Dr. Tiffany Jones, owner and president of X-Factor Performance Consulting Group, Sports and Performance Psychology Consultancy, spoke at Kingswood Oxford on March 9 as the most recent Stroud Science Symposium Speaker. Jones spoke to students about using biofeedback to understand anxiety and to manage one’s mental state. Her presentation illustrated the impact of brain chemistry and actions and proof of the mind/body connection. Jones works closely with Division I athletes on a variety of issues, addressing mental toughness, managing emotions and anxiety, decreasing negative thoughts, returning from injury, motivation, controlling the "controllables," coaching the millennial generation, incorporating brain endurance training, and developing effective communication between coaches and athletes.
Out of the gate, Jones leveled with the audience. “You get a lot of feedback on your millennial generation, I know. I am not up here to tell you what you are doing wrong,” she said. “It is about explaining behavior because if we can explain behavior we can make different choices if we want to.”
The statistics of technology use linked to this of this generation, coined Generation Z, are indeed staggering. On average, they spend six to eight hours a day on their phones and text at least 60 times a day. Overall, they are on technology up to 13 hours a day.
“Your generation is a scary one, said Jones. “A perfectionist generation. You compare yourselves to that which you see on social media. You just see the happy. It is easy to get FOMO (fear of missing out).” In fact, Jones reports that social perfectionism has increased by 33% since 1989. Ultimately this has led to higher levels of depression, anxiety, suicide, loneliness and disordered eating.
Through her research, Jones has identified characteristics of extensive technology use that impacts other areas of students’ lives. She explains that young people have little concept of delayed gratification, and simple things like eye contact and authentic relationships are non- existent. “You are the most communicative generation of all times, but yet you are not conversing. A lot of you have people you communicate with all day, but you don’t have a lot of genuine relationships. The two are not the same,” she said.
So what does this mean? Jones suggests that technology is stunting brain growth and delaying the prefrontal cortex development up to six years. This translates into 18-22-year-olds with the decision making ability of 12-16-year-olds. That muscle simply hasn’t been worked as much as it should be to keep up. Subsequently, things like adaptation and flexibility of thought become inhibited, and there is a lack of self-assessment and reflection.
And, perhaps the million dollar question is - how can this scary but brave new world be combated? Jones explains that physiology begins with something very basic but essential: thinking and thoughts. Physiology and thoughts impact behavior and performance, and therefore, the mind/body connection exists. She brought a brave volunteer up on stage, attached a heart rate monitor, and took him through a series of exercises including prompts that would make anyone sweat, including relationships, grades, and college. The audience could see when he entered green zone (calm chill), the blue zone (optimal for test taking, calm but focused) and the red zone (stressed, frenzied). When her volunteer worked to control his thoughts, he was able to keep his heart rate at a consistent, calm pace. Admittedly, when asked what he was doing differently from when his heart rate had rocketed seconds before he said, “I am focusing on how I feel and what I am thinking.”
Ultimately, the takeaway is that the most important skill you can teach yourself is focusing on the one thing that you can control - you. It takes practice and effort, but by asking yourself what you think, feel, see, hear in each of the “zones,” you can manage your response. She encouraged the students to focus on these things in moments of stress or uncertainty. “The exhale is almost as important as the inhale,” Jones said.
The other key to the equation to mental and physical well being is the importance of sleep. “Your machine matters,” reported Jones. She claims that nine and a quarter hours is the optimal amount of sleep for a person. Sleep spindles form at the end of the six-hour mark so at less than six hours you do not store any of the day’s information in your long-term memory. The professional athletes Jones has worked with sleep between 10-13 hours a night. She advises students to turn off their devices, or put them somewhere else while they are doing school work. It takes the average person about 10-15 minutes to refocus on what they were doing after looking at their phone. If you study for 30 minutes and check the phone two to three times, you are only studying for five to ten minutes.
She left with what many might think as a surprising message, especially for a generation that aims for perfection: that maybe after all of your hard work, your studying, your time and effort - you don’t get the result you want.
“Maybe your best is a C. That’s okay,” said Jones. “The C kid may become your bosses because they learn how to fight through. By fighting through their fear and anxiety they become the best they can become.” It’s about mental toughness, grit, problem-solving and creating a bag of tricks that works for you in times of stress or uncertainty. “Routines are actually good. You can control a routine; it gives you confidence,” she offered.
In what sounds like the newest Nike campaign combined with just the right amount of tough love Jones offered this sincere advice, “Just do it. Not try, just do.”
The Stroud Science Symposium brings a leading scientist to campus each year to work with students on topics related to the visitor’s expertise. This experience gives students the opportunity to access real-world applications, bringing what they learn in class to life. It also highlights the various ways in which science solves contemporary problems and reinforces the importance of being scientifically well-informed.
Inaugurated in 2000, the Stroud Science Symposium is named in honor of Dixon Stroud, a Kingswood Oxford grandfather and founder of the Stroud Water Research Center of Pennsylvania. The Center is a renowned laboratory dedicated to research, restoration, and preservation of freshwater habitats.