How do I play my Best Game?

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You may have read our last blog which highlighted the point that coaching has been around for a long time, the 5th Century to be precise, and for me this is further reinforced by the words of Epicurus, stated some two thousand years ago:

‘There are few better remedies for anxiety than thought. In writing a problem down or airing it in conversation, we let its essential aspects emerge. And, by knowing its character, we remove, if not the problem itself, then its secondary, aggravating characteristics of confusion, displacement and surprise.’

This reminded me of the work of Tim Gallwey. Tim created the Inner Game approach to coaching to help people reach inside themselves and find their own success, not through overt effort or trying hard, but through a focus and fascination of their own thoughts and actions in the moment. This focus leads to a state of relaxed concentration which is the hallmark of any highly successful performer or player, a mental state we know as flow. We can’t force ourselves into flow and it is a contradiction to ‘try’ to be in flow. We can only relax into flow. In flow we perform to our very best. It is the ideal mental state for ‘winning’ yet it will elude anyone who is ‘trying’ to win.

By developing the capacity to focus, relax and be self-aware in the moment, we are reaching deeper into our own vast reservoir of personal potential. Mindfulness may be new on the block but highly successful people have known for millennia that the path to success is an inner journey not an outer one and the focus of attention is on the ‘now’. Focussing on the present moment increases our ability to respond to emerging circumstances rather than react to them in fear, surprise or doubt.

As an example of this I found myself last week in the situation where I was trying to ‘win’, sitting outside a boardroom waiting for my turn to pitch for new business. I noticed there was a knot in my stomach, and I felt nervous. On thinking about it, I realised that I really wanted to win this business. I know that succeeding is far more important than winning, as succeeding is much bigger.

Succeeding is played out in the here and now and has a focus on enjoyment, self awareness, learning and un-attachment to results (though a commitment to achieve them). Winning is played out as a hope that in the future some specific result will be achieved. It was an obvious choice point for me - either try hard and attempt to win the pitch, or go with the flow, relax and enjoy the pitch as a learning and engagement opportunity.

So as I walked in to the room, I focussed on what I found interesting. I forgot about trying to win and instead put my efforts into noticing - listening, observing, being curious and asking questions. I did have a ‘pitch’ ready, but found that I didn’t need it as something else emerged as a genuine dialogue developed between me and the client (two people as it happens). It became much more of an exchange of views and a genuine conversation. The time flew yet there was enough to cover all we needed to say. I really enjoyed it and the feedback later was that the client had too. None of this will surprise you, but it might be a useful reminder, as it was to me, that whatever we strive to do, whatever our job, whatever our goals, to play our best game we should focus on succeeding, rather than on winning – when the our mental focus is then on the hope of winning rather than in the present moment of playing the ‘game’ itself. The paradox is that true winners don’t think about winning – they think only about playing their best game in the moment.