B4B: Performing Under Pressure

preforming under pressure

Performing Under Pressure: the science of doing your best when it matters most by Hendrie Weisinger and J. P. Pawliw Fry is an exhaustive guide to performing under pressure in any circumstance, from sinking a free-throw to nailing a business proposal to serving with the Navy SEALS.  Weisinger is a psychologist and JP is a performance coach, and both are experts about handling pressure.  Performing Under Pressure is an excellent and fascinating book, combining just the right balance of physiological studies, real stories, and concrete application.

Three Things I Learned From Part I (the introductory section)
1. No one performs better under pressure.  No one.  The science is overwhelming in every field, including and especially sports.  Michael Jordan didn’t play better under pressure. Reggie “Mr. October” Jackson didn’t play better under pressure.  Throughout his career, Michael Jordan (and most other star athletes) played slightly worse under pressure.  AND THAT”S THE GOAL.  The goal isn’t to perform better than average under pressure, the goal is to perform as close to normal as possible under pressure.

2. A lot of times we feel under pressure when we aren’t truly under pressure.  The authors do a great job defining when you are or aren’t under pressure and giving tips for how to preform when you feel like you’re under pressure but you actually aren’t.  The rest of the book deals with how to perform when you’re actually under pressure.  This was one of the most important parts of the book, since I have a significant tendency to psych myself out and believe that I am in a high pressure situation when the actual stakes are much lower than I think/feel.

3. Many motivational techniques actually create poorer performance, because they create pressure.  (Again, NO ONE preforms better under pressure.)   Under pressure, people generally think they do well because they meet deadlines, but the work done is poorer and less creative then the work they would have done if not under pressure.  Creativity and innovation are always the first victims of pressure.  When under pressure, people try and just do something rather than doing quality work.  But most importantly, pressure causes people to defer to authority, turning to managers instead of experts, or to dump the ball to Kobe/LeBron instead of recognizing better options to score.  In offices, the first reasonable idea will become the final idea, instead of a longer and more fruitful creative process.
Recently, I reviewed The Matheny Manifesto, where Mike Matheny argues against cheering for players during at bat.  He caught a lot of flak for banning parents for cheering for students before or during an at bat.  (You could cheer after the at bat was over.)  His reasoning was that it puts too much stress on kids and hinders performance.  Performing Under Pressure overwhelmingly supports Matheny’s system, and provides a massive amount of scientific evidence to prove it.

22 Tricks and 4 Character Traits
The bulk of the book is spent giving practical tools on how to preform under pressure.  They give 22 “Pressure Solutions” that are more short-term techniques to reduce the negative effect of pressure on performance.  Some of my favorites:

#1- Befriend the Moment- Think of pressure moments as a fun challenge or as an opportunity.

#2- Multiple Opportunities- Remind yourself that this is one of many opportunities.

#4- Focus on the Mission

#5- Anticipate, Anticipate, Anticipate- Expect the unexpected and practice/role play through pressure moments (i.e. practice your presentation as if you were suddenly asked to give your 20 minute presentation as a 5 minute pitch, or that your powerpoint wouldn’t load, etc.)

#7- Here and Now- “Tune into your senses.”  Take a moment to notice your environment, what you smell, see, and feel.  This can help you focus on the immediate moment instead of worrying about the future.

#12- Use an Anchor- “Come up with one word or image to broadly describe the best way to preform what you do.”  Practice this activity while focusing your mind on that one word or image.  Then think about that one word or image as you do the activity.  Athletes that do this during their golf swing or free throws preform significantly better than athletes who think about specific mechanics while under pressure.

#22- Sharing Pressure- Communicate your feelings of being under pressure.

But even though the Weisinger and JP give 22 tricks but only 4 character traits, they spend three times as much space talking about the character traits.  Ultimately, who we are is more important than having a few wise techniques.  The four basic character traits they identify are : Confidence, Optimism, Tenacity, and Enthusiasm.  The authors give a ton of advice on how to grow in these areas, as well as their usual array of psychological studies and personal testimonies to back it up.

I loved Performing Under Pressure.  It was an entertaining read, even at almost 300 pages.  I’ve come away with a much better understanding of how I personally perform under pressure, including a list of things I am already doing well and a list of very specific things I can do or change in order to preform better.

I received a free copy of Performing Under Pressure from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.


