Fail Going 100% – Actions before Results

Results Matter

Whether you are trying to achieve your quarterly budget or win the Stanley Cup, there is no doubt we are out there to produce results. Why work so hard if it is not to get rewarded with the thing you have been striving so hard to achieve?

I have been a competitive athlete most of my life, and I have also been running my own business now for 10 years, and I can tell you I love the thrill of the big win! I am also encouraged by the little victories along the way, whether that is achieving a new PB in climbing my local hill on the road bike, or winning a small piece of work in my consulting practice. So yes… to me… results matter.

HOWEVER… what I have learned in the pursuit of excellence is that it works better if results do not take up too much of your focus and energy either before they occur or after they have passed. Working as a performance psychology adviser in business and professional sport, I have seen that time and time again people actually get distracted by focusing too much on results, which can take them further away, rather than closer to the their biggest goals.

Roll with Results and Stay in Action

When you are trying to achieve big things in life, it is likely that, like me, you will be encouraged by the small positive results along the way, but the risk to get thrown off course increases when you get discouraged by the negative results or get complacent because of positive results along the way to achieving the long term objectives.

The problem with results is that although they may motivate us, they do not instruct us on how to achieve the objective. In sport psychology, focusing on the ‘process rather than the results’ is a mantra most teams and coaches have adopted without question for many years now. But how often do you hear that mantra, or try to practice it yourself, only to see your team crumble under the pressure of a result going against them?

Trying to Avoid Failure Doesn’t Work

Human beings naturally tense up when they think about failure, and in trying to avoid it at all costs, can lose focus on the ever-important process that is most likely to deliver the desired result. The trick is not to avoid failure, but to embrace it… go to it with open arms… as long as you are doing everything you can to succeed!

I presented a keynote presentation to the Association of Consulting Engineers of Canada last Thursday, and at the end, one of the delegates engaged me in a conversation about how it is hard to take the focus off results, and put it on the process, (and even harder to accept some short term failure along the way) when the nature of business is to produce results, and there is the ever-present pressure of the shareholders demanding results, quarterly, monthly and even weekly!

Fail Going 100%

I had shared a concept with the ACEC group – one that I call “fail going 100%” – which is this thing that is all about being prepared to accept failure, as long as you have done EVERYTHING you could to succeed. The conversation was around this concept of accepting failure – a question that arose was ‘How do you accept failure when everyone around you is demanding success at all costs?’ (I believe this is where true mental toughness comes in because there is often little that is more challenging than maintaining  a position in the face of intense scrutiny to change, to back down and to bend to the will of powerful others). I believe the answer to the question is to be a thought leader around the concept of accepting failure – take a stand for what you know and believe in – have conviction in your process and deliver it with 100% integrity. The key word here is ‘conviction.’ If you know your process is world class and is highly likely to return a result over time, stick to it, be prepared to let your ego take a battering… work hard to educate those around you about what is really needed to create sustained success… and enjoy the last word when those who bailed early on your initiative see you outpace your rivals as time goes on. Is this easy to do? No. It is not. That is why we are talking about mental toughness and the practice of excellence. You have to be prepared to put success ahead of ego and pressure from others. Too many don’t, and then wonder why they only had short term success. Integrity – the action you take to deliver on your commitments – is everything.

Thus, ‘Fail going 100%’ is more about mindset than behavior. If you have truly gone 100%, with all of your knowledge, intellect, competency, and resources available to achieve a goal – and there is not more you could have done… then…simply… there IS not more that you could have done… and the result will be what it will be. You have done your bit to control what you could. In almost every situation in life, you only get to control what you do, and you almost never have total control of a result – frequently, the percentage of variance in any result is significantly beyond your control. The reality of results and your small percentage of control over the variability in them means that the only thing you can control once they have occurred is your perspective on, and response to them. AND if you are aware of these facts, in advance, you can also see that the only thing you can control in anticipation of a result before it occurs is the actions you take to increase the likelihood of the desired outcome.

