Goals on goals on goals

Imagine you are at work or school. You have a bottle (plastic) of water. Throughout the day you consume the water and around 2:00 p.m. the bottle is empty. It’s time to dispose of the bottle. You walk down the hallway of the building you are in. The hallway is long. As far as you can see there are no recycling bins. You walk to the nearest trashcan and throw away the bottle. It’s likely you have favorable attitudes towards recycling (e.g., it’s good for the environment to recycle). It’s even more likely you do not have anti-recycling attitudes. Despite your attitude(s) towards recycling, you threw the bottle away. As a social scientist I find this an interesting phenomenon. Attitudes are not great predictors of behavior.
What is left unconsidered of the link between attitudes and behaviors in the above scenario creates barriers to behavior. In the above scenario there are barriers to disposing of the bottle in the “proper” (or, at least pro-attitudinal) way. As noted, when looking down the hallway you did not see a recycling bin. Perhaps there are no recycling bins in your building but there are recycling bins outside the building. Are you willing to walk outside the building to dispose of the bottle? Would you be less willing to if it was snowing outside? At any moment you have a series of competing goals. Some goals are simply more important than other goals. Perhaps the goal to stay out of the snow is more important now than properly disposing of the bottle.
I challenge each of you to begin to examine the decisions you make each day and the reasons you believe you made those decisions. Why didn’t you recycle the bottle? Why didn’t you go to the gym today? Understanding the hierarchy of your goals and how they are influencing your own decisions is an invaluable tool to the individual. When you become more aware of how your own mind works you can use your understanding to your own benefit. Perhaps you aren’t going to the gym because you have other more entertaining behaviors to engage in. What are the goals in this situation? Why is working out a less important goal than playing video games? Now that you have identified why video games are winning out over working out, can you reason with yourself that working out is more important? Can you tell yourself that being healthy is more important than copious entertainment?
When you start to understand how you are making decisions you can help yourself make better decisions. You can better engage in self-persuasion when you understand the hierarchy of your goals and begin to argue with yourself as to the positioning of the goals in the hierarchy. You get to decide what is and is not important. Examine the behaviors you are engaging in and be introspective. Ask yourself, why? Critically examine everything you do and determine if your rationale for engaging in those behaviors over others is sufficient given your long-term life-goals.
Guest Writer:
Nathan J. Lindsey

Failure and Defeat.

We tend to beat ourselves up unnecessarily when we reflect on what we wanted to accomplish and where we ended up. For instance, ten years ago, I had just finished my undergrad degree. I was ready to take on the world, and I wanted to work for the FBI or a government agency. But as time passed, I slowly saw that dream slipping away. The reality is, I am colorblind. No matter how hard I fought to get into a program, no matter who I knew, I could neither pass nor get a waiver for that god-forbidden test. It took me a while to admit I had no control over the situation because it meant defeat. That I had failed.  

 

Now, my undergraduate degree is practically useless. Some would call me a failure because I can’t use my degree in my field of study and failed to secure my dream job. And if I were to look at my life in these broad strokes, then, yes. One could say I failed myself.

 

But what if failure isn’t so bad?

 

Looking back on my situation and where life has taken me over the past ten years, that experience—failure included—has led me to my work today. Now, I’m in a profession I love, and it’s a path I wouldn’t have taken if I had pursued my initial goal. Granted, the first few years after realizing I wouldn’t achieve my original goal were rough, and I experienced multiple failures in finding my place in life, but I gained knowledge and experience through those situations.

 

We often don’t see the silver lining of failure because we are taught to view failure as inherently bad. (Think back to when you were in school. Failure meant you were wrong; there was no way around it.) And those who have experienced a situation similar to my own—i.e., those who have chased a dream and failed to achieve it—are especially prone to the toxic logic of failure as a negative state. These individuals find themselves in limbo—not knowing where to go, what to do, or how to handle the predicament. And perhaps these wayward souls move on to something else, but the negative perception lingers. This perception instills fear when other goals arise. It encourages one to develop excuses and/or fail-safes (maybe, what if, etc.) if things go awry. So the next time that person sees an opportunity, that person only goes half in—defaulting to escape thoughts and failing to grow.

