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Carpe Diem with a Mini Morning Constitutional

carpe_diem_pluck_the_dayA couple of summers ago, during a somewhat hectic and often rainy camping trip with family and friends, I finally realized what I most like about sleeping outdoors.

It’s the early morning walk to the lavatory. Slipping out of the tent, breathing in the freshest of air, often with no one around. A quiet moment to take in the wonders of the outside world, clear my head of sleep and open it up to the possibilities of the day.

Back at home a few weeks later it occurred to me that I could partially replicate the experience in my own suburban neighborhood. Doing just that most mornings for the past year or so has been the most satisfying of my various Mindfulness exercises.

Of course older generations have been getting out for a walk, no matter the weather, usually the same route each time. It used to be called a “constitutional.” Good for body and soul, they said, and of course they were right.

But we over-burdened, over-busy 30, 40 and 50 somethings tell ourselves we don’t have the time our grandparents did. We’ve got coffee to brew, e-mails to check, phone calls to make, from the very earliest moments of the morning until late into the evening when our bodies can’t take any more. By nightfall, we have no energy for outside movement, only just enough to pour a glass of wine or three and sprawl out in front of the TV.
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Your Daily List of What To Be or Not To Be: Mindful To-Do Lists

Emotional Management

logodessin2
We know all about to-do lists. We know all about “getting things done.” Sometimes these time and task management systems are part of the solution. Sometimes they are part of the problem.

Recently a few wise minds have suggested that productivity and ultimate happiness might not be created by ever-increasing, and ever more sophisticated to-do lists. They rather cleverly have suggested daily lists “not-to-do”. That’s sensible advice. Why not try such a list? It probably will help; it almost certainly won’t hurt.

And here’s another potentially fruitful experiment. Start your day — immediately after a few short minutes of Mindfulness practice — write a “To Be” list. And in a Shakespearian mode, a “Not-To-Be” list. Stick with your aims just for the day ahead of you. What kind of person do you want to be today? Here are some suggestions:
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Ralph Waldo Emerson on the Power of Continuous Steps

ralph_waldo_emersonIt’s already February. How is progress going on those New Year’s Resolutons ?

Maybe it’s worth reviewing and replanning. Many people get stuck because they’ve only properly thought through the first step in their improvement process.

All great masters are chiefly distinguished by the power of adding a second, a third, and perhaps a fourth step in a continuous line. Many a man had taken the first step. With every additional step you enhance immensely the value of your first. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Most of us are filled with good ideas and good intentions, but many successfully creative people find that discipline and persistence are at least as important.

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New Year’s Resolutions and the Aggregation of Marginal Gains

resolution-british-cyclingIsn’t it time to get real about New Year’s Resolutions?

Research shows that around 80% of us fail to stick with our goals beyond the 31st of January.

In the media, we only hear about the mega success stories, the ones with the spectacular before and after photos. But many of the most powerful, sustainable achievements – in the sports world as well as the personal world – happen in incremental, subtle ways built up over several years, and sometimes decades.
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Carol Dweck on Coaching: Praise, Criticism & Shifting Mindsets

Growth Mindset, coaching expectations & outcomes
carol_dweck1 Carol Dweck is one of the world’s most influential social psychologists. Her research is of vast importance to coaches and how they praise and criticize their athletes.

Carol is the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University and an expert on how a person’s thought patterns and belief – or mindset – affect their ability to learn and perform. This interview was recorded and first released in July 2013.

She is the author of numerous papers and books, and those most relevant to coaching include the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. She also has a great website: mindsetonline.com

Carol’s interview can be found at our sister site: www.sportscoachradio.com
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Mindfulness at Work Is About Not Interrupting Yourself

stop_interruptingHow many times a day does someone rush in and force you to stop what you’re doing and shift your activities elsewhere?

The least fortunate among us have it happen several times a day. And yet we all know the key to contentment and satisfaction at work is to be able to focus on what we need to achieve and to work steadily toward completion. Most of our colleagues and loved ones respect that. It’s the reason that fewer and fewer spontaneous telephone calls are taking place. Many of us schedule when we are available to spend even as little as 10 minutes on the phone. There is a strong human need to be in control of how we spend our time – it’s called autonomy, agency or self efficacy. Psychologist have understood for decades that it’s a major component of happiness.

