Thematic Analysis of Performance Psychology Interviews
Note: this can be viewed in (printable) document format (46 pages) by clicking here. The link is viewable to users inside the Renaissance School domain.
This original research project was conducted with the intent of identifying a collective opinion (corresponding to each field) on specific performance psychology subjects. Along with gathering this general opinion, certain examples given by the interviewees could be useful in the thesis paper portion of this project.
Interviewees from the fields of business, theatre, musical performance, sports, and esports were contacted and interviews were requested from each of them.
The topics discussed in these interviews were then divided into seven themes, which were separated into multiple sub-themes. These sub-themes were then recorded as present or non-present for each interview in a spreadsheet. The themes were as follows: relaxation, focus, flow, stress (and anxiety), over-training (and burnout), self-talk, and pre-performance routines.
Some interviews were divided into separate sections for the sake of specificity. For example, the interview with Dr. John Raglin was divided into a sports section and a business section to specify which use-cases he was referring to with his given opinion.
A boolean representation system is used to indicate whether or not an item is present, with one (1) to denote that an item is present and zero (0) to denote that an item is not present.
From there, the entries were averaged between interviewees in each field to gain an idea of the collective consensus of professionals in the field. Fields that only had one correspondent were left as is. Numbers closer to one represent greater general opinion in agreement with the subject item, whereas numbers closer to zero represent a generally less favorable opinion on the item. The overall results of the interviews were then averaged, both weighted and unweighted, to gain an overall consensus on proper practices.
The thematic analysis spreadsheet can be found by clicking the hyperlinked text. There is not a viable way to embed this spreadsheet or display it as a graph, as the graph would be too small to read the specifics of each column. The link is viewable to users inside the Renaissance School domain.
With respect to the relaxation theme, the general consensus was that relaxation of some variety was an important pre-performance goal. The theatre professionals were mostly in agreement and they were the only group that generally considered meditation to be an important tool. Aside from them, Mr. Caplan was the only individual who highlighted his use of meditation as a pre-performance routine, however
The focus theme had high levels of agreement overall. The interviewees generally agreed that having the ability of selective attention, having a defined task, and having passion for your field are all important components to success within their fields. The overall opinion on goal-setting was nearly even. Again, the theatre professionals were in almost complete agreement. The interviewees who discussed business were also in agreement.
The flow theme was also a site of general agreement. Most of the interviewees agreed that they needed a lack of self-consciousness and needed to be absorbed in their task to achieve flow or success in their profession. About half of the interviewees mentioned that feedback was a necessary component in the onset of flow.
The sole item in the stress and anxiety theme that was agreed upon was that a low amount of stress or anxiety would be optimal for the profession. The theatre and sports professionals listed the possibility of high-anxiety states being optimal for performance and exclusively Dr. John Raglin gave an indication that the overall optimal arousal states of performers followed the inverted-u hypothesis.
All of the interviewees acknowledged the presence of over-training in their fields, however they were only able to agree on one component of it — the inability to emotionally withstand the continued completion of a task. Some participants cited a loss of balance in life as part of overtraining and others also cited physically “overdoing it,” however these two were not generally agreed upon, especially for less physical occupations. Contrary to the expectation, theatre professionals generally did not list physical strain as a possibility, but mostly agreed that the loss of balance in one’s life could cause the onset of overtraining syndrome or burnout.
The overall opinion on self-talk was that positive self-talk is usually constructive and negative self-talk is most often destructive, however certain interviewees found that negative self-talk, also referred to as defensive pessimism can also be a helpful tool. Notably, Dr. Sean Flannery said that he did not advocate for the use of any form of self-talk and preferred other emotional regulation tools, such as breathing exercises.
For pre-performance routines, only one interviewee — Ms. Elizabeth Wiley — directly suggested that performers warm up vocally. Ms. Wiley and Mr. Caplan also cited rigorous physical activities as proper pre-performance routines. There was no generally-approved pre-performance routine, however the most popular ones included light physical activity, proper nutrition, visualization of the impending activity, breathing exercises, and execution of a related task. Additionally, the most agreed-upon aspect of performance preparation was the achievement of ‘balance’ in one’s life.
Importantly, contrasting with the rest of the professionals, Mr. Ronald Kim, the esports professional, did not list overtraining as a possibility, was not in favor of any of the sub-themes of relaxation, and did not mention selective attention, the presence of a defined task, or the importance of goal-setting. Mr. Kim did, however, list positive self-talk as a helpful emotional regulation tool. This suggests that esports is the least-developed field with respect to performance psychology. This conclusion is supported by the fact that he has recently taken a break from coaching to pursue a career in live streaming, so he would likely be unaware of the developments in the past few months.
Additionally, the theatre interviewees were much more aware of sports psychology and performance psychology concepts. They cited certain iconic figures from the sports psychology world, including Csikszentmihalyi, the author of the book Flow, which revolutionized the sports psychology industry.
These results could be skewed by the slight differences in questions between interviewees and were certainly skewed by the fact that only one esports interviewee agreed to an interview. In the event that this original research project is repeated, it would likely be more optimal to contact a larger number of professionals with a general-purpose questionnaire instead of one-on-one interviews. Response collection would then be vastly simplified and the larger sample size of the project could solidify the conclusions drawn from it.
As expected, a range of results were obtained through the interview process. Generally, certain components of each theme were agreed upon. Also as expected, the esports professional that I was able to interview was not very aware of performance psychology concepts. Zen was a common theme amongst almost half of the interviewees, which was somewhat unexpected. Finally, everyone had experienced flow to some degree and were at least primitively aware of the concept. In conclusion, a greater assessment of the state of performance psychology in esports may be necessary to draw more concrete conclusions.
The remaining portion of this paper is composed of the interview transcripts used to generate this data.
Interview with Dr. Elizabeth Cantrell
The following interview was conducted through a Zoom meeting. Below, is a transcript of the conversation in that Zoom meeting. While most of the exact grammatical conventions used in the interview were preserved, stutters and filler words have been mostly removed. The interview has also been lightly edited to be more smoothly read in a text format.
William: How did COVID-19 affect your industry and have you instructed your students or have you yourself been using any mental tools to cope with COVID-19 induced stress or anything during performances?
Dr. Cantrell: We haven’t had very many performances; that’s one of the things about that is that I am playing very little outside [my] home. I’m teaching all my lessons on zoom. Coping with that, with teaching, I have to use a lot more words, so I have performance anxiety because it feels to me like I’m having to learn this new way to work and this new way to communicate and a lot of the information that a teacher gets — a person gets — is non-verbal and has to do with the room and I’m not receiving that in the same way, so I’m having to develop different a different skill set I guess. Different antennae perhaps, you know different way to use the radar. The live performances, we wore masks [to] and set far apart and that was also a different experience because the facial expressions are missing and, again, when you’re further away and you don’t have your peripheral vision, you don’t sense the other performers as well so that did feel anxious. That was crazy-making. For students I think we actually, the advanced group performed for each other and then we talked about how it felt to do that and they all said yes, they felt jittery and that manifested in different ways, but I think the main thing we did that helped was that they realized that everybody else is experiencing the same thing and that they’re going to live through it — nobody will die, even though they might wish they could and that there there are you know strategies that you can bring to that moment that can mitigate it somewhat until it passes and so for me personally, when I perform, my least open learning window is auditory which is terrible for a musician but it shuts down when I get under stress, right? And so all I can hear in my ears is the ocean. I can’t hear what I’m doing for a few minutes and then it kind of relaxes and so then I’ve had to to learn that, first of all I’m not gonna die, I’m not sick, this is, you know, this is just a normal thing for me and that I can watch the strings and watch the bow and try to rely on my kinesthetic feedback to know whether it’s going okay or not and then it will fade. Eventually it doesn’t happen anymore and I think describing that to the students and asking them how things felt to them, some of them had that same experience. Some of them felt like they couldn’t feel anything; some of them felt like they couldn’t see anything.
I think it was just sort of helpful to make it normal and talk about it. Obviously, really good preparation helps [and] practicing performing helps, so when I was doing it every day, it didn’t bother me nearly as much as it does now because it was more normal. I think when my body wants to get tight I can do things like ground my feet, or practice breathing, or squeeze everything down as tight as I can to block the adrenaline response and then release it. Then the other thing that seems to help when I say it to the other kids — I’m not so sure it helps me, but [it] is to say, “Just think about what you got to do, kid.”
If your mind is running around like a rabbit you got to give it someplace to go and to say, “Don’t be nervous,” is just useless but you could say, “Think about feeling the string under the bow; think about feeling that you’re present here in the earth.” I’m no wiz and I don’t know a lot about the brain science but I have a lot of practical experience.
William: That kind of gets into what my next question was, but in sports, pre-performance routines can range from anything from like tightly gripping a hand warmer to saying your mantra — if that’s your thing — repeatedly. What pre-performance routines do you personally employ?
Dr. Cantrell: Let’s see. The day of a performance, I try to make sure that I’m warming up slowly and doing things that I enjoy; feeling balanced. I may go through the music really really slowly and then I’ll just think about it and I will make sure that I eat a good meal and I have a cup of coffee the right number of hours before the performance and I have favorite things that I eat on performance day like hamburgers [or] spinach.
The main thing is just to be sure I feel really prepared so the anxiety has to not just be in that moment but I have to be the right kind of stressed about the performance to be sure I’m prepared.
William: Right, so most of your pre-performance is done well beforehand, would you say?
Dr. Cantrell: Yeah, and you know, I guess if a person is yo-yo ma they had the luxury of, all day long, thinking about the performance and doing all those things, but since it’s only a piece of what I do, I have to manage the rest of the day in a way that isn’t going to tire me out too much or whatever. It’s my dogma.
William: Do you have any pre-performance routines that you instruct students to do?
Dr. Cantrell: Yes, I want them to play in the clothes they’re going to wear, so that they’re not distracted by something that feels icky, especially the shoes. Going through things slowly, being sure they get enough rest, [and] trying to take deep breaths [and] use your brain to think things through. I tell them all the same things and some of them do really well and some of them hate it and some of them completely fall apart and some of them do their best, so it’s just a really crazy different kind of thing.
William: You mentioned that, when you’re performing or when students are performing, sometimes they say they felt like they couldn’t see anything or hear anything during their performances and that’s mainly due to anxiety, right? And that can cause a blocking of, I don’t know if you’ve heard about it but, entering the flow state when you’re performing. Have you heard about or researched flow at all?
Dr. Cantrell: I’ve heard about it and I know what it feels like, but you probably know a hundred thousand times as much as I do.
William: What strategies do you use to make sure that you can get into the flow state when you’re performing and if you notice that you’re struggling to perform or a student is struggling to perform, how do you adjust for that mid-performance?
Dr. Cantrell: For me, I think concentrating on the big picture and not the details [of] what I want to convey musically or how I want it to sound or what I want to be giving.
I think for the students, that’s the same thing. It’s the difference between excellence and perfection [and] is really a kind of a terrible thing to have to live with if you like perfection, but perfection is not really very musical — computers don’t always sound musical and being in control of the technique enough to let things happen during the performance that maybe you didn’t predict and then follow those things through is what makes it happen. Kind of stepping into what’s what exists about the art and then letting it teach you instead of trying to impose on it.
Let me say, I know there’s some brain research going on with trying to induce flow because of the way the hormones work and I’ll tell you I have wondered if doing aromatherapy during some lessons might help, so that students who are succeeding can smell a certain thing and then they can recall that [feeling] or they could smell it during a performance to try to reset the brain there. I’ve never done it; it’s much too complicated for me, but I know that there’s some really interesting stuff going on with that.
William: Have you found a distinction between the performance of players that are motivated by a fear of failure and those that are motivated by a desire to succeed?
