The Naked Truth

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, March 2000 Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

The Naked Truth
A pop quiz you won't pass. And that's the point.

What is your mental toughness quotient? To find out, LGE begins with a 75-question survey that gets right down to the business of spelling out your weaknesses. Below is an abridged version of the quiz to help you take a close, hard look in the mirror. Don't worry—we won't ask you to share.

Step I. Who are you?
Rate yourself on a scale of one to seven in each of the following 12 questions, one being poor, seven excellent. Then ask three people who know you well to do the same, anonymously.

1. Do you have a strong vision of your mission in life?
2. How well do you prepare mentally before performing?
3. How effectively do you manage your time?

4. How effective are you as a team builder?
5. How well do you manage adversity?
6. Do you maintain a positive and constructive attitude?

7. Do you allow yourself enough sleep?
8. Do you pay enough attention to what you eat?
9. How consistently do you exercise?

10. Do you take regular breaks throughout the day?
11. How well do you manage stress?
12. Do you keep a healthy balance between work and play?

Step II. Who do you want to be?
Jot down a few words—a short paragraph even—describing who you want to be as an athlete (or any other kind of performer). In doing this, consider the following questions:
•What vision do you have of yourself as a performer?
•What values motivate you? What are your deepest beliefs?
•How well have you linked your values and beliefs to your goals?
•What would you have to do to make that connection more powerful?
•How would you like to be remembered?

Step III. Making the change
Circle the two lowest-scoring answers—counting your own impressions and those of your friends—from step one. Do the same for the two questions that show the greatest contrast between your perceptions and those of others. Compare these four areas with your mission statement from the second step, and pinpoint a behavior that's keeping you from performing at your best. Then develop a ritual to overcome the obstacle. For instance, if you scored poorly on conflict resolution, pick a consistent time, such as during the first two miles of a morning bike commute, and use it to visualize handling difficult situations that you expect to face that day. Devote the same time each day to this rehearsal. Soon enough, your office outbursts will be history, and you'll be closer to your ideal performance state. —P.K.

Perhaps Anderson needs a new mantra, because up in the press box I learn that, at this early point in the season, he's shooting 37 percent from the field, 43 percent from the foul line, and scoring just 10.2 points a game. (His stats were nose-diving at press time.) Against the Nets he looked tentative, rarely driving to the hoop, getting beat on defense, and scoring six points. Since he's eight inches taller and 70 pounds heavier than me, I refrained from heading to the locker room after the game and suggesting that he return to LGE for a tune-up.

It makes me feel better about my own rough start. But the truth is, I'm not entirely convinced that I can stick with the program after my six-month trial. I've always been a little wary of "programs for living" and don't like to be part of anything that's controlling me rather than vice versa. It'll simply take some time for me to see whether I can truly live with the changes I'm working into my daily grind.

So, in the spirit of Striegel's advice to lighten up, I stop worrying about whether I snack twice a day and eat three perfectly healthy meals, and focus instead on what has proven to be the ritual that's helped me the most. As soon as I get up, I spend a few minutes visualizing how I want to respond to the day. Of course, my days rarely go as planned, but now I'm able to better handle interruptions and I feel invigorated even on days that don't go well. Most mornings I wake up at the same time, alert and without the alarm—a huge transformation. At my desk, I've been setting a timer for 90 minutes; before it goes off, though, my legs often let me know it's time by tightening up, whereupon I take a break by walking up and down eight flights of stairs.

Strangely enough, the easiest part has been getting motivated to work out. On days when everything else seems like it's going to hell, the gym has become my island of sanity. Without fail, it gives me an enormous mood-boost. I actually look forward to pushing myself on drop-set days in the gym. My anaerobic threshold is jumping, based on my heart-rate monitor readings. And there's no question, even after six weeks, that I'm losing fat and gaining muscle.

"When your workouts are tied to the rest of life, they take on new meaning," Striegel tells me over the phone. "It's the one thing that's keeping you feeling as good as you do—it's an endorphin drug. That's why the ritual of exercise is so powerful. So even if you otherwise feel like crap, you feel much better when you work out like a banshee."

What about Nick Anderson? "I haven't talked to Nick since he left Orlando," Loehr says when I call to ask what went wrong with his big success story. "He received the ultimate blow when he was traded to Sacramento. He'd been in Orlando his whole career and now all the routines he developed, the support he had, just disappeared. The lesson is that you have to constantly work the territory. I think Nick thought it was all over, a done deal, and he didn't have to do it anymore. Sorry, but you don't just have it the rest of your life. You only have it until, say, next Tuesday, and then it starts wearing off."

But once you recognize that you'll always have "barriers," you tend to stop agonizing over your shortcomings and return to the steps designed to keep your bad habits from sneaking in the back door. Eventually, the idea goes, it won't feel like you're following a program at all, but rather, instinctively performing the good habits you've always promised yourself you'd develop.

"Do you want to be fit, have energy, and not come home tired?" Loehr challenges. "How important is that to you? If it's really important, will you devote that five percent to making sure it happens? OK, then, let's do a full-court press."

He laughs his tough-guy coach's laugh. "Nobody said it was easy, baby," he says. "All I know is that it's real."   

Paul Keegan, a frequent contributor, is still looking for a successful free-throw mantra.

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