How do sportspersons handle the pressure while they perform in a major sports event? Surrounded by people watching their every move, making noise and worse, to know that one is on international television must be more than enough to make anyone have a nervous breakdown!
These questions always leave me in awe of these wonderful people. One possible explanation is that they have practiced so much that they are confident out there and nothing stops them. Yet, somehow I am not convinced. No matter how much you practice, when you are on a ground with many of the other best in the field, it is bound to be daunting.
As I write this post today, it occurs to me that every leader in this world finds themselves in similar situations a number of times. They are under public scrutiny. Their decision making needs to be impeccable. How do they do it?
Why is it difficult for an ordinary person like me to handle stress that is minuscule in comparison?
I stress about how my work will evolve. Should I be better prepared by anticipating what would go wrong? But can I plan for everything? Most of the time, what I fear the most, rarely happens. However, that never prevents me from imagining worst case scenarios. Although, my stress might be miniscule in comparison to theirs in the big picture, it is most important in my small world.
A gem of a thought
Paulo Coehlo in his most recent book Archer talks about the importance of practice to make tasks leading to a goal, routine. Those tasks have to be second nature, simply put something that you can do like reflex, even if you have to vary the degree according to the situation. If these tasks become routine then what is left? Peace of mind- room for intuition.
Answer to my question finally
Paulo Coehlo has always had a knack of making things simple, in the process enabling the reader to realize and not just know something. It occurred to me that what sportspersons do while training is to make the act of participating in a sport routine, something like eating and drinking. It happens on its own. To what extent an athlete will push herself to run faster than the others in a race for example, depends on how the others are running. Usain Bolt on the race track always seemed like he was having a good time while the others were fighting hard to catch up with him. It always felt like he was putting in the minimum effort that was required nothing more, nothing less. If there was a runner equally fast as him, he would have put in more effort. But, the point is when he is running, he is not concentrating on the act of running per se, but more on the peace of mind that tells him what he should do given the situation- he is using his intuition. That doesn’t come easy. It comes only by practice.
Appreciation for experience
Extending the same logic of practice rendering a place of calm for sportspersons, perhaps the same is true for doctors as well. Look back at the time when you felt extremely comfortable with a doctor whom you were seeing for the first time. The doctor’s demeanor tells you volumes about the doctor’s ease during diagnosis. The need for that comfort grows especially while seeking medical advice for major surgeries. No one wants to go to a new surgeon. A young looking surgeon is a big no but someone who is middle age perhaps combined with a good reputation of n number of surgeries, is our first step to encountering a medical situation in our lives. Why do we do that? Perhaps for the same reason. This person may have worked on multiple surgeries and hence the act is second nature. If some unexpected problem arises, this person is highly likely to know what to do. How is that? The answer is simple. Over time and repeated surgeries these great doctors have achieved that state of calm even in adverse situations, thus making it possible to follow intuition and perform life saving acts.
Repeatedly doing something can be boring but that’s what delivers on inner peace!
A form of meditation
Meditation generally is associated with sitting still in a quiet place, letting the mind free and over time train it to reach the calm sphere. In contrast the calm space that the sportsperson achieve after rigorous practice, happens in places that are rarely quiet and there is a lot of implications, more than sufficient to distract the mind. However, that rarely happens in the case of exemplary sportspersons as well as exceptional leaders and doctors this world has ever seen.
For those of us who don’t lead lives filled with as much rigor as theirs the only way perhaps is to find a way to cut off unnecessary noises that happen in our minds, taking us away from that calm place where intuition shows us the way. Taking inspiration from the Dalai Lama Cat series by David Michie, a starting point perhaps is to take a deep breath and try listening to the inner voice.
It is not something that can be turned on with a switch. It needs to be done several times to experience that quiet. I wouldn’t say I have achieved it. I did try meditating. It was wonderful until laziness took over. Been trying since. Perhaps, the new year will bring in much needed discipline in my life:)
That calm space in the mind gives patience to wait
Athletes, leaders, doctors…feel free to add more people on to that list, what is that one thing that’s common between them? In my opinion, none of them became who they are overnight. Every biography would trace their lives over years, may be even decades. Their lives would be ridden with ups and downs but the one thing that is sure to be constant is practice- repetition. Each time they did what they did, they were moving one step closer to the goal which might have been near or very far off. Hard to tell.
How badly you want something and how long are you prepared to wait?
Success stories simply summarize a series of events leading up to success making it sound so easy and so short term. While as readers we can read and absorb what kind of hardships came along in the way, it is impossible for us to experience every single bit of it. Few tell you how hard it is to wait even after working hard and doing something repeatedly over years. No one writes during the journey and perhaps even if they do no one reads it. “Excuse me who is this person telling me about her struggles and problems? I am not interested in someone’s problems but I am more interested in knowing how they solved those problems.” That’s why success stories are noticeable and even inspiring to read.
For me, all that inspiration is short lived. I go back to the grind and wonder when will I reach my destination. My mind wanders. May be I should take a different path? May be my goal is all wrong? I take a break, close my eyes. After awhile, I get back to the grind refreshed because my heart wants to continue. That break helps me clear my mind and helps me focus on that inner peace in my mind that tells me to work strategically towards my goal. Sometimes I find perspectives that I am unable to see when my eyes are open. Those little breaks helped me think deeper in to the other person’s situation and in the process put myself in the other person’s shoes. I realized that the way to turn things around is figure out an alternate way to make my efforts to bear fruit.