Fail Big, Fail Fast, Fail Often!

In the week of the 2015 US Masters golf championship, many eyes are on Rory McIlroy. In 2011, an even younger McIlroy was on the verge of making golfing history. He carried a 4-shot lead into the final round, having played sublime golf for the first three days of the championship. However, on his final round he shot the worst round in history by any professional golfer leading after the 3rd round of the Masters. Not the piece of history he was after. Rory suffered what can only be described as a ‘meltdown’ in the unforgiving glare of the TV cameras and the golfing world.

Some pundits questioned his bottle, his psyche, his temperament, and his ‘big game’ mentality. Some said, “history shows that players who cough up big leads in big tournaments often don’t get another chance, their psyches permanently shattered by thoughts of what might have been.” (TwinCities.com

But, McIlroy went on to win 4 majors in the next three years, starting with the U.S.Open championship, just a few short months after his Augusta meltdown. He achieved his victory in some style too, setting a new championship record and becoming the youngest winner since 1923.
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How close are you to your ‘A’ game?

I was intrigued by something that Rory McIlroy said recently in an  interview following his widely-reported ‘early exit’ from the Honda Golf Classic in Florida.  Clearly he has been going through a troubled time, with speculation bouncing between whether it is down to his new clubs deal, his relationship with tennis star Caroline Wozniaki, or, as he claimed in Florida, a troublesome wisdom tooth.

source: sports.yahoo.com/blogs/golf-devil-ball-golf

source: sports.yahoo.com/blogs/golf-devil-ball-golf

He summed up how he feels when he is off his game in very simple terms.  “I always think when I’m playing bad that it’s further away than it is.” (meaning his best game). I sense this is true for many of us, in all walks of life.  Rory went on to say “….If I have a bad round, it’s sort of like the end of the world.”   This ‘catastrophizing’  form of thinking, is, I am sure, familiar to many of us. When some aspect of our life (not always one that is most critical) is not working as well as we’d like, it can become magnified and generalised, to the extent that it contaminates our thinking and self-perception of other aspects of what we do and who we are.   Continue reading

Are you in Control? Time to let go.

Imagine yourself riding a motorcycle in a high-speed race. You are at full throttle going round the final bend. Only a delicate balance between gravity and centrifugal forces are preventing you from flying off the track. At that moment, are you in control of your bike, or are you out of control? The answer is you are ‘right on the edge’. Too much ‘in control’ and you probably aren’t taking enough risk, and are unlikely to win the race. Too much ‘out of control’ and the likelihood is you are in for a very painful crash.

In your life, are you in control or out of control? Or, have you found the right balance – not just for you, but for your teams, your colleagues, and for your organisation? Are you pushing the limits constantly, in order to win the race, and, as a result, are you in danger of spinning out of control? Or, are you driving a safe race, within the pack, within your comfort zone, making sure you finish, but never in danger of winning? What about the people you see around you? Do you recognise the cruisers and the risk takers?

The reality of course is that Continue reading

Unassailable Leads. The Agony and the Ecstasy.

I’ve just witnessed yet another fascinating weekend of sport, and it never fails to throw up intriguing twists and turns whilst shining a light into the deepest recesses of the human psyche.  Watching people at the very top of their sport perform under the spotlight and scrutiny of millions, not to mention billions around the world on TV, reveals so much about what makes humans tick.

Two very different sports, golf and cycling, and two leaders with what most people considered to be unassailable leads in major events.  One went on to finish the job, while the other, sadly for him, suffered a ‘meltdown’ as he saw the finishing line in sight.   What can we learn from these two events, and what was going on for these two athletes at those crucial moments?

For those of you who were not glued to these events, here is a brief summary.

Adam Scott, an Australian golfer, led the The Open (sometimes know as the British Open), by a very comfortable margin on the final day’s play. If he were to defend his lead, it would be his first ever ‘Major’ triumph.  At one point he held a 6 shot lead, and no-one in the rest of the field was making any serious inroads into his lead. One or two players made the occasional threat, only to falter again at the next hole. Meanwhile, Scott played like the ice-man. He was focused, calm and very much playing ‘in the present’. He was not getting excited and was playing a very ‘safe’ game, staying out of all trouble. With 4 holes to go, he still had a 4 shot lead.  Up ahead of him Ernie Els, the popular and experienced South African with previous Major wins to his name, was quietly picking off the occasional birdie on the back 9 holes, but none of the experts, commentators or crowd, really foresaw what was about to happen.   Scott, who had barely put a foot wrong during the previous 4 days, bogied the last 4 holes.  Els, from nowhere, was The Open champion.  The crowd were stunned.

Photograph courtesy of Reuters 

At the same time, about 500 miles further south, history was being made in Paris. Bradley Wiggins, a British cyclist, became the first man from his country to ever win the famous Tour de France in its 99 years history. Wiggins had held the yellow (leaders) jersey from very early on in the 3 weeks long race, and his lead had been considered unassailable for the previous 4 or 5 days.  Only after the penultimate stage, when Wiggins reinforced his lead, did he allow himself the luxury of acknowledging that, barring a disaster, victory would be his in the Champs Elysees. But, he still had work to do on the final day, and his focus was on helping his team-mate, Mark Cavendish, to win the final stage. He was successful in this, setting up Cavendish for a final sprint finish that saw him race to his fourth stage victory in four years in Paris. A short while later, Wiggins stood on the top of the podium to be crowned the 2012 Tour de France champion.

In a recent post I touched on the importance of the Inner Game, in sport, and in life. Success, and staying focused, depends hugely on being able to quieten the ‘inner voice’. Avoiding the twin enemies of success – regret and anxiety – is vital to ‘play your best game’. I have no way of being sure what Adam Scott was experiencing, as his bogey count rose during those final few holes, but I am willing to bet that either regret at the choices he had just made, or anxiety about how he would ‘recover’ and play his next shot (or both), started to occupy his thinking.  He was playing a lonely Inner Game all by himself, in full view of a global audience, and, on this occasion he was unable to come through and take the big prize.

Wiggins’ Inner Game was played to perfection. He allowed himself only a very brief moment of anticipating his victory, before  refocusing his attention on the task of helping his team-mate to a final-day stage victory.

Photograph courtesy of Christophe Ena/AP. http://keepingscore.blogs.time.com/2012/07/22/britains-bradley-wiggins-wins-tour-de-france/ 

So, what lessons can we take away from the amazing Tour de France victory achieved by Bradley Wiggins and his team? Continue reading

Attention is at the heart of everything


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 !!!!