Basically, failure to produce the desired result 100% of the time is inevitable in life because you don’t control all the variables that create the result; however, failure to have integrity around your actions is not inevitable – it is something you can choose. Your challenge is not to get distracted and out of integrity in the short term because you are too caught up in results, either because you are trying to avoid failure or are expecting success based on past performance.

The thing that matters most is ACTION. Find a way to stay in action and results will take care of themselves in the long run.

You may never know what results come of your action, but if you do nothing there will be no result ~ Mahatma Ghandi

All the best,

Dr Sean R

Practicing Excellence in 2011 – Openness to Learning is Critical!

It has been a while since my last post… and I have been thinking a lot since then…

I am currently facing a new challenge in my life: I picked up my family (my gorgeous wife Kate and my beautiful little 1 year old daughter, Charlotte Bella) and moved them from Melbourne, Australia – where my business as a professional speaker, consultant, trainer and mentor had just broken through to a level of income from which to create financial freedom – to Vancouver, Canada – where I am starting to build my business again from scratch. It is easy to draw confidence from the template for success that I created in Australia, knowing that I can replicate it here in Vancouver – but it is a difficult pill to swallow when I realize that I have a lot of work to do to get my business back to where it was when I left Melbourne. I am sharply reminded to reside in the humility of being a beginner again, and not to forget to keep open to learning in every new environment and situation I step into to, regardless of any previous success achieved.

The practice of excellence is just that… a practice. In the the martial arts, as with many art forms, sports and other complex skills, we are taught that there is no substitute for repetitious practice of our basic moves. Re-learning some of those basic moves is also critical.

An open mind is essential in the face of personal change… and it is necessary to help one evolve with the ever changing world around us. Openness to learning and relearning will keep you on the path of excellence.

I have always considered myself an open person – thirsty for knowledge, hungry to learn from the great teachers of the world. However, several years ago, during my doctoral studies, I was challenged by one of my supervisors on the issue of my openness and my opinion of what makes a ‘great teacher’… I remember we were walking along Acland Street – a particularly quaint street in Melbourne, populated by delectable cake shops, gourmet cafes, restaurants offering cuisine from every corner of the planet, and shops overflowing with bohemian culture – when he turned to me and said “Sean. You are not open! You divide up the world into ‘my equal’ and ‘not my equal’… and if you don’t see someone as your equal or greater, you don’t listen!” Wow! I was stunned… here I was always thinking of myself as open to anyone and I get stung by someone, whose perspective I respect immensely, on that very issue. He followed up by saying, “If you are open… from the mouths of babes you will learn.”

I have never forgotten that interaction… and I am reminded of it again today as I work hard to practice excellence in my life, in my business, in my health, in my relationships. I am reminded of my own words, which I have often said to others – “constantly seek to learn and grow – this is one of the pillars of resilience… and part of the path to success.” Openness to learning requires humility, which I could see that I lacked back when I received those words from my supervisor… and it requires courage – the courage to admit to weakness and uncertainty, coupled with the courage to ask for help… it also requires  commitment – the commitment to learn and implement whatever it takes to build strength into those weaknesses and conviction into the uncertainties.

If you want to practice excellence in your life, there are a number of key things I could suggest, which I believe I have learned from my failures in life, and which I hope to keep re-learning and practicing along the way:

1. Make discomfort your ally, not your enemy – learn from discomfort

Our survival mechanisms are hardwired to be on high alert of discomfort – particularly in the form of fear and anxiety – and generally to avoid situations which provoke such unpleasant feelings. However, a defensive or avoidant stance, causes the mind to narrow and withdraw, shutting down the opportunity for learning and growth. However, if you are pursuing goals that are not threatening your life or your physical well-being, then your survival mechanisms might be lying to you about the need to pull back and avoid discomfort. Too often people are stopped in life because they give too much weight to the fear and anxiety, which is telling them to stop pursuing a goal. If you are in a balanced state of physical and mental health, then you might actually consider that discomfort is an essential part of growing, which you want to embrace and move toward, rather than move away from. Learn from the discomfort; open to it; let it tell you that you are in the right place, rather than in the wrong place.

