Wednesday, 27 November 2013

If you want to succeed, prepare to fail.

One factor that prevents people from achieving their goals is the fear of making mistakes, something which affects individuals in all areas of life. People become paralysed by fear of making a poor decision, taking a wrong turn, losing a competition, missing a target or just looking bad.

The interesting thing is that successful people tend to ‘fail’ considerably more than other people; they just don’t consider it to be failure. There is a saying in NLP is “There is no failure, only feedback.” Successful people tend to see making mistakes as being an essential factor in their development. As Einstein once said, "Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new."

If we want to improve our ability to do something it is more useful do develop a learning mindset where the focus is on learning and experimentation rather than trying to maintain a status or to look good. The joy of any performance or task should be in the implementation rather than the result. And if you make a mistake, instead of getting stressed, angry or frustrated, it is much more constructive to accept it and learn from it. Michael Jordan, considered by many to be the best basketball player that ever lived, summed it up wonderfully.

“I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Andy Barton
Performance Consultant

Friday, 2 August 2013

Don’t change the World; just change your perception

I was recently reminded of the story of the man who went to his doctor for a regular check up. On this occasion the patient declared that there was no longer anything the doctor could do for him because he was already dead. Slightly bemused the doctor humoured the man and asked him all sorts of questions about his condition to get the man to realise the foolishness of his claim. However, rather than changing his patient’s mind, the patient, if anything, became more convinced of his demise as the questions kept coming. Finally, the doctor had a Eureka moment and asked the patient “Do dead people bleed?” Straight away the patient retorted, “Of course not. A dead person couldn’t possibly bleed.” The doctor took a syringe from his desk and asked the patient if he could try and take some blood from him. “You can do your best but I assure you, you will not find any blood there.” The doctor then proceeded to inject the syringe into the patient’s arm and fill it with the patient’s blood and then, with a flourish, presented the syringe triumphantly out in front of him. The patient look perplexed and then finally, after a long pause, exclaimed, “My word, I was wrong. Dead people really do bleed!”

The thing that prompted the memory of this story was a phone call I received a few weeks ago from a researcher from one of our leading radio stations. They were doing a feature on the back of the England U21 football team’s poor performance in the European U21 Championship and wondered whether I would be interested in participating. The theme of the feature was “why do British sports people bottle it at the big event?” They weren’t just referring to football but they seemed to be generalising it to all sports. Once I’d picked my chin off the floor, I pointed out to them that they seemed to have missed the outstanding results in the Olympics, including the magnificent displays by the likes of Jessica Ennis, Laura Trott and Mo Farah, Andy Murray’s performance in the US Open, Rory McIlroy winning 2 major golf championships, Bradley Wiggins winning the Tour de France, Ronnie O’Sullivan’s amazing return to win the snooker World Championships, the Brownlee brothers dominating the triathlon world. Interestingly, since they contacted me, Andy Murray has won Wimbledon, the British Lions have defeated the Australians, Justin Rose has won the US Open golf championship and Chris Froome has won the Tour de France. Hardly “bottling it”.

The belief the people from the radio station held about the British sports people reminded me of when I watched a TV discussion programme a while back after a long hot summer (it was a few years ago) when after just 2 days of rain a woman on the programme exclaimed what terrible weather we had had that year.

So why did they get it so wrong? Well, in a sense, they didn’t. What we believe is essentially a result of how we perceive the World. It is not how the World actually is. It has been estimated that we are processing about 2 million bits of information every second of the day, through our sight, our hearing, our sense of touch, our sense of smell and our sense of taste. If we could be aware of all of that information at once we would go stark raving mad. In fact, we are only able to hold approximately 110 bits of this information in our conscious awareness at any one time, just a tiny fraction. The rest of the information is deleted, distorted and generalised to form our perception. What that means is that when we have formed a belief, whether it is a positive belief or a limiting belief, unless the evidence is overwhelmingly strong, we are likely to delete anything that contradicts the belief from our awareness. If, for instance, you believe you can’t tell a joke, you will only remember times when a joke has fallen flat and will delete the times when you’ve had people rolling round in stitches. Thus your belief will remain intact. If, however, you actually look for evidence that contradicts your belief (I would suggest you only do this with a limiting belief), you are more likely to diminish or even eradicate the belief.

