What the Field of Positive Psychology Has to Offer Athletes, with Sonya Looney  

We talked with Sonya Looney about how the concepts of flow states, flourishing, and grit are essential for athletes to both perform their best and enjoy their sport.

FT287 with Sonya Looney

In 1998, Dr. Martin Seligman, the new director of the American Psychological Association proposed something radical to its Board of Directors—the field of psychology is too focused on disease states. His belief was that psychological health—being at our best mentally—was not just the absence of disease.  

Unsurprisingly, his proposal was not well received. But undeterred, he and a few colleagues went on a retreat and invented the field of positive psychology which focuses on how people can flourish and develop their strengths and values. What they developed has not only changed psychology, but has had an impact on a wide variety of populations such as the military, K-12 education, and of course, sports.  

Here to walk us through the basics of positive psychology, we’re joined by the host of The Sonya Looney podcast, Sonya Looney. She has studied positive psychology for years and will be taking an intensive course with Dr. Seligman around the time that this podcast will air.  

Sonya walks us through some of the key concepts such as PERMA which stands for positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishment. Positive psychology, despite the title, is not just about being happy all the time. In fact, the field warns against what’s called “toxic positivity”. Instead, it’s about how we address both our great times and our tough times. As a result, central to the field is also the importance of grit and resilience. Dr. Seligman used these same principles to help the military develop programs that teach resilience to soldiers in Afghanistan.  

Joining Sonya, we’ll also talk with Professor Brendan Egan from Dublin City University in Ireland; Dr. Robert Kenefick, a researcher in sports nutrition and exercise science; and Lee Povey, founder of Maximize Your Potential Coaching. 

So, put on your thinking cap and let’s make you fast! 

Episode Transcript

Rob Pickels  00:04

Hello and welcome to Fast Talk, your source for the science of endurance performance. I’m your host Rob Pickels here with Coach Connor.

Rob Pickels  00:13

In 1998, Dr. Martin Seligman, the director of the American Psychological Association, propose something radical to its board of directors. He believed that the field of psychology was too focused on disease states, and that it ought to be focused on psychological health. His proposal was not well received, but he and select colleagues continued working on what would eventually become the field of positive psychology, what they created a system which focuses on how people can flourish and develop their strengths has been incorporated into the military, education and sports. Despite the title “Positive Psychology” is not feigning happiness all the time. In fact, the field warns against toxic positivity. Central to the field is the importance of grit and resilience two concepts that Dr. Seligman used to develop programs for soldiers in Afghanistan.

Rob Pickels  01:05

Our guest today Sonya Looney is no stranger to podcasting, as she typically hosts her own show. Today however, she joins us as an expert in the field of positive psychology after studying under Dr. Seligman himself. Sonya will walk us through some of the key concepts including PERMA, which is the use of positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishment. Joining Sonya will also talk with Professor Brendan Egan from Dublin City University, Dr. Robert Kenefick, who’s a former researcher for the United States Army, and Lee Povey, founder of the maximize your potential coaching group. So put on your rose colored glasses and let’s make you fast.

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Trevor Connor  02:11

Well, welcome Sonya to the show. This is exciting. This time we actually have you in our studio. You’re here in

Sonya Looney  02:16

Boulder. So much fun. It’s an honor to be here.

Trevor Connor  02:19

So you were just up at the Breck epic and I got to kind of brag for you because you were doing work up there, you had a whole event that you are kind of organizing and running while also doing this pretty brutal race. And considering everything on your plate, the fact that you are coming up from sea level. You did phenomenally well at this race. So congratulations, you want to tell us a little bit about it?

Sonya Looney  02:45

Sure. Well, for those who aren’t familiar with the Breck epic, so I’ve done I think I counted 38 stage races around the world. And the Breck Epic is one of my favorites, because it is a mountain bikers race, you get to hike your bike up and over mountain passes, you get to ride technical trails, you have a different course every single day and the community aspect is unparalleled. So it was my fourth Breck epic. And I really wanted to do the race, because if you’re there, you might as well be doing it. So the event I put on was called the women’s cycling Summit. And it was the eggnog Ural year to help women uplevel their performance in their mindset. And it was really cool. We had great speakers and clinics and things like that. But I thought, if I’m there, I can’t just not raise my bike. But it takes courage to show up knowing that you don’t have everything perfect, and that you don’t have all your ducks in a row. Because you’re gonna publicly be out there, you know, getting results and performing. So I think it does take courage to show up and just see where their cards fall. And I’m really proud of my fifth place that that race and it was the most competitive women’s field that they’ve ever had.

Rob Pickels  03:45

Yeah, and I’ll say that this endeavor that you undertook is an amazing case study for our topic today of positive psychology, because mountain bike races in general are tough, they’re physical, they’re hard on your body. Mountain Bike stage races are in a totally different league. And Trevor, I know that you’re a road stage racer, but I’ll say I think mountain bike stage races take a bigger toll on you. And they take more time to prepare for in the morning to recover from in the evening to get ready for the next day because there’s inevitably something is broken on your bike or whatever else. And so the fact that you’re putting yourself through these ordeals, these adventures, depending on your mindset, I think that that is as I said before an amazing case study for what we’re talking about today. You’re living it, you’re doing it you’re learning about it, you’re preaching it, everything is coming together full circle.

Trevor Connor  04:39

The other thing I gotta point out because Rob is absolutely right, these races can really take you apart you are also doing this and the event with a one and three year old until so basically you’re just spending a lot of time on the beach doing nothing right?

Sonya Looney  04:52

Oh, I just spent the whole time recovering sitting around.

Trevor Connor  04:58

Did you sleep?

Sonya Looney  04:59

Yes. actually sleep is one of my top priorities in my life. And with our children, we actually began sleep training as newborns. So, by the time our kids were 10 weeks old, we were sleeping through the night. So we don’t have any issues with sleep in our house, I guess I’ll knock on wood. But, yeah, whenever you pick your number one priority, and then you find a way to make it happen, having that cornerstone has been something that’s kept me going. That’s great.

Trevor Connor  05:22

Well, let’s shift gears, because there’s gonna be a lot to talk about here we have a big subject and doing my preparation for this, I actually found the some of the most interesting reading I’ve done in a while we’re talking about and I know some of our listeners are going to go, Oh, seriously, though, we’ll address that we are going to talk about this movement of positive psychology and how it can help athletes perform better and how it’s been brought in to coaching and training. And yes, I know that that term kind of leads to memes and rolling your eyes of positive psychology. But first got to point out the the originator this Dr. Seligman, he even said himself, I don’t like the name, I just couldn’t come up with something better. And I’m going to throw kind of a hot takeout here, which is I am a fond lover of stoic philosophy. And everything I was reading, I kind of went this is the modern stoicism. But Tony, what’s your thoughts? You know far more about this than than Rob or myself? So please give us your your takes on this?

Sonya Looney  06:27

Well, first positive psychology is really about the theory of well being and and it is a science based field. And there has been a lot of research starting in 1998, when the field was invented by Martin Seligman, and it has been exploding. But I first found positive psychology because I would give mentorship talks to people about my races, because people would come and at first they wanted to hear about, you know, how do you train for these events? Like the stage races? What tire pressure? Do you run, like, things like that? And then it became, how do you stay so positive during these events, like your, your, it’s really hard, and you seem to enjoy them, and you seem to be resilient, and you don’t give up whenever it gets hard. And I started asking myself, well, I don’t really know how I’m doing that. And so I read this book called The Happiness Advantage by Sean a core. And that’s where I first learned about the field of positive psychology. And I realized, wow, this is what I’m practicing in my daily life and on the racecourse. And that was about 13 years ago. So I dove in deeper and I’ve been applying it ever since

Rob Pickels  07:26

Sonia, your story brings up something that I find really interesting. Athletes will stress over what tires they’re running, what pressures in there, what their gearing is, What should I wear all of these ultimately, relatively marginal gains, right. But how you’re approaching the event, putting effort in from start to finish not getting down on yourself not losing motivation, I’ll guarantee that all of that is worth more to your performance than one or two psi in your tires.

