Acknowledge and accept your feelings. Recognizing how you are feeling can be the first step to managing stress. Acknowledge feelings, such as anxiety, and give yourself permission to feel any emotion that you may be having.
As a part of our series about “Optimal Performance Before High Pressure Moments”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Sunni Lampasso.
Dr. Sunni Lampasso is an Executive Coach and Consulting Psychologist. Using her background in psychology, she helps executives and business owners get to the root of what’s getting in the way of further success. Using an assessment process, Dr. Lampasso helps client to develop and implement a custom plan to maximize their potential and improve performance.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
My journey in helping people started at the age of 10 when I saved my grandmother from drowning. When I was old enough to work, I decided to become a lifeguard because I enjoyed being able to help people and I loved swimming. During this time, my curiosity about people and their behavior grew when I took an elective psychology class in high school. In college, I majored in psychology and decided that I wanted to become a Clinical Psychologist. As soon as I finished college, I enrolled in a doctorate program. Since graduating, I’ve worked with people of all ages through my clinical work, and I also gained valuable experience as a leader and starting my own business. My transition to executive coaching and consulting psychology comes from my own experience and has allowed me to help leaders and business owners to hone their skills and reach their full potential.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career as an entrepreneur or business leader? We’d love to hear the story.
Dr. Chris Allen, a Workplace Psychologist, inspired my path as a business leader. We share the same initial career path as clinical psychologists, and she successfully transitioned into the consulting world and founded a successful consulting business. In addition, she holds leadership positions in professional organizations and is dedicated to developing new leaders. Chris demonstrates numerous qualities of a great leader and is an inspiration to many.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
The person who gave me the most help and encouragement throughout my life was my father. He was always my biggest supporter throughout my education and career. When I was writing my dissertation for my doctoral degree in clinical psychology, he often provided words of encouragement when I was having writer’s block and feeling stuck. He was my cheerleader, and he taught me that I could do anything I wanted if I put in the work.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
When I was a new leader, I never laughed at my mistakes early in my career, because I didn’t know they were mistakes. Now, looking back, it’s funny to think about the unrealistic expectations I set for myself. I felt that I should know everything, and I was afraid to ask too many questions. I feared being vulnerable and tried to limit asking for help and admitting when I didn’t know the answer to a question. Now, I know that vulnerability is a necessary skill for success as a leader — it’s ok to be human, make mistakes, and not know everything. And being vulnerable and authentic helps build trust and connections with others.
The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?
I would tell a young person looking to follow in my footsteps to get in touch with your values and decide what matters most to you. Then, after you are clear on your ‘why’, choose a career path that aligns with your values. This way, when you are working toward what you care about, you will be able to stay motivated to stay the course when challenges arise. A great book to help you get in touch with what you care about when it comes to work is Start with Why by Simon Sinek.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
A Liberated Mind by Steve Hayes significantly impacted my transition from a clinical psychologist to a consulting psychologist and executive coach. This book resonated with me, because it outlines the principles of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). The goal of ACT is to increase psychological flexibility. Some of the core principles that stood out were getting in touch with your values and taking committed action based on your values. Using the strategies outlined in this book, I was able to take steps to pivot my career into a direction that I deeply value, which is helping people to succeed in the workplace and business.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
My favorite life lesson quote is, “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity” by Albert Einstein. This quote has served as a guiding principle for me during difficult times. I think it resonates with me because finding opportunity in challenging situations is characteristic of a growth mindset. Having a growth mindset has helped me to pivot my career and move in a new direction.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
Currently, I’m working on developing a program to improve employee well-being in a hybrid workplace. A positive outcome of the pandemic has been that many employers have increased their focus on employee well-being. This program is exciting, because it will help companies develop a culture of well-being in this new era of hybrid work. In addition to promoting a culture that emphasizes well-being, the program will also address the individual needs of employees in a hybrid workplace. A few issues that the program will address are increasing psychological safety in a hybrid work environment, staying connected and engaged, and developing healthy hybrid habits and coping skills.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. As a business leader, you likely often face high stakes situations that involve a lot of pressure. Most of us tend to wither in the face of such pressure and stress. Can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to cope with the burden of stress?
Here are my top three strategies to cope with stress:
- Be active. Exercise increases endorphins and reduces stress hormones. In addition, exercise has been shown to decrease overall tension and can improve sleep quality.
- Prioritize sleep. Getting enough sleep can help you feel your best, reduce anxiety, stabilize mood, and manage stress.
- Get outdoors. Being in nature reduces stress. I enjoy going for a walk at a park that’s near the water or going for a hike on a nearby trail. Even stepping outside the office to sit outside for a few minutes can help to reduce stress.
Aside from being able to deal with the burden of stress, can you share with our readers five strategies that you use to optimize your mind for peak performance before high pressure, high stress situations?
Business leaders who perform well during high-pressure moments often have various tools that they use to manage stress. Developing a toolbox of strategies to cope with stress can help you remain calm and make sound decisions while under pressure.
Here are some tools from my toolbox that you can use to relieve stress, clear your head, and prepare for optimal performance before high-pressure moments:
- Prepare. Preparation and practice can improve performance and reduce anxiety. Reviewing information or points you would like to make can help you optimize performance when the pressure is on.
- Visualize. Visualization can enhance performance in high-pressure situations. Before the high-pressure situation, close your eyes and imagine yourself remaining calm, feeling confident, and communicating your message clearly. Allowing yourself to experience feeling relaxed and confident can help you recreate those feelings in the actual situation.
- Acknowledge and accept your feelings. Recognizing how you are feeling can be the first step to managing stress. Acknowledge feelings, such as anxiety, and give yourself permission to feel any emotion that you may be having.
