Imagine yourself being an Olympian athlete:
From the age of 3 years old, you have spent hours and hours every single day training to win a gold medal. Your parents have sold their house to get you to work with the best coaches in the industry. You watch what you eat and make sure you never enjoy those tasty candies that all your friends seem to love. You go to sleep before your friends even meet up to go out and party.
In fact, you have made so many sacrifices that everyone around thinks you are mad.
And now comes your big moment: The Olympics.
This is your live or die moment: If you win, you will be hailed as a champion and all the time, money and effort that was put into your career will have paid off in a big way. You will be famous, get endorsement deals and become a true champion.
If you mess up, you will be remembered as the Loser who traded his life for a dream that never materialized. A few friends might say some comforting words, but more from pity than anything else. Your bottom line: No money, no fame, no future.
You think to yourself:
"OK if I mess it up, it's not so bad. Maybe you can try again in 4 years"
But you know this is not really true -- what makes you believe you won’t mess it up again in 4 years time?
You look into the stands, and you see your coach, partner and parents all cheering for you from the top of their lungs -- they are counting on you!
As you hear the stadium speaker introduce your name, your heart starts racing and your hands become all sweaty:
You remember some Chinese breathing technique that is meant to help you relax, but somehow more and more voices inside are making so much noise, you are about to freak out! You wish you could manage your mind, but now it's too late!
And guess what happens:
Yes, you do not win a medal and you do not receive all the glory of big champions.
But that might still be bearable:
You know what the most painful part of this story is?
You know you underperformed, or as they call it in the sports world, you choked!
Despite all the hard work, you were not able to demonstrate your skills and abilities when it mattered most! You feel like a complete failure, and there is really no one around who can comfort you.
Suddenly, you doubt yourself, and that is not a pleasant feeling.
Now, even if you are not an Olympian, you probably face these live or die moments that will impact your future:
Moments in which you might be negotiating the business deal of your life that could transform the quality of your life; Or you might be sitting in the entry exam to Harvard or Stanford that will determine your academic future; And even if you are just sitting opposite the date of your dreams -- the next fifteen minutes could determine the future of your love life!!!
Can you guess what all these moments have in common?
You guessed it -- you only get one chance, and if you screw things up, you are left with nothing more but feelings of disappointment and frustration.
We all face these situations where we want to perform our best and prove our worth:
Do well, and you feel like a hero.
Mess up, and you become a true failure.
And the difference between these two scenarios can usually be summarized with two words.
Mental Toughness -- the ability to adjust and cope with situations in a manner so that in the long run you can consistently perform at your best.
And that is the topic in this Guide.
Hi, my name is Allon Khakshouri.
As a kid, I used to watch tennis games on TV and hope that one day I would get the chance to meet some of these stars. I admired their mental toughness to fight through those grueling matches, and I knew this was a skill that separates the best from the rest in almost any area of life.
World class athletes inspired me to work extremely hard in school so that I would eventually be able to overcome learning difficulties and excel both in my academic- and professional careers. They pushed me to believe in myself and go beyond what was expected from me.
Eventually, I would fulfill my childhood dream, and become the manager of three world number one tennis players in the world, including Novak Djokovic who dominated his sport for almost five years.
I am a sports entrepreneur, bestselling author and high-performance expert who has been lucky to witness first hand why some people in similar circumstances are extremely successful, while others struggle, something I will share with you throughout this Guide.
I also realized that the ability of world class athletes to perform at their best in crucial moments is a skill that would make us all both more successful and fulfilled in our professional- and personal lives.
This is because we all get just a few big chances in life that can either transform our lives or -- if we blow them -- lead to feelings of frustration and disappointment.
This is a long and detailed post with over 18,998 words! Get the Ultimate Guide to Mental Toughness as your own personal downloadable copy so that you can access it anytime from anywhere you like.
This is a long and detailed post with over 18,998 words! Get the Ultimate Guide to Mental Toughness as your own personal downloadable copy so that you can access it anytime from anywhere you like.
In school, we learn about so many different topics, except what I would say probably call the most important subject: How our thinking works, and what we can do to change it.
Maybe you have noticed that at times we stop ourselves from achieving what we want:
For example, have you ever made a decision to change a poor habit, only to find yourself doing exactly the thing you vowed to stop?
A downward spiral: a situation in which something continuously decreases or gets worse.
Maybe you have promised yourself not to waste time watching TV, or to work out in the gym, or to stop eating potato chips. Or to be kinder to your wife and kids.
Why is it so hard to change our behaviours?
This is the question we will address in this chapter, by understanding how our thinking works, and why we so often stop ourselves from achieving our big dreams.
Before we can speak about mental toughness, it is important to get an idea about how thinking works. And the first thing we all need to realize is that our brain is the most powerful organ:
It consists of 100 billion neurons, which do approximately ten-quadrillion operations per second. Each neuron forms up to 10,000 connections with other neurons -- it would take over 75 years to write down all the 0’s of the number that would express all the possible neural connections your brain is capable of doing.
Our brain controls the way we think, feel, behave and ultimately live. In other words, once we understand how to use it, we are almost limitless in what we can achieve.
At the same time, every moment in time gives as multiple ways of seeing our reality:
Take for example the tale of two sales people who were sent to Africa to evaluate whether there was a market to sell shoes:
One guy came back and said:
"Nobody in Africa wears shoes, this is a dead market."
And the other returned suggesting:
"Nobody in Africa wears shoes, this is the perfect market."
Both guys travelled to the same continent, but while one guy thought he was wasting his time, the other discovered a huge opportunity.
Can you see how interpreting the same situation can lead to completely different outcomes?
And here is our challenge:
Our brain is not designed to make us happy or successful, nor does not come with a user-guide -- no wonder so many of us struggle making the best use of it.
So what is the function of our brain?
Well, from an evolutionary standpoint, its primary job is to help us survive; this is why we are programed to scan the world for dangers that could cause us harm, and why it can become so habitual to focus on negativity and miss big opportunities wherever we go.
We have about 60,000 thoughts a day, most of which are both automatic and repetitive. From these habitual thoughts, around 80% on average are negative. In fact, most of these thoughts are not even true, but just the result of past memories which we have projected into the future.
As Mark Twain famously once said:
"I’ve had thousands of problems most of which never happened:
So although our thoughts are neither right nor wrong, when repeated often enough, they shape our reality. They become assumptions that filter our thinking and influence how we respond to the situations we face. All of a sudden, we no longer seek to understand the causes of events and situations. Instead we interpret them in a manner that is consistent with our beliefs.
For example, if we experience a setback in business we might blame it on the political environment, other people’s actions or bad luck. While our justifications offer us great excuses when things don’t work our way, they of course also affect our actions, and hence how much joy and success we will experience.
But let me repeat myself:
Beliefs are neither true nor false:
They have the power to become extremely empowering:
Take the runner Roger Bannister, who wanted to do what was considered humanly impossible -- to run a mile in under 4 minutes. Roger claimed that it was in fact possible, and firmly believed that it was just a question of time until he would reach his goal.
When he finally broke the record in 1954, the world was shocked. Interestingly, within a year, 37 other runners suddenly also believed in themselves and also ran the mile under the 4 minutes mark.
Or consider the crazy experiment that Ellen Langer conducted in 1979 where she invited eight men in their 70’s to take part in a retreat, in which she would recreate the world of 1959 and ask the participants to live as though they were experiencing life as it was 20 years earlier. For example, they discussed historical events as if they were actually happening, listened to music of the 50’s, looking at pictures of themselves from 20 years earlier, and were treated as if they were much younger.
Guess what happened...
A week later the group showed improvements in various age related spheres like physical strength, posture, memory, and cognitive skills -- their beliefs literally made them younger.
In fact, often, we shape our beliefs based on other people's expectations:
In a study by Robert Rosenthal known to describe the Pygmalion effect, a teacher was given a list of several students that were meant to be the most gifted kids of the class. Actually, these names were picked randomly. Nevertheless, after several months, the kids from the list would become the best performing students of that class.
One of the most powerful ways to analyse our thinking, comes from the practice of asking ourselves questions:
So take a moment to think about some of your key beliefs, and ask yourself questions like these:
Beliefs are thoughts that we have been repeated so many times that we consider them to be true. This process usually happens without us even noticing.
Let me explain why:
Have you ever heard that we have both conscious and nonconscious thoughts?
Let me give you an example:
What happens if I say the word "dog".
Suddenly you will have a picture of a dog inside your head: This might be a memory of playing with your dog, or it might be seeing your neighbors dog barking at you.
Whatever it is, the image of a dog was a nonconscious thought that you have now brought in front of your awareness, and which now has become a conscious thought.
