How to be a winner
What gives one man the winning edge over another of equal – even greater – talent? It’s all about winning the mind game and the same lessons apply whether you’re on a sports field or in the boardroom. Here’s how…
What makes one man successful over another man? Particularly when the two men have equal levels of the relevant talent or skill? It comes down to the mind game, says Kris Morton of Gazing Arabia, a human performance management company.
The winner on the sports field or in the board room is the man who does not lose his head under pressure and stress, says Morton, someone who can recognise and process his emotions.
Easily said but how can someone master mind control? Even the world’s best athletes can succumb to the intense pressure-cooker stress of a championship final. Like Mike Tyson who, in the heat of the moment, ruined his life and career comeback in a ‘red mist rage’ moment that saw him bite Evander Holyfield’s ear. Or when Michael Schumacher almost killed himself and Damon Hill on the Formula 1 track as Hill went to overtake him and potentially take the championship. Then there was the ongoing All Blacks World Cup choking curse… finally broken in 2011 but not without a great deal of effort. Morton should know; the All Blacks team hired his company to train them in mental strength to overcome the ‘choke’ curse. It paid off. That final game against France was probably the worst show of rugby from the All Blacks throughout the whole tournament but still they won and this came down to their dogged, steely-focused, ‘never say die, just grind out the basics and keep a cool head’ mental attitude. Such mental strength under such extreme pressure doesn’t happen by chance, you need to train yourself in this, says Morton.
THE QUIET MIND
When it comes to success, what separates two people of equal talent, or two sportspeople of equal physical strength, is the mind game – knowing how to quiet the brain chatter that stops you performing, says Morton
“When you’re executing a gold shot on the final green on the final day of the tournament, your mind is either going back and forth with negative and positive self talk or there is complete trust. The back and forth self talk is, ‘oh heck, I missed one of these the other day… no, come on you can do it, you know what you’re doing…’ but if you have complete trust in the process based on countless hours of practice, you’re in that space of intuition, trust and quiet mind that allows you to execute under pressure as opposed to the guy who’s trying to talk himself into it or talk himself out of it.” Morton says.
“In a sportsperson, the effect of the mind on the body is much more obvious. For example, in putting it’s called the Yips when the golfer can’t control the putter head. You’ll either see the putter shaking or he’s got a stiff elbow so he can’t naturalise the movement, it becomes mechanical or jittery. The impact of stress is clear and immediate but it works in a similar way in business.
“If you look at people like Tiger Woods, certainly for the majority of his career, what differentiates him from the rest of his field is not so much having more talent or a better swing, but his mental strength. His ability to perform under pressure, trust his intuition and shut out the distractions to focus on the execution. His ability to do that has meant that he can make more of his talent that most of his competitors.”
ALPHA BRAINWAVE MALES
It’s all about brainwave patterns, says Morton. As we’re going about our day, our brains are active and in beta wave state. This refers to the frequency range of human brain activity between 12 and 30 hertz per second, in other words 12 to 30 cycles per second. Compare this to delta brain wave, which the brain is in during deep sleep or coma where it’s cycling at zero to four hertz per second.
“Beta is where most of us are, most of the time while we’re awake,” Morton says, “but if you’re a high performance sportsman on that final putt, you want to be in the alpha state, one level below beta at eight to 12 hertz per second. When your brain is in alpha, your mind is quiet.
“It’s like when you first learn to drive a car and you’re concentrating hard and thinking, ‘ok, now I have to signal, now I have to look in the side mirror…’ but when you’ve driven for years, you don’t need to think about it, you rely on your intuition so you can free up your mind and think about other things on your drive, you can be in that intuitive alpha state and other perceptive doorways open up.
“What’s misleading for a lot of people is the belief it’s all about trying really hard. Yes, you must put in the effort and the hard yards and the training but when it comes to executing in the moment, you can try too hard.”
At the crucial moment, you need to be in the zone or flow, says Morton. However, in order to execute something automatically in a flowing way, you need to have it repeated it countless times to carve those neural pathways deep into the brain.
