In Pursuit of Excellence, Fourth Edition - by Terry Orlick
Excellence in every part of your life is a decision--decide to excel. Excellence is a choice--choose to excel. Excellence is full focus--focus, focus, focus.
The most important steps you can take to excel in any part of your life are the following: Decide what it is that you really want to do. Decide to do what you really want to do. Choose to do it! Focus fully on doing what you want to do--every day.
The recipe for high-quality focusing is simple--stay positive and stay fully connected.
I challenge you to see how long you can maintain a fully connected, positive focus in a class, conversation, practice, or performance. I challenge you to see how quickly you can regain a fully connected focus if your focus drifts away. I challenge you to find something positive in every situation you enter--to see it as an opportunity to test yourself, to learn, and to grow your focus.
Learning from each experience and performance is a choice. You can choose to apply the lessons that you learn about your best and less-than-best focus in your next practice, experience, or performance. When you act on these choices, you become a better performer and better person.
Seven critical elements guide the pursuit of personal excellence: focus, commitment, mental readiness, positive images, confidence, distraction control, and ongoing learning.
Excellence begins to blossom when you find ways to focus that connect you completely and absolutely with each step in the moment-by-moment process of your performance pursuit. A totally engaging focused connection frees you to raise the level and consistency of your performance.
Do you have a vision of what you would like to pursue, where you want to go, or what you want to accomplish? If you do, make it clear in your mind. Think about it often. If you do not have a vision, think about where you might want to go, what you might like to accomplish, and how you might make it happen. Even if you don't start with a big commitment, simply getting fully focused on doing the good things that you want to do will cause good things to begin to happen. Your commitment, joy, and performance will grow.
Your commitment requires a specific focus. Your commitment will grow when your focus is centered on continuing to learn and grow; pursuing your dreams or making a meaningful contribution; becoming the best that you can be; developing the mental, physical, and technical links to excellence; setting clear personal goals and relentlessly pursuing them; persisting through obstacles, even when they appear insurmountable or impossible; continuing to learn about how your focus affects your mood and your performance, and acting on the lessons learned about focus; and keeping the joy or passion in your pursuit.
Commitment grows from embracing the special moments, absorbing yourself in your mission, and loving the experience of ongoing personal growth.
Most seemingly impossible obstacles can be overcome by seeing possibilities, focusing on what is within your control, taking the first step, and then focusing on the next step and the next step after that. If your commitment wavers, remember your dream or mission and why it is important to you, find simple joys in your daily pursuits, rejoice in the little victories or small steps forward, and embrace the process of ongoing learning.
Excellence blossoms when you want to be somewhere rather than when you feel that you have to be there, when you choose to do something rather than when you feel forced to do it, and when you see opportunities rather than obligations. Your mental readiness requires a specific focus. Your mental readiness will grow when your focus is centered on preparing, practicing, training, working, performing, and competing with full focus and the right level of intensity; bringing a positive focus into training, work, and performances; shifting back to a positive focus if you start to become negative; focusing in ways that bring out your best; creating positive learning opportunities; taking advantage of every training and performance opportunity; refining essential mental, physical, technical, and tactical skills necessary to excel in your pursuit; evaluating the effectiveness of your focus in practice, at work, and after every performance, and acting on the lessons learned at your next opportunity; continuing to find simple joys both within your performance pursuit and outside it; and relaxing, resting, recovering, and staying positive with yourself and others through the ups and downs.
Great performers have effective action plans or focusing routines that prepare them mentally to accomplish whatever they want to accomplish each day and each performance, and to act on the lessons learned. To perform your best more consistently, challenge yourself to find effective ways to get yourself mentally ready and fully focused on achieving your goals.
Positive visions of what you want to accomplish and smaller visions of the steps that you are going to take to get there can drive the pursuit of excellence.
Your positive visions will grow when you focus on using the power of positive visions, thoughts, mental imagery, visualization, or feelization to create positive visions of where you want to go with your performance (or your life) and see what you have the potential to be; speed up the learning and integration of technical skills, tactical skills, mental skills, physical skills, race plans, game plans, focusing plans, and refocusing plans; create positive images of the steps that you need to take to get where you want to go; create positive visions, images, or thoughts that inspire you to continue to pursue your goals and go after your dreams; learn from your best performances and best parts of performances; identify clear and specific daily goals for ongoing improvement; mentally prepare yourself to follow your game plan or race plan and focus in ways that will free you to perform to your capacity; act and react in positive and decisive ways; strengthen your confidence; and improve the execution of your performance skills.
