Psychologist Edmonton John Stevenson | Sports Psychology Specialist | Mindful Sport Performance Podcast

This post is a transcript of the Mindful Sport Performance Podcast with guest John Stevenson, a psychologist in Edmonton.

Dr. Keith Kaufman:

Hi, and welcome back to the mindful sport performance podcast. I’m Dr. Keith Kaufman. I’m Dr. Tim Pineau, and we are very, very excited to be joined today by John Stevenson. John is a sports psychology specialist who has worked with a wide variety of clients and organizations and teams across clinical sport and executive coaching settings.

John Stevenson _ Guest Ep.9
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To be honest, I had to narrow his bio down to fit it into one episode. So I’m just going to give a small sample of some of the teams and groups that he’s worked with. And I’m sure he can fill us in if I, if I miss anything super significant.

But just a small sample of who he’s worked with include the Ottawa senators, the Edmonton Oilers team, Alberta, the Royal Winnipeg ballet, the Canadian military, and chartered accountants of Alberta. He obtained his master’s degree in sports psychology from York university in Toronto in 1992 and a second master’s degree in counseling psychology from city university in Edmonton in 2006.

Dr. Keith Kaufman:

Thanks so much, John, for making some time to talk with us today, we are really, really excited to chat with you about mindfulness and the work that you’ve been doing.

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

It’s an honor to be on your show. Thank you so much for, for inviting me.

Dr. Keith Kaufman:

Oh sure. And did I miss anything? Did I, did I capture your bio? Okay. As I said, it’s very impressive. So I tried to narrow it down to a sample.

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

When you said 1992, I just realized how old I am.

Dr. Keith Kaufman:

So I know 1992, it doesn’t feel like that long ago until you actually add up how many years that really is. I just had that realization earlier today in a different context, actually talking about college basketball and talking about some fond memories. It’s like, wow, that was a long time ago.

Dr. Keith Kaufman:

So thank you very much for making some time. And as we like to do, we are going to start this episode with just a brief exercise, a brief meditation practice, and Tim is going to lead us today.

But we’ll give our usual disclaimer that if you are somewhere where it wouldn’t be safe to close your eyes or to move your concentration away from whatever you’re doing, then perhaps just listen at this time and come back and do this practice when you can just be in a, in a more quiet environment.

Dr. Tim Pineau:

Yeah. Yeah. So wherever you are, if it’s available to you, you can let yourself close your eyes and just take a moment to check in with the points of contact between your body and the ground, whatever chair seat you’re sitting in, feel this sensation

Dr. Tim Pineau:

Of gravity pulling you down. Whatever’s underneath you supporting you, perhaps even roll your shoulders up and back. So you can open your chest.

Feel your spine become long, just allowing your body to breathe in whatever way feels most comfortable and bring your awareness now to the cycle of the breath, finding some physical sensation, maybe it’s the rising and falling.

You feel in your torso, perhaps in your chest or your belly, the air flowing in and out of your nostrils. Just pick one of these sensations, let your attention rest there. Noticing whatever reactions or judgments you might have perhaps thought that your breath should be longer or deeper or slower.

Dr. Tim Pineau:

If you can just notice those for what they are or judgment or expectations and with your next exhale, see if you can let them go. There’s no right way to breathe. No wrong way. We’re just observing simply staying open to what is here right now.

And as you sit with the gentle rhythm of your breath, allow that openness to begin to grow, expand beyond the breath, begin to tune in to what you can hear as you let your body and mind becomes still. Perhaps you can subtle far off noises, birds chirping outside far away, traffic, someone talking in another room.

Dr. Tim Pineau:

It’s possible. Maybe likely that a lot of these sounds weren’t even in your awareness when you first started this meditation, all we’re doing now is staying open to being aware to everything that is here in this moment. Right now, those sounds coming from outside. They’re not distractions in the same way. Our judgments are not distractions.

They’re just part of what’s here now. And we can see them for what they are as part of our experience here in this moment. Now begin to bring your awareness back into your body. Maybe follow one or two more cycles of breathing, checking back in with those points of contact between your body and the earth beneath you.

Dr. Tim Pineau:

Perhaps even wiggling your fingers and your toes, bringing some movement back into your muscles. And whenever you feel ready, you can sit back and open your eyes. Thank you too. Thanks Tim. Oh yeah, my pleasure.

Dr. Keith Kaufman:

So Tim, I know we had a brief conversation before recording about what kind of practice we wanted to do today. And this stood out to you. Do you want to just say a word or two about why this was calling out to you today to do one of these sitting, breathing, and expansion to sound practices?

Dr. Tim Pineau:

Yeah, well actually, you know, it’s because I have noticed in my own practice recently that like, that has been a, kind of a primary focus for me. I kind of meditate each morning in our, in our spare bedroom and it’s kind of in kind of in the wee hours and it’s like, I gotta do it before my son wakes up. And so I hear,

Dr. Tim Pineau:

You know you know, crickets and stuff outside and it just, it has been so such a rich part of the experience. So yeah, it’s just been, I think, such a big part of how I have been meditating recently. So it just felt, it felt like it fit.

