Jamie Hale

Jamie Hale

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Focused Relaxative Activities

 Focused relaxation can lead to an array of benefits.

Benefits of Focused Relaxation Activities

Improved attention

Decreased blood pressure

Decreased heart rate

Sense of calm

Meta-awareness (being exceptionally aware of the contents of the mind)

Recognizing different thought patterns and letting them go

Non-judgmental acceptance of thoughts

Decreased anxiety

Improved sports and academic performance

There is a possibility that myself and colleagues may design some apps. that feature focused relaxative exercises. Below are a couple of exercises that can be used for focused relaxation. The time periods and frequency should be adjusted accordingly. 

Controlled Breathing

In this activity participants will practice controlling their breathing for 5 minutes. Participants will generally perform this activity while seated. Instructions below:

Close your eyes and inhale through the nose, while concentrating on feeling the sensations associated with the inhale; your stomach should expand and the inhale is slow and controlled. Next, slowly exhale; don’t force out the air, just let it go through the nose. With each exhale count; after 10 total breaths (full inhale and exhale) restart the count. If your mind starts to wander gently bring it back to full focus on the sensation of breathing and the counting of the number of breaths you take. You will be informed when 5 minutes have elapsed.  This a concentrative mindfulness exercise that has been shown to provide an array of benefits.   

Progressive Muscle Relaxation   

In this activity participants will tense and then relax various body parts. This activity is generally performed while seated or lying down. Instructions below:

Focus your attention on your lower body (feet, legs, hips) and tense your lower body to level 6 (that is from a scale of 1-10); hold the tension for 5 seconds and then release. When you release you should feel total relaxation. Focus your attention on your torso (chest, back, mid-section) and tense your torso to a level 6 (that is from a scale of 1-10); hold the tension for 5 seconds and then release. When you release you should feel total relaxation. Focus your attention on your arms and shoulders and tense them to a level 6 (that is from a scale of 1-10); hold the tension for 5 seconds and then release. When you release you should feel total relaxation. Now tense your entire body to a level 8 (that is from a scale of 1-10); hold the tension for 5 seconds and then release. Repeat the cycle (a cycle includes the level 6 holds followed by the level 8 holds) 2-3 times.  This is a great activity for learning to feel tension throughout the body and differences between being tense and being relaxed. 

A primary goal in learning focused relaxation is being able to relax in different contexts. When first learning I recommend practicing in a controlled, familiar, relaxing place. As your skill progresses practice in places that aren't so comfortable, or even in environments that are perceived as relatively stressful.  It may also be a good idea to practice these activities after an intense workout. Your workout highly activated the sympathetic nervous system, now your relaxative activities will help achieve a balance and highly activate the parasympathetic system.  

Different types of meditation and hypnosis involve focused relaxation. 

Is Hypnosis Real?

My first exposure to hypnosis was as a sophomore in college. I attended an event on campus featuring a stage hypnotist, the auditorium packed with students and faculty. Many unusual behaviors occurred on that stage. Some hypnotized people lost the ability to count, while others were stuck in their chairs; still others tried to sing classic melodies. All these behaviors were subject to commands from the hypnotist. These strange behaviors often characterize what happens during stage hypnosis. Stage hypnosis and hypnotherapy are different; stage hypnosis is more for entertainment, while hypnotherapy has been used in a range of settings to help people with various problems. read full article 

Meditation Matters

My interest in meditation was sparked when I watched a video of neuroscientist Sam Harris speaking on the topic. Harris spoke passionately about meditation and how over the years he had gained extraordinary benefits from meditating. My curiosity peaked when I listened to a podcast in which Harris guided Richard Dawkins through a brief meditation. Dawkins let Harris know he didn’t enjoy it; he found it uncomfortable and didn’t understand its purpose or value. read full article 

Friday, June 10, 2022

Don't Choke- Getting it Right When it Matters Most


Choking occurs when one performs at a level significantly lower, due to excessive anxiety, than can be expected given one’s past performance or skill level. People that choke perform at a level much lower than they are capable of.

The Reinvestment Scale (Masters et al. 1993) is a scale used in an attempt to predict the likelihood that a person will choke. The higher a person scores on the scale the more likely they are to choke under high pressure conditions (conditions they perceive as important). Below are a few questions that are presented on the scale. The questions below should be answered with a yes or no; the more yes answers the more likely a person is to choke.