Dr. Cantrell: I think almost all of my students at some level are motivated by a fear of failure. I think all of us have that to be honest and that’s one of the benefits of thinking about what you have to do. Then, you’re not visiting all those other scenarios. The kids who perform strongly and then still feel bad about it are the ones that I worry about because you have to be able to appreciate what is working.
I suppose if you’re playing in a playoff game, accepting less than a perfect performance could mean a hundred thousand dollars of difference in your income but we’re not there. We’re sharing something from our souls and so that’s a little less [stressful]. I mean gosh it should make us really happy it can feel very personal and very vulnerable too. The kids who are afraid of failure don’t always really give themselves to it. They can’t find flow, right?
William: Going back to what you said earlier about live performances that were really spaced out, do you think that accentuates this fear of failure because you have less chances to perform and to succeed?
Dr. Cantrell: Yeah, I think, just because it’s unfamiliar, the things that we feel successful at are generally familiar feeling, even if you’ve never done it before. You do it and it works and it feels sort of normal it’s like you just should be there all the time.
William: One of the final things I wanted to talk about was about management of success. I don’t know if it’s that prevalent in musicianship but it’s super important in sports. For example, if a player has a really good game and then they make the news or something and there are a lot of articles written about them and they suddenly rise to popularity, it can be overwhelming or can really accentuate their egos and both of those things can ruin their performance. Even in the middle of a game, if you are suddenly succeeding by a vast margin and then you realize that, you can start to like throw your lead and the opponents can catch up. Do you have any strategies for success management that you use or that you instruct performers to use either in the performance or before or after performances?
Dr. Cantrell: That’s a really great question and I think it’s the same for us. The minute we let down our vigilance, [we] will mess up I call it the ‘horse sees the barn syndrome’ (and loses his discipline) and I have one student in particular [who] I’m thinking of who can play really hard passages really well and then the easy ones sound terrible and that’s just a lack of respect for every note. That is not acceptable in the same way it wouldn’t be acceptable to lose your focus even if the play feels easy, so I think the same mental space is that you have to always be respecting what you’re doing believing that you need to pay attention to it and then just staying right there.
William: Specifically after performances do you ever find that aspect necessary to manage success. If you have a really good performance, how would you go about that and then how would you go about helping a student do that?
Dr. Cantrell: I think the same way I would. We just get back to work on all of the details. Every single note has to matter, every single note has to be prepared, every single note has to be attended to. I did hear — I have not experienced it with a student and only with my own self — that I’ll say, “phew” and I’ll make a stupid error. That kind of stuff. I did overhear someone ripping a new one on a student who had not taken her preparation seriously because she felt she was going to be fine and she did fine but her work was insufficient and not appropriate and she got scolded.
And she’s shaped up. That’s good, so I think it has to do with an attitude of respect for others [and] respect for self. Respect for what you’re doing. I call it the integrity test. You have to always do your best even when no one’s looking
William: Right, well thank you so much that concludes my questions.
Interview with Dr. John Raglin
The following interview was conducted through a phone call. Below, is a transcript of the conversation in that phone call. While most of the exact grammatical conventions used in the interview were preserved, stutters and filler words have been mostly removed. The interview has also been lightly edited to be more smoothly read in a text format.
William: How has COVID-19 affected your research?
Dr. Raglin: Right now, I’m working on one major project with another colleague where we had funding to bring people in and to [do] exercise training and look at some outcomes including psychological outcomes and once COVID happened, the university basically shut down all research involving human subjects. For a long time, it ended. Period. We had no opportunity to do any research and then they slowly rolled out rule changes where we could do online and non-face-to-face and finally we’ve reached the point now where we actually have started training these individuals. We bring them into a gym and they do certain types of training and actually we’re looking at supplements and what they do. We’re slowly getting back to some sort of semblance to normality but there’s still lots of restrictions and up to this point we have only completed five participants, but at least we’re doing that. It’s had a major impact and it continues to have an impact in terms of limiting, obviously for the sake of safety, face-to-face interactions and so on and I think it’ll probably continue for the next year. We’ll just have to see how with things that are changing with the vaccines and stuff, but it’s had a big impact.
William: In training individuals, are these individuals like competing athletes or are they just healthy?
Dr. Raglin: That’s a good question. This study is not with athletes, [but] my colleague’s actually doing a study looking at athletes and COVID, but this [study] is with middle-aged women and they’re doing exercise training, but we’re giving them a supplement that usually has been given to athletes — and that’s nitrite or nitrate — which was originally [contained within] beetroot juice and now they’re over-the-counter sports drinks that have nitrate in [them]. We’re trying to see whether the nitrate, which helps athletes, will have a similar beneficial effect for middle-aged women doing kind gym exercise. We have a placebo in there too. One of the reasons we’re using this particular product is because this is one of the few versions that has a placebo, so we’re testing the placebo effect too with these individuals.
William: What was your opinion on the use of inventories and models such as — I’m assuming you’re familiar with the STAI —
Dr. Raglin: Oh yeah.
William: — in less physical sports settings?
Dr. Raglin: Well, first, we use the STAI for almost all our IZOF research. Other people use different questionnaires Hanin, who you know developed the model, actually has this very fancy questionnaire, but the STAI is a well-validated measure of anxiety, so it’s very handy in this regard. I will say that Hanin actually uses it with people in the business world, so he feels that it’s an approach [to] this variability idea that works not just with athletes and I would agree with him on that. I haven’t really done any research with esport athletes but to me it makes a lot of logical sense that they also would have a lot of variability in the level of anxiety they experience and what helps or hurts them when they’re competing. And other emotions as well because generally speaking, we see this sort of individual variability in all the circumstances that we’ve looked at. Sometimes there’s more of it, sometimes they’re less, so I think it would be very interesting to study with e-athletes and a really easy way to do that would be to give them the STAI with the instructions that we use to find out what their optimal zone is and basically give the questionnaire. Ask how you feel right now, but you change the questionnaire to say, “while you’re having [a] memory of your very best performance” or “your recollection of how you feel when you’re doing very very well.” Fill out this questionnaire based upon your memory of that, so it’s what we call a recall test and you could collect that very quickly on a whole bunch of esport players and then examine it to see what level of variation there is. So we’ve done that type of approach with athletes and I think it would work really well in that case too.
William: I’ve heard arguments, reading in the past, that the IZOF and, in some cases the STAI, are less applicable to less physical settings like Hanin’s use of it in the business world, as you mentioned. I’ve heard arguments against that uh that the IZOF model is kind of based around physically exerting sports and that that would reduce the effectiveness of it. What do you think about that?
Dr. Raglin: I think if it was less effective in these other sports, the circumstances would just show that there’s just less variability. In other words, I think you know an argument conceptually could be made that maybe in certain sports, you’re not going to see the wide range of optimal anxiety going from super low to super high that you might [see] with exertional sports, but even if that’s the case, what the IZOF does is [it] allows you to determine, through research, what that range is. I’ll give you an example. We did a study with cirque du soleil circus artists because they have a lot of cases of injury and we were interested in their optimal anxiety and what that would be and whether that could be an issue in whether they get injured or not. We found kind of what I was describing. In their case there were far fewer of them who did best with really high anxiety than we found in our athlete samples, like with track athletes and so on. So, the range was sort of from low to moderate and there are lots of individuals that scored all throughout that range, but only about 10 or so had high levels. In other words, what we found was [that] there was variability, but it was a little bit more constrained. It wasn’t quite to the range that we found and I think that’s the nice thing about it. It doesn’t argue against the IZOF, it just sort of argues against one of the tenets, which is [that] you’re going to find this big wide range. Well, not always. Now the reason I think that occurred is that these cirque du soleil performers are not like athletes. They are athletes, but they aren’t like athletes in that they [(the athletes)] have one or two competitions a week or so. They [(cirque du soleil performers)] perform five days a week, two shows a day and so that’s like, “Wow, you’re doing it so much!” and no wonder they don’t do so well with high anxiety because you can imagine, if you have to get yourself all jazzed up twice a day, you just get tired emotionally. The other thing is, that I learned in doing the study, is that they look like they’re doing these death-defying things. Sometimes, they really are, but for them, they’re so good at it, it’s sort of easy so it’s not an all-out performance. Almost like training in a way, I think it is probably true that the IZOF is going to alter somewhat for certain events where you’re not going to see particularly so many people who do well with really high anxiety like we find with athletes, but it kind of doesn’t argue against it. It just says, “well you know, in certain events, there’s probably going to be less variability.” What I do think though, is it’s not going to be like the inverted-U, where for this sport, everybody’s only in the middle or moderate range. You’re still going to find people at the lower end, maybe not so much in the higher end. I think in some ways yeah the answer to that could be yes, but it doesn’t mean that you throw away the IZOF, it’s just like it reveals something different about certain sports or certain activities that that are not the same for athletes, where we find these big giant ranges, but I will say [that] even in sports like golf that we’ve done IZOF studies [on], we found individuals who do well with really high levels of anxiety. Golf isn’t an exertional sport, but they were serious golfers, so it was a very high performance, competitive sport. That might be the issue there. That’s a long answer to it, but I think [it’s] a really good question.
William: Thank you, so the next question I wanted to ask was: In your experience, does over-training syndrome apply to areas outside of sports like work and educational settings and specifically, like you just mentioned in the cirque du soleil study, did you find any examples of it there?
Dr. Raglin: We did not include retrospective assessments, so this was a one-time assessment of these individuals and, to determine [that], I would be shocked if we didn’t find it with them because their their seasons are so long, but we didn’t use the type of questionnaires where we ask them are they experiencing it now or have they in the past, but what we did do is we used the profile of mood states, which we use in a lot of our over training research and typically with athletes we’ve seen. You’ve probably already seen this in some of the papers, the iceberg profile, where they look really good psychologically and these athletes did not have it. They had a flattened version and that’s something that we see in swimmers after they’ve been training for two or three months, so to me what that meant was that these circus athletes are between their training and performing they’re already a pretty hard workload which over a protracted course of time, I think would make them more likely to become classically overtrained. Yeah I think that could happen with them. With non-athletes, I think the work-to-recovery issue is just as applicable. If there’s too much work and too little recovery, then they could have problems, but I think that there are some differences between what they would experience and the athletes who develop over-training would be and so in the workers’ cases, I think it would be a bit more akin to what’s called burnout, which is sometimes a term that’s confused with over-training, but sometimes can both occur, but generally speaking, they’re different and so the unique thing with athletes is that the stresses that they’re exposed to are primarily training and physical work-related stresses whereas with most modern workers, it would be more psychological-related stressors and that would change the symptomology. In other words, the athletes would see training related stressors and physiological markers that show, “oh, you’ve been training really hard and you’re cortisol and creatine kinase [levels are high], where I wouldn’t expect to see that in workers. But I think some of the symptomology, they could get to the point where there are mood disturbances — they’re depressed, they may suffer from a loss of motivation, but then they’ll have some other symptoms that probably the athletes wouldn’t. I’ll give you one example. We think that when athletes become over-trained, they may sort of lose their motivation, but they haven’t lost their interest in sport. They kind of want to get back into it for the most part, unless they’re kind of done with things. When people become burned out from a work situation — from too much work and so on — generally speaking, the last thing they want to do is go back to work. It’s like they’re finished. They want to get out of it and so I think that’s one of the big distinctions between overtrained athletes and what you might see in the workplace. This motivation and incentive to return to duty so to speak, but there’s certainly a lot of similarities. I think one of the things we’re thinking about doing now is looking at cancer patients and exercise because they have such low abilities to exercise, it may take a very small dosage to overtrain them, so it would be kind of the same thing but it’s just that they get overworked so much easier. I think there are a lot of parallels, but I think there are also a few important differences too. The other thing is that, when athletes become over trained, they often undergo what we call “periodized training cycles,” where they go up and then they go down and they go up and down to try to maximize their performance and typically speaking when they’re at the very peaks of their training, that’s where they have the problems. Well, in the workplace, it’s a little bit different. It’s just the grind. The endless grind, so it’s a lot all the time and athletes typically don’t train that way, so that’s another difference.
