Master Stress with Mental Toughness

When a psychologist starts to wonder about her own performance as a singer, she does what she’s trained to do – nose around in the literature until she finds out the whats, whys, and wherefores. In the case of Pamela Enders, it was sports literature that helped her move from performance anxiety to relaxation and enjoyment. She now applies what she has learned from this literature to performance in both corporate and performance situations through workshops and individual and group coaching.

Enders offers a workshop on "Developing Mental Toughness: How to Perform Masterfully and Project Confidence in High Stress Situations," on Thursday, July 7, at 9 a.m. for the Institute for Continuing Legal Education, New Jersey Law Center, New Brunswick. Cost: $189. To register, call 732-214-8500.

Mental toughness is a term that emerged from research in sports psychology. Enders defines it as "the ability to consistently perform toward the upper range of your talent and skill regardless of competitive circumstances. It is the constellation of psychological and cognitive qualities that determine one’s competitive edge." She cites five mental factors necessary for excellent performance:

Reboundability. The ability to mentally bounce back from setbacks and mistakes.

Ability to handle pressure and stay calm in the clutch.

Concentration. The ability to focus on what’s important and block out everything else. Trial lawyers in the middle of a trial, for example, must concentrate on cross-examinations no matter what else is happening in the courtroom.

Confidence.

Motivation.

Enders has adapted a test from sports literature that assesses how well a person is functioning in each of these areas. The purpose of the test, which is available on her website (www.pamelaenders.com/test.html), is to illuminate strengths and vulnerabilities, because, she says, "the good news about mental toughness is that these skills can be trained and taught."

Enders’ work is based on psychological theories, one of which describes concentration, suggesting that it can be focused either internally or externally, and either broadly, looking at the big picture, or narrowly, focusing on one thing. This theory implies four types of concentration:

Broad, external. Used to quickly read and react to the world around you. When lawyers walk into a courtroom, they use this to size up the jury, see who the witnesses are, and see what the other side looks like. Basketball players would use this to decide where to move the ball on the court.

Broad, internal. "Lawyers and CEOs tend to favor this one," says Enders. "It is used for big picture work." It involves taking information from the environment and using it to analyze issues, solve problems, and plan strategy for the future.

Narrow, internal. Used to rehearse an activity or a speech. It focuses on only one thing and involves systematically repeating the activity internally.

Narrow, external. Used to hit a ball, shoot a basket, or sink a put. When balls are coming to batters, they must ignore the fans screaming, the other team, and focus only on the ball.

"It is important to know what type of concentration is required for each kind of action," says Enders, "and to become aware of what might interfere with concentration." She cites two major types of distraction: external, which includes things like noise, people talking, or the weather; and internal, which involves things like not feeling well physically or engaging in internal dialogue.

Enders tries to help people become aware of negative thinking that can undermine their performance. "It is often so automatic that are people not aware of it," she says. "They are just aware of the consequences – anxiety and depression." A batter in a dugout who is up next with bases loaded and a tie score in the 9th inning may be thinking, quite unconsciously: How can I possibly get a hit? I struck out last inning. But if the batter is aware of these negative thoughts, he can change them into something positive, like thinking about his RBIs and hits during the preceding week."

"Changing this way of negative thinking," says Enders, "you must be able to dispute and debate your negative thoughts. The first step is to evaluate the beliefs expressed in these negative thoughts. Enders describes the thought process you might use to debate these beliefs:

Evaluate the evidence to see if the belief is true. Although the baseball player did not do too well in this game, in the previous three games he had RBIs and a home run, and he has a contract for $X million. "Most of time you will have reality on your side," says Enders.

Think about alternative explanations for the belief. "Many events have many causes," she says. The baseball player may not be doing well today because of a pulled muscle, a bad cold, fatigue, or simply because he didn’t practice enough the previous day.

Analyze the implications of the belief. For the player it is that he will be lousy today in the batter’s box. If the negative belief is correct, which it sometimes is, then the person must decide what steps to take to address the problem and to develop an action plan. The batter might need to work closely with the coach, get feedback, and find out what is wrong so he can improve.

