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Mental Toughness with David Levin

George Grombacher November 24, 2022

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Mental Toughness with David Levin

LifeBlood: We talked about mental toughness, how to overcome overthinking, a simple approach to improving the mental aspect of sports, and how to get started, with David Levin, Founder of Raise Your Inner Game Sports Academy, and author.

Listen to learn at what age it makes sense to start teaching kids about mental toughness!

You can learn more about David at, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.

Get your copy of Raise Your Inner Game HERE

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Our Guests

George Grombacher


David Levin

Episode Transcript

george grombacher 0:00
I’m Stuart G and the time is right to welcome today’s guest strong and powerful David Levin. David, are you ready to do this?

Unknown Speaker 0:21
I am ready.

george grombacher 0:23
Let’s go. David is the founder of raise your inner game Sports Academy. He is a speaker and author. He’s helping athletes to reach their full potential. David, tell us a little bit personal lives more about your work and why you do what you do.

Unknown Speaker 0:40
Well, I live in a tiny town in southwest Wisconsin, I have less than 5000 people work from home. My wife’s a doctor, we have two teenagers, ones in the middle of the college hunt process, which is sort of crazy for us. From my work, I have a company, the Raise Your inner game Sports Academy, that does measure performance training for high school and college athletes. And I do it because I really want to help as many people as possible, develop the fundamental inner skills they need to live the kind of lives they want. And this time and young person’s life, when they’re actively involved in sports is a unique opportunity to do that, because they’re super aware of the role the mental game is playing in their life. And they’re motivated to work on it. I love it.

george grombacher 1:30
So we didn’t have a lot of time to talk before I turned on the show. What town in southwest Wisconsin, David.

Unknown Speaker 1:37
Oh, it’s Viroqua, Wisconsin, but halfway between lacrosse and Madison.

george grombacher 1:41
Okay, nice. I grew up in Duluth, Minnesota. So I know a little bit about my neck. We

Unknown Speaker 1:45
were we moved down from the city’s 1213 years ago. Now we get up to Duluth quite a bit actually, on the way to Luton for winter skiing,

george grombacher 1:54
sir. Perfect. So miraculously, David, I was a tennis player growing up in Duluth. And that’s kind of an uncommon thing. And I remember reading JIM LEHRER has great book, The now I’m not going to be able to pull the name in there because it was the inner game of tennis. And it talked about Yeah, the the, the mental aspect of it. How ubiquitous is that these days? Or is everybody talking about the mental part of athletics or less, so more? So

Unknown Speaker 2:25
by the way, that really was a seminal book. And I referenced it in the the intro of my book also. You know, I do feel like it’s being talked more and more about not necessarily, the way I approach it, but the subject, the importance of it, especially, I think the context you hear a lot about lately is the mental health side, the load will, you know, because you were there, the load on teenage athletes, is huge. It’s hard enough being a teenager, but layer that all the demands of competition on there. It’s just really incredible. And so we’re hearing more and more, you know, pro elite athletes talk about that aspect of it. And I think that’s great to be talking about that.

george grombacher 3:09
Yeah, yeah, it is. It is nothing but a positive thing. It’s interesting that the canary in the coal mine seems to and maybe I’m wrong, but it does seem to be athletes that have come out and and are helping to normalize the fact that every human being does struggle with with mental health. Yeah. So your, your, your, your passion for this helping helping young people to to be successful? And we’ll take that throughout the course of our lives, whether I become a professional athlete, or I don’t. How did it? How did you probably had that for a long time? How did it actually take shape? And you said, you know, I’m gonna make a career out of this?