 

Looking back at what should have been makes it easy for us to get caught up in the negative aspects of failure. Unfortunately, we focus too much on the negatives when there are great lessons—positive lessons—to learn from experiencing them. In my case, my failure became an opportunity. It allowed me to pursue a career that positively impacts others. I just had to change my perspective.  Maybe your own perceived failure is an opportunity to flourish elsewhere or is the stimulus you needed to review and revector your goals for future success.  Maybe all you need is a new Perspective?

 

We tend to overlook what we have gained from the past to the present day. We tend to hide our failures instead of pulling them apart and analyzing them—using them as a means to learn and grow. But failure can mean a change in direction, a new opportunity, or a renewal of passion if you let it. What matters is how you approach it.

 

In short, remember this: When you encounter failure, you can choose to linger on it or you can learn from it and thrive.

 

Be sure to check out my other BLOGS or sign up for a free Consultation.

 

Nathan.

 

Failure and Defeat.

We tend to beat ourselves up unnecessarily when we reflect on what we wanted to accomplish and where we ended up. For instance, ten years ago, I had just finished my undergrad degree. I was ready to take on the world, and I wanted to work for the FBI or a government agency. But as time passed, I slowly saw that dream slipping away. The reality is, I am colorblind. No matter how hard I fought to get into a program, no matter who I knew, I could neither pass nor get a waiver for that god-forbidden test. It took me a while to admit I had no control over the situation because it meant defeat. That I had failed.  

 

Now, my undergraduate degree is practically useless. Some would call me a failure because I can’t use my degree in my field of study and failed to secure my dream job. And if I were to look at my life in these broad strokes, then, yes. One could say I failed myself.

 

But what if failure isn’t so bad?

 

Looking back on my situation and where life has taken me over the past ten years, that experience—failure included—has led me to my work today. Now, I’m in a profession I love, and it’s a path I wouldn’t have taken if I had pursued my initial goal. Granted, the first few years after realizing I wouldn’t achieve my original goal were rough, and I experienced multiple failures in finding my place in life, but I gained knowledge and experience through those situations.

 

We often don’t see the silver lining of failure because we are taught to view failure as inherently bad. (Think back to when you were in school. Failure meant you were wrong; there was no way around it.) And those who have experienced a situation similar to my own—i.e., those who have chased a dream and failed to achieve it—are especially prone to the toxic logic of failure as a negative state. These individuals find themselves in limbo—not knowing where to go, what to do, or how to handle the predicament. And perhaps these wayward souls move on to something else, but the negative perception lingers. This perception instills fear when other goals arise. It encourages one to develop excuses and/or fail-safes (maybe, what if, etc.) if things go awry. So the next time that person sees an opportunity, that person only goes half in—defaulting to escape thoughts and failing to grow.

 

Looking back at what should have been makes it easy for us to get caught up in the negative aspects of failure. Unfortunately, we focus too much on the negatives when there are great lessons—positive lessons—to learn from experiencing them. In my case, my failure became an opportunity. It allowed me to pursue a career that positively impacts others. I just had to change my perspective.  Maybe your own perceived failure is an opportunity to flourish elsewhere or is the stimulus you needed to review and revector your goals for future success.  Maybe all you need is a new Perspective?

 

We tend to overlook what we have gained from the past to the present day. We tend to hide our failures instead of pulling them apart and analyzing them—using them as a means to learn and grow. But failure can mean a change in direction, a new opportunity, or a renewal of passion if you let it. What matters is how you approach it.

 

In short, remember this: When you encounter failure, you can choose to linger on it or you can learn from it and thrive.

 

Be sure to check out my other BLOGS or sign up for a free Consultation.

 

Nathan.

 

Motivation vs Habit

Being human, we don’t like stepping outside our comfort zone, and we dislike putting a large amount of effort into tasks, so we rely on motivation to drive us forward. We do this because accomplishing tasks seems easier when we have this inspirational force to help us along. Motivation enhances our confidence, focuses our attention, and makes the process seem effortless. And when things seem easy, we feel invincible.