"Too often," says Enders, "people give up." She advises developing an objective, dispassionate perspective – as if someone else has the problem.

Assess the usefulness of the belief. If it is destructive, then Enders advises using distraction and setting aside those feelings and beliefs for the moment.

Enders majored in psychology at the University of Wisconsin and earned her Ph.D. from Temple University in 1982. But it was only a few years ago that she became interested in the psychology of performance. When she was young, she had been a singer, but set that career aside to study for her doctorate. A few years ago she started doing some cabaret singing again. "I always wanted to get back to it," she says, and she finally did it "as a resolution to a midlife crisis."

She found she would get anxious days before a performance and became interested in the psychological factors at work. "I did research and discovered the world of sports psychology," she says. "I applied the techniques to my own performing with great results – I have more fun on stage, think less about any mistake I might make, and connect more to the audience."

One of her theoretical foundations for the way she looks at performance is the "inner game approach," derived from the "Inner Game of Tennis" by Tim Gallway. "The ‘inner game’ approach is to reduce interference at the same time that your potential is being trained," she says, "so that your actual performance comes closer to your true potential."

The first step is to look at what’s interfering with your performance. One factor may be negative thinking; a second is anxiety. To manage somatic or bodily anxiety like queasy stomach, butterflies, shaky hands, or running out of breath when talking (all of this is usually called stage fright), relaxation techniques are helpful.

A cognitive approach to anxiety uses visualization to mentally rehearse a performance before the fact; research has shown this makes a big difference in actual performance. A baseball player who has an upcoming game would close his eyes and, with his mind’s eye, see himself playing the game. He would both see himself at bat and try to experience it in the body – how his body will feel, how he will hold his body, how the bat will feel, what the ball will look like coming toward him, and how he will move his body with the bat when hitting ball. He does this over and over, says Enders, "creating a mental blueprint."

"When we rehearse mentally, we can do it perfectly," she says. "The more we do it perfectly, the more we are creating neural pathways so that when we are in the actual situation, it will feel familiar and we will be able to perform with ease."

Enders uses this approach on herself and teaches it in her coaching business in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "It affected the way I rehearse and practice," she says, explaining that when rehearsing she gets into a relaxed state and only when she is really calm and focused does she begin. If she finds herself getting distracted, she stops and gets back into the relaxed state. On stage she uses a keyword to bring on the same feelings, allowing her to enjoy herself and "be as creatively expressive as I want to be."

Then, she says, it dawned on her that the principles of performance psychology could be applied widely. "I realized that so many people’s lives are hampered because they are afraid to put themselves into the spotlight." She started offering workshops locally to performance artists and business people, and from there it blossomed. "I have integrated my two lives, psychology and performance to become a performance coach," she says. "I have the tools to teach people to overcome fears and move forward with their lives." – Michele Alperin

Blogs at Work: Useful Tool Or Knife in the Back?

The use of Web logs – more commonly called "blogs" – continues its wildfire expansion. Blogs are easy to set up free-form online journals that record their owners’ observations on everything from butterfly sightings to great inventors to their latest love interests. Among those succumbing to the blog craze are employees of companies large and small, a development that is not entirely welcome in some quarters.

Corporations are now examining how employees’ web communications can boost a company – or stab it in the back. Tackling this subject, Dow Jones is presenting "Blogs: The Risks & Rewards of Using This Hot New Medium" an hour-and-a-half virtual seminar on Tuesday, July 12, at noon. Cost: $400. Register at 800-775-7654, or at www.krm.com/regonline/peavcregs.nsf/10806e.

In its E-invitation to this seminar, Dow Jones points out that GM used its blog to squash speculation it was eliminating two of its car brands – a positive corporate use of the online journals, at least positive for the company. On the other hand, Apple recently saw its shares drop on Internet rumors of an inventory surplus, obviously not a good thing for that company.