STRESS AND PERFORMANCE
The biggest killer of a man’s presence of mind, says Morton, is stress. Men’s brains are not genetically wired up to deal well with the long, ongoing levels of stress that modern life can bring. Their hunter-gatherer cavemen brains are more suited to short, sharp bursts of the ‘oh no, a dinosaur is chasing me’ variety aka the ‘fight or flight’ stress response. From an evolutionary perspective, there was a good reason for this, says Morton.
“If you electromagnetically scan a man’s brain and a woman’s brain, the piece in the middle that joins the right and the left hemispheres is much larger and more lit up, more active on a female.
In men, the left hemisphere tends to be more dominant and that’s where you’ve got analysis and pure language. The right brain is more to do with pattern, perception, perspective and language from an emotional perspective. That’s where your emotional centres are; your amygdalas. One of the reasons women appear better at communication and talking about their emotions is because the left brain deals with language and the right brain deals with emotions. A woman can link those two, tap into her emotions, process them and understand them in a logical way using language in her left brain.
Men find that more difficult and we think it’s down to our evolutionary path. When a man’s going out hunting and his life is in danger, his emotions are going to be ones like fear and desperation. What he needs to be able to do is cut those off, focus on analysing the situation and be task orientated.”
The modern man though needs to be able to process their emotions, says Morton. “It’s not about denying your feelings because that just builds up,” Morton says. “It’s about recognising them, acknowledging them then letting them go so you can get back to focusing on the task at hand.
“I think most men, when they’re being honest and taking their CEO armour off, would admit they don’t process emotions well. With men you get more of a biological response, this aggressive, ape behaviour. Anger is a very easy emotion to understand and process, it doesn’t make us feel vulnerable. Although what’s behind anger is usually a very vulnerable emotion, someone’s said something that’s made me feel like I’m not good enough, or not worthy and all this goes back to childhood conditioning.”
Part of the problem, says Morton, is that most men don’t even realise they’re not coping with stress. This is due to the ‘normalisation’ of ongoing, low grade stress that’s often part and parcel of modern life but the results eventually manifest as physical issues.
“An ongoing stressful work situation will impact your physiology. Your energy, clarity and posture will suffer, your heartbeat will raise, your digestive system won’t function properly, you’ll suffer insomnia and so on.
“If you look at the proliferation of chronic fatigue, of bowel and digestive illnesses, Crohn’s disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, high blood pressure… these things are often the result of a mentally stressful lifestyle.”
So the million dollar question is, how can a man best deal with stress that is impacting his performance? The answer is loads of things but is there an all encompassing, integrated solution? No. One size does not fit all. While one man might be open to ‘touchy feely’ practices like meditation or psychoanalysis to talk through childhood traumas, other men shudder at the thought and prefer behavioural modification techniques. Others might find daily exercise helps.
“Meditation is a great thing to do. For someone like me who can find it hard to switch off, I find meditation great for getting into those alpha and theta brainwave states. The question is, how do you integrate that into your daily life? Yeah, I can meditate every day and feel calmer but when I’m back in my office, or on the sports field, but how do I integrate that into my job?”
It’s about focusing on the process and the bigger picture – not focusing on the outcome, says Morton.
“By focusing more on the process and being better at what you’re trying to do, rather than being overly fixated on the outcome. Instead of ‘how much money did I make?’ the focus is ‘how can we serve our customers better, or make better products this year, or engage our employees better this year?”
“That, I would suggest, is going to lead to higher performance than being overly focused on outcomes that we can’t always control. What we can control is the input, the things that we do to get there. Higher performers have much more focus on the things they can control, the processes, the skills, the behaviours, the mindsets, the feelings... Those people who have equal talent but are more stressed and very outcome focused are less successful than those who process their emotions and enjoy the journey, not just the destination.
“A good question for a man to ask himself is, ‘am I enjoying the journey?’ if the answer is no, something needs to change.”
Gazing Arabia is part of Gazing Performance International, a business that works with clients worldwide to deliver sustainable improvements in performance.