Sonya Looney  07:58

Absolutely. And it’s not just the event, it’s the training that leads up to the event because it’s a lot to train for any event or even just to be healthy and prioritize training and exercise and fitness. And there is a mindset that comes with that. And the way that you view the actions that you’re taking, is it from a deprivation place? Or are you trying to achieve something because you’re trying to broaden and better yourself. And that can get really muddied whenever you start achieving things. And that’s something I’m really passionate about is talking about the achievement piece, because the positive psychology part can get lost whenever you get really focused on an outcome because you need to feel a certain way from that outcome.

Trevor Connor  08:39

So something I think we need to mention, just to give some context here is the formation of this concept of positive psychology. And you mentioned 1998. That’s when Dr. Seligman actually became the president of the APA, which is American Psychological Association always talked about APA style, but I never think about what APA stands for. And basically, as I understand it, what he was trying to address was at the time, the formal science of psychology was all about disease states, how do you deal with depression? How do you deal with schizophrenia? How do you deal with all these conditions, and there was no consideration to well being optimal functioning. And I think that’s really what he was trying to address. Correct?

Sonya Looney  09:23

Yeah. And also, something that really struck me when I started studying the history of positive psychology is that the absence of the negative is not the addition of the positive. So just because you’re treating a disease or you know, a mental health disease, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the person is in a state of flourishing that just brings them back up to zero or maybe just under zero. So the field of positive psychology said, Well wait a second here, we need to figure out a way to add in the positive to get people above zero.

Trevor Connor  09:52

So it’s about you might have been depressed. We’ve helped you now with your depression, but that doesn’t mean you’re living an optimal life. That doesn’t mean you’re looking at life and saying this is the best life I could possibly live. And that’s what this is really trying to get out. So what do you mean by flourishing?

Sonya Looney  10:08

So flourishing can have many definitions. And that’s one of those words that is actually thrown around a lot in positive psychology. But that comes down to the structure called perma that has been designed by Martin Seligman. And now it’s called perma plus, because they’ve been adding on different parts of this acronym, because they’re realizing that, hey, it’s more than just these things that are related to well being. But I’ll quickly go over what the acronym means. And then we can talk about each one if you want. But P is positive emotions, E is engagement, RS relationships, M is meaning and a is achievement or accomplishment. And the idea is that if you have ways and positive interventions to be applying these to your life, and in our case here to our performances and our mindset around performance, then you’re going to be in a better state of flourishing so that at the end of the day, you say, I’m way above that zero line of just being disease proof.

Trevor Connor  11:02

Right? What I’ve actually really love about this, so originally, he had just the positive emotions, engagement and meaning. But he needed to, he felt he needed to add more to this. And this is basically the, as you said, the the five things that are fundamental to being in a state of well being. I actually love that he added on accomplishment there because he said, the thing that’s different about accomplishment is sometimes people really seek accomplishment, even if at the time they’re not feeling too happy. It’s a struggle. And it’s hard. But it’s something that’s really important in their life. Just same thing with meaning. Meaning is something that’s understanding there’s more to the world than just us and seeking that. What is the meaning of my life. I’m not just trying to be happy, but I’m trying to find some value some purpose in my life.

Sonya Looney  11:50

Yeah, when it comes to happiness, there’s hedonic happiness. And there’s eudaimonic happiness, and the hedonic happiness is that really good feeling when you’re sitting on the couch watching Netflix, or you’re eating ice cream, or you’re sitting at fast talk labs in Boulder, Colorado, with some people that you really like. And then there’s the eudaimonic part, which comes from Aristotelian philosophy. And that’s where is the meaning and purpose in your life. And sometimes it’s painful to be pursuing meaning and purpose. And like parenting is a prime example of that, like parenting is not always happy and fun, but there’s a lot of deep meaning in it.

Trevor Connor  12:22

And I love that you brought up so I mean, here we’re bringing in Greek philosophy, when Dr. Seligman was was developing this, he had a student that was working with him for three years, who literally went back through all the different philosophies through history, and was looking for these commonalities. What are the trends? How are these different philosophies defining a good life, their well being, and pulled elements from all these different philosophies throughout history, which I found really fascinating.

Sonya Looney  12:49

Yeah, it’s continuing to evolve over time. And that’s been pretty cool to see. I went to this conference, the International positive psychology Association’s World Congress, and some of the speakers there were actually philosophers, not psychologist,

Rob Pickels  13:03

you know, I think that this is a really interesting conversation. And something that I want to point out is that this was created for people in general, right? This is not necessarily something that’s just specific to athletes. It’s not just specific to coaching. This is a means of understanding and improving the lives of everyone in the world. You know, in Sanya, I’d love if you could dig in a little bit deeper to each of the perma acronyms, but maybe do so with application to athletes, because I think athletes are a little bit of a special group. And we have a little bit of special needs. But we are underlying people after all.

Sonya Looney  13:41

Yeah. So I’ll start with positive emotions. And first of all, I’ll talk about Barbara Fredrickson because she came up with this broaden and build theory, which means that if you’re experiencing more positive emotions, you see the world differently, you see the world from a broader perspective instead of a narrowed perspective. And this also makes me think of the stress response where you actually see things very narrowly whenever you’re stressed, like your field of vision actually changes. But Barbara Fredrickson has done an enormous amount of research and I highly recommend her book positivity. But basically, there’s a positivity ratio that is recommended to work towards and that’s three to one so three positive emotions to one negative. And actually John Gottman is research he’s a relationship psychologist in relationships. He says seven to one. But what are positive emotions and there’s a huge list of positive emotions, but ones that are often talked about regularly, our joy, serenity, ah, there’s just so many that it’s hard to like even list them all off. But if you can start looking for where you’re experiencing these positive emotions, and like gratitude is another one and probably the kingpin of positive emotions. If you are looking for them, you might be able to experience them more versus our negativity bias where we’re often wired to look and notice all the negative things so when it comes to performance, if you’re in a race for example, I’ll use myself at the Breck epic I could be focusing on, oh my gosh, like I’ve won this race before I’m in seventh place today, or I can’t breathe, or everybody else has it easier than me that mindset and that cognitive appraisal is going to make me miserable. There’s no positive emotions to be had. But if I can use my strengths, which we’ll talk about in a minute, and really focus on what are the positive emotions that I can realistically, you know, not fake, but realistically use, how can I improve this experience? So positive emotions, gratitude, Wow, I’m so lucky to be here. This is incredible that I get to be at this race. Despite all these other things, I can look around me and experience almost every single second of the race, I can enjoy the community around me. And that can not take away the disappointment of not winning a race or not being where I want it to be. But that can improve my experience of being at the race

Rob Pickels  15:54

in Sanya, it sounds like this is an active process within your mind, right? You’re struggling up that climb God, it’s so hot, so steep, no, when you’re having these negative thoughts seeping into your mind, you can actively change them and say, hey, you know what, I’m not going to focus on the heat, I’m going to focus on the beautiful view, I’m going to focus that I’ve kept up a great tempo, whatever it may be. This isn’t necessarily something that we’re doing passively. It’s something that we’re actively changing.

Sonya Looney  16:21

Yeah. And it’s not about repressing the negative. And I think that that is something that people get wrong a lot with positive psychology is they think just ignore all the things that are going wrong. But it’s about accepting where you’re at in the moment. And sometimes that might not be where you want to be. But once you have accepted that, how can you move forward to make the best of the situation.

