Feed Your Belief

One of the most consistent myths athletes (and any of us) believe is that our performance in the moment is dictated by our thinking in the moment.

 This is an easy myth to confront. To prove this idea false, try this simple experiment:

Grab a seat and stay seated while you imagine a scenario. Vividly imagine yourself standing and walking out the nearest door/exit. See your motions in your mind (from your own eyes/perspective). Imagine how it feels to move your muscles. Imagine the sensations you feel as you walk and open the door or pass through the exit. When finished, read the rest of this post.

 Were you able to imagine walking out the door while you stayed seated? Of course you were. Your thoughts were conducting one action while your belief, a special type of thought, was insisting you perform a different action (in this case, the belief was that you would stay seated).

In my work, I’ve found two major reasons for buying into the myth that momentary thoughts dictate action. First, we tell athletes that’s the case. Second, we act according to our thoughts because we believe we must act according to our thoughts.

It’s not the thoughts that matter. It’s the belief. Performance comes from belief. If we believe thoughts will dictate action, they will tend to. If we believe with a deep understanding that momentary thoughts can vary while a deeper trust in our actions reigns supreme, then we can take action based on trust without wasting a second worrying about the normal variations we experience in momentary thoughts, such as those thoughts that encourage confidence or doubt.

 As I noted above, beliefs are special types of thoughts. While weak momentary thoughts are subject to swaying with the breezes of our moods – the instances of optimism/pessimism, can do/can’t do, possibility/impossibility – beliefs are hardy and withstand fluctuations in mood. Think about some of your deepest beliefs, such as the world being round. Is that belief subject to your mood? Or will you always endorse the idea that the world is round no matter how low your mood?

The same type of deep trusting belief is possible for performance. You simply have to feed that belief. As you move through life, you can verify this again and again through consistent performance that defies doubt and dips in your mood.

Trust in your ability. Practice to improve. Believe in yourself. Believe in your mind over matter existence that transcends momentary thoughts. This is the path to breakthrough performance and making the play under any conditions, including those of your own momentary thoughts.

The Unmagical Trophy

I often get asked about participation trophies. More specifically, people often share their comments about participation trophies with me.
The truth is, I’m not a huge fan of participation trophies, but it’s not for the same reasons most people don’t like them. I simply don’t believe we should attribute magical powers to any trophy.

The World Doesn’t Give a Sh!* about Your Should

A friend and I had an interesting conversation the other day. This friend lives by a strong ethical code. His moral compass points sharply and consistently. It’s part of what makes him very good at his job and a number of other endeavors.

Codes are not laws of the universe. Codes are ideas and principles that describe what should happen for societies and cultures to run smoothly. Codes are necessary, but they can also be a personal source of misery.

“The world doesn’t give a shit about your should,” I told my friend, pointing to the fact that the laws of the universe and human nature don’t behave according to what he thinks should happen.

He laughed. He knew it was true.

Look, I’m not suggesting you should change your codes. Societies, cultures, organizations, teams, families, and individuals should codes. I’m simply pointing out that if you believe the rest of the world is going to conform to your code or even care about it, you might be in for some self-created misery.

If you try to map your code of what should have happened onto what exists, you are in for a particular brand of misery. What has happened and what exists are perfect expressions of the conditions that preceded them. If you want change, do what you can right now to bring about the new conditions you desire. Wishing away what is for what should have happened won’t work and will only serve to increase your own misery.

Wishing away what is for what you believe should have happened is constricting. It takes the mind to another time and situation. It clouds perception. It closes off awareness to the possibilities that exist right now.

A recent example of this was Sergio Garcia’s play in the Masters on Sunday. After losing a 3 stroke lead to Justin Rose, the wheels appeared to be falling off his round. Matters appeared worse when he hit his 13th tee shot into an unplayable lie and had to take a penalty stroke.

In the past, Sergio would have blamed the world for not producing what he thought should have happened. Sunday, he told a different story.

“In the past, I would have started going at my caddie, “Oh, you know, why doesn’t it go through and whatever?'” He took a different approach Sunday. “I was like, ‘Well, if that was supposed to happen, let it happen. Let’s try to make a great five here and see if we can put a hell of a finish to have a chance. If not, we’ll shake Justin’s hand and congratulate him for winning.'”

With expectations that what happened was meant to happen, Sergio remained composed, stayed open to possibilities, and made a play. He saved par, made birdies on the next two holes, and went on to win his first major in a one-hole sudden death playoff (with a birdie no less).

