While serving as the Director of Mental Training for the St. Louis Cardinals, Dr. Jason Selk helped the team win their first World Series in over 20 years, and in 2011 he assisted the Cardinals in the historic feat of winning their second World Championship in a six year period. Considered to be one of the nation’s premier performance coaches, Dr. Selk helps numerous well-known professional and Olympic athletes as well as Fortune 500 and Fortune 100 executives and organizations develop the mental toughness necessary for high-level success. In this column for Forbes.com, Dr. Selk examines how top performers retrain their brains to focus on what moves them forward:
Three viruses commonly inhibit the progress of the average and the above average achiever. The three most common performance viruses include using viable excuses, dwelling on what cannot be controlled, and letting problems own you. While all three of these come naturally to the normal person, top performers have learned to put their natural inclinations aside and retrain their brains to focus on what moves them forward. The high achievers in this world have learned how to overcome these three viruses.
1. Using Viable Excuses
Viable excuses are so tempting to use to explain our shortcomings, laziness, or mistakes because they contain an element of truth. Examples of viable excuses are, “It’s Christmas Season…no one is working anyway,” or “It’s Friday…I’ve worked hard all week, and I deserve to be a little lazy,” or “The weather is nasty…there is no harm in pressing ‘snooze’ a few more times.”
High achievers recognize that viable excuses prevent or delay them from reaching their potential. Taking accountability for our shortcomings forces us to feel the discomfort of falling short, and makes it less likely that we will fall short in the future. Excuses ensure that the detrimental behavior will continue time and time again because they provide an explanation for why it was okay to fall short in the first place. The highest of achievers execute through these viable excuses by never allowing themselves to utter excuse-making statements. When they do fall short, top performers take accountability by saying, “There is no excuse. It will not happen again.”
2. Dwelling On The Uncontrollable
High achievers quickly move their focus onto what is controllable in any situation. A highly successful business owner I know recently had the experience of his company losing its largest account. His associates immediately went into panic mode and would continually bring up how devastating this loss was for the company. They were spinning themselves into a spiral of negatively, fear, and inactivity by focusing on the uncontrollable. While his own inclination was to panic as well, he forced himself and his team to move their focus onto what they could control. He called a meeting during which he drew a chart with two columns on a whiteboard, one column for “Can’t Control,” and one column for “Can Control.” He said to his team, “Let’s identify what we can’t control, but then put all of our focus and energy on what we can control.” By the end of the meeting, his team had identified solutions for making up the lost revenue and for generating new business. While it took time for these solutions to bring about results, this shift in focus was critical in moving the momentum in the right direction.
No matter what type of profession or business one is in, it is extremely easy to dwell on what can not be controlled. Why? Because you do not have to take accountability for things you can not control. It is a free pass, and our brains love a free pass. High achievers have learned to concentrate on activities to which they can hold themselves accountable. Coach John Wooden said it best: “When you spend too much time worrying and thinking about the things you can not control, it can have an adverse effect on the things you can control.”
3. Letting Problems Own You
The third performance virus involves problems. If you are breathing, you can expect to experience problems on a consistent basis. Those who flourish have learned to quickly search for a solution. Much like worrying about what you can not control, stewing on a problem without searching for a solution costs time, money, and, most importantly, energy. When a problem occurs, the highly successful have learned to ask themselves one question that puts them on the path to a solution: What is one thing I can do that could make this better?
The act of asking this question forces the mind to search for a solution. Once the mind is searching for a solution, the battle has been won. As is the case with all three of the performance viruses, it is normal and natural for your mind to try to insist upon dwelling on the problem, but the top performers are more insistent that their mind doesn’t. The highly successful are relentless about asking themselves the question, “What is one thing I can do that could make this better,” especially when their mind wants to stew on the problem.
These viruses are tough to combat, but it is necessary to put in the work in order to be among the top performers. Not allowing yourself to use viable excuses, dwell on the uncontrollable, or let problems own you will help you stay on the path to success more consistently and to get back on the path more quickly when obstacles cause you to veer.