SPP: All right today on the podcast we would like to welcome world renowned sports psychiatrist and author of the book “Finding Your Zone” Dr. Michael Lardon. Dr. Lardon, thank you very much for being with us today.
Dr. Michael Lardon: It’s a pleasure to be with you guys.
SPP: Dr. Lardon this is Jon. So listeners might not be aware of what a sports psychiatrist does. Can you briefly explain what you do on a day- today basis?
Dr. Michael Lardon: Sure. Well I mean my practice as you mentioned is mostly focused with athletes. I do a lot of work with Olympic Athletes, some work with NFL, and PGA and baseball. But basically what a sports psychiatrist does is we try to move you along what we call The Mental Health Curve and on one end of the curve is when you’re having your best day and there’s a phenomenon in sports, and also in life called Being in the Zone or in the Close State when everything is rocking, everything is hitting on all cylinders. It doesn’t always have to be shooting free throws, it can be teaching your class.
So in the early 90s when I was at UCSG after my residency I did a Fellowship and I teamed with a man Dr. John Polish at Scripts Research Institute and we did a lot of brainwave studies, really looking at this phenomenon of when people get in the zone, if it’s real. And basically I’ve spent my entire life helping people move in that direction and researching and trying to understand it.
SPP: How do you help these athletes get into what you define as The Zone?
Dr. Michael Lardon: Well I mean paradoxically The Zone or when you’re doing really well is when you’re kind of getting out of your own way. I’m probably a bit older than you guys but when I was young there was a TV program called “Wild Kingdom” with Marlon Perkins. And it always would start with a mongoose and a cobra snake. And that cobra would go to strike the mongoose and the mongoose is quicker than the cobra and the mongoose would always nab the cobra at the neck. And the idea there is that in the Animal Kingdom the animals work at almost this automotive reflexive level.
And when we are kind of operating at that more automated reflexive level and we sort of get our thinking out of the way or sometimes our ego out of the way, that’s when we really perform our best. So when I’m working with individual athletes it’s really not a prescription for everyone it depends on that athlete. The golfer Rich Beam, somebody I’ve worked with for many, many years and some years ago he beat Tiger Woods down the stretch to win the PGA Championship. And when he gets hot we just stay out of Beamer’s way.
He struggles more when he has some adversity out there in hanging tough. With some athletes it’s the converse, they always are great fighting but as soon as their name on the leader board gets up there and they’re 10 under, 12 under, then they get a little nervous and then they back up. But there’s even a broader context, not only what happens in the domain or the microcosm of the sport or whatever particular expertise they may have, but how their general life affects that. I mean everything from don’t cheat on your wife, to let’s not have 20 beers the night before.
Jack Nichols used to talk about before the major championships he would really make sure everything in his personal life was in order, so he could settle in and be fully focused and fully present during the big events. I mean we look at it from all angles, from a microscopic angle to what’s happening in the moment. When the field goal kicker has to kick in front of 80,000 people to what’s going on in his life around it that allows him to be lose and allows him to just do it.
SPP: Now have you worked with any of those NFL field goal kickers?
Dr. Michael Lardon: I have. Nate Kaeding is somebody I’ve worked with for years. He’s on the Chargers and he’s a pleasure to work with. He’s a very, very nice young man and he’s had a little bit of adversity. As many of you know if you follow San Diego football the New York Times did a story on Nate earlier this year and interviewed me a little bit about what we do and try to keep him centered.
SPP: Yeah because I was thinking about what athletes you might work with and you mentioned Rich Beam. I think working with those field goal kickers would be very interesting because of the fact that is the most high pressure position in football, and they always hinge a win or loss off those field goal kickers.
Dr. Michael Lardon: Sure. And I think a lot of it is too with athletes how to deal with the media and how to deal with your expectations. And what often happens is when you’re young and you’re coming up and your expectations are more modest it’s easier. But then if you become a very high profile athlete and its human tendency to worry about what other people perceive. Unfortunately that’s a very toxic thing.
So really the best athletes are really just focused on their process. I remember when I was young in college in 1981 my lab partner was Eric Hayden who had just won five Gold Medals in the 1980 Olympics. And he was offered a $1 million dollars to be on the Corn Flakes box and he turned it down. Now Eric’s reasons were several fold but the point is I think one of the reasons that he’s been historically one of the greatest athletes, certainly in the Olympics, is that he really doesn’t care so much about what other people think.