2. Weak is tough – learn from your vulnerabilities

Many cultures seem to reinforce that mental toughness is about being stoic – never let them see you in pain, never let them see you as weak… that might work if you are a gladiator fighting for you life in the arena… but for everything else in life, have you ever noticed that it is more difficult to admit that you are struggling than to pretend everything is OK? Admitting to vulnerability is not weak at all – it is far tougher than hiding it. AND, hiding it or living in denial is a sure fire way to keep your mind closed and to shut down most opportunities for learning. It is only when you open to your own weaknesses that you can begin to take steps to strengthen them.

3. Challenge the future – learn from what has not happened yet

We can spend so much time looking backward, worrying about the mistakes we have made in the past, that we don’t pause to think about how we can prepare for the challenges we might face in the future. Galileo was cast out as a heretic for claiming that the world was round at a time when it was considered by all people to be flat – his contemporaries were closed, perhaps by fear, to thinking about how to manage the uncertainties of a future that included a round earth. To practice excellence in your life demands that you contemplate the possibilities of what you don’t even know yet, and to prepare the mind to be open to the yet to be experienced challenges that lie ahead.

Practicing excellence in 2011 for me is going to include a lot of learning. It is going to start and end with openness, and hopefully humility, that I will always have much to learn. May your own practice of excellence challenge you to remain open to the countless opportunities for learning with which the universe provides you.

There exist limitless opportunities in every industry. Where there is an open mind, there will always be a frontier. ~ Charles F. Kettering

All the best,
Dr Sean R

The Paradox of Mental Toughness

‘Weak is tough’ – Have you ever noticed, when you are not doing too well, that admitting to someone you are struggling is often harder than simply brushing them off with “I’m OK”?

The paradox of mental toughness is that it takes real courage to admit to weakness; it is much tougher than putting on a brave face.

Mental toughness is critical to the practice of excellence; nevertheless, mental toughness, also known as resilience, might be something different than how many people conceive it.

As a sport and performance psychologist – I hear the phrase ‘mental toughness’ used mostly in the context of being capable of pushing through a challenge, being stoic, not being phased by pressure – behaviours that are associated with mental toughness; however, what seems to make athletes, performers and business people truly tough is when they can balance the capacity to push hard with the smarts to recover well, and balance the courage to be open to their weaknesses with the effort to doing something about those weaknesses.

It can be psychologically easier just to put your head down, work hard, push through pain, ignore concerns and shortcomings – the ‘more is better’ philosophy – than it is to practice awareness for one’s needs – physical and mental – and to put time and energy into balancing oneself emotionally and physically.

I think choosing the ‘easy path’ of stoic denial may have to do with wanting to avoid the complexity of the many more variables involved with trying to stay in balance.  There is a relative simplicity in just working hard, which makes it attractive to equate mental toughness with a ‘more is better’ approach. In my PhD research, however, I talked to many top athletes in Australia who acted out that philosophy, repeatedly, until it ended in overtraining and injury (and I, myself, am a culprit of this misguided behaviour – having got injured twice in the lead up to two Olympics). I also sense that there is some ego involved in the one-sided approach to Mental Toughness – which is why being ready to admit to weakness is so tough….

So… mental toughness might be construed more accurately as the capacity to make the decision that is harder to make and then acting on it.

The important aspects of that decision making process:

(1) Be honest with yourself about your limitations – be wary of your ego jumping in to send you into denial about your own vulnerability.

(2) Learn to differentiate between when you need to work hard and when you need to spend more time recovering. People who only work hard, without break, can end up spending a lot of time stuck in mediocrity because they never quite have the energy to perform at their peak. Reaching for excellence requires balance.

(3) Admit to others when you are struggling, but do it in a powerful way by being responsible for acting on your situation. E.g. “I am not going so well at the moment, but I am committed to doing whatever it takes to get myself right.”

(4) Ask for help. There are often not too many things more difficult than asking for help – it can take extraordinary courage to do so, but it can make all the difference.