Imagine a pond or water;
Let's say you can see the top 20 cm below the surface. You can see fish that swim there. Beyond 20 cm depth however, it becomes more difficult to see any wildlife, and little further down you can’t see a thing.
Now imagine your mind is this pool and the upper 20 cm are the "Layer of Visible Thinking" -- these are the thoughts you can see. Below this Layer are the thoughts that you can’t see and where your invisible thoughts reside.
So what happened when I asked you think of a dog?
The thought became visible as though the Layer of Visible Thinking dropped deeper.
Now did you know that up to around 96% of our behaviour is automatic and run by our super powerful non-conscious brain, which processes over 400 billion bits of information per second?
This begs the important question:
Why is so much of our thinking that underpins most of our behaviour invisible to us?
Let's take a moment to think about this -- imagine what your life would look like, if you could see every thought that runs through your head.
How would that feel?
I am assuming you would become so overwhelmed that it would almost be impossible to fully focus on any specific topic. Our mind would be too scattered to really learn something new.
And that would mean no progress in life.
System 1, which operated automatically and quickly as it is usually driven by instinct and intuition. These are the kind of thoughts that usually happen without our awareness.
And System 2, which is more thoughtful and analytical and helps us figure things out.
He goes on to explain that our invisible System 1 thoughts help us create automated processes that give us the mental space to focus on learning new things.
Take for example the process of learning to drive a car:
You probably don’t even remember the conscious effort it took you initially to control a car. However, I assure you it required your fullest attention. And here is what was happening inside your brain:
When we learn something new, electrical activity travels between our brain cells, called neurons.
At first, these connections are weak, which is why we struggle with the new skill. However, if we endure, these connections become stronger and stronger, and a substance called myelin, wraps itself around the neurons, enabling electrical activity to travel more fluidly between them.
Over time, thanks to the stronger connections in your brain that resulted from your efforts to learn how to control the car, you start driving effortlessly. In other words, what was once a difficult System 2 challenge has now become a simple and invisible System 1 task, freeing conscious space to learn something new.
This is how it looks likes when brain creates new connections when challenged.
What you can do:
Think about how you learned a skill that you are very good at right now;
Maybe you understand how to run your business extremely well, play soccer like a pro, or possess remarkable communication skills.
Try and remember how you developed these competencies, and how they evolved from very conscious and effortful activities into more nonconscious and automatic ones.
Let's go a bit deeper: Take a moment and reflect on these two questions:
Why Do We Sabotage Ourselves?
On the surface, one would assume that we all want to experience a happy and successful life. Nevertheless, we often end up doing things that harm ourselves: Whether this means smoking, wasting time watching TV, or engaging in a vicious relationship.
But why does this happen?
The obvious reason is that often our visible desires contradict our invisible thoughts that control so much of our behaviour.
For example, an adult may think that we wishes to become extremely wealthy but has limiting thoughts around money. As a result, he seems to waste every big business opportunity he has, without knowing why.
These beliefs might be the result of watching people around him as a kid -- especially those with influence like parents and teachers:
Willingly or not, these adults give their children reference points about important themes of life. So if for example parents associate success and money with working way too hard, sacrificing their lives, or even corrupting personal values, it is likely that their kids will adopt similar negative associations towards money or success. They are too young to question the validity of these thoughts, so these associations became unquestioned invisible beliefs that direct their behaviour. For some kids, this might even mean sabotaging their career, and unconsciously avoiding opportunities to make a good living.
This illustration shows how the thought of money can trigger other associations that will affect our relationship to wealth and success.
Children also learn from past experiences:
Take for example a kid who blames himself for his mother’s unhappiness or anger, and fears that she may not want him. This is very scary thought because a kid knows that life would be very difficult without the love and support of parents. In this kind of situation, it might be natural that a kid tries to please his mother in the hope to regain her approval. However, since a child is not able to process such a frightening thought until the fear depletes in the way an adult can, he will probably try and suppress his fears. These thoughts are therefore likely to influence what a child thinks about himself, other people, and life in general, and can affect the kind of relationships he will enjoy later on as an adult.
And if that is not enough -- kids are especially vulnerable to what people tell them:
Say a teacher tells a student throughout her early primary years that she is not good in math -- overtime she will probably start believing this. So every time she thinks about math, visibly or invisibly, she might become nervous and reinforce those limiting thoughts about herself and about math. Eventually, her grades may start dropping to the extent that she gives up on doing homework and preparing for exams.
In short, kids are prone to internalize negative personal experiences, observations and feedback. If unchallenged, these invisible thoughts begin to think themselves, irrespective of circumstances, and they start to see the world with tinted glasses. This is how overtime they create powerful but often harmful beliefs about themselves, other people and life in general which not only shape their short and long term goals, but also stop them from achieving a happy and successful life.
However, parents are not the only influences on kids.
Take social expectations and stereotypes-- they too can also impact the way we think about ourselves:
This was well illustrated in a fascinating in which study Asian girls were asked to take a math exam (Shih, Pittinsky, &&Ambady, 1999):
Some girls just took the exam so the researchers could determine the average strength of the participants. The second group was made aware of their ethnicity before taking exam, while the third group was made aware of their gender.
Can you guess the outcome of these tests?
Well, the group that was primed for their ethnicity did really well, in line with the stereotype that Asians are meant to be good in math. In contrast, the group that was primed for their gender performed below the general average mark. Here, the stereotype of women not being gifted for math prevailed.
From this study you can see how we create our own predictions about what we think we are capable of doing, and determine our behavior. We call these Self-Fulfilling Prophecies.
I gave you a few inputs that influence our thinking. Of course there are more. But the general pattern is linked to negative thoughts that lead us to imagine catastrophic outcomes that we want to avoid, at all costs.
The key takeaway here is that based on our beliefs, we interpret events in a very subjective and often negative manner. It is as if we are wearing tinted glasses through which we wander through the world.
And what happens next?
Instead of focusing on our dreams and aspirations, we set our attention on the obstacles we face, often magnifying problems, minimizing successes and making up stories that do not match reality. By intentionally repeating these
What you can do:
Think of a belief that has prevented you from pursuing some of your big goals, and answer the following questions:
We are all born as little helpless infants.
But you want to know the one big difference between successful people and everyone else?
Why some people become wealthy while others don't?
What makes some people stay single for all their lives while others meet the love of their life?
Or why some people constantly gain weight while others enjoy the body of their dreams?
Its very simple for most us us:
It really only comes down to the choices we make.
Top performers are very intentional about what they do, while most people allow their impulses and ordinary routines dictate their day.
Now, the reason our choices are so tricky is that we do not see results or consequences initially. In fact, our fate is the result of many, many tiny small little decisions that over time compound into our destiny.
Take for example two individuals: Let's call them Peter and Tom:
Both come from a similar background, education and status, just finished university and are 24 years old. They also work for the same law firm and receive the same salary.
Tom does not save any of his income, and instead lives in a cool apartment and leased himself a cool sports car. He loves to eat fast food and candies, drink beer after work and enjoys sitting at home watching TV for around 2 hours every evening.
Peter on the other hand saves 20% and invests his money into real estate, bonds and stocks, and enjoys a return on his money of say 8% a year. He eats healthy, and enjoys reading one book a week related to his work and professional aspirations, instead of watching TV. And he goes to the gym at least three times a week.
At first, their fate will look quite similar, and of course Tom’s life might even seem a bit more fancy. However, by the time they reach the age of say 40, things will look very differently. While Tom will have no savings, work the same job without any serious promotions, and be extremely overweight, Peter will have created serious income sources, probably he will have also experienced massive salary raises -- he might even be a partner at his firm, and he will most likely also be in great physical shape.
In short: We make conscious or non conscious choices that dictate our actions and our future.
Making good choices has become extremely difficult, because we live in a chaotic and rushed world that barely ever leaves us the time to really track what we are doing, on a day to day basis. Our brain is constantly being bombarded with useless information and unhelpful thoughts.
So despite the fact that our brain is extremely powerful, it can easily become overwhelmed: Think of it as a computer that can help us with so many things, when it functions properly. But what happens when it is flooded with viruses? It no longer works efficiently, unless of course we install an antivirus program. And that is exactly what we need to do with our brain in order for it to debunk some of the invisible stories that run our life. You see, as kids we are extremely malleable and depend upon adults. We are influenced by what we hear, see and experience. So when for example if parents tell us off on a regular basis, this might trigger negative thoughts about ourselves (i.e "I am stupid"), other people (i.e "people are superior to me") and about life in general (i.e "life is unfair"). Unless we give our mind some breathing space, old patterns of thinking will determine our choices. Even though many of these repetitive negative themes no longer really apply to us adults, they dictate our actions, which is one reason why we so often end up doing things that no longer serve us. Another reason is that we become so comfortable in our space that we do not wish to change our behaviours -- at least invisibly. So despite the fact that we are not getting the outcomes we desire, we have become extremely good at covering up the real thoughts that are triggering our behavior, so we no longer able to see them for what they are. No wonder that we end up feeling extremely frustrated when all our efforts for change are in vain. The good news though is that our thoughts are just thoughts, and we can reboot our brains in the same way we reboot a computer. Let me show you how we all can create real choices, and hence transform your life. And it is quite simple, at least in theory: What we must do, is increase the gap between our daily stimulations and our responses, by becoming more aware of our thoughts and feelings. In this way start noticing the triggers that run our life, how they have been formed and why they no longer apply to us any longer. As the famous psychologist and holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl said: "It is by creating a greater gap between a stimulus and a response, that we create choice".