A very funny story that’s true is the night before he was about to win the fifth individual gold medal Time Magazine wanted to do a shoot and have him on the cover. And they asked him to pose with the five gold medals and they said it would go to print that night. And they go, are you comfortable posing with five gold medals even though you haven’t had the fifth raise? And Eric said “Well I really don’t care.” He goes “I hope for your sake that I win tomorrow or we’ll all look really silly.
SPP: That’s a great point that I hadn’t really thought about. Do you notice that the athletes you work with that kind of operate on the highest level, are they as concerned with what other people think as; I don’t want to say the rest of us. I mean even I know when I first started working in the professional world and everything I was really worried about pleasing my boss and the other people in the company. And I think it took me awhile to realize if I just kind of concentrate on what needs to be done then I’ll be fine.
Dr. Michael Lardon: Well if we were to think about that we only had let’s say arbitrarily a 100 energy marbles for the day, the name of the game is to allocate that energy most sufficiently to get you the most production. So if you take that energy and it’s allocated to worrying about what other people think or worrying if you can make a particular number, you burn energy unnecessarily, but if you stay as you say in your job just focused on what you need to do doing your best with it that will end up giving you the best result.
So that takes a lot of discipline to understand that. And in time it takes wisdom. As you get older you understand that more. With the athletes that I work with I mean the phenomenon is they’re regular people, but all of a sudden they hit the big time and then they make a lot of money, and everybody treats them different and they’re not a lot of people giving them straight feedback, so it’s easy to get lost. It’s easy to get lost out there.
We see that with Tiger’s fall from grace this last year he has a very insular group around him and unfortunately no one gave him a little wisdom. He obviously needed somebody, whether it was a family friend, his coach, his caddie, what have you to say “Hey what are you doing? You destroy your life.” And unfortunately Tiger’s paid a tremendous price emotionally for his behaviors.
SPP: Yeah I think we’re all kind of hoping that he gets it all figured out. Everybody likes watching him on Sunday.
Dr. Michael Lardon: Yeah but it really does show you it speaks to the point of Tiger is the same player he’s always been, same gifts. What’s different his emotional pain, his life surrounding golf. Now if you have two kids and you get divorced and your wife lives in Sweden and you live in America, you don’t get to see your kids that would be very, very difficult. So what it shows you is Tiger is 63rd I believe on the PGA Money List this year and this is somebody who’s won the Vardon Trophy, which is the lowest scoring average eight times. So for Tiger, for him to suddenly be Number 63 on the Money List is really unheard of. It’s a fall from grace.
Dr. Michael Lardon: Another athlete that I’ve worked with for many, many years is David Duval and what another wonderful guy. After he reached Number 1 in the world and had huge contracts with Nike and this and that he stopped having fun out there. And that’s what happens in sports is how do you maintain having fun and not get caught up in all the drama and the business side of it. And whether it’s the sport sports or the sport of life, or even you take it to your job, I mean if you can have fun with your work then you’re going to do your best.
SPP: I wanted to ask you, because I think it affects a lot of people, it affected me on a personal level, talk a lot about following our heart and your passion and how by doing so it’ll give you pure motivation. I really like that idea and I was hoping you could give some advice maybe on how you think people kind of open up their minds to allow themselves to follow that passion rather than, say go the safe route of getting a 9 to 5 job and a solid paycheck, even though you might not really be happy with what you’re doing.
Dr. Michael Lardon: Well one way to look at it is you have one life, at least one that we know, and you don’t know when – I was just recently in Scotland with my brother playing golf at Saint Andrews and joining us on the trip was a very nice man and a doctor, a scratch golfer, 49 years old and in great shape. And he came home and felt a little weak on the stair climber, and the next thing you know he has a very serious cancer called Leukemia.
So life’s short and it’s very precious. And we of course have fears where we need to make a living, but at the same time most of us also have things that we’re passion about that we enjoy. And you have to be practical at times, but at the same time if you don’t pay attention to what you really like. You may end up with many materials things but you’ll end up sort of having an empty life. I mean I think people do best when they get really turned on by something. The kid that started Facebok at Harvard, right.
Dr. Michael Lardon: I think if there’s any lesson we sit with people and when I’m trying to help them it’s really one of the questions is what are the things that float your boat? What do you really enjoy? And that’s normally a good place to go or try to integrate that into your life.