Trevor Connor  16:39

So that’s what I was gonna bring up. We’re not talking about that person that sits on the start line, and they’re just incredibly happy and they drive me nuts because no matter what happens, they were handed the hacking are so lucky, in grants, not even here to defend themselves, that you’re so there’s a range in positive motions. And Dr. Seligman even said, this is not just happiness and joy. So you can be in that race, and you can be really hurting, but feeling strong, and that’s positive emotions, I think almost a better way to describe it as the contrast what you’re trying to avoid is sitting there on the start line, or in the race going, Oh, this sucks. I’m no good. I don’t have the skills here on the competence, I should just quit. That’s the sort of emotions you’re trying to get away from.

Sonya Looney  17:23

And if those emotions come up, just label them like judging or worrying or anxiety, because it’s normal to have those emotions. Every single person is going to have those emotions on the start line no matter what. But it’s what you do next, after you experience that. And in the 90s, Martin Seligman wrote the first science based self help book called learned optimism, where he talks about something called your explanatory style, which is something I talk about all the time in my public speeches, and it’s about how you make sense of the world. So the examples that I just gave, but another example that might be really helpful is a car accident, someone could get in a car accident and break their leg, and they could think, oh, my gosh, I can’t believe I got in this car accident. I’m so unlucky, my life is over, blah, blah, blah. You can use injuries in cycling or in your sport as an example of that. One person could say that with a negative explanatory style, or one person could say, Wow, I’m so lucky that I didn’t die. This is only going to take six weeks to get better. It could have been so much worse. So how can you look at your own explanatory style, and use that to be more resilient in your training and in your racing? Think another

Trevor Connor  18:26

great example, we had Taylor Finney on the show talking about his leg break, and he almost lost his leg. It was a horrific break. And when I asked him about it wasn’t like he was sitting there going, Oh, great. I brought I broke my leg. Like that wasn’t as positive. His positivity was he said he made the choice right away to say, I’m gonna get back. I’m going to race again. And that change in the Outlook that’s being positive about that’s not getting down and oh, no, what has happened to me, this is horrible.

Sonya Looney  18:55

That’s the definition of optimism. Optimism isn’t just saying like, Oh, everything’s going to be amazing. It’s it’s accepting what’s happened. But knowing that you’re going to come out the other side, and at the center of mental toughness is optimism.

Rob Pickels  19:08

Let’s hear from Dr. Kenefick, who feels a positive mindset is essential for getting through ultramarathons.

Dr. Robert Kenefick  19:15

It is absolutely essential, especially when it’s dark, especially if you do something for like 24 hours when you get into the late late hours, you know, and that probably two in the morning till the sun comes up time. You’re tired, probably hungry, you might be cold. You’re asking yourself why you’re doing this, you’re in pain, maybe you have blisters, you can focus on the negative. And if you make that choice, and you will likely talk yourself out of the race, you’ve make it to the next aid station and sit down and then say screw it. This is terrible. But you can also bring yourself to some very interesting places by pushing yourself through this kind of stuff. It is difficult to do. A lot of people in these races have pacers for this reason Just to kind of keep them moving, and I’ve been a pacer for a number of people. And that is your ultimate job is to be positive is to keep who you’re working with in a positive mood, because it can be hard to do by yourself. And I suggest that anybody, especially if you’re somebody who doing events, and you start to focus on the negative, you have somebody who can literally act like a clown, like they’re with you two or three in the morning and make you laugh, and get your mind off of it and talk about the positive things and talk about the sun coming up and just make this a fun experience when I’ve been able to do that, or people do that, for me, it’s made a world of difference, versus just focusing on the negative.

Rob Pickels  20:39

So I think that we’ve done a great job on positive emotions. The next one in perma is engagement. And this one feels a little bit more elusive to me.

Trevor Connor  20:46

And this is where I think you should, if you’re willing to introduce this concept of flow,

Sonya Looney  20:50

yeah. So people who have done any reading or research and flow have heard the name Hi, chicks, and my Hi. And I think I’ve said it right. I was wondering how to pronounce that. Yeah, chicks in my head. People call him Mike. He’s passed away. He was actually one of the original founders of positive psychology as well. But engagement means being in the moment. And then Flow can mean different things to different people. But basically, there’s positive mind, there’s negative mind, and then there’s no mind. And no mind is that area of flow, where you’re not actually thinking about what you’re doing, you’re just doing. But I actually am going to shake it up a little bit and say that you don’t always need to be in flow. Like I think flow has gotten too trendy, and people are too obsessed with trying to achieve this flow state. But if you can just be concentrated on the thing that you’re doing. And in Martin Seligman, his theory of authentic theory of happiness, concentration is one of the key elements there. So can you be undistracted in what you’re doing. And that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re in a flow state. But whenever we are doing things that we were, we are undistracted. And like mountain biking is a great example of that, when you’re riding a really technical trail, you might not be in a flow state, but you’re probably not thinking a ton of thoughts when you’re just trying to make it through a rock garden, that actually helps your well being.

Trevor Connor  21:58

So I actually found that whole concept of flow really fascinating. So he defined it as a state where your skill sets match up with the task at hand. And I was going to ask you about that, because I agree completely. If you’re going to improve, you have to take on those challenges where your skills aren’t there yet, and build the skills. But we all know that feeling where you just feel competent, you’re able to handle what’s at hand, and it just everything seems easy. And it’s just time flies. It’s a great feeling to have. But yeah, I was glad to hear you say that, that it’s not something you should be in all the time.

Sonya Looney  22:33

Yeah, there’s precursors to flow states, Steven Kotler has done a lot of writing about flow state and the art of impossibles, a great book for that. But really, you want to be looking for just manageable challenges if you want to get into this state of engagement in sports. And that means a 4% rise above what you think you’re capable of. And a lot of people think about mountain biking in particular, like, I’m just gonna go throw myself off this jump, I have no idea how to do it. I’m going to write down this really technical trail, and it’s about 50% Out of my ability. No, that’s not how you improve. And that’s not how you get into a flow state, you want to pick a just manageable challenge, something that is just barely out of your grasp. And that is how you get there. Yeah.

Trevor Connor  23:11

And so engagement itself, that’s where we’re talking about, you are mentally emotionally engaged in what you’re doing at the time. So I guess the opposite of that would be if you’re going to a training session and go, I don’t want to be here, I don’t want to do this, you’re not engaged at all,

Sonya Looney  23:26

or thinking about all the other things if you’re not focused on the task at hand. And podcasting is a great example of engagement. If I’m sitting here thinking about 10,000 other things. Yeah, Rob, stop googling stuff. It’s a really great place to be engaged. So you know, where can you find engagement in your life? How can you increase the focus on the thing that you’re doing so that you can create a flow state or even just the precursors to a flow state where you feel really focus on the task at hand?

Rob Pickels  23:51

It’s funny, I swear, that is just the outline that’s up on my iPad right now. And but when you said podcasting, I thought about this from a different direction, right? Because with podcasting and what we do, I’m always thinking about this. And it intrudes on my bike rides all the time, miles will go by because I’m like, lost in thought about what I have prepared for what, what’s coming up, what do I have to research, so on and so forth. And like you said before, it is nice when these thoughts can leave your mind and you have this blankness. It’s almost like a recovery from the stress that’s occurring in your mind when you’re in this engaged state.

Trevor Connor  24:29

So you must have had this experience 100 times yourself, but how many times I’ve been out in the middle of the mountains that just suddenly gone? Oh, I should have said,

Sonya Looney  24:37

Oh my gosh, or just thinking of an idea. And you have to stop and pull over and put it in your notes. Like, once my legs start moving on my bike, the ideas start flowing and not to use the plan words there. But that’s why I think that you don’t necessarily need to be in a flow state all the time. Because if you’re out doing something and you’re figuring out who you are, and you’re getting your best ideas, that’s a great state to be in to win. degrade.

