Feb 022012
 
Share

In Stressful Situations, Your Training Takes Over

In Stressful Situations, Your Training Takes Over

What happens to you when you get into stressful situations?  Do you freeze up like the proverbial deer in headlights, or do you keep going, unphased, “like a pro”?  Your answer to this question can have a profound effect on your ability to obtain the results you desire, when the going gets tough.

Why does one person freeze up, when the other performs “calm, cool and collected” in a stressful situation?  One need look no further than Special Forces military training to gain significant insight into the answer to this question.

As I wrote in the article Overcome Your Fears and Become Great – The GAMES Approach, fear, in its various forms and manifestations, is often the culprit in sub-optimal performance during stressful, critical moments.  Whether it’s fear of failure, of the unknown, or of a multitude of other possible factors, including success, it can cause additional tension and interfere with one’s ability to focus and succeed in the “stressful” task at hand.

One way the Navy SEALs, for example, deal with this issue in training, is to teach their trainees to focus on the present and not permit extraneous thoughts in moments of high stress and potential panic.  This involves creating very short-term and achievable goals, so that you are not overwhelmed by a bunch of irrelevant thoughts and concerns and can remain totally engaged in the task at hand. So, for example in the case of the Underwater Pool Competency Test that all SEALs must pass, when you are underwater and the instructor tangles your breathing apparatus, you don’t think to yourself, “I wonder what he’s going to do to me next…”, or “I’m not sure how much more of this I can take…”, or “I wonder how the candidate next to me is doing…”. Rather, you say to yourself, simply, my goal is to untangle these knots – nothing more and nothing less. You then say to yourself: I will employ the knot untangling procedure we learned in training, step-by-step. Then you execute step one, step two … etc.  In other words, you block out all extraneous thoughts and factors and focus totally on the task at hand, step-by-step.  This short-term goal-setting represents the “G” in the GAMES Approach.

This approach, of course, presumes that you have procedures and have had “training step-by-step”.  The reality though is that in many endeavors, including sports, but especially in the business world, a large percentage of people have not received such training, if they’ve received any training at all.  This is particularly true in the entrepreneurial, small and family business world.  Large companies have, at least in part, learned the important lesson that detailed training is key, particularly when employees will be faced with stressful situations, where there is potential to panic and “freeze up”.  Many entrepreneurial companies are still climbing that learning curve.

Think about your own situation as an entrepreneur.  How much detailed, step-by-step training have you had in key areas of your business?  Why do you think apprenticeship has been a tried and tested approach to groom next generation performers in a variety of endeavors, throughout history?  This is the case because as you’re going through the learning phase, especially at the beginning of the journey, there is nothing like having a “master” to help you stay on the right track and guide you regarding how to handle challenges, particularly those that occur in high-stress situations.  In an apprenticeship, the master “craftsperson” is roughly equivalent to a coach or a mentor.  In the military, such apprenticeship is hierarchical, structured, and mandatory.  What is the equivalent in entrepreneurship?  For the most part, it doesn’t really exist.  There are bits and pieces, but it’s highly fragmented and the onus is on the individual entrepreneur to seek such training.  Granted, it’s not necessarily practical or even possible to undertake step-by-step training in all areas and situations an entrepreneur must master, but for many key areas of the business, such as marketing and finance, it is both possible and reasonably straightforward.

So what can be done about this lack of step-by-step training and exposure to key knowledge in the entrepreneurial world?  There are several options:

1.)   Wing it.  This is by far the most common approach.  It involves just handling challenges as they come along and not really taking pro-active steps to train and prepare for the inevitable challenges that will arise.  This is the “experience is the best teacher” approach and it has a great deal of merit, but also a great many bumps and bruises along the way, hopefully none of them fatal to your business.

2.)   Find a mentor.  This is an approach I highly recommend.  I have used this approach my entire entrepreneurial career.  It involves identifying people who have done what you want to do and asking them to help you prepare for the journey and address acute challenges as they arise.  This approach can be tremendously useful, but given the fact that mentors are very busy people and probably you are not compensating them for their time, you are not likely to get structured, step-by-step learning; your mentorship will take place opportunistically and over a significant period of time.

3.)   Become an apprentice.  If you’re early, or relatively early in your entrepreneurial career, why not become the right-hand-person to a successful entrepreneur, thus taking advantage of the age old apprentice/master approach?  It won’t be easy, but there may not be a better way to learn, if you can find the right relationship.  If you’re in a good-sized family business, there may be several such opportunities available.

4.)   Be a learning animal.  Study, even devour, every bit of written and recorded knowledge out there on your business and all the functional areas of business critical to your success.  Operate with the mindset that you can never learn too much.  Consume everything from current publications to the classics, in whatever media suit you, including written, audio, video and live events.

