Staying in the Game

I’m not sure who was the first to say it, but there is great wisdom in the theory that 90 percent of success is the by-product of just showing up. Indeed, if we sit on our hands, there is a chance that opportunity might pass us by. “But what about stillpower?” an athlete recently asked me. “When we’re in a low state of mind, isn’t it better to remain on the sidelines and wait for things to clear?” Well, not always.

Let’s say you’re a boxer, and you’re in the midst of training for a championship fight. Your daily schedule includes some serious training because if you don’t train seriously, chances are you will suffer some physical harm—let alone lose the fight. Yet, one morning you wake up with negative thoughts about working out that day. You can’t make up your mind: “Should I go to the gym this morning or not?” As confusion reigns, you assume (because of the confusion) that you are better off staying home, even though you still feel uncertain and perhaps guilty about it, too.

If you are perplexed, the only productive answer is to stay the course.

But what if you misread what was going on in your own head? What if you tried to convince yourself that your feelings were pointing you in a defined direction and they weren’t? In fact, I would argue that when you really need a day off, that notion will not present itself in such a bewildering fashion. You’ll probably sleep straight through your blaring alarm clock that morning.

My message is that feelings of uncertainty are signs that our boxer should simply “stay in the game.” He should get his butt out of bed and back into the gym. His thinking—not his training—is getting in his way at that moment. Stillpower means that we remain on task in the midst of our wayward thoughts, since we are temporarily unequipped to deviate from the standard or think outside the box. Said another way, it’s always more productive to allow your feelings—not the content of your thoughts—to guide you.

When it’s time to take a break, the feeling will be direct, immediate, and resolute.

As another illustration, many athletes with whom I work play fast-paced sports. They sometimes say, “I see what you mean about my feelings being a barometer of my thoughts and mood, but I play a quick game. If I feel vague, I can’t just stop and wait for a clear state of mind to show up.”

Exactly. But there’s a big difference between the act of meditation (sitting motionless) and possessing stillpower (a meditative state). Athletes with stillpower do not get caught up in the wayward perceptions that occur when their state of mind is unclear. They just keep on playing—deflecting any external distraction.

The bottom line is that you will lack clarity at times; we all do. But since it has nothing to do with your circumstances, don’t take it as a sign to sit on the sidelines or skip a day of training, school, or work. Instead, when you feel unsure, just stay in the game. If you do, I guarantee that your indifferent perceptions will clear up—all on their own—before you know it.