And once that happens, we not only begin to make sense of why we do the things we do, but also set the stage to actually dispute disempowering beliefs that no longer serve us, so we can replace them with ones that will support our big dreams.
Remember when we spoke about the example of the pool, and the "Layer of Visible Thinking"?
One way to think of awareness is to imagine bringing a powerful torch to this pool, so that we can see down to the deeper level. While it was easy for you to think of a dog, there are tougher memories to recall. For example:
Try for a second to remember your first kiss?
Initially you may struggle, but with time you may be able to recall this event.
By consciously practicing to become more aware of our thinking, we are able to take more conscious choices.
This is how we gain true mental toughness.
Awareness here means having the ability to see what goes on inside our head, so that we can then modify our thoughts and feelings to the ones that serve us. Think of our thoughts here like an iceberg of which only the tip is visible for most people. Without awareness, self-conditioning happens automatically -- as our brain economizes the use of our attention -- often resulting in very unfortunate outcomes, as discussed before.
As most of our behaviour is dictated by our invisible thoughts, we need to increase our awareness to enjoy new outcomes and results. This is only possible if we occasionally slow down our thinking, which is often referred to as the Pause and Plan response.
By slowing down our thinking, we can discover that we are not our thoughts, and that we are able to disassociate ourselves from the limiting beliefs that no longer serve us. Of course, in our distracted and chaotic world, this is easier said than done-it really takes a conscious effort to slow down our thinking and create the kind of mental agility that give us the power to respond to situations in manners that empowers us.
What you can do:
Let me show you a relatively easy way to instantly create more space in your head to slow down your thinking-- I call this "Silence Time" and was inspired by Daniel Siegel’s Wheel of Awareness.
Here is how it works:
a. ) Spend your remaining time just observing the thoughts and feelings that you are experiencing, without judging them. Pretend you are an outside observer who is watching what goes on inside your head. Whenever you get lost in thoughts, just try and focus on your breathing again, until you feel calm and relaxed.
b. ) Continue doing this, until your alarm goes on. Then you can slowly open your eyes, take a journal and write down any insights that you feel like expressing.
c. ) Now you can stretch yourself, and get up.
This exercise is so powerful because we start pushing down the Layer of Invisible Thinking, so that we discover the stories, thoughts and feelings that determine our behaviours. Once we do that, we create opportunities to transform our beliefs and convert negative thought patterns into more powerful ones. In the next section we will talk about how you can do this.
If this exercise is challenging, simple meditation can do the trick. Scientists have shown that it only takes several hours of regular meditation to improve self-control and improve our attention span, and already after around 11 hours of practice we can witness changes in the architecture of our brain.
As a tennis agent I have watched thousands of matches. What always interests me is how athletes speak to themselves, both while doing well and while struggling. I have noticed that the way an athlete speaks to himself is critical for his success.
Why is that?
Well, by speaking to ourselves we are actually continuing to shape the beliefs we have. Sadly, without even noticing, we often speak to ourselves in ways we would not even dare to talk to our biggest enemies.
These observations in sport were confirmed in more general terms by Martin Seligman a leader of positive psychology.
Initially, Seligman wanted to find out what the key skill was that would determine successful insurance salespeople. This was a profession in which candidates had to expose themselves to a lot of rejection.
Can you guess the outcome of his research?
Seligman discovered that what determined success was not education, gender or socio-economic criteria, but rather our optimism. He concluded that a key skill of top performers was their ability to train themselves to recognize negative thoughts and instead focus on more positive outcomes.
One reason why optimists are so much more successful than others is because they are willing to face challenges and difficulties, rather than avoid them. While a pessimist prefers to shrink his world and avoid the possibility of potential defeat, an optimist is willing to take a chance.
According to Seligman, optimists deal with success and defeats distinctively different from pessimists, in at least three ways:
#1 How permanent/ temporary an event feels:
Optimistic people believe bad events to be temporary and bounce back quickly from failure, whereas Pessimists may take longer periods to recover if at all. At the same time, optimists consider successes permanent whereas pessimists see them as temporary.
Example: An optimistic athlete recovers quickly from a defeat, because he believes that through hard work and training he will achieve better results in the future. A pessimist on the other hand will be very hard on himself, and need much longer time to recover from big disappointments.
#2 The extent to which an event is pervasive and affects other areas of life:
Pessimistic people assume that failure in one area of life means failure in life as a whole whereas successes don’t really affect them that much. Optimistic people on the other hand allow good events to brighten every area of their lives rather than just the particular area in which the event occurred. Optimists also consider setbacks as specific and unrelated to other areas.
Example: A business man enters a poor transaction. For the optimist, this experience will now affect his relationship with his family, and other key areas of his life. A pessimist on the other hand may start seeing him as an outright failure.
#3 How personal they take events:
Pessimists attribute negative events to their own flaws while optimists attribute failures to outside circumstances or other people. In contrast, optimists attribute successes to themselves while pessimists attribute them to others.
Example: An optimist does not take a rejection in business personally. A pessimist on the other hand will blame himself when people around him get upset or angry.
In short, the way you speak to yourself can determine how energized and successful you will be. You may not be able to control all the results you aspire, but you can definitely control how you speak to yourself, and how you respond to certain events. By doing so, you self condition yourself to becoming a more positive and optimistic person.
What you can do:
Being more optimistic is the ultimate key to success, as it will help you build confidence and learn from setbacks quicker than ever before.
But how can we change some of our conditioned negative thoughts into more empowering ones?
Well, the first step really is to transform the way you speak to yourself by transforming any disempowering beliefs about yourself, people and life into more positive ones. To achieve this, Seligman created the ABC Method.
This is how it works:
A – Adersity: We have to become aware of our thoughts that are triggered by any event.
Example: failing an exam and feeling miserable.
B – Beliefs: We need to notice how we interpret the event, and what beliefs it triggers.
Example: I am stupid, this is too hard for me
C – Consequences: Here we think about what the resulting action from the belief caused by the adversity is.
Example: I won’t study anymore, it’s pointless.
D – Disputation: This is a key step. We must use evidence to challenge the negative thoughts from A-C. The key is to argue against your own distortions of reality.
The reason the ABC-Method is so powerful is because it helps us transform limiting beliefs into more empowering ones. We are not speaking about being unrealistically optimistic. Instead, we want to merely improve the way we speak to ourselves, both when experiencing successes, as well as setbacks.
So ideally for at least a week, try and use the ABC-method. Use one negative experience and go through all the steps, so that you start understanding the kind of beliefs that run your life, what the consequences of those beliefs are, and how they no longer serve you.
This is a long and detailed post with over 18,998 words! Get the Ultimate Guide to Mental Toughness as your own personal downloadable copy so that you can access it anytime from anywhere you like.
In sports, new records are broken on a regular basis. For example, the world record in marathon by Johnny Hayes during the London Olympics in 1908 was 2 hours 55 minutes and eighteen seconds, and would barely get you into the Boston Marathon.
Johnny Hayes of the USA nears the finish line to win the 1908 Olympic Marathon Gold
Compare this to the current world record by Kenyan runner Dennis Kimetto from the Berlin Marathon in 2014 and you will see that in less than a century humans are able to run 42 kilometers almost an hour quicker (2 hours, 2 minutes and fifty one seconds).
Kenyan runner Dennis Kimetto has broken the world record at 2014 Berlin marathon.
But how is this possible? It turns out that true champions are NOT limited by their current skills and capabilities. Instead, they focus on dreams that force them to stretch their abilities. And they choose to interpret the world in a manner that opens the doors to limitless possibilities. This is how athletes are able to create record breaking performances that are considered humanly impossible, and setting new benchmarks on a regular basis. However, not only athletes need to develop true mental toughness: In a world where technology is replacing people, and in which skills can be outsourced to countries around the globe, everyone is challenged to deliver breakthrough results. And as our thoughts about high performance determine our behaviour, cultivating a Champion's Mind is the prerequisite to sustainable success. In this chapter, I will introduce to you four practices that will help you cultivate a Champion's Mind, and show you how you can train yourself to think in the same way as some of the world's best performers.
