Updated: Mar 26
Activate your SHORT SHIFTS!
The great baseball pitcher Orel Hershiser was once asked how he pitched a near-perfect game in the World Series. Hershiser replied, “I concentrate on one pitch, and then after that, one more pitch.” Hershiser recognized that his success depended on breaking his performance into “bite-sized” pieces on which he could focus his mind. Hershiser articulated what we all have experienced, performance happens in the present moment and it is accelerated with a short-focus cadence.
During these difficult, challenging, changing times how has your concentration been? Have you found it hard to focus? Have you performed at your highest level?
Getting mentally hijacked through uncertain times feels like the new normal now, doesn’t it?
Uncertainty forces many of us into what we call Past Negative Thinking. (Let us know if you would like me to coach you in our 5 Mindset Model). For the rest of us, uncertainty tends to push us into Future Negative Thinking. Our Past Negative Thinking generates words that might sound like: “If only...” Future Negative sounds more like: “Will I have a job to go back to?” Uncertain times ratchet up negative thoughts that increase negative emotions… and so the cycle continues.
The hard work of Mental Toughness is to play more and stay more in the present.
A Stanford University study determined that 58 minutes out of every hour are spent focused on the past or the future. As Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan said, “Most of us are going 100 miles per hour down the road of life, with our eyes fixed on the rear-view mirror.”
Remember that a central component of higher performance during higher pressure times, is to stay present, in the moment, centred, and fully focused in the FLOW/ZONE. Why is this state of mind so important during these difficult days? One of the reasons, leaders, is because "YOUR PEOPLE EMULATE YOUR ENERGY!" During times of positive momentum, your people assume your attitude. During times of negative momentum, your people replicate your energy, your face, your body language. As you show up, they show up!
So how can we practice and develop this skill?
John Kehoe put it this way in his book Mind Power: “Your mind is a garden which can be cultivated or neglected, and you are the master gardener. You can cultivate this garden, or you can ignore it, and let it develop whatever way it will. But make no mistake—you reap the harvest of your work or your neglect.”
In our company training sessions, we use slightly different language. We call this skill "Shortening the Shift." Returning to the hockey metaphor (it's always all about hockey), every 60-minute hockey game can be divided up into shifts of play, each between 35 and 45 seconds long. Every shift either pulls the team towards victory or pushes the team towards defeat. Often on National Hockey League benches that I sat on, I would hear my teammates yelling out, “Short shifts boys; keep them short.” In our game short, hard shifts give players an advantage, increasing team energy and building positive momentum. The quality of the shift increases the opportunity to win! Short Shifts are the key to your win too!
Successful author and pastor Chuck Swindoll, in his Insights for Living radio series, asked us to “imagine that our minds are the bank and positive thoughts going into the bank are deposits. Unless we build positive deposits, we will never be in a position, when we need it, to have positive withdrawals.” Swindoll went on to make a significant point: “Don’t forget that the interest that we accrue on our positive deposits is joy!”
Negativity will always play a part in the games that we play. But if we allow negative thoughts to dominate our mindset, then we are foreshadowing what our harvest will be. The remedy to ongoing negativity is to Shorten the Shifts. As we become more aware of our negative thoughts and use that awareness as a trigger, we create an opportunity to shift our focus increasingly towards what we want to accomplish and where we want to go. This becomes a game-changer. By implementing these Short Shifts, we are giving ourselves a better chance to win!
Why is Short Shifts plural? This concept is not a one and done! Since the average person thinks between 17,000 and 60,000 thoughts per day, and up to 80% of these thoughts are negative, then do the math.
Developing our shifting skill is a two-way, ongoing process, much like breathing. We exhale poor thought habits and inhale successful ones. As we choose to shift out of negativity, it initially feels clumsy, but our long term success as a leader depends on our ability to develop this mental skill.
Former United States President Ronald Reagan loved telling the following story. Years ago in central California, a number of forest fires broke out simultaneously. A cameraman from a large daily newspaper was contacted by his editor and told to get to the local airport as soon as possible. “There will be a small plane waiting, and we need aerial photos of the biggest fire for tomorrow’s paper.” The cameraman hurried to the airport, eyed the closest plane with the engine running and hopped in.
After takeoff, the pilot turned to the cameraman and asked, “What should I do now?” The cameraman told him to head toward the largest fire. With an odd look on his face, the pilot asked, “Why would we want to do that?” The cameraman, now very confused, said, “I have to take photos of the fire. Didn’t the paper tell you?”
The young pilot’s voice began to crack. “You mean, you’re not the new flight instructor?”
For all of us, uncertainty has hit quickly, knocked the wind out of many of us, and created a new reality. A CEO client, who has become a friend, had to lay off 90% of his considerably large work force over the past two weeks. They are hoping to be able to restart soon, but there are no guarantees. Now that takes a bucket load of Short Shifts!
Times are not easy and our minds naturally want to dwell or ruminate on all that is wrong in the world. There will be more tough times coming. So here are some important questions to guide our thinking:
1. How can we learn from today’s experience? What can we apply to our development as a leader?
2. How will choosing to thrive through these times help us develop the mental skills needed to conquer the next hard time?
3. Could catching ourselves (being more aware) dwelling in negativity this week, become the key trigger to increase our Short shifts?
Legendary baseball player and manager Yogi Berra famously said: “Baseball is 90% mental and the other half is physical.”
In other words, Short Shifts are the key to winning, right Yogi?
If you would like me to train/coach you or your team in these critical leadership skills, call me directly at 604.996.4446 or contact me to discuss coaching options.
Many of the stories in this article came from our first book:
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