(5) Commit for the long term. Mental toughness is required to give up short term rewards in return for the desired long term impact.

In my heart, I am a competitor. I love to push my mind and my body to the limits to see how close I can get to excellence, but I have learned the hard way that excellence can be elusive when you don’t embrace the complexity of its pursuit. If you want to accelerate your practice of excellence, get tough, admit to your weaknesses and limitations, and then take action to do something about them!

We must combine the toughness of the serpent with the softness of the dove, a tough mind and a tender heart.  ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

All the best,

Dr Sean R

Depression is NOT the enemy of high performance

Depression is not the enemy… and is by no means unconnected to high performance

We might even consider that feeling depressed could be part of the body’s survival mechanisms kicking in to take care of you, telling you to slow down and take a rest when you are feeling physically, cognitively or emotionally overwhelmed.

When people are striving for excellence, it is not uncommon to go overboard, get unbalanced, get sick, injured, burnt out… because the mind tries to push past the limits of the body (I have a bit of first hand experience of this one, having missed out on the Olypmic Games because of overtraining-related injury). The body is smart, however, and sends the mind messages to slow things down when you are going too hard… (and that is not just going too hard physically… it is going too hard in any manner. If you are pushing the hours at work; if you are constantly wound up emotionally or thinking non-stop about things… your body gets out of balance on the neuro-chemical level).

We could think about depression a bit like hunger… when nourishment is missing, you feel discomfort.

Until you provide the body with the key ingredients to give it nourishment, it will continue to send messages of discomfort.

Those feelings can be quite unpleasant, but they are there for a reason – to get you to look closer at why you feel them, what is causing them and do something to rectify the situation.

Where depression becomes dysfunctional is when we don’t respond to those messages effectively. If you don’t treat the causes of the malnourishment, the feelings just get stronger.

By no means am I trying to diminish the extraordinarily debilitating impact of clinical depression; rather, I want to acknowledge the impacts, but challenge the world to look differently at what we are currently categorizing as a disease.

What if depression is just the clinical word for being really darn tired in multiple systems in your body? You can torture someone by depriving them of sleep. Research has shown that a severely sleep deprived person has less functional capacity than a significantly intoxicated person. Yet, we don’t say that feeling sleepy is a disease – yes we acknowledge it can be dysfunctional in your life, but it is just the body’s way of telling you that you need some sleep.

I acknowledge that depression is probably much more complex than hunger or fatigue… but the point here is that if we see depression differently, see that it might be serving a purpose in our bodies, rather than being a disease-like enemy, we might start responding to the early symptoms of it more effectively… and actually halt the spiral into the deep debilitating phases of clinical depression.

If you want to get to excellence in your performance, you need to become more aware of the signs and symptoms of imbalance – the early warning signs of a depressed state… and then take the effective actions to resolve what is causing them.

For some, there will be more easily identifiable surface causes of a depressed state – it might be mostly connected to physical overload, or chronic lack of quality recovery… however, for others, there can be things below the level of conscious awareness, which are sending your mind and emotions into overdrive, causing the imbalance.

Whatever the possible driving factors of feeling a bit flat, if you respond early, you can turn things around and get back on the track toward excellence.

My recommendations:

1. Be aware of the signs and symptoms of being in a depressed state (which is not necessarily clinically diagnosable depression) – feeling drained, heavy, fatigued (could be having trouble sleeping, or alternatively, oversleeping), feeling that things look bleak, loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities, appetite or weight changes, irritability or restlessness, self-directed negative thoughts, concentration problems, and possible unexplained aches and pains.

2. Remind yourself that these are normal reactions of the body – they are messages from your body warning you of some imbalance – physical, mental or emotional – so listen to them, don’t ignore them hoping they will go away

3. Try to identify the sources of that imbalance – is it surface stuff? (I just need to sleep and recover more) – or is it deeper stuff? (I don’t really know why I feel this way, I just do)

4. Seek professional help to understand the sources of the imbalance – if there is deeper stuff that is wearing you out from the inside, it will be very difficult to identify the sources yourself (your brain’s defense mechanisms might be quite invested in blocking them out). Often, there will be deeper levels to a depressed state if it occurs frequently and/or it seems to happen without an obvious cause (but frequently, there can be deeper levels in addition to an obvious cause). Talk to your GP, a psychologist, or a qualified mental health practitioner.