In 1974, Dr. Edward Banfield conducted a study with the aim to find out what the most significant contributor was towards becoming a successful and financially independent individual. To his surprise, it was not gender, education, intelligence or social status that helped people become successful.
Instead, it was what he called"long term perspective" that determined the financial journey of the subjects of his study. While the unsuccessful people would give very little thought to the long-term consequences of their decisions, and instead focused on experiencing instant gratification, successful candidates would think about their choices in terms of what they would mean up to 10-20 years into the future.
In fact, top performers become so obsessed about their own personal success, that moving towards their dreams becomes part of how they see themselves. This is why they are able to embark on challenges that go beyond their current skills and competences.
I remember for example meeting Novak Djokovic when he was a 15 year old kid. He would constantly speak with full confidence about his dream to become the world’s best tennis player -- he really didn't care what other people would think about his big ambitions. Already as a young boy he would travel to tournaments with a coach, a physio and a fitness coach, knowing that these people would help him develop the skills required to become a true champion,
But I don’t need to search that far to see how envisioning the future impacts our reality -- even in my own life it was the goals that I was obsessed with that became my reality.
For example, my family and friends remind me how as a young kid I was obsessed with tennis, and how I would miss school to watch world class players when there were tournaments in Switzerland. They tell me that every time I would speak about professional tennis, my eyes would start lighting up with enthusiasm -- no wonder I would end up working in the sports world.
To become obsessed with success, we don’t necessarily need to love what we do all the time, at least initially. Instead, we must have what Cal Newport calls a Craftsman Mindset whereby we constantly think about how we can improve our skills and become the kind of person who keeps reinventing himself to achieve his wildest ambitions. Newport argues that for most people it is by first becoming extremely good at a craft that we then start loving what we do, and not vice versa. He mentions a quote from Steve Martin about his secret to success:
“Nobody ever takes note of my advice, because it’s not the answer they wanted to hear,’ Martin said. ‘What they want to hear is, ‘Here’s how you get an agent, here’s how you write a script,’ ... but I always say, ‘Be so good they can’t ignore you.”
In other words, being obsessed about success means thinking about how we can become so valuable and rare to the marketplace, that people come running to us and not vice versa.
What you can do:
To become more intentional, we want to start our day priming ourselves to show up at our very best. In his book, High Performance Habits, Brendon Burchard proposes four future orientated questions that help successful people set the stage for a successful day:
Try asking yourself these four questions every morning, and notice how they will give you a clearer picture of what your ideal day can look like.
By now, you already know that what we think about most of the time, really impacts our belief system and the manner in which our brain will either support or prevent us from achieving big goals. We also discussed that it is through repetition that we can literally feed our mind with new information.
So how can we consciously program our mind so it will support us with goals that go beyond our current skills?
Lets return to Roger Bannister, from chapter 1:
When he proclaimed that he would run one mile in under four minutes, this was considered humanly impossible by many at the time. However, Banister would visualize breaking the world record on a daily basis, which helped him create the belief that he was capable of breaking the world record.
But here is the interesting thing:
Two months after Bannister succeeded to run a mile in under four minutes on May, 6th 1954, he raced his great rival John Landy from Australia. Bannister won that race, but what was remarkable was that both men finished below the four minutes mark. In fact, within the following 3 years, 16 runners ran a mile in under 4 minutes.
In other words, when we start imagining a future in which we see ourselves progressing towards our big ambitions, we start developing a belief that we can actually achieve greatness. Suddenly we are willing to commit ourselves to bold actions that require skills and competencies that we don’t yet possess, and see ourselves as the kind of people who is willing to do whatever it takes to experience real breakthroughs.
To understand the power of our mind, Australian Psychologist Alan Richardson made a little experiment. He invited a group of basketball players, divided them in 3 groups and tested their ability to make free throws.
Each group would prepare in the following manner:
As expected, the first group performed the best, while the third group ended up with the weakest results. Surprisingly though, there was a significant improvement on the group that only visualized -- they were almost as good as they guys who actually practiced.
Research by Harvard University made a similar study dividing people of similar intellect and who had never played the piano into two groups.
One group was given the task of playing piano scales every day for a certain period of time, while the second group was asked to merely think about playing the exact same piano scales as the first group.
All participants had been scanned before the study to measure their brains prior to any activity, as well as after the study. The researchers wanted to find out if there would be any structural changes to the brain as a result of the piano playing and piano visualising.
Here is what they found:
Both groups showed considerable growth in the part of the brain that corresponds with finger movements.
Harvard conducted a follow up research study where one group of participants was asked to flex their finger each day for several weeks, while the second group was asked to just think about flexing their finger for the same period of time.
While the first group had increased their strength by 53%, the second group where participants merely visualized moving their fingers, had also increased their strength by 35%.
Why is visualization so powerful?
Recent brain studies reveal that visualisation prepares us for actual performances: This is because our thoughts produce similar mental instructions as our physical actions. So when we visualize, we create new pathways in our brain that impact cognitive processes so that we improve critical skills like our motor control, attention, memory, planning and perception. This is how we can improve skills without any physical action.
More importantly, visualizations also work as a rehearsal for some of our bigger life goals. By constantly picturing outcomes we seek, we program our subconsciousness to develop the kind of beliefs, attitudes and mental pictures that help us experience breakthrough results that seemed impossible. All of a sudden, we can picture ourselves as our future selves- being the kind of person who achieves the aspirations we are after.
By visualizing our big dreams, we also stimulate our motivation centers. This is how we become obsessed about goals that seem unobtainable. Now we are willing to invest into long term ambitions rather than give in to the temptation of instant gratification. As our mind can’t distinguish between imagination and reality, we can instruct our subconsciousness towards opportunities that go beyond our current skills and capabilities. Combined with taking incremental steps, visualization is one of the secret weapons of some of the top athletes and business leaders.
How to make your visualisations successful
Our goal is to create a practice that allows us to fall in love with the image of our best future self. We do this by visualizing both the process and the achievement of our big dreams and ambitions as if we were experiencing them in real time, as often as possible.
Specifically, there are four variables that will determine how effective your visualizations will be:
What you can do:
In order to develop mental toughness, you want to choose one goal that is crucial for you, at this stage of your life. This is how we become super focused.
Once you have defined this goal, spend 10 minutes a day visualizing yourself pursuing that goal, overcoming key obstacles you may face, achieving the outcomes you desire and celebrating your successes with your friends and loved ones.
Remember to see as much detail as possible in your visualization, and attach lots of intense positive emotions to the outcomes you desire. Also picture yourself being the person you want and need to become in order to accomplish the results you are seeking.
Visualizing your future is a crucial step to thinking like a champion. But as you can guess, it takes more than just visualisations to become truly remarkable.
As a sports agent, our job is to predict the future of young tennis players. We look at their strokes, their physical strength, their body and of course their past results. Most agents look for talent and natural gifts when speculating about future champions. However, in my view there is one indicator that trumps everything else when it comes to forecasting a sustainable career.
Can you guess what it is?
It is the willingness to struggle, suffer and grow in the pursuit of excellence.
You see, initially every kid I have seen works pretty hard to develop their game and become better tennis players. However at one stage progress becomes more difficult. They become satisfied with their game and they now focus on going through the motions of practicing and working on things they already feel comfortable with.
This is when they start to stagnate.
Regardless of career, I believe the people who always end up enjoying the most sustainable careers are the ones who keep pushing themselves outside their comfort zone, and don’t get attached to what made them so good initially.
To do so, we must be willing to take chances and commit to bold action.
But how do we develop this kind of courage that will allow us to overcome the fears of failure and rejection? Developing a Growth Mindset
In one of my favorite studies called The Effect of Praise on Mindsets, Carol Dweck wanted to find out the different results school kids would enjoy from having either a Growth Mindset (the belief that we can improve our skills through effort and learning) or a Fixed Mindset (the conviction that we are the result of inborn character traits and talents)
So she did a test that had four stages:
First she gave all the kids a very simple riddle.
After solving it, half the kids were praised for their intelligence (a fixed trait: for example by saying: "you are so smart"), while the other half were praised for their effort (a growth mindset trait: for example by saying: "you worked so hard").
In part two, the kids were offered either to try a harder riddle or do another easy one that they would surely manage to solve.
The vast majority of kids with a Growth Mindset chose to try the harder option, while 67% of the kids with a Fixed Mindset preferred taking the easier option.
Next, the kids were given a riddle that was incredibly difficult -- one that they would surely all fail. Carol Dweck wanted to look at how the different groups attacked this challenge.
What she discovered was that the effort group (Growth Mindset) worked harder, longer, and actually enjoyed this test more than the intelligence group -- who quickly became frustrated and gave up early.