But when it comes to interruptions, how many of us are actually our own worst enemies? I know that on a bad day I can flit around incessantly. For example, I might stop in the middle of writing an e-mail to check a text message, which leads me to look at Twitter and the next thing I know I’m reading a fascinating full-length feature article in something like The New Yorker Magazine. Interesting, often delightful but totally off topic. That’s because the matter at hand was the e-mail message I started writing 15 minutes earlier.

Getting in Flow with Mindful Working

Is there a simple solution? Yes, of course. But while it’s a simple solution, it’s not an easy solution. Practice full focus. Sit and simply stay in the present moment with your breathing. Recognize when your thoughts interrupt your focus on your own breathing. Accept the interruption, but turn it away. Go back to your focused breathing. Again and again. The flow state at work is what we’re aiming for, and there is nothing so fluid as a calm breathing patterms, rolling like ocean waves.

Topics: Interrupting yourself, mindfulness at work; workplace meditation

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Why Choose Between Two Things You Love When You Can Do Both at the Same Time?

gaming_multitaskingThank you Xbox for defining the exact opposite of Mindfulness.

The video gaming, multi-media folks have an advertising campaign that will delight those who celebrate the attention deficit, hyperactive disordered tendencies of our society:

“With the best games, TV, movies, music and sports all in one place, you don’t have to compromise. Switch instantly from one to another, or enjoy an app and a game side-by-side so you never miss a moment. And, talk with family and friends on Skype while watching TV. It’s all the entertainment you love. All in one place.”

Hmm… What’s love got to do with it?

If you find yourself in a delightful restaurant eating amazing food in the company of your one-true-love, why not immerse yourself fully in the moment? Maybe even turn off your cellphone and keep it out of sight. In the year 2016, that a radical act of human connection.

Or you might be sitting on the couch with said one-true-love watching a film that took several years to make, cost millions of dollars to produce and features several of the finest actors of all time. Why not – just saying – give that your full and undivided attention for 120 minutes or so? Just like our grandparents and great grandparents did in the olden days.

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Going Analogue for a Summer Break: The Doable Digital Detox

a0032-000037A lot of the problem with technology is the shear volumes of it we are consuming per day.

As with many things “the dose make the poison.” For example, some people have severe problems drinking alcohol; they need to quit entirely and stay “sober.” However, others just need to cut back. Maybe they need to cut back a lot, but there’s a big difference between drinking a half-bottle of wine every single evening and having one or two glasses twice a week or so.

Similarly it’s not the same effect subsuming oneself in e-mail, texting, social media and other screen-based information 14 hours a day versus just 1 hour a day.

So this summer vacation period I suggest you try this simple experiment. Limit yourself to all non-urgent uses of your computers, phones, etc. to just one 60-minute period per day. For example from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. only. Yes, you can check the weather on the internet. What about texting? Every time you can possibly use your voice, try that instead.

You might be amazed to discover that with merely on hour a day of serious screen time, you can stay in touch at a minimal, basic level with everyone who is truly important to stay in touch with right now. You can keep projects moving forward *and* regain your sanity.

I’ve carefully chosen the 5 p.m. to 6 p..m time period because it’s late enough to not interfere with a good day out at the beach, fishing, hiking, horse riding, etc. It’s also still early enough to not interfere with dinner or with evening entertainment. At around 5pm, the blue glow of your screen doesn’t send false signals to your brain about daylight hours, thus enabling you to go to sleep faster and sleep more deeply at 10 or 11 p.m., i.e. four to five hours later.

By the way, for your 60-minutes per day, I’m not counting time spent reading one low-tech tablet, i.e. the very most basic Kindle, just in black and white, and not connected live to the Internet. We all sense the difference between using a tablet as a book or magazine substitute and using it to reconnect with the internet by stealth.

