The best performers in any competition continually upgrade their knowledge and technique to stay ahead. A small percentage of them also train their mental skills through procedures discussed in this column such as imagery, positive self-talk, and goal setting. Knowledge, skill, and mental tools are wasted, however, without three more important, but often unseen, factors. These are organization, discipline and effort. Organization and discipline provide the structure needed to realize strengths, and effort is the thrust that makes it happen. Let's make sure we are not losing an unseen advantage by neglecting one of these important areas.
Organization is the result of forming crystal clear goals, and then ordering our lives in a way most conducive to achieving these goals. Tennis player who pack their bags on the night before a big match eliminate a major distraction and worry the next day. No need to pack in the morning, and time and energy to focus on more important matters! Arriving to the tournament site in advance also helps, as the player gains a home field advantage in a more familiar setting. There is nothing worse than showing up at the last minute, without adequate mental or physical preparation, and then hoping to perform your best! These principles apply in many other situations too. For example, executives planning and ordering their agendas in advance are freed to work on more substantive issues.
Having a good supporting cast (coach, trainer, sport psychologist) is very important at the highest levels in sport. While these resources are not available to everyone, dealing with problems on the fly leave people quite vulnerable to distractions. Successful performers organize a smart plan of attack, take care of seemingly insignificant details, and follow through on their plans in an organized manner.
In addition to being organized, there is another unseen advantage - discipline. Discipline involves acting in a consistent manner on a regular basis, despite situational changes or feelings. With discipline, the performer reduces distractions by attending to the right material at the right time. The junior tennis player who turns out the lights every night at 11 PM gains an advantage with regular sleep and energy. Proper eating habits are another form of discipline for an athlete. The key is to be disciplined about the right things for success. Although rarely glamorous or exciting, the habit of doing many small things consistently right is rewarded in performance. Marines in basic training are fully indoctrinated into the art of discipline, and they better be! Their survival depends on high performance, and discipline trains the mind and body to respond well to stress too.
The final unseen advantage is effort. Many performers have tremendous talent and organizational abilities, but never reach their potential because they lack the effort needed for success. Effort is a conscious application of energy in a given direction. It is the fuel that makes everything go. Even the latest model Ferrari won't go an inch without gasoline. Your performance will not work without effort. The key to developing the best effort is to make sure your fuel is pure. Pure fuel comes from intrinsic motivation, or feeling motivated from within.
Many parents and coaches (often with the greatest intentions) undermine intrinsic motivation by too closely aligning external rewards (money, rankings) with performance. Although it is good to strive for financial rewards in business and sports, and trophies look sharp on the shelves, these accumulations are never sufficient. Athletes with the greatest efforts (Jimmy Connors comes to mind) play because they simply love it. They would perform well even if there were no external rewards because they love what they do and are already internally rewarded. Playing tennis for a parent or a coach is only partially helpful. The best soldiers in history have been the ones defending their own homes, rather than greedy mercenaries padding their bank accounts. Similarly, the performer seeking excellence should discover the inner resources needed to excel, or never expect their highest performance possible.
People are usually quick to acknowledge physical talent and superior focus under pressure. Few acknowledge the great impact of the behind the scenes work involving organization, discipline and effort. Gather in these unseen advantages as fast as you can, and your opponent will walk off the court looking for a new pair of glasses! See you next month...