Dr. Keith Kaufman:

No, that was great. Well, thank you for leading us today. Thank you very much. And it’s funny cause I noticed as soon as I did not feel, I didn’t notice any sense of tension or stress as I was doing it. But as soon as I said, sit back and open your eyes. I felt my shoulders drop. Like my shoulders had been like up here the whole time. I didn’t even realize I was, it must’ve been a little nervous.

Dr. Keith Kaufman:

Well, again, it shows, right? Like, no matter how experienced you are at this, it’s, it’s always a fresh and, and sometimes stressful experience to lead these meditations. So for anyone who’s listening, who has interest in being a meditation teacher or experience with it you know, we, we talk about this all the time as part of the territory, it never gets comfortable and old, right. It’s always a fresh experience. Yeah.

Dr. Keith Kaufman:

So John, we, we would love to, to start chatting with you a little bit. And as I, as I referenced at the start of our discussion you really do have such an interesting bio and, and we were fortunate to meet you. You attended our most recent MSPE instructor training.

And so we got to talk with you a little bit then, but as we were preparing for this discussion and I looked back at all the things you did, it really is amazing how versatile your work has been and all the different fields you’ve tapped into. So if you can, we just love to hear a little bit about your background and what you’ve been doing in your career.

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

So prior to being a psychologist I ran a hockey school for close to 30 years a goalie school. So I still work with a lot of goalies from little guys all the way up to the national hockey league. And a lot of just working with goalies. I was always fascinated with peak performance.

I’m always fascinated with Michael Phelps, like you know, the Elon Musk, like what are they doing? Like what are they doing that might be a little bit different. So borrow Tony Robbins phrase, but success leaves clues.

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

So I’ve tried to understand like, what are some of the things that they’re doing that, you know, and particularly Michael Phelps was really fascinating for me because he’d been diagnosed with ADHD.

So how is someone who supposedly has issues with focus, not only winning, but you know, dominating. So I was the thing with being a goalie is it’s a team sport, but unfortunately when you’re a goalie, if you make a mistake, you might actually cost your team the game.

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

So there’s a, there’s a, an individual inside that team sport similar to a, you know, a pitcher in baseball or a quarterback and football. So I was always really fascinated, you know, like

Tom Brady, like what, again, what’s, what are these guys doing that, that really not only, you know, allows them to perform, but really stand out. So I always got fascinated with that and I love physiology.

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

I love the breath work. Not, you know, working with the military and doing heart rate, variability, breathing, but doing it in a way that’s mindful you know, to help them, you know, stay more, more present especially when you’re diffusing a bomb.

So those it was just great to focus is, you know, the ability to focus and being able to apply it to so many different disciplines, whether you’re you’re a surgeon or you’re you know, a little leaguer, I just always it was really cool to work with so many different if you’re a chartered accountant and that,

that, you know, tax time and all the stress that they may experience, how can they, you know, be more in the moment and manage that stress more effectively.

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

So it was fun. Like I love goaltending and I still love goaltending, but it was really cool to try to see, you know, in different performance environments.

Dr. Tim Pineau:

Yeah. Wow. And I’m at what point, because that’s a long journey right. To go on, but like what, at what point in that journey, did you discover mindfulness as like helpful in this, in this endeavor?

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

Well, just like prior to us, you know, coming on board here today, I was practicing mindfulness, but I didn’t know I was practicing mindfulness. So for example, with my goalies a long, long time ago the breath work was so important.

I call it hype number. So like zero you’re asleep and 10 you’ve had 900 red bull. And so you know, every goalie has what I call a different hype number. Some goalies perform better when they’re calmer, some goalies need to perform better when they’re you know, more hyped up or pumped up. And so through various types of breath work,

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

Tim they were learning how to, you know, be more like in that emotional state, like be, you know, be in the flow. So, but what I started to realize with the breath was that, you know, initially I used it as a calming technique and then I realized, no I was using it more to just anchor in the moment.

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

Cause you can’t feel the breath in the past. You can’t feel the breath in the future. The only time in place you can experience the breath is in the moment. So whether you’re doing a faster cadence or a slower cadence, you’re learning how to just be more in the moment.

And one thing I talk a lot about with my goal, particularly goalies or any athlete for that matter is you’re not in your head.

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

The whole point of training is to trust your body, trust your training. You’re, you’re more task-focused and self-focused. And so when you’re doing breath work a lot, a lot of the clients would come back and say, John, I just, I I’m one, I’m just out of my head.

I have more of that and they’re not trying to get calmed and not trying to get relaxed, but they’re just, I feel more in the moment I feel more present to what what’s happening and that’s how I started.

So I was doing this a long time ago, like breath work, but I wasn’t calling it mindfulness. And as taking courses with you, I’ve learned, Oh, this is, this is, you know, and I’m still evolving. This is mine that, you know, a form of mindfulness. Yeah.

Dr. Keith Kaufman:

I’m so curious. I love how you said it and you captured that so well that you want someone to be more task-focused than self-focused. And, and speaking to us today, what you said about different levels of, of arousal essentially, right. And, and finding that different number for different goalies.

