“Your life is based entirely on who you believe that you are.”
Howard Falco, I AM: The Power of Discovering Who You Really Are
What makes an athlete truly elite?
They’re physically gifted, of course, but so are many people who never reach the heights of their chosen sport. They train and practice for countless hours, but surely it takes more than clocking up the time to go from good to great.
So what gives them that extra edge?
For Howard Falco, it’s all about mindset.
Howard is a mental performance coach, speaker and author of I AM: The Power of Discovering Who You Really Are.
He’s worked with hundreds of professional and amateur athletes across a wide range of sports. And although each athlete is entirely unique, Howard’s approach to boosting mental performance requires an exploration into self identity and self belief.
“An athlete’s mindset is the single biggest influence and determiner of their performance,” Howard says. “We’ve already explored every other area in-depth – biomechanics, nutrition and diet, training methods and technology.”
“The mind is the inevitable next step.”
Obviously the concept of elite athletes possessing mental fortitude is nothing new. But developing the ultimate mindset to drive peak performance is about so much more than just fortitude. There is a deeper and more powerful understanding that awaits.
And it transcends sport.
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The crux of Howard’s approach starts with the path of self-awareness.
He helps athletes investigate who they believe they are by guiding them through a process of self-reflection on their thoughts, feelings and actions. In doing so, he helps them identify unconscious aspects of themselves that are most likely holding them back from achieving all they desire.
The real exercise here is practicing self-reflection without fear. The deeper you dig, fear about what might be unearthed in the process can easily creep in. But with the careful guidance of Howard’s coaching, his clients can safely overcome any guilt, shame and regret driven by their egos that prevents them from reflecting upon, and changing any beliefs that have kept them from the true power and potential they have within.
“It is not necessarily what they think is true about themselves, but what they validate through their thoughts, feelings and actions, that actually reveals the driving factor of the results.” says Howard.
He refers to this as “one’s truth”, which once addressed and surfaced, provides his clients with the ability to truly step into who they want to be, changing who they believe they are at a much deeper level.
They’re able to take on a new level of risk, and embrace a shift in mindset that unlocks their true potential.
But to change one’s truth, we must first understand it.
Our truth, our identity and how we validate that identity, is built through several key influences throughout our lives. The genes we were born with, how we have been nurtured by others as we developed — such as family, teachers and peer groups — and the experiences we have endured throughout the story of our lives so far.
This is our identity.
Once it is established, life is merely a process — a continual validation of that identity.
In order to reshape our thinking, we need to change the way we see ourselves.
In doing so, we can open the door to a new truth. And develop new thoughts, feelings and actions to reshape ourselves in the way we desire.
Continual validation of our identity still drives our energy, but what we are trying to validate is changeable.
“We herald great athletes and pioneers in any field, because they’re willing to take risks for the benefit of all mankind, to inspire us, whether it’s in medicine or business or sports.”
– Howard Falco
Consider one of the greatest athletes of all time, Muhammad Ali.
The unbreakable Ali had tenacious self-belief which enabled his path to the top.
“If you ask me who are my top three favourite athletes, taking everything into account – not just the sport but the mind, the attitude, the idea, the portrayal,” says Howard, “it’s Muhammad Ali, Muhammad Ali, Muhammad Ali.”
Howard explains further.
“He was never fearful of putting himself in a position to achieve more, even at the cost of losing. And what’s even greater than all that? He was doing it for a greater reason. It was not about boxing – he understood the platform, and what he was doing to inspire people at a time of horrible racial injustice.”
Ali literally dubbed himself The Greatest.
And that became his identity.
He believed in the infinite possibility it brought, and he was willing to do whatever it took to realise it.
NEW IDENTITY, NEW HABIT
— Howard Falco
So what is it about self-reflection and understanding one’s truth that allows us to change who we are?
Ultimately, life validates who we think we are. You’ve probably heard the proverb ‘whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right’.
Apply that to sport and you might think of Michael Jordan, whose belief in his own ability was so strong he elevated the players around him. They played with a passion and purpose they never had before. When it came down to it, they handled the big moments in ways that seemed beyond their own abilities, because they were inspired by Jordan to achieve what he believed without a doubt was possible of him and the team.
