Chris is a Performance Coach with prominent companies including Johnson & Johnson. In this interview we talk about the psychology of high performers. We talk about “perpetual transition” and how one’s transition from the military is a continuous and ongoing process, not a one-time event. We talk about finding a new purpose after the military, and how to build it out of one’s own experiences, values, and relationships. We talk about the process of pursuing a PhD, and more.
Chris Diaz is a Performance Coach at Equilibria Leadership Consulting. He is also the co-Founder & Executive Director of Action Tank, which tackles tough problems by harnessing the experiences, skills, and relationships of service-minded citizens to improve the social conditions of our community.. Currently working toward a PhD in Clinical Psychology, Chris also serves as a performance coach for the Johnson and Johnson Human Performance Institute. Chris started out in the Navy as a Hospital Corpsman, where he served for 6 years.
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Transcript & Time Stamps:
Joining me today from Philadelphia, PA is Chris Diaz. Chris Diaz is a Performance Coach at Equilibria Leadership Consulting. He is also the co-Founder & Executive Director of Action Tank, which tackles tough problems by harnessing the experiences, skills, and relationships of service-minded citizens to improve the social conditions of our community.. Currently working toward a PhD in Clinical Psychology, Chris also serves as a performance coach for the Johnson and Johnson Human Performance Institute. Chris started out in the Navy as a Hospital Corpsman, where he served for 6 years.
How would you describe what you do?
I help people better understand and improve themselves. Psychology is the lens through which I view all behaviors. I view human performance through my academic work as well as the work I do with athletes, military members, and other people.
A performance coach takes all of these variables and helps a person understand and process these variables in a way that will allow them to perform better. In the military, many units have implemented what are called Cognitive Enhancement Specialists. What I do is similar to that except that I also take a more holistic viewpoint.
What does it look like when you’re working with individuals?
Performance psychology refers to the mental components of superior performance. It’s highlighted in situations in which excellence is a necessary piece of performance such as with military members, athletes, or a doctor performing surgery. So it’s a lot of working with individuals that are looking to gain in their ability to solve problems and work under pressure.
For me my day-to-day work varies depending on the team or individual I’m working with. For example, I’m currently working with a college soccer team. By NCAA regulations, there is a maximum amount of time in which the coach can interact with his players. So I work with the coach to find out how he wants to see the players developed and performance improved and in the time that he can’t spend with them, I’m able to continue developing them. And a lot of what I teach them is not just applicable to their lives as athletes but also in the classroom as well.
I love what you’re saying because I believe that psychology has a much greater impact on success in life than possessing a particular skill set.
There are far more questions in psychology than what we are able to solve. But everything we do is driven by psychology. I believe virtually everything you do has a root in psychology. So no matter what industry you’re in, being aware of your own psychology and performance can be extremely helpful.
What was your transition out of the military like?
My transition was pretty abrupt. I got out of the Navy on a Friday and started school on a Monday morning so there really wasn’t much downtime. Starting as a 30-year-old undergraduate working toward the lofty goal of being a clinical psychologist. There’s been a lot of ebbs and flows over the years.
I’ve had challenges with my health and dealing with the VA system. I’ve been able to connect with many amazing non-profit organizations such as the Pat Tillman Foundation. So my experience I think was common in that I felt a lot of uncertainty and I was really just trying to figure it out.
I’ve heard you use the phrase “perpetual transition”. What do you mean by that?
You hear people talk about the military to civilian transition but I feel like many times that conversation can be problematic. It implies that the transition is the same for everyone and fails to appreciate the diversity of experiences that people have. Some start working, some go to school, some stay at home. It’s unique to each person. In your life you don’t just arrive at a specific destination. It’s a constant evolution that you go through as you grow and evolve.
I love that idea that life is a continuous growing and learning process.
This process also shows up in the outpouring of support from individuals wanting to help veterans. There are so many organizations out there that want to support veterans.
What drew you to performance psychology?
I became interested in this field because I grew up as athlete. I recognized how my own mind limited my ability to perform in certain situations. Then in the military, it was interesting to see friends that were trying to go into elite programs. I saw some people successfully make it through BUDS while others didn’t even though they were of equal physical strength. That showed me how important psychology was.
Originally, I specifically wanted to be a sports psychologists but over time, I broadened that because I realized that the same psychological limitations and challenges that athletes face are faced by military members and others.
Purpose isn’t something that you just stumble upon. You have to build that meaning into your life through your experiences and relationships. There is a quote by Howard Thurman, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive.” The world needs people that are alive. So I think that pretty much sums it up. I wouldn’t be able to the amount of things that I’m doing if it wasn’t tied to a higher purpose that drives me.
How can veterans uncover what their purpose is once their military service has ended?
Research is mixed when considering factors that drive veterans to commit suicide but one of the key risk factors is social support and sense of purpose. What so often happens with veterans is that you lose a sense of belonging.
One of the reasons we started the non-profit Action Tank was to give veterans the opportunity to continue serving their community. I encourage veterans to go to their community and find new ways that they they can serve the world around them.
What does the day-to-day look like for you as your pursue your Ph. D?
It’s not easy. If I had known beforehand what I was getting myself into, I probably would not have pursued this path. The process in this field is a lot of figuring things out on your own. The field of sports psychology is quite new. I’ve focused my educational path on clinical psychology with an emphasis on human performance.
If you’re interested in pursuing this, please reach out to me and I can give you more information. There’s a lot of travel in this field and many years of education that you need to go through. But I get a great deal of fulfillment out of it.
What is the most challenging aspect of your work?
One of the most challenging parts is that there are not many first generation American, combat veteran, former MMA fighter type people in academia. So I’ve had trouble finding mentors that I can really identify with. When I left the Navy, the longest email I had sent was no more than six sentences. So I had to go through a huge learning curve, it’s one that I’m still going through.
What is work as a performance coach with Johnson & Johnson like?
Johnson & Johnson has a mission to become the healthiest workforce in the world. That program is lead by a veteran, a West Point graduate. So being part of an organization that values the health and wellbeing of its employees has been incredibly rewarding. My work as a performance coach is to go out and work with employees and help them improve their processes.
What are some resources you would recommend to people?
If I read a book, I’ll reach out to the author and ask for recommendations from them.
One podcast that I recommend is Finding Mastery. They have incredible people on that podcast - Olympians, CEOs, executive military officers.
Is there anything else you would like share with listeners?
Don’t allow yourself to be defined by your service or any other title someone applie to you. Make sure you’re being guided by your own authentic voice.