Here we go again.
It’s coming down to the wire in the English Premier League and we’ve got another close race between Manchester United and Chelsea and another season-that-might-have been for Arsenal… oh yeah, and apparently we’ve got yet another football column on the business pages of Botswana’s best selling newspaper. But if you’re not a fan of the beautiful game – and if you’re still reading this piece despite the picture at the top of the page – don’t worry, I don’t actually plan to talk about football too much today, what I want to talk about is how we can perform at our best in anything we choose to pursue when it really counts.
Football is merely the medium in which I have chosen to examine this difficult issue.
Nice sentence, eh? Kind of makes me sound like an authority on the subject. Well, I’m not; I’m just a frustrated Gunners supporter trying to figure out why my team – and pretty much all athletes – find it so difficult to play their best when the chips are down.
Yeah, I know, Arsenal played well and beat Man U. last Sunday but that may well have been because the pressure is off them now that they’ve blown any realistic chance to win the title by losing and drawing so many games from winning positions … and because the pressure is well and truly on United.
Anyway, if you would like to do a bit of serious reading on this topic there are a couple of books out there that were written by actual authorities on the subject: Zen in the Art of Archery, by Eugen Herrigel and The Inner Game of Tennis, by Timothy Gallwey. Believe it or not, they use archery and tennis as media in which to examine the art of not choking and the first is considered a classic of modern Buddhist literature while the second is quite a good read even for people who don’t give half a crap about tennis. They are also both very short.
So what’s the trick to handling the pressure? Well, both authors seem to think the best bet is to learn how to still your mind when you want to so that the conscious part of your brain doesn’t interfere with what your body is doing. You know, meditation, yoga, candle flames, flowers, pictures of robed, ugly, bearded men with shit-eating grins on their faces hanging on your wall; that sort of thing.
But if that sounds like too much hard work to you, the good news is that Gallwey also has some sound advice for beginners that, taken on its own, can make a huge difference to how we perform on the court, on the field, in an interview, during a presentation or while we are doing anything else that might make us nervous.
He says a key to performing well is to focus on something we have control over. That means we shouldn’t worry about winning or getting the job or making the sale because other people have a say in how all those things will turn out; instead we should just focus on doing the very best we can and allow the results take care of themselves.