5.)   Hire a coach.  All “pros” have coaches, no matter what level they’ve achieved in their chosen endeavor.  This will cost you some money, but if you get very focused on what it is you’re trying to learn and improve on, the dollars you invest here will likely be very well spent.  The key is to find a coach or coaches with whom you are very compatible, so that the communications are efficient and effective and not weighed down by logistical and personality challenges outside the realm of the subject matter you are trying to learn.

6.)   Join peer groups.  There are CEO peer groups, such as Vistage, and there are peer groups for almost every functional area of business.  In fact, by now, there are peer groups, online and in-person, for just about any topic.  Find one that suits you and give it a try.  Again, this will cost you some money, but it is also likely to be money well spent, if you can hook up with the right groups.  Peers who have been through the challenges and the stressful situations you are likely to face should be able to help you be better prepared for when they arise in your business.

7.)   Participate in masterminds.  Masterminds have been around in various forms for quite a while, but only picked up this moniker in relatively recent times.  Usually, these days, they mostly involve “mastermind calls” with people who are trying to accomplish goals similar to those you are pursuing.  They may deliver much of the same value as “peer groups,” and sometimes, they can do so much more efficiently, as they often consist of relatively short, focused calls.

All of the above approaches and activities can help you better prepare for stressful situations, the kind where you want your training, rather than fear and panic, to take over.

Regardless of which of these approaches you decide to pursue, try to do so in a structured manner.  As the GAMES Approach lays out, goal-setting is just the first step in dealing with high-stress, potentially panic-inducing situations.  You will also want to work on arousal control, mental rehearsal, endurance (which you build through practice), and positive self-talk.  For the Navy SEALs at least, such an approach has led to markedly higher pass rates in what many would say is one of the most stressful challenges of all:  the Underwater Pool Competency Test.

Be very calculated about what it is you are trying to learn, then use all the various methods at your disposal to learn it, so that it becomes like second nature.  While you are not likely to face life-or-death situations to the extent of Special Forces operatives, your performance in stressful situations may, in fact, determine the life or death of your business.  Take the same focused, disciplined and successful repetition-driven approach in your own training, and you are more likely to see your business grow and prosper.  Make sure you seek and master the training and knowledge you need, before you need it.

I look forward to your thoughts and questions.  Please leave a comment (“response”) below or in the upper right corner of this post.

Paul Morin

paul@companyfounder.com

www.companyfounder.com

Don’t miss an issue of Company Founder! Subscribe today.  It’s free.  It’s private.  It’s practical information for entrepreneurs and leaders interested in taking it to the next level.

Go to the right-hand navigation bar near the top of the page, enter your email and click subscribe.  We respect your privacy and will not sell your email address.  Note:  once you subscribe, if the confirmation email doesn’t arrive, check your spam filter.  It usually makes it through, but sometimes those pesky spam filters don’t know what’s good..

Share
Sep 072011
 
Share

intensity

Intensity Is Good, But Control It

Early in my life, I only knew one level of intensity:  HIGH.  I grew up in a very competitive environment and no matter what I did, I had to win.  If not, it was not pretty.  I made it ugly for myself and for everyone around me.  This required me to be very intense all the time, basically living in a constant state of stress.  It was a double-edged sword, as that intensity allowed me to accomplish some things that I may not have otherwise, but it came at a big price.  Due to my level of intensity and competitiveness, I was unable to enjoy anything just for the sake of doing it.  When I look back, I think, “what a horrible way to go through every day”.

The good news is that with time, I’ve been able to learn to have different levels of intensity based on the particular situation at hand.  This transformation has been part standard maturation and part daily battle with myself to “lighten up,” except when it’s necessary to ratchet up the intensity.  Don’t get me wrong, by most standards, many would say I’m still pretty intense a lot of the time, but it’s nothing compared to what it used to be.  I think my wife and family would agree that I’m a little bit easier to live with now after this “transformation”.  The really good news is that this change to someone who is capable of what I like to call “dynamic intensity” has not lowered my productivity at all.  In fact, it has increased it, particularly in the area of creativity.  When I used to have just “one gear,” it was tough to get into a creative state of mind, as I was too busy “getting it done”.

The metaphor I like to use for this “dynamic intensity” is one I’ve heard attributed to the Navy SEALs, but I do not know if that is accurate.  I have not found an authoritative source that talks about its origins.  If anyone knows, please drop me a line.  The metaphor for “states of awareness” is color coded and goes like this:

Level White: I call it “zoned out”.  Living in your own little world, oblivious to what is going on around you.  This is basically a relaxed state with little presence of stress.  You can think of it as sitting on the couch watching a brain-numbing show that’s somewhat engaging.

Level Yellow:  This could be called “semi-aware”.  You know where you are.  You’re not “zoned out,” but there still is not much stress present.  You could think about it as being in the supermarket, where your biggest stress is whether you’re going to have a shopping cart accident with another shopper.

Level Red:  This is when you are very aware.  You have all your senses turned on and you’re paying attention to all of them.  You are assessing your situation to determine whether you need to act to protect yourself, either physically or in a business setting, verbally.  You can think of this one as walking down a dark street at night, alone, and hearing some noises that have you concerned.