I wonder like one of our favorite questions to ask our guests on the podcast is how do you make that pitch? How, how do you help build that bridge for, for an athlete who doesn’t have the experience or the knowledge of the science behind mindfulness, right?

So that, that the breath can be this window into your ability to be aware of that, to, to regulate that. How, how do you introduce your athletes, maybe your goal tenders specifically to that idea?

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

I learned at an early age, Keith, that I was with my goalie coach one time and we were, I was struggling. I was having a tough go getting off the tough start. And he said, literally, let’s go on the ice before main practice. Let’s go work on some things.

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

So I literally got onto the ice and the ice surface was pitch black. Now I’m a goalie. And I got to stop black pucks. What the, what the heck is going on. And all of a sudden, he said, this phrase to me, Keith. He said, Johnny ever heard this phrase before. And I said, what’s that? He goes,

Hey, there’s a minute left in the game. The goalie’s going to get a shutout. And I’m like, Oh my gosh, who just said that now are those, you know, that like, that’s the kiss of death, because usually if somebody says that they get jinxed and you know, next thing you know, the pucks, you know, behind you, and I’ll never forget this.

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

He said, you know what happens? I said, well, you see, the goalie gets scored on. And he goes, well, why is that? And said, because the goalie lost his focus. That would you guys agree with that? Oh yeah, yeah, absolutely. And he turned around and I will never forget this.

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

And this is how I introduce mindfulness. He said, no, the goalie’s focus actually got better. And I said, what? And I sat back and I, and I, I couldn’t pardon the pun here, wrap my head around it. And he said, John, you have to think of your focus, like a flashlight.

So wherever your flashlight goes, that’s where you’re sending 100% of your energy. Next thing I know, he pulls out from behind his back and old coal miner’s helmet. And, you know, with the big floodlight. Yeah. And he said, let’s go down to the far end and let’s imagine we’re up on nothing against our, arch rival.

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

So, and again, remember, I can’t see two feet in front of me guys. So he says, put it on. He says, let’s line up to the face-off dot as if you know, to your glove side. And he said, turn it on. And he said, right now, where’s your flashlight. It sits on it’s on the face-off dot. He said, what happens if your flashlight goes to the scoreboard?

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

Because you’re thinking you want that when you want that shadow, you want that goal. Well, if you’re flashlights there, guess where your flashlight’s not on the plane that’s happening right in front of you. And the very thing that you don’t want to have happen is going to happen because your focus is awesome,

But it’s on the wrong thing at the wrong time, in the wrong way. And so one of the ways I explained it Keith, cause you asked a great question is I always ask my goal is, you know, think about something that you did yesterday.

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

They’re like, yep, I got it. And I’ll say, okay, now physically go there and they’ll go, well, I can’t. And I also can think about something you’re going to do this weekend. You got that? Yep. Okay. Now physically go there. Well, I can’t. Hmm. So where is the past? And the future build the past and the future are only in our mind. Now if my flashlight is pointing on my head, because I’m focusing on my thoughts, whatever those thoughts may be.

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

Guess where my flashlight is not. And so one of the things through breath work even like you mentioned, Tim, about listening to sounds well, now, one of the things I teach is we can use any point of anchor. You know, we can use sounds, we can use the breath we can use. As you mentioned, point of contact. I love when you said point of contact, just feel your butt on the chair.

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

And the great thing is they, they find it so empowering that they can learn how to direct their flashlight to wherever they want it to go. And I would say early on, I used to, you know, control arousal. Now I don’t, they don’t have to control it. They can just be with it, just like you said, whatever comes up moment to moment. And I call it it’s an and world. Can you be nervous and still perform really well?

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

Yes. So I would say early on in my, like my CBT years, you know, we work on trying to get rid of that thought change. That thought changed that since then. Now it’s just be with it. You can a little phrase that I learned from a colleague, you guys, I’m sure, you know, Amy Saltzman, I love Amy’s little phrase. It’s, you can have a thought and a feeling without that thought and feeling having you.

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

And so through, through the breath, through the breath work if they’re, if they’re stuck in their head, they can use their breath in the midst of a game. It just anchor themselves back into the moment. And, and, and, and it’s a skill just like they’re shuffling just like their core. It’s a skill. And, and they like it. They like that metaphor. This is weight training for the brain.

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

And so, and I’ll often say, okay, well, how long is the period? Well, it’s 20 minutes. Well, let’s see if we can work on just being present for that time. And we don’t start off with 20 minutes, you know, we might start off with a minute and then just keep gradually building. And they love that kind of challenge Keith. They let like, they have like to have fun with it. Yeah. They’re very long winded. Sorry.

Dr. Keith Kaufman:

No, there were so many great examples in there in, in, in that. Thank you so much. I, I think I was, I was, feverously sort of taking mental notes. It’s like, Oh, I love that language. So many things. And I could see how, I mean something we talk about a lot. And, and I know that something that, that Tim really emphasizes in his work is how experiential mindfulness is.