B4B: Seven Revolutions


Seven Revolutions:how Christianity changed the world and can change it again, by Mike Aquilina and James L. Papandrea, delivers on its promise.  It’s a fantastically well researched book and Aquillina and Papandrea are clearly masters of church history.  But the real value of the book comes from how well they connect the Roman context to current one. At every point, it easy to see how the obstacles of the early church relate to our emerging challenges today.
Often we take for granted how revolutionary the message of Christ was to the world.  Elements that may seem ho-hum to us, like the personhood of women and children, the separation of church and state, or the idea of a positive life after death, were shocking to the Romans.  The book is very helpful in demonstrating how much Western civilization owes Christianity.
Where the book falls short is that it has a tendency to whitewash things a bit.  Seven Revolutions always chooses the very worst examples from Roman history and usually chooses the very best examples from the early church.  The contrasts in the book are real, but perhaps not as black and white as they are made to seem.  And thus it paints a very simplistic picture of the early church, when things are always more complicated.  The authors argue for the monastic movement as an example of how Christianity combined the values of work and worship, but act as if there were no negatives to the development, EVER.  They uphold Constantine as the founder of the separation of church and state.  They make a fantastic case for it, but you can’t call it a revolution that changed the world if none of his successors followed in his footsteps.  The early church councils are lauded as 100% good.  Can’t we uphold the decisions of the councils but reject as evil much of the political methodology they employed?
To summarize, Seven Revolutions does a fantastic job unpacking how Christianity dramatically changed Roman culture and showing how this is relevant today, but my confidence in the facts presented was undermined by how black and white they made things.
This book was provided to me by Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

B4B: The Matheny Manifesto


In the space of a year, Mike Matheny went from coaching a Little League team to coaching the St. Louis Cardinals.  In each of his first three seasons as manager, the Cardinals have made it to the National League Championship Series.

This experience makes The Matheny Manifesto unique.  It’s written from the perspective of a successful MLB player and manager, but at it’s heart it’s a book about youth sports– how to coach kids, how to parent kids, how to enjoy playing sports as a kid.  Far from a sort of “here’s how you can get to play in the major leagues” it’s actually a bold and scathing criticism of Little League teams and other youth sports treating T-Ball as if it was “The Show.”  He argues that the current “win every season at all costs mentality” is harmful in the long term to the development of players and is harmful to the character building process that youth sports should provide.

He is scathing in his criticism of coaches who treat elementary age students like professional players– prioritizing winning over letting players learn new positions and skills, disproportionately playing their “stars” and marginalizing their less skilled players as much as possible.  This criticism is surpassed by his disdain for youth coaches who yell at their players, publicly shame their players, cuss at their players (or do any of these things to opposing teams or umpires.)  He complains about managers who encourage their players to cheat, as if winning a Little League game is more important than teaching little kids that cheating is okay if it gets you what you want.  (Matheny would have hated my YMCA hockey teams…)

Matheny also had strict expectations for parents.  The Matheny Manifesto is based on a 5 page document which Matheny wrote to parents before he began coaching Little League.  It detailed his values, and the way those values shaped how he would coach, and how those values shaped his expectations for parents.   If parents didn’t like it, Matheny would direct them to another team their kid could play for instead.  In at least two cases. Matheny kicked a kid off his team because their parents continually broke the contract.  Some expectations of parents were:

  • Not criticizing the umpires.  Ever.  Matheny argues that umpires at every level have bad days, but to publicly berate a volunteer (often a high school student) is entirely mean-spirited and teaches our kids to whine and complain throughout their lives when they don’t get their way.
  • Not lobbying for their kid to get more playing time or play more at a specific position.  I feel sorry for the two kids who got removed from the team because their parents couldn’t follow this rule.  While Matheny would prioritize talent a little in end-of-the-year tournaments, during the regular season he gave equal playing time and equal opportunity to try positions (unless he worried students would injure themselves playing first base or catcher) to all his players.  He argued that elementary school and jr. high is too early to dedicate students to a specific positions, that specializing in specific positions (and specific sports) leads to higher injuries over time, and that marginalizing weaker players so that you can get a higher seed in a Little League tournament is stupid.
  • Not shouting out advice from the stands.  Matheny didn’t want any back-seat coaching.  But actually, this rule existed to ease the amount of pressure on students.  For this reason, Matheny wouldn’t even allow parents to shout encouragement while a student was batting.  (You could shout “good job” after the at bat, but not during.)

At times, I felt that Matheny was too strong on a position.  But I would gladly submit to his rules to have my sons play for him– not so they could play ball with a major leaguer, but because Matheny is precisely the sort of role model I hope my sons will have.  I have also known many coaches and parents who would benefit from some of Matheny’s suggestions.

