By: Ley Calisang
Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo, also known as “Dr. E.” by her patients, holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and a Master’s degree in physical therapy. She is the pioneer of the breakthrough method known as Neuro-Regenerative Training™, based on the use of neuroscientific principles to improve overall performance.
Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo established Elevate Sports Psychology to work with athletes who want to improve their performance by providing strategies that are validated by research to help them improve their thinking. Athletes understand and acquire new strategies they can use throughout training and competition to improve their self-assurance, concentration, and resiliency, as well as their overall peak performance.
Dr. E. has been a frequent guest on several talk shows, including the TODAY Show, Dr. Oz, The Steve Harvey Show, and CNN. She has also contributed articles to publications including the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and Success Magazine, offering her expert advice. As a global keynote speaker, she has worked with companies including Coca-Cola, 3M, and MGM.
Her message resonates strongly with people all across the world who are looking for deeper levels of accomplishment that have greater significance. Dr. E is widely recognized as “America’s most trusted celebrity psychologist” due to the fact that she has helped a lot of high-performing athletes, celebrities, and CEOs in figuring out how to get out of their way so that they can achieve their full potential.
Dr. E sits with LA Tribune to talk about sports psychology and how it could help athletes optimize their performance. Read more on the Q&A below:
LA Tribune: What does psychology have to do with sports?
Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo: Everything. What goes into your mind impacts your performance. If you’re having negative thoughts over and over again like – “don’t mess up,” “I messed up last time, what if I do it again?” “everybody’s watching me” – that anxiety, stress, and negative dialogue will adversely impact your playing and how well you compete.
It is not just about your skill. It’s about optimizing your skill, and addressing what’s going on in your mind is the way to optimize it. Now, it’s not about superficial affirmations like “I got this” or “I believe in myself” when your inner critic is saying, “what if I mess up?” It’s about literally rewiring your brain so that your automatic thoughts are empowering. So your automatic thoughts, a type of negative self-talk that rapidly develops in reaction to stimuli, help you rather than hurt you. Optimizing your mindset will optimize your performance.
LA Tribune: Can any athlete benefit from sports psychology?
Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo: It doesn’t matter what level of an athlete you are. It doesn’t even matter how you are competing. You can always up your edge by addressing your mental edge because your mindset impacts your performance. If you’re competing and stressed out about something, that negative thought can make you anxious. But, for some people, it can be a motivation. But it is key to realize that you must acquire an optimal level of stress to perform well.
If you are not experiencing that amount of stress, your performance may be lower than what you are capable of. Too much stress and your mind can take over your ability to perform, your competitive edge, and your ability to apply the skills that you already have. Sports psychology can help you regardless of what level of a player you are if you desire to even better yourself as an athlete.
LA Tribune: How can athletes optimize their level of stress? How can they find the right stress level to focus on “good” stress to help boost peak performance?
Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo: In psychology, we differentiate stress of distress which is all the negative emotions you don’t want from eustress. Eustress is excitement, passion, enthusiasm, and empowerment to make things even better. On a physiological basis, distress and eustress are very similar. This is our sympathetic nervous system that can manifest as heart racing, muscles getting tensed, and sweating. So we optimize your stress to get you out of the distress — which can be negative and prevent you from performing the way you want — to instead optimize your eustress.
It has to do with reframing what you say to yourself. Whenever a person feels anxious, they tend to tell themselves that that feeling of anxiety is indicative of their failure to perform well. When they reframe that feeling of anxiousness into an indication of excitement, they not only feel better but perform better.
LA Tribune: How can athletes deal with setbacks in sports?
Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo: Whatever an athlete’s sports is, how they deal with setbacks is a major predictor of success. Anyone can be the greatest athlete in the world, but they will still make mistakes. The right way to deal with setbacks is to rewire your brain by using neuroscience strategies. Instead of a negative downward spiral, which not only negatively impacts your mind but also impacts your game, you can rewire your brain by learning neuroscience principles. So the setback is just one point in time and won’t impact the rest of the game.
The beauty here is that rewiring your brain is a learned skill. When you get the proper training and learn these skills, you can rewire your brain, which can benefit you for the rest of your life. Optimizing what goes on in your mind is a great investment for you and the future of your performance.
LA Tribune: How do you rewire your brain to optimize your potential? And what does that do to help you play better?
Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo: Every movement you make requires certain nerves to fire a certain pattern. If your thinking is based on negative thoughts like how other people perceive you or whether they’ll judge you if you don’t perform well, then that song that is singing in your head repeatedly will interfere with your performance. Your nerves fire in a certain pattern for you to think and act. You can’t have too many nerves firing in too many ways, so if your mind is so focused on “don’t mess up,” then it will prevent you from focusing on those patterns you’ve already created in terms of playing your best. Of course, your mind can only do so many things. So the goal is to optimize your mindset and what you are saying to yourself. The goal is to change what you say to yourself on an automatic level.
LA Tribune: What is your advice to athletes aiming to better themselves?
Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo: For athletes aiming to better themselves, realize that you can get the competitive edge by addressing your mindset. What you say to yourself impacts every action that you take. Ironically, if your mind is so focused on being afraid of failing or messing up, that is more likely to happen. How you handle mistakes or unwanted outcomes, getting into the Zone, boosting healthy confidence, coping with the pressure of competition, and optimizing your mindset for peak performance, all of these are skills that anyone can learn with the right training. And yet, most athletes only focus on training their bodies. My clients learn these skills to perform to their highest potential now and in the future.
Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo’s “Get Out of the Red Zone” book is available on Amazon.