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Continuous Partial Attention: One Man’s Struggle

continuous partial attention digital distractionWhat a superb article by David Roberts in Outside Magazine!

If you read only one work-related thing over your summer break, can I suggest it be this?

Here below are a few of my favorite sections of David’s detox article, but the mere extracts don’t do justice to his elegant narrative flow. Read the full article.

“…I tweeted to them around 30 times a day, I belonged to that exclusive Twitter club, not users who have been “verified” (curse their privileged names) but users who have hit the daily tweet limit, the social-media equivalent of getting cut off by the bartender. The few, the proud, the badly in need of help. I was peering at one screen or another for something like 12 hours a day.”

“…It wasn’t always this way. There was a time — it seems prehistoric now — when I started the workday by “getting caught up.” I’d go through my e-mail, check a few websites, and start on the day’s new tasks.
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Even in Deep Water, All You Can Do Is Swim

steven_wright2A brilliant example of reframing a problem into a manageable life strategy, by renowned comedian and Mindfulness Master Jerry Seinfeld.

If you’re swimming in the ocean, it doesn’t matter how deep the water is. All you can do is swim.

This was attributed by Seinfeld recently to his fellow comedian Steven Wright.

The context was a discussion about whether it’s particularly difficult to perform in front of large audiences.

We all have challenges that have varying degrees of difficulty. But if you focus on the uncontrollable factors – like how big the audience is, or how steep the hill is, or how big the line-backer in front of you is, then you lose your focus on what you yourself can influence.

As in the Zen Buddhists saying: “Before Enlightenment, chop wood carry water, after Enlightenment, chop wood carry water.”

When you’re in deep waters, keep your head, neck and spine in line and keep on swimming.

Numerous world-class coaches call this “controlling the controllables.”

Source of the Jerry Seinfeld reference: http://comediansincarsgettingcoffee.com/?gclid=CIbq48Ka5bsCFY47MgodzWYAJw

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Duh! Mindlessness is the Opposite of Mindfulness

The term Mindfulness hasn’t yet fully entered mainstream vocabulary. Not everyone understands what is meant by it.

But the opposite term – “Mindlessness” – is readily and fully understandable.
texting while driving
A basic definition of Mindlessness: Doing one thing while you’re thinking about something (or many things) else.

Some further synonyms of Mindlessness: Senseless, Foolish, Forgetful, Distracted, Zoned-out, Spaced-out.

We welcome your thoughts on useful definitions of Mindfulness. Here’s a simple one: “fullness of mind.”

The Urban Thesaurus defines it as “an incredibly deep form or state of being in the mind which allows one to be truly united with the soul… Being Mindful is viewed as being one of the most sexy or appealing things to a female.” But that sounds a little like over-selling to us…

 

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Digital Distraction: The Constant Pinging of Devices is Driving People Crazy

A recent article in The Economist explores the surging interest in Mindfulness among people in business.

The first reason: The constant pinging of electronic devices is driving many people to the end of their tether. Electronic devices not only overload the senses and invade leisure time. They feed on themselves: the more people tweet the more they are rewarded with followers and retweets. Mindfulness provides a good excuse to unplug and chill out—or “disconnect to connect,” as some Mindfulness advocates put it. A second reason is the rat race. The single-minded pursuit of material success has produced an epidemic of corporate scandals and a widespread feeling of angst. Mindfulness emphasizes that there is more to success than material prosperity.
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Just as the Body Secretes Enzymes, the Mind Generates Thoughts: Meditation Practice

Tara_Brach

It’s helpful to remember that getting distracted is totally natural. Just as the body secretes enzymes, the mind generates thoughts. No need to make thoughts the enemy; just realize that you have a capacity to awaken from the trance of thinking. When you recognize that you have been lost in thought, take your time as you open out of the thought and relax back into the actual experience of being here.

