How many mindsets do you have?

Before we delve into today’s topic, ask yourself this question: how many mindsets do you have?

What I mean by mindset is how you handle a situation—how you approach, address, and attack a task at hand. For instance, an athlete typically frames a workout in terms of focus areas, levels of exertion, and desired outcomes. In an office setting, a person may perceive a business presentation in terms of similar aforementioned qualities.

Often, we have more than one mindset when it comes to a workout or a presentation. Athletes often have a mindset for practice and training, another for local competitions, and one for major competitions. This same-tiered approach can be applied to the workplace: a mindset for routine operations, a mindset for a presentation to a supervisor, and another one for a corporate presentation.

Each mindset is independent, encouraging us to train and focus our energy in a manner that differs from another related mindset, yet we expect the same outcome from each mindset in the end. We expect all of our multiple athletic mindsets to merge toward personal bests and podium wins. We expect that our approach to a routine presentation will be just as successful as the corporate presentation. But thinking this way sets us up for error and disappointment.

When you have your mind trained and focused in one way and expect it to magically process information differently in another setting, problems are almost guaranteed to arise.

For instance, most of our athletic careers are spent in practice and training. If we practice in a relaxed environment, we grow accustomed to that environment. Our focus may not be present, our energy may be low, and we may take for granted the multiple opportunities we have to re-attack misses and correct mistakes. We don’t necessarily learn from our failures because we’re in a state where we can always try again. And we may even take this mindset with us to low-key competitions where we may not place much merit in our abilities and fall back into a relaxed state of mind.

But this environment we create is uncontested, comfortable, and forgiving. It is not conducive to competition.

By maintaining a relaxed state in practice and even low-level events, we set ourselves up for disappointment at major competitions. Our focus is awry since we are out of the training ground and thrust into a competitive environment, which causes us to second-guess our abilities, our training, and our chances of victory. And any failures or anxieties we experience are explained away through a variety of excuses (e.g., “I was fatigued,” “My training was off,” “I’m just not having a good day”), all the while ignoring the exuberant differences between how we approach training and competition.

The relaxed mindset from practice leaves us woefully unprepared for the pace and drive of competition. We get one chance (vice multiple chances) to achieve a lift in competition. We have one opportunity to attain a personal best in an event—not two, three, or four. But we give ourselves an indefinite amount of resources in the form of time and attempts in practice, and we expect the same results on the competition ground.

Many of us do this. Many of us have multiple mindsets that we apply as appropriate within the gym and our workspaces. We view practice (or routine work) and competition (or major projects) as separate entities that require different approaches; however, we should consider tackling them in the same manner.

Note that mindsets are easy to form and resistant to change. Yet, with time and focus, we can become more efficient and better prepared, regardless of the working environment.

This is how you consolidate your various mindsets into one streamlined strategy:

  1. Start focusing on how you practice. Ask yourself if the way you practice is the same way you compete. Pick a friend and compete against them, then reflect on how you approached and tackled that situation. Was it fun or were you serious? Where was your mind? How did the event affect your athletic performance?
  2. Identify gaps in your practice. Search out the items you notice in competition that seem absent in practice sessions. Consider your breathing and heart rate—how do they differ between environments? How can you recreate the same sensation in practice as in competition? Also, consider allowing yourself to fail in practice to mimic competition (e.g., provide a cutoff time for attempts or allow only a handful of attempts). Then you can truly learn from those misses and return the next day fresh to attack.
  3. Develop a plan. Take the lessons learned from the previous steps and integrate those elements that need work into your training or competition plan in a slow and deliberate manner. (If you try to integrate change too fast, you’ll become overwhelmed and be less apt to maintain that plan.) If there is no urgency in your practice, take steps to increase the rate of exertion. Find what’s uncomfortable and embrace it. (Because growth happens in the uncomfortable.)

The old adage of “train like you fight” is something we should be embracing in our sport or even our workspaces. If we prepare for our proverbial wars—the competition field or the corporate presentation—in a manner that is exceedingly different than what we will encounter, then we are failing to prepare ourselves effectively.

Again, ask yourself how many mindsets you have in your sport, in your work, or in whatever field you wish to conquer. If the answer is more than one, work to merge your training and competitive approaches into a consolidated plan of attack.


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