Rob Pickels  25:00

So relationships is the R in perma. And I think relationships are for wussies. So

Sonya Looney  25:08

I’m gonna get Robert waldinger in here, and he’s gonna slap you silly. So Robert waldinger is the director of this adult development study out of Harvard. And it’s been going, I think, for 84 years. And they’ve been interviewing people trying to pinpoint what is the most important thing for well being. And it’s it’s relationships. And it’s so interesting, because many high achievers do not focus on relationships as a number one priority, because what’s the first thing to go when we get busy, we have work, we have our training, we have our family, oh, I don’t have time for friends. I don’t have time. And I mean, I’m guilty of this myself, or even trying to deepen the relationships that we already have. And if there’s going to be a capital letter in perma, the R is probably the capital letter.

Rob Pickels  25:50

Why’d Everybody look at me? Oh, you’re the water’s fine. I apologize to all the friends that I don’t have any more because my life is busy. I think

Sonya Looney  25:59

this is something important to talk about is how do you make friends whenever you’re older, because when you’re in your 20s, or you’re in new sports teams, or whatever, it’s really easy to make friends. But as you get older, and you have many responsibilities, many inputs, prioritizing friendships, and having expectations of those friendships can be really challenging.

Trevor Connor  26:17

So I actually kind of avoided jumping into this one, because it really struck me when I was reading some of Dr. Celmins own histories of positive psychology, he actually brought in the whole idea of evolutionary biology, which is something that I absolutely love to read about and address the fact that we were really, from an evolutionary standpoint, we’re designed to be social animals, we are not designed to be on our own. And so I think that is something that has been throughout human history is relationships that are really critical to us, it’s critical to our survival. But I also think it’s, it’s critical to our mental health.

Sonya Looney  26:54

And something I want to add with relationships is high quality connections. And that’s something that’s that’s actually been researched. So a high quality connection is basically recognizing somebody, you can have a high quality connection with somebody in line at the grocery store by by making eye contact with someone and saying hello by making small talk, or by having deep intimate relationships. So whenever I say relationships, it doesn’t mean that every single relationship you have needs to be this like really deep, intense relationship. But just looking around and acknowledging the humans around, you can really add to your well being. And I think that in certain cultures, or in certain places, people are very reserved, or they’re afraid to say hello to one another. And the well being plummets. Whenever that happens. I will say

Rob Pickels  27:39

that as athletes, we are very fortunate in that we have this conduit to be able to form these relationships, right and you go out and you run with a group, then it’s very easy to talk to people. Same thing with going on group rides. But at the same time, when you are in the grocery store, and somebody has that T shirt on from Breck epic, you can say, Oh, my God, I was just there, it was so much fun. And so I think that we all need to be leveraging that to whatever depth is appropriate for you in your life. But definitely can can aid I’m kidding about the whole relationship. But I do understand the importance here.

Trevor Connor  28:12

And you just reminded me of actually what I really wanted to mention before that Dr. Solomon brought up is he raised the fact that you go back 10s of 1000s of years when we are in small tribes, relationships are everything. And we have very deep and very meaningful relationships with the people that were in our community. And he raised the fact that there’s this strange thing going on now where we have more and more people around us. But it’s actually getting harder and harder to connect. And we’re actually having a lot of issues now with loneliness. And Rob, I’m glad you brought that up. Because I think that’s something that sport actually gives a lot of us is a community, a group that we can get together with and connect with,

Rob Pickels  28:51

it makes it a bite sized chunk, right? Instead of living in a city of a million people and you don’t feel like you’re connected to any of them. There’s only 20,000 cyclists. And maybe that’s a more manageable number.

Sonya Looney  29:01

Yeah, but also I think about and I fall into this category of people that train alone a lot for a bunch of different reasons. And so you have to work extra hard to try to find those connections if you’re not finding them in your sport on a day to day basis.

Rob Pickels  29:14

And Sonia for you is because you’re faster than everyone else.

Trevor Connor  29:18

And just remember all those cars that are honking at you are just saying hi, and they let you

Sonya Looney  29:23

that’s right and all and also with relationships, something to think about is communication. And I did a deep dive on how to be a better communicator, and there’s something called the active constructive response. So there’s four different ways that we can communicate with people and hopefully I can remember them off the top of my head here but active constructive responses, you’re generally interested you’re up leveling enthusiasm, you’re actually generating more positive emotions. Whenever somebody tells you about something. The worst one is passive. I think it’s passive destructive, where somebody tells you something and you’re just like, Oh, that’s nice. And I can’t remember all four of them. But if people want to look more into communication styles, look it up active. constructive response can be really beneficial. The way that we communicate with people around us really impacts our relationships. I agree.

Trevor Connor  30:09

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Rob Pickels  30:34

Trevor, Sonya, I can tell the both of you have a little bit of kid in the candy store syndrome right now where there’s just so much excitement, running around a little bit of craziness here, I want to try to keep us on track and continue on this perma. The M is meaning

Sonya Looney  30:49

has a meaning and purpose. And I mean, those are big words. And some people feel like they don’t have purpose. And people feel like they have a lot of purpose. But when it comes to sports and performance, asking yourself, Why am I doing this because there’s a lot of people that will continue doing something whenever they maybe shouldn’t be doing it, or they forget why they’re doing it in the first place when we recorded an episode on motivation last year, I think. And whenever you start getting rewarded for things, whenever you get recognition for your achievements, you can lose track of why you’re doing it in the first place. So making sure that there’s something bigger than you. And I think that the further you go down the road, the more impact that you can have in this meaning and purpose category. But it can also get very convoluted by the achievement piece, which is interesting, because that’s the next part of perma.

Trevor Connor  31:36

And I think you brought up something that’s really important is understanding your purpose. Because I think a lot of people, if they don’t know why they’re doing something they can actually end up being very unhappy about I’ll just give you an example. So I have an athlete that I coach, who has gotten I’ve been really happy with him. He’s gotten really strong. Now, when he originally hired me, he had never raced in his life, the whole reason he hired me because he just wanted to beat his brother. He was tired of his brother dropping him, he now compete a lot of the local pros in his area. Wow. And I keep bringing up to him. Do you want to race? Do you want to do some actual official races? And his answer is always, it’s not why I’m doing this. And he really understands his purpose. He just loves riding his bike. He loves training hard, he loves getting stronger. But it’s not about race. And it’s not about getting the results. And I really respect that. But if he hadn’t understood his purpose really well, he probably would have said, Sure, let’s go do a bunch of races and actually not been very happy. Because that’s not what motivates him.

Sonya Looney  32:37

And on the other side, what about the people who are always getting, you know, winning are getting top three at every single race. And at some point, you’re not going to be doing that anymore. And then people just quit altogether, because maybe the only reason they were doing it was for the results. Or you know, this is something I’ve had to ask myself, like, why am I still doing this? I’ve been racing for 20 years. And it’s because I love it. I love the community. I love the personal challenge. But I had to ask myself, especially at Breck epic am I still going to even be interested if I’m not racing for the podium, because I’m not used to that what’s going to happen to my motivation and to my sense of meaning and purpose, and I was really pleased to see that it just didn’t even matter that I wasn’t racing for the top three.

Rob Pickels  33:16

And I will say, I think that it’s really important that the meaning that you’re choosing is aligned with who you are. And I felt trapped to this this past year, where two years ago, I was in this place of you know, I’ve written these roads and these trails 1000 times, I’m just getting kind of tired of it. And as much as I just love riding my bike, that love wasn’t quite there. And at this point in my life, I’m not an overly competitive person. I was a national level hurdler throughout high school in college, and frankly, my excellent race results are ending with that career. And that’s never been my meaning while on the bike. But in the journey to try to find meaning what I said was, okay, next year, I’m going to do all of these events, and it’s going to give me purpose and reason and meaning to riding. And so, as everybody knows, I did trans Portugal mountain bike stage race earlier this year, and that was terrific. And a couple of weeks later, I flew to Finland, and I started Finland to gravel. I got two ish hours into that race. And I said, you know, I’m just not really having fun. I’d rather go back and go paddleboarding with my kids and I pulled out of that race and rode an hour and a half back to the town we were staying and this upcoming weekend I was supposed to do Dakota five oh, and I’ve already dropped out of that. Because this event person is not necessarily who I am. And I tried to artificially apply this meaning and it was not aligned with ultimately what I love to do on the bike.

