Rafael Nadal was in a fierce battle on the grassy courts of the All England Tennis Club against Gilles Muller, an underdog in this battle. This was Wimbledon, a tournament where championships are earned, heartbreaks abound, and greatness is achieved! They were well into the 5th set of the match when the announcer boldly proclaimed: “The distance between triumph and disaster is just a swing of the racket.” The final set in a match at Wimbledon cannot be decided by a tiebreaking game, so they played until Muller eventually won 15-13 games in the 5th and deciding set.
For many people, the quote from the Wimbledon announcer represents their life. I work with many athletes where success or setbacks hang in the balance of one play, one shot, one game, or one race based on the decisions and choices that they make. Pressure is often at its greatest during these moments, and they must be present and focused in order to bring their best to the competition at hand. Sometimes, they are competing against someone else. Other times, they are competing against themselves wondering if they have what it takes to overcome a misplaced doubt or random negative thought that decided to enter their mind at the most inopportune time.
Triumph and disaster do often hang on the swing of a racket, the follow through of a shot, or the kick of a ball. The key question is: What do peak performers think about in moments like these that will help them achieve triumph over disaster? Here are 3 things that you can learn from elite athletes that will help you consistently perform at your best in any area of life:
- Be Present – If you want to perform at your best especially in pressure moments, you have to be present not only physically but also mentally and emotionally. This skill is one of the top priorities that I work with athletes and business leaders on in my coaching. We live in a hyper-stimulated world, and our focus is often affected by distractions that direct our mind and emotions down the wrong path, which leads to less than stellar results. I am sure you understand what it means to be present in a place physically, and you also probably know what it feels like to be absent mentally and/or emotionally. As Fulton Oursler said, “Many of us crucify ourselves between two thieves – regret for the past and fear of the future.” The thieves of fear and regret often kill, steal, and destroy our opportunity for triumph, meaning, and impact. You must be present to be your best!
- Be Outcome-Driven and Process-Focused – I have written about this technique in other places, but this is one of the top ways to both be present and also achieve the outcomes and results that you desire. In this epic Wimbledon battle, Gilles Muller never lost hope and kept focusing on serving well, moving his feet, playing with energy and effort, and mixing up his shots. He was not obsessing about the outcome to the point of desperation or worrying about the circumstances of who he was playing against or the crowd who was cheering for Nadal. He stayed focused on process-oriented things that he could control, which led to playing his best tennis and winning the match. No matter what your role is in life, set challenging goals and desire incredible outcomes. Just remember that to achieve these inspiring goals, you should not consume your mind and emotional energy overly obsessing about the outcome that you want. You must simplify it and focus on the process-oriented things that will lead you to the outcome or result.
- Be Resilient – Peak performers are resilient and have refined their resiliency through the fires of competition and challenges. People ask me all the time whether resiliency, grit, and determination can be learned and developed, or do some people just possess these qualities while others do not. Based upon our research and experience in working with elite athletes and high performing leaders in business and life, we believe 2 things about resiliency. First, some people possess an innate ability to be highly resilient and possess a stronger will to win than others. Second, no matter what level of resiliency or grit you have been born with, you can grow and develop your ability to persevere in pressure moments. As Angela Duckworth said in her groundbreaking book Grit: The Power Of Passion And Perseverance, “When you keep searching for ways to change your situation for the better, you stand a chance of finding them. When you stop searching, assuming they can’t be found, you guarantee they won.” Our research and experience confirm what she discovered through her own process of discovery: Truly resilient people get into possibility thinking very early when facing a trial or pressure moment. They ask “What’s possible?” instead of saying “Oh, this is bad!” and they strive to find ways to persevere. To grow your grit, focus on having a growth mindset, rely on positive “self-talk” from yourself and others, and seek out and discover what’s possible.
I encourage you to apply these techniques in your life as you pursue your goals and persevere in pressure moments. Don’t be fearful or distracted by the weight of the moment. Be present, unleash your talent, and bring your best in every situation inspiring others to do the same. You may just discover, like Gilles Muller, that resiliency and success are found in one swing of the racket (i.e. taking the next step toward the direction of your dreams)!
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