Cara Bradley traces her current obsession back to college.
She was competing in her final school track race, and unlike before, she "experienced a surge of strength that didn't come from merely trying harder," she writes in her new book, On the Verge: Wake Up, Show Up, and Shine. Instead, it "seemed to emerge from a place where I felt clear, powerful and fully alive."
She ended up beating her personal record by 6 seconds.
She now refers to herself as a "human potential junkie," delving into the ways people can outperform even their highest expectations. She has worked as a mental-strength coach with the Villanova football team for 12 seasons. She worked with the basketball team for five, and although she wasn't with the NCAA champs this year, her book garnered a cover blurb from coach Jay Wright: "A must-read for anyone who is passionate about peak performance at home, at work and at play."
We recently spoke with Bradley, who lives in Wayne, about her book, her work with Villanova, and how the rest of us can excel.
What is the verge, and why is it important to be there?
The verge, the way I use the word, is actually this moment. It is the threshold between a moment ago and a moment from now. In my own experience, in my own inquiry as an athlete, a teacher, a businesswoman, and a human potential junkie, I have learned that when I can show up on the verge, in this moment fully, then I shine. I access my natural potential, my natural capacity to create, to communicate, to connect with others. My natural confidence shines through when I can just be right here, right now, beyond my busy mind, which includes doubts, fears, comparison, judgment, and all of the other mental junk that we carry around with us, day to day.
To show up on the verge, in this moment, is important in everything we do, from taking the last shot of the game to listening to our children tell us about their day at school.
Why is that so difficult?
We are conditioned to live in our busy minds. We walk around in our thoughts. We are being bombarded with information 24/7. We live in a world that reveres "crazy busy" as a sign of success. So it is difficult for us to show up in the moment - in this moment - unburdened. In contrast, there are moments all the time when we experience life as just a pure experience. When you notice a sunset or you smell your coffee or you hug your child. What I'm pointing to in my book is to start to notice the moments between thoughts, between busy-ness, between doing. The moments when you're fully present and fully engaged.
How do you work with athletes?
I help them become familiar with where their minds are when they compete. It's not your regular sports psychology. I put their bodies in physically challenging positions, and then make them look at their minds, to get to know what it feels like to doubt themselves. When they practice recognizing doubt, they can move through doubt much more quickly in competition. When the players get into an intense moment on the court, they've been there. They know exactly what they need to do.
I also help them to step beyond their busy mind, to train to become stronger at shifting beyond doubt, worry, fear, anxiety. We practice being present in my sessions with them, so that they become better at showing up in competition. The phrase I normally use with them, and I use it a lot, is that "drama drains and focus fuels." This really works with that population. Don't get caught in your head. Focus, and it will fuel you.
In one chapter, I describe work I did with a particular Villanova basketball player. This was in 2009, when they went to the Final Four. He would use the repeating phrase "fierce focus" before taking a foul shot. Fierce focus. Those words really work with athletes. It's training the mental muscle. I train them to stay composed in the fire of competition.
How does this relate to the rest of us?
In every moment, we have an opportunity to show up for our lives. Every single moment, we have an opportunity to be right here, right now. And when we do, when we can step into this moment, fully available, curious and open to whatever is arising, we shine. We access our natural potential, our intelligence, our intuition. When we're stuck in our busy mind - whether it be in a conversation, in the boardroom, or a difficult situation at home - if we're stuck in our own judgments or needs or wants for the outcome, when we get stuck in our head, we lose our capacity to fully read a situation. When we show up, we can read situations much, much better.
Give us a teaser of some of the techniques you describe in the book and on the associated free app.
I have what I call primer practices. They are simple, easy-to-do, five-minute practices. What I suggest is: Throughout the day, start to recognize these glimpses of being alive. Recognize the brilliance of the blue sky, the smell of the newly cut lawn. Recognize how your body feels in the sunshine. Start to recognize these moments between thoughts, when you're not so busy, these moments when you feel awake and engaged in life. The more we recognize them, the more we're going to start to trust these moments as being real-deal moments, this is how we cultivate our capacity to show up in the moment.