William: Should emotional assessment inventories like the STAI as you mentioned earlier, or the POMS be used regularly in the workplace to assess the emotional states of workers like, for example if a business wants to assess their workers rates of anxiety or feelings of anxiety to improve the work environment, should they use emotional assessment inventories [to do so]?
Dr. Raglin: I think conceptually that makes a lot of sense and I think that there would be a lot of good reasons that that could help burnout in the workplace or depression or other emotional disorders or problems that aren’t evident, so I think conceptually, sure but just as in the case of sport, there’s some challenges and one of the things that we always have to be careful of is that, first of all with the athletes, it has to be entirely voluntary. They shouldn’t be forced or coerced or feel pressured to participate because they simply may not want to or it’s private information and then even if they give permission, we have to protect their data so in the case of research, we can’t have any what we call ‘identifiers’ where it’s clear from the paper who the athlete we were studying and what their results are. That has to be blinded and we also have to protect the data so if someone found it, they couldn’t they wouldn’t see the athlete’s name on it. There are very elaborate procedures for blinding the data when we collect research. The third thing we have to do is that we have to have either permission to allow that information to be shared with coaches or trainers where they could make a decision to alter their training if that’s what we’re looking at or we have to guarantee that they can’t get a hold of if the athletes don’t want to. In the workplace, you’d have to say ‘all right well, we’re going to collect this information, it’s going to be private unless you want to share it, and if you want to share it, here are the procedures for doing so and it will have no effect on you.’ This is the important thing with athletes. The results would have no effect on your position, so in other words you know the athlete, who in trouble psychologically, the coaches couldn’t use that to get rid of the athlete or take them out of play unless the athlete agreed to that in the first place. Say, ‘well you can’t demote somebody or fire them, this is only to be used to help them.’ What I mean is you have to have guidelines, protections, and a game plan for how it will be used, but I don’t know if that’s being done, but I think it would make sense to do something like that because we think it could really help with athletes. In the studies that we’ve actually done this, we changed their training based upon what we find, it allows them to keep training, to recover, and [to] compete and of course the business world, if they’re important, allow them to continue working and be successful and be healthier, so if that’s the goal, I’d say absolutely no. I’ll say one more thing. My wife teaches the business school — I’m gonna ask her about this because I don’t know if you have run across anything where it sounds like they’re doing this in a business or I haven’t really and I was very surprised to not really find anything about that. I’ve seen studies done in the workplace, but i’ve never seen a business actually use any of these inventories to rate the psychological states. They use them to hire people, so there’s one called Myers-Briggs, which is sort of a personality test and it’s been used for years and years and years to help make hiring decisions.
It’s almost akin and this happens in sports psychology, where there are people who feel you can use psychological questionnaires to identify who should be on a team or who should be drafted and they do that. I don’t think it works. I have another paper, if you needed more reading where I talk about that and there are psychological differences between successful and unsuccessful athletes, but they’re not different or consistent enough to be used as a tool to select them. And so that’s how it’s used in business though, as part of their hiring decisions are sometimes based on these questionnaires, but to use them afterwards to help maintain or monitor the health [of] their employees, I don’t know.
William: As a follow-up question, I wanted to ask — you mentioned earlier, in your over-training studies, that you were using the POMS frequently. Do you have any inventories or questionnaires that uh are designed to find like specific markers of overtraining?
Dr. Raglin: Yeah and I can send you a copy too. The POMS just measures how the athletes feel and how they [have felt]. It’s been shown to be very consistently related to their training, but we also have developed — and other people have — to these simple, symptomatic measures we have what we call the 24-hour history scale. Basically, it says, “how many hours of sleep did you get; how many do you usually get?” so you can compare the two…
… “how sore are you from one to seven scale?” and then “how heavy do you feel?” Heaviness turns out to be a really strong marker of athletes who are at risk of overtraining. Swimmers say they feel like they’re sinking in the water and runners say their legs feel heavy so that’s a symptom I would be shocked if business workers [had]. So that’s one of the distinctions and then we have a couple of other questions too. Basically physical and perceptual feelings — like “how hard was your workout yesterday?” and we compare that to how the rest of the team does and they can feel that in a minute. We also have, in one of the versions, this short version of the POMS that I came up with a number of years ago. That seems to work really well and there are other researchers that have their own version of these types of things. I’ll send you a copy of it after our talk [so] you can take a look at it and even experiment with it if you want, but you’ll see it’s really clear what we’re kind of trying to get out there and the interesting thing is that the athletes, after they do this, figure out that it means something because they’re often very skeptical about questionnaires and so on they don’t want to do it.
William: Do you regard positive self-talk as an effective means of regulating emotion?
Dr. Raglin: Oh, certainly in regulating emotions. I think it can help in reducing anxiety and increased feelings of confidence. Now, the question is does that have an impact directly on your performance? In other words, it can make you feel better, but does making you feel better have the positive impact that most sports psychologists think that it does and I would say, in some cases, yes, but I would say if it does, maybe it does because you’re regulating your feeling state. There’s also some research that show[s] — and we’ve done some studies on this — that there’s certain athletes that get down on themselves and motivate themselves so it’s almost like they’re playing the bad coach. “Come on, you got to do it, you’re screwing up, you’re messing up,” so it’s almost like negative self-talk and we did a study where we found that some athletes are what we call defensive pessimists. They say, “Oh you’re not going to do very well,” [to themselves] and it’s not because they’re bad, it’s because they’re good but they downplay their performance and it lets them off the hook. In other words, “Yeah, this isn’t going to go very well,” and so if they don’t think it’s going to go very well then they’re a little less pressured, which helps them to relax, so I would say, in some cases yeah absolutely it’s going to work the way people hope that it works and I would say in other cases, it may make you feel better, but it may not impact your performance the way you’d hoped that it would. Because sometimes, feeling better doesn’t mean that you do better. But I also think that there are athletes that work when they have this negative mindset where they threaten themselves. It’s like they light a fire under themselves and I think it’s more [of] an individual different sort of thing, so yes I’d say in some cases for sure. The other thing — it’s funny because I’m going to have a question on positive self-talk in my final — is that’s a procedure that takes a little while to do and there are steps to it where you replace a negative thought that comes into your mind with a positive thought and then you think about a positive or desirable form change and so on. So you have to be in a situation where you can go through the entire script and, if you’re in the middle of the heat of competition, that can be very difficult. It’s not impossible to do. If you’re a sprinter, you thought you were going to win the race and in the middle of it, you’re behind, you know it’s too late, so I think [it’s] limited to certain sporting situations. Golf would be perfect or any other self-initiated sport. What I mean by that [is] where you can stand on the edge of the diving board and go through your routine and then do the dive right versus a case where you’re at the starting line the gun goes off it’s too late now. That type of thing.
William: Kind of as a follow-up to that, would you consider it to be a self-administered placebo because nothing physically is changing, but it can sometimes increase performance?
Dr. Raglin: That’s a very good question. I’d say the answer to that is yes, so in other words any sort of psychological intervention that creates an expectation of doing better will likely or more likely result in an improvement. So yes, absolutely. My friend and one of the co-authors in that one paper you read, Chris Beatties, actually had a paper where he talked about “Are all sports psychology interventions placebos?” I don’t know the answer to that, but I would say all sports psychology procedures have potential placebo effects. In other words, there’s some medications [where] it’s like there’s not going to be much of a placebo to that, but in certain cases, yes [there is] and so because all sports psychology interventions, along with what you’re doing [such as] relaxation or positive self-talk or imagery, are also packaged with the expectation that that’s going to benefit you. That’s one of the two mechanisms of the placebo effect so, was there any harm in that? I’d say no, unless you’re saying that it’s the same as something that we know actually works. And now we tell people you know this may be a placebo effect and we know placebo effects don’t have active ingredients but we also know that brain it can respond profoundly to placebos and that’s a real change that your brain makes, so in other words, you’re telling people that placebos are not just fake stuff. That they have real outcomes, so yes that’s a really good question. You obviously read those papers pretty carefully.
William: Do you find that any emotional regulation strategies specifically stand out to you amongst the others?
Dr. Raglin: To be honest, I haven’t studied those specifically and my research is a little bit more basic, where I’m simply asking the first question, “Are there differences; what are the consequences?” and we don’t do so much [of] the follow up question, [like] what you’re getting at. What we do to help — there is a researcher named Claudio Robazza who does a lot of IZOF research and he and Hanin have a technique that they’ve developed for helping re-regulate emotions when you’re outside [of] your optimal zone. They’ve done a lot of research to support it and it makes a lot of sense. Whatever that is, unfortunately the name of it escapes me, that’s a carefully studied and theoretically logical approach. They do a lot of work on that, so that’s what we call more applied research, which is research where you try not only to answer the question but also to solve the problem. And they’ve done a lot of work to try to solve that emotion and optimal performance problem.
William: One of my last questions is: Do you think that the IZOF model could be adapted for use on research teams to achieve optimal performance during researching?
Dr. Raglin: I would say yeah, you could certainly test for that. The one thing you could say is, “when you feel like you’re in an optimal research setting with your colleagues, what’s your level of anxiety?” or “what’s your emotional state?” and then you could find out what it is and you could look to see if there’s a discrepancy or not. It would also be interesting to see whether everybody in the research team is at the same level or not. In other words, whether there’s a team consistency, and if you found that, [you] know how to help them or if you find that some people have to be really relaxed and some get really into it. I would maybe not [be] anxious, but sort of energized, sort of tense. That would be fascinating. I think it would be the latter because I’ve been in things where people you know when they do these things you could see they get really excited right and they really get into it and others kind of sit back and be calm and sort of let their mind go where it will. I don’t know if that’s just an observation.
William: Alright, awesome. Thank you so much for agreeing to interview…
Interview with Dr. Lori Freeman
The following interview was conducted over email and is an exact copy of Dr. Freeman’s words. The questions were numbered for the sake of convenience and are pasted above the responses to them. It is also important to note that this interview was not conducted as part of this original research project, but was a separate interview for the senior thesis paper. As some of the topics were discussed anyways, the interview was included here as well.
1. First, a personal question. How was your business affected by the COVID-19 pandemic? Did you simply move to an online format, or was there an adjustment period? More specifically, what methods have you recommended for your athletes with regards to dealing with COVID-19 induced stress?
When the COVID pandemic hit, I transitioned my services to telemedicine, using a HIPAA-compliant website called Doxy, to offer ongoing services. I have used this program in the past on rare occasion with clients who were unable to make it into the office for various reasons. While not as ideal as in-person sessions, this telemedicine platform has allowed me to continue treatment relatively seamlessly through the pandemic. The biggest struggle for clients in adjusting to this mode of therapy was finding private space within their own home to have the sessions. Some clients did their sessions from their car, others found quiet spaces outside, if they were unable to have privacy in their home (e.g., college students who share a dorm room with a roommate, or clients whose family was nearby or able to hear conversations through the walls).
There has been significant adjustment for all of us in the COVID-19 pandemic, but athletes have had to manage variables that have been stressful and difficult. This spring, many athletes grieved the loss of their seasons for which they had worked so hard. Others have had to deal with great uncertainty about the future of their athletic careers with the unknown of future competitive seasons. Olympic athletes have had to adjust their training, expectations, and goals with the delay of the Tokyo Olympics to 2021. I have encouraged a mindset of “controlling the controllables,” focusing on the aspects of their lives of which they have direct influence (how they sleep, eat, and take care of themselves, other projects or tasks they can do to feel productive, working on mental skills when they cannot train physically). Mindfulness has been a large part of my practice since I began this work, and I have continued to encourage athletes to use mindfulness as a strategy for managing stress on a daily basis.
