One of the best ways to approach a difficult endeavour whether its a sporting event, a business project or an academic goal is to focus on whats in your control. If it’s something you cant control, like the result of the game or the state of the market or the weather, stop worrying about it. Of course you should prepare for scenarios but once that preparation and planning is done, forget the uncontrollable and focus solely on what you can control. Anything else is wasted energy. and causes unnecessary stress.
Think firstly - what else can I do to improve my chances, to do it better by controlling what I can.
Once you have learned to control your focus - concentrating on what you can do to better your chances, your situation, the next most important thing to learn is consistency.
Its not what you do once, or for a day or a week but what you are prepared to do constantly. Keeping those standard ups, all those small rituals that will help you get where you are wanting to be. It’s doing the daily grind of practice, of studying, of researching or whatever your goal is, whether someone is watching you or not. Doing these rituals and habits without stopping to constantly measure improvement as many of these things take time to develop to consolidate. An example someone joins the gym to lose weight and tone up and after just a couple of sessions is expecting to see some result, they invariably won’t or they might for the first month but then there will be a period of time, maybe two months where nothing seems to be happening, they feel they are stagnating and when they measure, weigh, compare too often and don’t see motivating results they get disappointed and lose their motivation, where in actual fact inside the body changes are happening, things are improving, more muscles are developing or being recruited, etc etc they just aren’t measureable yet, but if they continue regardless they will in the third to fourth month start to see major differences. But many have given up too early, expecting immediate results.
3. Create habits and rituals and a mindset or identity that will get you to the top. A master is not born he/she is honed from the thousands of small tasks, rituals, repetition and training that go into making one an expert, while keeping an overall eye on the prize. Is this action I am taking, getting me an inch closer to my goal, or taking me further away from it? Scrutinising your actions to see if its part of the path that will get you there or not.
Anyone can have a good day or a one off great performance but more important is your ability to back that performance up and that requires a consistent mindset, a mindset that concentrates on the present, not the what if’s and not past glories or failures. Its a mindset that is focused on the next step in the process. Focusing on being present no matter what the crisis might be, the problem you are facing or the obstacle you have on the road ahead.
It’s looking for ways to get around those obstacles instead of stopping dead in your tracks and giving up.
A successful person will not take no for an answer, when an obstacle appears they will exhaust all options for getting around it, over it or through it before then reassessing if it’s really not possible and then developing a new way forward another approach. Flexibility in the face of adversity, an alternative route will often get you to your overall goal even if it means going the longer way round. The path to success is never a straight line, it is full of zig zags.
Don’t let the bad days get you
We all get in a rut, a bad space, lose our rhythm now and then but it is how you move on as quickly as possible from that bad experience, that failure, that rut, that counts.
It is really hard not to succeed if you are one of those people who ignores the the failures, learns from them and carries on despite the pain, the loss, the heartbreak or the shame, someone who gets on with the job ,understanding that to get back up and take another step will mean you will eventually get there. Build on your successes as well, if you did something well, internalise that feeling, that win, relive it and use it to fuel your motivation for the next step. That win gives you credibility for yourself and in front of others.
No master was born, no master created in a day. To be a master of anything requires thousands of daily decisions, and rituals, powering through the grind and boredom of practice, knowing and believing that you are getting closer to the goal even when you don’t see the progress. To keep moving forward, no matter how slow, is to be on your way to success, to mastery.
Never be satisfied with the status quo, be prepared to keep learning, keep striving right until your dying day and yes even though you should celebrate your successes don’t rest on your laurels but use that to power you forward. To give you confidence and inner strength.
The growth mindset
To have a mind ready for growth and development and improvement you have to be prepared to fail, take knock backs and still keep learning, improving, believing in your dream. I had a friend just a few days ago tell me she didn’t ever try anything new because she was a perfectionist and couldn’t stand to fail.
I was sad when I heard that because it meant she will never fulfil her potential while she thinks like that. Somewhere in her past someone must have expected too much, criticised too much, destroyed her confidence ,for her to believe that this approach to life will safeguard her from making mistakes and until she can see that way of thinking as extremely limiting she won’t reach her full potential.
To risk is to be vulnerable but to embrace vulnerability is to be willing to experience, grow and change.
To learn any new skill you have to go through four stages.
1.Unconcious incompetence - a state where you are unaware of just how hard it really it and what the new skill involves. You might be full of enthusiasm and excitement with realising the immensity of the learning about to take place.
2. Concious incompetence - this is hardest stage to get through and where people often give up. They are now aware of just how much they have to learn, how hard it will be and it may seem impossible to overwhelming. The key is to hang in during this stage and not to give up.
3. Conscious competence - this is the third stage in the process where you are starting to learn and understand the skill better, but you have to concentrate very hard and focus to be able to do it and it takes an immense about of control and energy. This stage too can see people dropping by the way side as they struggle forward and these steps can take a long time depending on the skill being learnt, think of learning a new language, or learning to play an instrument.
4. Unconcious competence is the final stage and this is where it gets so much easier and where you can revel in the mastery of the skill and ease at which you do it. You have to still develop and keep learning perhaps but the hard yards are behind you and you can do it on automatic. The habits are ingrained and the rituals seem normal and easy.
We all want to reach level four as fast and as easy as possible without going through the first three steps and some will get through things easier than others depending on their talent, intelligence or coordination but we should learn to embrace the growth stages, to focus not on immediate results, immediate gratification but on the process, the monotonous grind, the daily practice or training, the daily habits - without thinking too much about it. Thinking too much about how hopeless you are at something will not lead you to motivation and success, keeping a positive mindset will.
Emotional turmoil and how best to ignore it
Not focusing on the emotions, on what people are saying about you, on scare mongerers around you, on naysayers foreseeing doom an gloom, on negative media (if you are in a sporting team for example) but focusing only on the job at hand. The next step on the road.
It is not your business what others think of you only what you think of yourself.
Its best I have found to ignore the bad and by the same token ignore the over positive hype that sometimes surrounds athletes and business people - do not to believe your own press, its never an accurate assessment of who you are.
To learn to ignore the pressure of consequences if it’s only going to inhibit your performance and imagine letting the pressure wash over you and away can help.
At times when I have been under extreme pressure I have literally envisaged an umbrella covering my head as the rain poured down and washed off me. Letting the emotional turmoil that comes with fear, pressure, dire consequences etc wash through you. Acknowledging it and then passing it on and away from you. Visualisation techniques like my example of the umbrella can help.
Keep your focus close on the very next step, when the times are tough, just concentrate on taking that very next step on the road or in the process, on reaching that next immediate checkpoint, focusing further ahead on bigger goals and targets only when things are going well and you can cope with looking out at the horizon.
Allow yourself to fail. To fail is only a temporary situation unless you make it a permanent one.
Failure is only really a failure if you stop then and there and don’t carry on.
Allow yourself to fail because it’s only a temporary stage, only part of the overall learning process, a stepping stone that all great athletes, business people, scientists etc have gone through to reach lofty goals.
To quote Rocky Balboa “It’s not how hard you can hit but how hard you can be hit and still keep going”
Mental skills are life skills - although we learn these skill for our chosen sport the benefits of these learnings are seen throughout our entire lives.
Learning to focus on what you an control and not what you can’t and what you can do and not what you can’t. On improving day by day, just a little, on being in the present not the past or the future and moving on after failures, not broken in mind or spirit but more experienced and wiser.