In conversation with sports & business performance psychologist Jamil Qureshi

We spoke recently to sports and business performance psychologist, Jamil Qureshi, about his highly-anticipated keynote session at LEARNING LIVE.

Your keynote is about maximising our performance and that of those around us.  In today’s high-pressure business world, what do we gain from caring about the performance of others when we have ourselves to worry about?

It’s difficult to achieve anything in isolation. Increasingly, I’m seeing less of companies competing with companies and more of networks competing with networks. When networks or communities are formed, they tend to outperform bureaucracies when it comes to optimising talent. So it’s important for those communities to be able to utilise the knowledge resources they have to hand. To be truly successful, we can only do it through others, so it’s important to create relationships and build networks based on common purpose. Communities with a purpose always tend to perform better than their individual members.

Why do mental blocks happen and what can we do about it?

In a sporting context when you’re having a run of success, you tend to think you’ve hit a “purple patch”, “good form” or even “a lucky streak”. In fact, you’re simply performing at a level without physical or mental restraint – in other words, you could perform like this all the time. But, of course, most of the time we’re being compromised. It’s the same in the workplace. When we perform/present/sell really well, we think it’s temporary. It’s not. With the right foundations and habits in place, we could do it consistently. To do differently we have to think differently.

I believe mental blocks happen because people don’t have enough self-awareness. Increased introspection tends to lead to greater success, especially when we analyse why we think the way we do. Have you ever written a list of what you’re going to do today? Try writing a list of what you’re going to be today!

You spent some time with NASA astronauts. Tell us about this experience.

Yes, I was very lucky to spend a few weeks at the Goddard Space Centre. We were looking at recovery, which is a really big part of performance. When you work hard to reach a level of physical fitness you have to be able to recover well. So we put a lot of work into when and how the astronauts slept and how they relaxed. The same techniques work with footballers, racing drivers, medical teams, the military – good relaxation and recovery (R&R) leads to performance gains.
Another thing business people don’t do very well – which the military does do well – are debriefs. So we tend to win a contract and pat people on the back or we lose it and shout at people – whereas we should evaluate both equally.

You’ve also spent time at the Comedy Store and with TV magician/hypnotist Derren Brown. How have these experiences influenced the way you approach your work?

In the case of Derren, it’s his absolute commitment to perfection that inspired me. He doesn’t cut corners and just puts 100% into everything he does. I’ve learnt a lot from him in this regard, the importance of being absolutely focused and committed to excellence.

The reason why I did the Comedy Store is because I wanted to experience something different. When you look at artistic people; musicians, film directors, comedians, writers – most of them know how to get people “feeling” differently. For example, Stevie Wonder can make you go from sad to happy in 3 minutes. These people know (often instinctively) the psychology of getting people to focus on something else other than what they are currently. Magicians like Derren also know this. So I put myself through a variety of experiences and learned a variety of techniques to understand how I could improve. For example, can I improve my confidence? Well, if you do the Comedy Store on a Friday night, one of the things you need to cultivate quite quickly is your courage and confidence! We should all try new things whenever we can – it helps us understand our versatility. We might surprise ourselves.

Finally, what will the LEARNING LIVE audience take away from your keynote session?

I hope they’ll be inspired to look at their personal belief systems – and understand that success comes from gaining new perspectives. I’d like the audience to know they can disrupt old habits, construct new worldviews and use their skillsets differently to see performance gains and success.

People often hope that learning new technologies or learning new languages or upskilling is going to help them become more successful. But, of all the most successful sports and business people I’ve ever worked with – it wasn’t that they gained new skills but that they simply used the skills they already had in a different way. They sought a different perspective on the world they inhabited. They saw themselves differently. They saw their companies or brands differently. Even their customers and when they did this, their performance improved, and their communities were inspired.

Jamil’s keynote is on the morning of Day Two.

Follow Jamil on twitter @Jamil_Qureshi

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