May 21, 2010

Is This Major Obstacle Holding You Back?

“When the archer shoots for no particular prize, he has all his skills; when he shoots to win a brass knuckle, he is already nervous; when he shoots for a gold prize, he goes blind, sees two targets, and is out of his mind. His skill has not changed, but the prize divides him. He thinks more of winning than of shooting, and the need to win drains him of  power.” – Tranxu, Chinese Sage (from the book Awareness, by Anthony De Mello)


Have you ever felt that the harder you try, the less effective you are? It seems we’ve been told all our lives about hard work and persistence, and yet it lets us down. We want something with all our heart, but the more we desire it the farther away it seems to be. The problem is not the hard work or persistence, the problem is the attachment to what we want but can’t fully control.


Perhaps you have a big event coming up in your life. Whether it’s a golf tournament, a playoff game, or a major presentation, they all have one thing in common: your desires to perform well may get in the way of actually performing well. When “want to” becomes “have to” the problems begin… tension, nervousness, a cluttered mind. You become needy.


The best performers keep the “want to” and don’t let it slide into “have to.” In other words, they learn to love the performance for the performance itself, not the outcome.


“I love the competition, not only in tennis, but I love the competition in all aspects of life,” Nadal said. “When I compete I love to be there and fight always. Maybe I like more to fight for a win than to win.” – Rafael Nadal, after winning his 17th Masters Series Title in Rome (see rest of article here).


It’s what I’ve found over and over from extraordinary performers: they play from the heart, connect with their love, and detach from the outcome. I spoke with Dr. Cal Botterill, an incredibly insightful sports psychologist in Winnipeg, Canada:


“The biggest obstacle (to peak performance) for most performers, in my 30 years, is overanalysis–the tendency, for the right reasons, to start overanalyzing things, which interferes with having a total focus when performing. The second biggest obstacle is caring too much, getting almost obsessed with having to be successful — caring so much that it interferes.” – Cal Botterill, Ph.D. (from the book Inner Excellence)


The solution is not to care less, which could lead to carelessness, but to focus your desires on something more stable. Consider the words of four-time national champion basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski:


“If we’re constantly looking at our win-loss record to determine whether we are doing well, we’re not looking at the right barometer. If you’re always striving to achieve a success that is defined by someone else, I think you’ll always be frustrated.


There will never be enough championships, never enough wins. And when you finally attain them, if you’re lucky enough to do so, they’ll only be numbers. Somebody will say you were great or successful, but ultimately you’ll know it’s an empty success.


The only way to get around such an unhappy ending is to continually define your own success. Your definition of success should have more depth than the equivalent of winning a national championship. It should be whatever passion moves you deep in your heart.” (from the book Inner Excellence)


So what can you do to perform your best, unattached to the outcome?


Here’s a few ideas:

  1. Focus on the process moment to moment.
  2. Set up daily goals that you can control.  For example: Give 100%. Stay present and positive. Put your teammates first. My UBC women’s golf team does this well. :)
  3. Deflect any questions about the outcome or results by speaking about supporting your team members or your process goals.
  4. Make sure to keep it fun. Remember the fun you’ve had and visualize that feeling.
  5. Accept what is–as if you chose it.  What you cannot change may be the best thing for you, so embrace it.

When you let go of “got to” then you can see more clearly, think more creatively, and live more in the moment.