I remember things that make upset me or make me angry for a long time afterward.   yes/no

I get worked up just thinking about things that have upset me in the past.   yes/no

I often find myself thinking over and over about things that have made me angry.   yes/no

I think about ways of getting back at people who have made me angry long after the event has happened.   yes/no

I never forget about people making me angry or upset, even about small things.   yes/no

Strategies to improve performance under high pressure (Beilock 2010):

Remind yourself of your worth

Think differently

Reinterpret your reactions

Don’t over think when performing motor skills

Practice under pressure

Distract yourself

Don’t dwell on past performances (especially negative performances)

Focus on the outcome (not mechanics- specifically when performing motor skills)

Focus on the positive

Using strategies to relax (this benefits almost every situation- academic, business and motor skills)

Remind yourself you have the background and skills to succeed

Think about Your Best Performance (doing the best you can with your skill set and resources)

Excessive anxiety is a key foundation of choking. Anxiety has a negative impact on working memory (drains working memory), and for those performing motor skills it often leads to over thinking- "paralysis by analysis."

Recently I have been incorporating lots of Focused Relaxative Activities into programs for athletes and I have used these activities with my learning / memory clients. 

What do you think- are there additional strategies you have used to prevent choking????  

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Seek Discomfort

 Discomfort is part of life. Trying to totally avoid discomfort isn’t reasonable.

I highly recommend checking out Yes Theory   They promote the idea that we should seek discomfort. Their beliefs are in line with current research suggesting that discomfort (distress) can lead to positive outcomes. 

Check out the research from Alia Crum   Her research reveals the impact of stress mindset and how it should be incorporated into a plan for stress optimization. 

Stess Mindset

There is a growing body of research that involves examining how stress mindset influences physiological, behavioral, and cognitive outcomes. Stress mindset is defined as the extent to which one believes stress is either beneficial or debilitating. Believing stress is good or bad matters; preliminary work indicates that the way one perceives stress can have a significant effect on psychological, health, performance, and behavioral outcomes (Crum et al. 2020). full article 

“Stress is a part of everyday life; it can’t be completely avoided. Not all stress is bad stress. How people respond to stress-inducing situations is important to their health, performance, and wellbeing. A stress optimization model is in the early stages of development; further research is needed to flesh out and test components of the model. Researchers hope a fully developed model for stress optimization will provide an approach to stress that provides strategies that will allow people to thrive in the face of stress. “

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Critical Thinking Defined

 Critical thinking includes scientific thinking and overriding fast thinking in some contexts. That is, overriding fast thinking when fast thinking leads to undesired outcomes. 

Why Critical Thinking is Important for Everyone 

Critical thinking is an important subject in education, and educators stress the importance of teaching critical thinking beginning at an early age. College professors often dedicate a fair amount of time and effort to developing and implementing lesson plans to make students better critical thinkers. But what does it mean to be a critical thinker? 

When educators are asked to define critical thinking, their answers are often ambiguous. Common responses include: “teaching them how to think,” “teaching them formal logic,” “teaching them to be thinkers,” “teaching them how to think for themselves,” or “teaching them how to solve problems.” These explanations are problematic. Logic is only a portion of what is needed to increase critical thinking; independent thinking doesn’t necessarily imply critical thinking; and teaching people how to solve problems does not bring us any closer to a consistent conceptualization of critical thinking (Stanovich and Stanovich 2010). I have done informal surveys asking people to define critical thinking in bookstores, libraries, and public parks. The answers were similar to those given by educators with little consensus. full article 

Rethinking Science Education

The general public has expressed strong confidence and trust in science (Sloss & Hale, Working Paper). Opinion polls indicate science careers are rated among the most admired and trusted occupations, despite their limitations.

If you ask most people, they will probably agree that science education is important. American kids don’t perform well on some international science tests, and performance gets even worse as they grow into teenagers. full article 

Most people will agree critical thinking is important. It is important that a clear conceptualization occurs with such an important concept. Critical thinking is good thinking. It is thinking that enhances chances of acquiring goals and it is thinking that is evidence based.