How to Adapt: The Skill of the Elite

By: Jim Murphy

How to Adapt: The Skill of the Elite


  1. Perhaps the greatest skill that separates the best from the rest is their ability to adapt, to adjust to unexpected adversities without judging them, to welcome them as your partner in the dance.
  2. To be good at adapting is to be skilled at being fully present, because when you’re present there’s no fear and no threats from the past or future, but there is access to an ever-changing assortment of resources and solutions.
  3. The universe is constantly testing us, asking daily, are you ready to grow? Are you ready to face feelings you haven’t faced before so you can become someone you’ve never been before? Are you ready to let go of your past and live your dreams?

NOTE: The first ever Inner Excellence Retreat open to the public is coming August 18-22, 2023! See details at bottom. Limited space available. ❤️


“At the centre of all things there is a beat – a rhythm, what all life moves to. Everything has its own flow, swing and sway; but it’s all one wild song. I hear the music, so I’m going to dance. – Ann Sophie, singer, songwriter

On April 6, 2013, a young fighter from Ireland made his mixed martial arts UFC debut. After his convincing win in the first round, Conor McGregor was asked what his game plan was.

He replied, “I didn’t really have a game plan. It’s wherever it went (interviewer laughs). You can’t be emotional… you can’t let emotions get in the way and I think (the opponent) got a little bit emotional with (the crowd). I just let the fight happen naturally, and whatever happens, happens you know what I mean? Wherever the fight takes place, that’s where it takes place. I don’t plan anything.” (Go to 7:20 in the video).

What I think McGregor meant was that he had no needs, no expectations and no attachment for the fight to go a certain way. If his opponent suddenly showed a move he hadn’t expected, he would adapt. If he came at him with something he’d never seen, he’d adapt. If the referee or the crowd or the coach or some fan got involved, he’d adapt.

This is the skill of the elite: the ability to adapt to any situation.

If you watch the McGregor Forever documentary on Netflix you’ll see that this trash-talking, heavily tattooed, trolley-through-a-bus-window throwing “thug” didn’t become one of the greatest fighters in the world by accident. As you’ll see when you watch, McGregor’s “no game plan” mentality is actually extremely regimented, very closely monitored, with strict routines and very tight boundaries. He’s also, interestingly, far more calm and reserved outside of the octagon. All his trash talk and bravado, perhaps outside the aforementioned bus incident, is very composed and purposeful.

One of his skills, perhaps his greatest, is to be fully present. Interestingly, it’s what the narrator said about Michael Jordan in The Last Dance.

You might recall that being present is one of the five skills of Inner Excellence:

  1. Believe in your dreams.
  2. Compete with freedom and passion.
  3. Be fully present.
  4. Relax under pressure.
  5. Adapt to any situation.

While all five skills relate to skill #3, be fully present, skill #5 is what allows you to do so when situations abruptly change, especially when unexpected adversity arises.

“Everyone talks about attributes everyone knows… speed, power, endurance… no one talks about the most important — attention span. How long you can stay attentive?” – Conor McGregor

In order to be present in ever-changing circumstances, sometimes very unexpected and difficult, we need to adapt. And especially, we need to constantly adapt our minds to fresh opportunities, so we see the doors that opened when one closes.

To adapt in rapidly changing circumstances is to have the behavioral flexibility to not be attached to how things “should” be so we can be constantly present to an ever-changing array of resources, present to possibilities that always exist if we have eyes to see and ears that hear.

The greatest performers in any endeavor are not only great at adapting to unexpected situations and results, they adapt to becoming a different person, the type they need to become, with the skills they need, to reach their dreams.

The test from the universe

What happens as we travel along our IX Journey is that the universe will test you. Do you really believe you can be that type of person?

For most of us, to do things we’ve never done (like achieving our dreams), we need to become someone we’ve never been. We need to face feelings that in the past were too scary to face, we need to get more comfortable being uncomfortable, and especially, we need to learn from, and then let go of our past.

The test often comes in situations where in the past you would shy away. When the next test comes, with the scary feelings, will you lean into it?

Scottie’s test

On April 10, 2022 Scottie Scheffler woke up and was very afraid. He had a 3 stroke lead on the final day of the Masters, golf’s biggest event, one he had never won before. Fear consumed him.

“I cried like a baby this morning,” Scheffler said after his win. “I was so stressed out. I didn’t know what to do. I was sitting there telling [my wife] Meredith, ‘I don’t think I’m ready for this. I’m not ready, I don’t feel like I’m ready for this kind of stuff, and I just felt overwhelmed.’”

Meredith shared some wise words. “She told me, ‘Who are you to say that you are not ready? Who am I to say that I know what’s best for my life?’” Scheffler said.

Scheffler was afraid in part because he didn’t know if he could be the type of person who wins Masters tournaments. He won in large part because even though he had overwhelming feelings, he recognized that he didn’t know what was best for him, for him to win or someone else to win. This helped him embrace feelings that a few hours earlier brought him to tears.