Unknown Speaker 3:51
Well, it actually started, I guess, it’s fairly common started just in my own life. I mean, so the Sports Academy is based on the book just called raise your inner game, as you mentioned. And that process started the process of plenty of that material. started back in 2010. And that was many years, decades after, when I first kind of just came onto the subject in my own life. It was in the mid 90s or so. I was, you know, things look good. From the outside. We’re doing fine. Margaret and I had been together and my wife now over 30 years, you know, we were starting out, things look fine. But I was actually getting to the point where I was starting to really have my first I would think of real kind of systemic struggles. I didn’t know what I was doing. I know I was going I didn’t know how things were gonna get any better than just just looking forward. The trends were really concerning. You know, I was starting to pile of debt and put on weight and just a lot of struggles. I was in my 30s at the time. And then one day I had this sort of weird I call it in the book that was my wizard of oz experience that felt like I just sorta all sudden clicked in and got a look at how the inner game really works. And what I mean by that is why I kind of I knew what needed to be done. I had been raised on this kind of stuff, personal development, all that stuff. But here, I was still struggling getting why I knew everything needed to be done. But it wasn’t happening, why wasn’t doing it. I clicked into cracking the code on what that what was causing that gap. And, of course, for the first, you know, 1020 years, the focus that was just getting my own life, kind of on the track, I wandered, and things started to really turn around, and I started to have some successes. And it was all based on those insights. And then early 2000s. I started to make the connection, that, Oh, maybe that wasn’t just me, maybe this thing that I saw. And by the way, it is the exact same thing that’s in that inner game of tennis book, kind of at a theoretical level. If you remember that book, little sidebar real quick. The coach’s name was Timothy Galloway, I think he was a tennis coach. And he one day he was just observing his players beating themselves up after a bad performance. And it just clicked in kind of like my click like, oh, wait, who are they talking to? There are two people inside of each of them. That was his the way he framed it. And that was really a very similar experience to I had that clicked all this for me. So like I said, you know, after 2000 2005, eight or so I realized wait that maybe that wasn’t just me, maybe as I look around, and I see the struggles happening, really everywhere, kind of people just kind of going crazy. To put tonight to finer point on it was like, Oh, these same things, this same insight could really help a lot, a lot of people. So that’s how I started to get the impulse to actually create a book or a program of some kind. I didn’t start thinking about a book, I just started about sort of a training program, kind of from my speaking and training background. I was on that track. But that’s where the impulse came from. And then the last bit to answer I’m sorry, is kind of a long answer. Um, the way it ended up over in sports, so the book came out 2016. And it was really meant for people like us, you know, grownups out in the world of work, struggling with the things they struggle with wanting to be better parents better people that are just feel better about themselves. But then I just a couple of conversations with folks here in town, I started to realize that number one, the material worked with people that were way younger than I would have imagined teenagers, even down to like 13 years old. They got it, it was simple enough that they got it. And then like I mentioned in the answer to the first question, that combination of at that age, and they’re actively involved in sports, the importance of the mental game for them, is just top of mind, no pun intended. I mean, every kid who’s struggling, not struggling, but even just competing. It’s the one is the top thing they’re aware of, I know what I need to do. I’ve learned I’ve trained I practice, a coach has told me I get into the moment, I’m not doing it. What’s going on, it’s something in my mind, I’m getting pulled off track, I’m getting distracted, or I lose my confidence, or I get upset and I can’t shake it. There’s something going on there. And I don’t know what to do about it, please tell me. So that combination of it lands with them. And being a young athlete makes them very open and hungry to make some improvements there is where the sports academy grew from. Because again, like I said, my motivation is just to get these skills to as many people as possible. But as we get older and other things in our lives, it’s not as forefront in our minds to work on this. So that’s where we’re focusing on on teenage athletes. No,

george grombacher 8:51
no, I think it’s incredible. And I just I just realized, David that you and I are wearing essentially same clothes today, which is which is

Unknown Speaker 8:58
not the fleece over t shirt. Oh my goodness. And you’re in Phoenix, you don’t need the warmth like this.

george grombacher 9:05
Your blood thins out pretty fast. David, I guess that’s right. So all right, excellent. That behavior gap which which which exists was so many of the important things in in our lives talking about personal finance, I know that I’m supposed to be doing this but I’m doing that with with weight gain. I know that I’m supposed to be doing this, but I’m doing that and athletic. I really want to be be performing and executing on the training and the preparation that I’ve done, but there’s something that’s standing in the way super common. I mean, it’s probably 95% of of all athletes struggle to realize that full potential and close that gap and this is I imagined the missing piece especially at the highest levels because the skill level when you get to a really high level is pretty close. So it is it is what is between your ears. So how do we go about that? What are what are those keys