Sonya Looney  34:57

It takes a lot of thought and courage to ask yourself these questions sometimes, especially when you’re on a start line, or you’ve signed up for something, why am I doing this? And making sure that you’re doing it for the right reasons. And sometimes you can get disconnected from that and being able to put your foot down and say, This is what’s important to me right now, that improves well being doing a race, because you signed up for it, and you don’t want to do it anymore. That doesn’t improve well being.

Rob Pickels  35:20

Yeah, and I will say, dropping out of Finland was probably the happiest decision that I’ve made. And people must be like, Oh, that must been so terrible. Like, no, I rode back to the hotel in the best possible mood because I made a decision that was more aligned with my meaning,

Sonya Looney  35:36

when to grit and when to quit. Or there you go.

Trevor Connor  35:39

Now you guys raise really good points. And I think it’s really important to give that serious thought to what is your purpose? What is your meaning and doing this, particularly when we’re talking about sports, and this particular sport, because winning for most people is a very infrequent thing. So if everybody goes into this and just thinks, Well, my purpose is to win, you’re probably gonna be a little unhappy. So what are the what are the other reasons you’re doing this? What is the other meaning you find from it.

Rob Pickels  36:04

And I think that’s exactly the mismatch that happened in Finland with everything that I chose has a common theme in that there are places I haven’t necessarily written before. And I was using the events for the adventure, the guided adventure experience, ultimately. And I really got that in Portugal, because I was ultimately kind of going at my own pace. But Finland was a bit different of a story because it was almost like a road race on gravel, I was in the pack, trying to keep up with the pack, trying not to cross wheels. I didn’t look around once I didn’t get the adventure, I didn’t get the scenery, I wasn’t focused on any of that. And that’s where that mismatch came in. I wasn’t getting the adventure I was looking for I was only getting race.

Sonya Looney  36:43

And I think that’s where it’s important to know what your values are. And one of your values is clearly adventure and making decisions based on what those values are. And that’s how you can derive more meaning and purpose.

Rob Pickels  36:54

Well, enough about me, let’s move on to accomplishments of which I have very few. So I’ll say out of this one.

Sonya Looney  37:00

So accomplishment is about doing something for the sake of that thing, which is similar to mastery. It’s not doing it because you’re trying to plug a hole because you feel deprived, because you need to prove yourself which I’ve been there many, many times and something that I always have to make sure that I’m not doing with my accomplishments. But how can you do something because you love the thing itself. And it’s not always pleasurable to accomplish things, as we talked about earlier. But whenever you have these accomplishments, because they’re coming from a place of deep interest, there is a lot of fulfillment that comes from that.

Trevor Connor  37:32

So something that I loved that he added accomplishment, because that’s a very big motivator for me. And I still remember and it might very well have been a positive psychologists who did the survey. But there was a survey done in Japan, where they they had Japanese people rank what’s most important to them? And number one was accomplishment, I think meaning was number two, and happiness was actually a pretty distant from both of those. And you definitely saw at least in that culture that people valued, having purpose have immediate and life accomplishing things more than that kind of short term. I’m just looking to be happy.

Sonya Looney  38:09

Yeah. And I think this comes back to that eudaimonic happiness that we were talking about. Because a lot of times, we think happiness is just feeling good. But happiness also comes from meaning and purpose, right?

Rob Pickels  38:19

Happiness may not be required to be successful. But as Lee Povey explains, it may allow you to accomplish even more,

Lee Povey  38:27

I think we can acknowledge that some people are pretty miserable and still reasonably successful as athletes, that’s not what I would want for them. So I would turn it on its head and go, it’s entirely possible to enjoy what you do, and to have a good life experience and be very successful. So one of the things I see about therapy, and I experienced this myself, when I first started seeing a therapist, I said to my therapist, I’m worried I’m gonna lose my edge in business, like my anger, my anger towards my dad, my need to prove myself, that is my edge. My therapist just looked at me and smiled and went, let’s see what happens. What happened instead was I learned better what served me. So as I learned more about myself, and as I increased my kind of self understanding and happiness and understanding how to be happy and what brought me joy. I was able to enjoy things more and know how to get more joy from them to the point that the end of my cycling career the last five years were by far the most successful. I cared less about winning at that point than any point. I broke two national British records, won a national title in the UK and America within 10 days, broke a world record. And I did that all without caring about the results. I just really enjoyed the process of riding my bike fast lifting heavy weights and being around my friends.

Rob Pickels  39:52

Can I ask now that we’ve discussed all five of these are all five equally important? Are they differently important for Each individual person, do they change over time? How do we focus or maybe prioritize as we’re thinking about this for ourselves?

Sonya Looney  40:08

Yes. I don’t know the answer to that question, I would guess that it’s different for every single person. And it actually varies depending on what phase of life you’re in.

Trevor Connor  40:17

I would agree completely with us. I think if you talk to any anybody and gave them these five and ask them to rank it, you would get different rankings.

Sonya Looney  40:25

So from a coaching perspective, you know, if someone is a coach and listening to this, if you’re if you’re helping your athletes set goals, or you’re having discussions with your athlete around their training, and their workouts and all the different things in their lives, how can you keep these these things in mind whenever you’re having these discussions to help grow some of these areas in their life to contribute to better athlete well being.

Trevor Connor  40:45

So I’m also going to throw this out there, and please react to this. But people might rank these differently. But my feeling is as a coach, or if you’re an athlete involved in a sport, if you aren’t satisfying at least a couple of these, it’s going to be very hard for you to continue on the sport. To really find the motivation to go out every day and train, I think there needs to be a couple of these one or two of these, that are motivating you. So of some people, it might be relationships, they love going out in the group rides, other people, it might be the accomplishment, I want to win a race. And that gets me out. And I don’t mind hurting myself. Other people, it might be the flow, they just love that feeling when it’s all clicking and when they’re out on a ride. But But again, I’m just going to throw this out there. And please respond. I think if you don’t have one or two or three of those, it’s gonna be very hard for anybody to continue in a sport.

Sonya Looney  41:36

Absolutely. And if you think about mental health, and sports, a lot of those things are absent whenever people are achieving things, and then they feel empty at the end. And, for me, the positive emotions piece of it to pick one for somebody to focus on today. That is the easiest one to start chipping away at. And it’s going to not only impact your sport, but it’s going to impact your life and how you feel. And if you are experiencing more positive emotions, you might be more ready to work on some of these other areas.

Trevor Connor  42:02

So the other thing that I get a flip around of what I would just say, and as we’ve talked about that old school style of coaching every other coach that just yelled at their ass, you’re not good enough, do better. I would argue that that old school style of coaching doesn’t really take advantage of any of these and probably demotivates a lot of athletes.

Sonya Looney  42:22

Yeah, it’s probably that deprivation motivation piece, I don’t want to let my coach down or my coach is gonna get mad at me. So therefore I have to perform. And that’s not a sustainable way to approach anything.

Trevor Connor  42:31

So what I was reading the history of all this one the most I mentioned this earlier, one of the most fascinating parts of the whole read was when he was working with that student, going through histories of all these different cultures go on through the histories of different philosophies, and looking for the commonalities. And what they were trying to do was fine, what they call these universal strengths, they ended up with six virtues and 24 strengths. But when they were picking the strengths, they were picking strengths that just you saw in every culture, every culture valued this. So can you tell us a little bit about those strengths and why those strengths are so important, obviously, Dr. Seligman spent years and years and years trying to identify them.