Level Black:  At this level, you are in “fight or flight mode”.  It’s everything in Level Red, plus you are now acting based on your senses.  This is the primitive fight or flight response that fires up the amygdala and most likely sends a burst of adrenaline into your blood stream.  This state was covered in detail in another article I wrote about using the GAMES Approach to overcome your fears.  You can think of this one as being in that dark alley late at night and having someone walk up behind you and grab you around the neck.

I have found it very helpful to keep these four “states of awareness” in mind as I go through the day.  What I have found is that there is sometimes a tendency to perceive a situation as requiring a level of awareness much higher than it actually requires.  I have also found the opposite to be true, where it is tempting to not take a situation as seriously as you should and adjust your state of awareness accordingly.

One thing that has become crystal clear to me is that it is not healthy to always be in the same state of awareness.  It is very important to move between the states of awareness as needed, throughout each day.  Hopefully you will not have a lot of circumstances that cause you to go to Level Black, but if you do, then by all means ratchet up your awareness and be prepared to “do what you have to do”.

In my experience, many people go through most of their lives at Level White, never challenging themselves and thus never needing to change their state of mind from “zoned out”.  That’s a state I wouldn’t choose for myself or my loved ones, at least not on a constant basis, but “to each their own”.  We like to spend some time “zoned out” or “chilled out,” in order to relax from other more intense activities, but spending the majority of the time there would be unstimulating and boring, in my opinion.  Depending which activities and challenges I’m doing, I like to spend most of my time vacillating between Level Yellow and Level Red.  What I’ve become a lot better at with time is moving more easily between the levels and not carrying the “baggage” from the previous level with me.

How about you?  Where do you spend most of your time?  Do you find this metaphor helpful in thinking about controlling your “states of awareness”?

I look forward to your thoughts and questions.  Please leave a comment (“response”) below or in the upper right corner of this post.

Paul Morin

paul@companyfounder.com

www.companyfounder.com

 

Don’t miss an issue of Company Founder! Subscribe today.  It’s free.  It’s private.  It’s practical information for entrepreneurs and leaders interested in taking it to the next level.

Go to the right-hand navigation bar near the top of the page, enter your email and click subscribe.  We respect your privacy and will not sell your email address.  Note:  once you subscribe, if the confirmation email doesn’t arrive, check your spam filter.  It usually makes it through, but we’ve had a few get caught up in the filter..

Share
Aug 052011
 
Share

Live “Sin Miedo”.  Without Fear.

There is an expression that is used frequently in Spanish:  “sin miedo,” which means without fear.  It is typically used in situations where someone is encouraging someone else to do something that may be a bit scary.  It is also a more general philosophy.

For those of you whom I’ve coached and those who have read a lot of my work, you’ll know I’ve written quite a bit about specific approaches to overcoming your fears and achieving peak performance in situations that otherwise could trigger a panic reaction and cause you to “run in the other direction”.  The piece on the GAMES Approach that focuses on techniques used by the U.S. Navy seals is a good example.  This article is not as focused specific techniques though; rather, it is about a more general “sin miedo” – without fear philosophy.

No matter who you are or what you do in life, you will run into “scary” situations – those that could cause you to freeze up or quit and run in the other direction.  If you are an achiever, which tends to describe well the vast majority of people with whom I work and associate, you will tend to run into these circumstances more frequently, as you are more likely to be “pushing the envelope” – that is how meaningful progress is typically made, after all.

If you are running into fear-invoking situations on a regular basis, you have two basic choices:  1.) You can go through life worrying when the next such situation may arise; and 2.) You can condition yourself and your mind to expect such situations to arise and welcome them as a challenge when they do.  You’d have to be crazy to welcome fear-invoking situations you say?  Not really.  The situations will arise regardless of how you choose to confront them.  Why not welcome them “sin miedo” and develop a spirit of embracing tough challenges?  Do you think such a mindset and approach may increase the likelihood that you will perform better in stressful situations and have less anxiety in general?  I assure you that it will.

So how do you program yourself to confront “scary” situations with unusual courage?  Well, there’s good news and bad news.  The good news is that it is possible – you can train yourself to respond without fear, or at least without as much fear as normal, when confronted with “fear situations”.  The bad news is that in order to program yourself to respond in an “unnatural” way to anything, you must do so through conditioning.  You must train yourself to confront such situations “sin miedo” and the only way to do that is to put yourself in those situations over and over again, respond “correctly” each time and it will get easier and easier.  The “correct” response will be come your default response.