I couldn’t do the radio programme due to other commitments but something must have challenged their belief as the theme of the programme when it was aired was no longer about British sport in general but was limited solely to football.

The point is, if you want to have a happy, fulfilling and rewarding life, you don't have to change the World. You only need to change your perception.

Andy Barton

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

To be a champion forget about winning

It was fantastic to see Andy Murray finally make history by becoming the first British Men’s Champion of Wimbledon for 77 years. One of the crucial elements of his success in the last year has been down to the work he has done with his coach Ivan Lendl on the mental side of his performance. In previous years, he struggled with a consistent mindset and allowed his emotions to take him over. The thing that struck me in particular this year was his resilience, most notably illustrated in his match against Fernando Verdasco in the Quarter Final match where he came back from 2 sets down.

There was, however, a crucial point in the Final when it almost went wrong. With a seemingly impenetrable lead and serving for the match he worked his way to 3 match points. To everyone watching the Wimbledon Championship was now a certainty. Surely! However, the great champion Djokovic had other plans winning the next 4 points taking him to break point. If Djokovic had won the next point the whole match may have had a very different outcome.

So what nearly went wrong? Well, Andy gave us an insight into his thinking at match point in an interview the next morning.  “When I went to 40-0 up I was thinking in my head “I am about to win Wimbledon”, so very rarely would you lose your serve from 40-0 up, and then a few points later I am facing break point.”

What this tells you is that his mind was on his outcome not on his performance. Winners do not think about winning they think about performing. To be a champion of any sport it is important to be able to get yourself into what athletes often refer to as the ‘Zone’ or ‘Flow’. The ‘Zone’ is when performance is unconscious, you trust your skill and you are completely absorbed in the task in hand. This essentially means being in the present and taking one point at a time. If you think about winning your mind goes into the future which takes you out of the ‘Zone’ and makes your performance more conscious and mechanical. In extreme cases this can lead to ‘choking’ when a performer becomes over conscious and loses trust in their skill and is overcome with nerves. This happened to Jana Novotna in the 1993 Wimbledon Ladies Final when she had a point on her service to go 5-1 up in the final set against Steffi Graff only to freeze, serve a double fault and then go on to lose the remaining games in less than 10 minutes. Fortunately, Murray managed to show his resilience again by getting back to focusing on one shot at a time and getting himself into the ‘Zone’ to finish of the match.

So, if you want to win, forget about winning and focus on performing.

Andy Barton

Friday, 28 June 2013

Don’t be perfect: just be great.

"The mistake is to imagine that perfection is possible when the very idea is unthinkable." Luis Figo

On a regular basis I am confronted by clients who refer to themselves as being perfectionists. Very often this is stated with a certain pride and belief that this is the only way to be if you want to become a great performer. Unfortunately, the quest for perfection tends to provide far more negatives than it does positives.

The problem is that ‘perfectionists’ are pursuing something that is completely unattainable so rather than focus on what they achieve they tend to focus on the bits that are preventing them from being perfect. So when they make a mistake they will tend to ruminate on the mistake, often beating themselves up in the process. This causes people to mentally rehearse the mistake rather than desired performance thus programming the mind so that it is more likely to repeat the mistake when a similar situation comes about. The pursuit of perfectionism can also lead to anxiety, fear and, ultimately, a loss of motivation, all of which can further hinder performance.

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have big goals. In fact, we are all capable of achieving extraordinary things.  We just need to aim for something that we can define. The greatest performers have never been perfect. Even when Nadia Comaneci scored a ‘perfect’ 10 for gymnastics in the Montreal Olympics, there was still room for improvement.

So don’t aim for perfect. Brilliant will do!

Andy Barton
Wider Vision Ltd

Friday, 14 June 2013

Motivation: When a question is the answer

It’s that cliché you will see often in films and books when the hero stands in front of the mirror riddled with self doubt and procrastination. He takes a long considered look at himself, takes a deep breath and, in a calm, clear and unwavering voice, says to himself something like “I will do it!”. This statement is enough to make the difference. The hero now finds he is motivated and determined to go out and succeed (which he invariably does).