Conor McGregor also learned to embrace feelings that at first were very uncomfortable. He began to seek them out. He shares:

“Everything is an illusion. The mind is what creates things. When I was a kid I used to get these nerves. I would sit back and analyze these emotions. Ultimately that’s what draws me to combat sports, to be able to manage those emotions…So every time I would go to a boxing gym and I would feel those butterflies, I’d think yes, now I’m getting more comfortable with them. Now I’m feeling those feelings more. So the more I feel them the more I’m going to be comfortable in them. So I always search for that feeling. Now I’m fighting in the MGM Grand and I don’t give a s——, you know what I mean?”

So how can we learn to adapt like the best in the world?

Five ways to improve your skill of being adaptable:

  1. Remember IX principle #1: All things are here to teach me and help me, it’s all working for my good. When we have to have things a certain way, or judge our circumstances and react emotionally, we lose the vision. We lose sight of the greatness that’s being built through the challenges.
  2. Like McGregor, start to look for the feelings that in the past were hard to manage. Seek them out and recognize that those feelings are your partner in the dance. It’s you, your nerves, and the opponent. A 3-way dance. MMA world champion Georges St. Pierre said when he began his career as an MMA fighter, he was so nervous the night before a fight that he couldn’t sleep. It was very stressful. Once he became world champion, he said the sleep thing didn’t really change, he just learned to embrace it. Same thing with the nerves.
  3. Recognize that your ego is one of the biggest limiters to being able to adapt, and grow. The ego is afraid of failure, and thus is afraid of nerves. When you learn to embrace failure as your teacher, you can also grow a little towards self-mastery, which is largely mastery of the ego.
  4. Realize that to be great in anything you do, you need to stop running from discomfort. You need to learn to embrace your most uncomfortable feelings. This is one reason cold exposure is so beneficial (besides the countless studies that reveal physical benefits). It’s extraordinary in helping you learn to manage your feelings, and the thoughts that go with them–to be present to them.
  5. Remember this: The problem is not the problem. The problem is the state you enter when you judge the problem. That is, the problem is not the difficult circumstance or unexpected adversity, the problem is your judgment of it (“this is bad”) and your emotional reaction to your judgment (which narrows your vision and greatly reduces your ability to see solutions).

If you want to get good at IX skill #5, Be adaptable, then you’ll want to ask yourself: Am I willing to face any feeling? Am I willing to look for those feelings that scared me in the past, and dance with them? Am I ready to be present in the uncomfortable moments so I can take the next step in mastering my ego? Let me know how it’s going!

Love Jim


What: The Inner Excellence Retreat started in 2012 as a way to get a year of Inner Excellence coaching in three days. As a small group you’ll immerse yourself in the mindset and philosophy of Inner Excellence while learning how to implement the Three IX Principles as well as the tools and skills. Every participant will leave with a clear life purpose and tools to use to live it.

We will also be building a house, start to finish, with YWAM Homes of Hope. This alone is a life-changing experience. The first day we say a prayer for the family and house we’re building, and the third day we hand the kids and parents the keys to their new home and new life. Typically their old house is right next door, often dirt floors, pallet walls and tarp roof. No skills required. Just a willingness to serve. ? Jobs include hammering nails, painting, putting up the drywall, and loving the family and their new home. The family (kids included) will be helping build their new home.

When: August 18 -22, 2023

Where: Fly in and out of San Diego. You’ll get picked up at the SD airport the afternoon of Friday, August 18 and brought back to the airport the morning of August 22. You’ll need your passport as from there you’ll be driven to Ensenada, Mexico where you’ll stay at a hotel overlooking the Pacific Ocean. We generally stay here (last year it was about $130 USD or so per night).

Who: While most of my clients are professional athletes, this retreat is open to anyone who wants to learn the tools, skills and principles that you’ll use the rest of your life. Families are welcome. Limited spots available. Reply to this email if you’re interested.

Cost: TBD

A. The cost of the home is $12,000 (2023 price). Generally that cost is split between the volunteers. Great news! The Inner Excellence Freedom Project has some scholarships available that can help pay some or all of your share.

B. The cost of food and lodging. Generally we stay at the Las Rosas Hotel in Ensenada. We all stay at the same place so we can eat together and share life together. (hotel is pay on your own).

C. Fees to cover YWAM expenses

D. The cost of the Inner Excellence Retreat. Great News! Inner Excellence has some scholarships available that can pay some of your share.

Note: Getting to and from San Diego will be on your own. Sometimes people choose to come early or stay later to enjoy San Diego.

If this sounds amazing, reply to this email and I’ll send you how everything works (and how YWAM Homes of Hope house builds changed my life). I’ll send what to expect, what to bring, where we’ll be staying, and more precise details on expected costs. This is a once in a lifetime trip that for many of you, will be life-changing for sure.


NOTE: The Inner Excellence audiobook is available on Spotify, Apple Books, Barnes and Noble, Google Play and multiple other websites. ( apparently takes 8-12 weeks). The audiobook has added material including 3 pro athlete case study interviews as well as a section discussing the mindset of Inner Excellence. ?


I’m writing this on a sailboat called Kaniwi (with Canadian/Kiwi captain Chris and his son Reese). Tonight is our first night on the boat, anchored in Fakarava atoll in French Polynesia. You can track us for the next two weeks on the Garmin website: The password is Walford. You can also send messages.

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