Confidence comes from committing yourself to do the preparation or quality work, talking to yourself in positive ways about what you have done and what you can do, drawing lessons from your experiences and acting on them, and remaining positive with yourself through the many challenges along the way.
Great performers activate positive shifts in focus by using simple reminders, images, or focus points that reconnect them with something positive that is within their immediate control. This process takes them back where they want to be--to a positive mind-set and a fully focused connection within the present performance moment. By strengthening your ability to refocus quickly, you will achieve greater consistency in your performance and experience more enjoyment in your life.
You can learn to reconnect more quickly and effectively by reflecting on what works best for you to get you back on track quickly. Plan some reminders that you can use to regain control, to refocus on what you control, and to focus on what works best for you. Plan your best focus path and practice using your refocusing reminders whenever the opportunity arises.
Your skills for ongoing learning will grow when your focus is centered on finding joy in what you do well and in the small steps forward, drawing out relevant lessons from each experience or performance, reflecting on what you did well and what freed you to do it, reflecting on what you can improve and how you can make those refinements, reflecting on how your focus affected your performance and how to respect your best focus, targeting relevant focus areas for improvement, and acting on the lessons learned on an ongoing basis.
Your rate of learning, the level and consistency of your performance, and the quality of your life are directly affected by the extent to which you engage in ongoing, constructive, personal evaluation, followed by positive action. Don't waste hard-learned lessons. Embrace them, remember them, and act on them.
THE WHEEL OF EXCELLENCE
The wheel of excellence can serve as a personal guide for improving anything important in your life. Decide what is most important for you now. Then look at the wheel while keeping that goal in mind. Assess where you think your mental skills are strongest and where they need strengthening. Target a specific area for improvement that seems most relevant for you now. Write down a personal plan for making meaningful improvements in this area and focus on implementing it. Decide to do it and then do it! When you revisit the wheel later, select another target area that could help you improve. The following questions may help you clarify your personal direction for improvement.
Focus. Do you know what kind of focus helps you perform best? Do you know what kind of focus helps you learn best? Do you have a plan that will consistently get you into your best, fully focused state? Are you working at improving the quality and consistency of your focus? Every day? Are you focusing on doing the little things that work best for you? Every day? Are you working at sustaining your best focus for the duration of each class, practice, work session, personal interaction, or performance? Can you do better? How?
Commitment. Are your goals clear, challenging, and targeted at being your best? Are you doing something every day that takes you one step closer to your goals? What did you do today to take yourself one step closer to your goal? Are you working at improving something every day and in every performance? Is your commitment to quality focus in training, learning, practicing, and performing strong enough to take you to your goals? Could your commitment be better or could you act on it in a more consistent or focused way? Are you keeping an element of joyfulness in your pursuit and in your life? Is your commitment to respect your personal needs for rest and recovery strong enough to sustain you through this challenging journey?
Mental Readiness. Are you carrying a positive mind-set into your work, school, interactions, practices, and performances? Can you do better? How? Are you looking for opportunities in everything? Are you carrying a perspective that centers on continued learning and growing? Are you mentally preparing yourself to focus fully on performing your best every day--in school, work, practices, relationships, and performances? Can you do better? How? Are you dwelling on the positives, not the negatives? Are you remaining open to new possibilities?
Positive Images. Do you have a big vision of where you would like to go with your performance, your education, your profession, or your life? Do you keep that vision clearly in your mind? Do you visit it regularly? Can you imagine yourself performing exactly the way that you would like to perform, accomplishing the things that you want to accomplish, and being the way that you would prefer to be? Do you imagine yourself focusing the way that you would prefer to focus and achieving the goals that you would like to achieve? Often? Do you imagine yourself doing the little things, taking the small daily steps that will take you to your goals? Every day? Are you waking up your positive images or positive visions by acting on them in positive ways every day? Are your positive visions providing you with inspiration and direction to continue to pursue your goals and dreams?
