Justin Su’a calls on more than a decade of working with the world’s top athletes to discuss how to improve your mental performance. Su’a explores the strategies you need to be your best mentally with lessons that resonate well beyond the world of sports — including how to connect and build trust, the relationship between consistency and intensity, the fragility of confidence, the difference between success and talent, how to raise the bar of your own performance, and so much more.
Su’a has spent the past three years as the Head of Mental Performance for the Tampa Bay Rays of Major League Baseball, where he works with players to optimize their mental performance and perform under enormous pressure. He has also worked for the Boston Red Sox as well as the NFL’s Cleveland Browns, and as the Head of Mental Conditioning Department for the IMG Academy, which develops star athletes of the future. He’s also written two books on the subject of developing mental toughness in adolescents.
Here are a few highlights from our conversation:
When you start doubting yourself, a lot of times we say, “Oh, that is true. I’m not smart.” “Oh, that is true. I’m never going to accomplish that.” “Oh, that is true. He or she is better than me.” As opposed to stopping and saying, “No, let me look at that differently. Let me apply evidence against it. Let me consider the fault of my reasoning, the faulty judgment that I might be happening.” So that’s what it means to talk to yourself instead of listen to yourself.
And that comes down to that environmental design. Take a look at your system that you’re living in, that you’ve created for yourself. And where could you create friction to avoid doing bad things? And where could you avoid friction or diminish friction in order to do those things that you should be doing?
Fountains are people who leverage their values. They lean into what they’re really good at doing. I think we all have people who are fountains in our lives. And when initially you think fountain, you think zest.
And when you are trying to control something that’s uncontrollable, there are some unintended things that pop up. You may be perceived as more selfish. You may be perceived as a little more panicked when the things that you try to control but can’t end up controlling you.
Everyone needs to find their own definition of success. What does success look like to you? I think people struggle when they allow the world or society to dictate what success looks like. That’s where I have seen people, including myself, become the worst version of themselves, pursuing a goal, pursuing a definition of success that really doesn’t matter to you.
00:00 – Intro
01:43 – Being obsessed with reading and learning
02:39 – What it means to be a Mental Performance Coach
05:25 – Talking to yourself v. listening to yourself
08:39 – Thought-performance interaction
13:17 – Being a good v. great mental performance coach
19:48 – How athletes respond
25:10 – On earning trust
29:42 – Relationship between environment and performance
36:44 – Consistency v. Intensity
41:04 – On building confidence
45:02 – Motivating factors between average and great players
48:55 – The Goal Gradient Effect
51:44 – Success v. talent
54:24 – How do we raise our standards?
01:01:49 – On Justin’s big life change
01:05:18 – Justin’s philosophy on raising kids
01:10:05 – On losing v. being beaten
01:13:55 – Learning from your wins (and losses)
01:18:01 – How to improve your mental performance
01:20:47 – Best mental models for sports
01:24:11 – What success looks like