Note that I’m not telling you to put your life in danger constantly just so you won’t be as afraid when your life is in danger.  That can of course be useful, but it’s a bit extreme for what I’m trying to teach you here.  Here we are talking mainly about irrational fears – those that we over-inflate in our minds as being “life or death,” when if we were thinking about them rationally, we’d realize very quickly that they’re not.  An example would be the fear of public speaking.  I’ve heard (and witnessed), more than once, the crazy contention that most people fear public speaking more than death itself!  So that would be an example of an irrational fear that you need to confront “sin miedo” – it’s clearly not “life or death,” but many people make it so in their minds.  You can no doubt think of several others, particularly those that you confront personally.

Alright, that sounds fine, right?  Confront my fears “sin miedo”.  But how do I do it?  In my experience, the only way to do it is to take the plunge and do those things that you fear most.  It sounds great as an intellectual exercise, I know, but trust me that I know it is not so easy to pull off in practice.  It’s very helpful if you have a friend, mentor or coach to accompany you on your journey to operate without fear.  If that person has experience in overcoming particular fears, even better.  But most importantly, you must trust that person implicitly, so that when it’s “go time” and you have to take that difficult step in the direction of the stage (public speaking) or out of the airplane (heights, parachuting), for example, you can trust that they won’t steer you wrong.

In a previous article I used the example of my youngest son and his fear of heights and how he ended up loving and embracing the ziplining experience in Central America, where you soar over the rainforest canopy several hundred feet up in the air.  That example is a good one here too, as it illustrates the importance of having a guide or coach to get you through the tough part – taking the first step.  In that particular case, my son was literally strapped to the guide, so he knew that his safety was inextricably linked to the safety and knowledge of that guide.  This allowed him to quickly develop a trust and confidence level.  He then had the “experience of his life” and while he still has some fear of heights, that fear has been greatly diminished.  And by the way, after overcoming that fear and doing the ziplining experience, his confidence shot through the roof in many other aspects of his life.  That is a nice collateral benefit that often accompanies a willingness to confront and overcome fears, to live “sin miedo”.

A technique that works very well in learning to live without fear and embrace difficult challenges is to develop a kind of “personal mantra” that you use whenever fear and worry start to creep into your mind.  In my case, I actually use “sin miedo,” as it has a lot of meaning for me and evokes a visceral response to “toughen up” and confront whatever challenge it may be head-on.  This is not so dissimilar to the importance of short-term goals I covered in the article “Why Goal Setting Is So Important,” where I discussed how you can use a kind of mantra (in that case “202”) to help you access your willpower and push through situations where you’d otherwise have an overwhelming desire to quit.  The two concepts are highly linked, as they deal with your mind’s desire to avoid or end an uncomfortable situation or feeling.

What are your fears?  Do you live “sin miedo,” or do you go through life in a constant state of anxiety and fearfulness?  I guarantee you that if you are willing to confront your fears, whatever they may be, head-on and you can find someone you trust to help you work through them, your life will improve significantly and irreversibly.  If you cannot do this, there will be little that can help you break out of a constant state of stress, worry and anxiety.  You must take action to get this result.  It will not happen automatically.

I look forward to your thoughts and comments.

Paul Morin

paul@CompanyFounder.com

www.CompanyFounder.com.

Share
Jun 272011
 
Share

Performing In The Zone

When you’re “performing in the zone,” or “treeing” as it’s sometimes called, it’s almost as if you can do anything. In business, sports or any other pursuit that requires skill and concentration, when you’re “in the zone,” it’s as if the action slows down in front of you. In that state of mind, you’re more focused, you can better anticipate what’s coming next and as a result, your performance is at a much higher level than you typically experience.

In sports we’ve all seen the seemingly magical performances where someone was “playing out of their mind,” like Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant putting in 50 points or more in key playoff games and hitting buzzer-beaters to win crucial games. Where do these “in the zone” moments come from? It’s easy to say, “Well, that’s just Michael Jordan, or that’s just Kobe Bryant, or that’s just ___________[insert name of exceptional athlete],” but anyone who has played sports knows, it’s not just the big name superstars that get in these zones. Furthermore, these big name superstars are not “in the zone” all the time.

So, how does it happen? This will not be a post about how the brain works or other technical physiological jargon or concepts. Rather, let’s keep this to trying to think through how anyone can get “in the zone” or “tree” more frequently in their performances. What is the necessary ingredient or precursor to such “in the zone” performances?

The key ingredient typically present in “treeing” and other peak performance experiences is pressure. There is usually some significant pressure or stress present that causes the peak performer to enhance their focus and play at another level. If nothing else has changed in the physical or mental preparation or state of the athlete or other performer, what other than increased focus could be a major contributor to getting “in the zone”?

If stress, pressure and potentially fear are typically present in peak performance, “in the zone” or “treeing” scenarios, what else can be done in order to maximize the probably of a great performance instead of a dismal failure in such situations? In my opinion, it boils down to a couple of concepts we’ve covered elsewhere in the GAMES Approach to overcoming fears, particularly mental rehearsal and positive self-talk. Beyond the Michael Jordans and Kobe Bryants of the world, almost all top performers I know and have observed in business, in sports, and all other performance domains, use mental rehearsal (visualization) and positive self-talk to enhance their performance. This “virtual preparation” is in addition, of course, to the extraordinary physical and other iterative preparation they put in on the field, in the boardroom, or wherever their actual field of play may be.

