How Our Thoughts Affect Our Performance: 3 Activities


Many of us wish we could perform with the focus, strength and skill of a professional athlete. To do so requires a strong connection between our minds and our bodies—some research shows only a 5% difference between imagining oneself performing and the performance itself!

In a session at the SIETAR Europa Congress in Valencia, Jenny Ebermann, who focuses on mindfulness and leadership, and Susan Salzbrenner, who works with international athletes, told us that even professional athletes struggle with disconnects between their minds and their bodies. While they tell themselves they can do anything, their bodies may be tight and small. Just like us weekend warriors, athletes need to learn to listen to their bodies, connect with their emotions, and have resilience in order to achieve optimal performance.

Jenny and Susan facilitated three activities that quickly and impressively demonstrated the power our thoughts have on our performance. I share those exercises with you here, in hopes that you’ll pass on what I learned from them, and help integrate the mind-body connection for intercultural competence. The three exercises were conducted standing in a circle.

  1. First, participants were asked to imagine a time in our lives when we felt small, diminished. We were instructed to feel that in our bodies and then turn with our backs to the circle, come our eyes, and back up. After a couple of minutes, we were stopped and quickly debriefed: How did that feel? What happened?
  2. Next, we were asked to imagine a time in our lives when we felt strong, like a champion. Again, we were instructed to turn our backs to the circle, close our eyes, and walk backwards. After a couple of minutes, we were stopped and quickly debriefed: How did that feel? What happened?
  3. Finally, we were instructed to be ourselves, and, standing on one edge of the circle, close our eyes and walk backwards to try to get to the other side of the circle. We conducted a quick debrief after this one as well. It rapidly and powerfully showed our personal tendencies and styles.

Most everyone attending the session seemed to find insightful learning from these three simple activities. For those of you interested in the neuroscientific aspect of this topic, below are two additional resources Susan provided for this article:

  1. Article on the benefits of visualization and motor imagery, and how they stimulate neural pathways that are also involved in actual motor activity.
  2. Study on cognitive motor processes

Both of these articles have incredible repercussions for users of Cultural Detective Online!

The session included a couple of other noteworthy points as well. The two presenters shared that the statistics-loving NBA has found that the more ethnically diverse a team is, the more successful it is. I found this interesting, since most intercultural research shows that it’s the effective management of a team that makes it successful, not the diversity in and of itself.

Their example was the San Antonio Spurs, whose coach, Gregg Popovich, has formed highly successful multicultural teams (including that of the “green card five” in the early 1990s), which, on paper have less talent than many far more successful teams. Susan mentioned how instead of the typical individualized, specialist training so popular in the NBA, Popovich engages his team in more team play time. Hmmm…perhaps it’s not just the diversity of a team, but the effective coaching and management of the diversity, that does make the difference.

Finally, there was talk about the interesting cultural patterns demonstrated in the Irish response to defeat in Euro 2012 (football/soccer). The video below begins with about six minutes left in the match and Ireland losing 4-0 to the favorite Spain. What usually happens when your favorite team is staring loss in the face? I’ll bet money you don’t usually react as do the Irish fans do here:

2 thoughts on “How Our Thoughts Affect Our Performance: 3 Activities

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  2. Pingback: How Our Thoughts Affect Our Performance: 3 Activities | Jenny Ebermann

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