Unknown Speaker 10:00
So here’s the main thing. Now, of course we have, there’s the book, and there’s their sports academy, the training and all that. But the foundation of it comes back to, again, what we’re talking about from the inner game of tennis, the first thing someone has to do is, and I keep calling it clicking in, because it sort of feels like that it feels like a sudden, sort of aha shift, to see what I refer to as the mechanics of the mental game. One of the reasons so much mental performance training that’s out there now. And I mean, even up to the elite levels, the professional levels, doesn’t work that well, is because it stays focused at the level of the thought, here’s what I mean, let’s, I’m at the I’m a basketball player, I’m struggling with free throws. And here’s what happens. I’m on the line, I’m ready. I’m focused, and all of a sudden, something comes up in my head, right? Well, what’s the code trying to think? What am I teammates gonna think? Look, my girlfriend gonna think my boy, you know, I mean, if something comes up, and so normally, performance psychology says, Okay, what was the thought? What is it? You were thinking? Right, then let’s, let’s explore that. Let’s engage with that, you know, maybe, if it’s a confidence issue, if the thought is, well, I’m just not good enough, you know? Well, let’s come up with a counter argument, to tell yourself No, you got it, you got it, you got it, you know, you they’re engaging with a thought they’re getting into a debate with the negative thought. The problem is, and this is especially true for competition, is that and you’ll totally get this peak performance in sports, really comes down to one fundamental thing, from the mental game perspective, you need to get out of your head, and be fully focused and present in the moment so that your training, everything you know, can come out. So when you take the approach of engaging with the thought, even if it’s a helpful thought, it’s a better thought, you’re still in your head when you do it. So when you can you ask what the first step is, when you click into it out of that thought level approach, and to the mechanics level approach, rather than asking, What was I thinking about in that moment? How can I debate that thought, instead, you say, where did that thought come from? What was the mechanics of the thought coming up. And if you slow the tape down back to that guy, the free throw line, it’s the simplest thing, which is why it’s kind of easy to miss, you were present, we’re focused, all of a sudden, a thought comes up, back the inner game of tennis, the other person inside you, which is what he observed, all of a sudden starts talking to you. So rather than engage with the thought, and say, Yeah, you know, Hunter and Alabama, just turn to him and say, Stop, nope, not going there. Just shut the thought down directly, and come back and focus. And it’s, again, it’s so simple. It sounds like it’s not even credible sometimes. But that really is the work, you get more and more connected with this reality of of observing these mechanics, meaning, again, I’m here and all of a sudden, something comes up, it’s a thought, It’s an emotion, it’s a physical impulse. And that’s what pulled me off track. So you separate yourself from that you. You really inhabit that image that there’s two of you there. And you really connect with which one’s you and which one is the other one that’s distracting you. And then the more you do that, the more time you spend there, it gets easier and easier to just see it coming up and just swat it away. If it’s a thought, nope. If it’s a feeling, nope, not going there right now. And that’s really the work. Step one is recognizing that there are two of you in there. And that you don’t need to listen to those thoughts. You don’t need to engage with them as they come up, you can control them, the fundamental thoughts that skill psychologists would say is called cognitive control, which is really just intentionally directing your attention. And that’s what we’re doing. I’m focused here. Something comes up to pull me away. I say, No, I bring my focus back here. That’s really the the core of the work so everything we do in our material is designed to first give them that experience that Timothy Galloway experience. Oh, I see it now I see the difference between me and those, whatever that other person is generating those thoughts. And once I totally see it, and feel it, and it’s so real, I can’t not see it anymore. Now some simple practical tools to help me again, like I say, it’s basically just swatting them away, or slotting them for later. You know, sometimes

Unknown Speaker 14:55
some pushback you get on this kind of idea is the thoughts that come up some of the thoughts have to come up are important. You know, I mean, like back when I was talking about my early struggles, I was piling up debt, etc. Well, the fact that I’m doing these things, and I’ve got these financial issues, those are important issues. I can’t just pretend that they’re not a problem. But this approach I’m talking about is not pretending that on a problem, all I’m doing is saying, Who gets to decide when you think about it? Do I need to think about them right now, while I’m making this free throw? The answer is no. So when you when you develop that cognitive control, you develop the ability to say, Okay, I hear you, that is an important thought, we’re gonna get to that later. And I will even tell people, if it’s a big thing that’s distracting for you put it on your calendar 530. Tonight, we’re going to sit down and talk about this debt problem. But for now, no, I get to decide where my attention is right now. I hope that I was around I hope that makes sense. But step one, that foundational sense of getting control get of that distinction between me and the thoughts that are coming at me, and learning how to control it.

george grombacher 16:11
I think that that’s really powerful. And we’ve probably all experienced, getting ready to stand on the free float free throw line, or walking into the batter’s box, or stepping into the service line to hit a surf and the doubts creep in what if I missed this, and I’m going to screw this up and the DA.

Unknown Speaker 16:29
And here’s the beautiful thing, if I can add one more piece about this mechanics based approach, if you think about again, an athlete, there are all kinds of situations come up different game scenarios, different position, they play, whatever, when you save up, focused at the thought level, every different situation requires another kind of remedy. If I’m hearing this thought, and this situation, I’ve got to come up with a counter argument for that one, if I’m feeling this kind of lack of confidence in this situation, I’ve got to come up with new thoughts for that one. It’s really hard. It’s really coached dependent. And it takes a lot of time, when you go with the mechanics based approach, the reality is the problem I’m having in this situation, or that situation, or the problem you’re having versus me, they’re mechanically all identical. It doesn’t matter what the thought is, it matters that we’re being distracted by the thought. So when you focus at the mechanics level, you work on one foundational skill, it applies to all of your different struggles, situations, and not just in sports. That’s one of the reasons this is so beautiful, to give kids the skills young. They want them now to be a better athlete. But this exact set of skills is fundamental to every kind of scenario, every kind of struggled with this for the rest of their lives.

george grombacher 17:45
100%. And in every, every different interaction and circumstance, you will have fear and doubt if it’s I’m going to approach somebody that I’m interested in dating, or I’m going to go into a job interview or I’m going to ask for a sale. It’s everywhere in life, we have the opportunity to sabotage ourselves by by overthinking it. So being able to go back to those mechanics instead. I think that that makes a lot of sense. So how long do people some people pick it up fast? Some people it takes a longer time to learn these skills.