Let’s review what the GAMES Approach to overcoming fears and maximizing performance entails. Here are the elements, which focus in on how the Navy SEALs are trained to overcome their fears in situations that could, instead of eliciting an “in the zone” performance, cause a panic response, which undermines and potentially destroys performance:

[G]oal-setting: This involves creating very short-term and achievable goals, so that you are not overwhelmed by a bunch of extraneous thoughts and concerns and can remain focused on the task at hand. So, for example in the case of the SEAL Underwater Pool Competency Test, when you were underwater and the instructor tangled your breathing apparatus, you wouldn’t think to yourself, “I wonder what he’s going to do to me next…”, or “I’m not sure how much more of this I can take…”, or “I wonder how the candidate next to me is doing…”. Rather, you would say to yourself, simply, my goal is to untangle these knots – nothing more and nothing less. You would then say to yourself: I will employ the knot untangling procedure we learned in training step-by-step. Then you would execute step one, step two … etc. In other words, you would block out all extraneous thoughts and factors and focus totally on the task at hand, step-by-step. Can you see how you could use the same approach with any fears you may have in business, sports or life?

[A]rousal Control: This element focuses mainly on breathing. Taking deeper breaths with longer exhales simulates the body’s relaxation response and helps to mitigate some of the effects that the Amygdala’s panic response can create. So, in the Pool Competency example, when the instructor tied your hoses or pulled your mask off, rather than immediately starting to try to breathe rapidly (which you couldn’t anyway if what the instructor did interrupted the air supply), you would calm your mind with a decent exhale and then calmly get to work on accomplishing your goals and following procedures to address the issue, step-by-step. The relaxed breathing is harder to do in this example underwater, but can you see how breathing in a more relaxed fashion in business, sports or the rest of your life, and remaining calm rather than immediately going into panic mode, could help your performance?

[M]ental Rehearsal: Often referred to as visualization, mental rehearsal involves running through in your mind whatever it is you are trying to accomplish, envisioning all the steps, then a calm reaction to any stress and ultimately, a successful outcome. Mental rehearsal is seeing yourself doing it over and over again successfully, as if in a movie. You can visualize the scenario from a first-person perspective, where you are seeing it through your eyes as you perform the actions, or from a third-person perspective, where it’s as if you are seeing it through the eyes of someone else who is watching you perform the task successfully. You should visualize the scenario in as much detail as possible, so it looks and feels as realistic as possible. There is a great deal of research out there that indicates that your mind has a hard time differentiating between a scenario vividly visualized and one that actually occurred. As one SEAL psychologist says, by performing this step of mental rehearsal, the first time you do something “in real life,” as far as your mind is concerned, it won’t be like the first time at all and you may have greater success controlling the panic reaction that typically would occur. While the process of mental rehearsal has been of great assistance in enhancing SEAL performance, can you also see how doing this could help you perform better in all your endeavors?

[E]ndurance: This element is a recognition that this pro-active approach to mastering the fear response is not something that will happen quickly. It is a war of attrition against your Amygdala’s fear response. You will have to have a great deal of endurance and determination as you do as many iterations as necessary to conquer your fear response(s) in your particular endeavor. You will need to commit to stay at it as long as necessary, bravely confronting and conquering your fears head-on, knowing that by doing so, you will greatly increase the probability of achieving greatness in your chosen endeavor. Your mantra should be: As long as it takes, as many times as it takes. It’s a marathon not a sprint. Commit ahead of time. Be brave. Do not give up until you conquer your fears and reach your objectives.

[S]elf-talk: As has been discussed and proven in many other contexts, the Navy SEAL commanders came to the realization that in becoming an effective Special Forces team member, what you say to yourself, particularly in times of stress, is very important. You can say as many as 1,000 words to yourself in a minute, but at a minimum, you are likely to say several hundred words. If you are filling your mind with negative thoughts, you don’t increase your chances of success; instead, you increase your probability of failure. Discipline yourself to focus on positive self-talk. Repeat encouraging phrases to yourself. Find specific phrases or words that are particularly calming for you, or particularly motivating for you. Use them constantly to prepare for scenarios and use them during scenarios that occur, in the “heat of the battle”. Be your own best fan. Be your own cheering section. Prove by your self-talk that you believe in yourself and in the probability that you will succeed. This will help you keep the stress response under control and it will help you succeed in every aspect of your life.

Use the GAMES approach to maximize the likelihood that in stressful performance situations, you will perform “in the zone,” rather than allowing the fear response to take over and “choking,” as so often happens to those who are not adequately informed and prepared.

I look forward to your comments and questions.

Paul Morin
paul@CompanyFounder.com
www.CompanyFounder.com.

