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The Soil and Water for Positive Growth and Performance

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As a Performance Coach, people often ask me questions about resilience, confidence, grit, mental toughness and motivation. How may I reach all of these? How can I facilitate these in other people? Is it more willpower that I should exert? How may I develop myself to the next level so that I am able to perform better and to bounce back from whatever life brings at me?

These are all interesting questions, which can lead to exploring the meanings that are behind those questions and terms. But perhaps there are also some other questions to ask when aiming for sustainable change and positive growth?

The conditions for positive growth

One of the forefathers of humanistic psychology, Carl Rogers, asserted that humans will naturally change in a positive direction when given critical therapeutic conditions – similarly as a plant’s growth toward the light when given appropriate soil and water. Maslow described this tendency for human growth as self-actualization. So, what are these critical conditions that allow people to take the path of self-actualization and personal positive growth?

As a young(er) Performance Coach, I used to get overly excited about different new methods and tools for improving life and performance, many times naively trusting that this new method is “all-encompassing” and once and for all unlocking the mysteries of a good life. Dr Aki Hintsa, the founder of Hintsa Performance, taught me how life is much more complicated than this and directed me to start from “what do I need” before anything else. He spoke about basic human needs, such as the need for unconditional love, competence, achievement and perception of control. He also spoke how all of us have up to a degree similar but still differing physical needs in terms of physical activity, nutrition, sleep & recovery, biomechanics and general health.

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Ryan and Deci described basic psychological needs as autonomy, competence and relatedness in their widely accepted theory of human motivation, called the self-determination theory. In their theory, Ryan and Deci found out that the three needs are universal, however we differ on how important one need is in relation to the others.

Love and its relationship with performance

Interesting evidence of the importance of “unconditional love” or “relatedness” for facilitating performance was suggested in the study by Hodge et al. This study was about the “All Blacks”, the national rugby team of New Zealand during 2004-2011. The team’s winning percentage was 85%, along with achieving the first place at the Rugby World Cup in 2011. The main motto of the All Blacks team was “Better People Make Better All Blacks”. This meant that each individual was appreciated as they were, and the coaching focus was more in the character rather than the mere performance of the players. They were not even afraid to use the word “love” in their team, aiming to exhibit a true unconditional positive regard toward each other. Other studies also suggest that resilience and performance is associated with good social support.

Coach Wayne Smith of the All Blacks described the importance of “connections” for performance”We believe it contributes to performance… A lot of your performance, I think, depends on the connections you have with people around you… connections with the game, but also connection with the fans of the game, connection with your family, and with each other [teammates]. And generally those connections are stronger if you’re a good bugger, and you do things the right way. That’s where a lot of your resilience comes from, I reckon; is that you’re playing for other people, as well as yourself.”

A lot of your performance, I think, depends on the connections you have with people around you… connections with the game, but also connection with the fans of the game, connection with your family, and with each other. – Coach Wayne Smith, All Blacks

This brings us back to the earlier mentioned Psychologist Carl Rogers, who writes in his book “A Way of Being” that an attitude of non-possessive caring or unconditional positive regard, and a basic belief that the other person is fundamentally trustworthy, creates a critical condition for change and growth to occur. Opposite to this attitude is judgment, placing conditions on the worth of the individual, which diminishes or erases their ability to change, whereas when being accepted as they are (i.e. unconditional care), people are freed to change to a positive direction. We may choose our attitude to create connections around us, even with people who are very different to us – to choose an attitude of positive regard instead that of judgment.

Nothing is unchangeable

Our current personality is formed roughly up to 50% by our experiences with other people, the positive and the negative regard, such as parental and school influences. Some of us have got more positive regard, some less, and we all are what we are partly because of it. Today you may take control of what you want to become, as nothing is unchangeable, not even personality. However, it seems that if you want to change and grow, it seems necessary to seek unconditional love and good connections with people around you. If you don’t already have unconditional support and connections in your life, the starting point may be to start finding and building these. You may also serve as an encourager that provides that unconditional positive regard to other people. If you are successful in this, you may be creating something very good for yourself and the people around you.

Instead of searching quick answers to how you can reach more resilience, grit or motivation, take a moment for self-reflection. How do you feel about the “soil and water” that nourishes you at present? Is there something you need to get more or less of in order to allow the change, growth and performance that you may desire? How about your attitude towards the people around you; the employers, colleagues, friends, partner, kids? How is your attitude feeding to their positive growth and performance?