Dr. Gervais works in high-stakes environments with some of the world’s top-performing athletes and businesspeople. He is known for his work on the Red Bull Stratos project, where he helped Felix Baumgartner overcome the anxiety and claustrophobia felt when he pulled on his jumps suit to make the history-making leap from 128,000 feet.
Meditation, mindfulness and team-building techniques introduced by Dr. Gervais are credited by Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll as being key to his team’s 2014 Super Bowl win. Carroll and Dr. Gervais continue to work together as co-founders of Compete to Create, a digital platform helping people become their best through mindset training. Here, Dr. Gervais shares insights gleaned from working with the best in the world.
Dr. Gervais, you’ve worked with top-performing individuals and teams in many fields. What are the common factors among those at the top of their game?
While we haven’t yet found a golden thread among world-leading performers, there are a set of common traits. One is that they are incredibly aware of their inner experience, and have a rich command of their craft. We've found that they are aware of their thoughts, their emotions, their sensations and the unfolding environment in a world-class way. They have the ability to course correct when their actions, thoughts, or even words are not aligned with their mission.
Elite On athletes like Javi Gomez push themselves into new unknowns over new distances or events. What lessons can we learn from them?
We've learned that the world's best run to the edge of their physical, technical and emotional capacities and they recover in a world-class way. They fundamentally organize their life to find the edges of their limits every day. At the edge of our limits is the unpredictable unknown, the razor's edge. For many people, that unknown is met with uncertainty about having the skills to meet those demands. That creates so much anxiety that they revert to something that is more comfortable – staying inside their known world. And that is the most beautiful recipe for average. The recipe for extraordinary is to run to the edge of capacities and then recover.
Ancient traditions and all the world's religions teach us that the present moment is by definition unfolding, unpredictable, and unknown. So living in the present moment is actually the antidote to strengthen one's ability to deal with the unknown. And that is where mindset training and mindfulness in particular, become a massive asset to those wanting to explore their potential.
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Can the mental aspects of performance be trained in like the physical aspects?
There are only three things that we can train as humans. We can train our craft, we can train our body and we can train our mind.
"Long gone are the days when world-leading people leave the condition of their mind to chance."
Most people train their craft somewhere between 20 and 40 hours a week. Whether that's in a traditional nine-to-five job or as a professional athlete. But for the majority, that's just technical work. Then, say you run or do a gym session most days, that’s maybe five hours of training your body a week. But how much disciplined mental training do we do? Like just focusing on our breath, for example. It’s often not anywhere near that level.
To start with, 10 minutes of a day is a significant investment in mental training. Then eventually can we can get to an hour a day? That would be incredible, but it means adjusting our overall approach to work and training. As a bold prediction, in 15 years, we will not be training like we do now. We'll be much more sophisticated about how to use the mind to enhance whatever it is that we're doing.