Confidence. Do you believe that you can reach your dreams or attain your goals? Are you looking for reasons to believe and focusing on why you can achieve your goals? Are you talking to yourself in ways that make you feel positive and confident? Are you choosing to be confident? Are you thinking about why you can achieve your goals and how you will achieve them? Are you putting yourself in situations that give you the best chance of believing in yourself and achieving your goals? Are you looking for the good things in every practice, in every performance, and in your life? Every day? Even if some parts didn't go well? Are you acknowledging your progress and rejoicing in it? Are you trusting yourself, your preparation, and your focus? Are you acting as if you can do it?
Distraction Control. Are you carrying a perspective that allows you to avoid or minimize stress and distractions? Can you maintain your best focus even when you face setbacks or distractions? Can you refocus quickly and regain control when you encounter performance errors or setbacks? Can you do it consistently? Are you good at turning negatives into positives? Do you have an effective plan for dealing with distractions? Are you acting on that plan? At every opportunity? Are you working on improving your skills at focusing through distractions and adversity?
Ongoing Learning. Are you committed to ongoing learning, to learning something from every performance and experience, and to using it to get better? Are you looking for the positives in yourself, others, and your performances? Every day? Are you drawing out relevant lessons from every performance and every important experience, both when things go well and when they do not go well? Are you acting on those lessons every day or at every opportunity, before your next performance, interaction, or event? Are you reflecting on the role that your focus plays in each performance and each important interaction? Do you act on those reflections?
In my consulting work with high-level performers (and those striving to be high-level performers), we almost always target two areas for improvement--focusing and distraction control. These two elements have an extremely powerful effect on the consistency of high-level performance.
Embracing each experience becomes the goal, and each experience may lead to personal growth, improved performance, self-discovery, or greater awareness, or the experience may simply be interesting, joyful, or meaningful in its own right. Finding a sense of meaning or purpose in what you are going through, doing, or pursuing can make the difference between excellence and mediocrity, between life and death.
Practice focusing fully every day, at every opportunity, both inside and outside your performance domain.
The following six-step process is designed to help you explore and act in positive ways to achieve your personal goals:
Select a target area for improvement within your sport, performance domain, or life. Select a situation in which you would like to have greater personal control.
Choose an essential mental skill from the wheel of excellence that you would like to strengthen. Your specific target may be anything that can increase the level or consistency of your performance or bring you closer to reaching your potential or living your dreams. Make sure that you choose a meaningful target area on which to set your sights for positive change.
Complete the mission to excellence self-assessment (Loc 1130 +/-), keeping your target area in mind. This self-assessment will help you pinpoint the circumstances within your situation or chosen target area that are related to your best performances or greatest control and your less-than-best performances or least control.
Reflect closely on what may have already worked well for you or what focus has worked best for you in some situations. Review some of the strategies for excellence provided in this book. Choose the ones that you believe will be most relevant for you to make the improvements that you are seeking. Draw on anything that you think might be useful in helping you accomplish your mission to excellence.
After you have selected a target area for improvement, completed your mission to excellence self-assessment, and chosen some relevant strategies to guide your improvement, write down your plan of action for enhancing your performance or personal growth. More specifically, write down what you are going to do to initiate the change that you are seeking, when you are going to do it, how often you are going to do it, and in what circumstances you are going to do it or practice doing it. Experiment with your plan by practicing and applying the various strategies that you selected in different situations so that you can move closer to your goals. After implementing a strategy in a practice or a performance situation, take a few minutes to think about what worked well, what didn't work, and what you need to refine or change to improve your plan and your performance. To continue to move closer to your goals, assess and refine your plan by drawing out and acting on the lessons from your ongoing experiences.
Make a personal commitment to ongoing learning and ongoing improvement. Decide to make it happen. Where feasible, get together with other people who are pursuing personal growth or excellence. Share your experiences on the challenges that you are facing and what is helping you get through those challenges successfully. Share views on effective ways to pursue your goals, enter and maintain a fully connected focus, and deal better with distractions.
Use a performance notebook or diary to record your reflections on how your focus has affected and is now affecting your performance or experiences positively or negatively. You should assess precisely when a focusing problem arises and become aware of what you are thinking or, more important, what you are focused on at that moment. You should also become aware of what you focus on when the situation or your performance improves.
PERFORMING AND RELAXING UNDER PRESSURE
You can enter your ideal intensity zone by trusting yourself to do what you are capable of doing, by relaxing your breathing and your body, and by connecting fully with the doing part of your performance.