Finally, Carol Dweck and her team gave all of the students a test that was just as easy as the first.
The results were pretty amazing:
The intelligence group actually did worse on this test than they did on the first. Their average score dropped by 20%.
The effort group did much better. Their average score increased by 30%.
In other words, the effort group outperformed the intelligence group by 50%!
This study by Dweck is so amazing as it shows us that by just changing the way we praise success can impact the effort we will put into pursuing challenging goals. The reason why a Growth Mindset is so vital for our success is because it helps us feel in control of our life, so that we are able to embrace challenges in the same way the effort group did -- as opportunities to learn and grow. As a result, we start enjoying the process and journey of our big goals, rather than just focusing on specific outcomes.
OK, so we know that having a Growth Mindset is vital to our success. However, what happens if you are born with a Fixed Mindset, is it still was possible to switch to a Growth Mindset?
To find out, Dweck put seventh grade students with Fixed Mindsets through an 8 week course that taught them the science of how the brain can change and grow (neuroscience). The program included studies that demonstrated to the students how flexible their minds really were. At the end of the program, the vast majority of students shifted from believing that their abilities were fixed to believing that they could improve at almost any skill through practice and hard work.
Surprisingly these students also improved their performance in school.
What Dweck discovered was that by learning about the plasticity of our brain, researching success stories of top performers and even thinking of personal examples of when we triggered breakthrough results through effort, we can shift our perspective on success. All of a sudden, we realize that it is through effort and hard work that we can march towards our big dreams, rather than relying on fixed traits and talent.
What you can do:
First, develop a Growth Mindset by thinking of some of your greatest successes and answering the following questions:
Next, have a look at biographies of some of your biggest role models. From the outside it often looks like top performers are simply very gifted and lucky. However, I’d love you to really research their path, look at the obstacles they faced and overcame, and how much time, money and effort went into their careers.
Once you have studied some of your heroes, we want to become more specific, and train your personal willpower on a consistent basis. You can do this by choosing a 30 day challenge from one of these two categories:
Finally pick your main long term goal that you would like to focus more energy on. This will be the challenge that we will pursue for the remainder of this Guide. As with all bigger projects, working towards that big dream will help you also grow your willpower muscles.
One of the secrets to creating a Growth Mindset comes from the determination to pursue goals detached from any outcomes. By focusing on the journey, we are able to enjoy the hard work and effort that comes with our big ambitions.
This might sound a bit counter-intuitive:
When we think of incentives to perform well, we usually consider external triggers like time pressure, compensation and fame. Extrinsic motivators are fine, but they are also fleeting. Once we complete a successful negotiation, win a bg sport competition or get a salary raise, we are forced to instantly seek new external outcomes in order to experience feelings of joy and happiness. In addition, when relying on extrinsic motivators, our success often depends on outcomes that are not always within our control. For example, we may experience bad luck in a business deal, or face a strong opponent who is playing the match of his life in a sports competition. This can feel very draining over time.
In his book Drive, Daniel Pink mentions that our ancestors were preoccupied with their own survival, which was the basis of their initial motivation. During the age of industrialization, the incentives of punishment and reward reinforced desirable behaviour. However, we now live in a time in which for example the development of the online encyclopedia Wikipedia is based on the desire of people to write and edit articles out of pure joy and without receiving any financial reward.
In other words: To experience sustainable long term success in activities that require mental effort, we must dive a little deeper into our intrinsic desires in order to be able to compel ourselves to show up at our very best.
In the 1970’s, Edward Deci and Richard M. Ryan discovered this by offering students financial incentives to solve puzzles. What they found was that the students actually become less interested and spent less time on the puzzles when offered compensation, than when solving them without any incentives.
How does this make any sense?
Daniel Pink argues that it is the trifecta of three intrinsic motivators that inspire us to push our limits and dig deeper than ever to accomplish goals that require real skills.
What you can do:
Think of main long term goal and commit to one bold step.
Maybe you know you should be having that difficult conversation with a business partner, or you should be waking up at 5am to become more productive. Or you know you should be making the coming 12 months the most healthy year of your life.
Whatever it is, tell people around you about your quest, and WHY it is so important to you. This could be your partner, your family, best friends or your business coach. Explain how it is not necessarily the outcome that you are after (although you will try your best to achieve it of course), but rather the process of doing something that will help you develop new skills, feel autonomous and fulfilled.
We all know that confidence is critical to a successful life. However, rarely do we take the time to really think about what confidence really is. To me, confidence has two key components:
Without confidence, we often feel out of control in our lives, which prevents us from taking real action. The problem though is that even for confident people, confidence is not a permanent state, and something we need to cultivate on a continuous basis. For example, you may feel confident in your career, but not around people. And even then, you might suffer a professional setback that robs you from any belief you have in yourself.
In other words, confidence is more like a skill we can develop than a personality trait, and something we can train… In this chapter I will show you can build your confidence and develop the kind of mental toughness that will allow you to achieve bigger and grander goals than you may think possible.
We all have grand dreams.
Sadly, many of us give up on aspirations whenever we face some opposition:
Too often we fear that pursuing big goals will take so much time, effort and money that we may end up regretting not having pursued more fun and easy activities.
We might also think about how difficult the process of achieving our ambitions will become, and maybe we are simply not willing to endure such pain.
And of course most of us will also worry about the risk of failure and embarrassment in front of friend, family and co-workers.
So what distinguishes the most successful individuals who follow through with their ambitions?
It is quite simple:
Mentally tough people reframe situations in a manner that they are able to take bold action.
They do this by appreciating that a key ingredient to success comes from their willingness to struggle, push limits and embrace moments of discomfort.
Mentally tough people have a champion mindset that remains engaged when they are under pressure.
In fact, before embarking on a challenge, it is normal to be nervous, because we still don’t know if we possess the skills to be successful -- this happens once we have hustled to figure things out through trial and error, learning and growing.
But here is the key:
Successful people don’t stop pursuing big goals when they feel fearful or nervous: Instead, they realize that these are their opportunities to learn and grow. In other words, they take action despite feeling any discomfort. And so can you.
What you can do:
OK, I want to show you now how you can tackle your fears by the horn, but I need your help here.
Take a moment to think of one of your big dreams that you have, and choose one activity that you know you should be doing, and that would move you towards that dream, but that seems a little bit uncomfortable or even scary (which is why you have not done this yet).
Now lets reframe some of the thoughts that have been stopping you:
#1 I don’t feel confident right now!
Think about your last 3 years and make a list of all the things you have achieved. Ideally, write them down:
You will quickly notice that too often we all overcome difficult situations and forget to celebrate our past achievements. So do this now, and allow yourself to acknowledge some of your past successes.
#2 What if I fail?
Valid point, you might not achieve the outcome you desire. But what if you will be successful, what benefits will you experience? How will the achievement of your goal help you and your loved ones. Visualize all the people that might benefit from your accomplishment.
#3 What if I work really hard, only to discover that the outcome I am seeking does not give me the satisfaction I was after?
True, sometimes even when we are successful, we do not experience the emotions we expected. But who cares. You will gain more confidence in your abilities to achieve worthy goals, and this will help you in the future!
#4 What if the process is too difficult for me?
By now you should know, that it is the willingness to struggle that will make you successful. So more important than the outcome of your goal is the process of pushing yourself, and developing the character and self identity of a person who embraces real challenges. As Jim Kwik likes to say:
If you do the easy things, life will become hard. However, if you do the hard things, life becomes easy.
So instead of focusing on the pain, think about how you could reframe your challenge and make it more fun and exciting.
#5 What sacrifices will I have to be making?
Yes, long term goals require sacrifices. You may have to stop watching TV, eat less candy, wake up earlier, and many other things that seem uncomfortable at first. But think about what will happen in the long run if you don’t give up on those things, and compare it with what your life will look like once you follow through with your commitments. In other words, start understanding WHY this goal will benefit you in the long run, and is a worthy cause to pursue.
Cool, now that we have debunked most of your doubts, I want you to stop delaying your goal. Commit right now to taking at least ONE major step towards your big goal. This means, no more excuses- take your diary and schedule this action step right now. And once you have done that, tell at least two important people about the action step you are taking.
Remember, regardless of whether you actually succeed with your goal, it is your willingness to struggle and push yourself that is what will ultimately make you a more courageous person!
We defined one aspect of confidence as the belief in ourselves that we are able to "figure things out". So how do we figure things out that we still don’t really understand?
Very simple: We learn them.
This might mean reading a book, taking a course, hiring a coach, or pushing ourselves through trial and error. The key is that we want to demonstrate that we are able to gain some kind of knowledge or skill that we did not possess before embarking on this challenge.
Think about this for a moment:
When you have a big goal, and you fail to achieve it, why is that?