2. On your website, you mentioned helping to manage success as one of the aspects of your work. How do you typically recommend doing this and what are some easily identifiable indicators that an athlete is in need of this? Is every athlete inherently in need of this?
This concept of “managing success” may seem like an oxymoron. However for some athletes, success can be a difficult experience to cope with effectively. Whether an athlete achieves quick success (e.g., a young athlete having the “race/game of her life”, qualifying for an Olympic team at a young age) or is suddenly in the spotlight (e.g., a back-up quarterback who assumes the starting role after a teammate suffers an injury), success can be a difficult adjustment. Further, some athletes struggle with success when a sport that they had previously loved and done “for fun” suddenly becomes a “job” (e.g., an athlete becoming a professional in their sport). Not every athlete struggles with these adjustments, but some do, and it is an important part of my work with athletes as they navigate their careers. To manage success, I encourage athletes to identify and understand what their values are for their sport – why they do what they do, why they love their sport – and set goals that are aligned with those values. It is also important to normalize their experience, acknowledging the challenges associated with success, and refocusing on doing the things that got them there in the first place. For many athletes, it is a reminder that they don’t have to do anything differently just because they are amidst that success (whether on an Olympic team, playing professionally, or adjusting to a starting role).
3. What is your personal favorite mental tool to mitigate mid-game anxiety for athletes? My favorite is conscious acceptance of the negative emotions you may feel expressed through positive self-talk, as a means of moving past those emotions. Do you find this to be a successful method of managing negative emotions?
Acceptance is a HUGE part of my work with athletes, particularly in managing “negative” emotions during competition (or practice). While years back we thought that it was best to try to “stop” negative thoughts from entering and to find and stay in an “optimal” state in which to perform at the highest level, the current research suggests that accepting our negative thoughts, letting them be there without attending to them (in essence, mindfulness), is a far more successful strategy for optimizing performance.
In preparation for mid-game anxiety, I have athletes engage in visualizations. While it’s helpful to visualize when things go perfectly in a competition, it is just as (if not more) critical to visualize when things go wrong and, most importantly, visualize how you cope with your emotions and the situation when things don’t go as planned. Practicing these mindfulness and positive self-talk techniques during a visualization helps them become more accessible when stress is high in a competitive situation. Similarly, practicing these skills in practice is necessary for them to be utilized in competition. We can’t expect a skill to show up automatically in a game situation when we haven’t been practicing them on a regular basis.
Just like with anxiety in non-competitive situations, our brains tend to focus on the negative or “worst-case scenario” when in a state of stress or anxiety. So, identifying those negative thoughts and reframing them to something positive (consider the “best-case scenario”, or even the “most-likely case scenario”) helps our brain think more flexibly. Just like we stretch before and after practice, using this mental skill helps build the flexibility in our brain to be able to not just think of the negative in an anxiety-provoking situation, but also catch ourselves in that process and refocus on what is positive.
4. Finally, what methods do you employ to help athletes return to their sport after recovering from an injury? How many (or what percentage of) athletes do you estimate successfully return to their sport after an injury without guidance and to what degree does that number change with guidance?
While I don’t have specific data on how many athletes seek psychological support as the rehabilitate from an injury, there is ample research suggesting the benefits of seeking support in adjusting to injury, managing rehabilitation, and returning to sport post-injury. Injury in sport can elicit a number of stressors on the athlete: to name a few, trauma related to the injury itself, change in status/role on the team, grief of loss of identity through being sidelined (or retired due to injury), and stress related to rehabilitation process. Providing group support to injured athletes can be immensely helpful, as athletes can provide and receive support to and from others that are experiencing similar difficulties. Hearing that others are facing similar challenges, and being able to share one’s experiences with fellow athletes is useful. In individual sessions, allowing space for an athlete to grieve the loss associated with an injury is important (whether missing a game, a season, or a change in career trajectory).
During the rehabilitation process, I encourage athletes to focus on their rehabilitation and mental skills training just as they would their physical training. We know the use of visualization can strengthen muscle memory similar to actual physical movement, so using this tool is invaluable during an athlete’s physical rehabilitation. Setting goals (and adjusting goals dependent on recovery) is important for maintaining motivation for rehab. Further, finding new roles for the athlete to embody during their recovery (shifting from being a leader on the field to being a leader in the locker room, in team events, etc) can help injured athletes feel a continued sense of purpose and identity within their sport.
Some athletes are able to employ these mental skills with minimal or no professional support, while others may need more guidance. While there is no right or wrong in seeking support, it is important for athletes to know that seeking help is a sign of strength, rather than one of weakness. Having coaches and team culture support help-seeking behaviors is important to increasing accessibility to care.
Interview with Dr. Sean Flannery
The following interview was conducted over email and is an exact copy of Dr. Flannery’s words. The questions were numbered for the sake of convenience and are pasted above the responses to them.
1. First, I’d like to ask a personal question. How has COVID-19 affected your work with athletes?
I was actually not working with athletes when COVID hit, as I was still in internship at a VA hospital in Salem, VA. I have noticed some differences from my previous work with athletes since I started in private practice in September 2020. For one, there were no athletes looking for athletic-related work when I began, but that has shifted back to normal a bit as leagues have actually started back up. I noticed that athletes (at least those seeking help) responded in one of two extremes to COVID: they either completely dropped their sport or they went all-in since they had so much time. Both caused issues, as the former those athletes had fallen behind and/or lost some “love for the game”, while the latter became controlling to a fault; losing weight, obsessing about body image, etc. In general, COVID has shifted all therapy to a much more technology-based approached, and I see about 50% of all my clients through a Zoom-like program.
2. What is your opinion on the use of inventories and models such as the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) and Integrated Zones of Optimal Function (IZOF) model? Do you find them adequately effective in treating patients?
I don’t personally use the STAI in my practice (if I’m assessing anxiety I’ll use the Beck Anxiety Inventory for a quick questionnaire). I do implement the concepts from the IZOF model especially in athletes, but will also translate it for non-athletic issues sometimes (e.g., I will talk to parents who are worried about their child not doing well in school using the IZOF model to explain why pressing harder might be making things worse). In general, I use questionnaires and things like the IZOF model to augment the therapy that I do. It is rarely ever the basis of my treatment conceptually (i.e., the foundation for my theory as to why the client’s problems started, continue, and how they can effectively be treated).
3. What inventories or questionnaires do you tend to use to get data to help guide athletes on the mental side of performing? Why are these your preference?
Honestly, I tend not to use a lot of inventories/questionnaires with athletes UNLESS I am performing a formal psychological assessment (for ADHD, learning disabilities, etc.). My reasons are that I tend to work with high school to college-aged athletes. They likely are being bombarded from coaches, parents, recruiters, tutors, etc., every day in addition to a fairly intense training regimen. I’ve found that handing questionnaires to athletes or asking them to complete them for “homework” in between sessions is usually fruitless. IF they complete the questionnaires, it is half-hearted at best. Worse case I lose rapport with the athlete because now I’m just another adult “telling them what to do”. I lean more on assessing during conversations and observation.
4. Many of the resources I have read recently claim that positive self-talk is one of the most effective emotional regulation tools. Do you regard positive self-talk as an effective means of regulating emotion? Why or why not?
I work from the ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) model a lot of the time, and almost exclusively when I see the client is struggling with performing an action they care about but find themselves held back by thoughts and feelings. With that being said, and not getting too much into the framework of the ACT approach, I will not endorse positive self-talk. My belief is that it is like turning on another radio to drown out the radio that’s already on and playing something you don’t want to hear. What it does that is not helpful (at least in the long run) is positive self-talk creates an argument, or dynamic, within the client’s head. Part of them is yelling at them that they can’t do something and they counter by yelling back “Yes I can!” What I aim to do is to learn to stop the struggle with those thoughts (i.e., “I can’t do this”; “I’ll fail”) and feelings (i.e., anxiety, sadness) and be willing to give them space to just exist. Once we can reach this point, the client can then decide to channel the energy they would have used to argue with themselves into focusing and improving on the action that really matters to them. To more directly answer: positive self-talk is effective at regulating, but regulating itself becomes exhausting and disengages you from the task at hand (and experiencing life!)
5. What two emotional regulation tools do you recommend most frequently for athletes during competitions? Why do you think these are so particularly effective?
To build off of my last answer, I will always recommend deep-breathing techniques to athletes and will almost always include expansion. Breathing is pretty self-explanatory, so I won’t get into it, but it’s effective because it is one of the few bodily functions related to being calm or anxious that we have direct control over, and is easily accessible at any time or situation. Expansion is essentially identifying, centering in on, and allow space (and reducing tension around) a particular thought or feeling that is distressing. I find this is helpful for athletes since they can then be more willing to feel/think these while also having the benefit of pulling tension away from areas that tighten or clench when anxious (for example, clenching of the jaw or shrugging up of shoulders).
6. Overtraining syndrome, as you likely already know, is the stressing of an athlete to the point where an incomplete recovery occurs between training sessions. In your experience, does overtraining syndrome apply to areas outside of sports such as work and educational settings? Does it manifest itself differently there?
Not so much physically, but I think this can occur in almost any profession and academic setting. I believe the informal term is “burnout” and my experience is it usually manifests the same way across all settings. Specifically, what used to be enjoyable is now a burden that the person no longer wants to engage in. How people respond can vary, but typically they experience chronic stress (even when not engaging in the hated activity…worrying about what happened and what they need to do), fatigue, mood disturbances, helplessness feelings, and also grief over losing an activity that they used to love and/or found so much self-worth from.
Interview with Mr. Ronald Kim
The following interview was conducted over email and is an exact copy of Mr. Kim’s words. The questions were numbered for the sake of convenience and are pasted above the responses to them.
1. How has COVID-19 affected your work? What mental strategies have you been using to help players cope with the added stress of the pandemic?
I’m fortunate to be working in an industry that can happen entirely online, so it hasn’t personally affected my work. This is one of the major bonuses of working in the video game industry. All that is required is a computer and the internet. I’m currently not a full-time coach so I haven’t been working with players on a daily basis, but video games have been a great outlet for people to interact with their friends and family during the lockdown.
2. What pre-tournament routines do you instruct players before tournament matches?
There are two routines to consider before competing in a match. The first routine is as a team, and there are a few must-do checklist items I implement to the team, such as reviewing strategies, gameplan, scouting reports, team dinner, etc.. The second routine is that all players should work towards developing their own personal routine that works for them. I’m a firm believer that a well-developed routine greatly increases consistency.
3. What mental tools do you find to be most effective when helping players with
There are many forms of anxiety that affect players differently. The main culprits being: fear of
making a mistake/losing/letting team down, lack of self-confidence, and experience. There is a
quote “Anxiety and fear are made-up thoughts worrying about bad things that may not even
happen”. When players think about these bad possible outcomes, they are not playing in the moment which prevents them from reaching a flow state and playing with a clear mind. Confidence comes from the preparation and the experience of doing. Positive self-talk always helps “Be careful how you talk to yourself because you are listening.”
4. Have your training methods changed since your stint in eSports? If so, then how have they changed?
Although the entire industry of competitive Esports has been elevated since I played
professionally, the fundamentals always apply. Things like learning from every mistake, being a
great teammate, communicating with poise and a friendly tone, strong mechanics, efficient
scheduling and utilization of practice time, and performing under pressure. In terms of the biggest change I’ve noticed is that the pool of talent is much larger now as the prizes, tournaments, and community has grown almost 10 fold.
