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Mindset Over Matter: How Upping Your Mental Game Can Create Whole-Life Transformation

Part 3 of the XPT Foundational Principles series

In part 2 of this series, we looked at how to pair adequately dosed stress and recovery to produce adaptation. To bounce back from daily training, the XPT curriculum equips you with modalities like breath work, contrast therapy, and mobility exercises to down-regulate from a sympathetic “fight or flight” state into a parasympathetic “rest and digest” one. But sometimes we need to move the needle in the other direction, depending on the situation. Whether it’s a high intensity training session, a work presentation, or whatever game day means to you, there are scenarios in which we need to upshift in order to accomplish the main goal.

Our mindset advisor Dr. Lenny Wiersma has worked with Olympians in several sports and coached multiple college swim programs to NCAA championships. He has provided us with several intuitive models that offer insight into the range of mental states that we oscillate between on any given day. As you can see from the diagram below, it’s possible to be under stimulated and too passive on one end of the spectrum, and overly wound up with nervous energy on the other. Either extreme will be counterproductive to achieving the level of focus needed for optimal performance. The sweet spot is usually found when we’re in the green zone in the middle of the dial, in which we feel positive, relaxed and calm.

We provide you with the toolkit necessary to toggle between all points on this continuum. Many of these tools can be utilized for different purposes depending on the scenario in question. For example, we can use dynamic movement preparation exercises to get your body ready for peak exertion, while deploying soft tissue work later to remove restrictions and improve circulation as part of the recovery process. We can also consider stimuli that do one thing now and another later. For example, a short dose of contrast therapy can prompt an immediately stimulating sympathetic response, followed by a transition to three hours of parasympathetic recovery.

Faster, predominantly mouth-breathing protocols can signal to our body that it’s go time, and a slower cadence with longer exhales helps us downshift after training and when trying to relax in the evening. And in the middle is intra-workout breath work (mouth-mouth, nose-mouth, then finally nose-nose), which can help you return to your resting heartrate quicker, take your mind off fatigue, and mitigate lactic acid buildup from excess hydrogen ions. These are just three of the techniques that our unique Breathe, Move, Recover approach provides to help you achieve the state you need to be in to suit your purposes in any scenario.

Another advantage that such methods provide is helping you better balance reactivity and responsiveness.

“When someone gets in an ice bath for the first time, it feels unpleasant or painful and they want to get out right away,” said XPT co-founder Gabby Reece. “But if they act on this reaction, they’re not going to get enough of a stimulus to prompt positive change. One of the ways we can help them push past their initial response to a place of resilience is to give them a breathing protocol that will help calm them down and take their mind off the painful sensation. That’s something that doesn’t just apply to coping with the cold of an ice bath, but can be beneficial in any situation in life that feels uncomfortable at first. It’s all about learning to recognize how far you’re going to follow your initial reaction versus responding more appropriately to deal with the scenario in a beneficial way.”

While we provide a multi-disciplinary approach to improving physical capabilities, this is only one component of the XPT lifestyle. There are also the cognitive and psycho-social elements to consider. We believe that you simply cannot separate mind, body, and spirit, and that all must be developed and nurtured simultaneously to approach both short term change and long term growth. Some people consider sports psychology to be a distinct discipline, but at XPT it’s an integral part of everything we empower you to do, whether on land or in the water.

“Mindset is the foundation of XPT because where the mind leads, the body will follow,” said XPT co-founder Laird Hamilton. “What we’ve created isn’t a rigid system. It’s a flexible, ever-evolving learning platform that seeks out best practices and knowledge from experts in every field. We want to bring in people who challenge our assumptions and encourage us to better combine the physical, conscious, and unconscious manifestations of performance. If you remain open to trying new things then you’ll keep evolving throughout your life.”

Doing as Laird suggests requires humility, a growth mindset, and a willingness to become a beginner again. Too often in life we get stuck in a pattern of only doing what we’re good at and avoiding new things or those that we’ve struggled with in the past. This limits the range of activities we do daily, and also closes us off from exploration and discovery. Laird could have been content to stick to the shore breaks he surfed growing up, but instead chose to challenge himself over and over again, whether by towing into waves previously considered unrideable at Peahi, inventing foil-surfing, or pioneering standup paddleboarding (SUP). And these are just some of the ways he has pushed himself to progress in the water. On land, he has tried his hand at heli-skiing, entered multi-sport endurance events like the Race Across America, and switched the surf for snowboarding remote mountain slopes.

“Kids are experts at being beginners and excited to try new things,” Gabby said. “But all too often adults get hung up on what we look like as we’re struggling to learn a skill. That’s the opposite of our approach. We’re all about immersing ourselves in a community that encourages experimentation. The people who have the most fun are the ones who are fully present in the moment and will try anything, not those who are so concerned about what others think of them that they only stick to things they’re good at.”

That’s why XPT introduces a broad range of environments and a wide array of training methods. Doing so obliterates comfort zones and provides physical, mental, and emotional challenges that can completely change someone’s mindset. When we’re confronted with things that make us scared or anxious we’re forced to have a conversation with ourselves that daily life rarely initiates. Starting something – like a pool training session or paddling in the open ocean – that we’re not sure we can finish poses questions like, “What kind of person am I?” and “Can I push myself to get through this?” Our answers don’t just dictate what happens in this one scenario, but can go a long way to determining how far we’re willing to go to grow as athletes and human beings. XPT encourages us to stare down adversity with a can-do mindset, overcome their self-limiting doubts, and come out stronger on the other side.

As Laird said, “When you get comfortable in discomfort, you can handle just about anything in life.”

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