Q & A With Mark
(From an interview For Publishing House, David James Publishing)
Q. Quick question first. Can you sum up your background in no more than ten words?!
ME: Right, here goes…‘Forty-something husband, father, sport psychologist from Dromore, County Down’. That’s nine or ten I think. Wow! That’s a tester; almost as tough as writing the book!!
Q. Speaking of your book, what prompted you to write Facing Frankenstein?
ME: For many years now, it’s been a passion of mine to tell it like it is to as many athletes as possible around the world. I want to place on record a truth that no other sport psychology book has ever acknowledged. I want athletes to know the real reason why they need a mental game. And I can tell them, right now, that IT’S NOT BECAUSE COMPETITIVE SPORT IS MENTALLY DEMANDING.
Q. That’s a radical claim. Can you say some more about it?
ME: Well, for one, it really isn’t a radical claim at all. It’s merely the truth. However, I understand it appearsradical because of how athletes, well all of us, have been conditioned to think about the nature of reality and the causes of stress. But, I repeat, playing sport competitively, even at the elite or professional level, has never of itself been a strain on the psyche. What actually places a strain on the psyche is something I call the ‘Frankenstein Factor’; but that’s a human thing, not a sport thing!
Q. Can you explain for us what exactly you mean by the ‘Frankenstein Factor’?
ME: Sure. The Frankenstein Factor is the term I use to describe and explain a flaw I’ve observed in the human condition – one which emerges as childhood innocence ends.
Essentially, the Frankenstein Factor is a metaphor for the human tendency to self-sabotage. It is a LEARNED habit that is shaped by three things. One, our mental game neglect; two, the lop-sided way we are educated; and, three, the negative messages we receive from parents, peers and society itself. The book goes into this phenomenon in detail, but one thing I can say here is this: athletes need to be mentally tough, NOT because sport exists, but because the Frankenstein Factor exists.
Or put another way, even though athletes have been told for years that sport itself creates the mental challenge, the truth is IT DOESN’T. Athletes create it themselves! The mental demand lies much closer to home. It’s an inside job and always has been.
Q. Why ‘Frankenstein’? What has Shelley’s fictional scientist got to do with sport and the psychology of peak performance?
ME: It was while revisiting Mary Shelley’s masterpiece that I noticed clear parallels between Baron Frankenstein’s destructive ways and how we go about things as humans. It’s a sobering thought, but all of us, to varying degrees, create our own monsters – mental ones! And as sportspeople are humans too, then this also applies to them!
By reading my book, Facing Frankenstein, athletes will learn that they have created an inner opponent that it is more cunning, clever and capable than any of their physical opponents. They will come to realise that their mental monster is their TRUE OPPONENT in sport.
Q. I guess an actual physical opponent, on the pitch, over the net, or wherever, is much easier to compete against than this shrewd inner opponent you call the mental monster?
ME: Oh, absolutely! It must be understood that for an athlete to defeat his mental monster he has to use the very thing the monster is sabotaging and attacking – his mind. This is why there are so few athletes who make it really big, who become superstars. It takes hard work and perseverance to become mentally tough and believe me those who make it big in their sport, or in any field for that matter, are in control of their minds and therefore in control of their performances, be that on the court, course or pitch, or in the boardrooms across the world.
So, if left unchallenged, an athlete’s mental monster is as destructive as Shelley’s fictional beast, and therefore much more of an opponent than the guy on the other side of the net. An athlete can therefore only beat his physical, or ‘outer’, opponent if he has firstly overcome his inner opponent.
Q. The mental monster is really ourselves, isn’t that right? It’s about us getting in our own way by creating our own stresses and worries?
ME: Absolutely right! From a wealth of personal and professional experience I have concluded, without hesitation, that as humans we are complicit in our own psychological and emotional angst. That for reasons of socialisation and education we have become caged in our left brains, proficient at self-sabotage and adept at tripping ourselves up. And it is purely because of this tendency that athletes need to be mentally tough. So, yes, we are our own worst enemies. We are our own monsters!
While we’re on this question, I’d like to tell the readers what our most destructive mental habit is. Or put another way, what the monster’s most potent weapon is to keep us trapped in fear and to put a ceiling on our potential. And it is this – WORRYING ABOUT WHAT OTHER PEOPLE THINK OF US. This learned worry is a modern day curse, a mental plague that engenders stress, anxiety and fear. Fear of being ridiculed and disliked. And there is no greater breeding ground for this fear than a performance setting, where scrutiny abounds.
Athletes who are not mentally trained are masters of conjuring-up what I call ‘people worries’: “What will they think of me if I mess up”; “If I miss this penalty kick I’ll never live it down”; “Oh no the national coach is watching. I mustn’t make any mistakes today”… And so it goes – self-created mental interference. It’s impossible for an athlete to perform at peak level when his mental monster is spewing out this stuff!