5. What methods do you use to manage the players?
Any successful team has found a way to utilize the max value from each member. Everyone has their strengths, so it’s figuring out how to develop this natural talent and how it fits into the teams’ goals. The other must-have managing skill is to develop your ability to understand each individual which builds rapport and helps you understand how to communicate with them. Everyone is built differently with their own personalities, temperaments, and maturity levels, so having strong emotional skills are super valuable when working with others.
Interview with Ms. Elizabeth Wiley
The following interview was conducted through a Zoom meeting. Below, is a transcript of the conversation in that Zoom meeting. While most of the exact grammatical conventions used in the interview were preserved, stutters and filler words have been mostly removed. The interview has also been lightly edited to be more smoothly read in a text format.
William: My first question is just a bit of a personal question. How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your work as a professor at William & Mary and have you been able to arrange any modified performances?
Ms. Wiley: As you can predict, it’s radically affected everything. Last March, I had just begun rehearsals for a production of She Kills Monsters and we had had a weekend of intensive stage combat training and we had launched — and of course we had the designs in place and and we were a week into rehearsals and then we had spring break. People went away for spring break and they said “Take two weeks for spring break… Maybe you shouldn’t come back at all.” You know how that went, so we had to cancel that show. At the time, we looked at an online version of it, but it was so much scramble, hurry up, pivot, “how are we teaching online?” that it was not in the cards for Spring. Over the summer, our department had a season selection [and] all the directors got together and reconsidered everything going forward. So we said, “I think we’re looking at zoom theater,” and then George Floyd was killed and all of the racial unrest [ensued] and, [we were] looking at another pandemic with with race relations in the U.S. and we pivoted our season again for the fall and decided to do works all by black playwrights this year. And all kind of a zoom theater situation. The question was — is it live [on] Zoom, or are we recording it and then streaming it? We ended up recording it and then streaming it for various reasons. For being able to use different sites or being able to pull in some alums and other actors from the our area, so that’s one of the advantages of doing Zoom theater. We could get guest directors and guest actors to join us from different areas whereas, usually that would have been prohibitive, so there’s silver linings within all of this.
William: Before the performance — the Zoom performance — does it evoke the same emotions as it did before a regular performance? Is the energy still there or is it different?
Ms. Wiley: It’s very different and we were in different places with my actors because I was part of the directing team for one of the fall things we did. So we’d talk about it, but definitely having a group together sharing that energy is something that’s harder to get that shared sense of anticipation and adrenaline. I’m sure they were still experiencing their own kind of performance adrenaline [or] anxiety, however you want to filter that, but it becomes a different experience. I did a few Zoom performances myself and it just felt that I was as a performer I was still, “I hope everything goes okay, will I remember to do this, do I have my [script] in case I forget my lines, I can look over here.” It’s very different because you don’t have that in-person audience relationship, where that feedback is immediate and tangible. In fact, one of the things we did this fall [was], we recorded it and [we] streamed it, but then had a discussion about the show. That was so that we could get a dialogue going in real time with audience members and have that sense of exchange, which you really were missing in the in the Zoom theater format.
William: Have you ever — if you need an example, I can give you one, but — have you ever worked with performers using emotion based performance analysis tools?
Ms. Wiley: I’m wondering what you have in mind when you ask that because I can say yes, but I’m happy to go into that, but what is it that you mean when you say emotion-based performance analysis tools?
William: Basically anything that takes into account the emotions that the performer is experiencing either before or during the performance and then tries to extrapolate that into how the performer did in that performance and to find the best emotion to be experiencing [during a performance]. For example uh one that’s really common is the STAI, or Stress-Trait Anxiety Inventory and that’s used to quantify stress into a number. Then, people use that with different models to determine how much stress an athlete can have to be optimally functional.
Ms. Wiley: I see. I have not heard of that being applied to actors in performance. I can see how there are so many things being measured and in a competitive field like sports that certainly performers in the arts are dealing with. How they manage stress and how they refocus that, but I’m not sure if it would be [applicable]. I’d be curious to hear about it, but I’m not sure [it] would be useful to measure it because there are different factors at play. I can mention a few things and then you can tell me what you want to hear more about. In terms of an emotional state of being to to achieve optimal performance, I would call that in actor training ‘achieving a creative state for optimal rehearsal discovery.’ All of our beginning acting classes, this is kind of a[n] “are you cut [out for this?]” — let me cut myself off in the middle of that sentence for a minute… To get into your best [mindset], where you’re going to have the best practice session or the best rehearsal or the best performance — the best place of achieving some new discoveries — that’s what I call a creative state. For actors, we’re talking [about] character emotion or we’re talking about the actor state. There’s the character and the actor and when you’re performing you’ve always got both of those awarenesses, so as the actor, I have to know that the audiences can hear and understand me. I have to know that they can see me. I have to know that I’m not going to walk into the furniture or walk off the stage into the orchestra pit, so all these technical things that I’ve got to be aware of, [but] as a character, I’m thinking of [other] different things. I’m thinking, “What is my relationship with this other character on stage? What are we trying to — what am I trying to achieve or get from that person? How am I being affected by obstacles that I run into and how do I see the world through the character’s eyes?” So those are different [and] there’s [a] balance of that dual awareness.
To help actors get into the character, there are certain things they do to get into that creative state — to be receptive to and responsive to the other to the interactions on stage and to be receptive and responsive to your own state of being. Then we can go down the road to helping actors access their own vulnerability and emotions so that they can express that through the character. There’s all these different things you’re asking of a[n] optimal performance stage for actors and athletes…
William: How do you identify what that creative state is and then how do you help individuals get into that creative state?
Ms. Wiley: There are certain elements of it that are universal, but then how each person gets to that personally could be individual. I just take a big breath and let it out. There’s all these venn diagrams where we can see where all of these things overlap — presence, being in the here and now, and the focus of attention is key to all of this — to perform your best in any situation. In a business interview and everything, you’ve got all these awarenesses, but you’re here now listening to the other person responding, being very receptive and in exchange so all of it starts for me with the physical because that’s something that we can [experience]. It’s tangible. I’m here, so how do I be here? We go through physical warm-ups that are — even if we’re not [asking], “How far [can I] throw the ball or how fast [can I] run?” there’s a physical readiness that has to do with being aware of how you’re centered and grounded in the present moment and aware of when unhelpful stresses and tensions come into play, which is usually a response [to] stage fright — fear — fight, flight, or freeze based response, [which] is a very natural response to performing. [For] yourself or for an audience or whatever. How do you deal with that stress factor [is] you have to learn how to let go of it. Ground. Center. The breath is not only a constant that is there whether you’re paying attention to it or not. Then you can pay attention to it and deepen it to support the body — to support functioning, to support your voice, to support your access to emotional response. The breath and the physical are key to all of it to be here, now. I spend weeks in it with beginning actors, just recognizing [and] learning how to— here are some exercises to help you become present — to help you deal with, to recognize [if you are] holding a lot in [your] neck and shoulders…
… It starts with a vocal physical. Starts physically and with breath moves into vocal and then, as we move into psychological [and] emotional objectives, we still tie that back to the physical. There’s always a thread that you can— “Oh, wait! Where is my mind going? I’m spinning out.” Come back to the breath. Come back to the task at hand.
William: Performing athletes commonly use mental tools like positive self-talk to remain in an optimal state of emotion during their performances. What mental tools do you suggest to students for coping with stress and anxiety during performances and why?
Ms. Wiley: I’m going to say there’s a slightly different shift of focus depending on whether you’re walking in to audition for a role versus if you’re going on stage to perform in a play. If I’m walking into [an] audition, whether I’m bringing in a prepared monologue that I know well or whether they’re going to hand me a script and I’m doing a cold reading, there’s some positive self-talk about [that]. I want to present my best self. I want to be open, available, and present. I want to be the kind of person that you want to work with for a season or a show or a summer or whatever [the duration]. We just [want] to establish that one-on-one rapport and that might happen just in that first moment of, “Hi, I’m Elizabeth Wiley and I’d like to read this monologue for you.” Part of that self-talk comes back to the physical. I’m gonna walk in, trying to be comfortable in my own skin and find what it means to be confident and self-assured and open. There might be some self-talk and you can’t put all your eggs in one basket. It’s like, “Oh my god, I have to get this job, I have to get this.” If you do that, you’re setting yourself up in that stress mode. You have to go, “Okay I’m gonna show them what I have and if it’s a match, then we could work together. Maybe, but this is just one of x many auditions and one of those is going to respond to me but you just have to have high hopes and low expectations. I used to always tell myself there’s a different way of focusing or the self-talk is a little different for a show because you’ve been in rehearsals for four five six weeks, so you know what you’re going out there to do, but there’s still this sense of liveness. You want to be responsive and behaving in the moment to get that sense of living as if for the first time — spontaneity. If an actor has pre-performance nerves before a show, they’re going to do their warm-up — their physical vocal warm-up, putting some of that energy into physical action. Some people do a very aerobic warm-up [and] some people like to do push-ups before they go on stage, just to feel like they’re really pumped. But it comes down to focusing on the task and the task is: what is it that the character wants in each moment? Konstantin Stanislavski was a late 19th century/early 20th century theater director [and] actor and he codified the early acting, modern realism acting, systems and in his book, a lot of acting students know and have read he writes about. An actor beginning acting classes and [because of] stage fright, he says, “Suddenly like everybody’s looking at me and then the lights and the audience go out and it’s pitch black out there and all these lights are on me and I just can’t think and I forget my lines and I don’t know what I’m doing,” and this was just a rehearsal in a class [and] stagehand walks across the stage and spills a box of nails. Suddenly, he’s like, “Ah, okay I’ll help you.” He gets down [on] his hands and knees and helps put all the nails back. He said, “Oh my god, in that moment when I was helping this guy pick up all these spilled nails, I wasn’t thinking about the audience. I wasn’t thinking about how I was doing something or what I looked like. I was just doing it.” That’s his tangible example of putting your attention on a task. If you keep thinking about [how you are doing or what you look like], then you’re not doing the task. That can be applied to sports or performance, but I think it’s helping actors identify [their] task[s]. That’s what you find out in rehearsals. I want to earn the respect of this other character. I, being the character, want to earn your respect and I’m going to try to do that through flattery…
William: … One article I read a little while ago listed Zen as a really important pre-performance warm-up. It was an argument in favor of zen meditation for theater purposes and basically said that everyone should meditate before a performance. Do you have any specific pre-performance routines like that?
Ms. Wiley: I think actors try lots of variations on actor warm-ups and then find out what resonates best with them. Zen meditation is something that’s definitely good for actors to try and maybe [to] practice. Some people are just like, “No I can’t. I can’t sit still long enough,” so maybe, but what that really is about awareness mindfulness. Being able to focus on the task. Getting used to the practice of focusing on my breath. Instead of then going and spinning into all those different worry places, [acknowledge that], “Wow, my brain wanted to take me there. Okay, I can come back to that when I’m done.” Instead of saying [not to] think about what’s for lunch [or] don’t think about the emails [you] have to answer, give yourself something to think about. Breath is often one of those things — or the picking up the nails on the stage [focusing] on a task. A lot of people haven’t tried or read about meditation [and] are thinking that it’s about emptying your mind. It’s not about emptying your mind, it’s about calming the noise. The noise is this unhelpful stuff. The unhelpful stuff might be little daily thoughts. It might be [that you] just had a fight with [your] girlfriend and now how can [you] play this character when [you’re] so pissed off about [that]? You have to set that over here and deal with it after this rehearsal or after this show, but for now, you learn some techniques to calm the mind [and] not let the actor emotions rule the character emotions. The goal of meditation or the practice of meditation is really valuable, but it might look very different on different people. It might be running around the building twice and then coming into the rehearsal room. It might be just sitting quietly, with your eyes shut, focusing and breathing. It might be going through a series of stretches that get you releasing the day’s built up tensions, then moving forward into voice things and maybe some interactive things with your scene partners. I should mention, having some group part of a warm-up [is important], depending on the show that you’re doing, but establishing a rapport kind of happens over rehearsals. Even in a given day, there’s the work on the self. How am I carrying my attention? Where is my mind? But then there’s also the warm up of the group and establishing a complicit readiness to respond to each other and knowing that you have each other’s back. [You know] how to support each other energetically and tell the same story [and] live in the same world. There’s some group games and things that, from the outsider might look like, “Oh, those theater games are so fun!” but they’re as strong and important to purpose as rehearsing plays on the football field. It’s both an individual and a group endeavor.
