I recently had lunch with Ben Malcolmson who serves as the assistant to Pete Carroll, head coach of the Seattle Seahawks. We met on Sunday afternoon before the Seahawks were to play on Monday Night Football.
I’d read Coach Carroll’s book Win Forever (a terrific read for any leader) and so knew a little about his coaching strategy and how he encourages his teams to simply believe they are going to win at everything they do. Then Ben said something I thought was interesting. He said that at the NFL level, all the athletes are world class. He said there really aren’t that many stand-out athletes who are better than any others. He said what it really takes to make it in the league, then, is the mental game and what you’re carrying around inside (he said this pointing to his heart.)
That statement hit me because I think it’s true of a lot of us. The truth is, you are likely very skilled in business, in parenting, in writing or in any other career of choice. And chances are what separates you and me from the greats is more than just skill. What separates us is how we respond emotionally and mentally to challenges.
I’m not the best writer in the world, but there are plenty of writers at my level who are producing much more work. Why? They’re better at the mental game. They’re better at getting up every day and doing the work. They’ve beat their demons, or at least they’re better at fighting them.
Here are 3 things I’m trying to get better at in the mental game. Feel free to join me.
- 1. We can’t let a setback define us. Can you imagine if Russell Wilson of the Seahawks let one failed pass or a sack define him? He’d be out of the league by the end of the year. Instead, mental strength involves getting up after a setback (quickly) and trying again, learning from what just happened but shrugging off any of its negative effects.
2. Only control what we can control. We hear coaches say this all the time when they’re asked about the performance of other teams. Even though a loss in their division may affect them, that’s nothing they can control. The only thing they need to focus on is the next play, the next game, the next important decision. It’s a string of great decisions that makes a great career, not wishful thinking about what somebody else does or doesn’t do.
3. Treat a victory the same as a loss. I remember taking a tennis class back in college when my coach came over and criticized me for losing focus every time I made a good shot. I’d kind of celebrate in my mind and my opponent would often take advantage of my mental lapse and hit the very next ball by me. What I learned was, good shot or bad, to stay in my routine. In life, this means whether we have a successful blog post, book, sales call or whatever, we shouldn’t let it affect our routine or our rhythm.
In the end, the people who really succeed are those who master the mental game. For me, the mental game means getting up each day and doing great work, regardless of the outcomes, setbacks or successes.
What other paradigm shifts have you encountered that have helped you do better work and live a better life? Please share.