Share
Jun 202011
 
Share

Where Does Greatness Come From?

Let’s focus in on human greatness here, as there are a lot of types of greatness in the world. So, where does human greatness come from? No one knows exactly, but I will give you some ideas of the steps to get there, based on my in-depth study of over 250 of the all-time great historical figures in a variety of fields, as well as my interviews and conversations with a large sample of contemporary greats, in fields ranging from entrepreneurship, to the military, to science, sports and many others.

The first and most important lesson is that generally speaking, people are not “born great,” simply knowing from the very start that they are gifted in a certain area and that they will become one of the “greats” in that area. As previously discussed, as much as there’s a great deal of folklore and exaggerated stories out there to that effect, most human beings do not become great at something from one minute to the next, without a huge, concerted and inspired effort. The common wisdom now is that it takes roughly 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to move from beginner to expert in a particular endeavor. That does not necessarily make you “great” of course, but usually, if done correctly, it will at least get you to “expert” status. You will know more and be better at your chosen endeavor than the vast majority of the remainder of the human population.

So if it’s relatively clear what it typically takes to become an expert in a field, is it also clear what it takes to achieve “greatness” in a particular endeavor or field? Unfortunately, not really. In my experience as an advisor and coach and in my research, I have found a wide variety of paths to greatness. That’s good news and bad news, as the saying goes. It’s good news, since even if you are not or have not been on a particular path, it doesn’t, de facto, mean that you cannot become great in your chosen field or endeavor. It’s bad news because it doesn’t give us one well-defined path to zoom in on in an effort to achieve greatness. That being said, in my experience and my research, I have found some common threads of the path to greatness. I will lay out those commonalities in the form of a ten-step process to become great at anything. There are no guarantees, of course, as most of the hard work rests on your shoulders, but by using this approach, in my opinion, you will maximize the probability that you can become “one of the greats” in your endeavor.

The first step is to identify the area of greatness that you are pursuing. You should be as specific as you can, given that the more nebulous you leave it, the more difficult you will find it to make focused efforts toward achieving your goal in the steps that follow.

The second step is to uncover the key requirements to become great in your chosen endeavor. The four main approaches you will pursue in uncovering these requirements will be the following:

a. Go directly to the “horse’s mouth”. That is, you should contact one or several people who have already done what you’re trying to do – become great in your field – and ask them how they did it. Try to get as many specifics as possible.

b. Talk to one or several coaches in that domain. These could also be referred to as subject matter experts (SMEs) or maybe even SMEs with a bit extra, as they have chosen to be coaches and thus are likely oriented toward understanding how to maximize performance in your particular endeavor.

c. Read books by experts in the field. Reading appeals to some folks and does not appeal to others. There are also many books on tape now, which you can listen to when you are driving or exercising. If you are more oriented toward learning from video, you should also be able to find plenty of resources in that medium.

d. Watch true professionals in action. If what you’re trying to become great at is a sport, watch as many events as you can, but don’t just watch as a fan or casual observer; watch as a student of the game. Likewise, if your focus is in business or another area, become a curious student of all that happens in your field.

The third step is to take stock of your natural abilities. Take a look at your physical and mental attributes. Don’t judge yourself or determine whether these attributes are good or bad at this point, just take stock. Are you exceptionally tall? Are you great with numbers? Etc.

The fourth step is to look at your strengths and weaknesses relative to what you’ve determined that it takes to be great in your chosen endeavor. You’ll want to go into great depth here, as understanding where your weaknesses are, for example, will allow you to structure your practice in a way that helps you to optimize your use of time and accelerate your road to greatness.

The fifth step is to focus in on your “why”? That is, why do you want to become great at this endeavor? What is it that’s driving you? Is it a “strong why”? In other words, do you think it is sufficiently strong to drive you to put in and maintain the extraordinary effort and concentration level that will be required to become great?

The sixth step is to set goals for yourself. You will want to set short-, medium- and long-term goals that take into account the requirements to become great, as well as the specific areas you’ve determined where you need to make improvements. Monitor progress toward your goals and make sure that you set a timeline for completion of each goal.

The seventh step is to constantly reinforce your belief that you can attain the goals that you’ve set for yourself to become great in your endeavor. This belief will be reinforced regularly if you have set your goals in a way that they are achievable on an incremental basis. Allow yourself to achieve small victories along the way, as this will nurture your belief. As with the later step of maintaining calm, you will also want to use positive self-talk and visualizations in this step.

The eighth step is to develop a detailed preparation schedule that is oriented toward reaching your goals and achieving greatness. Regardless of what your endeavor is, you may want to work with a coach or other qualified third party to ensure that your preparation schedule makes sense in terms of getting you to where you want to be without burning you out in the meantime.

The ninth step is to make sure that you have in place a calming mantra and approach for when you get into stressful situations on the road to achieving your goals. If you are trying to become great at anything, no matter what the field, it is inevitable that you will encounter some, maybe even a huge amount of stress along the way. You need an approach to deal with fear and stress and keep progressing toward greatness. That approach will likely involve extensive use of positive self-talk and visualization.

