How Speedcuber Dana Yi Optimizes Her Mind & Body For Peak Performance

I don’t meditate, but I do like to reflect about life or journal during small breaks. I believe that the one of the best ways to improve is to reflect, so you can notice the inefficiencies or errors and work to actively fix them. Having said that, there’s a difference between this and dwelling on […]

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I don’t meditate, but I do like to reflect about life or journal during small breaks. I believe that the one of the best ways to improve is to reflect, so you can notice the inefficiencies or errors and work to actively fix them. Having said that, there’s a difference between this and dwelling on the past. I make sure not to be too hard on myself for past decisions and instead to learn from them for the future.

As a part of our series about “How Athletes Optimize Their Mind & Body For Peak Performance”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dana Yi. Dana is an American speedcuber. She is frequently considered the fastest female speedcuber in cubing history. Dana is one of 30 finalists participating in the Red Bull Rubik’s Cube World Cup on November 7th.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! It is a great honor. Our readers would love to learn more about your personal background. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I think my upbringing was largely pretty ordinary — However, I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve had so many hobbies and interests since I was young. From cubing and martial arts to gymnastics, reading, tennis, cross country, softball, and so many more!

What or who inspired you to pursue your career as a high level professional athlete? We’d love to hear the story.

I’d say cubing is more of a hobby than a career for me personally. I don’t think any one person inspired me to cube, but I was fascinated by the community it creates and the challenge. For me, I think competing is 70% about the people I meet and 30% about the actual solving. Obviously, I’m always striving to improve and beat my previous times, but I think I my main motivation comes from the enjoyment of meeting old and new friends.

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?

Without doubt, my biggest supporters throughout my cubing journey have been my parents. At the beginning — when I wasn’t able to drive or buy my own cubes — my parents were extremely supportive — driving me to competitions and buying me new cubes from time to time. I didn’t fully comprehend how supportive my parents were until I got older. They keep me grounded, remind me to focus on school and encouraged me to continue cubing.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your sports career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

My mistakes tend to happen when I get too ‘in my head’ before solving I don’t perform as well as I can. They’re not a case of insufficient practice or prep, but usually stem from overthinking or getting overly nervous. Nerves still happen, but I’m much better at taking the situation at hand for what it is — not blowing it up in my head — which has helped me keep my cool and continue to become faster.

What advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your career?

I think the biggest thing for cubing is just have fun. Practicing, learning, and improving are extremely important, but if you don’t slow down to enjoy the time, the people and the solves, they can burnout because they simply aren’t enjoying the hobby as much as they could.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

In terms of cubing, I’m working on developing my YouTube channel with a mix of entertainment and educational cubing videos. I hope people can enjoy them and learn new skills! I’m also competing in the finals of the Red Bull Rubik’s Cube World Cup on the 7th November, which is a huge global competition for the speedcubing community.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. As an athlete, you 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 optimize your mind for peak performance before high pressure, high stress situations?

Nerves are a problem many people face and something I’ve been working on for years to tame. I don’t think my nerve-management skills are perfect, but a few things I do to help myself in these intense situations are:

  1. Take a deep breath, close my eyes, and try to relax
  2. Bring a handwarmer! Sometimes my main issue is that my hands are physically too cold to turn the cube.
  3. Remind myself this isn’t the end of the world — there are always more competitions and opportunities.

Do you use any special or particular breathing techniques to help optimize yourself?

I take deep breaths before solves to slow down my breathing and heart rate to try to clear my mind.

Do you have a special technique to develop a strong focus, and clear away distractions?

It’s all just a mental preparation game. Deep breaths, and reminders to myself really help!

How about your body? Can you share a few strategies that you use to optimize your body for peak performance?

Cubing isn’t a physically demanding task in the same way as many other sports, but physical readiness is also extremely important. I perform and compete far better after a good night’s sleep, so I always try to sleep at least eight hours a night for a few days before each competition.

These ideas are excellent, but for most of us in order for them to become integrated into our lives and really put them to use, we have to turn them into habits and make them become ‘second nature’. Has this been true in your life? How have habits played a role in your success?

Absolutely! I think good habits and routine are crucial to success and cubing is no different. For example, it’s extremely important in cubing, just like in life, to never stop learning. There are always more algorithms or small tips and tricks you can learn and practice to become faster and more efficient. All world-class cubers have the habit of learning and actively practicing to improve on certain aspects of the solve.

I think it’s equally important to make sure you stay away from bad habits. I recently finished reading “Atomic Habits” — half of the challenge of creating good habits is to make sure that bad ones are hard to indulge in. In cubing, it isn’t as cut and dry — but it’s important to make sure you’re not practicing “bad technique” over and over. Otherwise, these will become your go-to and slow down your solves.

Can you share some of the strategies you have used to turn the ideas above into habits? What is the best way to develop great habits for optimal performance? How can one stop bad habits?

One thing that has really worked for me is practicing in smaller sessions. When I practice in really long sessions, I tend to lose concentration quickly, which can cause me to revert habits not as efficient as those I may have developed. Instead, I practice in smaller, dedicated chunks where I ensure I’m actively thinking about what I’m doing in my solves and fixing any inefficiencies.

As a high performance athlete, you likely experience times when things 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 mind state of Flow more often in our lives?

I think there is a really interesting flow state that cubers can get into where everything clicks into place and solves go smoothly. You can feel like you’re improving every solve. To be completely honest, I’m not sure what brings these practice sessions about. However, I find I achieve them more when I am active rather than passive in my practice.

Do you have any meditation practices that you use to help you in your life? We’d love to hear about it.

I don’t meditate, but I do like to reflect about life or journal during small breaks. I believe that the one of the best ways to improve is to reflect, so you can notice the inefficiencies or errors and work to actively fix them. Having said that, there’s a difference between this and dwelling on the past. I make sure not to be too hard on myself for past decisions and instead to learn from them for the future.

Many of us are limited by our self talk, or by negative mind chatter, such as regrets, and feelings of inferiority. Do you have any suggestions about how to “change the channel” of our thoughts? What is the best way to change our thoughts?

I think that no matter what, people will have negative thoughts and regrets and have moments when they feel inferior. We’re all human and thoughts like this are inevitable. However, I think it’s important not to dwell on them — they can become overwhelming and extremely demotivating. Sometimes when I’m feeling down, I find going for a walk really helps clear my head, or I talk to a friend. I think every person is different and there are a lot of things that can affect mental attitude. For me personally, when I have too many negative thoughts, I try to take a step back and clear my head.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are by all accounts a very successful person. How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I try to spread my love for cubing as much as I can, both online and at competitions. I try to connect with new cubers, old cubers, cubers’ parents and anyone who attends competitions. I’ve been able to use my small YouTube channel to fundraiser for causes I care about.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

A recent one I heard was: “A good life is a collection of happy moments.” I really like this because it reminds me that memories and moments are extremely important. However, I don’t take this so far as to be frivolous or extravagant with money, but rather that to truly enjoy life, you have to enjoy the moments, experiences, and people. Especially in a time where most people are at home, I find connecting and creating memories extremely important.

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 🙂

There would be the slimmest of slim chances, but I think having a chat with Elon Musk would be so cool. I’ve been following Tesla in the news from both a business and technology standpoint, and never cease to be fascinated. Additionally, it’s awesome that he graduated from the university I’ll be graduating from next spring!

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