Information – or misinformation – is now so easy to spread, and can have a real impact on a company’s fortunes. The seminar takes blogging seriously and asks: What types of policies should be created to govern employee blogs? How should these policies be adapted and enforced? And how can blogs supplement a company’s PR and marketing?

To answer these questions, Dow Jones has put together a panel of PR and legal experts to detail how companies can use blogs to boost sales and marketing – while also ensuring that they protect themselves from the risks associated with this unregulated medium.

Participants in this web seminar will hear advice on blog-related strategies that can boost sales and marketing while controlling employee leaks and avoiding legal hassles. Questions are encouraged.

Panelists include Tom Magnani, an attorney with Howard Rice Nemerovski Canady Falk & Rabkin whose practice focuses primarily on intellectual property counseling, licensing, sweepstakes and advertising compliance John Slafsky, a partner with Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati who specializes in trademark, copyright and advertising law; Steve Rubel, a vice president at Manhattan-based CooperKatz & Company and head of the agency’s Micro Persuasion practice, which helps clients launch marketing programs that include blogs, podcasting – a new method of automatically streaming subscription audio feeds, often in the form of independent radio programs – and RSS, the file format used for podcasting; and Dave Barry, managing editor of Dow Jones Venture Capital Analyst.

Topics to be discussed include:

Liabilities to be aware of before starting a blog and how to minimize risks.

How companies have benefited from blogging.

The keys to ensuring you have a successful blog.

How to set employee policies on blogging that protect the company without infringing employee rights.

How you can effectively use blogs in your PR or marketing strategy.

Who’s liable when an employee posts something that infringes on a third party’s rights.

Legal issues you need to be aware of if your company is in registration.

The best policies for avoiding or minimizing information leaks.

Blogs are used to reach and communicate not only with customers, but also with the media and the competition. Don’t think that ignoring them is a safe policy, urges Dow Jones in pitching its seminar. In the Wild West that is the world of blogging, the smart company will at least load its holsters and try as far as possible to meet the word-slingers armed with knowledge of how the new medium works.

Intercultural Communication

Diversity is not just a watchword of the culturally correct, but a description of what people in the United States are exposed to daily on the street, in the office, and on every communication medium. Most cultural training assumes that learning a different culture is a complex affair, requiring an understanding of nuance, body stance, and customs. Bena Long, however, believes that such generalizations about a culture are "useful but limited," and the primary focus should be on developing skills that allow an individual to communicate and make decisions effectively in any environment.

When she was doing traditional cultural training with executives and their families – customary foods and eating etiquette, business hierarchies, political systems – she found that the people weren’t ready to assimilate the information: "Each person was like a container, and in a training session we would pour information into them," remembers Long. But she found that these containers "had many holes in them" due to daily work and home demands, stress, and stress-related health problems that were not being addressed. These issues, she believes, strongly affect the ability to communicate and learn.

While studying Eastern-based sciences from a Himalayan master at the Menninger Institute, Long learned that "we have control of our autonomic nervous system" and realized that this was the "missing piece" in the cultural work she was doing. No one was preparing the executives – the containers – to assimilate or "hold" the information.

Long teaches a five-session course on intercultural communication at Mercer County Community College. The first session takes place on Tuesday, July 12, at 6:30 p.m. The program, she says, "deals not only with the culture, but with the container-individuals and their ability to self manage." Cost: $127. Call 586-9446.

Long suggests that the common worry when confronting an international colleague is about making a mistake and offending the colleague. She calls this a "mild form of culture shock," and believes that this concern will "put into motion the possibility of making a mistake rather than communicating clearly with that person then and there." Instead her recipe is to "develop the skill that lets you be in any environment, in any situation, and be able to function from balance, with resilience, and flow with the change to communicate and make decisions effectively."

"The content of what you talk about will change," says Long. "What travels with you is whether you have balance, clarity, and resilience." She explains these fundamental concepts of her approach:

Establish balance in yourself. "Balance is the ability to eliminate the internal stress of dealing with different cultures," she explains. Balance is understanding how to control the nervous system so as not to get upset or concerned, but to pay attention to what the other person is expressing to us – to really listen.