…Attitude is everything.  While there are many meditative strategies, what makes the difference in terms of mindful awakening is your quality of earnestness, or sincerity.  Rather than adding another “should” to your list, choose to practice because you care about connecting with your innate capacity for clarity and inner peace. Let this sincerity be the atmosphere that nurtures whatever form your practice takes. – Tara Brach
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It’s Probably Just a Problem, Not a Crisis

keep-calm-it-s-not-a-crisis-it-s-just-capitalism

Non-crisis management & Mindfulness

Identify which emotions you’re feeling about the problem and how strongly each one is being felt – anger, fear, disappointment, sadness, etc.

Disengage emotionally from the problem. Breathe in. Breathe out. Tell yourself: “My emotions don’t help me here.” Breathe in. Breathe out.

Remember it’s a problem, not a crisis. Breathe in. Breathe out. “Work” the problem in a professional manner.

Unless you’re a member of the emergency services or other “first responders,” most things you have to deal with can wait five or ten minutes, sometimes five or ten hours and even occasionally five or ten days.
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Cool, Calm and Collected at Work

cool_at_workStress management is a lot about treating email as a hot medium.

Most people aspire to working in a state of being that can be summed up as “cool, calm and collected.”

The meaning here of “calm” is fairly obvious. “Collected” less so. In this context it probably means “focused” – a mind that is centred, and grounded, not distracted nor agitated

What is meant by “cool?” That’s a term that has been in common use since the 1930s, often referring to jazz musicians.

The phrase “cool as a cucumber” goes back to 1880s England.

In the 1960s it even became the last name of the alter ego of Snoopy, the rakishly loveable beagle in the Peanuts cartoon – “Joe Cool.”

In its comical representation, cool looks a bit arrogant and indifferent. And those are potentially the risks of an excessively cool posture. But for people who try to cultivate an authentically cool way of being, it can manifest itself as balanced, relaxed, untroubled, adaptable and resilient. The term in English often used by Buddhists to describe this type of cool is “equanimous” from the noun “equanimity.”
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How Busyness Can Kill Creativity

Creativity is intelligence having fun. – Albert Einstein
business_creativity
Many of us are familiar with the notion that our biggest strengths can simultaneously be overplayed and turn into weaknesses. So it might be with the ability many highly productive people have to schedule themselves, to keep themselves busy. Their own hyper-efficiency may be part of the problem.

New research suggests that children who are kept extremely active by a string of school and non-school activities are less creative, less autonomous and less self-confident than those with fewer activities. Kids who aren’t being rushed into a car to drive from one adult-directed event to another are more able to adapt to various environments, invent games and creative projects.  A link to the study is below.

But what about adults? How much space is there in our days and our weeks for unstructured, creative thought?

I know various people in business who are proud of their meticulously planned Google or Outlook calendars, some of them with days divided up into precise 15 and 20-minute slots. A successful day for them feels like one in which all the items have been “done.” Of course the next day is constantly looming large with yet another series of meetings, phone calls, and e-mails to return.

Much of this busyness is reactive rather than proactive, of course. It’s responding to the agenda items of other people, who in turn are often just responding to what others have asked them to do, in an endless, mindless chain.

Don’t get me wrong. I know that time and task management is the key for many of us to get the things done in a day that need to be done. Without structure, without plan and lists, and left to our own devices – including our electronic devices – we might waste our lives clicking around from one website to another all day long.
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Practicing Mindfulness Throughout Your Work Day

Mindfulness Meditation at Work tipsSome useful suggestions from Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter:

“People spend 47% of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing. In other words, many of us operate on autopilot. Add to this that we have entered what many people are calling the ‘attention economy.’

“In the attention economy, the ability to maintain focus and concentration is every bit as important as technical or management skills. And because leaders need to absorb and synthesize a growing flood of information to make good decisions, they’re hit particularly hard by this emerging trend.

“…First, start off your day right. Researchers have found that we release the most stress hormones within minutes after waking. Why? Because thinking of the day ahead triggers our fight-or-flight instinct and releases cortisol into our blood. Instead, try this: When you wake up, spend two minutes in your bed simply noticing your breath. As thoughts about the day pop into your mind, let them go and return to your breath.