The whole book is full of anecdotes of his playing time, from his backyard through Little League, College, his professional career, and his managing career (both Little League and the MLB).  It’s a great read for anyone who loves baseball.  As a passionate Christian, Matheny shares frankly how that impacts his career and values, and he does so in a way that should be appreciated by most readers.  I especially appreciated how naturally Matheny shared the gospel by telling his own stories.  I highly recommend this book to baseball fans, to anyone who coaches any sport, and to parents of young athletes.

In Christ,
Brandon Ray Boulais

BloggingForBooks provided this book in exchange for an honest review.

What Was God Thinking?: a reflection on Good Friday.

Today I got to participate in my community’s Good Friday service.  Each of our town’s pastors gave a five minute sermon, each of which focused on the response of a different person/group to the cross in Mark 15.  I had the privilege of speaking on the response of the Father.  It is the genius of Mark’s storytelling that he leaves us with the perspective of the eyewitnesses.  Mark doesn’t take a break in the middle of the crucifixion to remind us of the bigger picture, or the theology of the cross.  We experience the bleak despair of those who were there.

In the course of writing this I came across an interesting debate on whether Jesus was really forsaken by God, with some arguing Yes because of the outpouring of God’s punishment, and others arguing that the God the Son could not be truly forsaken by God the Father.  Like most interesting theological debates, it wasn’t important enough for the sermon.  If those sort of discussion interest you, go google it.  Here is my reflection on Good Friday:

The Gospel, according to Mark, Chapter 15, verses 33 and 34.

At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”-which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.” (ESV)

In the preceding passages we have seen the passion of Jesus from many eyes, but there is one exception. There is no prophetic voice to lift us to heaven and into the great throne room. God seems silent.

And this silence echoes the experiences of those watching Jesus. They do not know what God thinks of all of this. God seems silent.

So they wait to see if God will act. If Jesus is the Messiah, then surely God will vindicate him. If Jesus is the Messiah, then God will surely rescue him. Each step towards the cross brings a sort of agony. The agony of waiting, of wanting desperately to hope, and cruelly lashing out in despair.

Their misinterpretation of Jesus’ words, hearing “Elijah” instead of “Eloi” is surely intentional. Psalm 22 was well known, it was the centerpiece of the three Messianic Psalms. Almost all of the Jews there would have recognized the first line of the Psalm: My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Those that knew Jesus might have realized that something strange was happening, since Jesus never addressed God as anything other than “Father.” Hearing the first line of the well known Psalm, they would have seen the Psalmist’s vision stretched out before them. For in Psalm 22, David predicted the mocking crowds, predicted the pierced hands and feet, predicted even the tossing of lots for Jesus’ clothes. And they would have known, that the Psalm ends with these words:

They shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,

that he has done it.

And yet, in that three hour darkness, in the seeming silence of God, they are too afraid to hope.

They did not know what God thought of the events, and were too afraid to perceive his actions. But we know that just because God seems silent, does not mean that He is not at work. There on the cross, when God seemed absent, when God seemed silent, He was working His most powerful miracle.

Forsaken by God, Jesus fulfilled the will of God, which was spoken by the prophet Isaiah:

Isa 53:5-6

But he was wounded for our transgressions;

he was crushed for our iniquities;

upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,

and with his stripes we are healed.

6 All we like sheep have gone astray;

we have turned every one to his own way;

and the Lord has laid on him

the iniquity of us all.

There in that apparent silence, God was speaking the words of a new creation. And when Jesus’ work was finished, God looked at us, He looked at his new creation… and He saw that it was good.

How To Stop Being Dumb: Things I (re)Learned from “Ask It.”

ask it

I participate in a program called Blogging for Books, where I get free books in exchange for a book review.  (Actually, as a pastor, I’m not sure that I’m required to post reviews, but I do anyways.)  I put up a quick review of Ask It, so I could order another book I was interested in.  But I knew I wanted to share more.  The original review is here.

But here are the top things I learned or relearned from Andy Stanley’s Ask It: The Question That Will Revolutionize How You Make Decisions:

1. “Is it wrong?” is a very dangerous question.
Andy writes, “Unfortunately, that kind of thinking sets us up for another question that we rarely verbalize or even allow to surface to the level of conscious thought…  It goes something like this: How close can I get to the line between right and wrong without actually doing something wrong?  The Christian version goes like this: How close can I get to sin without actually sinning?” (page 19, italics are Stanley’s)

I cannot count the times that I have found myself or someone else doing exactly this.  How close to having sex can we get without sinning?  Our youth ministries so often teach students, “Don’t have sex before marriage,” which unfortunately leads to many doing everything short of sex prior to marriage and thinking, we did good enough.  Likewise we ask, how inappropriate of a movie can I watch, how many hours can I spend on my hobby and neglect important tasks, is it wrong to date this person… and so on.

