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Behind the Curtain
Think you're ready to face the truth? LGE offers a variety of programs, from one-on-one sessions at its shop in Orlando (800-543-7764), which last from two to five days ($3,000 to $5,000), to workshops for groups of 25 or more conducted at a site of your choosing (up to $15,500 for a day). Open-enrollment sessions, held regularly in cities throughout the country, offer a far-less expensive option for individuals and groups alike: $249 gets you a full day of training with Loehr himself, an instruction booklet, and 30 days of online coaching. (For a schedule, click on "public workshops" on LGE's site, www.mentallytough.com.) Of course, the cheapest route to LGE-style motivation is to check out the book-length version of the program, Stress for Success (Times Books, 1998), by Loehr and Mark McCormack. Read it, weep, and then get your butt in gear. —P.K.
Loehr claims that his major breakthrough was discovering that just as muscles need stress to grow—followed by a period of rest during which the growth actually occurs—our minds and emotions need to alternate between periods of stress and recovery. Contrary to conventional
wisdom, stress is not a bad thing to be avoided, he says. In fact, it's a positive, even healthy, thing—assuming you "oscillate" regularly and in fact let your mind and body recover after bouts of stress.
Thus Loehr would have you taking 15-minute breaks every 90 minutes to two hours. The rest should consist of an "opposite" activity: If you're reading at your desk, you can oscillate by taking a walk or standing up and making a phone call. Loehr cites scientific work in the relatively new field of chronobiology, the study of biological rhythms, which contends that after about two hours of concentrating on a particular task, neurochemicals such as serotonin—necessary to ignite the brain's electrical charges—are depleted. Other authorities caution that the relationship between brain physiology and behavior is still poorly understood. "You can't prove what happens when you take breaks because you can't stick probes into the brain of a live human being," says Norman Sussman, professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine. "And you can't teach a mouse to meditate." But Sussman adds, "I agree with Loehr in principle, and if he simply gets people to take breaks as a ritual then he's doing a noble thing. But don't tell me it's science."
Among the supporting evidence Loehr points to is research showing that getting into the sunshine, exercising, and ingesting carbohydrates stimulate the production of serotonin, which can lift one's mood and level of performance. Do these things during a break and you can't go wrong.
Funny, but it's not the controversy over empirical proof that bugs me about oscillation. It makes sense intuitively. My problem is that it's so hard to do. Contemporary American life simply doesn't allow for stopping every two hours—in the office, in social situations, at home—so you find yourself constantly pushing against the cultural grain as well as your own mind-set. I've always believed that success lies in driving yourself hard and not letting up until you've reached a goal. That's one hell of a habit to break, especially when you're trying to eat five small meals a day, exercise three or four times per week, get up at the same time every morning, drink water throughout the day, and do all those other "healthy" things that made me feel so lousy when I tried to do them all at once.
Which, come to think of it, is exactly what Loehr warned me about during his lecture on willpower. Since we have so little to control our behavior, we'd best use it wisely. "If I give you only one thing to do today, you'll do pretty well," Loehr had told me. "But if I give you two, your success rate drops quickly, and if I gave you three or four, we know you're going to fail."
The only reason i don't quit the lge program after my first horrific week back home in Manhattan is the boost I get from follow-up consultations on the phone. Trainer Steve Gray and nutritionist Brian Wallace take my calls and patiently answer endless questions. Striegel, my motivational coach, calls once a week without fail for six weeks. His main mission is to help me identify one major problem—pardon me, "barrier to performance"—that's keeping me from reaching my goals, and then to devise rituals in LGE's four key areas (mental, emotional, physical, and recovery) to overcome it.
A ritual, as Loehr defines it, is a conscious action or pattern of thought that you repeat, using your willpower, until it becomes automatic. Sort of a "good habit," like doing yoga every morning. But unlike a habit, a ritual is based on cultural or personal values, or performed to accomplish a specific goal. From what Loehr's seen, virtually all great athletes use some kind of ritual to slip into their ideal performance states, whether it be Hermann Maier dreaming of Wiener schnitzel (or whatever he does in the starting gate) or Nomar Garciaparra of the Boston Red Sox tightening his batting glove before every pitch. The trick is to focus every ounce of that feeble willpower on a single ritual until the new behavior gets "right in your gut," says Striegel. "You need to hammer on just one thing until you get the hang of it. Then you can move on."
To get a shot of inspiration, I decide to visit Nick Anderson, who now plays for Sacramento. I arrive at Continental Arena in New Jersey before a game with the Nets and spot Anderson practicing three-pointers. Walking out onto the court, notebook in hand, I think about how glad he'll be to see me—we're brothers, after all, having been inspired by the same benign leader to reach a higher state of being.
"Not when I'm shooting, man!" he shouts, warning me off. I retreat to the sideline. Eventually he comes over and says, "Two questions. That's all."
I ask him what rituals he's developed. He tells me that he always bounces the ball five times before taking a foul shot, takes a deep breath on the third bounce, and then says a magic word before letting it fly.
One question left. "What's the word?"
"Money!" he says, and with that, turns and goes back to shooting threes.