Updated: Mar 19, 2020
In the stands or on the ice?
Fan or PLAYER?
Reacting or ACTIVATING?
FAN or PLAYER?
Mentally, the hardest game that I have ever had to play was not in Philadelphia during the late 70's (although that was difficult), or in Boston, or in Quebec City during the 80's. No, the hardest games to prepare for was in the NHL playoffs, during a best of 7 series when your team was down 3 games to 1.
The odds of coming back (not good) and winning 3 straight games when your team is this far behind in the series does something to your mind. Looking back, my mind started to play mean tricks on my thinking, with thoughts like: "Well, I have had a pretty good season if it did end tonight," would pop into my mind. Even crazy, non-productive future positive thoughts like: "It would be nice to spend more time with my family" and "the weather is getting better" came out of nowhere. It's hard to prepare to win a game when your mind is already focussed on losing!
And this is exactly what this Covid-19 virus situation is doing; it has most of us playing...defence.
Have you noticed that your brilliant mind doesn't like uncertain times?
As I look back, I realize that preparing to play game 5, when my team was down 3 games to 1, was so difficult because my mind was playing the "outcome-odds," instead of preparing to play the game in front of me. The solution was to play one hard shift, make it my best, and then one more hard shift. In my world of professional sport, this is what we call "mental toughness."
As my mind was trying to hijack my thinking, my preparation, I learned over time to react less and to lead more. Leadership is about influence. Leaders influence their mindset (choose their thinking) instead of reacting to multiple news cycles. Thoughts that simply appear in our minds are not ours until we accept them. Over my 15 NHL seasons, I learned how to focus my thinking towards what I wanted (preparing to win) vs reacting to my thought processes that were often influenced by uncontrollable outside influencers.
In pro sport you always try to play the odds and find ways to place them in your favour. All your team can do is get their very best game on the ice, and many nights that is enough to generate a win. Here's what we would say to each other in the Capitals', Canadiens' and Canucks' dressing rooms before the game: "Come on boys, let's not beat ourselves tonight!"
Playing to win is much different than playing to not lose! When your mind is uncertain, it's stuck "often hoping to not lose." And these are the times we find ourselves in, right now. Financial and health uncertainty tends to drive our thinking, and it should. However, once we have good information, it is important that we compartmentalize our worry, shift our mindset, and hunker down to play our best game.
Over many high-pressure seasons, I learned a three step process that allowed me to show up and play hard, independent of the external circumstances. I will share this with you towards the end of this e-newsletter/blog.
Back on September 9, 2019, I read a Globe & Mail article that celebrated how Bianca Andreescu beat Serena Williams to become the first Canadian to win a grand slam singles title. Here is what Bianca Andreescu said about the difference that MINDSET (mental toughness) makes to winning:
[Before] “I would get very negative thoughts going through my mind.
I would smash racquets."
"She now practices meditation; she visualizes; she talks about breathing as if that’s a past time rather than a biological fact. She calls it 'working your mind.'”
'At this level everyone knows how to play tennis,' Ms. Andreescu says,
'The thing that separates the best from the rest is the mindset.'"
We like Bianca's language: “working your mind.” This concept: mental toughness or mental skills or working your mind is the key leadership skill to work on and develop, not only throughout life, but especially now during uncertain times.
So, during this time... let's go to "work on our minds!" Here is the 3 step process that allowed me to prepare to play my best under increasing NHL Playoff pressure.
1- Increase Awareness
Most of our non-conscious thinking just happens, a bunch of it without us even knowing. The mental skill of increasing awareness drives everything. Be more in tune with your emotions because those feelings will reveal your current thinking. Catch yourself, be more cognizant of your thought processes, especially your negative Defensive Zone focus.
Another idea that I utilize to increase awareness is to have action-gratitude-prompts. Prompts that combine actions can be a powerful way to increase awareness. Author BJ Fogg says that every time he has a tinkle he does at least two pushups. You may think that's a weird idea, but it makes the point and will stay in your mind. Instead, it might be: every time that I make or answer a call I will focus on something that I am thankful for. This helps me to be more positively aware. When I am thankful, I am less concerned. When I am prompted to be thankful, I am more aware of the concerned thoughts that are driving my thinking. In any case, increasing awareness of our thinking is the key. Nothing happens until we are aware!
2- Increase Short Shifts
Jenn and I worked with over 100 corporate clients last year and 80% of the training we did started with our 5 Mindset Model. Increasing awareness comes by developing language (we have built five new pieces of language to help you navigate your thinking), and language helps us, with awareness, to shift our thinking.
When I recognize that I am 100% focused on what we call Future Negative Thinking (I am going to go bankrupt because of this virus), I have the opportunity to shift. Without understanding what Future Negative Thinking is (not recognizing the language), it becomes harder to increase awareness and without awareness there is no shift! It is a circular problem.
The average NHL shift during a game is between 36 and 45 seconds in length. Better players get more shifts and, depending on the game situation, some shifts are longer than others. How each of these shifts is executed determines the wins and losses for each team, each period, each game, every season.
The hockey shift is a great metaphor to understand what successful people, world-wide, implement monthly, daily, hourly and moment by moment. They make positive changes in their thinking, one shift at a time. The coaching sessions that we are implementing will describe how you and your team can uncover, increase and apply this critical skill of shifting your focus. Our observation is that people with the highest quality of life, independent of relationships, family, money, health, success, or circumstances, do one thing more quickly and consistently than others … they focus their intentional thinking by increasing their Short Shifts!
During this time of uncertainty, we stay aware of our situation (we don't play with our heads down), then we compartmentalize our negative thinking by initiating the shift. As mentioned, gratitude helps us shift, focussing on Future Positive processes help us shift, and we have many more ideas to share with you. Quick, short shifts in hockey, and in your mind, increase your pace and focus your energy, two key ingredients to help us thrive during tough times.
3- Increase Action
Professional athletes are exactly the same as you... in fearful, worried, and anxious times our tendency is to catastrophize the situation, which paralyzes our next steps and slows down our ability to take action. Increasing awareness and increasing Short Shifts towards a more productive mindset releases us to increase action. As many of you know, science has proven that the opposite of this process works well also. If you are having trouble thinking it... start behaving it. If you don't think that you have courage, take a courageous action and you will prove to your non-conscious mind that you have courage. Purposeful, Future Positive, Process action is the gold standard during times of uncertainty.
If you sense that you are paralyzed (focussed on what might happen, instead of focussed on what you can make happen), then this is actually a good sign... you are starting to become aware. With this awareness you can increase your Short Shifts, and as you shift your mindset, you can increase the actions that will help you win this game.
We don't win every game... but we can get our best game on the ice.
As we do this, I like our odds of beating this opponent.
“All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time.”
— John Kenneth Galbraith
Jenn and I have decided to increase our coaching clients during this uncertain time.
We will customize an online or over-the-phone process to increase your leadership team's effectiveness and answer questions including "how to keep your team energized" over the coming months.
Your team gets a new voice, and a new teammate to rely on, and for clients that desire, full access to me by phone, so I can coach your leaders through these hard times.
Call me directly at 604.996.4446 or contact me to discuss coaching options.
This short video below give you more information.