The tenth step is to constantly work on and nourish your will to succeed and concentrate. In fact, based on my experience and research, this may be the most important step and factor in your success. There are very few exceptions among the historical and contemporary greats that did not have to exercise enormous power of will and concentration, usually on many, many occasions. Becoming an expert is challenging enough. Becoming great is another whole level and it almost always requires many instances of calling on massive willpower to overcome the inevitable obstacles that lie in the path to greatness.

We’ll go into each of these steps in much more detail, but this summary gives you an idea of the path you need to follow to move from beginner to expert, and then, if your “why,” your belief and your willpower are strong enough, on to greatness.

I look forward to your thoughts, comments and questions.

Paul Morin
paul@CompanyFounder.com
www.CompanyFounder.com.

Share
May 202011
 
Share

We all have fears. It is part of the reality of being human. Those who deny having any fears typically are lying or are not being honest with themselves.

The following comments are based on my work and research with athletes, business people and other elite performers such as Special Forces members. Further resources for information on this topic include many articles, books, audio and video works, including the 2009 History Channel documentary called The Brain. The GAMES Approach mentioned below is adapted from a Navy SEAL approach to dealing with fears, which was covered in the History Channel’s The Brain documentary.

Can fears get in the way of accomplishing your objectives? Can they keep you from becoming great at whatever it is you want to conquer? Absolutely! Fears can stop you dead in your tracks, quite literally. This is due to how the brain functions and sometimes this reality works to your benefit, particularly in the area of physical safety.

However, in the area of “mental safety,” fear can be a real problem. In the brain’s desire to protect you from the unknown and apparently dangerous, it can actually impede you from accomplishing your most important goals.

Rather than focus in depth on the physiological realities that cause you to stop “dead in your tracks,” I’ll give you a basic primer on what happens in your brain when confronted with “scary” situations, then we’ll quickly move on to what you can do about it, so that you can, to quote the Doors, “break on through to the other side”.

When you are confronted with a scary situation, in basic terms, your brain presses the “panic button”. The danger is perceived by your senses then makes it way over to the Amygdala, one of the regions of the brain that deals with emotion, where if the danger is perceived to be real and imminent, the brain starts a cascade effect of panic responses. Your heart beats faster, you breathe faster, your blood pressure rises, and if the level of panic is sufficient, chemicals such as adrenaline and cortisol are released into your bloodstream. The fight or flight system is thus activated and you’re in full panic mode, like it or not.

Unless the Frontal Lobes of the Cerebral Cortex can get the Amygdala’s panic cascade under control, or prevent it from occurring in the first place, the likelihood of pushing through your fears is quite limited. The Nervous System response and blood stream chemical effects are simply overwhelming. The problem is that research has shown that the sensory data arrives more quickly to the Amygdala than it does to the Frontal Lobes, where rational thought could potentially prevent the fear reaction from cascading out of control. Then how can the Frontal Lobes possibly prevent the Amygdala from reacting and triggering panic mode? Per The Brain documentary mentioned above, this was a question very much on the mind of instructors at the Navy SEALs Special Warfare Command in San Diego, California.

They came to the realization that they were losing a large number of potential SEALs from the training process due to one simple fact: they could not control their fear response.

Image of BUDS - Navy SEAL Pool Competency Training

Image by Official U.S. Navy Imagery via Flickr

This inability to control the fear response was most apparent in what’s called the Underwater Pool Competency Test. This is the test where SEAL candidates spend as much as 20 minutes underwater with SCUBA equipment, during which time they are constantly harassed by instructors. The instructors will turn off their regulators, tie their breathing gear into knots and generally make it difficult to breathe from the SCUBA tank for more than a short time. This harassment leads to a steadily worsening mental and physical condition and the candidates must do everything they can to resist the desire to surface for air. It is an incredibly strong desire that is extraordinarily difficult to suppress. The human brain has been hardwired to understand that breathing is absolutely fundamental, that we cannot breathe underwater, and without oxygen for any prolonged period, we’re dead.

So realizing that the Amygdala pushes the panic button, and further realizing that the only way to overcome this automatic response would be to get the Cortex/ Frontal Lobes involved, the SEAL commanders came to the conclusion that it was important to be pro-active and condition a “non-panic” response by repeated exposure to the “right” emergency procedures. What it boils down to is that the Cortex / Frontal Lobes cannot get involved “realtime” before the Amygdala at the moment the danger is perceived, as they receive the sensory input more slowly, so the response needs to be conditioned based on practice before any event that could induce panic. The candidates need to override their panic system, based on previously obtained and internalized knowledge and a set of step-by-step procedures and techniques. While there are more, SEAL instructors decided to focus on what they call the “big 4” techniques: Goal-setting; Mental Rehearsal; Self-talk; and Arousal Control. I have added a fifth, “Endurance,” and re-orderded them a bit to come up with the “GAMES” Approach to conquering your fears. Next we will touch on each of the elements of the GAMES Approach.

