Dr. Michael Gervais is a renowned expert in high-performance psychology, best known for his work coaching some of the toughest players on the gridiron, the Super Bowl winning NFL football team the Seattle Seahawks. His clients include extreme sports athletes, top Olympians, and leaders in business including Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.
Gervais works with athletes and CEOs at the top of their game, and has developed clarity for the tools that allow people to thrive under pressure.
But this high performance psychologist believes something is broken in regards to today’s notion of corporate success – and he’s on a mission to change it.
“What we [Gervais and NFL Coach Pete Carroll] found was in the business world recovery wasn’t something being talked about.”
Today he and Coach Carroll are training executives at Microsoft, Salesforce, AT&T, and Amazon on mental toughness, and in the process hoping to create a rethink of the model for success in today’s corporate America.
“The notion that you need to do more to be more is exhausting. We need to be more to do more, and let our doing flow from our being,” says Gervais. “It’s time to flip the model.”
Gervais and NFL coach Pete Carroll between the two of them have decades of coaching experience, and by working in high stress environments have developed a framework for training the mechanics of mental toughness. And now they’re taking their combined expertise on how to compete and bounce back from setbacks from the realm of the high performance athlete, to the business world.
Specifically, Gervais and Carroll coach up the mechanics of mental toughness, using science-backed tools that break out the champion mindset into five functions and several sub-functions.
“At the center of mental toughness for us is optimism,” explains Gervais.
The high performance mindset means staying in the endeavor, staying in the tough moments, and understanding that something good is about to happen.
Mental toughness is about doing the hard work and understanding that things are going to get tough.
“It takes mindfulness, but that’s not enough,” explains Gervais.
Gervais and Coach Carroll’s training process includes five main tenants. One is self-discovery, which involves writing a personal philosophy. The other part is mindfulness. Another is psychological framework. And then mindset skills like confidence, which comes from self-talk. And then recovery; Gervais believes everyone needs a recovery program in place, which involves moving well, eating/hydrating well, and sleeping well.
Bringing Performance Mindset to USC
And now Gervais is adding to his impressive elite sports psychologist resume. He and Carroll are also partners in the USC Marshall Business School’s Performance Science Institute, the first program of its kind focused on training the science of high performance.
USC business school students will learn how to train the mind for optimal resiliency and performance, a vital skill normally overlooked in today’s top MBA programs.
According to Gervais, training mindset principles allows us to show up, be authentic, and adjust to any challenging environment; doing the work isn’t easy, but is essential to preventing burnout, waking up with a feeling of zest, and as he puts it “getting after it”.
Here’s a quick overview of the five functions of the high performance mindset:
STEP ONE – KNOW YOU’RE PERSONAL PHILOSOPHY
“The greatest movers and shakers are very clear about their personal philosophy,” according to Gervais.
A personal philosophy is a phrase that consists of the principles that influence your thoughts, words and actions. Gervais recommends thinking about the heroes that you admire, and then writing out a personal philosophy in 25 words or less.
A personal philosophy is important to use in setting a vision for your life, knowing who it is you are becoming; living in alignment with your personal philosophy can enable you to live a life of meaning and purpose.
On a visit to USC, Gervais explained to undergrads that when you speak your personal philosophy out loud, each word should land, so you feel it.
Gervais’s personal philosophy?: “Everyday is an opportunity to create a living masterpiece.”
STEP TWO – RE-TRAIN YOUR MIND’S DEFAULT SETTING TO CALM
- The four basic mindset skills are: calm, confidence, focus and trust.
- Two things get in the way of peak performance – fear and fatigue.
- Anxious thoughts or excessive worry, come from fear mind or survival mode.
“Unless you’re locking into the present moment more,” explains Gervais, “you will not achieve peak performance.”
Thinking well is putting into practice all of the mindset skills so that you can develop a command over our thoughts, even when you’re in uncomfortable situations. If you do this work daily you will have the tools and skills that better allow you to play in the space of the unknown and risk, while still bringing your authentic self to each moment.
The goal is to be here now, tune into the present or signal, and gate out the noise.
Mindfulness is not about not having thoughts, but recognizing when you’re mind has wandered to gently bring it back to now. Gervais encourages everyday, busy business people to start small. He and Coach Carroll have created a morning routine that involves spending just a few minutes on mindful breathing and thinking of three things you’re grateful for.
By starting a daily mindfulness practice, you’ll begin to spot thought patterns.
“If you see unproductive thoughts,” says Gervais. “You can just watch them go by.”
STEP THREE – PRIORITIZE WORLD-CLASS RECOVERY
According to Gervais, practicing at the Tier 1 level of your craft and having an uncommonly relentless focus day-in and day-out, requires a deep commitment to recovery.
Gervais believes that sleeping, moving, eating and hydrating, thinking well are important; by practicing these habits, you’re giving yourself the best chance to perform at your best.
Thinking well, in essence, is about draining less of your energy through worry and is also part of recovery.
3 Keys to Reframing Stress:
- The more we can look at stress as an opportunity, rather than a curse, says Gervais, the less it tends to break us down. The next time you feel overwhelmed by something, acknowledge the way you feel, and take a deep breath.
- Our breath is the greatest reset button we have available to us. A set of deep breaths can help break the habit of automatically going into fight-or-flight mode.
- Then ask this question: “Is there any other way to look at this situation?”
STEP FOUR – RELATIONSHIPS MATTER
Coach Carroll’s definition of competition is a mentality that generates an energy about it, is about striving for excellence, and keeps us focused.
Winning is about challenge yourself, and supporting others who are striving to do their best.
Coach Carroll and Dr. Gervais emphasize the importance of thinking about how you contribute, show up every day, and the value you provide to your relationships. Their idea of creating a competitive organization is about focusing on relationships, instead of outcomes only.
Relationships matter and being competitive also includes bringing out the best in others around you.
STEP FIVE – USE NEUTRAL SELF-TALK TO GET INTO “FLOW”
There’s three different minds negative mind (self-criticism, worry, doubt, thoughts that lead to constriction of your inner experience, “choking”), and positive mind (optimism, a place that creates space), and “no mind” (locked in on the present mind engrossed and engaged in the present moment, where thoughts fade away.)
“There is no entry point from negative mind to no mind. That’s an important takeaway,” says Gervais. “You can’t go from self-critical doubt, and frustration and automatically get to no mind. It’s not how it works. The work is to recognize that you’re in negative mind”
“If we hang out in positive mind long enough,” explains Gervais, which can counter intuitively be about self-talk that isn’t always positive but simply calm and or neutral in tone, “we have a chance to slip into no mind or flow state, the most optimal state we can be in as humans.”