Your Thoughts Matter

Do you see obstacles or opportunities? And, how do your thoughts shape the way you think, feel, and act in a given situation? Our thoughts do matter, and they play a very important role in how we see ourselves and the world.

Thoughts Image

In working with peak performers in sports, business, and life, the place we often begin in coaching our clients is with their thoughts and their mental approach to what they are doing. Their thoughts and mental models can help or hinder their performance based on how they rely and depend on them. Too many negative thoughts and old ways of thinking can often blind us from realizing the truth and seeing a clear path forward. As Dee Hock, the former CEO of Visa said: “The problem is never how to get new, innovative thoughts into your mind, but how to get the old ones out.”

Based upon the organizational behavior research and experience of Peter Senge at MIT and our own sports psychology experience, we know that mental models shape our thoughts and affect our actions. We all have “mental models,” as Senge refers to them, and we must carefully examine them to make sure they are valid. A key question that can be helpful is:

What assumption, mental model, bias, or perception am I making that is limiting my potential – that is limiting my possibilities?

We have used this question with athletes, teams, coaches, business leaders, and high performing companies and organizations as a way to uncover obstacles and discover possibilities. Some of the answers that we often hear include:

  • “I can’t hit my driver.”
  • “I can’t trust my team (or a certain employee) with responsibility?”
  • “I have to score a lot in order for us to win.”
  • “I am not sure if I am a leader or if I have influence.”
  • “This person doesn’t like me!”
  • “This situation is unsolvable.”
  • “We can’t change our culture.”
  • “I have reached a level where I don’t need to grow or learn.”

In many of these situations, these statements are formed based on misguided perceptions, unfounded truths, and a reluctant mentality. Upon further evaluation, these thoughts can be examined, reevaluated, and often removed and replaced with thoughts of truth, potential, and possibilities. The technique we use with athletes is the same one that you can use at work and in your personal life. It begins with asking these questions:

  • Is this thought really true based on evidence and facts?
  • Is this thought helpful and productive?
  • Do I recognize that I have a choice about what thoughts I dwell on?
  • What is the truth in this situation?
  • How can I focus on what I can control, influence what I can, and flush the rest?
  • Am I stuck in a bad mental model, and is there a better way of thinking about this situation that would lead to a different outcome?
  • Who is a trusted advisor or stakeholder that can I talk to who may offer a different perspective?
  • What are my strengths, gifts, talents, and opportunities?
  • What are the strengths, gifts, talents, and opportunities of my peers, teammates, employees, colleagues, organization, and family members?

Man Writing in a Journal

When you walk through some or all of these questions, you begin to identify possible solutions based on a different way of thinking. New and improved thoughts lead to better decisions and actions. But how do you get the old thoughts out? You can’t just press them down and try not to think about them. They will just come back up like trying to press a beach ball underneath the water. You have to replace the negative or limiting thoughts with your new thoughts of belief, trust, confidence, and possibilities. We call this technique Replace, Not Repress.

The key is making sure that your new thoughts are grounded in truth and shaped by potential and possibility. In certain situations, the new way of thinking may be aspirational and forward thinking. You may have never led a team of people before but the experiences that you have had have prepared you for this moment. Other times, you will have to look past the anguish of the current moment to rediscover a time when you have been successful. It is often hard to see through the cloud of doubt to rediscover the clarity of determination, but it is possible for those who dare to think differently and replace the old thoughts with new and innovative thoughts about the opportunity of today and the hope for tomorrow!

 

The Meaning Of A Moment

Michael had just won the biggest race of his life, shattering his own world record by a third of a second and winning the gold medal in the Olympics. He thought about all of the training he had endured. He was thrilled that the discipline, hard work, and focus had paid off and given him a quiet confidence to achieve his goals. Most people would have thought Michael had just completed the perfect race. Yet, there was a brief moment during the race that he wished he could have replayed. A brief stumble the third step out of the block made him question how much faster he could have gone.

Michael Johnson

Moments have meaning. The word moment is derived from the Latin word momentum defined as “movement or moving power.” If you research the word moment, you will find that this powerful word has a diverse set of synonyms:

  • A split second
  • The blink of an eye
  • An instant
  • A minute
  • An hour
  • A day
  • A chapter in your life
  • A season of life
  • A phase
  • A decade
  • A generation
  • An age
  • A millennium
  • An era
  • An epoch

All of these words can be used to describe the word moment –  everything from a split second to an epoch. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like there is a very wide gap between a split second and an epoch. How could one word represent so many meanings? As I reflected on this question and the meaning of a moment, I pondered how a split second moment could impact an epoch. Or closer to home, it made me aware of how an instant in my life could affect generations to come.

Every one of us has a deep longing for moments. Moments in the spotlight. Moments of expression. Moments of meaning and purpose. Moments of impact. Moments where we provide value to those we love the most. Moments filled with potential and promise. Some people have more of these moments than others.

Why do we crave, desire, and remember moments so much? I believe it is because moments comprise everything. Our time. Our choices. Our decisions. Our thoughts. Our relationships. Moments encapsulate all of these components. When we think of a moment, we rejoice over how we invested our time wisely, or we lament the fact that we let the moment slip away.