 

The power of motivation can be attributed to chemical processes occurring in our brains in conjunction with biological, emotional, social, and cognitive forces. The outcome of this blend is a sense of pleasure and reward associated with a task, which gives us reason to pursue and accomplish it. (Science!)

 

We connect motivation with this fantastic feeling, and we expect this feeling to kick in the next time we’re faced with the same task. Unfortunately, motivation is a fickle thing. As we continue to do a task, the enthusiasm and desire cultivated by motivation tends to dissipate, leaving ourselves—devoid of that initial pleasure—to carry on alone.

 

The adage holds true that we are our own worst enemy. Without the support of motivation, we often allow doubt to set in. We begin to question our actions and motives. We ask ourselves why we’re bothering with a task, which is the most dangerous question of all. We can always find a way out when we should really be finding the way forward.

 

We may think we just need to kickstart the flow of enthusiasm, but breaking this monotonous cycle of seeking and wanting is less about chasing motivation and more about developing solid habits. Take blog writing as an example: If I were to wait for motivation to strike, these blogs would never be written. (And I hate to admit it, but I waited for motivation before writing this one).

 

Many people mention they want to take their education, athletic performance, or career to the next level, yet they wait for the right moment—for motivation—before acting. If you ask elite athletes or entrepreneurs, it wasn’t motivation that got them to where they are. It was their habits.

 

A habit is an ingrained behavior (accomplished voluntary or nearly involuntary), and it is the building block of success stories. You’ve probably seen clickbait that mentions famous CEO of company Y followed habit X or even clickbait that lists X number of habits you need to follow to be successful. But a word of caution: Many of these articles suggest habits that may be useful or appealing, but those habits may not apply to your goals or future plans. In addition, many of these articles fail to say how to implement the suggestions. So how do you create a new habit?

 

Let’s say you want to wake up earlier. Here’s how you can broach the topic:

 

Step 1: Ask yourself why you want to create the habit. Before you even consider making a habit, you need to have buy-in. Waking up is miserable, so you need to have a reason for creating the habit. Waking up early may mean having enough time in the day for educational pursuits, for the gym, or for projects that will lead to an ultimate goal. If the habit doesn’t have a purpose, it will be much more difficult to pursue and establish.

 

Step 2: Identify your barriers. Consider what obstacles are preventing you from developing a habit. Maybe it’s hitting the snooze button, or maybe it’s feeding negative thoughts (e.g., “I’m not good enough” or “I could never do that”). You have to identify the problem—i.e., the barrier—before you can find the answer.

 

Step 3: Replace the barriers. Once you know what’s preventing you from locking in the habit, you can find ways to circumvent and/or resolve the problem. Let’s use “feeding negative thoughts” from Step 2 (because I don’t know anyone who has a mind full of happy thoughts at 5am). Yes, waking up early sucks, but you can replace negativity by reorienting those thoughts toward the goal. For instance, remind yourself that you’re waking up early for extra gym time or to study for that promotion. Focus on the value of the habit and visualize the outcome—the benefits—that follow once the habit is in place.

 

Step 4: Stay the course. Continue with the new habit for a minimum of 28 days since this is how long it typically takes to form a new habit. (Yes, that means waking up early 28 days in a row.) Bye weekend snooze fests.

 

Step 5: Appreciate the process. While the first few days of beginning a new habit may seem painless, the initial enthusiasm may begin to wane. It’s easy to lose interest, considering we are a society conditioned for instant gratification, but don’t allow this feeling to derail you. When you feel like quitting, focus on what you’ve accomplished so far. Focus on those days where you did wake up early and what you managed to accomplish during that time. The reward for your patience and persistence will be immense.

 

Motivation can be inspirational and encouraging, but it’s rarely enough. You can wait for motivation to strike—you can be like everyone else and wait for the stars to align—or you can do something now.