I bet you more often than not, this happens because we are not willing to learn new skills.
And if we don’t learn new skills, we are doomed to rely on what we already know, which is the reason so many people go through life doing the same things day in and day out.
But as Albert Einstein famously said: "Insanity means doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting a different outcome."
Unfortunately, what most people do is learn new skills in the beginning our their career, and then quickly settle for what they know.
This makes complete sense- it is much more convenient to focus on skills we already do well, and then focus on going through our daily motions in both our professional- and personal lives.
But this is also exactly WHY we eventually plateau.
However, as human beings, we all have this desire deep down to grow and expand, to enjoy new experiences and feel confidence. By learning something knew, we teach ourselves to understand a topic or skill that we didn’t know before. This makes us feel confident. And once we feel confident, we are able to challenge ourselves to learn new and bolder skills. All of a sudden, fear no longer stops us from expanding our capabilities. Suddenly we feel comfortable to pursue goals that seemed impossible. This is when we step into the kind of cycle that makes us unstoppable, and has often is referred to as the confidence/ competence loop.
What you can do:
Define what you want to become great at, something people will one day remember you for. Maybe you want to become a better speaker, sell products online, write a bestselling book, get into the best shape of your life, or improve your marriage.
Then take 30 days to really research what the key steps to accomplishing your goal, and finding out what skills you would need to improve or develop. For example, you can people who have been successful in that area what their 3-4 key main steps have been have been on their way to mastery.
Finally, you want to create your own learning curriculum, ideally with the help of experts of that area that you are trying to master. More on that in the next section.
We already discussed how building new competences is a key secret to becoming more confident, and more successful. Most professionals usually learn a skill and then, once they reach a certain level, they start plateauing.
However, here lies your big opportunity to really excel and learn almost anything you desire!
You can become a master at learning!
Thanks to the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, Anders Ericsson’s 10,000 hour rule became famous around the world. Ericsson and colleagues studied around 40 violinists at a famous school in Berlin, and wanted to find out what factors separated the most successful musicians from the good and decent ones.
After studying the daily schedule of the musicians, Ericsson found that the top group of violinists that would later become professional musicians would spend significantly more hours practicing by themselves than their peers, and that by the age of 20 they would have spent a total of 10,000 hours practicing to their craft.
However, what Gladwell didn’t express clearly enough was the fact that merely repeating the same kind of activity again and again would not be sufficient to become a true expert.
Ericsson does not speak about any kind of practice, but specifically about deliberate practice.
To understand this concept better, Neil Charness studied a group of chess masters who all had practiced playing chess for at least 10,000 hours. What he found was that some became grand masters, while others remained at an intermediate level.
Upon closer analyses, Charness found that while all the players he interviewed would play lots of practice games, the top performers spent around half of their time analysing games of big chess masters and also getting feedback to the games they had played themselves.
In other words, they practiced in a manner that really got them to think, and stretch their limits so that they would constantly improve.
That sounds pretty nice, but what if the best chess masters are more gifted and simply have better inborn skills, like for example a stronger ability to see and remember all the pieces on the board, so that they can better plan their next moves?
To test this assumption, a Dutch chess master called Adrian de Groot offered chess masters and novices to first look at a board with random pieces for about five seconds. They were then asked to reconstruct the board. Most of the participants remembered the location of 2-3 pieces, regardless of their chess level.
Then they were shown another board that had the pieces set up from the middle of a real chess game. While the novices still struggled to remember more than 2-3 pieces, the masters were able to reconstruct the entire game. They now saw patterns that were easy for them to remember.
Ericsson calls these patterns,"mental representations" and it is because of them that it is possible for experts to process large amounts of information quickly, despite the limitations of our short term memory. Whether this means a tennis player is able to anticipate the direction of a lightning fast serve, or a radiologist recognizes a specific diagnosis, they now are able to do what ordinary people can’t...
The main purpose of deliberate practice is to develop effective mental representations that open new possibilities for improved performance. It comes from this mental strain of pushing ourselves beyond of comfort zone that we experience real improvements, and this is how ultimately some people achieve excellence, while others don't.
While this is known in professions like sport and music, it is something that very few business people apply. By introducing deliberate practice into your life, you will be able to outperform your competition and truly achieve worthy goals.
What you can do:
Lets actively design your plan to improve specific aspects of an individual performance of the skills you choose to develop, in the earlier section. Please use the following steps to create a practice regime that will give you the most powerful results:
To feel confident, taking consistent action, learning new skills and experiencing regular results are extremely helpful. However, is there anything more important to feel good about ourselves, and to move towards becoming the person we truly desire to become? Probably the most important competency required to really feel good about ourselves does not come from specific results and achievements, but rather from the knowledge that we are decent people who are worthy of joy and success, and who constantly try to reinvent ourselves so that we can show up in this world as our best self. This is how we develop the kind of new self identity that can envision us achieve some of our biggest goals.
While this might sound obvious, the real question is this: How many people really make this a priority- especially during times of pressure? I would argue very few: If you don’t believe me, try this thought experiment and see for yourself how well you are aligning your true values with how you spend your day: Write down the 5 most important and meaningful things in your life: For me, this might include for example spending time with my wife and showing up in a present and enthusiastic manner, being a great role model to my son, working on needle moving activities in my business, being a person of integrity and acting in a kind and loving manner to friends and family. #1_______________________ #2_______________________ #3_______________________ #4_______________________ #5_______________________ Next, rate from 1-5 how much time and effort you spend expressing those values throughout your day (5 being the most and 1 being the least). Finally, write down the five activities that take up most of your daily schedule. #1_______________________ #2_______________________ #3_______________________ #4_______________________ #5_______________________ Now compare these two lists: What do you notice? If you are like most people, you will discover a disparity between what you define as important, and how you spend your time. This is because most people prioritize chasing specific outcomes that they don’t even fully control, instead of investing into the one trait we do control: Our character. So how do we build the kind of character traits that makes us truly believe in ourselves and our worthiness to reach for the stars? Sports psychologist Jim Loehr explains that this disparity between what we value and what we actually do comes from the fact that we do not train our character skills. He divides them into performance traits like for example focus, discipline or resilience, and moral traits like integrity, humility, kindness, to name just a few examples. They are like muscles that need to be trained in order to grow. While of course performance-and moral character traits are crucial for anyone who wants to develop true mental toughness, in terms of confidence, I believe integrity is one of the first moral competencies we want to pursue.
Why? Its very simple: Everything we do influences the way we think about ourselves, at least on an invisible level. So for example when we do what we say, we start cultivating a positive self-image of ourselves as a person who is trustworthy and reliable. If we go a step further and commit behaviours and actions that deep down we know we should be doing, we really begin to live up to what we deem as our best self. And once we feel worthy of ambitious goals and willing to make and keep commitments, we start building true confidence. It is a feeling we generate when we trust ourselves to consistently show up to the challenges we face, giving our very best and living up to the promises we make and holding ourselves to a high moral standard. This is how we nurture a strong character, and ultimately that is the secret to more joy and more success. At the same time, of course, the opposite also holds true: When we break our work or do things that we know go against our true values, we start seeing ourselves as untrustworthy. And once we don’t trust ourselves, we also stop believing that we will follow through with the commitments we make. Remember though, even the most successful people will experience moments when they feel more confident, and other moments when they struggle. The important thing to note is that we need to consciously choose to to feel confident, think positively, and act with integrity. This takes stamina and practice. So let me share with you a few simple guidelines that will instantly help you live in more congruence with your beliefs and values. First, we must constantly think about who we truly want to be. This means we must look beyond our conditioned patterns of thinking that we have taken on board to please others, and rediscover who we really want to be. To achieve this kind of clarity, we need to regularly take time and think about the things that matter to us, how we want to interact
What you can do:
Think about the moral competencies and performance skills you want to develop, by reflecting on the values that are most important to you. You can do this by asking yourself the following questions:
Next define at least five character trait and values and rank them according to the order of importance for you. For example for me, these are currently: Integrity, Love, Growth, Focus, Gratitude.
Once you did that, rate yourself from 1-5 on each of these values, so that you can choose one character trait per month that you wish to cultivate, and think of at least ONE practical way to train and grow it.
For example, to build gratitude, you could choose to think of three things you are grateful for at the end of each day. To build compassion, you could choose to make at least one act of kindness every day. And to build integrity, you might commit to holding yourself accountable to follow through with promises you make towards yourself and others.
We all face pressure moments, in which we are expected to perform at our best, whether we are negotiating a big deal, taking an entrance exam or having coffee with a date. These moments have something in common: We want to show up at our best whenever it matters most. Sadly, often it is in these situations that we tend to panic, often to the extent that our brain and body freezes. All of a sudden, we underperform, and are not able to demonstrate the skills and characteristics that we have worked so hard for.
