When it comes to personal growth and working towards maximizing my potential, I am a pretty simple person. The two things I put great emphasis on are reading and relationships, which is not altogether a unique approach. Here is where I separate myself from those who pay lip service to these two things: I do not just read, but I study. As far as relationships go, I intentionally add as much value to each developing relationship as possible. As chance would have it, both my reading and relationships intersected last week.
Kids are funny…most of the time. E.J., our 2.5-year-old son, loves hoops. When I was watching Oregon’s unreal win over Kansas in the Regionals Finals, E.J., for some unknown reason, was ready to shut it down. Not once this year has he done the stroll over to the Comcast Box and turned off the power for a hoops game. Never. And now, this. Normally, he would shoot me the curious look with his palms up as soon as I raised my voice (not that I was raising my voice with four minutes to go in the game and Oregon hanging on for dear life), followed by the question, “Why?” Not this time though. E.J. must have sensed this was a much bigger violation of a father/son code of ethics than the usual, “mashed potatoes in his hair at dinner,” thing. Instead, he shot me a defiant look and said, “Why Not?!”
Saturday was a day filled with basketball for the family as we packed up the Honda Odyssey and made our way to Lewis University to see some former players be honored at halftime of the Men’s game as the Team of the Decade for the ‘90’s. After watching LU defeat Illinois Springfield, we then headed back to our hometown of Batavia to watch the Bulldogs get a huge “W” in overtime over a talented West Aurora team in the annual Night of Hoops (Now, this was much to the delight of my kids, Grandpa and me but I am pretty sure my wife feels as though she earned a couple of spa days by putting up with us).
That is when it happened, again!
I found myself explaining to my two-year old son E.J. how more games are lost then won. You could see it happening as the grind of the game continued and the momentum would shift. As a fan it is confusing, as a coach is extremely frustrating and as a player, well….it sucks. You find yourself saying WHY? a lot. Why did you take that shot, why did you throw that pass, why did you call time out, why didn’t you box out? Nothing seems to make sense and everyone is holding their breath, just hoping for something positive to happen. Basically, holding on for dear life and hoping to escape with a win. In other words, playing not to lose.
Playing not to lose is something I see a lot in the business world and in life with coaching clients of mine.
Now, when the client first comes to see me they may not know they are playing not to lose, but after a good deal of working through what is going on it becomes apparent. We work together to figure out not only their ideal performance state, but we also work on what they can do to get there.
In short, we are working on their mental toughness.
Business and life are a competition which means they will be filled with frustration, joy, uncertainty, pain and struggle. The battle is within ourselves and it begins with our self-control. The mastery of self-control is a continuous process of self-transformation, change and rebirth.
One of my all-time favorite reads on this subject was James Loehr’s Mental Toughness Training for Sports, which was published in 1982. In that book, he points out that consistently performing to your peak in the heat of competitive battle requires mental strength, a strength that is fundamentally embodied in a core of acquired mental skills. Those skills include concentrating, controlling one’s attitude, managing pressure, thinking right, controlling energy, staying motivated and visualizing.
Think about your career and life, do these very same skills not apply? Of course, they do.
Often when you are playing not to lose, your inner world is a frantic mixture of panic, fear and frustration as opposed to being relaxed, calm and quiet. You experience fear of looking bad, fear of losing, fear of choking and fear of letting people down.
By getting dialed into the moment and appreciating it for what it is you find yourself with more focus, energy, calmness and strength. When you are in the moment you are physically doing what you are mentally doing. Therefore, it is scientifically impossible for you to be worried about anything else, thus minimizing negative feelings. The more consistent you are psychologically the more consistent your performance will be.
The beauty of this is that mental toughness is learned, not inherited and you do not have to change your personality to achieve a high degree of mental toughness. What you do have to do is intentionally work on a set of characteristics which define mentally tough competitors. Those characteristics are:
- Self-motivated and Self-Directed - Do not need to be pushed, forced or shoved from the outside.
- Positive but Realistic - Do not complain or criticize. Fixed on success and on what can happen.
- In control of Their Emotions - Control anger, frustration and fear as opposed to letting those three things control them.
- Calm and Relaxed Under Fire - Embrace pressure as it tests the outer limits of their potential. Pressure is not a threat.
- Highly Energetic and Ready for Action - Capable of getting themselves ready despite fatigue, personal problems or uncontrollable circumstances.
- Determined - Sheer force of will and relentless in pursuit of their goals.