William: Have you heard of the emotion uh of flow before?
Ms. Wiley: I have.
William: How do you recall accessing that emotion specifically, like during the performance, does it come with proper preparation and just naturally fall into place, or is it something that you can more actively control?
Ms. Wiley: As a matter of fact, I have taught, for a freshman seminar, a class called presence and performance and I’ve had them read Csikszentmihalyi’s book, Flow. So much of this overlaps, so when Stanislavski, our our russian 19th century guy, talks about actors needing to find the creative state so that they can really have an inspired performance — or translate find a state of flow — you can’t just wait for the bird of inspiration to come and light upon your shoulder because [you won’t] know [if it’s] going to be a an inspired performance today or not. He says he doesn’t analyze it and break it down in the same way that Csikszentmihalyi does, but they’re still looking at different factors of how I can set myself up — how I can create an atmosphere and have the elements open to an inspired performance. How I can put myself in the best possibility for finding flow. That comes down to how you can be present right here, right now. Some of the things you’ve already talked about, and for actors being able to find, discover, and identify what to focus on and how you’re going about it in rehearsals is like in flow, finding a task that is achievable but still challenging enough. You have to feel like you’re striving for something and that it’s a little bit challenging and there’s feedback as to how well you’re accomplishing it. It’s like it wants you to keep going. When you’re when actors are naming their tasks or objectives on stage, which usually involves the other characters, if you’re on stage by yourself, you want to name things like: I want my scene partner to not to leave me; I want him to stay with me. That’s my objective. I want him to stay with me; how am I going to do it? I’m going to have a bunch of tricks up my sleeve because we use tactics every day in life. Often, they’re so subliminal, we don’t think about it. Maybe I’ll entice him to be seduced by me. Maybe I will plead with him and try to gain his pity. Maybe I will threaten him. Maybe I will play it nonchalant and think that can have a little reverse psychology. As an actor, you name these different actions — they’re psychological, but they’re physical in that I could actually grab him and keep him from leaving the room. It could make it overtly physical or it could be psychophysical in how I’m carrying my energy or how I’m looking at him. It’s physical somehow and it’s psychological and that’s part of what keeps us grounded in the moment and engaged in how we affect the future. They’re measurable because I’m getting feedback from the other actor on stage. Is he leaving? Seduction didn’t work, I’ve got to use pity. I’m gonna try something. It does parallel flow, but I used flow in that freshman performance seminar um because I love how he talks about it as a component of happiness in life. It’s how you can enjoy being and doing from daily things to larger tasks in life.
William: Another relationship with sports sort of question. I’m sure you’ve heard of over-training, but basically it’s training to the point where you can’t recover between training sessions and you can identify it because of its psychological effects like long-term mood alterations. Sometimes people get grouchy when they overtrain or they just are generally down. It also generally results in decreased physical performance, although it’s more regarded as a psychological thing rather than a physical thing. Have you noticed it or is it a common thing for performers to overtrain in theatrical performances?
Ms. Wiley: I don’t think it would be called overtraining, but I can think of a parallel and that would be what is sometimes referred to as method acting. It’s kind of an interesting misnomer because the Stanislavski method is what they’re talking about, but when Americans refer to method acting they’re really referring to how that method has evolved into a branch where film actors [feel] like [they] have to completely immerse [themselves] in the character…
… Particularly in more upper-level acting classes there’s a couple of different training methods that help actors step into and step out of character states of being. Using breath and posture and physicality can also be another key to to finding a state of being and then having the awareness to shake it off, get out of it, and just be here and now.
The equivalent of overtraining… if they’re too absorbed by the show, the character, [or] the mood, it can bleed over into their well-being and make them less receptive to the needs of the group or directors’ requests I think it can be detrimental (physically overtraining). My specialization is in voice acting and I can say that it is definitely possible to overtrain vocally — to overuse your voice, sing for too long, or from a music standpoint, it’s like “you better give yourself some vocal rest and be more aware.” I have actors come into class and it’s like, “Oh, are you an orientation aide?” and they’re going, “Yeah, I was yelling all weekend.” And it’s like “Yeah, I can tell that you’ve been yelling all weekend.” Self-care and getting your rest, taking care of yourself, [and] being hydrated help you maintain that fit[ness] physically [and] emotionally…
… Then emotional self-care is also — if you’re playing a character who has encountered violence or abuse — not that I would ask actors to reveal [that], I’m not that kind of acting teacher — but if it’s a trigger, that’s going to be an emotionally exhausting rehearsal period, no matter how much you try to separate, so yeah you have to be aware of [that]. I’ll give you a semi-related example. I’m also an audiobook narrator and, for a while, the publishers [were saying], “She speaks French and does German accents well, [so] let’s keep giving her the World War Two things and then and the holocaust stuff.” And it’s like, “Wow,” and after a string of those books, I had to say, “You guys, I am just drained. I am so drained from being in a concentration camp. Can you give me something light and fluffy for a little bit?” You have to take care of yourself and be aware of balance.
William: Alright, well those are all the questions that I had. Thank you so much…
Interview with Mr. David Dalton
The following interview was conducted through a Zoom meeting. Below, is a transcript of the conversation in that Zoom meeting. While most of the exact grammatical conventions used in the interview were preserved, stutters and filler words have been mostly removed. The interview has also been lightly edited to be more smoothly read in a text format.
William: We’ll start off with a personal question. How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your work as a professor at uva and have you been able to arrange any modified performances — maybe online Zoom plays or anything like that?
Mr. Dalton: We did an online play called Love and Information by Caryl Churchill. It’s a play that has 50 scenes in it that can be played in a number of different orders and there’s a lot of ambiguity about the meaning of each scene. She only gives you dialogue; she doesn’t give you character names or descriptions of setting or anything like that, so we cast 15 people in an ensemble of students and another professor named Mona Kasra. We gave them some introductory ideas on how to interpret the scenes and then how to stage the scenes for video and then they proceeded to film those scenes and we edited those scenes together and broadcast them. A little different from some of the zoom plays you may have seen online, where people are just reading on Zoom. It still was presented through social distancing protocols and that had quite a bit of creativity in it, which I think was interesting. Some of the students were working in the same spaces, so they had roommates who were performers or who were willing to appear in their scenes, so they would film those with people. Some people would use editing to make it appear like they were in the same space as someone else or create a scenario in which two people would be talking on the phone, where if you were doing this normally on a stage, you might not stage it that way and then we had at least one person do what’s called cloning, where she appeared on screen and then appeared on the other side of the screen. She actually did it four additional times so she appeared five times in one [scene]. That was pretty interesting. So there was a lot of challenge to doing that, but also a lot of creativity and we were really proud of what the students were able to come up with. Then in the spring, we are doing a festival of new works, which is student written plays that are normally staged by student directors and student actors, but because of the pandemic, we’re going to do them as podcasts. We’ll do audio dramas and we’re working with a professional who’s done some audio drama from a sound engineering point of view. It’s been significant — the changes that we’ve had to make, but we’ve been trying to look on the bright side, that it’s really forced us to embrace technology and we’re trying to think, “What can we do with this technology that, at least so far at UVA, we’ve had limited opportunity to employ. In the theater department, there’s been some but it’s been limited.
William: Did you find that before the performance — I don’t know if you were performing as well — but before performing, did you find that students were experiencing the same emotions? Sometimes, before a play performance or something, students get giddy or excited. Did it have the same atmosphere or were you able to gauge that at all?
Mr. Dalton: It was a little different because they were filming, editing, and then presenting, so there wasn’t the same anxiety, which is usually brought about by like, “Oh my god, there’s an audience,” and that usually raises your anxiety, but I think there was still some level of anxiety or excitement — I’m not sure, but there was definitely some excitement of some kind before we we streamed it. Then everybody watched it for the first time and then we had a small talk-back. I think there was some anxiety [from] students who had done less performing because we cast some students who had almost no performance background and had only had video production background, so they had performed in video shorts, but had never done this type of thing, so I think that increased their anxiety and then there were always anxieties about trying something new because, for the vast majority of the 15 students, they had never made a film or a video before, so that anxiety was probably pretty high.
William: That brings me to my next question. Have you ever worked with any emotion based performance analysis tools? I can give you some examples. For example, in sports, there’s a common tool called the IZOF or individualized zones of optimal functioning framework, which is where you use inventories like the STAI, or stress-trait anxiety inventory to assess the levels of each emotion and then you relate that to how the performer at a specific time using some sort of metric — maybe it’s points scored in basketball or something. And you try to find exactly what levels of which emotions are the best for performing. Have you worked with anything like that? That can look like really anything. This is more of a clinical example, but really just any way of identifying what is best for the performer and then trying to help that performer get into that.
Mr. Dalton: With the screening that you’re talking about, they’re looking at [the] level [of] self-reported emotions by the athlete, so they would say something like, “I was really angry,” and then they can later look back and say, “You scored x points when you were really angry and when you said that you were really sad, you scored y points.” Is [that it]?
William: You normally rate it on a scale of one to seven, each component of the emotion and the researchers then compile that into one number between zero and a hundred, I believe.
Mr. Dalton: Got it. I’ve never worked with anything like that. Generally, outside of something like the method um the Strasbourg method, where you are actively using sense memory to encourage emotional exploration, the general approach to emotion is that it is unhealthy to try and manipulate your own emotion for the purposes of a role. What tends to happen more is the emphasis on creating a context in which [the] emotion can occur, but not trying to force it. You’re trying to create the physical and mental conditions in which emotions can be recreated or experienced, but you’re not forcing yourself to feel anger or sadness or any particular emotion. What you’re trying to do is put yourself in a condition that is very like what the character is experiencing based on your analysis and then allow yourself, hopefully, the freedom to respond in the moment. That idea of being in the moment is very important to an actor. They’re unlikely to try and push a certain emotion so much as they’re trying to be free and open to the possibility that an emotion may occur. For example, I have a friend who who knew Philip Seymour Hoffman and, when he was appearing on broadway — in I think it may have been True West, but it also could have been a different play — my friend said that he asked Philip Seymour Hoffman about this one particular scene in the play in which one night, when he saw it, he saw him cry and another night, when he saw it, he didn’t cry. And he said, “That’s really interesting. I wonder, why did you approach it differently on different nights?” and he said that he just prepares himself for the scene and if the tears come, that’s fine. If the tears don’t come, he keeps moving because, for most actors, what they want to focus on is action and awareness so they don’t really identify emotion as much with the notable exception of those who do Strasbourg’s method. [They] then try and isolate that emotion. Does that make sense?
William: It does.
Mr. Dalton: There is a school of thought — I think I linked to [a] book, The Neuroscience of Acting book.
William: I believe so. I wasn’t able to read it, but I looked at it briefly.
Mr. Dalton: What that author does is he compiles neuroscience information on what an emotion is, so he quotes people like Antonio Damasio. Are you familiar with his work?
William: I’m not.