In fact, some Olympians prepare for four year for a competition that sometimes lasts for even less than a minute in which they can either prove their worth, or risk having wasted hours and hours of hard training. They get one chance, and that's it. So what can they do to get ready for such situations? And how can we perform when we need to show up at our best? That is the topic of this chapter.
High Performance comes from pushing our limits in training and competition. This is how we become stronger performers.
At the same time, we want to avoid tightening up from trying too hard, especially before important performance situations. This can create lots of stress, and activate negative feelings life frustration, anger and fear when things do not go exactly as we would like them too. When we start worrying about all the things that could go wrong, our thinking speeds up, which affects our state of mind, and our performance.
In some cases we under-perform simply because we did not prepare enough for the high stake event we plan to encounter. The remedy here is simple- become more serious about your preparation.
However, I want to address the kind of scenarios in which we are ready to perform at our best, but in Mind-games cause us to underdeliver. Mind-games are the kind of distracting thoughts that we unwillingly play inside our head that make us perform below our expectations.
Usually this happens when we are about to participate in the kind of Event that intensifies our thinking, because we really want to do well and are not fully acclimatized to these kind of pressure situations. The bigger or unusual the Event, the greater the intensity of our thinking is, and the more important it becomes that we acclimatize ourselves to what we are anticipating to experience.
Being mentally tough here means being able to cope with pressure and handling life in a flexible and appropriate manner. So in order to perform at our best, we need to access what Jim Loehr calls the Ideal Performance State -- this is most reliable state for performance in which we usually experience positive emotions that support our endeavour.
The good news is that you can learn to get yourself into a performance state:
You do this by constantly exposing yourself to performance situations, and having what I call a Pre-Game Ritual that gets you into the best mental and emotional state.
This is how you train yourself to accessing your Performance State on command.
What you can do:
Create your own personalized performance ritual that you will use before facing crucial pressure moments. Make sure you test what works best for you in practice situations. In sports this might mean using it before a practice session, while in business you could use it before entering a staff meeting.
It can be as short as 5 minutes and include some of the following habits:
High pressure situations induce different physical and mental reactions. For example:
Your heart rate goes up, adrenaline kicks in, and your mind starts to worry. Often, once that happens, we try and control our fears, and this can backfire, and we perform even worse.
Why does this happen?
Well, when we try to control well-learned skills by focusing our awareness on how to do skills that normally happen automatically, we actually disrupt them. In her book Choke XXX explains that fMRI studies show that when people focus on their movements after they have already learned them to perfection, the prefrontal cortex becomes highly activated and in fact interferes with the skills we already possess. This is often referred as "paralysis by analysis."
In his book, Top Dog: The Science of Winning, Pro Bronson speaks about the showdown time in soccer -- when players take penalty kicks to settle a tie. The expectation and pressure is on the kicker, who is normally expected to score every time.
The true odds of making a penalty kick for professional soccer players lies at around 85%.However, the tension on the kicker intensifies as the teams go deeper and deeper into a penalty round.
In fact, researchers Geir Jordet and Esther Hartman found that:
In other words, the chances of scoring with the same kick drastically changes when we perceive a similar situation as either a "threat" or a "challenge".
Why is that?
Well, it turns out that in the challenge situation, we are not expected to be perfect, and so we feel free to take chances and go for it. A cascade of hormones suppresses the left temporoparietal junction in our brain that scans the world for dangers, allowing us to feel confident and comfortable. The hormones also dampen the amygdala, the brain’s alarm system, while enhancing the reward networks that make us highly attuned to the positive feelings of success. As a result, we are able to feel more relaxed and energized.
In a threat situation on the other hand, the pressure is on because expectations are extremely high. As a result, we become nervous and tensed.
Pro Bronson explains that when we experience a heightened awareness that we are being judged, four regions of our brain start to operate:
As a result,we become reluctant to take risks. We over-think our actions and dread the possibility of "messing up", which ironically is exactly why we end up underperforming in the kind of situations that actually mean the most to us.
Unfortunately, performing under pressure is probably the single most important skill you need to master if you want to become ultra-successful, as our big breakthrough opportunities come flying to us in rare dosis. Whether you are competing at an Olympics, enjoying the date with the partner of your dreams, or negotiating the business deal of your life, you want to be at your best whenever you encounter those defining moments.
So is there a way for us to reframe a situation from a threat to a challenge?
Well, the first thing we can do is to try and acclimatize better by exposing ourselves to similar pressure moments. Story had it that Earl Woods, the father of Tiger Woods, would drop bags and jingle change in his pockets to distract his son during critical times on the golf course.
The goal is to reduce the gap between practice and competition. In soccer, this might mean training penalty shoot outs in front of a loud audience, while a public speaker could rehearse a talk in front of friends and family.
What you can do:
In his book Bounce,the Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice, Matthew Syed explains that another solution to pressure situations comes from the idea of doublethink whereby we hold two contradictory beliefs in our mind, and accepting both of them as valid.
On the one hand we must believe that performing well in critical moments means everything to us and feel a true emotional connection to the outcome we are after. This is what inspires us to learn, grow and prepare for the big "money moments".
At the same time though, especially if we have a tendency to choke in critical moments, we also want to ditch this belief shortly before entering a performance situation, and replace it with a thought we do not depend on any specific outcome.
For example, a professional tennis player might say to himself: "This is only a tennis match."
So reframe your pressure situation so that you do not depend on any specific outcome.
We want to try our best, without allowing our ambitions to steal our focus and concentration. This is so powerful because excessive negative self-talk is extremely harmful to our performance, as it makes us feel extremely helpless and out of control.
In her book Choke: The Secret To Performing Under Pressure, Sian Beilock gives additional recommendations how to prevent ourselves from under-performing in pressure situations:
Accessing your Ideal Performance State is crucial to anyone who wants to excel in pressure filled situations. At the same time, when our Ideal performance State becomes too dominant, important needs may stay suppressed. For example, we may feel exhausted from constantly pushing ourselves and stretching our abilities.
Negative emotions like fatigue and exhaustion let us know that we need to address our unmet needs. While we have to suppress these during performance situations, it is important to address them and revert back into a positive state whenever we can, as chronic negativity will undermine our success, happiness and health over time. This is why we want to try to balance experiencing our Ideal Performance State during performance situations, with addressing real needs during recovery stages.
We can only address our real needs once we know what is going on inside head and body so we can recognize any unmet needs we may have. In chapter 1 you have learned how to do that. These unmet needs can be physical (i.e. exhaustion), emotional (i.e. lack of self-esteem) and mental (i.e worries, distractions).
First, we want to make sure we address our physical needs (i.e by getting rest, eating well and fully recovering). This is because when we don’t feel rested and recovered, it becomes almost impossible to control our thoughts and our mind.
Next, we want to ensure that we transform negative thoughts into positive ones, as discussed in the first few chapters of this book.
Once we have satisfied our physical and mental needs, we want to ensure that our emotional needs are addressed.
And can you guess which emotional need many of us lack when facing high performance situations?
Let me tell you:
It is the need for physical safety and psychological security. This can be tricky, often we are not aware as to what it is that we are missing.
Why is that?
Well, most of us have learned early on to suppress feelings of pain and replace them through all sorts of coping mechanisms. For example, the use of alcohol may help relieve emotional stress, as may excessive TV. However, without addressing the real causes of the emotional stresses, it will be almost impossible to combine high performance with emotions of joy and satisfaction.
Often, we cover up our real "needs" with instant "wants". While the former refers to something that is necessary for our long-term success and happiness, the latter simply satisfies a short-term desire. For example, we may feel like eating junk food to help forget disappointments and creating instant gratification. Of course, we know that we are not really addressing our core feelings, and over time can be harmful. By addressing our real needs, rather than giving in to short-term wants, we lay the foundation to feeling energized, and fulfilling our potential.
The difference between "needs" and "wants" also becomes evident in performance situations: Often, we experience a paralysing fear of failure that may prevent us from competing against the best, speaking in front of big crowds, or applying for a dream job.
While of course it can help to suppress feelings of negativity in the short run in order perform at our best, it will eventually result in us succumbing to pressure, and failing if we don’t address those negative emotions. In order to fulfil our potential, we therefore have to address our fears so that they no longer prevent us from living a fulfilled and successful life.
Our fear of failure or rejection usually comes from an unmet need for psychological safety, and the belief that in order to be successful, we cannot make mistakes. These beliefs come from a society that rewards results rather than effort, making us feel threatened that if we do not perform at a certain level, we will disappoint people and even lose their support. Over time, we no longer feel good enough to perform at our best, often also not worthy of success.
And by now you already know what happens: At some level, we lose our confidence that we are able to figure things out and get out of this vicious cycle.