 

Consider your goals and the habits required to accomplish them, get out of your comfort zone, and take your future into your hands. If you feel lost or overwhelmed, remember that there is help.  You can easily reach out and set up a free appointment with me at EmotionalMentalPerformance.com or at calendly.com/empcoaching.

Stick In The Mud.

When we begin a new experience—like piano lessons, a new career, or a new sport—we often approach the process with enthusiasm. It’s a new venture into something we want to do, and we’re motivated to work toward goals directed toward those experiences. We are willing to learn, take it slow, and accept (and apply) feedback. We also forgive ourselves if we make mistakes. But as we grow and develop an affinity for an experience, we are less forgiving. We become impatient and expect perfection, even when tackling new skills and concepts within that experience.

 

This unknown territory—the part of learning when we move from novice to regular—is often where we lose faith and no longer enjoy the process in which we learn, adapt, and even care. This is also the point where we believe we know the best way to grow. We’ve reached this far using a certain approach, and deviating from that plan introduces change. But humans are creatures of habit. Change is not a welcome concept; it is something we fear.

 

Resistant to change, we find ourselves caught in a vicious circle, one in which slow or lacking progress leads to burnout. The experience we used to enjoy becomes a source of frustration, and we either continue to fight through the frustration or give up entirely.

 

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

 

What piece of advice or recommendation has a coach or an athlete you trust offered you, but you didn’t try it because it was different than your own approach? Or do you have a specific belief or perspective that prevents you from making a change (e.g., “I have to lift on this platform/use this method/follow this pattern to be successful”)? Take the risk to make a change and assess how that change affects your progress. It’s easy to be complacent. It’s difficult to try something different, but the rewards will outweigh the fear.

 

If you feel like you’re caught in a circle of lackluster progress and frustration but can’t seem to break free, reach out. Ask for help. Feel free to contact us, and we can help you in breaking through the barriers blocking your progress. And if you’re unsure, that’s okay, but consider this: progress is based on your willingness to change your perspective. If you’re unwilling to bend, then your road will be much harder and more difficult than necessary.

 

The Cost of Change

Paying for mental health or life coaching services can be one of the greatest investments you make. It can also be the greatest waste of your money. The difference depends on your willingness to change.
I have had clients reach out for my services and discuss how they want to change, yet when it came time for them to act upon those desires, they put zero work into the process. They expected me to do the work for them and then became bitter when they didn’t achieve the results they wanted. But that’s the problem: they didn’t achieve the results. They showed up and expected change to happen when they made no effort to change.
This mindset isn’t just specific to mental health counseling and life coaching; it also exists in workout programs and in professional life. People pay for programs with hopes to become better, and many put in the bare minimum and expect to see results. But just because you showed up to practice and skated by doesn’t mean results magically happen.
The amount of effort you put in directly impacts the results you achieve.
You may understand this equation, but do you really comprehend it? Let’s make sure, starting with this statement: Just because you paid for results does not mean you are owed results. We—as coaches, therapist, and doctors—will help guide you to the results you paid for, but we can’t do the work for you. We don’t see or know what you’re doing outside of sessions, which is where the real change—the real conquests—occur. During sessions, we are limited in helping you by the amount of motivation you have to change as well as what you do outside of the session to drive that change forward.
All this being said, you need to ask yourself the following questions before reaching out for coaching services (which can be done here.):
  • How bad do you want to change?
  • What are you willing to sacrifice to achieve your goals?
  • Who may be hurt if you make a change? (And how does that affect your desire?)
Fact: It is easy to say that you want to change, but acting on that desire is a different element altogether. If intent is not met with action, we—coaches, therapists, and doctors—are at a disadvantage. We will try to help you where we can, but we won’t be able to deliver without your buy-in. And if you aren’t invested, you’ll likely continue to move from one coach to another, seeking the secret of success, experiencing failure at each turn, and burning bridges in the process. Or maybe you quit altogether.
If you’re caught in this cycle, you need to reassess what you want, why you want it, and what you’re willing to do to achieve it. Once you ask yourself these questions and commit to the actions required to achieve your goals, life will start to change. If you put in the work, we can help drive you to those goals, help you find greater meaning in your actions, and help direct your perspective. And while we cannot guarantee that the process will be seamless and effortless, we can guarantee that you will reap what you put into the program. All you need to do is ask.
Change is difficult, but it can be immensely rewarding. And while we can help move you toward the change you wish to see, it is up to you to put in the work. Too often we find ourselves blaming someone else for our problems, but you’re the only variable causing change in your life.
So what are you going to do about it?
Find more at EmotionalMentalPerformance.com