To relax in situations that may have previously created feelings of fear or stress, clear your mind of any thoughts about outcomes, slow your preevent pace, breathe easily and slowly, and let your body move freely. Focus fully on your preevent preparation and your warm-up, and then connect fully only with what you are doing once you begin performing.
What do you feel when the stress in your life, or the stress before a performance, begins to rise? Stop and think about it. This is a first step in gaining an effective strategy for relaxing under pressure. As you become more aware of your early signals of stress, you can use them as reminders to relax and shift focus back to what you control. The goal is to understand your patterns and begin to identify and manage your responses, usually by refocusing, before you become uptight or lose control. To relax, some people focus on relaxing different muscle groups (for example, in the legs, shoulders, arms, or neck) or focus on breathing slowly and easily while thinking about relaxing fully with each exhalation. Others imagine themselves in a familiar, relaxed setting with family or friends, or on the beach relaxing as waves wash gently onto the shore. You may find it relaxing to spend time alone in a quiet place with no distractions, talk with someone who places no demands on you, go for a walk, listen to music, have a massage, go to a beautiful natural outdoor setting, or do something else that you love to do. There is no right way to relax. Whatever makes you feel more relaxed, less stressed, more joyful, more peaceful, or more in control of you and your life is right for you. Try to become familiar with various possibilities for relaxing in different contexts. Simple reminders such as relax, breathe, calm, or be here can help you relax or shift focus instantly if you practice the techniques and call on them before, or as soon as, you start to feel tense. Self-initiated relaxation, as well as relaxation assisted by activities within your environment--a long run, a warm bath, a facial, a massage, or time with a loved one--can be helpful in reducing stress or easing tension. Two things happen to initiate effective relaxation. The first is psychological. Your focus shifts away from what caused the increased tension--such as thoughts about how you are scared, or are going to blow it, or feel like a failure--to a full focus on executing your task, connecting fully to the step in front of you, and taking the next step forward. In short, your focus shifts from outcomes, fear of failure, or fears of rejection to a positive, constructive, and absorbing focus. The shift away from self-evaluation and worry alone renders you less anxious and puts you more in control. The second part of effective relaxation is physiological. Your heart rate slows, your breathing slows and becomes more regular, your oxygen consumption decreases, your muscles become less tense, and you begin to feel a sense of calmness or control within your body and mind.
If relaxation or a refocusing strategy is to be effective in high-stress contexts, you must be able to activate that response in the space of one deep breath. To do this successfully, you usually have to practice--first under low-stress conditions, then under medium stress, and finally under high-stress conditions (out there in the real world).
If one of your goals is to develop your ability to call on a relaxation response quickly in a stressful setting, then conclude some of your relaxation sessions by repeating to yourself a reminder, such as relax, breathe, calm, or focus, every time you exhale. You can also imagine being in a stressful context and remind yourself to relax and focus. This way of practicing will strengthen the association between your reminder and total relaxation or total focus. The process for practicing relaxation goes something like this. Think to yourself breathe, relax, calm, let go, loose, focus, connect. Let that calm, relaxed sensation spread throughout your mind and body. Then scan your body for any areas of tension. You may find it helpful to imagine a beam of light scanning through your body. The light beam is charged with relaxation, so if any area of tension exists, you can simply zap it with a light beam of relaxation. Experiment with this process first in a quiet setting and then start to do it in less quiet settings. In the beginning, you may need a few minutes to get yourself feeling completely relaxed. Your goal is to be able to bring on a relaxation response with one long, slow, deep breath, or in a few seconds. Try using your relaxation and focus reminders to relax yourself while sitting, reading, listening to music, standing, walking, running, talking, listening to another person, driving, in class, at school, at work, at meetings, at workouts, on the beach, in bed, and so on. Simply relax and focus.
Reminders of what you want to do and how you intend to do it are important because they allow you to achieve the consistency that you are seeking, in both training and competitions. Your personal reminders will be specific to you and your performance discipline.
When you are feeling pressure, shift focus to the doing. The way to the results that you are seeking is to let go of thoughts of results and focus fully on how you are going to race this course. It always comes back to full focus on the doing, on being in the moment, on getting your focus in the right place.
