“I’ve missed more than nine thousand shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” — Michael Jordan
Graham Betchart, director of mental performance for Lucid, says his “overnight” success took 10 years. And Jason Stirman, co-founder and CEO of Lucid, turned away from the path he “should” have followed with former colleagues from Twitter and Medium to start a company without knowing what it would become.
That decision wasn’t made lightly. Stirman was about to join a colleague to start something else when the invitation came from acquaintance Soren Gordhamer, author of “Wisdom 2.0” and founder of the Wisdom 2.0 conference (and now a co-founder of Lucid), to create something that would last beyond the confines of the conference, which explores living mindfully in the modern technological age.
Stirman and his wife had been reading “The Crossroads of Should and Must,” a book by Elle Luna about finding one’s passion, while his wife recovered from surgery. In the middle of the night, Stirman sat up in bed and realized he really wanted to do whatever it was Gordhamer had in mind.
Betchart, meanwhile, had developed a playbook for coaching youth basketball programs but hadn’t figured out how to distribute it widely.
From bad to worse to the “best dunk in history”
One of Betchart’s longtime students is Aaron Gordon, forward for the Orlando Magic. Gordon’s breakthrough came at age 11, when Betchart asked him to bounce ping-pong balls into a bucket. The balls kept bouncing out of the bucket. When Betchart asked a frustrated Gordon what he did wrong, Gordon said his shots didn’t make it.
That was Betchart’s point and Gordon’s first lesson: In that bucket game, it’s not possible to control anything but your own reaction.
Things got worse for Gordon as he continued to play. He shot 50 percent in high school but dropped to 45 percent in college. That was when Gordon really started to buckle down on his mental performance along with his play mechanics. Betchart worked with him to focus on what’s happening in the present moment, the play unfolding right now — not the play that just happened or the one that hadn’t happened yet.
Gordon has rebounded to a 75 percent shot rate over his three years in the NBA and astounded basketball fans and sportswriters with his performance in the NBA’s 2016 Slam Dunk Contest, earning headlines declaring his over-the-mascot, under-the-legs dunk the greatest in the competition’s history. Betchart says it took Gordon three years to reach this point because Gordon allowed himself to develop his mental and physical performance at his own pace. There was no deadline. Betchart says, “That’s just how long it took.”
Inspiration “where you are”
Stirman, working on concepts for his venture with Gordhamer, had been meditating for several years. “It’s been transformative for me and my family,” he says, but his son’s response to the suggestion to meditate was always, “No thanks, Dad. I’d rather play Xbox.” One day, before his son’s basketball game, Stirman asked, “Would you like to do the same breathing exercise that Kobe Bryant does before his basketball games, with the same guy he does it with?” According to Stirman, his son said, “Here’s my phone. Put it on my phone!”
That galvanized Stirman. “I knew we were onto something special, and I knew where we could meet athletes” — and anyone else — in their desire for mindfulness: in an app. The same mental training that transformed Gordon’s career was launched in May as Lucid to help athletes with their mental game — and more.
Finding the right voice
Stirman and his startup team began with the idea to work with George Mumford, renowned for his work with Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and, most recently, the Knicks. Mumford is in great demand, and Stirman says that at 70, Mumford is not eager to travel.
“We had this idea that technology could scale George Mumford, and in October 2015, we recruited some of the best talent from Silicon Valley to help design and build the app,” Stirman says. “He’s an amazing, deep and wise teacher. We wanted to make his teachings accessible not only to elite athletes, who have been doing this for the last two or three decades, but to amateur athletes, youth athletes, executives, students.”
A friend suggested to Stirman that Betchart could help expand the program’s reach. Stirman notes, “Graham had been doing mental performance work with young basketball players all the way up to professional athletes for about a decade.”
A new language for mindfulness
Betchart was introduced to meditation as a teenager and had found it helpful to cope and heal following his own difficulties. He played basketball in college and notes that although he wasn’t the best player on the team, he was team captain because he understood how important mindset was to everyone’s success.
He began building a coaching curriculum and started working on a master’s degree in sports psychology as well as coaching a basketball team at Mission High School in San Francisco. “I’d go to school at night and then apply everything I’d learned the next day,” he says. Along the way, he met Gordon.
Betchart doesn’t consider meditation “rocket science,” but relates that “people just didn’t know how to get to it. And so I thought, ‘I’m gonna build a language everyone can [use].’” Working with Gordon and others, Betchart developed a phrase for the mental part of the game, “Next Play Speed” — the speed with which you moved on, mentally, from a blocked shot or bad call to focus on what’s happening now, in the moment. Next Play Speed was something Betchart could measure. “We could see if players were refocusing fast.” And it gave rise to a playbook for the mental game.
But Betchart reached his own limitations with the distribution of the playbook, despite his success coaching youth basketball as well as some of the NBA’s top draft picks, including Zach LaVine (Minnesota Timberwolves) and Marcus Smart (Boston Celtics). He could have only so many conversations with other coaches in a given day. Stanford colleague Andrew Zimmerman (now Lucid’s content director) suggested technology was key to wider distribution. Betchart says they’d sit in his garage, reflecting, “We have all the content, we have the experience. All we need is some tech people.” That’s when the mutual friend suggested he meet Stirman.
A different kind of app
Betchart and Stirman have fully fleshed out a training program for athletes of all levels and others who want to boost their mental performance.