Dr. Keith Kaufman:

Yes. Right. That, that you can’t just sit down and say, okay, the breath is going to be an anchor. Here you go. That, that, it sounds like what you experienced and what you try to help your athletes experience. And I’m sure your other clients as well is, is what this feels like, right. Is, is a physical, like when you say, you know, can you go to this weekend, right.

Dr. Keith Kaufman:

That, that evokes a physical sensation. That is an experience that someone has. It’s not just an idea. It’s not just a visualization. And, and that, that just strikes me in these different examples, just how, how adept, it sounds like you are at helping people to experience what you’re really talking about and, and to build those connections then to on ice performance.

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

Well and again, maybe this is not mindfulness, but I’ve been bringing for the last two years, I’ve been practicing the Wim Hof method. And so I go into glacier waters. Well, I don’t know who said this. Maybe it was one of the Wim Hoff instructors. And maybe you guys might disagree, but it’s a forced body scan.

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

Whether you want to, or not, one of the reasons why I love it is get comfortable being uncomfortable. There’s too many. I think in the past sports psychology was you had to control it. You had to, you have to, you know, control these things. And now when you just the word accept, be with it, allow for it, acknowledge it. It doesn’t mean that you like it.

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

But one of the things I’ve learned through the cold exposure is that when you’re just being with that sensation, ironically the, the pin thing, or the pins and needles, the first 90 seconds happen, but then when your just with it, and you’re just experiencing it, like you said, Keith, all of a sudden that it, you, it, it feels, I don’t know.

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

Like, you’re just, I don’t know what the word is. I can’t describe it, but you’re just, you’re just there and you’re in your soul full to life. And, and so th that’s one of the things that I do cold exposure every day, whether it’s cold shower or literally in my backyard, I go in, sit in a cold tub and just be with it. And for me, it’s liberating.

That’s the word, because I’m not trying to get calm. I’m not trying to get relaxed. And it’s like you said, Tim, like, if I’m in the backyard and I’m just in that water and I’m hearing the birds and I’m feeling the sun on my face it’s just being, just taking that time just to be, and for me,

I really love it. It grounds me and it kind of sets, sets me for the rest of the day. I’m in control of my day. Not the other way, no other way around.

Dr. Tim Pineau:

Yeah. And the other thing that it makes me think of is like, kind of to Keith’s point before about taking an abstract idea and, and, and creating an experience like when I think about cold exposure, I think about like the importance of physically letting go, right? You, you go into that cold water, right.

Dr. Tim Pineau:

And you immediately tense up, right? Like when you feel that tension all in your body and somehow like we do it because we’re trying to protect ourselves, but holding that tension makes it so much worse. And so you have the physical experience of like, letting go, like letting your muscles relax.

Dr. Tim Pineau:

And it takes this abstract idea, which some people like let go all the time. Right. Let go, just let go. Let that thought go. But it’s like, no, no, no, no. There’s a real experience that goes along with letting go. And it just makes it so, so visceral.

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

And when they feel their breath, Tim, when they feel that breath, that’s how they can learn how to just I know for a lot of my younger athletes when they’ve done this wow. Like I am cautious to use this word control, but they, they, they can manage.

So they, I would say they, they have these sensations, but they, they have a different relationship to it. Now we’re in the path. They would have gone into the fear response, but now it’s like, okay. Yeah.

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

It’s, you know, and a lot of the mindfulness instructors have used this where you kind of go into a cold Lake and you kind of just be with it, notice it, and then your body adjusts, and then you go a little, and then next thing you know, you’re, you’re neck deep and you’re feeling okay. And that’s where they’ve learned how to use, even though these difficult emotions and difficult sensations are all going in the course of a game.

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

That’s okay. I can just be with it. And a lot of the goalies have told me that, you know, a lot of athletes have told me that, you know, the five, 10 minutes before that they’re freaking out, they’re pooping their diapers. And, and all of a sudden, you know, five minutes into the competition.

Where did that feeling go? It’s gone. And I think in the past, in the past, for me would have been, Hey, let’s try to control that. And now, no, we don’t. We can, they can just be with that sensation and still go do what they need to do.

Dr. Tim Pineau:

Well, yeah. To your point before, right? It’s not about making that specific thought or that specific sensation going go away. It’s really about attention regulation. It’s like, how much attention am I paying to that thing? Which I, I really like that anecdote from your coach is just like.

So poignant because it really does. It feels very mindful in the sense that it, it takes you out of the typical, like I want to put things in, in, in kind of a dichotomy, like I’m either paying attention or I’m not paying attention and one is good and one is bad. And it’s like, no, it’s not either.

Dr. Tim Pineau:

Or you’re always paying attention to something, but you just might not be paying attention mindfully. Right. It reminds me of John Kevin’s Zinn’s definition. Right. It’s paying attention in a particular way. Right. So we’re always paying attention, but not necessarily on purpose.

Right. Not necessarily. Non-Judgmentally right. And when we start to see that, then controlling those sensations becomes far less important, right? Because we realize the true power is in directing that flashlight.

