It’s one year since I wrote the post called Learning from Wimbledon. Andy Murray had just lost an emotionally charged final to Roger Federer. His tearful speech in front of a packed Centre Court and millions more on TV was hard to watch. But, despite the despair and pain that he (and his followers) felt, it was clear that something had changed. His raw talent was clearly good enough to win the major prizes. His tactical awareness was not in question. His physical fitness had been transformed such that no-one in the game worked harder to ensure they were able to go the distance. The final piece of the jigsaw for Andy was conquering his Inner Game. For years his temperament had been called into question. He cracked at the big moments. The pressure placed on him by the British media and public, hungry for a British Wimbledon men’s champion, was becoming unbearable. If Andy was to succeed, it was going to be a victory inside his own head that would secure the breakthrough.
The Inner Game is played out completely inside the brain. To succeed in the Inner Game one must quieten the ‘voice’ in the head that judges, criticises and worries. It can act in many subtle (and not so subtle) ways, but basically it does one of two things. It either causes us to dwell on and regret past events (e.g. a poorly executed drop shot at the end of the last rally that cost you the game), or it worries about and raises anxiety levels about future events (e.g. if I don’t win my next service game, my opponent will be serving for the match). Neither of these thought processes are useful or conducive to delivering your peak performance. To perform at your best, you need to be operating neither in the past nor in the future, but with total concentration on the present.
Attention is the answer to most things. It seems to have been a common theme that I just keep coming back to. My PhD studies were essentially about attention. I studied the effects of attention and predictive accuracy. Basically, when things were less predictable, subjects attend more to try to work out what is going on so that they can reduce the level of uncertainty they are experiencing. Now, in business and leadership development, I promote the significance of attention in focusing on the ‘real work’, the issue that needs to be tackled in order to change things.
Now, this week, I was reading through some of the research work being done by my daughter Beth. She studies Sports Psychology (like father like daughter!) and is working on models such as conscious process hypothesis (CPH) and attentional threshold hypothesis (ATH). What I can ascertain is that when people focus in on aspects of a complex task (such as a golf swing, or a high jump technique), their performance can be impaired due to the fact that they have lost the ‘flow’ of the process. Better to think about things holistically than specifically. So, in golf, it is better to think swing easy, or relax, rather than on specifics like straighten your arm, snap your wrist etc.
I am running my first marathon in 2 weeks time. This is really timely assistance to me. I will try to avoid thinking about my knee, my ankle, my calf, my heart, my lungs or any individual piece of my running action. Instead I will concentrate on the ‘Big Picture’. The achievement, the atmosphere, feeling good, the reward at the end and so on. Bring it on !!!!