Lucid is an app, but Stirman points out, that’s where it departs from other established meditation and mindfulness tools (one of the fastest-growing categories in Apple’s App Store). The concept of “mental performance training” — versus meditation — has now been fully fleshed out. Lucid sessions are called workouts, and they are presented in a sequence Betchart compares to a curriculum.
“It’s like a four-year program. There are a thousand five-minute workouts, so that’s about 250 workouts a year,” Betchart says. “We aren’t saying do it every day or that it’s a quick fix. ‘Training’ connotes repetition.”
Betchart explains that practicing the workouts helps users advance through three levels of confidence:
- Shaky confidence: At this level, our confidence in ourselves is not very strong, so we focus on results and try to avoid mistakes — and avoid attempting the things we believe we’re not good at. “A lot of people think that confidence means you have to feel good all the time. [But you only] learn to perform when things are not going your way,” says Betchart. “You don’t have to be born with confidence or anything else; you have to practice and train.” You have to put in the reps.
- Stable confidence: The second level comes with shifting from a focus on results to a focus on process. “You still feel that fear [of failure], but you recognize you’re not in danger and you’re focused on what you can control — your process.” You say to yourself, “Am I doing what I know will get me great results, and am I sticking to it all the time? Do I feel uncomfortable? Yes. Do I feel vulnerable? Yes, but I’m going to do it anyway.”
- Supreme confidence: “Faith in your process gets you from shaky to stable confidence. And when you do get the results, your confidence level rises even higher. You’re more relaxed in stressful situations.” Betchart explains that at level three, you’re able to clearly communicate with yourself in a “very powerful, healthy way.”
Practice anytime, anywhere
When Stirman and team built Lucid, they tested different types of content and delivery — video, audio, interactive — and found that five minutes a day of audio was “the sweet spot.” Stirman says, “It’s accessible, it’s easy, and no one has to know what you’re doing.”
Lucid workouts are designed to fit into a user’s daily activities, rather than require the user to stop what he or she is doing. Betchart points out that “you can do this walking down the street, you can be on the bus, you can be working out or shooting hoops, you can be studying. … [Lucid is designed] to enhance what you’re already doing, not to change any behavior that you’re doing. Do the behaviors you’re already doing, just add this to it.”
Additionally, Stirman doesn’t see any limits on the kind of performance or the audience for the workouts. “Every morning before school, I tell [my kids] to have a good attitude, make a good effort and focus on the things that are important. If they do those three things, I don’t actually care what the test score is — they’re winners, in my eyes.” He adds, “They’re honest with me at the end of the day when I ask them whether they did those three things. Some days it’s yes, some days, no.”
Stirman describes his experience listening to a Lucid workout with his 10-year-old daughter. “It was about disassociating yourself from the results when you play a sport, and that’s a pretty heavy thing to grasp,” he says. “I’m almost 40 years old, and I still have to think about whether I’m being judged or I’m just fine,” flaws and all.
When Stirman asked his daughter — who plays soccer — what she took away from the Lucid workout, she said, “Well, I think what Lucid was telling me was you’re going to love me no matter what, even if I don’t score any goals on Saturday.” Mission accomplished.
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Mind Right, Game Tight
“We want to build you to be stronger, not get you to do things to lessen the impact of your day.”
Simply put, that’s a distinguishing aspect of Lucid. Rather than focus on combatting the negative, Soren Gordhamer explains that Lucid is designed to focus on the positive: “You have goals and desires, and we want to support your ability to show up fully in what you do.”
Gordhamer, a co-founder of Lucid, wrote “Wisdom 2.0,” the groundbreaking 2009 book that gave rise to the pivotal, annual Wisdom 2.0 conference. A tremendous advocate for in-person events, Gordhamer is also intrigued by technology’s potential to “support people’s intention to live in a state of greater awareness.”
This was the challenge he presented to Jason Stirman, and it was an idea that Stirman couldn’t leave alone.
As the two founders contemplated where their work should focus, sports held the greatest interest; it seemed that field had the greatest need for a mindful performance tool. Gordhamer had observed his teenaged son’s frustration at shots he would have made in basketball practice but missed in games. Gordhamer also recognized that a shot made brought the pressure of making the next shot to keep parents or the coach happy.
Gordhamer reflects, “We thought, ‘What if it might be possible to offer something to athletes to help them play with more joy, focus, passion — to help them and to help their performance? How do we support this generation of young people who are passionate about sports?’ That idea got exciting to me: We could look at performance not as a thing lost or won but as a way of learning about ourselves and our lives.”
He continues, “There’s a world of digestible practices” — three to five minutes long, for example — “that not only support us in living in harmony with our body, mind and spirit, but also support our achievement of the goals we set for ourselves.” But as we gain more ways to access information and the volume of information increases exponentially, Gordhamer says, “It’s harder and harder to find time to tap into the inner world, and there’s a huge longing for that in our culture.”
“We need to balance technology with practices that help our bodies and focus our minds — even if it’s just so we can digest increasing amounts of information without feeling like we’re on a mental treadmill or racing through the day,” he concludes.
The Lucid co-founder is glad professional athletes like LeBron James and Kobe Bryant are talking about the mind’s impact on their lives. He speculates that society will increasingly seek and recognize the value of knowing ourselves and getting in touch with the mind, body and heart. What form that will take remains to be seen, he says.
Then he presents an alternative: “What if a time-out meant that instead of screaming at the team, the coach led players in a 60-second meditation?”