On this episode of Prepped & Polished Radio, I interview Brian Lomax of Boston-based firm PerformanceXtra. Brian gives advice on how to build mental strength so you can increase performance potential in academics, in sports, and in life.
Brian is a Certified Mental Toughness Trainer by the Human Performance Institute with a Bachelor of Arts from Vanderbilt University. Prior to this role, Brian worked in Corporate America as a consultant for various companies such as Fidelity and Putnam Investments and spent 35 years playing tennis, having been Nationally ranked as recently as 2006, where he was ranked second in the US for Mens 35’s Singles.
Full Word-for-Word Transcription
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Joining our show today is Brian Lomax. Brian is Founder of
PerformanceXtra, a Boston-based firm, where he coaches
individuals and groups to realize their performance potential by
focusing on the mental game and providing a framework for
success. Brian is a certified mental toughness trainer by the
Human Performance Institute. He has a Bachelor of Arts from
Vanderbilt University. Prior to this role, Brian worked in
corporate America as a consultant for various companies, such as
Fidelity and Putnam Investments, and spent 35 years playing
tennis, having been nationally ranked as recently as 2006, where
he was ranked 2nd in the US for men’s 35 singles.
We’re delighted to have Brian on our show. He’s going to share
with us his wisdom and tips for gaining the competitive mental
edge, not only in sports, but also academics and in life. Before
we start, I want to make sure our listeners have our contact
info. Our email address is email@example.com. If
you’d like to submit a question at any time, you can use that
email address. Often, our listeners will have questions as
they’re listening or afterwards. We always appreciate hearing
from our listeners. If you can email us at anytime, feel free:
Brian, are you there on the line?
Brian: Yes, Alexis. Good morning.
Alexis: Good morning to you. Thanks so much for joining us. Really
appreciate it. How are you doing today?
Brian: I’m doing great. It’s my pleasure to be here, so looking
forward to this.
Alexis: Great. Just a little warm-up; Number 2 ranking in the entire US
for men’s age 35 Division in 2006. Pretty impressive. What’s
your . . .
Brian: Yeah. I have to say, actually, that the mental toughness piece
is what took me there. I had not had results of that kind, prior
to my turning 35. That result in some ways, Alexis, was a
catalyst for starting PerformanceXtra.
Alexis: Wow. Amazing. Can you start out by telling us a little bit
about PerformanceXtra, and how you came up with your company?
Brian: Sure. I really . . . I guess the mission of it, and you went
through it there, in terms of what I’m trying to educate people
on, in terms of the mental game. When I examine how we teach
sports, or any really performance context, we often don’t talk
about what people are thinking and feeling, and what they should
be doing to enhance their performance. Very often, a concept
like mental toughness is left to the individual to either
develop themselves or we believe that either you have it or you
don’t. Recent times have shown that that’s not true, that mental
toughness, competitive skills, and performance skills are
trainable. They are things that are within our control.
PerformanceXtra is really an educational-based program to help
train people on various concepts; they can make them mentally
tougher, make them better competitors, make them better
performers. In that way, it’s different than sports psychology,
only because sports psychology tends to look at issues or
problems and deals with them. This is really more of a program
about ‘let’s train this at any skill’, whether it’s an athletic
skill or other physical skill. Let’s do the same on the mental
side and bring you through a comprehensive program that trains
you to be mentally tougher, as well as build character and
become almost that relentless, ultimate competitor. I think that
that has really resonated with a lot of students that have been
looking for that extra edge in their performance.
Alexis: That’s fantastic. I was looking at your bio a bit, and I
noticed that you left a career in corporate America to take on
this endeavor with PerformanceXtra. What drew you to start your
own business helping others develop mental strength . . .
Brian: I guess Number 1 is . . .
Alexis: . . . and leave a security of the Corporate America?
Brian: That’s right. Some people would say that it was a courageous
jump, and perhaps it was. I think Number 1, a love of sports.
Someone in my position, who wouldn’t want to have sports as a
career in your life all the time? Because even when I was
working in corporate America, as you can tell from my playing
background, tennis was always there, was always my outlet for
staying sane. I think it was also, Alexis, a realization of,
“What am I really doing with my life?”
I felt like starting something like PerformanceXtra was much
more meaningful to me than working at large financial services
companies. While those companies certainly have their goals and
their missions, I felt like my own mission was to help people
perform better, because I had proved that I could do it myself.
I wish that I had had a program like this when I was younger,
not only just from the athletic aspect of it, but just from the
character-building perspective. My ultimate mission in life now
is to help younger people not only with their mental toughness,
but also to start to work on designing their own life and using
sports as a vehicle to do that and to help them build character
so they have a framework for making some of the bigger decisions
they’re going to have to make in life.