What I love best about this story is that Sergio was prepared to give his best and accept the consequences even if they didn’t conform to what he wanted, what he believed should happen. This openness and acceptance creates clarity, freedom, and possibility. It is a sign of trusting yourself and the order of the universe.

You should give a shit about your should. Just don’t expect the world to return the favor.

Experiments vs Failures

When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this: You haven’t.

-Thomas Edison

Over and over I hear about the problems people have with failure. It seems we are risk-averse and do not want to fail.

I often talk to teens about this issue. Some of our highest flying teens seem particularly risk averse. This is often something blamed on their generation, but I am not sure this is a generational thing. If anything, I think their parents’ generation (my generation, Gen X) is the one who has pointed out how terrible it is for them to fail. But nonetheless, here is what we talk about.

I point out that the best and brightest in any field tend to take on the toughest problems. These are either new problems that nobody has solved yet or age old problems that resist obvious (and not so obvious) solutions. There is great unknown inherent in these issues, and attempts to solve them are frequently met with what can be viewed as failure.

However, the best and brightest do not necessarily see attempts to solve these problems as failures. They see it as experimenting. In order to solve problems, we may need to systematically form opinions and test them. At the beginning, many options appear to be equally good, so choosing one and trying it is a good place to start. If that one attempt out of many good looking options works, you were fortunate. Otherwise, the experiment will not get the results you hoped for, and could be considered a failure.

Here is the thing to remember. An experiment is never a failure (although some are conducted poorly). Results are always a perfect reflection of how the experiment was conducted, and all results have the potential to be informative. When tempted to use the word failure, 99 times out of 100 there is a better term.

Most times, when someone looks like a huge success to us, we simply have not been privy to all the experimenting they’ve performed in the dark before bringing their triumph to the light of eyes. If something is important to you, exhaust your possibilities, and when you believe you have met failure, remember this: You haven’t.

Divorced from Outcome

I had just finished my second book, and I was feeling great. The caring, wonderful woman I am married too wasn’t feeling nearly as great.

“I’m worried about you,” Celeste said completely unrelated to our conversation.

“Why?” I asked.

“If this book doesn’t sell you will be crushed.”

“No I won’t.”

“Yes you will.”

“I can assure you, I won’t be.”

“Your mom is worried too.”

“She is? Why is she worried?”

“She knows you will be crushed.”

Now it was getting comical. Everyone was worried about my feelings except for me. I tried to reassure her with, “Hon, I don’t know why, but all I can tell you is that I won’t be crushed. I just know it.”

I did know it. I knew I would be fine, but I wasn’t sure why or how I knew that. What I didn’t understand then but do now is this: I knew I was going to be fine because I had separated myself from the outcome. I was releasing a book that took 7 years to write and a lifetime of planning. I finally finished it by getting up at 4:30am for a year to write before heading to work at 6:45am. I spent months more editing it myself, figuring out how to self-publish it, and creating the website for it. Finally, my 313 page mental game training manual was ready to sell.

With all that, you’d think it might be hard to divorce myself from the outcome of sales, but it wasn’t. I realized that the book wasn’t about the outcome. It had to be written, and I had done it. I loved the process, and the process, the experience of writing, was the real point.

 I can’t say for sure, but I am certain it’s true for me: I am at my best when I am engaged in my work, not the outcome. I’m not suggesting that you should care less about outcomes. Sometimes we love outcomes. I’m just asking you, is the outcome the point of what you are doing? Is the outcome more important than the work, the craft? Hopefully both have some meaning to you, but if you mentally attach some sort of self-worth, self-image, or happiness to the trophies other people attach to your work, I think you are probably pointing yourself in the wrong direction.

 If I were so concerned about outcomes, I might well have been crushed at the lack of sales of that labor of love, but because I wasn’t strongly attached to the outcome, I was able to move on.

Now, this isn’t to say that I didn’t want the book to sell. I did want it to sell. I very much wanted it to sell. I simply understood that the sales of the book indicated nothing about me as a person other than that I wrote a book that didn’t sell. I could live with that, so I was free to take that chance. I experienced many wonderful moments through the process of taking that chance, and now I know that I can take more risks because I understand the outcome does not define me or control my happiness. I am married to a wonderful woman, not the outcome of book sales or blog statistics.

A few questions for you to ponder: Do your thoughts about imagined outcomes prevent you from taking action on your dreams? If so, what are those outcomes? Are the outcomes the point of your dream or is the experience the point? Could you live with the worst outcome you can imagine?

What did you find in asking those questions? I hope what you found is what I found when I took a chance: Mental and emotional freedom from the outcome (even if you have great desire for a certain outcome). It’s okay to feel the sting of losing. Understand the pain won’t last, pick yourself up, and get back to making plays. Best wishes on turning those dreams into reality.