SPP: I think that leads into one of the questions that I had. You had written about finding balance, and the question that I had was, do you find that people can truly find balance while working 40 to 80 hours a week in these jobs? And then if so, what are some of the key areas to focus on for success in finding that balance?
Dr. Michael Lardon: Well one question is if you’re having fun it’s not always work. So like for me, and I feel very fortunate, my whole professional career is just an extension of what I’ve always loved to do sports and psychiatry, psychology, helping people. So in a way I feel like I’m in school my whole life and now they pay me. But let’s say, for example, I gave a talk to a business group in LA a few months back, large financial company that they manage people’s money. And that job can be dry and so really the question is, how do you have fun in the job? And I was brought in to speak to the executive team and the sales force and really help them brainstorm. And how do you create in your environment, okay you have a job but how do you all have fun doing that?
When we create generally we have fun, even if it’s maybe not something right up our alley, but there’s something about creation in and of itself being creative that I think people inherently enjoy. So that’s the trick. And you could be a mailman but maybe you could have fun because you’re creative and you know the people on your route. And there’s always some way to enhance something.
SPP: Well I want to switch gears here real quick. Maybe it’ll be a little teaser for about listeners about your book. I found one of the most interesting chapters is you talk about the dream and using your dreams. And you mean actual dreams when you go to sleep at night, using them as a tool in solving problems, letting your mind get out of the way. I’ve always kind of been fascinated with the idea of interpreting dreams and things like that. So I was hoping you might be able to just talk about it a little bit, give people an idea of what you think about dreams and how that might help you.
Dr. Michael Lardon: Well I mean I was very fortunate when I was in college I was a TA, a Teaching Assistant for a very famous doctor called Steven LaBerge and Steven LaBerge is the world’s leading expert in what’s called Lucid Dreaming. Lucid dreaming is when you’re dreaming and you actually are aware that you’re dreaming while you’re dreaming. So in the Stanford Sleep Lab Dr. LaBerge would help people get into a lucid dreaming state. And while they were in REM sleep there would be a way that the patient would be able to communicate through eye beats to the doctor that he was in fact, or she was in fact, aware that they were in the dream. And then they would be guided to visiting a relative, traveling to some other geographic location. And it’s a fascinating thing.
Now lucid dreams have been reported for centuries and centuries and most of us in western culture may have one or two in our life, very rare, and we don’t really pay any attention to the world of dreams. Conversely the Hope Indians, Native American culture, their regular life was really centered around their dream life in many respects. And what happened in their unconscious minds, even the collective unconscious, meaning not only one individual but all the individuals they would talk about in the day. And so the dreams became more integrated into their experience.
Now to bring that home here to the 21st Century what’s that mean to you and I? Well most of us wake up, we have a really wild dream and we go wow, what was that? And then we get on in our day and we can only remember fragments. But in a dream in things like Dr. LaBerge what they’ll teach you to do is you have a journal by your bed and when you wake up in the morning the first thing you do if you had a powerful dream is you write it down because the decay is very quick and you need to write I t down right there.
The other thing is you can give yourself a suggestion before you go to bed. And I’m a big proponent of having a journal for thoughts, ideas and things like that. Like tonight I’d really like to dream a little bit about what do I want to do in life or how could I solve this problem? Now that may not always work out but sometimes you will get some very interesting information. And there are some techniques to actually get in lucid dreaming that’s a little bit trickier. And it’s just the simple part of it as I explain a little bit of it in the book, but you could always Google Dr. LaBerge or lucid dreaming and he gives seminars.
But our cycle, our sleep cycles run in 90 minute cycles and if you can set your alarm for 90 minutes in you will often wake up right from REM. If you wake up from REM then you have a suggestion okay I want to go think about this or go there, then you’ll go back directly to REM and often that’ll result in a lucid dream. And the world of dreaming is one of the vehicles to our unconscious mind. And I always say where’s the noisy passenger of our own ship, meaning that our unconscious mind really drives our behaviors, even though we may think different.
SPP: Well this is all very interesting stuff and our listeners can find out more in your book “Finding Your Zone: 10 Core Lessons for Achieving Peak Performance in Sports and Life”. Dr. Lardon on behalf of Chris and myself we really appreciate you taking the time out to talk to us. Again I find it very informative and hope our listeners do as well. They can find your book on Amazon.com or at a local store. The book name again is “Finding Your Zone” by Dr. Michael Lardon.