Discovering that belief starts with deciding what we want to accomplish.
“The starting point with any individual or any athlete is always what their intent is,” says Howard. “We start with the end point. What is your intent to accomplish? And let’s work backwards to see where you have potentially impeded the probabilities of that outcome.”
By developing greater self-awareness, and an understanding of the factors that limit us, our beliefs can begin to change, and our mindset begins to shift. This is the lightbulb moment.
We can disrupt that old belief system, so it doesn’t hold us back.
Sounds easy, right? It’s not.
It takes something of a leap of faith, and a willingness to dig deep.
Howard works with a lot of golfers, like Nick Taylor, who recently won his second PGA Tour event. It was the culmination of two-and-a-half years of mental strength training that came together beautifully for Taylor to hold the lead for 4 straight days. Capping it off by beating 5 time champ of the event, Phil Mickelson, on the final day in the final group.
Golf is very much a mental game. And this was a perfect example of sheer focus, determination and self belief in action.
(Above: Howard working with PGA Tour Pro Nick Taylor in Phoenix a week before his victory this year at Pebble Beach.)
This is where developing a stronger self identity goes beyond traditional motivation techniques. It’s not an external thing pushing us, which can be useful in its way. Instead, it’s about pushing and redefining ourselves from within, expanding or obliterating our own self created boundaries.
“You’re moving identity and with that you’re moving habits, Those things move together,” says Howard. “Inspiration pushes the athlete forward, they can feel the expansion in their identity.”
But be aware that our previous identity, driven by the ego, will at times resist change and try and try and pull us back. There might be an initial shift with this work, but it needs to be a continual process with regular sessions of rededication before the new identity has rooted in more solid foundations, can take hold and continue to expand.
WHAT MATTERS TO YOU?
It’s an inspirational and exciting concept.
But if anyone can change their mindset, develop greater self-awareness, and unlock the potential to go faster, higher, stronger…why doesn’t everyone?
Howard believes three things stand in the way:
- An attachment to self-limiting beliefs.
- Resistance to change and the fear of the unknown.
- Avoidance of our truth.
These natural factors hinder self-reflection. Overcoming them is part of what makes the elite truly exceptional.
“We say we want a lot of things,” Howard explains. “The proof is in the pudding, right? What are you willing to do to achieve that?”
Even some of the most gifted athletes can lack true self-awareness. Ultimately, they have to face the question of who they really are.
Even those champions who might be at the top of their game can falter in terms of self belief — what they’ve achieved might have exceeded their expectation. This can lead to niggling doubts as to whether they belong on that pedestal. In turn, consistent top-level performance can be thrown off in a big way.
“Their level of performance has run ahead of their belief system. So now, they don’t even feel worthy that they’re there,” says Howard.
“Whereas the athletes that excel — they continually enhance their performance, and their belief and identity expand to match it. It’s an ongoing progression.”
PUSH THE BOUNDARIES OF IMPOSSIBLE
That continual progression is more important now than ever.
“A characteristic I’ve found with a lot of top-level athletes, is they’re always looking to push the boundaries of what’s possible. They’re always consuming information to find the edge.”
To demonstrate this perfectly for the athletes he coaches, Howard insists they watch Free Solo
The Oscar-winning documentary follows rock climber Alex Honnold on a mission to perform a free solo climb of El Capitan in June 2017.
For those unaware of this near-impossible feat, El Capitan is a vertical rock face in Yosemite National Park in The United States. It’s a 3,000 ft sheer granite monolith, and the object of many climbers’ fascination.
It’ll take your breath away.
And it’ll help you realise just what the human spirit is capable of.
What we are all capable of.
We all possess the same potential as the greatest athletes. We all have the ability to change our reality, redefine our limits and unlock our infinite potential.
As Howard encourages, it just requires a process of deep self reflection, to build greater self awareness and then adjust the lens through which we see ourselves to create a new version of who we are, from the inside out.
His two books on self-awareness and creative power are referenced below.