- Ground yourself. Using mindfulness to stay in the present moment can help you remain calm when the pressure is high. Focusing on what you can see, feel, hear, smell, and taste can get you out of your head and into the present moment. Being in the present moment can help you focus on the situation and remain calm.
- Breathe. When we experience stress, our sympathetic nervous system is activated, and our body prepares for fight or flight. Deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which can help to reduce anxiety and promote a sense of calm.
Do you use any special or particular breathing techniques, meditations or visualizations to help optimize yourself? If you do, we’d love to hear about it.
Yes, I practice several techniques to optimize my performance in stressful situations. I regularly practice a mindfulness exercise called “Watching Your Thoughts.” This exercise helps to optimize performance by helping to reduce the impact of negative and anxious thoughts by allowing these thoughts to come and go. Often times, when we have negative or anxious thoughts, they can spark negative emotions and make us feel as if the worst has happened. And, when we try to resist these thoughts, they can have feel even more powerful. Watching your thoughts by imagining that each thought is a car passing by while you are sitting on a park bench on a beautiful day can help to create space between you and the thoughts. Recognizing that each thought will come and go can helps to prevent the thoughts from becoming distracting and overwhelming.
Do you have a special technique to develop a strong focus, and clear away distractions?
Yes, I use a grounding exercise called “5–4–3–2–1” that helps me to focus on the present and clear distractions. H
Here’s how to do it:
- Breath: Begin by taking a deep breath.
- See: Identify 5 objects that you can see around you. For example, I see my computer, my desk, the carpet, my phone, and my pen.
- Feel: Pay attention to your body and observe 4 things you can feel. For example, I feel the chair touching the back of my legs, I feel my tongue touching my teeth, I feel air flowing into my nostrils, and I feel my hair touching the back of my neck.
- Hear: Identify 3 things you can hear. For example, I hear the sound of the air conditioning humming, children playing outside in the distance, and the sound of the clock ticking.
- Smell: Identify 2 things you can smell. For example, I smell my shampoo and someone cooking.
- Taste: Identify 1 thing you can taste. For example, you may be able to taste the mouthwash you recently used or the coffee you are drinking.
We all know the importance of good habits. How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?
Habits have played a key role in my success. Self-care habits as well as habits related to productivity have helped me to improve my well-being, achieve optimal performance, and stay on track toward my goals. Incorporating regular exercise into my routine and establishing a sleep routine set me up to have more energy, better concentration, and reduce stress.
My exercise routine involves having weekly exercise goals and tracking my progress. Using a Fitbit, I monitor my steps, number of active minutes, and types of activity. Checking these statistics keeps me motivated and pushes me to reach and exceed my goals. To stay in a consistent routine, I also try to exercise early in the day and at the same time each day.
Sleep habits are a priority for me, because I know that I’m not at my best when I haven’t gotten enough sleep. My sleep routine is about consistency — I try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day, regardless of my schedule. If something prevents me from keeping my routine one day, I try my best to return to the routine the next day.
My habits related to productivity include starting my day by allowing time for breakfast and to prepare for the day. I review my to-do list and calendar and then attend to emails. Starting my day with this routine helps me to feel prepared and ready to accomplish items on my list.
What is the best way to develop great habits for optimal performance? How can one stop bad habits?
The best way to develop good habits for optimal performance is to start with small steps, practice, and build on these practices. For example, if you decide to incorporate a mindfulness practice into your routine, start by adding it to a routine activity — try mindfully brushing your teeth. Using all of your senses, focus on the smell, taste, color, and texture of the toothpaste, the sensation of the toothbrush on your teeth, and the sound that you hear when brushing your teeth. After practicing this exercise, expand your mindfulness practice to other activities and prior to stressful activities.
Bad habits can be challenging to break. The best way to reduce bad habits is by replacing them with new, healthier habits. The key is to engage in a behavior that is not compatible with the old behavior. For example, to reduce the amount of time you spend on your phone scrolling on Instagram, replace this behavior with a different activity, such as using your phone to research a topic you find interesting.
As a business leader, you likely experience times when you are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a state of Flow more often in our lives?
I think that an important component of achieving a state of Flow goes back to your values. When you are engaging in work (or any activity) that you truly care about, it’s easier to achieve a state of Flow. Additionally, when you are fully present, a state of Flow is more likely to occur. Making mindfulness a regular practice can increase your ability to achieve a state of Flow.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Adopting a growth and learning mindset has helped me reach my goals, stay motivated, and continue learning when setbacks occur. I want to inspire a movement to educate people about the benefits of adopting a growth and learning mindset and teach them about the differences between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. A growth and learning mindset helps people learn from challenges, approach new situations and people with curiosity, and be more resilient during stressful times. If more people adopted a growth and learning mindset, we would have a more caring and productive society. In addition, teaching children about the benefits of a growth mindset could help them navigate challenges and inspire curiosity.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
I would love to have lunch with Gail Becker, founder of Caulipower. She is an inspirational leader who successfully pivoted from a corporate career to leading a successful startup. Although she had friends and colleagues who didn’t support her vision, she persevered toward launching her product. Becker cares about her company culture and recognizes that diversity is key to bringing different perspectives. She identified a need for consumers to have quick and healthy food options without knowing about the food industry. Becker realized the importance of hiring consultants to help her navigate an unfamiliar industry. I’d love to talk with her about her experience founding and scaling a startup and hearing about how she developed her company culture.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Readers can follow my work on the Latest News section of my website https://www.shapingsuccessconsulting.com/ or follow me on Instagram @shaping_success
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.