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

That, and they love that. And that’s my, the, the hockey mantra or the goalie mantra that I use with all my clients is I have no future. And you see some of my kids look back and like, well, thanks, John. Because what happens is, is you can actually go and have a phenomenal game, but maybe your teammates don’t show up that night and you played great, but you lost the game for nothing.

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

Well, one of the things is maybe you didn’t do anything wrong. Maybe you had a great performance, but because of what we call the un-controllables, you know, that you’re not always going to get the outcome that you may want, because there’s so many other factors that could play into it.

So I always teach this. I have no, I have no future. I have no past. So whether I won the game or lost the game, or I made the save, or I didn’t come up with the save, what does it have to do with the next shot?

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

And they’re like, Oh, and I always talk about the gambler’s fallacy with my goalies. You know, if I flipped the 0.7 times and it comes up heads seven, you know, seven times. On the eighth toss, you know, what’s the probability of it coming up heads. And they’re like, well, 50, 50, but I’m like, what about the seven previous ones? And the light comes on. Oh, it has no bearing.

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

And so, you know, that’s where the breath go back to your point, Keith, when they feel the breath just coming in and going out one shot, one, play one period, one game at a time. That’s how they learn how to just play one shot at a time because they’re learning that this is just like the, you know, in a game, the breath is just like one shot at a time. So it’s, I have no future.

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

I have no past my goal is to make the present last I’m right here right now. And so two key or like Tim, for some of my goalies, when their flashlight wanders, it sometimes goes to a different place. It might go up into the stands because they’re concerned about what their mom and dad are thinking, or they’re trying to impress NCAA Scouts, or they’re trying to impress, you know,

Western hockey league or NHL Scouts. For other kids or clients. It’s not that the flashlight goes to a different place or literally goes to a different time zone to the past or to the future. And to me, mindfulness is because I’m more aware. I remember Jon Kabat-Zinn saying one time, it’s not about the breath. It’s about the awareness and that when, when your mind wanders, that’s okay. That’s what it does, but when you’re aware of it.

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

So that’s why I always tell my client, like it, to me, mindfulness is being more aware of my thoughts, feelings, and sensations. And because I’m more aware I can make a better informed choice what I want to do with it now, rather than maybe in the past, I would have just reacted and jumped into it.

And so now it’s like, okay, like you said, all my shoulders were a little tight. Oh. Because I’m more aware of it. I can, I can let it go. And that helps a lot for athletes, you know, pre-competition because they’re were aware, they, okay,

I’m going to stretch out that area a little bit more. So they’ve used that skill to help them even perform better prior to the competition.

Dr. Keith Kaufman:

Yeah. And we talked about that so much in NSBE, like the choice component, right? The more awareness you have, the more choices you have. And I, and I think that is a really important way to, to frame this right. In terms of the rationale, like, why is this helpful?

How has, how has sitting, focusing on your breath, right. Gonna help you on the ice, right. Are going to help you on the track or to help you in the pool, like to make that connection.

Dr. Keith Kaufman:

Right. Like it informs all of the, you make that lead up to like that day of competition. And that, like, I have found that like, athletes really, really respond to that. You know, I’m curious, cause I know you, you work with lots of people who are not athletes, certainly other performers you know, ballet, dancers and accountants.

And so I’d be so curious to hear like how you talk about this stuff, how you frame it, or if you teach it differently with these different populations, both in and out of kind of the performance realm,

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

Guys, if you can help me, I’m on your website, what is it? You, you borrow that phrase focuses the currency of,

Dr. Tim Pineau:

Oh, attention is the currency of performance, Peter. Yes.

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

Yes. So I don’t use that specific, but I use that that’s, it’s like, where, where is it? You know, focused. Non-Important. I don’t know where focus is not important. So whether it’s academic performance or, you know, you’re in the court I always ask my clients right off the bat; how important is the ability to focus?

And that’s where if I, maybe I’m using the wrong term here, that’s where I get the buy-in. And that’s where they start to realize that, yeah, this is a critical key component. And a lot of people, I joke about this, but you’ll hear parents all the time.

There’s a very famous gentleman on internet right now called Danda Pani. And he talks about you know, how many people have ever told you, focus key focus, right. Bear down. Right. But did they ever tell you how?

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

Yeah. And so there’s where I’ll say, okay, you know, they focus as important as anybody ever taught you how to focus. And that’s where, whether it’s through a body scan or through the breath work, or I call it channel channels learning how to be in each different channel, hearing, taste, touch, smell.

And they love that. Like Oh, this is really cool. I, if I want to just be in my hearing channel. Oh, that’s really cool if I want to be just in my body channel. And they liked that. It’s like, I, I can direct my mind to where I want it, where I want to bring in.

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

Um and also that open, open awareness or choiceless awareness that it’s okay to be whatever whatever’s coming up. Like you mentioned in your meditation, it’s okay to experience whatever’s happening in the Mo in the moment.

And, and they love that. They, they, they love that they can just there there’s times where they, they can have difficult emotions going through that day, but they’ve through mindfulness. They’ve learned how not to let that emotion dictate what they need, what they need to go and do that day.

Dr. Keith Kaufman:

I, I think that that emphasis on focus as a trainable skill. I know that for me, one of the things when I first started studying mindfulness, that that really stood out to me is just, wow, this is something you can practice.