In any conversation, Long maintains, 50 percent of the time we hear what the other person is saying and the other 50 percent we are "talking to ourselves, making our own interpretations." If we are not attending fully, we miss valuable information about what is being communicated. Ultimately balance is created through skills in neurological control.

Develop resilience. "Resilience is the ability to be in any environment under any condition, make sound decisions, and act in accordance with the situation," says Long.

Listen with an open mind. Conflict only happens when someone opposes someone else’s stance. Developing the ability not to create conflict, she says, involves being able "to be present to something very different from your own values. It means you need the ability to self-manage, to listen to something you don’t agree with, don’t like, or don’t conceive of as the way the world should function."

Long graduated from Douglass College of Rutgers University in 1991 with a major in political science and a focus on the Middle East. In 1995 she received, from Lesley University, a master’s of science in management, intercultural communication, and training and development. Her first work experience was in insurance company management, where she admits, "I found I was interested in dealing with the global staff and the issues that came up rather than the work to be done."

After her master’s, she became a consultant doing corporate work in global relocation. Having a sense of what goes on in a business, she was intrigued by what went on in business environments around culture and communication. Today she is the principal of Pennington-based MindMovement LLC., a consulting firm that offers programs and coaching in strategic intelligence skills, cross-cultural communication, and leadership.

The class she will be teaching at MCCC is a core course in the business certification in communication, and much of what she does in the class is experiential methods of teaching the necessary skills in self-management. The class has attracted people from all over the world, including both non-Americans and local people who want to learn how to work better with their colleagues.

Today individuals encounter so many new ideas and new ways of seeing a world that is more and more complex. "How do we stay in relationship and communicate under these conditions?" asks Long. Balance, resilience, and good listening expand our thinking and improve our ability to deal with change and conflict.

U.S. Chamber Gets Behind Chambers

Each of this nation’s 2,800 chambers of commerce have a way of ushering members into the inside. All those seemingly innocent breakfast meetings somehow end up feeding the lines of an expanding business network. Local chambers, tied into the parent organization, also have substantial clout with government. But what has the national chamber done for you lately?

While the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has the ear of the federal government, business owners often wonder exactly what chamber lobbyists are whispering. Further, many small company executives shy away from the national chamber, thinking that all of its benefits are for major corporations. But on Tuesday, July 12, at noon, John P. Moery, the U.S. Chamber’s senior vice president, comes to Trenton to argue otherwise at a meeting of the Metropolitan Trenton African American Chamber of Commerce at the Roman Hall Restaurant. He plans to unfold the workings and the benefits of the national chamber. Cost: $30. Visit www.MTAACC or call 609-393-5933.

Moery staunchly believes in small and mid-size companies as the business backbone of the U.S. Chamber. "We represent over 10 million people, and over 90 percent of our members have always been small businesses," he says. On a more personal side, this Oklahoma native with a broad accent proudly points to his parents. "My mother and father ran a small construction company for 50 years, and that got me involved with business."

Upon graduating from the University of Oklahoma in l987 with a B.A. in journalism, Moery turned to selling ads for radio stations. This experience bent his interests away from commerce and toward politics. Joining the American Trucking Association, Moery became executive director. Then in l999 he became vice president of the Specialized Carriers and Rigging Association. In 2000 he joined the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, where he has held many posts including membership in "The Association of 100," the Chamber’s major decision making group.

The U.S. Chamber labors for its members both directly and through more indirect advocacy of business needs, claims Moery. But the national size definitely offers some advantages.

Chamber to business. One of the most under-used benefits of U.S. Chamber membership is the simplest to employ. At www.U.S.Chamber.com members can avail themselves of discounts on everything from Federal Express delivery to Office Depot supplies. "Our surveys show that small business members are saving $1,000 to $1,500 a year from these alone," says Moery.