You can find a way over, around, or through almost all obstacles by committing yourself to remain positive, by turning negatives into positives, by drawing out lessons, and by maintaining or quickly regaining a fully connected, positive focus. By reacting emotionally to distractions or potential obstacles, you defeat yourself--your emotions take you away from your best performance focus and leave you mentally and physically drained. Constantly reacting to potentially stressful situations in a negative or emotional way wastes a lot of energy and puts you at risk of becoming exhausted or getting sick, which obviously can hurt your performance and add still another stress factor. Don't waste your emotion on things that are not within your control, that will not help your performance, or that don't really matter in the bigger picture of your life.
The following pointers will help you stay on a positive track or get back on track quickly: Commit yourself to remaining positive. Focus on doing what will help you stay positive and in control. A strong positive focus protects you from distractions. Get yourself into a positive state of mind before the event and stay focused on your job within the event; then things will flow. Look for advantages in every situation, even if the conditions are less than ideal. Look for reasons you can still be positive, focused, confident, and optimistic. Find the positives in the situations that you are experiencing or currently living. Find the good things in yourself, in others, and in each day. Remind yourself that distractions do not have to consume you. At a tournament, competition, or performance site, things may happen to you that are unfair or unexpected. You cannot control those circumstances, but you can control how you react to them. Why compound the problem by focusing your energy on things that are beyond your immediate control?
You have to move beyond thinking to acting. Consider the following actions: Make a commitment to yourself to remain positive and focused every day and act on that commitment. Challenge yourself to think and act in positive, self-enhancing ways. If things are not going well, refocus by finding your own space, doing some relaxed breathing, focusing on the positives, or connecting fully with something joyful, meaningful, or within your control. Practice getting back on track quickly. For example, when things don't go well in training, while performing, or in your personal life, take advantage of the opportunity to practice changing mental channels and refocusing into a more positive state of mind. Remind yourself repeatedly that you can change your focus and perspective. Then focus fully on doing it. Remain open to possibilities for staying focused or dealing better with stress or distractions. Some athletes with whom I worked found it helpful to imagine themselves surrounded by an invisible bubble or force field that protected them from unwanted stress or distractions at the performance site. Negative comments, distractions, or hassles simply bounced off a protective shield as they focused on moving toward their goals. Do the best that you can do with your focus today--draw out the lesson, learn from it, act on what you learned, and then move on. Continue to focus on what is within your control. After a good day or a mediocre day, be proud of your effort and of what you have done well. Draw out the positive lessons. Then start tomorrow as a fresh new slate.
Your best on-site focus is usually limited to preparation for your own performance--something over which you have complete control. Focus on following your best preparation patterns. Think only of what focus works best for you. Bring yourself into this frame of mind--it is the only place to be. You are not asking yourself to do anything unreasonable, only to focus as well as you can and perform as well as you can. Execute your task the way it can be done, the way you can do it. Focus on the doing--that is your goal. Your body follows your focus. Send a clear, positive message and then just let it happen. Trust your preparation. Trust your body. Focus ahead and go.
CREATING A REFOCUSING PLAN
If you begin to focus on implementing solutions before problems get out of hand, you will experience less stress, a more connected focus, and better results. If you wait until a situation is out of control, or until you or someone else is in a panic mode, implementing an effective solution becomes much more difficult. You have a much better chance of regaining control quickly and staying in control if you catch things early, as they are surfacing, and remind yourself to stay cool, breathe, relax, focus on what you control, focus on the next step, and decide to find a way through it.
Effective real-world refocusing reminders in potentially stressful situations often begin with a reminder to breathe. You are probably breathing anyway, so you can just focus on your breathing--take one long, slow deep breath in followed by one long, slow, deep breath out. Then you can shift to a focus reminder that has personal meaning for you. Here are some examples: Breathe, relax. Focus, focus, focus. Decide, decide, decide. Change channels. Focus only on my preparation--my game plan. Focus only on what is within my immediate control--nothing else matters. This does not have to bother me--park it or tree it. Let it go and focus on the next step. I can perform well regardless of what happened before this moment. Be totally here. Be in this moment. I control my focus--it's my choice. Shift focus back to what will do me the most good--now! You only need one or two simple but powerful reminders that you decide to act on to stay in control or to regain control.