Sonya Looney  43:14

Yeah, being able to use your strengths contributes to greater well being. And you can use them in many different ways. And you can actually improve upon other strengths. If you want to be using a different strength in a different way. The via institutes values and action Institute, you can take a free strength survey there, it’ll give you what your top five are, and being able to recognize how you’re using strengths, whenever things get hard, can help you be more resilient. And like you said, there’s 24. So there’s a ton of different ones. So we I don’t think we should list all of them. But I’ll tell you my top three, and then I’ll give you an example of how I use them and the breakup, because we were just talking about that. So my number one strength is gratitude. My number two strength is hope. And my number three, strength is perspective. So as I was just talking about generating positive emotions in the race, think about what are my strengths? How can I think about them and apply them in a way that I can use more perma in my life? And knowing what those are is so key, because if you don’t know what your strengths are, how are you going to make decisions? And how are you going to apply wise effort to the things that you’re doing?

Rob Pickels  44:18

And Sonya, this is a case of you should be playing to your strengths, right? We talk a lot about this in training. Do you train your strengths? Or do you train your weaknesses? It sounds like clearly you’re trying to take what strengths you have and amplify them or apply them back into the perma model.

Sonya Looney  44:34

Yeah, and it’s not about ignoring the fact that there are weaknesses and something that’s number 24 on the signature strengths survey doesn’t mean that it’s a weakness necessarily, but how can you take the things that you’re already doing well, and make them even better because that’s going to help you achieve more in what you’re doing.

Trevor Connor  44:49

Something else I found really interesting about these strengths is they then did an analysis of different countries of all of many of the different countries in the world. on how much they value these strengths, and then correlated countries of how closely to the strengths that they value match up. So for example, US and Canada was like 99%, they basically had the same values. But the biggest difference they saw was like an 80% correlation, the strengths that are just universal, all countries, despite big differences in culture, really value these strengths.

Sonya Looney  45:24

And from a business perspective, to like being able to spot the strengths and others and put them in situations where they can use their strengths can really help your team,

Trevor Connor  45:32

whether they go quickly mentioned, Sonia, I knew you weren’t gonna go here. But he did group the strengths into six virtues, and those we could probably list so the first virtue is wisdom and knowledge. Second, virtue is courage. Third, virtue is humanity. Fourth is justice. Fifth is temperance. And the sixth is transcendence.

Sonya Looney  45:52

And ideally, you want to have some strings under each of these categories. It’s not just all one category. So if you do the string survey, it will actually tell you which strength is under which virtue. And you can see the mix of the different virtues that you’re displaying, and your top five strengths. And you can also improve upon strengths that are maybe like 5678 in your life, if you want to have a more variety in that virtue category.

Trevor Connor  46:16

So any other thoughts and how you can apply these strengths to sport, I think

Sonya Looney  46:20

just again, knowing what they are. And as a coach, knowing what your athletes strengths are, and then asking them, how can you apply this strength to what you’re doing like in health and wellness coaching? That’s actually one of the questions that we ask when we’re helping people set goals every single week is, how can you apply your strengths to this pursuit?

Rob Pickels  46:37

I think that that’s an excellent point, right, as a coach, working with an athlete, and this is a really amazing way that you can better communicate or better help that person that isn’t just writing workouts.

Sonya Looney  46:49

And it also helps them exercise their autonomy, if you ask them, how can you use your strengths to improve upon this, they can actually think come up with something themselves instead of you telling them this is how you use your strength to get better at something.

Trevor Connor  47:00

So let’s shift gears here. And this is where we’re going to kind of finish out the conversation. But actually what I’ve been the most excited to talk about. And this, again, might surprise people because you hear positive psychology and all sorts of memes go through your head and fluffy images go through your head. But again, and I’m a still assist. And I loved reading about this because of the commonalities between them. But what might surprise people is the benefits positive psychology is is bringing to things like grit and resilience, good to throw those completely to use on you. But I’ll quickly bring up, Dr. Selman was brought into the military to help the military, that this was during the the Afghanistan war, and they’re having a lot of mental health issues. They’re having a lot of post traumatic stress disorder. And he was brought in to help build the resilience of the soldiers. And it seems like from the the results have been reported, it was quite successful.

Sonya Looney  47:59

Yeah. And University of Pennsylvania has an entire resiliency program, and they also have a program applying resiliency to children and teaching them how to be more resilient. And whenever we think about being athletes, we think about this, like, how do I pursue things? How do I not give up? How do I keep going despite challenges and setbacks. And optimism is part of that that explanatory style that we talked about. And there’s a great book that I recommend called the resilience factor. And it’s written by some professors from University of Pennsylvania, and as a quick tool people can use or something called the ABCD model. So A is the university write it down a What did I experience? B? What is my belief about the thing that I experienced? See, what is the consequence of that belief? And D? How can I dispute that belief, and that is how you can be more optimistic. And resilience is one one tool of many. And also, another thing that is at the center of resilience is understanding your emotions. Emotional granularity is another great tool. So how many words do you have for your emotions, a lot of us only learn maybe five different words for our emotions, and being very specific on how you’re feeling and labeling that can actually help you move forward.

Trevor Connor  49:10

So it’s up to the love that Dr. Solomon, a term that he uses when he was asked by this general to bring in the programs that what would you do to help our soldiers? His comment was this is a bell shaped curve. And we focused very much on the left side of the curve, which is that post traumatic stress disorder, but he said there are also soldiers that go through trauma and actually become stronger, better people for it. And he called that post traumatic growth. And he said, what we should be doing is helping soldiers build that resilience so that when they go through these traumas, which they’re going to go through, they head towards that growth side.

Sonya Looney  49:45

Yeah. How can you find meaning and purpose in the setbacks like you don’t have to like them, but how can you come out the other side and be better in spite of it? And I think

Trevor Connor  49:53

that’s something that I think athletes can really associate with because we all have low moments. We all have Bad times, we all have a race where we get dropped. And it’s just the worst experience of our life. And then you can either in your life it because I’m sure a whole bunch of races came to mind just like they did for me. You can then go, Well, that was a horrible experience. I don’t ever want to go through that again and shy away, or you can grow from it.

Sonya Looney  50:21

Yeah, and I mean, I also would argue that we sign up for races, because we don’t know what’s going to happen if we sign up for a race because we’re, we know that it’s gonna go well, it’d be really boring, like the uncertainty and the nervousness that comes with that is why we’re doing it in the first place. And people often forget about that.

Rob Pickels  50:38

These concepts of grit and pushing through negative experiences are critical to team sports as well, let’s hear Dr. Egan’s thoughts.

Dr. Brendan Egan  50:46

One of the things that I suppose is unique and team sports is that we play an awful loss. So you have every individual game has a potentially positive or negative outcome, every individual player has the potential to lead positive or negative outcome. And then you also have your interactions with your teammates, your coaches and so on that can can be positive or negative. So what I’ve often thought about for people who are involved in teams, for sure, but then, you know, I come across in daily life or in academia and so on is that people who were involved in team sport and have had to deal with those types of setbacks and adversities and the constant up and down of that competitive type of sport, I do think it provides them with that kind of a perspective that makes them easier to work with, you know, from from a team and collaboration point of view, but also makes them able to deal with, you know, the things that life can throw at us. So the data, purely anecdotal point of view, but I think if you don’t have that ability to respond to, again to negative occurrences, which I guess is part of the whole grains concept. And I do think it’s very hard to be successful, both in sport and also in the various things that life throws at us.

Trevor Connor  51:55

So what are the steps to building resilience? From a positive psychology standpoint?

Sonya Looney  52:00

How can you apply all of these different things that we’ve talked about whenever you are going through these different challenges? How can you use that ABCDE model that I discussed? How can you use your perspective? How can you use your strengths to move forward whenever things get hard? So what would be a good example? Well, why don’t one of you pick an example of something that you’ve gone through? And then maybe we can kind of work through it?