“…E-mails have a way of seducing our attention and redirecting it to lower-priority tasks because completing small, quickly accomplished tasks releases dopamine, a pleasurable hormone, in our brains. This release makes us addicted to e-mail and compromises our concentration…

“…To get a better start to your day, avoid checking your e-mail first thing in the morning. Doing so will help you sidestep an onslaught of distractions and short-term problems during a period of exceptional focus and creativity.

“… as the day comes to an end and you start your commute home, apply Mindfulness. For at least 10 minutes of the commute, turn off your phone, shut off the radio, and simply be. Let go of any thoughts that arise. Pay attention to your breath. Doing so will allow you to let go of the stresses of the day so you can return home and be fully present with your family.”

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Ground-Breaking Study Demonstrates Mindfulness Benefits

meditation-groupFor the first time in a scientifically rigorous study, it has been shown that Mindfulness Meditation – as opposed to a more generic type of relaxation training – can change the brain biochemistry of ordinary people over the medium-term and potentially improve their health.

The researchers, from Carnegie Mellon University, recruited 35 unemployed men and women who were unemployed and experiencing considerable stress. Blood was drawn and brain scans were given. Half the subjects were then taught formal mindfulness meditation at a residential retreat center; the other participants completed a similarly comprehensive training program but one devoid of mindfulness-oriented exercises.

‘‘We had everyone do stretching exercises, for instance,’’ lead researcher David Creswell said. The mindfulness group paid close attention to bodily sensations, including unpleasant ones. The non-mindfulness-oriented relaxation group was encouraged to chatter and generally not pay attention to their bodies,

At the end of three days, all the participants told the researchers they felt refreshed and better able to withstand the stress of unemployment. Yet follow-up brain scans showed differences in only those who underwent mindfulness meditation. There was more activity in the portions of their brains that process stress-related reactions and other areas related to focus and calm.

Four months later, those who had practiced mindfulness showed much lower levels in their blood of a marker of unhealthy inflammation than the relaxation group, even though very few in the mindfulness group had continued to do practice exercises on their own.
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Seven Minutes of “Free” Meditation Time Every Morning

When we’re in the shower, we aren’t on the phone or the computer, or watching TV. Generally we’re not being interrupted by anyone. That’s a great opportunity for some start-the-day-off-right “free” meditation time, notes Dina Overland.
woman_shower_mindfulness_meditation
We’re simply standing under a stream of water with the goal of becoming clean. But it’s not just our bodies we can clean while we’re in the shower, we can also clean out our minds and our thoughts.

Instead of letting your mind wander aimlessly (e.g. “what should I make for dinner tonight?”), you can consciously shape your thoughts to be more positive.

There are two parts to my shower routine to start each day with peace, gratitude and joy.

I begin with my “I ams”
– I am whole
– I am enough
– I am worthy

I take a few deep breaths as I think them, to make sure they really sink in:
– I am generous
– I am willing to change
– I am forgiving

So even if I am hating on a family member who hurt me last month or struggling with a cold, I repeat these positive statements several times.
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Performing Under Pressure: How to be “Clutch”

Why do some people excel under pressure while others fail?

Paul Sullivan has written an excellent book exploring this question, called Clutch.

We talk about the numerous case studies he’s looked at including the likes of Tiger Woods in golf, as well as examples from basketball, baseball and football.
Paul is a columnist for the New York Times and a contributor to several other major publications. He’s also on a quest to become a better golfer while still being a decent husband and father.

Transferring what you can do in a relaxed atmosphere to a tenser one is not easy—or else everyone would be clutch.

Five Key Traits to be Clutch:
1. Focus
2. Discipline
3. Adaptability
4. The ability to be present
5. The push and pull of fear and desire

People cannot succeed under pressure if they are thinking of anything other than what they are doing right now.