The U.S. Chamber’s most popular money making and saving avenues come through its broad range of training resources. Courses in all media on everything from purchasing to handling government paperwork are available with no consulting fees. Increasingly, training requests are slanting toward a global picture, says Moery. With 92 chambers abroad, the U.S. Chamber can not only instruct you how to step into the global village, but can often link you to a business partner.

While members are all involved in this grand information swap, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is conspiring tirelessly up on Capitol Hill, advocating what it deems best for the business owner. These are some current issues:

Workforce development. "We have a severe labor shortage in this country," says Moery. "This coupled with the fact that over 95 percent of all Americans will have to retrain at least once to merely keep their current jobs, makes it our prime issue."

Skill retraining is a marvelous concept, but someone has to pay for it. The U.S. Chamber has lobbied successfully to shake loose government dollars for public programs such as the Job Corps. Additionally, the Chamber has worked out a nationally-scaled program linking community colleges with area businesses to blend job requirements with specialized education. Every local chamber has a job task force.

Such development now reaches employees, with www.U.S.Chamber.com becoming one of the major pipelines to jobs. "No one entity can bear a national retraining effort this large," says Moery. Virtually everyone agrees that this is an excellent example of government and private enterprise uniting to conquer a long-term problem.

Lobbying successes. Taking advantage of a receptive administration, the U.S. Chamber used its considerable weight recently to help pass class action legislation. This new law makes it easier for a class action suit to ascend to a federal court, which traditionally tends to be a more business-favorable venue.

"Local courts frequently stack the deck against sued companies," says Moery. Both states and civil rights groups argue that this law is unfair jurisdictional piracy.

Minimum wage. In an effort to keep business costs down, the U.S. Chamber has successfully fought against the last two attempts to raise the minimum wage. While most business owners see this as a good thing, many argue it leads to a skill downgrade of workers.

Bankruptcy. Joining banks, lenders, and the credit industry, the U.S. Chamber voiced its strong support of the new Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act, which goes into effect on October 17. While this bill definitely enhances creditors’ odds of getting their funds back, opponents claim that it puts unfair burdens on consumers buried in bills, forcing them into the arms of debt collector/counselors. Many small business owners, who might be on either side of the collection table, feel edgy about this one.

Free Trade Zones. "Both at home and abroad, we are fighting to make the wheels of commerce run a little more smoothly and less expensively," says Moery. The establishment of a free trade zone, which would do away with double taxation of import/export goods, is an example of how this could be achieved.

Transportation. Transportation in this nation stands in a state of near-crisis. Rails need repair everywhere. So many of the country’s highways and bridges were built at the same time and are now wearing out all at once. "Right now we are working with legislators," says Moery hopefully, "and two big bills are coming together that will make a major difference in America’s infrastructure."

It is not all successes, however. Says Moery, "We still do not have any real energy policy in this country. And businesses cannot plan without one." The fight for even-handed taxation is also a problem that lacks an easy solution.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has a lot on its plate. It is trying to please a membership from Wall Street to Main Street, and cannot satisfy all of its members all of the time. Yet, for businesses owners, the organization is a union of sorts, a lobbying group, and a voice. When you are unhappy, speak up loudly. If not, bask in the benefits of membership.

Funding Your New Technology

You have the idea of the century, but whether you’ve just come up with a window cleaning robot or the next bio-technology solution, you will need money to finance your new venture. Where do find that angel investor or venture capital fund to finance your start-up? Venture Scene/New Jersey holds a venture capital breakfast to help answer the question by bringing entrepreneurs together with private investors, venture capitalists, corporate investors, and professional service firms.

The event takes place on Tuesday, July 12, at 8:30 a.m. at the Commercialization Center for Innovative Technologies, 675 Route 1, North Brunswick. Cost: $115. Call 718-447-0009.

The Venture Scene breakfast includes both panel discussions and networking. Speakers include Joseph Falkenstein, NJTC Venture Fund; Chip Meakem, Draper Fisher Jurvetson Gotham; Conor Mullett, Updata Partners; Ashok Roy, Sycamore Ventures; Chris Sugden, Edison Venture Fund; Conrad E. J. Everhard, Thelen Reid & Priest LLP; and Joseph Gitto, Emerging Business Group, Geller & Company.