Trevor Connor  52:22

Yeah, so actually, I’m gonna go right back to my beginning, as a cyclist I, I’ve been riding for a while in upstate New York, but then I moved to Boston, and went on my first big group ride in Boston. And this was when I was starting to get serious about cycling. And was, was really excited about it. And I had no idea how group rides worked, I had no idea how to point out potholes and all this sort of stuff. And I spent this whole ride with nobody helping me and a whole bunch of people yelling at me, like angrily yelling at me, because I’d hadn’t pointed out a potholes. I didn’t know how to point out a pothole. And ultimately, just went to the back of the group. And finally, just let them drop me and went home with my tail between my legs. Depending whether I’d ever go back, I’ve been so beat up. And I’ll tell you, this is part of why when I’m on a group ride, and there’s somebody new there, and I know what they’re going through, I immediately go over them, talk to them, and help them out and give them some pointers and stuff like that. But that was actually a really bad experience that could have discouraged me from coming back. So how would you apply this to build that resilience to say, No, I’m going to keep at this.

Sonya Looney  53:36

So let’s use that ABCDE model here as a starting point. So A is the adversity, you showed up to the group ride, people were yelling at you and people were hitting potholes. So that’s just something that happened. There’s no judgment around that. That’s just something that happened. B is the belief. What did you believe about this? What did you believe that this meant? At the

Trevor Connor  53:55

time, I believed that meant I was a horrible cyclist and shouldn’t be on a group ride because everybody was basically telling me that and I had no other basis on which to believe anything. So I was believing them. They were telling me I was lousy, and I shouldn’t be there.

Sonya Looney  54:09

And what’s the consequence of believing that? What happens next? Whenever you believe that about yourself, I love the ride of the ride. Okay, so now let’s go back, we’re going to dispute it. We can’t change the adversity. B is the belief everyone’s yelling at me. i That means that I don’t belong here. But what’s a different way that you could change that belief or a different way that you could approach? What was happening to you a different way to make sense of that?

Trevor Connor  54:32

Yeah, the way I would do it now is when people are yelling at me, I probably would have gone and talked to them and said, Hey, I’m new. I actually don’t know. Please teach me so it’s not. I wouldn’t have taken it as personally and said, Oh, there’s something really wrong with me, which is what they were saying. Mr. Just said, I’m an experience here. I don’t know somebody needs to teach me but I’m willing to learn.

Sonya Looney  54:54

And whenever you do that, there’s going to be a different consequence. You might want to come back you might people might To actually be excited to help you. So like, whenever people are looking at something that’s happened to them in there, they can write this down. And they can say, what are some different ways? How can I apply growth mindset, which I’m sure you’ve talked about numerous times on this, how can I apply compassion to myself, and how can I better communicate to those around me, that’s gonna change what you believe that you’re capable of. And that’s going to help you want to come back and continue and create an environment where you feel that you can keep pushing yourself. And that doesn’t mean that it feels good, like it feels terrible to get dropped, and have everybody be yelling at you, or whatever the example is. But if you can change the meaning of that, and you can keep going in spite of that, that’s gonna make you more resilient, because it’s a muscle. And the more you do it, and I’m sure that you showed it, you kept showing up to rides, there are probably other rides, where you got dropped, or people were yelling at you, but you probably didn’t believe I don’t deserve to be here after a certain amount of time.

Trevor Connor  55:51

Fantastic. So I’m actually going to bring up another example, because there has been criticism of positive psychology of this, what they call the toxic positivity. And I do agree there there is potential issues there. So I’m interested your response to this, I’m going to I’m not going to name this person. But I’m going to tell you the story of somebody who trained at the center that I was at, and Victoria not too far away from where you live. We had a rider who had convinced himself, he was going to the Olympics. And it might very well be he could have gone to the Olympics. The issue was, instead of taking that realist perspective of I want to go to the Olympics, but where am I at now. And accepting that he wasn’t strong enough yet. And trying to build to get there. He took a excessively positive perspective. And just convinced himself he was good enough to go the Olympics now. And I’ll tell you his positivity, he really knew how to use it. He raised a lot of money from sponsors who he convinced he was going to go to the Olympics. But here’s the example I’m going to give you was he wanted to believe he was the best climber at the center. And he was not he was not on par with guys like Swain, Tufte, and all these very strong riders. So initially, he was one the first of the top of the climb because it was November, and we’re going easy. But as we got into March, and the strong guys started going hard, he started getting popped. And he wasn’t getting to the top with them. So I was waiting for him to kind of go, oh, maybe I’m not as good a climber as I thought it was. No, his response was, oh, well, I’m the best seated climber, but they’re better standing climbers. Because he was at the front when we’re at the start of the climb, going seated. But as soon as guys stood up and went hard, they were dropping. So wasn’t there better climbers, it’s just oh, well, I’m better seated. And they stood up then. And they’re just better standing climbers. So is that I admired his positivity, but it was a positivity that was not allowing him to see where he was at.

Sonya Looney  57:54

Yeah, that’s a great example about being delusional. I was trying to avoid being honest with yourself, I think is really important. And it can be really difficult to be honest with yourself, especially whenever you think you deserve something, or you actually think that you are the best at something. But that honesty, and that humbleness is very important when it comes to achievement and setting goals. And being realistic with your expectations. Like another example go back to the wreck epic. I didn’t expect myself to be racing at the front of this race, because I know that I don’t live at altitude. Toxic positivity would say, Well, who cares? I used to live at altitude, I’m stronger than everybody, I’m just going to show up and it doesn’t matter. And that’s ignoring and denying facts. And that doesn’t mean that I can’t be optimistic about myself and my performance, and I’m going to get the best out of myself. But just making stuff up, that’s probably not going to go anywhere, that’s actually not going to help you perform. And that’s not going to help contribute to better well being.

Rob Pickels  58:48

I do think that this line between optimism and delusion can be a little bit vague for some people, right. And I know oftentimes, I think that I’m a relative realist, maybe a little bit of optimism. But people will say, Sonia, what do you mean? If you don’t walk into this race, knowing that you’re going to win it? How can you possibly do? Well, you know, someone you you shouldn’t just shoot for fifth place? Why aren’t you shooting for number one? How do you choose? What is appropriate optimism? And what is just shooting for the stars? You know, what is it if you shoot for the stars, you’re gonna land them on the moon or something like that? How do you do this in an appropriate manner?

Sonya Looney  59:27

I mean, this ultimately comes down to goal setting, like what we’ve talked about before and process and getting the best out of yourself. You can’t control other people, you can’t control even how you’re going to feel that day necessarily. So how can you say I’m going to show up and give myself the best shot, like in the back of my mind for Breck epic, I didn’t say to myself, there’s no way that I’m going to win the race. But I said, okay, like, is it appropriate to say that and just being able to say, I’m going to show up, I’m going to give it my best and I’m going to be okay with that. And I’m going to use all of these tools so that I can make the most of the situation that’s gonna help you be the most successful that you’re going to be without having these unrealistic expectations. And I will say if you have unrealistic expectations, and you continually don’t meet them, that’s probably not going to feel very good either. So like having a zone of expectations can be really helpful. Whenever you are thinking about how you want to do it something,

Trevor Connor  1:00:18

I’m sure you’ve heard this before. But there’s an expression and cycling of the results never tell the story of the race. And every one of us has been in a race where we absolutely put in the best performance of our life. And because of things that are outside of our control, the results weren’t good. And I’m a big believer that in any race, you need to look back and not just look at the results sheet. But just ask yourself, How did I perform? Did I did I live up to my expectations? And did I perform well and be happy with that when you can say, Yeah, might not have gotten the result, but I felt I put in a really good performance.