Alexis: That makes so much sense, and applicable to kids and adults.
Brian, from your experience, do you find that some people
struggle more than others with the mental aspect of their
Brian: I would say for sure, and there are a lot of different reasons
for that. I think if we start to talk more about younger
athletes, there’s such a fixation with winning, the bottom-line
result; that that causes a lot of emotional distress, a lot of
anxiety. One of the first things that I try to get athletes to
shift to is away from a primary focus on that result because it
only causes things like anxiety and emotional reactions, and
really think about the process of how you play or how you
perform. Really, what I call process-oriented thinking.
Once we can get someone to begin to understand that, focusing on
the process will lead to good results, then they can start to be
a little bit more mature, in terms of their reactions and they
can start to regulate their own body language. They can start to
regulate how they talk to themselves, which is going to get them
more relaxed, get them away from being anxious and being
emotional about winning and losing, and really look at it more
as a process of learning, getting better, and only striving to
perform your best. Playing your best and winning don’t always
equal each other. The same on the other side, playing your worst
and losing don’t necessarily equal each other either.
Brian: That’s a key mindset shift for a lot of people, and I think
that’s one of the basic things that younger people have a hard
time with is, our focus on winning.
Alexis: Do you find that the real . . . the pros, the Number 1s and 2s
in the tennis game, those are the ones that just have adopted
really good strategies for keeping that mental toughness intact?
Good self talk per se?
Brian: Yeah. I think it’s a sales talk and it’s also the body
language, really. If you want to see how mentally tough a tennis
player is, don’t watch the points, watch what they do in between
points. There is really a lot of very set behavior there. In
fact, with tennis players, it’s a very specific routine that I
teach them about how to behave in between points. If you see
someone at any level of tennis, they have poor body language;
they’re throwing their racket, or saying things out loud
expressing frustration. That’s not really a sign of mental
toughness, and in fact, it’s probably a sign of weakness and
you’re telling your opponent that, “I can’t handle adversity. I
can’t handle a tough situation.” When you watch the top players,
I really ask players to watch in between the points. That’s what
you really need to emulate to start playing better tennis,
because they always have positive, strong, confident body
language. Although we can’t hear what’s going on in their head,
the same thing is going on there, where they’re also
encouraging, supportive and positive.
Alexis: That’s amazing. All these light bulbs went off in my head,
because when I deal with students with tutoring, I’m thinking,
“Maybe I should help them watch what they say in between
Brian: Yeah, absolutely. Help them reframe, perhaps, how they look at
things. Certainly, a character skill like optimism and
positivity is very important for any performance, certainly
academic and in testing. It’s the same pressure that you’re
facing when you’re taking a major exam that could determine some
of your future outcomes, as well as playing in the final of a
major tennis event; same performance anxieties are happening.
Certainly, how you carry yourself and how you talk to yourself
are very important.
Alexis: Absolutely. Can you tell us a little bit about the positive
psychology in human performances courses you’ve completed, and
how you’ve incorporated your positive psychology training into
Brian: Sure. First of all, I guess I’ll define what positive
psychology is, because it’s often confused with straight-out
positive thinking, which it’s not. Positive psychology,
essentially, has looked at the psychology industry and has
noticed that the majority of money spent in psychology today is
on fixing depression syndromes, psychological illness, with the
goal of getting that person back to neutral. Positive psychology
says, “We don’t just want to have people at neutral, we want to
have people be happier, be psychologically stronger so that they
don’t become susceptible to mental illness.”
On the physical side of things we do this, right? We have gyms,
health clubs. That’s working the positive side of our physical
health. We don’t necessarily spend a lot of money on the mental
side. Positive psychology’s goal is how you help people lead
happier and more fulfilling lives so that you’re not doing so
much on the mental illness side?
There are some major tenants of positive psychology that
certainly apply to performance. One of them we mentioned is
positivity and optimism. Looking at anything, any one event that
happens to you and seeing what the benefit of that would be,
rather than by default a lot of people look at the negative of
it. This is not to say that we’re trying to turn people into
Pollyanna’s who see the . . . are just positive about
everything. Regardless, there’s no realism there. If you can’t
learn from things like mistakes, then you’re ceiling for
potential is much lower than the person who can take a mistake,
understand why it happened, make an adjustment, and then
The very famous positive psychology example is Thomas Edison
inventing the light bulb. He didn’t just roll out of bed one
day, draw it up, and turn it on. There were probably upwards of
1,000 attempts at creating it. With each attempt, one could say
it’s a failure but he learned something from it, or his team
learned something from it. They were able to apply those
learnings to the next attempt, and then the next attempt.
Finally, we had success. We view Thomas Edison and his team as
successful people. We don’t view them as failures, even though
if you were to look at a win/loss graph they had many more
failures than they had successes.