This is something that’s trainable. Here are some, some different ways to do that. And, and I think this goes back in a way to what you were saying with Jon Kabat-Zinn quote that it’s not about meditation to relax.

Dr. Keith Kaufman:

It’s not about meditation for the sake of meditation, right? It’s, it’s, it’s practicing a particular way of paying attention, practicing a particular skill that is, that is strengthening this capacity to be present and to focus.

And, and from our prior conversations, I know you brought up something really interesting from, from your own experiences your own work about ADHD and, and you brought it up earlier in our, in our interview here.

Dr. Keith Kaufman:

Um just, just mentioning it, but, but I wonder if you could speak about, about that a little bit. I know you have some, some, some feelings about that, about how ADHD tends to be treated and you know, maybe a, a role in mindfulness or attention training and, and how, how, how you feel about,

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

Yeah, I think I’m very passionate about it. A lot of times I’m not sure what it is in state side, but in Canada, often, if someone suspects that they have ADHD, they’ll bring them to a psychiatrist or a medical doctor, and it’s not right wrong, good or bad. But often there’s, you know, subjective measurements done in terms of whether a person has ADHD or not.

And right there to me, I think there needs to be an objective measurement of abilities, auditory and visual focus. And there’s a lot of things out there that can be done to objectively measure one’s abilities cognitive capacities.

So I think that’s one thing I talk about, but then on the treatment side of things, often the pharmaceutical model, if you’ve been brought up in that, that model, they’re going to say, well, this is the only way that we can deal with this.

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

And I want to let adults, parents kids know, no, this is not the only way that we can work with this. And so there’s, it’s a skill, like you said, it’s a trainable skill, Keith you know, I mean the pro of ADHD medication is it kicks in quickly. You know, we’re with mindfulness it’s I use the metaphor, it’s weight training for the brain.

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

You’re not going to go in, you know, one time and come out, come out like Arnold Schwarzenegger, or who at me on I’m pumped up. Right. It’s, you’re going to through time and practice. You’re going to strengthen that prefrontal cortex.

That’s the research shows you’re creating cortical thickening, and you’re also learning how to manage the amygdala and be able to work through or be with that fight flight response. And so I’ve seen in children how, again, I’ll use this word liberating.

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

It is like, wow, I had no idea how much control that I could have and how much power. And so again, like teaching the kids how to focus and how they can use it in the classroom they can use it in their relationships with their peers.

You know, that, to me, it it’s so fun to watch how much people have, you know, their lives have been restored. Because a lot of times they, there’s a lot of shame. Like there’s something wrong with me. And it’s like, and even like, I’ll say, like, let’s say, if you have add, well, that’s what you might have that, but that’s not who you are.

And, and, and I’ll say like, okay, if w just like, if it’s upper body strength or lower body strength, okay, well, if it’s something we can work on this.

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

And so I, I call it skills rather than pills. And so they through you know, different types of mindfulness practices, like, okay, let’s, let’s take some time and let’s eat mindfully and they love that.

They love that. And it, and so it’s for me showing them another way other than medication has for a lot of the parents and for the kids, that’s been very freeing.

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

Um and it’s a skill that they can have for the rest of their life and use it in for provincial exams. I’ve had so many kids come back and say, I’m John like,

Oh, I got my driver’s license. Like this, this has helped me. Like, I, you know, like I was so nervous, but I also knew that I could still do it. And that my daily meditation practice has been so, so helpful for me to end it, allow me to do what I wanted to do, but that’s been exciting for me on that side of things.

Dr. Tim Pineau:

And, you know, I’m glad you brought in that shame piece, you know, cause I, I found myself thinking about kind of exactly what you were saying.

The, the, the ways that we judge ourselves when we have these labels put on us and we, and we talked a lot today about kind of the intentional training piece, essentially like the awareness component of mindfulness, but of course there’s like the acceptance component. And this is one of the things that I love about mindfulness.

That it’s so much bigger than just like improving sport performance or reducing anxiety, you know that it, it really does change the way we perceive the world perceive our ourselves, you know? And I, I, and I, I see this more and more now, like when it comes to ADHD or autism spectrum disorder, right. That people are talking about it in terms of like neuro-typical versus atypical, right.

Dr. Tim Pineau:

Or neuro neuro-divergent like that, it’s, it’s not about pathologizing or it’s not saying one is better or worse. Right. But we do have to recognize that we live in a culture. We live in a society that prioritizes a certain way of thinking a certain way of being.

And so when someone is outside of that norm, right, we tend to label that as bad. Right. You have a diagnosis, you have ADD you’re less than. Right. And so I would imagine that like a mindfulness training for someone with ADHD, in addition to helping them kind of perhaps improve their attentional capacity. Right. It also allows them to let go of some of that stigma.

So they’re like, yeah, sometimes I need to fit into this box because like, that’s the way our world is. And I need to pay attention to the way a neuro-typical person does. But even when I can’t, it doesn’t mean something’s wrong with me.

