There is always a mental game

How many times have you seen an athlete or sports team in the midst of their competition or game lagging behind only to somehow, in a miraculous way, turn the tables around and achieve great victory at the end?

There are so many examples:

Take for example the 3-2 victory of the Canadian men hockey team over the USA in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics finals after the Americans scored 2 consecutive goals tying the score to 2-2.

I searched for examples in Tennis and found many, including two of my heroes: Andre Agassi defeating Andrei Medvedev in the 1999 French Open final after being behind in the first two sets. In addition, Roger Federer who defeated Rafael Nadal in the 2005 Miami Masters final after being down two sets and behind 3-5 in the breaker.

Can you imagine the level of pressure and stress these professionals and teams have to endure? Can you imagine the level of focus, concentration, and positive spirit they have to maintain in order to overcome these high expectations and pressures?

Mental stamina and mental endurance are not tangible nor are they hard facts. We cannot see, quantify, or measure them precisely. However, we talk about them and believe they exist.

These mental components help us understand why one performer is superior to another when operating in similar conditions and circumstances. They also give us a set of lens through which to examine and develop our own mental state when we take on difficult challenges and opportunities.

In sports, I often hear commentators attribute an athlete’s success or failure to their Mental Game. In business and corporate life, however, this nuance is almost always ignored.

What a mistake that is.

I have worked with businesses that even in challenging, economical times continued to thrive. I have also worked with companies who struggled even in the best of times. Why?

Companies and teams have a collective mental game, too. It can seen in their team culture, their dynamic, and in people’s outlooks, attitudes and spirits. When people are working together in genuine alignment and unity toward the bigger good of the company, it is a clear sign of a successful mental game. When people are interacting and communicating in an honest, authentic, courageous, and effective way that is another clear sign. When people come to work with a positive, optimistic, passionate, and committed mindset, that is a third sign of a strong mental game.

Whenever we take on a sizable accomplishment, as individuals or a team, in our professional or personal life, there is always a mental game taking place that determines our success or failure.

Our mental game determines what internal conversations we pay attention to or ignore. Sometime we lose patience or get discouraged midcourse because we allow doubt, second guessing, and other negative thoughts and attitudes to needlessly cloud our judgment. This unhealthy mental game directly influences our performance.

For example, when I was a rookie sales manager, I often had very high results in pitches, even though I felt that I was performing very poorly. Had I listened to my inner-criticism, I could have easily given up.

I also had instances in which I felt I was doing so well, yet the results were very poor. Because I was so hypnotized by my inner-praise, my performance became complacent and arrogant, which negatively affected my results.

When asked how they performed so well, athletes often share: “I visualized how I wanted my end-game success to be, and then I stayed focused on that image throughout the race.” Well, we can do the same in our day-to-day commitments and projects.

When taking on any project, from losing weight, or finding a great relationship, to creating a new business, you can visualize your desired end state, and then keep that image in front of you throughout the process without allowing anything to distract you. That is an example of a powerful mental game.

The more you are aware of the impact of your mental game, as well as your ability to form and shape it, the more powerful of a performer you will be in any game.

Try it, and see how it works.

Practical steps for taking your game to the next level

A lot of my one-on-one coaching work is focused on helping leaders and professionals take themselves, their performance, and results to the next level.

I coach people who are in various stages of their evolution and growth. Some are at the beginning of their professional careers. They are often working on getting their business started or establishing consistent results.

Others are senior executives – directors, general managers, presidents or CEOs – who are at the prime of their career. They command large organizations with hundreds or thousands of employees. They are often concerned about how to get all their team members and functions on the same page, rowing in the same direction.

While each coaching conversation is unique and different, many of the principles that I use to support people are the same.

In my previous blog “How to make meaningful progress when taking your game to the next level,” I shared some “do’s” and “don’ts” for staying focused and effective when you are in the process of raising your game to the next level. Really, this week’s blog precedes the one posted on September 25th.

In this blog, I want to continue the trend by providing four simple steps for how to take your game to the next level, especially when the next level requires you to think and do new or different things.