Unknown Speaker 18:22
It’s kind of interesting, it’s remarkably consistently quick. You know, again, like I said, the the work in the material is to help them see that had that experience. Okay, now I see that there’s two of me in there, basically. Because it’s so common. I mean, it really is you’ve mentioned several times, it really is sort of universally true, it’s sort of endemic in the nature of being human. So, you know, we’ve got some really simple exercises they can do. And some really could have simple illustrations to to help them sort of just intellectually get it. And then very quickly, they go, Oh, okay, I see it now. It’s like, bam. And then once you see it, you instantly gain some power over it. But then, of course, we’ve got some skills, like our particular process, that it’s a self directed video course, actually, and they’ve got, you know, a week or two to work on that just because they’re busy. And then we have a 28 day challenge period where they work on it every day for 28 days. And by that UNECE six weeks, it’s not that long. And they’ve really got to before then the real difference is not so much whether they get it it is whether it’s how big of a struggle they’re dealing with to start with. The mechanism like I say is the same in all situations. But the I refer to it as inner gravity. The resistance we’re feeling to performing at the level we want varies from different from person to person, and from situation to situation. If I’ve got if I’ve got a true addiction, for example, Like the kind of I might need treatment for, that’s a much higher gravity load than just me having a craving for licorice, you know. So, I mean, I’ll get what needs to be done very quickly. But it might take longer to build up the will, the strength of this work, to be able to actually tackle that addiction, I may be able to get rid over the licorice thing, you know, almost immediately. But I’m not really quite saying this. But yet, but another benefit of the mechanics based approach is that because the because the solution is the same for every problem, you can start small, just like going to the gym, you can start with a very small way, you can start practicing doing something like for example, making your bed at the same time every morning, you set some intention, not a lot of resistance to it, but some and you observe the resistance that comes up because it will is if you say I’m gonna make my bed at seven o’clock. Well, it’s 655 you’re here and all kinds of arguments why you shouldn’t do that, why it’s stupid, why it’s a waste your time, why am I doing this, right? That’s the mechanics, you see it come up. But it’s an easy enough thing to do. So you push through and say shut up, I’m doing it. I said I wanted to do it. You know what’s wrong with doing it, and you just do it. And that is one rep of that. Muscle, that inner game muscle. So you can start with small things, and build up and build up and build up your strength over time to tackle the biggest things. So that comes back to your question, they’ll get it right away, depending on the load they needed to overcome, to be where they want to be, it might take longer to build up that really massive level of self control.

george grombacher 21:44
And I love it. Super powerful. So I think that we all can dedicate six weeks to to be able to essentially, essentially change our life and improve our improve the way that we operate in the world. Certainly, when stressful situations come up how we handle those more effectively and efficiently. So I love it. But David, thank you so much for coming on. Where can people learn more about you? Where can they get a copy of the book? And how can they find and connect with raise your inner game Sports Academy?

Unknown Speaker 22:17
Thank you, by the way has been really great. Um, raise your inner Really everything is there one word, raise your inner the information about the sports academy programs are all there. The book is at Amazon, of course, you can go straight to David And there’s a kind of a really front link there to it. But yeah, the best thing is to head to the raise your game site and just kind of read the options there. There’s a few different ways to go you know, if it’s if it’s for the adult, maybe there’s get the book. And by the way, that’s not six weeks, they can read that book in two or three hours, and have everything they need in there. If it’s for an athlete, their their child or somebody else, there’s, they can work with me directly. And there’s an application on the site for that. And we also have a coach training where a coach can get certified and bring them to their whole team at once. There’s material on the site for that also. So come to the site, read about the options see which one makes the most sense. And then reach out that’s what you if that’s what it feels like the right step for you.

george grombacher 23:20
Love it. If you enjoyed as much as I did so David your appreciation and share today share with a friend who also appreciates good ideas go to raise your inner and check out all the great resources go to David D A V i d l and pick up a copy the book and figure out how you can optimize and and improve and get better. Thanks. Good, David. Thank you. And until next time, remember, do your part by doing your best

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