The Importance of Getting Away: A Perspective on Perfectionism and Burnout

I recently read of a Japanese journalist who literally worked herself to death. At 31, the journalist died due to heart failure after a month that involved 159 hours of overtime (in addition to her normal hours) and only two days off (read the story here).
Many of us feel the need to push to the limits of our biology, to continually ask more of ourselves, but this drive can add unnecessary stress and fatigue to our lives. And instead of stepping back, we continue to add to our responsibilities. For instance, we may add more to our sports training schedule or assume more work-related tasks. Often, we do this to the degree that our only focus is getting it done, which leads to burnout.
I recently found myself in this unfortunate position. As I search for ways to grow my business, I am simultaneously trying to raise a healthy toddler, work another full-time job, be a great husband, and find time to work out. In addition, I often try to do all of these things with 100% effort, 100% of the time. In striving for perfection across all fields, I noticed certain qualities were sacrificed and discarded and unnecessary. While I was still able give my patients the best care and service, I was physically and mentally exhausted. I lacked motivation to write blogs and expand my business. I was stagnating, which (according to any Business 101 course) is a career killer. With the tip of burn out leading into my family life, I feared the consequences if I continued down this path.
I ended up taking myself out of the world for a while. I hiked the foothills trails in South Carolina for several days and then moved on to hike parts of the Appalachian trail. In nature, away from the distractions of work, I realized I was burned out. Granted, I knew the signs and what to expect, but I didn’t take the time to care for myself. I was too concerned with the expectations of others that I never assessed how my routine was affecting me.
When I returned from my hikes, I realized I needed to change. I needed to assess how I could manage the varying demands of my routine and make time for myself. So, how am I changing? It’s a difficult question we need to ask ourselves. When we sacrifice so much for those around us, what are we willing to sacrifice of ourselves? And how can we find balance? For myself, I realized I needed to stop being obsessed with perfection. Perfection causes me to shut down and avoid my responsibilities because I’m so afraid of getting it wrong. Take this blog, for example. I avoided writing a post until I found the perfect topic, which took three weeks. Similarly, I experience the same paralysis in advertising and outreach: if it’s not perfect, I avoid it or put it off.
I realize that I have to prove to myself that perfectionism and expecting more from people (specifically, those unwilling to put in effort) is unattainable, especially if I want to focus on my business and my personal needs. This realization required me to change my business model. I’ve reassessed my priorities. I’m focusing on what made me want to get involved in my field in the first place: helping others achieve that ah-hah! moment, making them see that, no matter their level of expertise, I can help them achieve their goals. Part of this requires that I differentiate between the clients who are willing to listen and those that aren’t. My services are designed to support those who seek and strive for results, and I got lost along the way trying to please everyone and force the unwitting ones to change.
What I learned in several miles of hiking and camping boils down to this: What are your needs to move forward? And what can you do to less your stress and drive toward happiness and success?

Forgetting Stress

Everyone views and manages stress in their own unique way. One person may view stress as missing a bus; another may define stress as not one but the accumulation of several events. Some of us conquer these obstacles with ease, whereas others crumble amid adversity. But despite the variance between our views and methods, there are two common factors that we must consider when facing stress: mind wandering and cortisol.

 

Mind wandering is when one’s thoughts shift away from a current task to another topic, and it most often involves personal goals or concerns. While we are prone to mind wandering in some form or another (e.g., zoning out while driving), it is one of the worst things an athlete can do while experiencing adversity in the gym.

