The Result-Focus Trap
OK, so I admit it. I admit it's really hard to convince yourself that the path to winning is to stop trying to win. It's just so counter-intuitive. It feels irresponsible to stop chasing the ultimate goal to get to the ultimate goal. It's like trying less to get more. In the beginning you almost feel like you are letting yourself down, you feel ashamed that your hardness has been replaced with intelligence (it hasn't by the way, it's just been joined by intelligence, not replaced). I know for myself I often felt like what I really needed was a slap in the face, not all this intellect-focused effort. I wanted to be Rocky in the snow covered mountains of Russia suffering endlessly toward my goal.
It's a lot like driving in the opposite direction of your destination. Like those moments you miss a cut-off on the highway, and for 5 extra minutes you have no choice but to drive in the opposite direction until you can turn around, every one of those agonizing minutes feels so wrong that the uneasy feeling is felt on a physical level. And it's not until you're going in the right direction again that you feel a sense of comfort return.
But this is why winning is so hard, it's not just hard work, but it also requires intellectual challenge and going in directions that make little to no instinctual sense. And that is because our instincts are not natural, that is a myth. The truth is, that instincts are conditioned, not born. They are what they are as a result of conditioning (the marriage of life experience and core values with beliefs and goals) The only person who should rely on their instincts is the person with instincts conditioned toward winning, like maybe Rafa or Federer. But even they have instincts that need reconditioning and are constantly trying to root out the instincts at play that are keeping them from being even better.
The next time you hear someone say "you can't teach that" or "you are either born with that or you are not." be sure to take a mental note (especially if that person is a coach or so-called professional, I heard a basketball analyst say it just the other day) That comment has given you a great insight into that person's inability to teach whatever skill they are referring to. Not only are they telling you in that instant that they cannot teach it, they are also telling you they do not even believe anyone can teach it.
This mindset is closed. Why would something like hand-eye coordination, confidence or intuition be the only exceptions to skill development? Why would every other component be plastic and open to improvement, but being able to make deft decisions under pressure circumstances be exempt?
The truth is that those with closed beliefs have limited experience around teaching and learning certain skills. And to their credit there really isn't a tonne of material out there, nor is there a lot of individuals who truly do believe those skills are no exception. But that doesn't make them right.
The good news is the tide has long turned against that old-fashioned belief that only certain skills and characteristics are teachable and those in the know, those at the highest levels of success in sports, music, business and life in general all agree that the process-focused approach will bring more success and more winning. Books like 'What Drives Winning' by Brett Leadbetter are perfect examples of how focusing on the process is the surest way to win more.
Yet, the Result-Focus trap is still alive and well. It especially exists at the amateur level, the mindset to win-at-all-costs is still connected to success. Those that believe in it have good amounts of success as proof of why its so good to have this mindset. It is true that it creates a great deal of focus, and it allows an athlete to fine tune their development. But, what if they could be even better? Those in that mindset often will point to their incredible achievements and say something like "If my coach/parent didn't demand me to win, I never would have won as much as I did." but what they are interpreting as result-focused pressure was really just intense motivation. And if they could have had both process-focused pressure and intense motivation they would have won even more. John McEnroe for example may have been a 20 Grand Slam winner not just 7.
Those who have learned to deploy the process-focus mindset want to win at all costs just as much as their counterparts, often even more. Many will admit that it was that desire to win that drove them to this discovery. But changing a mindset is really hard, a mindset is a habit after all. And we all know that habits do not change easy. First they are sneaky and hard to catch, and secondly to find them and change them means to look honestly at ourselves and admit that in many ways we have been wrong for a long time. So it takes a massive ego check, which for many is harder to do than anything else on the planet earth. Upon this realization it becomes more apparent why so few are successful. Winning isn't just hard physical work, it's also soul altering, hard mental work.
Read Leadbetter's book or read Carol Dweck's Best Selling 'Mindset' as a start. If you aren't a reader listen to The Secret To Tennis Happiness - Essential Tennis Podcast #304 ReleasedNov 27, 2018 by Ian Westermann. And be prepared to discover the hard truth's about yourself that are limiting how much winning you could be doing.
Players like Judah McEachern-Brown #147 ranking in Ontario Under 12 (pictured below) has improved so much he just beat a player ranked #39 (over 100 ranking positions ahead of him) and is now enjoying wins over players who routinely beat him just a year ago, despite the fact those players are practicing as hard and for longer than Judah has. Why? Hard work of course, but not just hard work. Judah has invited along for his marathon journey with hard work; smart work and an open mindset and focus on making better mistakes (emphasis on the better part, but still note that the word mistake is in there and it's not a bad thing). Judah is beginning to buy into the concept of playing to improve instead of playing to win, and the results of not chasing results are speaking for themselves. And that sort of early success will not leave his mind as he forges forward toward his athletic goals. He will look back at his success and realize it was the counter-intuitive actions that led him to success. And that will emblazon him in the same way it has other Canadian Tennis success stories.