If you feel yourself starting to react negatively to something, use these thoughts or feelings to signal a shift in focus. Saying shift focus or change channels several times in a row will generally break you away from the distracting thoughts long enough to refocus on something more positive or constructive. The whole refocusing sequence might unfold as follows: I don't like these feelings, and I don't have to stay with them. Shift focus, shift focus, shift focus. This doesn't have to bother me! It's no big deal. I can still do what I want to do. Relax. Focus! At this point, focus fully on doing something that is within your immediate control--performing the skill that you are currently doing, preparing to do the skill that you are about to do, or doing something else that is absorbing and constructive.
When you remove yourself mentally or physically from what created the feelings of overload and allow yourself to relax and reflect on what you were feeling, you can usually put things back in perspective. Short time-outs to relax and reflect can put you back in control of your life. Allow yourself a little time to embrace some simple joys and regain a more balanced or positive perspective. When you feel in a better frame of mind, simply try to meet your current demands as best you can, taking one little step at a time.
Stop. Refocus on the positive. I can do as well here as I've ever done. Now let's get focused and do it. Focus on the first step and nothing else. Focus forward, focus ahead, connect fully, and go.
Mental imagery often starts out simply by thinking through your daily goals, your moves, your game plan, and your desired competitive performances. With practice, you will eventually be able to draw on various senses to experience in your mind and body the flawless execution of many of your goals, moves, performances, focus plans, and refocusing strategies.
Mentally preparing yourself to cope effectively with distractions, potentially stressful situations, or negative thinking is an important yet largely overlooked aspect of the mental imagery process. A highly ranked figure skater became extremely stressed in important competitions. She was particularly distraught just before starting her program. She tried to imagine herself at the competition site, just as the stress began to rise. As the anxious feelings began to surface, she imagined herself relaxing. She focused on her breathing and said to herself, Nice and smooth--flow. She then imagined herself doing her first few moves in a calm, controlled, focused manner. She mentally practiced this refocusing strategy in her mind to feel the effectiveness of her strategy.
LEARNING FROM OTHERS
You can gain from those people who have something that lives within them that you respect or admire. The attributes that you see may be related to their physical skills, technical skills, commitment, focus, connection to what they are engaged in, way of communicating, balance, or just their overall presence and way of being. You can look for and selectively integrate other people's best qualities and strengths to better yourself technically, physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually. You can literally attempt to be that person in certain respects, to see how it feels for you.
When you are totally engaged in the process of doing, you become what you are doing. For those moments nothing else in the world exists for you. You suspend all thoughts or judgments about yourself, others, or your performance. You simply connect fully and absolutely with what you are doing or experiencing. If you begin to reflect, deliberate, question, condemn, or judge along the way, you lose the pure connection or become disconnected, apart from, separate, tentative, distracted. Performance is a time for connection rather than reflection.
To enter the Zen zone, let go of forcing things; let go of outcomes; let go of your thoughts about outcomes; connect only to the doing; focus on doing the doing, being the being, being all here, being completely present, and being fully connected; and become your performance by being inseparable from what you are doing.
This is no place for minds obscured by irrelevant thought or clouded by anxiety. No obstruction should come between mind and movement. As one Japanese Zen master pointed out, you can read the environment much more clearly when you are calm internally, just as you can see the reflection more clearly on a calm lake than on a disturbed one. Stress is like wind that disturbs the image on a calm lake.
Zen is against conceptualization. The experience is the thing. Verbalism often becomes an empty abstraction. If you want to see, see right at once. When you think, you miss the point. When I look at a tree, I perceive that one of the leaves is red, and my mind stops with this leaf. When this happens, I see just one leaf and fail to take cognizance of the innumerable other leaves of the tree. If instead of this I look at the tree without any preconceived ideas, I shall see all the leaves. One leaf effectively stops my mind from seeing all the rest. When the mind moves on without stopping, it takes up hundreds of leaves without fail. To think that I am not going to think of you anymore is still thinking of you. Let me then try not to think that I am not going to think of you. Do not rely on others, or on the readings of the masters. Be your own lamp. You have mastered the art when the body and limbs perform by themselves what is assigned to them to do with no interference from the mind.
Certain things cannot be forced. You must free yourself to let them happen. You don't have to try to be happy. You simply live, connect with your experiences, and embrace the simple joys of life; happiness comes as a by-product. In a similar vein, you don't have to try consciously to focus on winning during a performance in order to win. During the contest you simply become absorbed in the experience. By being in the present, trusting your body, and allowing the performance program that has been ingrained in your mind and body to unfold, the winning takes care of itself.