[G]oal-setting: This involves creating very short-term and achievable goals, so that you are not overwhelmed by a bunch of extraneous thoughts and concerns and can remain focused on the task at hand. So, for example in the case of the Underwater Pool Competency Test, when you were underwater and the instructor tangled your breathing apparatus, you wouldn’t think to yourself, “I wonder what he’s going to do to me next…”, or “I’m not sure how much more of this I can take…”, or “I wonder how the candidate next to me is doing…”. Rather, you would say to yourself, simply, my goal is to untangle these knots – nothing more and nothing less. You would then say to yourself: I will employ the knot untangling procedure we learned in training step-by-step. Then you would execute step one, step two … etc. In other words, you would block out all extraneous thoughts and factors and focus totally on the task at hand, step-by-step. Can you see how you could use the same approach with any fears you may have in business, sports or life?

[A]rousal Control: This element focuses mainly on breathing. Taking deeper breaths with longer exhales stimulates the body’s relaxation response and helps to mitigate some of the effects that the Amygdala’s panic response can create. So, in the Pool Competency example, when the instructor tied your hoses or pulled your mask off, rather than immediately starting to try to breathe rapidly (which you couldn’t anyway if what the instructor interrupted the air supply), you would calm your mind with a decent exhale and then calmly get to work on accomplishing your goals and following procedures to address the issue, step-by-step. The relaxed breathing is harder to do in this example underwater, but can you see how breathing in a more relaxed fashion in business, sports or the rest of your life, and remaining calm rather than immediately going into panic mode, could help your performance?

[M]ental Rehearsal: Often referred to as visualization, mental rehearsal involves running through in your mind whatever it is that you are trying to accomplish, envisioning all the steps, then reacting calmly to any stress and ultimately, achieving a successful outcome. Mental rehearsal is seeing yourself doing it over and over again successfully, as if in a movie. You can visualize the scenario from a first-person perspective, where you are seeing it through your eyes as you perform the actions, or from a third-person perspective, where it’s as if you are seeing it through the eyes of someone else who is watching you perform the task successfully. You should visualize the scenario in as much detail as possible, so it looks and feels as realistic as possible. There is a great deal of research out there that indicates that your mind has a hard time differentiating between a scenario vividly visualized and one that actually occurred. As one SEAL psychologist says, by performing this step of mental rehearsal, the first time you do something “in real life,” as far as your mind is concerned, it won’t be like the first time at all and you may have greater success controlling the panic reaction that typically would occur. The process of mental rehearsal has been of great assistance in enhancing SEAL performance; can you also see how doing this could help you perform better in all of your endeavors?

[E]ndurance: This element is a recognition that this pro-active approach to mastering the fear response is not something that will happen quickly. It is a war of attrition against your Amygdala’s fear response. You will have to have a great deal of endurance and determination as you do as many iterations as necessary to conquer your fear response(s) in your particular endeavor. You will need to commit to stay at it as long as necessary, bravely confronting and conquering your fears head-on, knowing that by doing so, you will greatly increase the probability of achieving greatness in your chosen endeavor. Your mantra should be: As long as it takes, as many times as it takes. It’s a marathon not a sprint. Commit ahead of time. Be brave. Do not give up until you conquer your fears and reach your objectives.

[S]elf-talk: As has been discussed and proven in many other contexts, the Navy SEAL commanders came to the realization that in becoming an effective Special Forces team member, what you say to yourself, particularly in times of stress, is very important. You can say as many as 1,000 words to yourself in a minute, but at a minimum, you are likely to say several hundred words. If you are filling your mind with negative thoughts, you don’t increase your chances of success; instead, you increase your probability of failure. Discipline yourself to focus on positive self-talk. Repeat encouraging phrases to yourself. Find specific phrases or words that are particularly calming for you, or particularly motivating for you. Use them constantly to prepare for scenarios and use them during scenarios that occur, in the “heat of the battle”. Be your own best fan. Be your own cheering section. Prove by your self-talk that you believe in yourself and in the probability that you will succeed. This will help you keep the stress response under control and it will help you succeed in every aspect of your life.

So there you have in a nutshell the GAMES Approach to overcoming fears and achieving your goals and “greatness” in all areas of your life. Don’t limit yourself to one or two of the elements of the Approach; use all five. Use them pro-actively and use them together, in concert. Some fear responses are so strong that they will overwhelm anything but a coordinated effort to make sure that your rational Cortex wins out over your emotional, panic-prone Amygdala. In the effort to control the fear response and increase the probability that you will accomplish your objectives and become great in your chosen endeavor, you need all the reinforcements and coordination you can get.

I look forward to your comments and questions.

Paul Morin
paul@CompanyFounder.com
www.CompanyFounder.com

Share