And as Stanley points out these questions inevitability lead to another question “How far over the line between right and wrong can I go without experiencing consequences?” (p. 19-20)  At this point we stop caring about pleasing God entirely and start worrying solely about our own comfort.  And most of us have found ourselves doing this, especially by asking, “What will so-and-so think?” instead of asking, “What does God think?  How can I most please God in this situation?”

With his typical humor, Stanley suggests that all of these wrong questions that all of these wrong questions inevitably lead to a final question: “How did I get myself into this mess?” (p. 20).

Instead, the question to ask is, “Is it wise?”  And the rest of the book is dedicated to learning how to ask this question, and how to actually listen and follow through on the answer.

2. What is wise depends on your personal circumstances.
Andy Stanley has three chapters on this, one on past experiences, one on current circumstances, and one on future goals.  Each determines what the wise thing for us to do personally.  While what is “wrong” is more-or-less the same for anyone, how we wisely interact with right/wrong varies.

There is nothing wrong with me walking down a street that I know has a casino on it.  There is nothing unwise about it, either.  But for someone who is recovering from a gambling addiction, it is incredibly unwise.  Is it morally wrong for a gambling addict to walk down the street?  I don’t know, but that’s the wrong question to ask, because…

3. “Every poor  moral decision is prefaced by a series of unwise choices.”-Andy Stanley, p. 105
I’ll just quote Stanley again here:

“Think once again about your greatest moral regret. Isn’t it true that your decision to cross a certain moral line was predicated by a series of choices that led to that final and most regretful one?  And isn’t it true that you marched right along, justifying every choice with, There’s nothing wrong with…
And you were right.  There was probably nothing wrong with most of those preliminary choices.  But looking back, it’s all to clear, isn’t it?  One “nothing wrong with” choice led to another, until the temptation was irresistible.” (page 106)

It seems so basic after Stanley says it, but I never thought of it quite so simply or directly before.  Take your pick of stories… the teenagers that gradually goad each other into shoplifting, any addiction or re-addiction, sexual boundaries being crossed before marriage or even in adultery… Stanley sums them all up in two paragraphs.

4. Time management is a very important/tricky element of walking wisely.
In his chapter, “Time Bandits,” Stanley lists four truths about time that make it both difficult to manage well, and essential to manage well.

  • There is a cumulative value to investing small amounts of time in certain activities over a long period.
  • There are rarely  immediate concequences for neglecting single installments of time in area of life.
  • Neglect has a cummulative effect.
  • There is no value to the things we allow to interfere with the important things.

Working out and daily Bible reading are two examples.  Neither one of these is likely to change your life because you did them once.  The benefit comes from investing small amounts of time over a long periods.  Health, physical and spiritual, comes from a lifestyle, not one day in the gym.  It requires wisdom to see the long-term benefits and plan for them, and it takes wisdom to overcome the temptation to skip.  Since a single day of skipping the gym or devotions may seem to have negative consequences, it is tempting to skip a workout or a devotional time.  It requires wisdom to see the long-term harms of skipping and the long-term benefits of being consistent.  In many ways, wisdom is synonymous with delayed gratification.

5. Seek help!
As Stanley points out, no athlete rises above the need for coaching.  Every successful athlete, regardless of their sport or level of achievement still seeks out coaches.  And yet in most areas of our lives we are resistant to help.  Too often we look down on those that go to therapy, or at least think, “It’s okay for them, but I don’t need that much help.”  We avoid asking our parents for help, we avoid asking our pastors for help, we avoid asking anyone for help because we are afraid AND because we don’t stop and ask ourselves THE QUESTION: “Is this a wise thing to do?”  How often have you found yourself thinking, “If only someone had told me…”?  Did you ask someone and really listen to what they had to say?  Perhaps like me, you have sometimes found yourself asking, “Why didn’t I listen?”

When looking for someone to give you wise advice, my friend Shane Stacey gives three pieces of advice:

  • Find someone older/more experienced than you.  (i.e. If it’s a dating/marriage question ask someone that’s been married for a while, not a high school student with 3 weeks of dating experience.  It seems obvious, but guess who I and every other teenager went to for advice?)
  • Find someone who you respect/admire, someone who resembles who you want to become.
  • Ask someone who doesn’t have a stake in your decision.  (I.e. Don’t ask your friend who’s going to that party if you should go to, don’t ask the military recruiter if the army would be a good fit for you, etc.)

As a last word, I appreciate how in the end, Andy Stanley reveals that wisdom is ultimately about our relationship with God.  Wisdom is about about being with God, and then seeking counsel from God and truly listening to His response.  Ask Him.