Alexis: Wow. Definitely [inaudible: 14:33] mistakes so makes so much
sense. What are some tips you might have for a student who’s
really anxious taking tests? Any couple techniques that come to
your mind that you can employ to help gain that confidence when
you go into a high-pressure situation such as an SAT that
determines your fate as to what college you get into?
Brian: I think it goes back to a little bit what we were discussing
earlier, Alexis, with where is that person’s focus? Is it on the
result? Is there a tremendous amount of pressure to achieve a
particular score? Most likely there is, right? I certainly
remember that from my youth. Then it’s, “Okay. Let’s break that
goal down. We want a certain score. How do we get there?” Break
it down into a particular process. Is it getting tutoring,
taking classes? Do I need to improve certain aspects of my math
and verbal? Really, almost breaking it down into components and
subcomponents so that you can improve in all of those lower
level areas that you get really good on the stuff that you can
control. You can’t really control winning and losing, or getting
the score directly. You have to go through a certain process to
get there. It’s at that lower level that you can exercise
Like anything, you’re going to train and you’re going to
practice. That’s where you build confidence. With each practice
test that you take, examine it in a very honest way about, how
did I do? Then where you did well, give yourself credit for
that. It’s almost like having a little confidence bank account.
You want to make some deposits into that bank account, so that
by the time you get to the actual test, you can start
withdrawing money from that confidence bank account and apply
it. You’ve done all the preparation, you’ve understood the test,
in terms of how it’s constructed, and you’ve broken it down into
how I can control my results on this. You’ve practiced at that
level. Then you can just execute at that point. I think it’s
very similar, in terms of how athletes train for big events.
Alexis: Definitely. Absolutely. When you trained to get your Number 2
standing for the US Men’s, it wasn’t just in the moment, your
self-talk in between points, but I’m sure you’ve done . . . did
you do a lot of preparation and practice to get you to that
Brian: Absolutely. In some regards, it’s a build-up of a couple of
years of preparation; mapping out what your goal is,
understanding how you want to perhaps maximize some of your
strengths, and also shore up some of your weaknesses, and then
building upon that. That can take months. For me, there were
certain things I wanted to do around how I move around the
court; my footwork, my balance could be better. I improved that.
Even things like equipment; I upgraded rackets, I upgraded
string. You really have to think about everything that’s within
your control. What could I do to improve that particular area? I
think the more people begin to think about the process of any
performance and what they actually control, and then breaking it
down and trying to make little improvements over time, it’s
really going to benefit. It’s not just, “I’m controlling what
I’m saying to myself out on the court,” even that takes
training. It’s putting the entire package together so that when
I arrive at a big event and I say, “All right. Brian, have you
prepared as well as you could have for this event?” I want to
say yes. That’s what gives me confidence, that I’ve done
everything I needed to do, I’ve mapped out my strategy; how to
show up at this particular event and do my best.
Alexis: That’s great. Brian, do you find that working with your clients
and helping them develop mental strength, whether it’s on the
tennis court or helping a student with a test overcoming
anxiety, does it help them improve their confidence in life in
Brian: Yeah. I think confidence is not necessarily ubiquitous across
all spheres of life. I can speak for myself as a tennis player
when I was younger. I was certainly confident on the tennis
court, but I was a bit of a disaster socially. It certainly can.
If you apply the same principals of building confidence to other
areas of your life, yes, you can. Just being confident in one
area of life doesn’t necessarily directly translate to others.
If you apply that process that we were just talking about, say,
“Hey. I want to get better socially so how do I figure that out?
What are the things I need to do to do that?” It’s a matter of
applying the process, as opposed to just direct translation, if
that makes sense.
Alexis: Yeah, that makes perfect sense, because when I was putting
together these questions, I was thinking, “Man, I bet when you
help a client on a tennis game, I’m sure they just go out into
life feeling a lot more prepared and go in with this framework
that they have, and it’s just applicable outside of the tennis
court.” It can be a very powerful thing, what you’re teaching
Brian: Absolutely. We’re just using sports as a vehicle for that, but
we certainly touch on that. This is setting a framework for you
to make a lot of decisions in the rest of your life.
Alexis: Absolutely. Thanks, Brian. That was very helpful. Really
appreciate your time. This wraps up our show today with Brian
Lomax, at PerformanceXtra. Please visit PerformanceXtra.com to
learn more about Brian’s company. If you want to work on and
improve your mental strength, whether it’s at school, on the
tennis court, I highly recommend Brian. Thank you, Brian.
Brian: Thank you, Alexis.
Alexis: My pleasure. Thank you for joining us on the Prepped and
Polished radio show.
Do you struggle with test or performance anxiety? What are some ways you deal with the mental aspect of your game?
Post your tips/comments below.