence. You are influencing your children, you are influencing your relatives and you are influencing everyone in your firm, who is around you, by the way you conduct yourself. You are teaching all the time, whether you are aware of it or not. And if you are clear on what it is you want others to become, be it yourself, be what you want others to become. And that is in fact maybe one of the most important ways to lead others, rather than telling them what to do, just simply be it.
Evans: Yeah. One of the greatest interrogatives that have come out of this incredible campus for me that has made such a difference in our sales directors around the world, coaching financial advisors and their clients, is this question. Who or what is getting your best energy and are you OK with that? Now that is a tremendous question to ask a busy financial advisor. But we know we get offtrack and we know we have to stay in touch with that ultimate mission. Any coaching, any thoughts, Dr. Loehr, on getting clarity on what that ultimate mission is? And I know it is like a snowflake, it is going to be unique for each person. Real quickly, I am coaching an advisor, who was in a plane crash several years ago, private plane, went down, was in the bottom of a lake not far from here, believe it or not, 20 feet down, pulled up his daughter, both of them, they survived. I watched a transformation in this advisor, Jim, when he got clarity that he is now going to go out and work with families that have somebody who has survived a plane crash or automobile crash. He has transformed, his energy has changed, he says he got clarity on that ultimate mission. What do you say to folks about getting clarity on that ultimate mission?
Dr. Loehr: The most important thing I believe that I have found is to kind of bring people’s awareness to a higher level whenever we can. Man’s evolution has been his ascension into higher levels of awareness. When you recognize that energy is the greatest, most precious gift you have to give, and you are aware that you give life to whatever you give your energy to, all we need to do is to know what our values are and is our energy flowing consistently? If you tell me your family is number one, are they getting the full and best energy that you have or are they getting the leftovers? Because when you are giving your gift and it is not representative of what you say really is the essence of success for you, there is a fracture in your spirit, your spirit is fractured. And you don’t feel right about it. And it is very possible, because energy is boundless, you can always create more energy.
Evans: But you can’t create more time.
Dr. Loehr: But you cannot create more time. It is not how much time you spend with your family, it is the energy you bring to them and that you have. And you can be giving energy to your family during the day by thinking about them, by wondering about them, by calling them. You can also do the same with your clients, but the more you are clear on what it is that really makes a difference for you and then you raise your awareness that this gift is the supreme gift I have to give to the world and I am going to make sure that every day you can actually keep a little training log of whether or not and how much of your energy was actually directed in things that most matter to you. There is a transformation that occurs. It is a renaissance in your ability to actually feel like your life is working. I actually feel like I am doing something that actually matters. My energy matters, who gets it and who doesn’t. And if you are preoccupied solely with your own life and most of your energy goes to take care of you, and this is what happens to so many people, you become, you really feel like all my issues, I work so hard, that is all I do is work and the energy dynamics when you look at the recipient of that energy, it is you. You are getting it all, you are giving it all, you are worrying about this, you are worried about that, you are making sure that you are ready for your appointments. But it is not really connected to a cause much bigger than yourself. When your friend found a whole new sense of meaning, when he saved the life of his daughter and he realized there are other people who are having these extraordinary things, this gave his life meaning and it was something bigger than himself, far bigger than himself. The more you can repurpose your life to a cause that is way beyond what you might think of as your own self-interest, something magical happens.
Evans: And also I would bring it to the left side of the brain, Dr. Loehr, and add from a marketing perspective, he has changed and he is attracting clients now. It is inbound marketing opposed to outbound marketing. Because the word is what, the word is spreading about his incredible unique message.
Dr. Loehr: What is probably being spread, “This guy is really a wonderful human being and I will trust him. If this is what he has devoted his life to, I trust him.” He has obviously got, and then when you are in a place where you feel great about yourself, you feel great about your family and the balance in your life, you vibrate differently. You have a different kind of signature in your energy.
Evans: Yes, that is true.
Dr. Loehr: And energy in that sense is extremely attractive. It is very seductive. People love hanging around in your energy signature. It is healthy, because you radiate health in all dimensions. So energy is very contagious and it is contagious negatively and contagious really, really positively. When you are a contagious personality and a very positive context, and it is all about what you can do to help others get better, people will be automatically drawn to you.
Evans: That is just tremendous. Now Dr. Loehr, I want you to be as vulnerable as you are comfortable, vulnerable as you are comfortable, but seriously, in all earnest, what is your biggest frustration working with busy super successful folks and getting them to accept and adopt the rituals that you prescribe here at the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute?
Dr. Loehr: Culture is very powerful and the culture that most of us have gotten involved in has bred a very false narrative. Everyone to a certain extent has become seduced by this narrative. And the narrative very simply is this. The way we build a great life, the way we build strong character, the way we build self, really stable self-esteem, the way we become something special and it will be happy is through achievements. And the greater the achievements, the more we will become this extraordinary example of character and happiness and all the great things that we want, we have been locked into this achievement dynamic that achievement is the vehicle through which all these things happen. There is not one shred of scientific evidence to support any of that. And so what I am trying to help people do is to help them understand, first of all, what are they chasing, because we are all chasing something, but I want to know why they are chasing it. I want to know the reason for the chase and then I want to know who are they becoming as a consequence of the chase and who are those that are following in your wake becoming as a consequence of the chase. Chasing the wrong thing, even for the right reason, is a calamity. And so we all have to chase, but the most important thing that we chase, no matter what it is, should transform us into becoming a better, more fully-developed, more ethical, moral human being. If what you are chasing is making you brittle, hard, angry, frustrated, less confident, all those things that happened, and I get so many people in that space, they get caught up into believing, “If I just get one more deal, if I do one more big deal, I will start feeling better.” You are only as good as your last homerun or your last triple. And the next triple comes and they don’t feel any different and now they have got to chase for the next thing and they chase something that is meaningless until they die. That is my greatest frustration.
Evans: What you just said about Roger Federer two minutes ago was he doesn’t mind losing to a turkey because he is playing out of joy.
Dr. Loehr: He has given so much of his earnings to great causes around the world, he is doing it because he enjoys doing it and he loves to try to bring joy into others’ lives as he plays. And he is not doing it to become the most famous tennis player of all time or to break any, I don’t think he even knows the stats, he could care less. He is doing it because it kind of comes from a core inside of him that is actually a very healthy, very well balanced, he is a great father, he is a great husband, he does so much for tennis in the world and for kids struggling all over the universe. When you can repurpose whatever job you have to actually make the world better, much greater sense of wellbeing than your own, good things happen.
Evans: Good things happen. Dr. Jim Loehr, thank you for your life’s work. I have got my shoulders back like a matador right now. I hope you have enjoyed this podcast, I sure have.
Dr. Loehr: I have, I have enjoyed it and I really hope that there is some meaning in these words for those who are listening and thanks for coming by and having this conversation, I really enjoyed it.
Evans: I will see you on the court soon, thank you Dr. Jim Loehr.
Dr. Loehr: Thanks.
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