And if you don’t think we’re obsessed by other people then I’ve only one thing left to say – TWITTER! What are we like, eh?! More interested in other people than ourselves. And then we have the audacity to complain when success doesn’t come our way!
Q. How have your clients responded to the Frankenstein analogy?
ME: Very positively indeed. When I set out the rationale in detail, athletes find the Frankenstein analogy extremely useful and insightful. It enables them to understand the real reason why they need a mental game, and it motivates them like crazy to become mentally tough. Which makes perfect sense – after all, there’s a monster chasing them!
One of my clients is World Number One handball player Paul Brady. He puts it brilliantly when he describes the book in the following way: “Facing Frankenstein woke me up to the fact that sport psychology has got nothing to do with the psychology of sport, but everything to do with the psychology of being human”.
Q. Right, a quick recap… So, as a result of the Frankenstein Factor, athletes create their own mental interference, thereby sabotaging their chances of performing at their peak and meeting their sporting objectives. This is clearly the problem, but what’s the solution; and does your book provide it?
ME: Yes, most definitely! Facing Frankenstein is organised into two parts. Part One is the information and awareness bit. It explains everything to the reader about the Frankenstein Factor, the mental monster, and why it’s necessary to become mentally tough. It also offers readers the opportunity to assess how influential their mental monster is in how they prepare for, and perform in, competition. All of this paves the way for the solution – the groundbreaking Six Pathways to Mental ToughnessÓ programme contained in Part Two of the book. This mental training programme teaches the reader, in a systematic way, how to defeat his inner monster.
Q. What specific benefits will accrue to the athlete by following your mental training programme?
ME: The programme is jam-packed with over eighty exercises and techniques spread across six training modules, or pathways. By following the programme, readers will:
- Become self-driven to attain massive progress in their sport.
- Develop unflinching belief in themselves and their ability to master situations.
- Develop the ability to create their own reality.
- Learn how to attain a quiet but focused mind during competition.
- Discover how to prepare for competition in the most powerful way possible.
- Perform with poise, having the ability to control their emotions, before, during and after performance.
This programme will not only enable an athlete to develop a world-class mental game, but also it will return him to his natural state – to the boundless potential he entered the world with.
Q. You’re recognised as one of the top sport psychologists in the country. Can you tell us a little about the types of clients you work with?
ME: I work with individual performers and teams, as well as with coaches. My clients come from many different sports – over twenty at the last count. I’ve been consulted by European Tour golfers; International and British and Irish Lions’ rugby players; Olympic and Paralympic athletes and coaches; professional footballers and clubs; professional ice hockey teams and individual players; and by pro boxers and senior county teams and players from Gaelic sports.
Q. Are your services only open to the elite performer?
ME: No, my services are open to all performers. The sportspeople I work with span all levels of ability and ambition. So, one day I could be working with a weekend golfer whose key goal is to win money off his golfing buddies in Sunday’s game, and the next day be working with a world-renowned rugby player who is serious about mental training, and whose career goal is to make the next British and Irish Lions’ squad.
I should underline here that Facing Frankenstein is written for athletes across all sports and at all levels of ability who want to be the best they can be. The book should also be read by coaches and parents, as well as by the curious and intrigued.
Q. What are your qualifications?
ME: I’m a chartered sport psychologist as well as a chartered occupational psychologist. I hold a Doctor of Psychology degree and a master’s and bachelor’s degree in psychology. I am an Associate Fellow of The British Psychological Society.
Q. What did you find particularly challenging about writing Facing Frankenstein?
ME: My major challenge lay within myself. My confidence was initially low; I wasn’t sure I was up to writing the book. I found all sorts of reasons not to bother. In essence, my own mental monster was holding me back. When I recognised this, I decided to kick my inner saboteur to the kerb. I listed the reasons why I should write the book and why I was the right person to do so. I then got on with it in a methodical way.
I like to think that my mental monster tried to undermine my efforts to write the book because it was trembling inside, for a change. It was scared that by releasing Facing Frankenstein on the world stage its nasty and manipulative ways would be exposed to all and that its reign of mental oppression would be over. I like to think this is exactly how it was!!
Q. Do you have any tips or guidance for people who want to write a book?
ME: You must really want to do it and for the right reason. Not for public acclaim and fortune, but for the intrinsic satisfaction of a job well done and the transmission of knowledge to your readership. If your motivation to write comes from within, then you will complete the work successfully and feel fulfilled.
And though it’s clichéd, it’s also best to write about what you know. Make sure too that you manage your time well and have supportive people around you; people who believe in you and your project.
Q. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
ME: It’s actually a quotation from Olin Miller: “We probably wouldn’t worry about what people think of us if we could know how seldom they do”.
Q. What are your plans for the future?
ME: To continue to tell the truth about the psychology of sport and peak performance. My specific professional objective is to help one million athletes across the world to defeat their true opponent in sport.