Give Your Goals a Glow-Up
To hit your peak in any pursuit, take a little pressure off with this fun mindset-in-action move from global footballer Ada Hegerberg's playbook.
Thanks to selfie culture, most of us have heard of "the golden hour", or the time just after sunrise or before sunset when you can snap pictures with the best natural light (#nofilter). But there are other definitions too. For new mums, it's the first hour of skin-to-skin contact with their baby. And for global football star Ada Hegerberg, it's the casual, off-the-clock session when she gets to fine-tune the fundamentals of her sport—like heading, taking penalties or kicking with her "weaker" foot—typically with her dad and sister.
The 25-year-old Norwegian has been doing the same at-home routine since she was 10 or 11. And even though she's now the leading striker for the world's most dominant team, Lyon, and is the UEFA Women's Champions League all-time top scorer—she says she has no intention of outgrowing it.
Nor should she. It's clearly paying off … but why? Likely because for her, a golden hour is as much psychological as it is physical. And creating your own golden hour can do wonders for you too.
OK, So What Is a Golden Hour?
In psychology, there's no textbook term or definition for a golden hour, which means it sort of gets to be whatever you want it to be. But according to Stephanie Cacioppo, PhD, a neuroscientist, the director of the Brain Dynamics Laboratory at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine and a Nike Performance Council member, there are a few guidelines that can help you identify a golden hour versus every other hour:
- It has to be intentional, not just another to-do slotted into your calendar.
- It has to be a safe space (no judgement—ahem, that includes from yourself).
- It has to be spent doing something you love that brings you genuine joy, such as a sport; a hobby (like cooking, chess or drawing); or a professional pursuit, like writing a novel.
- It has to focus on polishing your skills (this is what will help you really shine when it matters).
Why You Should Go for the Gold
When done right (more on that shortly), a golden hour can offer perks you're unlikely to get from a regular workout, long run or session with your sketchpad. Like …
1. You can improve on weaknesses.
The more experience you rack up and the more advanced your skill set becomes, the easier it is to forget about the fundamentals, says Christopher Janelle, PhD, a professor and the director of the Performance Psychology Lab at the University of Florida. "Bringing back fundamentals is often the answer to overcoming challenges that may seem bigger and harder than they actually are", he says.
If you're struggling with a certain lift in Cross-Training or a complicated dance combo, for instance, revisiting your foundation during your golden hour can reveal an imbalance or misstep. "It's all about repeating with quality in order to see results", Hegerberg recently told Nike in an interview, and Janelle and Cacioppo agree.
2. You build trust in yourself.
Repetition is huge for developing two mental skills known to boost performance: self-efficacy and confidence. "When you repeat the same movement or habit over and over, you know you can do it because you've practised it so many times. That's self-efficacy, or knowing you'll be successful", says Cacioppo. Self-efficacy drives confidence, which is the ability to believe in yourself. That's crucial when the pressure's on—such as in the moments before taking a penalty. "Confidence provides a buffer against mental or external distractions, effectively clearing your mind so you can focus on the task at hand and ultimately excel at it", explains Janelle.
And if you still screw up or lose? (It happens to all of us, even Hegerberg.) "Your golden hour can serve as an almost tangible reminder that you have put in the work and you can succeed", says Cacioppo. "It's proof that you're showing up, so you can trust you'll only get better".
3. You feel more in control.
Because your golden hour is ~your~ thing—and one that generally looks the same time after time—it "gives you a systematic place to mindfully deal with thoughts and emotions, things that are generally squishy or abstract—providing structure to them and how to deal with them rather than just feeling like you're flailing around", says Janelle.
In other words, you can rely on this routine to help you work through whatever's throwing you off, be it a soul-crushing loss, a breakup or, uh, a pandemic. The warm familiarity can help you reclaim your energy and peace, says Cacioppo, so you feel better able to deal with any stressors—a little thing called resilience.
"Having a golden hour is also a really great way to work through triggers", adds Janelle. Say you fall into a self-bashing headspace when you don't hit the PB you had in mind, you mess up a drawing or a rival makes an uncool comment. "You can use the safe space of your golden hour to visualise these experiences, tune in to how they feel, then rewrite your response so you can plan for them and succeed when they pop up in the future", he says.
"Your golden hour can serve as an almost tangible reminder that you have put in the work and you can succeed".
PhD, Nike Performance Council Member
4. You'll stay better connected to yourself.
Sometimes you end up in a role or lifestyle that isn't aligned with who you are or what you want. But prioritising your authentic self in your day to day is hugely important for living a full and happy life, says Cacioppo. "Going back to a routine that's your signature, your centre of gravity—especially years after you started it—helps you stay true to your authentic self when you're subjected to other pressures", like your family or an organisation banking on you to win, she says. Hegerberg's golden hour could be the thing (or, more likely, one of the things) that keeps her down to earth amid all of the trophies, notes Cacioppo.
5. You'll have fun.
When you stop enjoying an activity or pursuit of a goal, there's a greater likelihood you'll stop the activity altogether, says Janelle. When you have a golden hour focused around play—as in, you enjoy kicking around the ball with your dad, drawing your favourite animal or going back to the pasta recipe you learnt as a kid, and you don't take any of it too seriously—it helps you stay rooted to the intrinsic reasons that attracted you to your passion in the first place, he says. You also progress faster when you like what you're doing, adds Cacioppo, as you'll be more engaged in it.
How to Create Your Own Golden Hour
Sigh of relief: Despite the fancy name, a golden hour is actually incredibly simple to DIY. Just choose the activity that lights up your soul and that you could get better at. Then decide how long your "hour" will be, how frequently you'll do it and whether you'll fly solo or invite a few of your people.
"There are no right or wrong answers", says Cacioppo, but you want your "hour" to be long enough that you can feel immersed in the activity (so probably 20 minutes or more), and occasional enough that you still look forward to it (that could be every day, once a week or once a month or season). Throw your phone into Do Not Disturb, block off your calendar—do whatever you need to protect this time, she adds.
As for what you do during your golden hour? Go through the rudimentary skills that you learnt at the very beginning, especially the ones you haven't practised in a while, says Cacioppo. And—this is key—notice whether you're smiling throughout. If you're not, you're probably focusing on the wrong thing—so recalibrate until you nail that happy face naturally. Once you do, the light may be just right for snapping that photo, whether you choose to or not.
Words: Charlotte Jacobs
Illustration: Rune Fisker