Before you enter your next performance, remind yourself to carry this focus. Focus by feeling, not forcing. Let your intuition lead you. Stop judging along the way. Focus on the doing. Trust what is already living deep within your body and soul. Become one with your performance. Win by removing all thoughts of winning. Simply connect and trust the connection. Relax. Attack by relaxing. Pure focus is pure connection--this is the only place to be. With pure focus nothing gets between you and your performance. Enter the Zen zone.
The problem with becoming angry or upset is that the emotion usually interferes with your best performance focus. If you are mentally chastising yourself because of the last shot, move, or event, you cannot at the same time be focusing fully on the present skill or preparing for your next move. You can't dwell on how you blew the last shift, gate, or routine and at the same time perform well in the current moment. The only way to free your body to perform in the present is to clear your mind of negative thoughts about the past or future and focus fully on the remaining tasks that you can control.
When you start to get down on yourself, hit the emergency brake and shift your focus to something more positive. Remember that there is no advantage in putting yourself down and many advantages in lifting yourself up. Continue to appreciate the good things that you have, the good things that you have done, and the good things still to come. Continue to find and appreciate the good things in others--past, present, and future.
What triggers your emotional reaction to an event is the way that you perceive the event, or what you say to yourself about yourself in relation to it, rather than the event itself. A simple shift in your perspective about the importance or meaning of a particular event, or a shift in your belief about your capacity to cope with it positively, can change your focus and your emotional reality. Nothing changes except the way that you perceive yourself, interpret the event, or view your capacity to cope with it, yet that simple positive change in focus can give you inner strength and confidence, release you from stress, and free you to live, perform, and contribute more joyfully. You can choose the perspective that you carry into your daily life and your performances.
You can lessen your worries and improve your performance by shifting your perspective to something positive that is within your control and by viewing yourself, the event, and your performance in a more positive light. Consistent high-level performers approach their performances by being physically and mentally ready: I've got a job to do; I'm capable of doing it; I'll focus fully on doing it the best I can--step by step. Beyond that, I'm not going to worry about it. If they have a great performance, they rejoice in it briefly, draw out the positive lessons, and move on. If they have a disappointing performance, they soak in the disappointment briefly, draw out the positive lessons, and move on. They have learned to refocus quickly and to keep things in perspective because if they don't do this, they waste a lot of emotional energy and become an obstacle on the path to achieving their goals.
The next time that you start to become negative or feel stressed out, stop and ask yourself, Why am I getting negative? Why am I getting stressed out? What am I thinking or saying to myself about this situation, this person, myself, my performance, or other people, that is making me feel negative or stressed? Do I have to see it this way, do I have to think this way, and do I have to feel this way? Do I have to get stressed out over this? Is it going to help me or my situation? Is it really worth continuing to be stressed or negative about this? Is it doing me or anyone else any good? If the answer is no, set a personal goal to stop doing things or focusing on things that are likely to make you feel negative or worried, and focus more in ways that will uplift you and others. Choose to do it and act on that choice.
Whenever you are able to make a positive change in your focus, perspective, or performance, think about what you did, focused on, or said to yourself to bring it about. Hang on to those positive memories for future use. Also, try to be aware of self-imposed obstacles to positive change, such as focusing on things that distract you or saying things to yourself that block your progress, for example, things like I don't feel ready, This will never work, I can't do this, I'm not good enough to do this, I'll probably mess it up, and the like.
WHAT IS UNDER MY CONTROL
You cannot control the past; you cannot control things that occur strictly by chance; you cannot control the actions, reactions, or incompetence of the people around you. But you can control how you see the past, what you learn from the past, how you view things that are truly beyond your control, and how to control what is within your control. This realization alone can put you back in control.
When you are feeling distracted, try clearing the distractions from your mind by thinking about little things that you can focus on that free you to perform your best. Everything else is unimportant. If you make a mistake, breathe and quickly shift focus to the next move, which is within your control. This refocusing will help you get back on track quickly. Prepare yourself to stay focused in the moment--one shot, one stroke, one swing, one step, one move at a time, disregarding past and future. Only the present moment counts.