Whether you are a beginner or veteran at your game, if you want to elevate your current reality, performance and results to a higher level, follow these simple, but powerful steps:

  1. Get clear on your desired end state. Project yourself into your future – at least a year or two from now – and imagine that you are extremely successful. Then, describe what your success looks like. Write it down and be as clear and vivid as possible.
  1. Visualize how you are behaving and performing in your new future state. When you visualize your future, take notice of how you are behaving and acting in that reality. Pay special attention to areas where you are doing things differently from today. Record a few practices and behaviors that you can start applying today in order to start driving and drawing yourdesired state to you.
  1. Start behaving consistently with your future state now. Start applying the practices and behaviors that you outlined in the previous step in your day-to-day routines. Every time you find yourself regressing to old habits, stop and correct yourself back to behaving consistently with your list of future reality practices.
  1. Start recording accomplishments and wins. At the end of each day reflect on your day, and list all the specific areas where you have had wins and made progress consistent with your desired practices and future from pervious steps. Don’t be concerned with the size of the wins or if others would recognize or appreciate them too. Any win that has meaning to you counts and should be included in your list. The more accomplishments and wins you record (or “collect”) the better.

The last step is often the one most underestimated, ignored and/or avoided. In order to drive and materialize your new future state most effectively, you need to have the right mindset and behavior. Listing accomplishments and wins will empower you to overcome any skepticism and/or doubts and replace them with genuine enthusiasm and confidence about what you are creating. The more you believe in the viability of your aspiration the more you are likely to stay the course to its fulfillment.

While these steps may not come naturally at first, they will over time.  Make them your new normal, for they are essential when it comes to taking your game to the next level.

Photo by: Tim Pierce

Taking a stand ALWAYS requires courage

No matter how committed we are to living courageously, and how experienced we are at taking a stand for the future and living accordingly, it doesn’t seem to get easier or less scary with time.

I have been a student and teacher of these concepts and conversations for more than 30 years. I practice them in my own personal and professional life, and I teach and coach others to do the same. Still, with all my experience, every time I need to take a stand in my life, I find myself confronting my own fears, doubts and skepticisms.

It takes openness, faith, trust and courage to live consistently with your stand and commitment.

Openness to the idea that our internal mindset and commitment really do affect, impact and shape our external world and circumstances.

Most people don’t reach this level of enlightenment. They are too skeptical, pragmatic or close-minded to even consider or accept the notion that there is more to life than what they can physically see. Whether it is Religion, Astrology, or the Law of Attraction, I often hear smart and successful people reject these by saying things like, “I don’t believe in that Voodoo, BS or Nonsense stuff…”

Faith and trust in your own ability to take your life to a new level, starting with a bold stand. Also, have faith and trust that the universe will reciprocate consistently with your commitment and energy.

Even when people believe in the Law of Attraction notion, many don’t believe that it could work for them – that their life could ever be as blissful as they truly desire. So, they maintain a conceptual, theoretical and academic mindset about these transformational topics. I often hear people give others ‘taking the next level’ advice when they themselves avoid doing the same, even though they desperately want and need to.

Courage to take a stand for what you want and bet your future on that stand – even when your current circumstances are quite different from your desired state, and people around you may judge you for being naïve and unrealistic.

Most people, despite what they may say to the contrary, are too comfortable in their personal and professional status quo. They may talk about change, but most don’t get up and do something about it, even when their circumstances are challenging, unfulfilling and dissatisfying. They are too afraid to take a stand and ‘go for it’ for risk of failing, disappointing themselves or others, or simply appearing naive or not credible in the eyes of people around them who they respect and like.

There is a big difference between “wanting to change” and actually “changing.” Most of us are much better at the first.

We are creatures of habit. We like continuity, stability, familiarity, and predictability. We need it to feel confident and safe. We fear change and the unknown.

Taking a stand for a better future brings about change, unknown and unpredictable directions, and dynamics. This is counter-intuitive to our ‘keep things the same’ orientation. It disrupts our order and fundamentally scares us.

That is why taking a stand will ALWAYS require courage.

Photo by: The U.S. Army