Sonya Looney  1:00:55

Yeah. And why podcasts, something that I’ve asked a lot of the top athletes is what is your goal on race day, and all of them have said, it is a performance that I am proud of. And that doesn’t necessarily mean winning, I’ve won races and not been proud of my performance, and you know, not performed very well compared to what I normally do. And I’ve gone to races and come fifth, or seventh or whatever. And I’ve been more proud of that result than a race that I’ve won because I was proud of how I showed up that day.

Rob Pickels  1:01:21

Sonia, while we’re on this topic of results, I want to go back to something you had mentioned before, and that was when to grit and when to quit. You explain that a little bit more.

Sonya Looney  1:01:32

So Angela Duckworth also out of University of Pennsylvania has done a massive amount of research on grit. And she has a character lab actually where she really works with children. Book. Yeah, read the book grit. So grit has two components, passion and perseverance for long term goals. And perseverance has two key elements. So one of them is the mundane part looking for growth and, and small changes, because that is ultimately what makes up endurance sports. And the second part of perseverance is actually this resilience piece, this optimism piece, and I’m going to continue moving forward in spite of challenges and setbacks. And then the passion piece comes to interest and values. And those are things that we’ve talked about. So having those two things and applying them to long term goals is what gives you grit. However, when do you quit? And I think whenever you look at this passion piece, Am I doing something that is in alignment with my values, like what you were talking about? Rob, with some of these races, this isn’t really what I want to do with my values. That’s whenever you should start thinking about quitting. Am I doing this for the wrong reasons? And going back to the M and perma, what is the meaning behind this. And sometimes we lose our way a little bit as to why we’re doing something. And that is why people stay and things way too long.

Trevor Connor  1:02:45

I had a good example of when to grit when not to grit this weekend, I was climbing up Trail Ridge Road. And there’s at 11,000 feet this great view that I stopped and took some pictures and admired the view. And then this park ranger comes up to me he’s like, You have to get down. Now. There’s a huge lightning storm coming. And me being me, I’m kind of that gritty guy of I’m going to accomplish this no matter what I’m like, No, I have to get to the top. So I ignored him. I kept climbing I came around this corner saw these huge lightning storms. And then went to I see if I can get to the top and beat it at that had to have that question of I bet to the top a bunch of times, why am I doing this. And then finally at a killed me turned around. And then it became this dramatic race to not get caught in this huge lightning storm. And thankfully turned around and just got down in time,

Rob Pickels  1:03:46

Trevor, you know, the rubber tires would have protected you from the lightning, you should have kept going. Oh, good point here is

Sonya Looney  1:03:52

basically think of the mountain climbers to where they can see the summit, but then they know that they need to turn around and come back and that they can try again another day.

Rob Pickels  1:03:59

I mean, this is this is a big deal in albinism, right? You work so hard, your expedition costs so much money, and the summit is right there. And a lot of people unfortunately pass away because of the pressure of that choice, right?

Sonya Looney  1:04:15

And I’ll give you a more silly example to take it down a notch is Strava how many of us have ridden around in circles to try to even out the mileage or to get a certain number of elevation gain? That might not be the goal of the training. And that’s not necessarily gritty to do that. You’re doing it for the wrong reasons.

Trevor Connor  1:04:32

Right? I used to coach my nephew. I have watched my nephew do circles outside his house because he was at 99.1 miles and needed to get 100 miles and we’ve

Sonya Looney  1:04:42

all we’ve all done it. Oh yeah, it takes it actually takes courage to not do it.

Rob Pickels  1:04:46

I’ve never done it tell you the truth. And I’ve had this guy I’ve had people comment on rides that ended at like 99.82 Miles they’re like Couldn’t you have just gone around the No, I’m not just gonna go around the neighborhood. I’m My ride was over,

Sonya Looney  1:05:01

translated into kilometers. That’s what I do. And then it’s not going to be even no matter what.

Trevor Connor  1:05:06

So we’re getting close to the end of our time. But I think we have one last thing to talk about, which is flexibility.

Sonya Looney  1:05:12

Yeah. So I think that another reason why positive psychology has a bad rap is because of the part where you just ignore everything. And psychological flexibility isn’t part of positive psychology necessarily. But being able to shift and adapt is something that is key to resilience. And I think that that is what psychological flexibility is. And as athletes, we need to adapt and shift all the time. And if we get stuck, focusing and being too gritty on one thing, and not having the courage and the space to accept where you are, and then maybe shift, it can be really challenging to live a life a flourishing life or have well being in your life, parenting and becoming a parent, while being a professional athlete or anytime, is a really great example of having to be flexible, because now the way that you spend your time changes. So how can you apply some of these elements of positive psychology to be more flexible whenever you have to change your pursuit of your goals?

Trevor Connor  1:06:06

tastic Okay, well, Sonya better really addressing conversation you been on the show before so you know how we finish up. This is our take homes, everybody’s got one minute to give their their one key message for all of our listeners. So why don’t we start with you.

Sonya Looney  1:06:23

I think a key to well being is understanding yourself and taking the time to do the work to figure out who you are and what your expectations are. And then how you can apply these elements of positive psychology to not only feel better, but to perform better.

Rob Pickels  1:06:38

Yeah, for me, I’m going to I’m going to step back one step further from Sonya. And that’s to have well being within your life is an active process. And I think that it’s hard sometimes when we look around at other people, and we say man that Sonya Looney she is so put together, she walked in here smiling, you know, or whoever it may be, Sonya happens to be sitting next to me. But in people’s lives, I think that Sonya does so well with these things, because she is actively thinking about them. She’s passionate about it. And for all of us to make these improvements, we need to be thinking about how positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishments, how that interacts with our life, and we need to actively be doing something about it.

Trevor Connor  1:07:25

So I’d say bye, take home. I’ve kind of gone through an interesting journey here, because Sonya suggested this and I went, Oh, yeah, I many years ago read part of Dr. Solomon’s book and positive psychology. I couldn’t remember much of it, but had a bit of that negative reaction that some people do have. And we moved ahead with this topic. And this has been some of the most fascinating reading I’ve done in a long time. And I haven’t mentioned Off mic. I’ve been a little distracted today, just because reading all those there’s been so many thoughts. And so many interesting ideas that have been are still circling through my head, I’m having a hard time keeping it all straight in my head. So if the sun you, thank you for keeping us on track. But this concept of positive psychology, it’s about well being it’s about functioning optimally. It’s about making the most of life at the end of the day. That’s really why we do sport. And so I think this is something that would be valuable for anybody who is an athlete, anybody who’s looking to improve their sport, to do some reading about this to learn more about it, because I think it’s going to help you to be a better athlete and to get more enjoyment out of what you’re doing. So Sadia, thank you so much for being on the show.

Sonya Looney  1:08:37

My pleasure. And if anybody has any more questions about positive psychology, I’m doing a master’s in applied positive psychology from University of Pennsylvania. So my skill set will continue to broaden and build.

Trevor Connor  1:08:48

You’re doing a course and you said a couple of weeks with Dr. Solomon itself.

Sonya Looney  1:08:52

Yeah, so it’s a rapid Master’s. But one of the courses he actually teaches and the whole alumni is a very active group, there’s over 600 people, so I’m really excited to become a part of that and see how I can continue to bring this to performance.

Trevor Connor  1:09:05

Fantastic. Well, we’re excited for you hope that goes really well.

Rob Pickels  1:09:08

That was another episode of Fast Talk. Subscribe to Fast Talk wherever you prefer to find your favorite podcast. Be sure to leave us a rating and a review. The thoughts and opinions expressed on Fast Talk are those of the individual. As always we love your feedback tweet at us @fasttalklabs or join the conversation at forums.fasttalklabs.com. Learn from our experts at fasttalklabs.com Or help keep us independent by supporting us on Patreon. For Dr. Brendan Egan, Dr. Robert Kenefick, Lee Povey, and Trevor Connor. I’m Rob Pickels. Thanks for listening!