Moments are filled with issues to be resolved, opportunities to be realized, and challenges to be met. For Michael Johnson, the 1996 Olympics was a defining moment – a moment that determined his place in history. Defining moments can also be moments that help us clarify our calling and give us meaning and direction in our lives. Have you ever had a defining moment? Most people have several defining moments in their lives. The trouble with defining moments is that you cannot predict the exact second that a defining moment will happen. You can, however, prepare for defining moments in your life. Michael had endured countless hours of sprints and time in the weight room for a moment that lasted less than 20 seconds. He had spent 10 years of his life to reduce his time by 1.5 seconds – the difference between mediocrity and excellence. How are you preparing for defining moments in your life?

The 1996 Olympics also represented a lost moment – the stumble out of the starting block he wished he could have gotten back. Have you ever had a lost moment? A moment you didn’t make the most of? Most of us have had at least one lost moment in our lives. The challenge is not to dwell on the moment that was lost but make the most of the moment that you have now. Michael persevered through this lost moment and made the most of the bigger moment.

In his book, Slaying the Dragon, Michael Johnson compares our experiences in life to those of a sprinter:

Success is found in much smaller portions than most people realize, achieved through the tiniest gradations, not unlike the split-second progress of a sprinter….  Life is often compared to a marathon, but I think it is more like being a sprinter: long stretches of hard work punctuated by brief moments in which we are given the opportunity to perform at our best.”

May you always realize the meaning and power of moments in your life and fully engage in the life you have been given!

This blog post was adapted from my book Moments: Making Your Life Count For What Matters Most.

 

Overcoming Fear

Coach, that guy’s huge!” There have been a few times in coaching my 5 boys and their teammates in different sports that I have heard this comment or some variation of it. Sometimes, it was a feeling that I sensed was in the hearts and minds of some of my players based on what I saw in their eyes and how they were looking at the other team. Other times, it was an actual verbalization of what they were thinking before game time. Comments like “That team is really big/good/nationally ranked, etc.,” do not help in moments like these, and fear becomes a major distraction keeping us from performing at our best.

No Fear Sign

In his excellent book, Goliath Must Fall, my friend Louie Giglio uses the story of David vs. Goliath to share how we must face the giants in our lives. Whether the giant be fear of an opponent or other things like rejection, anger, comfort, and addiction, he implores the reader to not lose sight of the promise and purpose that God has for our life…in anything you do! Based on advice that he received during a moment of frustration about something that was said about him, he offers this wisdom to us: “Don’t give the enemy a seat at your table.”

When we fear an actual enemy or opponent or the pressure of a big moment, we are giving a seat to that enemy at our table. Our focus becomes misguided by fear, and we become paralyzed from performing at our best. The table that is reserved for us with the invitation of an opportunity that we are uniquely designed to discover, embrace, and seize in that moment, and we get to choose who we invite to the table. I understand that ultimately we may have to face that giant through competition or perseverance, but we should not invite the giant to sit at our table or in our huddle or in our minds haunting and taunting us with comments that we do not have what it takes to accomplish the goal. This kind of thinking leads to defeat before we have even had the chance to compete.

Instead of fearing our giants, here are 3 reminders that you can apply from our work with elite athletes, entrepreneurs, and business leaders to overcome fear:

  • Confidence Comes From Within – Many athletes try to derive their confidence from external things or forces. It is an “outside-in” approach to confidence, and it hinges on the word “If.” “If I win this match, I will feel good about myself.” “If I make this shot, I will feel confident about my abilities.” “If my coach says I did well, I will feel good about my identity as a player.” Confidence should be based on an “inside-out” approach and center on the word “Because.” “Because of the preparation I have done, I will feel confident about my abilities and the opportunity before me.” “I will compete and feel confident about this game because of my strengths, gifts, and talents and the hard work I have put in.” And for me, it all begins with the confidence that I have because of the life I have in Jesus Christ. Because of Jesus and what He has done for me, I will feel confident about my purpose in life and the opportunities I have before me. Faith provides the foundation for my focus.
  • Focus on What You Can Control – I always tell the teams that I coach, the athletes that I work with, and the business leaders and entrepreneurs that I coach to focus on what they can control. Many people spend so much mental and emotional energy worrying about things they cannot control. My 7th grade basketball team just completed their AAU season, and we faced many teams that outnumbered us and were bigger than us. Literally, we faced a lot of giants, but we took them down, because we focused on what we could control which was dictating a fast pace, playing an aggressive defense, and moving the ball and trusting our teammates. At the end of the day, we had an excellent season winning many games, because we remained focussed on process-oriented things that we could control and trusting those factors to facilitate playing our best basketball. In any area of life, it is important to identify if you are worrying about things you cannot control and to invest your mental and emotional energy in the things you can control based on your strengths, gifts, opportunities, and people around you that can help you maximize your potential and achieve your goals trusting God in the process.
  • Be Present and Compete – If you have read my blog or heard me speak, you are probably familiar with this quote from Fulton Oursler: “Many of us crucify ourselves between two thieves – regret for the past and fear of the future.” It is so true when it comes to competition or achieving goals in any arena of life. Regret for past moments and fear of future moments can paralyze us from being engaged in the current moment and performing at our best. The key is to Be Present – physically, mentally, and emotionally – and Compete – bring your best to the occasion whether it be sports, business, or life.

Katy Raptors Picture - 2017

Never let fear decide your future. The best leaders don’t shy away from the moment, even when that moment requires them overcoming the obstacle of fear, facing literal giants, and fully engaging in what brought them to this moment in the first place. As you think about your roles in life and the opportunities before you, don’t back down from being the best version of yourself. Others are counting on you and the impact that you can have when you overcome fear and exhibit faith.

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