5. Take regular action to help prevent chronic imbalance – build recovery activities into your daily schedule (anything that puts energy back in the system – fun, socializing, light physical activity, relaxation, good nutrition, sleep, meditation, massage, etc.)

The thing to get is that everyone feels depressed at some point or another – even elite athletes – it is totally NORMAL. What will make it abnormally dysfunctional is if you don’t do anything in those early stages of feeling a bit flat. To get to excellence you need to acknowledge the normality of experiencing a depressed state and spend as much or more time on your recovery as you do on working hard to achieve your goals!

Depression is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign you have been trying to be strong for too long. ~ Anonymous

All the best,

Dr Sean R

The Arduous Path toward Excellence

What makes achieving excellence challenging in any domain in life?

To begin with, it is ABNORMAL.

It is against our instincts.

That’s right – it is NORMAL to be lazy! In fact, laziness is an effective survival strategy under certain circumstances… WHEN might that be? Let’s take a look:

Consider that the more primitive parts of our brains (the parts popularly referred to as the Limbic System) are designed to be on high alert for threats to survival – which, if perceived, would kick the fight or flight, adrenaline pumping, response into action to help save your life…

BUT, what about when you don’t face any threats to survival? Such as when you simply have decided you want to go to the gym to lose a bit of weight,  spend a few more hours on developing your latest business plan, or picking up the phone to make those last few calls of the day to potential clients?

When not under immediate threat of harm, one of the most effective survival response would be the exact opposite of the fight or flight response -> CONSERVE energy, so that you may be rested enough to face the next major threat, with the required vigour and aggression to stay alive!

So… what does this mean for the average human being living in the generally non-threatening Western World (and other places in the world where life is mostly peaceful)?

A lot of the time when you are hoping for a rush of energy to get you out of bed and push you to achieve that big goal that you have set yourself, you may be hoping in vain. Your instincts will be quietly suppressing most forms of motivation, as they tell you that there is no need to move too quickly because currently there is not a lion at the foot of your bed waiting to eat you for breakfast…

The key here is to see that, to your instincts, achievement and the practice of excellence, particularly in pursuits that are not about saving your life, are NOT A NECESSITY… which then firmly places them in the realm of CHOICE!

With many of the professional athletes I work with, we often say, it’s not how you feel, it’s what you do. If you wait all day to feel motivated to do something, you could be waiting a very…. long…. time, particularly on those days when you are feeling pretty flat. Doing something just takes a DECISION to do it.

What can you do about beginning the practice of excellence then?

  1. Set goals that inspire you – if achievement is a choice, then you need something to get you out of bed other than your instincts. Spend some time on your vision board, connecting to the big why – Why do I want to do these things? What will they bring me in all ares of my life? Why are they important to me? (we will talk about an effective goal setting process in a later post)
  2. Acknowledge that it is totally normal to feel lazy and unmotivated at any given point when working to achieve your goals (in fact, it is part of being human) so don’t beat yourself up about it… just accept it
  3. Make a choice and just start taking actions right now, and every day, that move you closer to your goals
  4. Connect to the big picture – make it a ritual to keep reminding yourself of the big why every time you think of getting in action
  5. Use your demotivating feelings as reminders to stay in action, rather than as deterrents or excuses – remember it’s not how you feel, it’s what you do that counts
  6. Put in the time before you expect to see results – the practice of excellence is not a one day, one week or even a one year thing – it is a LIFE-LONG COMMITMENT – short term results are a nice bonus, but don’t get distracted by them

How do the experts get to be so good at what they do? They work their butts off… for a very long time… and probably acknowledge that being human, with all of our supposed shortcomings, is something that they just will have to learn to accept!

Adversity causes some men to break, and others to break records ~ William A. Ward

All the best,
Dr Sean R