This interview originated at our sister site: www.sportscoachradio.com

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Better Sleep: A How-To Checklist

Spend time outdoors every day; ideally around noon or the sunniest point of the day; at least five minutes

Exercise during daylight hours; 20 to 40 minutes, ideally outdoors

No caffeinated coffee after about 3pm, stop earlier if desired sleeping rhythm isn’t achieved

Drink 1 to 2 cups of green or white tea after 2pm but no later than 6pm

Before finishing work for the day, write down on a blank piece of A4 the important meetings/appointments for the next day

Only moderate amounts of alcohol during or after dinner, e.g. 2 glasses of wine maximum

A well-balanced meal for dinner, e.g. 30% fat, 30% protein, 40% carbohydrates

A short walk around the neighbourhood after dinner; 5-10 minutes

Minimise or eliminate in front of a screen 60 to 90 minutes before desired sleeping time; read a book or magazine made out of paper instead

Data-and-worry dump (15 to 30 minutes before bedtime); quickly write down everything currently on your mind onto an empty page of A4 paper

Mobile phone switched off at least 60 minutes before desired sleep time, put in a draw in a room that isn’t the bedroom

Bedroom as dark as possible; black-out blinds, no LED lights, no lights on alarm clocks

Accept the evolutionary reality that human beings aren’t capable of fully rational, logical thoughts between the hours of (approx.) 2300 and 0700; remind yourself that middle-of-the-night thinking is by definition anxiety-based and somewhat paranoid

Decide ahead of time that you will *not* try to use some of your sleep-time hours to catch up on thinking/planning not accomplished during the day

Practice slow, *shallow* breathing during nighttime waking periods
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A is for Awareness and Other Awesome Words

Structured Mindfulness

Awareness
A is for Awareness because that’s the key to it all. Only by being aware of where we are, in this present moment, being Mindful, can we focus on what reality actually is and then what the full range of our options are. Skilful action starts with fully immersed awareness.

Coincidentally there are six other words starting with “A” that can guide us in working through a challenge. Let’s call them the Seven Skillful Samurai:

1. Allow

2. Aware

3. Acknowledge

4. Accept

5. Abide
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Olympian Mental Toughness: Stay Calm and Ski With Your Heart: Julia Mancuso

Julia_Mancuso_U.S._Ski_Team_Olympics_SochiThis is what Mental Toughness means in practice rather than in theory. It’s about talking to yourself in the best possible terms, pushing aside understandable doubts, even amid the most intense pressure.

Congratulations to U.S. skier Julia Mancuso, who won her fourth Olympic medal and in three Olympics in a row – this time a bronze in the “Super Combined” (downhill and slalom). That’s over 12 years of mental rigour and positive self-talk. She has attributed some of her admirable resilience to the tough times she went through early in life when her parents divorced and her father was imprisoned for drug trafficking.

Here’s how she explains her grace-under-pressure performance on the mean slopes of Sochi:

“I was just thinking, ‘Stay calm and ski with my heart,’ and I skied my heart out,” Mancuso said shortly after. “That was really tough. It was a really, really difficult slalom run. I knew I just had to give my best shot, and it sure didn’t feel good. I definitely had moments in my mind where I was thinking, ‘This is not going to be good enough, but keep fighting.’ I knew where to let it run on that last pitch and, surprise, looked up and got a medal.”

Mancuso had not finished better than seventh in any World Cup race this season, but her downhill run was exhilarating to watch, and her slalom was absolutely solid for a racer with so few slalom races entered this year.

“I was just kind of amazed,” Mancuso added. “It’s been a really tough season for me, and I’ve always had that real belief that I can do it. Putting out these dreams and beliefs that I can come in here and have a medal, and everyone being a little sceptical, and just knowing in my heart that I can do it, was kind of like crossing the finish line and saying, ‘See? It works. Believing in yourself really works. I got a medal today.’ “

Having the “real belief” that you can do it. That’s the trick. But it’s not a sleight-of-hand type of trick, it’s the result of several decades of disciplined training, both physically and mentally. Believing in yourself really works. Who would have thought it?

Here’s how her ultimate “boss” put it: “She has the ability to focus,” U.S. Ski Team Chief Executive Bill Marolt said. “She has the ability at the moment. She brings herself to her best possible level of preparation and puts it all out there. You think about what she did today to get this medal – she’s a gamer.”

Emotional management, mental toughness, focus and concentration