- Mentally Alert and Focused - Ability to tune in what’s important for an extended period of time.
- Incredibly Self-Confident - Unshatterable sense of confidence and belief in themselves. Rarely fall victim to self-defeating thoughts and ideas.
- Fully Responsible - Fully accountable for their own actions. No excuses and nobody else’s fault, either they did or they didn’t.
To build your mental toughness, you must stretch yourself and get outside of your comfort zone.
You cannot rely on other people to do that for you which is why I am always amused when people point the finger and blame others for their failures.
Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it. Think about that statement and how it applies to your life today. Then, take a few minutes and honestly assess where you could improve and work on your mental toughness.
This World Series has earned the stature of ‚ Instant Classic‚ and it has nothing to do with the fact that the Cubs are on the brink of winning their first World Series since 1908. OK, it has something to do with that fact! But what I am getting at here is that this series, the way it has played out combined with all the story lines involved, is one that will be talked about for years to come. Last night as I was driving and listening to the 3rd inning of the game (complete side story that has to do with family pooch having splenectomy!) the Cubs announcers on 670 The Score were talking about their pre-game routine and how they always go to Joe Maddon's office when they get to the ballpark before the game. Last night they arrived at his office about four hours before the first pitch, and as if on cue, Javier Baez was walking out of Joe's office smiling ear to ear and laughing. Here is a guy who is swinging when the wind blows in this series because he is wound so tight and he is laughing before an elimination game. We have no idea what went on in that office, but we know this..it worked.
This got me to thinking about all the leadership lessons that have poured out of this series so I thought a quick, out of order, blog was called for so I could share my not-so-random top ten questions to ask ourselves as we attempt to Fly our own W!
- Are you putting your people in position to be successful or are you setting them up for failure? The managerial moves in this series have been so much fun to watch. Whether is has to do with the lineup, batting order adjustments, pitching changes or situational hitting.
- Are you empowering your people to use failure and to work through struggles? Addison Russel has struggled at the plate in this series and was batting below .200. Last night he hit a grand slam and finished the game with a World Series record-tying six RBI's.
- Are you thinking outside the box just enough to cause your competition to re-think their strategy? In the bottom of the 6th inning Maddon decided to pinch hit for Ross which meant Lester was done for the night. This showed the Cubs hand that a pitching change was happening on the top of the 7th a bit sooner than you would have expected. When they showed the Indians dugout, Jon Smoltz immediately began to talk about what that meant for the Indians strategy.
- Are you holding true to your culture, values and processes when your back is against the wall and/or when you feel like you have some breathing room. After the Game 5 victory Joe Maddon told his team to wake up Monday morning, enjoy your day and take your kids trick or treating. Then we will go to Cleveland and take care of business. This is what he does and this is what he stands for which is why guys love playing for him. Joe Maddon is authentic and real.
- Do you want the ball in the critical situation? These pitchers are pros and are obviously incredible competitors and they want the ball. I love watching their reaction when they are being taken out of the game as they hate giving the ball up. That is not selfish, that is just the warrior mentality.
- Are you willing to accept the role given to you for the greater good of the organization? We have seen this time and again in this series whether it is guys being shuffled around in the batting order or pitchers going longer/shorter than usual.
- Do you have the ability to teach your people through challenging situations in the heat of the moment? In Game 4 Lackey was a train wreck on the mound mentally and you could tell that it had become a challenge for Contreras to catch him. In a telling shot in the dugout after a rough inning by Lackey you could see the Cubs staff talking with Contreras about managing the next inning with Lackey going back out there and it seemed to pay off.
- Are you present, in the moment and aware of the journey you are on? Joe Maddon has an answer for seemingly everything and has kept a level head despite the roller coaster ride of the playoffs. He talks about the journey and the process and he does not get too high or too low.
- Are you a voice that your organization needs and are you able to step up when the team needs you the most? There is no better example than David Ross. In addition to catching for Lester, keeping guys honest on the base path and mentoring the younger players Ross came up huge with the game winning RBI in game 4 on a sacrifice fly to left field. The other guys on the team seem to love talking about Grandpa Ross and what he means to the entire organization.
- Does your group really believe and trust each other regardless of the circumstances? No matter what happens tonight in Game 7 this team has been a joy to watch. They love to compete together and their trust in each other shows on the field and in the press conferences. When there is a huddle on the mound they listen to each other and have great body language for communication. They have each other's back and that has gotten them thru some challenges and struggles. This team enjoys each other and the celebrate teammates small victories and milestones.
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