Stan Beecham on “Elite Minds”: Part 2 of an interview by Bob Morris

beecham-1Stan Beecham is a sport psychologist and director and founding member of the Leadership Resource Center in Atlanta, Georgia. Since 1998, he has been helping organizations maximize performance and realize the full potential of their human resources. Senior executives utilize his expertise to guide them through the process of selecting and developing high performance teams.

In addition to his coaching and consulting engagements at the Leadership Resource Center, he is a professional speaker and writer committed to advancing the science of leadership development. Legendary Coach Vince Dooley gave Beecham his start as an undergraduate student at the University of Georgia, allowing him to work with Kevin Butler, the great college and professional kicker for the Chicago Bears. Dooley later hired him to start the sport psychology program for the athletic department. He was instrumental in helping UGA win numerous individual and team championships during his tenure.

Today Stan’s work with collegiate, Olympic, and professional athletes from many sports has afforded him an insight into the minds of great competitors that only few have had the good fortune to gain. His book, Elite Minds: How Winners Think Differently to Create a Competitive Edge and Maximize Success, was published by McGraw Hill Education (September 2016).

Here is an excerpt from Part 2 of my interview of Stan.

* * *

Morris: For those who have not as yet read it, hopefully your responses to these questions will stimulate their interest and, better yet, encourage them to purchase a copy and read the book ASAP.

First, when and why did you decided to write Elite Minds?

Beecham: I give a lot of talks and trainings and was consistently being asked if I had written a book. I realized that the reason I had not written a book is because I did not think I would be very good at it. In reality it was fear. Fear of failure, fear of embarrassment. In 2012, I started getting up early in the morning and writing. It was amazing. The words were just flying out of me. After I had written the majority of the text, I hired a local editor to clean it up. She kept telling me the book was really good and I told her I was going to pay her even if she though it stunk. Eventually, she convinced me that I had to pursue publication. I self-published the first edition and it did very well, more than 12,000 copies. The next step was to hire an agent, which I did. My agent found several publishers who wanted the book, I eventually went with McGraw Hill. The rest is history.

Morris: Were there any head-snapping revelations while writing it? Please explain.

Beecham: Yes, I had to first write the book for me. It was something I had to do or I would be haunted for the rest of my life. I accepted that the book may never be published or read by more than a few people. Once I let go of trying to do something for the approval of others, I had no trouble writing.

Morris: To what extent (if any) does the book in final form differ significantly from what you originally envisioned?

Beecham: Once you sign with a big publisher, they have editors and expectations of the book. It was a give and take process. I had to accept that they owned the book and that publishers are focused on selling books and they know what sells. Quite a bit of the content was edited out. It was kinda like someone saying your baby is ugly. It hurts your feelings at first, then you learn not to take it too personally.

Morris: The mind seems to be what the brain does, for better or worse, and the subconscious mind seems to control the conscious mind. Here’s my question. What role do emotions play when we are making decisions?

Beecham: Unfortunately, most people are ruled by their emotions, which they create. The trick is to learn to observe yourself and your emotions. You are not your emotions; you are not your thoughts either. You are that which observes the thoughts and emotions. Once you can learn this, you have a huge advantage in the competitive arena.

Morris: What can help us to make better decisions?

Beecham: Trusting your instincts is crucial. The things you know but don’t know how you know. The other thing is listening to other’s viewpoints and ideas and not being threatened by someone who has a better idea.

Morris: When can stress be beneficial? When can it not be?

Beecham: Stress can be beneficial initially, it can get you started. But you can’t stay in an anxious state for very long, it’s exhausting. Long-term stress is destructive and keeps you from performing at your best.

Morris: What is the Nocebo Effect and why is it uniquely significant?

Beecham: Most people are familiar with the Placebo Effect, which demonstrates that if you believe something will benefit you, it will, even if there are no physical properties that have a positive effect. The classic example of the placebo effect is someone takes a sugar pill, believing it will relieve their pain, and it does. The opposite of the placebo effect is the nocebo effect. If someone is given an innocuous substance, and although they are told it will have a detrimental effect, it frequently does. This demonstrates the power of the human mind, what we believe will happen, usually does.

Morris: What is “the truth about self-deception”? When and why is it denied?

Beecham: The fact of the matter is we all practice self-deception to some degree, with few exceptions. There are beliefs we have about ourselves and others that we have had most of our lives. Even without evidence or proof to support the belief, we maintain the false belief. Humans hate to admit they are wrong, especially when it comes to their fundamental beliefs. I encourage people to question their own belief systems and look for evidence of how the belief may not be true. Especially when the belief does not serve them and may in fact be harmful. For example, most people will tell you they are either lucky or unlucky. They can then offer numerous examples of why they are lucky or not. People who see themselves as unlucky will disregard all the examples of when they have been the recipient of good fortune.

Morris: In Chapter 3, you recommend that people pursue their best rather their better. You characterize better as a “hindrance.” Please explain.

Beecham: We are obsessed with being better and believe the desire to be better is critical to achieving our best. The problem with better is that it is future-oriented and a criticism. We want to be better because we believe we are not good enough yet. It is in your own best interest to believe you are good enough and then simply do the best you can. You can’t do better than your best. All behavior and performance happens in the NOW, you can’t do anything in the future, only think about it. You can do your best now, in the present moment. Focusing on Best vs. Better actually allows you to improve faster and reach your full potential.

Morris: Steven Kotler, author of The Rise off Superman, suggests there are four stages of achieving optimal performance: struggle, release, flow, and recovery. Which stage seems to be most difficult to complete? Why?