In Christ,
Brandon Ray Boulais

B4B: Finding Your Way Back to God by Dave and Jon Ferguson


Dave and Jon Ferguson are church planters in Chicago and leaders of the church-multiplication movement: Exponential.  Exponential  is also the name of their previous book, which may be my favorite book I read in seminary.  (And I read a lot of books…)  This gave me high hopes of course, but I also knew that this book was written for non-Christians more than it was written for me.

 The way they communicate to seekers is very different than the way they communicated to church leaders in Exponential and, even though I was expecting it, it still rubbed me the wrong way at first.  For example, the subtitle is “5 Awakenings for your new life.”  Having grown up in a slightly new-age environment, the word “awakening” doesn’t get me excited, it makes me cringe.  In the beginning there were several instances like that, but I quickly settled in and began to enjoy the book for what it is.

What Finding Your Way Back to God is, is a fantastic and biblically faithful guide to… finding your way back to God.  Surprise!  Following the parable of the lost son(s), it walks through what it means to realize your need for God, repent, and turn to Jesus’ work for your help.  It’s all done in non-Christianeese, so they use “help” instead of “salvation,” they start with “regret” before building it into the fuller and more vital “repentance,” and so on.  But the lighter word choices don’t lead to a light theology.

I even came to appreciate the word awakening.  Luke describes the younger son with the words, “When he came to his senses he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare and here I am starving to death!  I will set out and go back to my father…” (Lk 15:17-18a, TNIV).  The Fergusons are calling a generation to this kind of awakening.

In the coming month, Jesus has given me a lot of exciting opportunities, including celebrating Easter with my church, visiting my family in California, and attending two conferences.  When I have more time to settle down and reflect, I’d like to share my own story as it follows the awakenings set out in FYWBtG.  I may also compare it to another book I just finished, Tim Keller’s The Prodigal God, which is a beautiful retelling of the parable of the lost son(s).

If you are not a Christian, but want to know more about what it means to become someone who follows Jesus, I would strongly recommend Finding Your Way Back to God, and I would even be happy to give you my copy.

In Christ,
Brandon Ray Boulais

As with all the posts beginning with B4B, I received a copy of Finding Your Way Back to God from bloggingforbooks.org in exchange for an honest review.

B4B: My Top 4 Reasons Why You Should ASK IT

ask it

While Andy Stanley is rather coy about what “the question” is, I won’t be.  It’s just too hard to dance around.  The question which Stanley believes we need to apply to every aspect of our lives is:

Is it wise?

Not a complicated question, really.  And yet Stanley’s point is that for some strange reason (human brokenness and sin) we don’t ask it!  Instead we systematically convince ourselves that its “ok” to do it, even though we know its a dumb idea.  And dumb (unwise) ideas have a tendency to stack up into bad (sinful) ideas.

Here are my top 4 reasons for recommending the book.

1. It hits some of our biggest needs concerning human wisdom.
Again, our biggest problem isn’t lack of knowledge, it’s a lack of faithfulness to what we already know.  Andy Stanley’s book doesn’t try to teach us a bunch of facts, it reveals the truth about our nature and works to help us to make the choice which we already knew was right from the beginning.

2. The book hits hard at some of our most common problem areas.
Whether it’s finances, weight loss, time management, or sexual fidelity, Andy Stanley pulls no punches.  His advice is so basic and yet so essential that it may surpass books that focus on any one of these issues exclusively.

3. It’s light reading but not light content
Andy Stanley is one of the leading voices in how to communicate to people who didn’t grow up in the church, and it shows in the quality of the writing.  The book is immediately relevant to non-Christians, but is very clear and unashamed of it’s gospel message.   It is a very fast read, and yet none of it is fluff, and none of it is trash.  Too often, Christian books with this level of curb appeal are stuffed with out-of-context Bible verses that have nothing to do with the subject, or just outright dangerous theology.  Ask It doesn’t have any of that.

4. It has discussion questions in the back that will make for great small group discussions.
I would strongly recommend Ask It for adult small groups and book clubs.  It’s broad enough to be relevant to pretty much everyone, and yet ties all these spheres of interest together in way which will foster interactive conversations.
It’s nice to see the questions included in the book instead of sold separately.  (It is also available as a DVD series.)
It provides discussion for 6 weeks, one for each part of the book.  My only criticism of this is that the first weeks reading is very long compared to the other weeks.
If you are looking for a similar series that uses video check out the series below on time management.  Both the video and discussion guides are free!

Riverside members: A copy of Ask It  will soon be added to our LIFE Group section in the library.

As with all my blog posts with B4B in the title, I received a copy of Ask It for free in exchange for an honest review.

In Christ,