Our limiting beliefs, combined with emotions of fear, will of course increase our stress level and often prevent us from performing at our best. They will also stop us from enjoying the process of working hard to accomplish our most important goals.
So how can we address our unmet needs?
From my experience, we usually pick one of these options:
We can try even harder to become better. For some this actually works, but at the price of sacrificing their joy and all their time to match expectations of others. To me this sounds extremely exhausting.
Or, we choose (invisibly) to give up and sabotage ourselves. At least we can always tell ourselves that we could have done better if we really tried. In other words, we master our disappointments and settle for an ordinary life at best, rather than seeking to strive.
Luckily we have one more alternative:
To be a high performer, we must accept that failure is just part of the journey to more success. If you look at the stars of any field, you will see that they all became who they became after suffering painful losses, and recovering swiftly. In fact, the sport of tennis is such a good example for this, as even the very best players suffer several painful defeats on a yearly basis. This is because by definition each tournament only has one winner. Once we accept failure as part of our journey, we suddenly become much more courageous to pursue our biggest dreams.
What you can do:
It is a human need to express ourselves towards people we are close to. This gives us the psychological safety of being appreciated for who we are. So if you have a trusted person you can share your dreams, passions, fears and concerns with, then you are in a great position to rejuvenating your emotional energy levels.
But even on your own you can process your emotions and express yourself. In a study, James W. Pennebaker researched the benefits of journaling. For that purpose, he invited participants to spend four days writing 15 minutes each day about their most difficult experiences, ideally things they would not speak about with others.
Specifically they were asked to describe how they felt about them. They were also asked to analyse the events of their lives. After 4 days, the results were disappointing. The participants showed no real changes in how they felt. However, the interesting outcome from this study was that after following them for a year, Pennebaker found long lasting results: The participants were now healthier and happier.
Pennebaker’s study has shown us that the habit of journaling brings along many benefits:
For a start, it can be extremely helpful to write about negative events from time to time in a focused manner, rather than ruminate about them all day. Negativity is draining so we rather deal with it in a concise and structured manner.
Secondly, by expressing any negative emotions, we take out the sting from arousing feelings, so that they no longer run our lives.
Another important benefit of journaling is that it can make us aware of unmet needs, where they come from and how we can address them. For example, we might realize it’s about time to let go from a difficult experience from the past, or that we need to forgive someone, and even ourselves, to feel more in peace with ourselves.
Finally, journaling helps us make sense of our life story. With the help of such self-understanding, we appreciate why we do the things we do, and can then address the causes of self-defeating behaviour, so that we can finally live up to our own expectations.
IMPORTANT TIP: While it is important to write about our negative events, it is also valuable to write about positive experiences. However, we need to do this in a very different manner. When writing about difficulties, it helps to analyse events in detail. However, we do not want to do that when writing about positive experiences. It is enough to simply write about them, and maybe even relive and experience those happy moments again in this process.
What do Bill Gates, Michael Jordan, Thomas Edison all have in common, apart from becoming extremely successful in their respective careers?
They did not let failures make them give up on their big dreams:
Bill Gates was a Harvard University dropout. He was also the co-owner of a failed business called Traf-O Data. Nevertheless Gates built the largest software company.
Michael Jordan was probably one of the best athletes of all times. Yet, he is also known to have missed more than 9,000 shots in his career, and 26 game winning shots.
Thomas Edison belongs to the most successful inventors that this world has ever witnessed. He also made over 1,000 attempts at inventing the light bulb.
In his book, Black Box Thinking- why some people never learn from their mistakes, but some do, Matthew Syed compares the behaviors of two safety dependent industries:
On the one hand we have the health care in which according to the Journal of Patience Safely over 400,000 people die in hospitals in the USA due to preventable medical errors. Syed explains that this is due to a culture that is driven by both a fixed mindset culture that sees top doctors as "clinically infallible", and the constant threat of litigation by patients for any detectable failures. As a result, mistakes are suppressed and vital information that could help prevent similar mistakes in the future is made unavailable.
On the other hand, we have the aviation industry that has constantly focused on learning from accidents and near miss situations, reducing the risk and danger significantly. For example, each plane is equipped with two nearly indestructible black boxes that save both the electronic information of the flight, and the correspondence between the pilots, so that outside experts can deconstruct mistakes and make recommendations to make flying more safe.
And just look at the evolution:
In 1912, more than half the American army planes crashed in non-war situations. Compare this with 2014 where there was only 1 crash per 8.3 Million take offs in modern countries.
Researcher Amy C. Edmondson wanted to find out how we can also reduce the failure rates in hospitals. She studied medical teams at hospitals and assumed that the top teams would make less errors. Surprisingly she discovered that better performing teams actually made more errors. She was confused.
So she went over her notes again and that’s when she realized what was going on. The best teams didn’t do more errors, but simply reported them more often. In other words, creating a psychologically safe environment in which it was possible to admit mistakes and learn from failures was the real recipe for success.
Sadly, this is easier said than done.
Most of us have worked extremely hard to get good at what we do-finally we receive the recognition and appreciation we have waited for, all our lives. The last thing we want is to be rebranded as "untalented" by publicizing our failures. So mistakes become threatening, and we become extremely defensive when people criticize our actions.
In fact, a fear of failure can cause people to sabotage their success. I had professional clients who were dubbed as super-talents. Initially they did extremely well, but once they had a few setbacks they would go out and party before big matches. If they would still win, everyone hailed them as "geniuses", but if they lost, they could blame it on the night of drinking.
Other top players would keep working at their strengths and going through their usual motions, in order to avoid any embarrassments. This is the reason their careers would stagnate.
True champions on the other hand don’t fear failure. They see setbacks as opportunities to learn and know that even marginal corrections will result into massive results over time.
This is how Sir Dave Brailsford transformed the UK cycling team into a winning team:
Let me explain:
Until 2010, no British cyclist had won the Tour de France. However, Brailsford believed in what he called "aggregation of marginal gains" whereby improvements of just 1% in all key areas of cycling would lead to compound results.
He analysed the bikes and made some minimal adjustments, had is riders bring their own pillows to the hotels during the Tour, changed their diets and even had them use antibacterial hand gels to avoid infections. They looked for the 1% everywhere.
And the results?
2012 and 2013 saw a British cycler win the Tour de France. In addition, the british team dominated the 2012 Olympics, winning 8 gold medals, 2 silver medals and 2 bronze medals.
What you can do:
After each performance, take your time to think about what incremental steps you can take to improve your performance. Consider any disappointments and setbacks as learning opportunities to grow new performance skills that will help you achieve grander goals in the future. If necessary, seek help from friends, coaches and mentors to accelerate this process.
The key here is to accept that we are humans, who are not born as perfect beings, and who make mistakes and suffer setbacks. We also need to acknowledge that when we push ourselves beyond our comfort zone, experiencing some fear is normal. By having the courage to nevertheless act, and seeing any "failures" as an opportunity to grow, we learn to appreciate and love ourselves for who we are.
In addition, by engaging in activities that have an element of risk or pressure we give our self the kind of stimulation that makes our life both exciting and interesting. The secret is to develop the kind of awareness that allows us to detect unmet needs that need to be addressed. By consistently overriding unimportant feelings and at the same time correctly interpreting and responding to real needs in the appropriate time, we train ourselves to become emotionally tougher. This is a key ingredient for long-term success.
Well done! You have now read the entire Guide on Mental Toughness.
I know that the Guide includes lots of information and action steps, and that can feel a little bit overwhelming. So let me share the most important piece of advice on building mental toughness.
Take action immediately!
Getting started is the hardest part of any kind of personal transformation, because it requires effort, whilst we do not really experience any tangible changes.
However, guess what happens over time?
You start experiencing personal wins that make you hungry for more. This is how you become mentally tougher. So you introduce new habits, step by step until all of a sudden, the miracles of compounding kick in, and you witness the kind of outcomes that seemed impossible not too long ago!
To help you get started, I have added a bonus chapter -- How To Get Started And Build Momentum -- so you will have an exact roadmap how to start implementing the ideas and strategies of this Guide without any further delay.
I’m doing this because I don’t want you to just read this Guide and forget about it. I want you to implement the action steps from the Guide immediately and cultivate the kind of mental toughness that will make you unstoppable in the pursuit of your personal -- and professional ambitions.
So if you want to receive step by step instructions on how you can instantly implement some of the key strategies of this Guide in an easy and manageable manner, just click button below.
Also, in case you have friends who are dreaming to live an exceptional life and develop mental toughness, why not help them and send them the link to this guide which is: http://www.allonkhakshouri.com/ultimate-guide-to-mental-toughness They will be extremely grateful to you, and you will also make my day. ;-) -Allon
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