Beyond Our Wildest Dreams

The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

We often get mesmerized by the suggestion that we need a grand vision. That is why I always find it fascinating to hear that so many high achievers had no grand vision, or at least they did not have the grand vision of the particular success they achieved.

Tom Brady was the latest person I heard to suggest such a thing. In the pregame segment he taped with Terry Bradshaw, Brady told Bradshaw, “I never imagined myself in this situation,” meaning playing in his 7th Super Bowl with a chance to win 5.

We often hear that we need to imagine it before we achieve it, but in reality, being excellent always rests with doing one’s best in the present moment, after all, it’s the only moment we ever live in. Now, to be sure, some of that excellence in the present is direct toward planning, but it always strikes me unusual, and quite wonderful actually, when someone exclaims that their life exceeded their wildest dreams.

I am not suggesting that imagery, planning, and/or goal setting are bad. That’s not at all my point. Planning has a purpose, but even though planning is about the future, it’s an act that must be done – like all others – in the moment. Thus, even planning must be performed excellently in the moment.

If one is to do rather than just dream, the planning must turn to action, and when taking action, so much big excellence is in the tiny details. Sometimes the grandest way to imagine something is to see the ordinary with extraordinary detail, focus, and care. Grand visions without action never materialize, but actions without a grand vision can still build a masterpiece one little detail at a time.

I think this is why Brady was so composed when Super Bowl LI started so poorly for the Patriots. He realizes that his vision of what he wants need not prevent him from dealing effectively with what is. He understands that he has built a masterpiece one little detail at a time, so that is how he took to dismantling the large deficit. Like with his entire career, perhaps in focusing on the tiny details he could influence, he exceeded what he could have accomplished had he tried to take in the entire bigger picture.

There is nothing wrong with a grand vision, but there is also nothing wrong with a limited or seemingly small vision with extraordinary focus on the little things that make the big things possible. As Emerson wrote, “The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.” Sometimes this wisdom leads us to places beyond our wildest dreams.

Open Expectations

In yesterday’s post about grit, I mentioned that a way to increase grit is to be aware that the conditions/situations of the world have no control over you. One great way to do this is to remind yourself that outcomes have no control over you. This is true whether outcomes are positive or negative. To point yourself in this direction, see if you can have open expectations.

Open expectations are neither high goals nor low goals. In a way, they are a sort of anti-goal that should help create a mindset for all types of possibilities.

Open expectations set no ceiling nor floor for what can happen. It’s an expectation that, “Anything can happen, and I can handle it all.”

With open expectations, I have found in myself and my clients the following:

  • No fear or anxiety when high performance occurs. There is no glass ceiling. Performance can soar without the restriction of high expectations. In essence, performance can surpass one’s wildest dreams.
  • An opponent playing well doesn’t phase us because we know it has no bearing on our own mindset and emotions. Their playing well was within our expectations all along.
  • The unexpected does not phase us. We were completely open to anything and everything happening. However, the more possibility we can imagine, the more we can prepare for, and the smaller the unexpected world becomes.
  • We are filled with supreme confidence that comes from an understanding that we are not our outcomes nor our performances. These are temporary and fleeting, and we are greater than that. We always have an opportunity to make new plays. We can handle anything that comes our way.

When I start explaining this idea, some people jump to the conclusion that I am suggesting abandoning high expectations or goals of any type. This is not the case.

If you want to set goals or have expectations, do it. After all, I’m a proponent that we don’t control our thinking (though I do believe we influence it, thinking is sort of like paddling a canoe in a river, we have some influence, but so does the river, which limits and influences us to some extent), so how could I suggest you abandon a goal that has occurred to you. It may not be possible for you to unsee the goal once it is clear in your mind. I might just suggest that you not become so attached to the goal that you ascribe it some magical power to make you happy. The world doesn’t work this way, so I like to point in the direction of clarity.

Also, understand that having high expectations does not mean you will reach them, just as having doubts doesn’t mean you won’t reach them. Having doubts and high expectations are states of mind, not objective indicators about what is possible. Understand that your thoughts create your experience of the world and all the possibilities it entails. If you want to have high expectations and find it possible to imagine, by all means, do it. I would simply point out two other things: 1) It might also help to have open expectations about what could be possible in both a negative and positive direction. 2) Both doubts and confidence are normal and temporary. If you like confidence, try to steer in that direction when you can.

I hope you give open expectations a try. I hope you find, as I have, that it is a tremendous mindset for allowing our inner fire to burn brightly.