The things we say to ourselves have a profound effect on our motivation and our ability to achieve goals and succeed in tasks. However, a paper by Ibrahim Senay, Dolores Albarracin, and Kenji Noguchi which was published in ‘Psychological Science’ suggests that declarative statements such as “I will do it!” (as made by our hero) actually can have a detrimental effect on our performance whereas interrogative statements which involve asking yourself a question (“Will I?) will actually have a far more effective impact on motivation and performance.

In one of their studies, they told their subjects that they were testing individuals’ handwriting ability and asked one group to write “I will” 20 times on a piece of paper and a second group to write “Will I?” 20 times. They were all then asked to attempt a series of challenging anagrams. Interestingly, the people in the group that had written “Will I?” actually solved nearly twice as many anagrams than the group that said “I will”.

The same handwriting exercise was then used for a second study. This time after completing the assignment they were asked how likely they were to start exercising (or continue if they already were). They were also asked questions around whether they felt that they would exercise because it was something they considered to be important or whether it was something they would do so they didn’t feel guilty or ashamed. The people who wrote “Will I?” were far more likely to exercise. They also considered doing exercise because it was important whereas the “I will” group were more likely to do it to avoid guilt.

It seems that the “I will” group would lost motivation for exercise because once they made the statement it became an obligation. When we are obliged to do something we actually tend to be less motivated than when we feel we have a choice. The “Will I?” group actually do feel that they have a choice and so embrace their decision to exercise in a far more positive way. It is the same effect when you ask someone to close a door. If you just say “Close the door” to someone they are far less likely to want to do it than if you say “Can you close the door?”

So next time you want to get motivated don’t tell yourself – ask yourself instead!

Andy Barton
Wider Vision Ltd

Friday, 24 May 2013

The Power of Posing

I can remember at the age of around thirteen, my mother gently encouraging me not to slouch, to take my hands out of my pockets, to stop dragging my feet on the pavement and to stop frowning.  I’m sure her motivation was to stop me looking like a grumpy teenager as I stumbled alongside her down the street. Grudgingly, I would give in to her wishes and adjust my posture accordingly only to find that after a few minutes a profound change would take place in me. I would find that I steadily became more energetic, then, weirdly, I would develop an urge to chat to my mother about my day. I also felt more confident and - even more surprising - I felt happier. It was from such incidents at this point in my life that I learned to appreciate how our body language affects our mood, our behaviour and our sense of self-belief.

People tend to think of body language being a one way street in that it is a reflection of how we are feeling at any moment in time. For instance, when we are feeling depressed our body language reflects that feeling; we look down at the ground, we hunch our shoulders, we grimace and shuffle along unsteadily. Conversely, when we feel confident, we stand tall, we hold our heads up high, we push our shoulders back, we smile and bounce along with a spring in our step. What I came to realise, as a teenager, is that it also works the other way round. If you adopt a particularly body language for a few minutes, you start to feel the way you look. It is as if the body stores particular algorithms and you put the right algorithms together and you get a positive emotion as a result and if you put the wrong algorithms together you end up with a negative emotion.

Psychologist Amy Cuddy, and her team at Harvard Business School have done studies into this area and have come up with some very interesting results that support my early casual observations. They found that by carrying out a series of what they refer to as ‘power poses’ – essentially these involve making the body bigger such as when athletes raise their arms when they win a race – it actually impacts on the hormones released in the body. By adopting a power pose for as little as two minutes they found a significant increase in testosterone and a decrease in cortisol (the stress hormone). As a result it brings about an increase in energy, confidence, assertiveness, calmness and the ability to think clearly.

This has significant implications for sports performance. When a sports performer’s head drops it has the opposite effect of the power pose as it feeds a person’s negative emotions leading to doubt, fear, lethargy, tunnel vision and a tendency to self criticism. As the saying goes, “fake it ‘til you make it”. If you want to be confident, clear thinking, calm and determined, just act as if you are and very soon you will be.

Andy Barton
Wider Vision Ltd