POSITIVE REMINDERS FOR EXCELLING
Consider some of the following positive focus reminders to help you in your ongoing pursuit of personal excellence: I am in control of my thinking, my focus, my life. I am a good, valued person in my own right. I control my focus and therein direct the whole pattern of my performance, health, and life. I am fully capable of achieving the goals that I set for myself. They are within my control. I control the step in front of me by focusing fully on that step. I am fully capable of focusing through adversity and staying on a positive path. I learn from setbacks and turn them into positive opportunities for personal growth. I embrace the lessons from my experiences and act on those lessons. My powerful mind and body are one. I free them to excel. Every day in some way I am better, wiser, more adaptable, more focused, more confident, and more in control. I choose to live my life fully. I choose to excel. What I decide, I become.
To get where you want to go, set specific, relevant, daily goals and then focus fully on pursuing them, one step at a time. Encourage yourself, compliment yourself, and enjoy yourself as you achieve each short-term goal and move toward long-term ones.
If I mentally prepare myself to complete every task as efficiently as I can, with high-quality focus and effort, I can meet my goals and still have time for myself, my family, and my friends. By organizing your time--planning your work or workout, setting specific daily goals, and focusing fully on executing those goals--you can accomplish more with quality while you are working or training. This approach leaves time for adequate rest and other joys in life.
By writing down your goals in concrete terms (I will accomplish this by this time), you have a greater chance of accomplishing your objectives more quickly than you otherwise would.
Think about tomorrow's goals tonight before you go to sleep or first thing in the morning before you get out of bed. Just lie there for a few minutes and run through your mind what you want to accomplish that day. This simple action sets the stage for doing the good things that you want to do every day.
Think about your own dreams. Visit them often in your mind. Decide to go after your dreams--large and small. Let them lead you. Following your dreams is the only chance you have of moving along your path of self-fulfillment, joy, and excellence. One life, many opportunities. Seize these opportunities now. Make them your reality now rather than looking back later and wishing that you had.
WORK / LIFE BALANCE
When you step out of your performance arena or work space, leave it behind. Shift focus to connecting with something less demanding, more relaxing, or simply joyful. This shift will free you to enter nonperformance contexts with a positive, connected focus and allow you to return to your performance arena feeling more refreshed.
Sometime each day, ask yourself, Am I focusing on the positives or the negatives?
One of your first challenges in attaining balanced excellence is to establish priorities for each day, week, month, year, or phase of your life. Then you must focus fully on the priority in which you are engaged, while you are engaged in it. Shifting your focus completely from one priority or experience to the next as you move through your day, week, or life is a great asset in all transitions. Each pursuit that you choose to embrace or make a priority can become one of the wonderful adventures from which you will learn and grow.
The pursuit of personal excellence is challenging and fulfilling. Relish its intensity, cherish its beautiful moments, and accept its lessons and risks. Many lives lack this sense of passionate absorption and personal meaning--the charged-up feeling, the flow of adrenaline, the body telling the mind, I'm ready, let's go. Embrace this opportunity. Experience it and let it work for you.
If you find yourself questioning the value of your pursuit or your life, you may be failing to appreciate the good things that you do have. When you focus on the negative, you push away the positive. Nonetheless, the good is there, although you momentarily turn your back on it. Why not choose to open your heart to the joy of the pursuit, to the value within yourself, to the worth in others, to the possibilities of fully engaging yourself in this moment, however long or short it may be? Why not choose to embrace your life and let the sun shine through during the challenging times as well as during the joyful times? How else can you live life to the fullest?
Wherever a pursuit involves only a distant destination and no joy in the step-by-step progress toward it, a harsh reality is not far ahead. The real trip is in embracing or loving the journey, not necessarily in the arrival at a specific place. Unless you immerse yourself in the simple joys of your current experiences and really embrace them, dreams tend to remain dreams; worse yet, they explode or fizzle away. This is all the more reason to become fully absorbed in the experience at hand, as well as others.
Here are some general focusing exercises that you can try: When you are sitting in a classroom, talking with someone, or listening to a person speak, try to clear your mind of everything else and connect fully with what that person is saying. See how long you can hold a fully connected focus. If you drift away, see how quickly you can refocus or regain a fully focused connection. When you are reading, studying, writing, doing puzzles, watching TV, hammering nails, doing homework, or performing some other task, practice focusing fully only on what you are doing. You can also try this when other people are watching, making noise, or talking. Breathe, relax, and then focus fully. If you lose focus, see how quickly you can regain a fully connected focus.