Beecham: I think most people fail to understand the benefit of doing something that is initially difficult or something they believe is impossible. When we struggle, we usually move away from the struggle and wish the process to be easier. Great performers learn to not only embrace the difficulty, but look for ways to challenge themselves and make the task even more difficult. By embracing the struggle phase and not running from it, you actually reach a higher level of competency. Therefore, the Struggle phase is usually the most difficult to complete because we think if it’s too hard, we must be doing something wrong. Staying with the Struggle actually leads us into Flow, which is when optimal performance is experienced.

Morris: What is the relevance of the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy to achieving and then sustaining optimal performance?

Beecham: No one knows the future! So, we are constantly making up the future and acting as if the universe is creating the future. The future is simply the thoughts and beliefs you have about what is going to happen to you. You can create the future however you wish, yet most of us create future based upon the past, thus we repeat the past. This power to create our future is very overwhelming to many of us, we don’t really want to be responsible for what happens. It is important to know that your expectations about the future will be followed by behavior, in the present, that will lead to a specific outcome.

Morris: Here’s one of your comments that really caught my eye: those who know where they want to go will find a way to get there and their way “will likely be a route [they’ve] never taken before.” That comment reminds me of a passage in T.S. Eliot’s poem, Four Quartets: “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” What’s your take on Eliot’s observation?

Beecham: I believe Eliot is encouraging us to take risks, try new things, to go where we have not gone before. It’s the journey that transforms us, not the destination. We are too concerned about “getting there”, yet there is no there to get to. The journey is about the now, how you live your life. We need to ask ourselves “am I living an interesting and passionate life.” Instead, we keep asking ourselves “are we there yet”?

Morris: In your opinion, what is the single greatest power of the subconscious mind?

Beecham: The secret is to make the subconscious conscious. This is what being self-aware, awake or enlightened is all about. Most of us are slaves to our subconscious and we need to make the subconscious our slave. We do this by thinking about our own thinking. Become aware of your subconscious mind by observing it, understanding it. Beliefs reside in the subconscious where we cherish them as truths. You can alter your subconscious by using the conscious mind to become more aware and present.

Morris: You suggest that that there is a process of six steps to building high-impact teams. Which step seems to be the most difficult to complete? Why?

Beecham: The most difficult and critical part of team-building is the first stage, selecting the right people. If you can’t attract and retain quality people, you will never reach your goals. Most organizations need to spend a lot more time and money in the recruitment and retention of their best people. If you do this, you will spend less time fixing problems created by poor performers.

Morris: How and why can “failure drive success”?

Beecham: Simply put, we need failure. We need to try new and difficult things in order to grow. And of course this leads to failure. If we avoid failure as our primary goal, we will never reach our full potential. Success is not the avoidance of failure, it is our response to failure. If you quit you lose, if you keep going, you win!

Morris: What is the “myth of 110 Percent”? What in fact is true? So what?

Beecham: Many coaches and leaders love to say “give it 110%”. The problem with this is that 100% is all you have. The reality for most organizations is if you could get your people to function at 90%, you would dominate your competition. Trying harder does not always lead to improvement. If often times leads to greater frustration.

Morris: How specifically can a leader give their organization “the permission to believe they can win”?

Beecham: Organizations adopt the beliefs of their leaders. If the leader believes it is possible, then he or she can likely get others to follow. Ask people to do their best, and believe their best is good enough. If you don’t believe in your people, they will not believe in you or what you say.

Morris: which misconception about “competition” seems to do the most damage? Please explain.

Beecham: We tend to believe that we are in competition against one another, not with one another. The word “compete” means to seek with, not seek against. Life is not a zero sum game whether there is only one winner and the rest are losers. We need competition to push us to be our best. Competition is always healthy when done correctly.

Morris: In your opinion, to what extent (if any) can “luck” be a determinant of either success or failure? Please explain.

Beecham: When we perform at our highest level, there is a sense of ease and effortlessness that we experience. It is you at your best. When you have this experience you feel free, unbound by your mind and the limitations your mind can place on you.

Morris: Of all that can be learned from the Buddhist monks living on Mount Hiei in Japan, whom you discuss in Chapter 17, what do you consider to be most valuable? Please explain.

Beecham: When I first came across this story years ago, I didn’t believe it. It seemed impossible that someone could walk/run 40 kilometers a day for 100 consecutive days, with no food or water along the way. And then after that, continue the process for six more years. In the seventh year they complete 84k for 100 days and then another 100 days of 40K. Needless to say, I was curious to learn their secret. There really is no secret. They simply commit their lives to the process and if for any reason they fail to complete the cycle, they must take their lives. It brings up the question, “What would you be able to accomplish if you had only two options, keep going or take your life”.

Morris: What (if anything) is wrong with “the pursuit of happiness,” referred to in the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence?

Beecham: You don’t achieve happiness by trying to be happy. You will not become successful because you want to be successful. Those are both developments that occur as a result of how you live. We are too obsessed with outcomes and not curious enough about the process. If you find something you really enjoy doing and spend a lot of time doing it, you will become successful at it. The same is true for happiness. Happiness happens for those who live a life full of purpose and service to others.

Morris: What did you learn about yourself while writing this book that you did not realize before?

Beecham: I learned that if you doubt yourself, live in fear of failure, you will not get much done. I learned that there are a lot more critics than there are people taking the risk to live their dream. I learned to ignore the critics, the ones who say you are not good enough. I have changed some of my personal relationships, I don’t spend a lot of time with people who are unhappy and anxious. I spend more time quiet and alone and have learned that I need to be alone in order to be a good friend and colleague.

* * *

Here is a direct link to Part 1.

Stan invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

His website link

Elite Minds Amazon link

Facebook link

Twitter link

Stan’s YouTube videos link

Posted in

Leave a Comment