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

Right. And, and I think the other part that I’ve learned over the last few years, Tim is I can’t remember the lady’s name, but it’s not just paying attention, but paying attention with kindness. You know, paying attention to the here and now with kindness and curiosity so that we can choose our behavior.

And one of the things that, especially with ADHD clients, it’s like because sometimes they do get frustrated that their mind is wandering so much and I’m like, that’s okay. Yeah. That that’s okay. That, that, that’s all right. That’s what the mind does.

And if anything, when you catch it, instead of being hard on yourself, congratulate yourself, because it’s this recognized return skill. That’s one of the reasons why the athletes love it.

If you were talking about earlier that you know, a lot of athletes have this misconception, particularly kids that, you know, my NHL goalies, like they can focus for 60 minutes and I’m like no you know, that’s a hard, no P PGA tour golfers do not focus for six hours.

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

No one does that. And, and they’re like, really? And I’m like, yeah. And so it’s like, you know, when they first, even just with the awareness of breath, when their mind wanders, it’s like, that’s okay.

That’s all right. And, and, and, and if anything, when you, when you catch it wandering congratulate yourself and just, it doesn’t matter how many times the wanders just gently and kindly just keep bringing it back. And that’s where the, I find it also,

Tim, it helps with that shame piece because there’s, isn’t there. You’re just fine the way you are. And, and, and, and my, one of my first mindfulness teachers Priscilla, she mentioned, I don’t know if you guys agree with this or not, but it helped me, was she said, John, just like the heart pumps blood. Yes. What the brain does, it pumps brainwaves. It pumps thoughts.

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

And that’s okay. And, and I think her Jon Kabat-Zinn does at one time say if your mind wanders 10 times, just notice what you know, what’s on your mind and then bring it back. Yeah. If it wanders 10,000 times, that’s okay. Just notice it and bring it back.

And I know for a lot of my clients, that’s so liberating that they don’t have to control their thoughts anymore. Like they, they can acknowledge it and it doesn’t mean that they like it, but it’s just, Oh, okay. It’s there. That’s all right. But I can gently bring them back.

And that’s where they’ve learned, how not to let those thoughts and feelings, you know, consume them that it can still be there and they can still go do what they need to do.

And that, for a lot of my clients, that’s so powerful, whether you’re the only thing I was going to ask you, Tim was, I had a young goalie last night, he’s from just outside of Pittsburgh.

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

And he really learned this. He really learned that he could have all these negative thoughts and feelings prior to a game and that he could still go out and perform really, really well. But what I found really interesting, he said, you know, I, man, I have a such a hard time motivating myself to do homework, you know,

Oh, I don’t want to do that. I’m tired. And I said, is that the same principle? He’s like, Oh, you’re right, John, it’s not, it’s no different. I said, how can you be with those thoughts of not being motivated, you know, not excited and still go do your homework.

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

And so, you know, the mental noting practice where you’re just noting, if you’re, you know, using your breath as an anchor and notice noting, you know, when your mind wanders. And he’s found that very helpful now that to be able to help him with those difficult emotions and when he doesn’t really want to do his homework, but I find it interesting.

Some of the, my clients can really get it in one area, but they don’t see how it could connect in another area. But I don’t know if you’ve, you guys have had that experience with other clients where they get it in one, but maybe it doesn’t transfer over to another area, but then they’re like, Oh yeah, that makes sense, John.

Dr. Tim Pineau:

Yeah. I mean, absolutely. And again, that’s kind of circles back to what I was saying before, about how mindfulness, I feel like is so much bigger than just to achieve this one thing. And even though that’s often how people find mindfulness, like I want to have less anxiety.

I want to perform better at sports. I want to sleep better. Right. So I’m going to meditate. Right. And they start to realize like, Oh, this touches so many other parts of my life. And I think, yeah, there’s these kinds of fundamental lessons, like the way that shame interferes with curiosity. Right.

Dr. Tim Pineau:

And I imagine for that young goal that you were talking about, right. There were a lot of feelings around like, not being able to do his homework and shame. Might’ve been one of them that like, I’m not able to perform at school in the way that I want to, where people are judging me.

And yeah. And that stops us from being curious about like, Oh, well, what, like, how is this similar to this other experience? How do these things translate? And so we’re, we’re constantly encouraging the athletes that we work with to look out for that kind of stuff. And certainly we see this, like when I’m working with a, team.

Dr. Tim Pineau:

You know, I’m trying to teach them mindfulness most of the time when they start reporting what they notice, the ways that mindfulness impacts them, it has nothing to do with their sport. Right. I’m working a lot of college athletes. So it’s like, I focus better in class.

I, you know, I’m not fighting as much as my roommates, you know, like, and, and it’s like, Oh right. And all of the reasons why, like my thoughts and judgments get in my way and those places, like that’s going to apply in my sport too. And like, it turns the light bulb.

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

Yes. Yeah. Yeah. And I think, sorry, sorry. No, I had the same like where a lot of the college students, like I’m managing my homework better. I’m managing my schedule better. And Oh, by the way, I’m actually performing better on the, on the playing surface too.