The breakfast is being promoted on the NJEntrepreneur.com website. This website, started just a few months ago, "is a hub designed to help small businesses and start-up companies make their way through the maze of funding and resources available in New Jersey," says founder Jeanne Gray, a business growth consultant from Westfield.

The breakfast allows new entrepreneurs the opportunity to "meet, interact and network with a distinguished group of venture capitalists seeking new early stage and emerging growth investment opportunities. They will share their criteria for funding deals in 2005 and their insights on the venture industry," says Joe Benjamin of YoungStartUp.com, which is organizing the breakfast.

Benjamin founded his company in 1999 as a consulting company designed to assist "early stage investors particularly in regards to their investment presentations." The company grew out of his own frustration with attempting to start an entertainment sector business. He found that "there were no resources out there" for entrepreneurs to connect with venture capitalists. YoungStartUp.com began as a free resource for other entrepreneurs. A short time later Benjamin and his company hosted a seminar for entrepreneurs. "We had 130 people at our first seminar and we got a lot of feedback that people wanted us to do more," he says.

Based in Staten Island, Benjamin works mainly in the New York tri-state area. He has held several seminars in New Jersey and last year began a seminar in Philadelphia. He is also branching out worldwide. Israel Venture Summit took place last March, while World Venture Summit, which will feature international businesses, is planned for September 27 at Madison Square Garden.

"Starting any company is an extremely difficult task. You must be able to produce results, have a solid business model, and build the right relationships," says Benjamin. Once in front of the people with the money, he has several suggestions for the new entrepreneur:

Do your homework. Know what your potential investors are looking for.

Be prepared with the information they are interested in about your business.

Practice your pitch. "This is a sales game," says Benjamin. Make what you are selling sound appealing. Practice your elevator speech. You have about 10 seconds to interest your potential investors. After that they’ve tuned you out.

Don’t speak in jargon. "A big mistake a lot of science people make is to talk a lot of science jargon. They need to speak basic English," he says. "Initially your investors aren’t interested in exactly how something works." Instead he suggests practicing making your product sound appealing. "You may have the solution that will solve the world’s problems, but if your investors don’t see it as a winner they are going to blink you out," he says.

Benjamin suggests keeping your approach short. "Don’t tell everything all at once." Several "buzzwords" can help get your point across, he says, including the words "patent" and "partnerships." If you have a patent on your product, make sure to mention it, he says. Partnerships, too, are valuable assets an investor wants to know about.

Don’t look too hungry. "Don’t come to your investor from a standpoint of need. You want to build excitement about your product," he says. "You need to have the attitude that you will succeed. If you aren’t sure you’ll succeed, why should someone invest in you?"

There are a limited number of ways for a new company to get funds, says Benjamin. Bank loans or borrowing money from friends and family are two typical ways. A third way may be to hire someone to do research into potential investors. He cautions, however, that this method takes money away from your business that could be spent elsewhere.

"Angel Investors" are another source of investment money. An angel is "a private individual with discretionary income who is looking for a place to invest it," says Benjamin. Usually, he says, this person is a professional or a retired executive who has income other than that which he or she is investing. Angel investors can be particularly valuable in the early stages of a project when a company does not yet have the measurable milestones a larger venture capital fund may want.

Venture capital funds are the largest source of money for entrepreneurs who have moved past the friends and family and angel investment stages. Each fund has a website describing the types of companies in which it invests, the geographical area in which it likes to invest, and the amount of money it typically puts into a company. The fund’s portfolio companies are listed on the site and provide insight into the types of businesses that are likely to appeal to the fund’s partners.

It’s a good idea to be thoroughly familiar with a fund and its objectives before approaching a venture capitalist. The Internet is one way to obtain such knowledge, and meetings like the one Benjamin is arranging can be a way to begin the relationship. It is also a place, he says, at which entrepreneurs can "learn what it takes to raise funds so they aren’t wasting time and money" in their search for investors.

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