 

When dealing with a stressful situation, mind wandering offers us the opportunity to escape our current predicament; however, it does so at the expense of task completion and performance. It takes us out of the present and focuses our attention to past or future events. As previously mentioned (see “The Three Things You Should Be Doing at the Gym” – published 21 August 2017), failing to ground ourselves in the present allows for negativity and doubt to creep in—especially since we cannot control anything outside of the present. The more we find ourselves focused on what was or what could be, the more likely we will experience heightened anxiety, leading to reduced performance in high-pressure situations and cognitive tasks (Beilock, 2008).

 

In addition to mind wandering, cortisol also poses a threat to our performance if not managed correctly. Biologically speaking, our adrenal glands release cortisol in response to stress as part of the body’s “fight or flight” mechanism; however, this reaction not only impair

our memory but also increases our propensity to distraction and mind wandering (Elzinga & Roelofs, 2005). This situation has the potential to lock us into a dangerous cycle: stress leads to heightened cortisol levels, which lead to a loss of control, which increases anxiety and—therefore—exacerbates our stress.

 

Once our level of stress reaches a peak, our working memory, which is responsible for decision making and controlling our attention, will shut down to defend against stress-related impairments. In essence, our working memory does the only thing it can to enact a semblance of control amid despair: it allows our mind to wander. This process refocuses our attention and energy elsewhere, it is only a temporary solution. It is worth noting that decreased performance is not always the result of this reaction, but the combination of increased cortisol levels, anxiety, and stress detract from our end goal: success.

 

Stress (and cortisol) in manageable doses can be a performance enhancer, specifically in terms of building resiliency; however, taken to an extreme, stress and its associates (i.e., mind wandering and cortisol) have the potential to severely degrade our performance, our experience, and our attitude.

 

So how do we address stress?

Identifying and controlling stress outright may not be feasible since it typically involves a combination of factors, and the same issues apply to managing cortisol levels. But let’s focus on what we can control: mind wandering.

 

The inability to concentrate on a task or stay grounded in a moment—inadvertently moving toward past or future thoughts—is indicative of mind wandering. Upon realization of the activity, we first need to consider our mental status: What is our current level of anxiety and how is that level affecting our thoughts? Where is our attention focused? Why are we thinking these thoughts? Do we feel stressed, distracted, or pulled away from the present?

 

Resolving these questions may help reveal the cause of our mind wandering. For instance, an athlete engaged in a particularly difficult training session may be more fixated on what is happening later in the day than a current task. This lack of presence may create frustration with the training session or anxiety when developing future tasksl. However, the lack of focus increases opportunities for error, which contributes to decreased performance and increased stress—feeding the vicious cycle.

 

In addition to identifying the act of mind wandering, we need to develop a process for pulling ourselves back into the present. This process requires us to consider what is in our control and to believe that we can control the situation. In the example above, the athlete could search for  lessons or positives associated with the training. A frustration caused by improper technique may mean the athlete should spend the session working a basic element to refine technique, letting other frustration go. Something the athlete can control, learn from, and view positively. In this manner, the athlete’s attention reverts from a focus on external factors to internal, allowing them to control present state.

 

Stress is not something we can avoid or try to bury. We all fall prey to mind wandering, anxiety, and even degraded mental states; however, dealing with stress is less about avoidance and more about developing effective approaches to handle it. Specifically, if we can identify the present stressors and redirect ourselves before stress becomes unmanageable, we can use that stress as a performance enhancer.  

 

References:

Banks, J. B., Tartar, J. L., & Tamayo, B. A. (2015). Examining factors involved in stress-related working memory impairments: Independent or conditional effects? Emotion, 15(6), 827–836. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/emo0000096

 

Beilock, S. L. (2008). Math performance in stressful situations. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 17, 339–343. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8721.2008.00602.x

 

Elzinga, B. M., & Roelofs, K. (2005). Cortisol-induced impairments of working memory require acute sympathetic activation. Behavioral Neuroscience, 119, 98–103. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0735-7044.119.1.98

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.