Mr. Dalton: He’s a neuroscience researcher who wrote a book called Descartes’ Error and the book that I’m thinking of is called The Feeling of What Happens : Body Emotion and The Making of Consciousness. He’s a researcher who really focuses on what an emotion [is] and one of the things he says is that if you go all the way back to the beginning of our modern understanding of emotion and perception, what we really think about with emotion is that it’s it’s all based on this idea like that there’s a thought experiment where you put yourself in the position of someone walking in the woods. While you’re walking in the woods, you imagine that you hear and see a bear and he said what we tend to think happens is we see and hear the bear, then we get scared because we understand, “Oh, there’s a bear,” and then we run. He said what actually happens, which neuroscience can show, and what was suggested in the 19th century and now can be proven is you are going through the forest and you physically perceive the bear so you have — basically, he talks about how you have a part of your brain that is more attuned to physical and sensory engagement and that part of your brain is attuned to very quick interactions with the environment. He says that part of your brain becomes aware of the bear before the thinking part of your brain knows anything about it. Then, your body starts to get agitated or you experience the physical heightened sensations of being afraid. Your muscles tense up, your mouth goes dry, you go into this physical response and you start to run before you’ve even had the thought that there’s a bear and then only later, in retrospect do you understand like, “Oh, there was a bear and I experienced fear.” So what this guy who wrote that book on the neuroscience of acting talks about is how neurosciences have shown that, if you can recreate the physical sensations of an emotion, you can then trick your body into sometimes feeling a kind of emotion. Like recreating that, so if you want to experience sadness, one of the things you could do is become very good at understanding what happens in your own body when you experience that in your own life. Understanding my posture changes — I do a particular gesture or I feel muscular tension in a certain part of my body and if you recreate that physically first, what he theorizes through these neuroscience texts is that you can actually make your body feel those things again, rather than going through a mental phrase and that tends to confirm what Stanislavski thought about emotions. Are you familiar with stanislavski at all?
William: Yes I am a bit, but not intimately.
Mr. Dalton: Stanislavski is sort of like the the father of modern acting — a russian theorist who who basically came up with the idea of text analysis and then looking at what causes behavior. [He] tended to focus on how it’s about action. It’s about someone, a character, trying to accomplish something. They meet something that pushes back against them and that’s the basis of acting — is understanding what the character is trying to accomplish or what their objective is. Later on in life, he focused much more on what he called physical actions, which is trying to create some sort of physical score for your body that can prepare your mind or your emotional life to respond to what’s happening. I know none of this is really associated with peak performance, which is really what you’re thinking about, but I just the thought about emotion is a little bit different from what you’re saying. In acting, it’s a little bit different from what you’re saying with athletes because we’re not trying to sort of like isolate or recreate an emotion so much as we’re trying to understand, physically and mentally, the condition that we need to be in to respond truthfully under imaginary circumstances.
William: It’s like the difference between actor emotion and character emotion. Sort of like how the actor feels, like nervousness about the events doesn’t really matter. It’s more important that the that the actor has like the character emotion aspect of it, right?
Mr. Dalton: Well, it does matter. I mean I do feel emotion and it does matter, but hopefully what you’ve done is created a situation where as an actor the emotions that you feel are conditioned to be in line with the emotions that a character would feel. Hopefully, if you’re experienced enough an actor that you can do that sort of groundwork, then whatever nervousness you may feel about taking on a role or appearing on stage is either diminished because of your your high level of experience or you know enough to integrate that into how the character feels. There’s a writer named David Mamet who talks about acting. He’s a playwright, but he also taught acting for a long time and one of the things he says is that often, the role itself will work on you and the anxieties that you feel as a performer are your attempt to align your psychological understanding of a character with your own psychological understanding of life. The example he gives is, if you’re playing Hamlet, often you will find that you become more suspicious in your everyday life. You think everybody’s out to get you and you find that your sanity is is a little bit in question. And he says that’s the role working on. You think something’s rotten in the state of Denmark because the role is is working on your consciousness. In terms of peak performance, it’s a little different. We acting teachers and actors don’t really think about peak performance in the same way because the metric for peak performance is both internal in terms of an actor saying, “Have I done everything I could to make that work?” and completely external because some of the metric is ‘Does the audience respond, does my acting partner respond, and are we able to find that sort of mystical thing where we’re both clicked into a role?’ And we find that moment of what feels like real life under imaginary circumstances, but it can’t be measured in points, so it’s a little harder.
William: Speaking of peak performance, I’m not sure if you’ve heard of flow before, like the emotion of flow.
Mr. Dalton: *Nods in assent*
William: Is there any way that you can recall accessing the feeling of flow in your performances or helping students to access flow in theirs? Is it out of your control or can you sort of coax it on by proper preparation?
Mr. Dalton: What I generally say about flow is that I tie it to the Csikszentmihalyi chart, the one that has difficulty and mastery. And that line that goes straight through and what I say is that if you’re if you’re interested in flow and you find you’re performing and you’re not experiencing flow, it probably means that you’re not paying enough attention to the imaginary circumstances of the role because the conditions of flow is that you’ve identified a a goal that’s difficult enough to be just out of your reach and if you’re not experiencing flow, it probably has something to do with that lack of focus — that you’re focused on other things. Csikszentmihalyi also says that we are only able to process a certain amount of information, so actors really work hard to try and focus on what it is they need to focus their attention on because they’ve got the imaginary circumstances of the play, they’ve got the actual circumstances of the play, they’ve got the audience, and they’ve got their own internal life. They can’t keep all of those in their head at the same time. The only way we think about flow or [that] people will talk about flow is just to sort of feedback. If i’m not experiencing flow, what is in the way? What is keeping me from that flow state? That tends to be that it’s just that something is dominating [your thoughts]. Either that you’re concerned about the audience or you’re concerned about how your other performer is acting. It’s something that comes up often, that I studied with a director named Anne Bogart and she’s a big fan of Csikszentmihalyi and has integrated some of his work into the work that she does, which is called the viewpoints. Are you at all familiar with that?
William: I’m not.
Mr. Dalton: The viewpoint it’s just a way of integrating physical and collaborative group work into actor training, so it’s a lot of physical movement and exercises to encourage you to engage in that physically and emotionally, while you’re engaging intellectually in the character. It’s trying to train your senses to be more responsive to the environment and the players in the environment and one of the exercises she came up with to train actors, she even calls the flow, after the Csikszentmihalyi state. By giving you too many things to do at once, there are certain sets of rules like you you have to walk through a space in a certain way and if something happens, you have to respond and if something [else], happens you have to respond in a different way and that is one thing that I found that very quickly gets me to a flow state. That kind of exercise, where there are certain things that you have to do and you can stay focused on those to such an extent that everything else floats away.
William: Would you say that the defining characteristic that determines your ability to experience flow is selective attention?
Mr. Dalton: Sort of. I think, with acting, I don’t know if it’s selective attention so much that it’s about preparation. Preparation and self-awareness. I think a lot of what gets in the way of something like flow or contributes to something like anxiety has to do with lack of preparation or lack of experience. You don’t get a lot of actors who, after they’ve been on stage for a long time, deal with anxiety in a way that is detrimental to their craft. There are some, but I think most actors, at a certain point, start to integrate that into what they do, so they’re prepared for it and they use it or they understand it. They have tools to deal with anxiety and so, if they’re interested in the flow state and they know it as such or sort of as flow state, then what they’re looking for is the conditions that allow them to respond in a flow state and often, it has to do with with the other person on stage really trying to find a way [of] responding without thinking, which is another aspect of the flow state. Generally, it can be that you’re responding before you’re thinking. That sense of mastery and I think for actors it has to do a lot with like, “Am I making a connection to the other person?” If there’s a lack of flow, actors will find that it comes from their perspective [and] their inability to connect with the other person either because the other person is not paying attention, they’re not as focused on what what they need to be focused on, or their training is different and they’re not connecting in the same way. I have a friend who acts quite a bit professionally and one of the things he says is that, “When I’m on stage or when I’m on camera, I just always tell the truth. I never lie,” and that, he says, is the key to him acting well, by which he means that he accepts the given circumstances of playing the character and then, after that point, he just responds truthfully and he will not try and force himself to feel an emotion or force himself to respond in a certain way. He just wants to be there and respond based on the imaginary circumstances of the character.
William: Once you’re in a state of flow or once you are in the proper state of emotion, you have to maintain it in some form and, in performing athletes, that can look like anything from positive self-talk to whatever mental tool you’d like to use. What mental tools do you use yourself or suggest to students to use to cope with anxiety during performances and to stay in that state of flow or peak performance?
Mr. Dalton: I think, for most actors, it would be some form of ritual preparation, which tends to be like a vocal warm-up. And for many of them, [a] physical warm-up, which tends to create a state of relaxation because of the ritualized nature of that warm-up and because relaxation is what many actors and acting teachers consider to be the pretext for peak performance, that if you’re not relaxed you’re not capable of responding, that kind of relaxation is is very important and often it takes the form of those vocal warm-ups… …The thing that I talk to actors about, particularly actors who are concerned about anxiety or relaxation, has more to do with yoga and meditation. I think those are two under-used tools that actors really need to make part of a ritual to help with the sense of anxiety or mental control.
William: You mentioned pre-performance routines like vocal warm-ups and things like that. Do you have anything that you do like during the performance other than uh just like trying to let it out or tell the truth as you mentioned earlier? Not necessarily that you do, but just that you instruct students to do or have taught people to do.
Mr. Dalton: You mean in performance, if an actor or I were feeling a high level of anxiety?
William: Maybe not just anxiety, but just specific tools that you have to get the proper point across. Is it all in preparation, or is there something that you do during the performance as well?
Mr. Dalton: I think anything that would happen in performance has to do with physical engagement, mental engagement, and focus. If you’re not focused and you’re not physically engaged, you’re likely to be distracted and if that were the case, what I would advise an actor to do would be to engage their body or to find a way to be more physically engaged in the role in a way that is sometimes called extra daily performance. Our bodies are attuned to the way we move in everyday life, but often if you engage your body in a way that is outside of that everyday way. [By] using your body that [way, you] can engage more focus and control in the same way that — I remember, when I used to play table tennis (I played in high school), I would find that the first couple games, I would be very relaxed and it wasn’t until I dropped my center of gravity down and engaged my legs more that I actually was able to play better. I realized, “Look, I can get there sooner. I don’t have to take those first couple games to lose in order to get there.” I think the same thing is true for actors — that if you are if you’re caught flat-footed and you’re not able to respond, it tends to have to do with either a lack of physical engagement or a lack of mental engagement in the role. Part of that, I would say, is probably preparation, but if it’s not preparation, it’s identifying, “Oh, I’m not in this. I’ve got to go back to my preparation.”
William: So you’ve probably heard of overtraining. It’s pretty widely talked about, but its symptoms include long term mood alterations and decreased physical performance in athletes and it occurs when athletes can’t make a complete recovery between performances. Have you found that training for performances too much in yourself or others has induced anything like overtraining or maybe burnout, where you no longer are excited about the performance? Is there anything you do to mitigate this effect?
Mr. Dalton: Yeah, I haven’t had this experience, but I heard Lin-Manuel Miranda talking about Hamilton and doing two-a-days, where he’s got a performance in the morning and [a] performance in the afternoon or as he said in the interview, sometimes you call them do-shay-toes because you’re so confused, you can’t even say two-day shows. You get so jumbled and what he said was he rented a hotel room across the street from hamilton and went and just sat in a warm bath for an hour and that was the way he was able to re-rest and recuperate between roles. The thing that I do and the thing that I would advise is is relaxation. You have to get into a state, somehow, where you relax, which I do either through meditation or some other type of yoga or something like that. Stanislavski talked about that too, that if you can really relax every muscle in your body, if you can systematically do that, you’ll actually be more rested than if you try and take a nap. That’s what he says in his book, An Actor Prepares. I’ve found that, sometimes, if I’m going from one performance to another, if I can, I take the time to go through systematically, in what’s what’s sometimes called a body scan — a meditation or mindfulness tool where you you systematically go through different parts of your body and try and be aware of what you can physically feel or not feel. You start with your left foot and the toes of your left foot, try to feel each individual toe without moving them just being aware of them and then systematically move through your body, part by part. I found that that actually works really well for me. It’s sort of like a physical and mental reset that allows me to re-engage with a performance in conditions where I would otherwise be too exhausted to go on. If you can, take a moment to actually find that kind of real relaxation, mentally and physically.