Dr. Keith Kaufman:

I mean, I think John you’ve given us so many wonderful points to chew on over this conversation. And I don’t know if you have a name for your approach or how you frame your work, but the word that I think you’ve used more than any other is, and how so much of this is about, and right. It’s not either, or, or just this one area or even the way your career, right.

Dr. Keith Kaufman:

It’s you cross so many different areas in, in the people that you work with and the kind of work that you do, you, you truly seem to embody the and guy. So if you decide to use that, you can credit me for the but I love that. I mean, I think that is so I know what we, we do have to sort of wrap up here in a second, but as you were talking, something that, that just felt like it was so present and, and we just didn’t have time to go in this direction.

Dr. Keith Kaufman:

So maybe you can come back and join us again, is the idea of limits and the idea of how people put limits on themselves and try to put themselves into these or boxes. And, and how so much of what you’re saying today, really, I would imagine with, with the people you work with helps them realize that they can transcend these limits, that they might’ve set for themselves.

Dr. Keith Kaufman:

You know, these, these expectations and how, when you show them this different way of paying attention, perhaps things don’t play out the way they would have anticipated based on past experience or projections into the future.

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

Yeah. I mean, I mean, I always share this story and I’ll, well, I’ll try to keep it real brief, but I, unfortunately I lost my mom three years ago. And when I went back to Glasgow and the doctor told me that John we’re, we’re going to take your mom off the machine.

And I always, I always explain this, that, you know, the moment the doctor told me, I always explained to my clients, it’s like, do you think I had a thought about that? Absolutely. Do you think I had feelings about that? Absolutely.

Did I have sensations coursing through my body and for the first time ever? I mean, I look back at it now. I was having a panic attack. I literally felt like, you know, there’s this weight on my chest, but the one thing, and we talk about this and wrong.

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

My mom gave me the honor to execute her will. And I know this may sound strange guys, but I felt I had two things. One, despite what I was thinking, feeling and sensing, I had to still do what my mom wanted me to do, and that was execute her will.

And the second thing was, was for me to make sure that my mom died with compassion that died, that she know that she was loved and died, that she in the most pain free way possible. She lived for 12 and a half days after they had pulled the machine.

Now, in that time you’re talking about limits there, there was days where, Oh my gosh. I mean, I, you know, but despite all of that, I could still go do what I needed to do. And, you know, Tim, you mentioned there was times where I just went out and I know this is hard to believe, but it rains in Glasgow.

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

And you know, just taking that moment to be out in the front and just feel the rain and feel the wind and feel all the stuff that I had going through my mom, you know, about my mom. And, and so I think a lot of times, you know, time magazine presents mindfulness as is to me that that’s not mindfulness, it’s, it’s being okay with whatever’s coming up.

And, and so through that experience that’s where I try to teach my clients. It’s you can just, there’s so much could happen, but you can still go do what you need to do. And the next thing, you know, you’re, you are breaking through limits that self-imposed, that you might’ve had before. And now all of a sudden you’re like, Oh my gosh, I, I I’m doing this.

And that’s where I had a lot of my clients, you know, break through barriers, whether it’s an academic or you know, personal or a sport performance. And they’ve had, and they’ve, and I’ve asked, have you ever had moments like that? And they’re like, absolutely. Like, I didn’t want to go to the gym that morning and 10 minutes later, I’m at the gym. So I’ve learned, Hey, that I can still go do what I need to do so.

Dr. Keith Kaufman:

Well, that’s an incredibly powerful example. Thank you for sharing that, John.

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

Yeah. Thanks.

Dr. Keith Kaufman:

Well, I, I, as I said, I wish we had more time to, to go further into this. I’m wondering if you want to share with our listeners any ways to get in touch with you, or if you want to just mention nine, I believe you have a website, correct. Or let people know how to find you.

John Stevenson | Psychologist Edmonton:

Yeah. So I have two websites on the health, health, zonepsych.com. And then on the performance side, it’s zoneperformance.ca I’m based out of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. We have all sorts of in light of the COVID virus, we’ve all had all sorts of ways to be able to provide our services now all over the world as beautifully right now, we’re doing it through zoom. So there’s lots of different ways that we can you know, assist our clients in reaching their goals, even if it’s from far, you know, from far away remote. And I can’t. Thank you guys enough. I love I could talk for hours about this.

Dr. Tim Pineau:

Yeah, no, thank you so much for, for being willing to come on. And this is, this has been great. Yeah, we really appreciate it. And gosh, I learned a lot from you today. I really, really appreciate everything you shared. Thank you. Thank you guys.

Dr. Keith Kaufman:

Um and we do want to remind everybody as well that if you’d like to connect with us through our MSP Institute you’re welcome to visit our website www.mindfulsportperformance.org. You can also follow us on Facebook or you can connect with me, Dr. Keith Kaufman on Twitter. My Twitter handle handle is at mindful sport doc. And of course, we also want to take a moment and thank our producer Taylor Brown of UT Austin, and Enduro mind, as well as our colleague Carol Glass for all of her help and support behind the scenes. So thank you everyone for listening and thank you, John, for joining us. And we will see you next time.