William: Thank you for agreeing to interview and thank you for answering my questions…
Interview with Dr. David Feldshuh
The following interview was conducted over email and is an exact copy of Dr. Feldshuh’s words. The questions were numbered for the sake of convenience and are pasted above the responses to them.
1. How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your work as a professor at Cornell? Have you been able to arrange any modified performances? Did they inspire the same pre-performance emotions as before the pandemic?
Covid has moved performances online and class exercises online. Please go the the Performing and Media Arts website to see the kind of work that is being created this year. Frankly, I don’t find Zoom performances as engaging as in-person performances. They are limited in part by being neither fully cinematic nor credibly “alive.”
2. Have you ever worked with performers using emotion-based performance analysis tools? If not, how do you recommend identifying and maintaining an emotional state that is conducive to peak performance?
You don’t want actors to play emotions. Please see the work by Stanislavsky. Any emotion is a byproduct of responding to a need and playing a want that guides how you behave. Peak performance is another subject. It has to do with mastering technique and then being able to empty your mind and fully engage with the other performer. See attached.
3. Performing athletes commonly use mental tools such as positive self-talk to help remain in an optimal state of emotion during performances. What mental tools do you suggest to students for coping with performance anxiety during performances and why?
Breathing exercises, warm ups, visualization (seeing your blocking as a rehearsal technique). The most important technique is enough preparation. You need to move beyond the technical requirements of knowing lines and where you move, etc., to be able to connect completely with engaging the other actor. A key question is: “What do you want to do to or get from this other character at this moment?”
4. Do you have any specific pre-performance routines that you use or that you instruct your students to use?
Basic warm ups. Clearing the body and mind.
5. Flow is essentially the feeling of complete immersion in a performance. Is there any specific way that you can recall accessing this feeling, or is out of your control? If it is out of your control, do you feel that you can influence it with proper preparation?
Again, see the article below that was before “flow” became a psychological construct. The key element in creative flow is sufficient preparation to be able to let go of any self-consciousness and participate fully in connecting with your environment (persons or things).
6. Overtraining is a common phenomenon in sports training today. Its symptoms include long-term mood alterations and decreased physical performance in sports. Have you found that training for a performance too much can elicit these symptoms as well? Is there anything in specific that you do to mitigate this effect?
“Overtraining” in acting means “over anxiety” and rigidity. There is no such thing if you can learn to let go of all rehearsal and be able to be fully present in the moment of performance without watching yourself. “Overtraining” in theatre really means you don’t have the ability to let go of self-consciousness. Being able to let go demands total preparation but then a separate skill: surrendering to being fully there with the other actor. See the concept of “suki” in the article attached.
Good luck with your research.
Interview with Mr. Robert Caplan
The following interview was conducted through a phone call. Below, is a transcript of the conversation in that phone call. While most of the exact grammatical conventions used in the interview were preserved, stutters and filler words have been mostly removed. This interview included many vivid descriptions of stock performance ideas, life advice, and repeated ideas that were not related to the topic of the question. These tangents have been shortened or removed altogether. The interview has also been lightly edited to be more smoothly read in a text format.
William: The first one’s kind of a warm-up question. So, how has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the frequency of the trades that you’ve made like since its inception.
Mr. Caplan: COVID has certainly created a huge amount of financial opportunities yeah certainly. The world has changed so if you’re a thinking person you would look at, well how is the world changing because of COVID and what do the people need to do to survive. Where is the money going [and] what are the change in trends? I’m very analytical like that. I look at life and I look at what’s going on and I look at it from an opportunist level, as a financial person so COVID has been a real opportunity in that we’ve all transitioned to zoom and meeting without physically meeting and it’s in all these different other actions. Grubhub and all delivery services have gone nuts — the whole sector — the whole e-sector for everything has pretty much gone nuts like close to at the top of that but there’s a million other work doc you serve all these different emails internet applications have become you know very viable and get huge traffic now so their value has gone up radically um since covet started you know a year ago um and for the people who were thinking about it you know what does this mean there was that many other things you know all the little pizza parlors went out because people couldn’t survive but pizza hut now does 14 times the business it did a year ago…
… From a performance level, there’s a couple aspects of it. First off, if you really want to be good at anything — I mean like brilliant at — it you need to grab a hold of yourself fundamentally. You need to exercise every day for real and if you don’t you’re never at your peak. I meditate every day for an hour so i reach a place where i’m really still and there’s no me anymore and there’s no brain going a mile a minute and I’m free of all the anxiety. I have a heated pool in the basement, so i get in that and I swim every other day and then I have a sauna and in the mornings I meditate every day.
William: This kind of gets into one of my questions which was about your pre-trading routines. Is this your whole pre-trading routine or is there something else that you would like to add to it?
Mr. Caplan: No that that’s there’s more to it it’s really all about performance. So let’s say I want to be the very best trader. I have emotional motivations, I have financial motivations, but I have enough knowledge to start. I want to be optimal with fundamentals so people think to be successful is just to choose your goal and you become passionate about it and you do it and that’s how you become exceptional and very often that is the formula, but on the other side if you want to excel as a person and you really want to be a performer then you need to create balance in your system. Balance is also diet, exercise, and meditation and not eating franken-foods and having an awareness of how to create optimal health for yourself. And it’s out there, and but you only see maybe 15% of the population really do that… … The rest of the population is metabolically unhealthy so those aren’t your performers right there those. And then if you can show that much mastery with yourself then it really helps in having a focus on something that you really love and have a passion about. When you do something, if you really become a perfectionist about it, and you want to— let’s say you create a certain type of pottery and there are lamps and bowls and you really want to make the best lamps that you can make and you’re always modifying them or the same thing with whatever your product is. Or, for me being a trader, learning all the different details and all the things that would be pertinent to create a better understanding for what I’m doing, which is several different spheres of understanding and optimize myself so that there’s the balance then there’s the emotional part, which is the passion, which you don’t always see… Trading is very cool, it’s a lot of fun, and you can make ridiculous amounts of money and be really wealthy and do whatever you want to do and it’s a certain lifestyle and there are not a lot of successful traders…
William: … Have you noticed any ‘over-training’ — what i’m trying to say is have you noticed any effects of thinking about stock trading too much or spending too much time focusing on it, sometimes neglecting your health or sometimes neglecting interpersonal relationships? Have you noticed any decreases in long-term mood as a result of that or in stock trading performance?
Mr. Caplan: I do so well in it — at first I didn’t do so well. It took me years, so I plugged at it and I plugged at it and finally, I came up with a systemology that really worked for me and I became more proficient, so they kind of both intersected and at that point, which has been a while already, all I can say is nom I haven’t neglected. At the end of the day, i’m glad to be done. It’s like I’m free…
…My sister used to give me a hard time, “You should focus more on the money” and I would say to her, “It’s not about the money, it’s not about the fish, it’s about learning how to fish,” and I would say to her, “You know, I have this goal. I want to become like one of the best scalpers there is. I love the math. It’s appealing to me; I’m watching billions of dollars go by every day and now billions of dollars go by through my account every year and I take my cut of it and it’s exhilarating…
…The only thing i’ve neglected on is, I do not do as much of my hobbies. I used to make like the [*inaudible*], but I still do garden and all that…
William: …Have you heard of the individual zones of optimal functioning framework or model before?
Mr. Caplan: No.
William: Basically, it’s also called the IZOF framework, and it’s an emotional analysis tool that better helps athletes to understand their emotions and then derive emotional regulation tools for during, before, and after performance. Have you used any performance analysis tools in that vein or similar to it?
Mr. Caplan: No, I’m strictly homegrown. Where my background is is more as a mystic and learning how I can go into a deep trance and go beyond my physical person and project my awareness out beyond my physical [body]. So that’s core study and my core passion — other planes that you can exist on and understanding cosmology and understanding the true nature of what we are…
William: That kind of brings me to my next question. You mentioned that it’s not about the money and, as my business teacher frequently says most monetary decisions are based on emotion and not strategy. This is manifested in investors who, when recessions hit, tend to immediately sell which just further drives down the price of the stock. What methods do you use to promote fact-based trading rather than emotionally motivated trading while you’re online?
Mr. Caplan: Mostly my mistakes. The market’s really smart and it easily can out-fox you and it still out-foxes me now and then. It’s like a jaguar on a hunt…
… I’m seasoned, so i don’t have to. It just it works for me I’m in a very short time frame. I’m not looking at tomorrow and if I am, I’m not actively in it. I’m thinking this right now has a trend that looks good to me through the holidays, but we’re overextended because we’re overextended right now there’s been just such a frenzy of buying, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a pullback for a couple days…
… Technically, I have charts and stuff that tell me and different things that tell me if the market’s really going to go [well that day], or if it’s just a temporary thing. So, after a while, as someone who watches it for a long time, [you] can go back [and] test it you see that the charts do work. When you combine maybe eight or ten different metrics, it tells you when things are going to be about to change so then when things drop down, those are opportunities for me and that’s when I do most of my trading…
… I’m detached from it. I watch it; I get a sense of how the people are feeling. My other background is clinical psychology at Columbia University. I’m also a clinician at heart and I look at behavior and I look at what motivates people and I look at how the world works — especially the stock market — how the animal spirit, so to speak, act and I listen to the news somewhat during the day and get the tempo of it. I can see just by the trading how it is and I can feel it because I’ve been so focused on it [for] so long [that] it’s a part of me, which I turn off at the end of the day…
… If you’re a professional and you do it long enough and you’ve done tens of thousands of trades almost automatically, there’s not a lot of thinking in it. There’s just more acting right and being deliberate and always looking for a new opportunity to open up…
… I became a monk and I became a mystic and then at a certain point a little over 10 years ago, I decided I needed to do something else too. And that’s when I started learning how to trade. I always liked the idea and so I had gone to a brief course in the past…
William: … Earlier, you mentioned kind of getting lost in your trading, which brings me to one of my questions. Have you heard of the concept of flow — the same word as like a flowing stream or river?
Mr. Caplan: Yes, but i don’t know if it’s in the same context of what you might be thinking.
William: Okay, so I’ll quickly describe it then to see if it matches. Basically, flow is the feeling of immersion that you get when you’re like fully ‘in’ a performance or an activity of some variety and you just kind of get lost in it — that’s what musicians tend to classify it as.
Mr. Caplan: Yeah, you could say I have a good flow.
William: Is there any specific way that you feel like you access this feeling of flow or is it kind of just out of your control?
Mr. Caplan: Now you’re getting into a more metaphysical area. This is where I meditate and I exercise so it keeps my me from functioning in my lower brain and it frees me up of all the repetitive stupid [stuff] that people do. Like when you train a dog in the house and it behaves and it only goes outside and it knows it’s spot. It’s a world created for you the same [way]. You’re that dog, so to become more self-aware, you need to get outside of yourself so if you can meditate or you have a practice that will take you beyond yourself, it will make you hugely more powerful and when you become less self-involved so to speak, less habitual, it’s much easier for you to contact the collective because you’re really part of the collective. Then you just tap in, but you have to have a certain level of knowing and line up with that collective and then it opens to you if you’re open to it…
… The questions you were asking me have to do with people who have become imbalanced in their pursuit for money and you see a lot of that. And they’re boring generally too, at least that’s how I feel about it.