I was at a training recently and basketball coach John Wooden, famous for winning ten NCAA National championships for UCLA in a 12-year period, was mentioned. The anecdote shared was that while coaching his team at half-time, a rookie player piped up and said, “We are x number of points up. We are doing okay!” John Wooden told him to forget about the scoreboard and focus on playing the game to the best of his abilities.
I recognized how pertinent this advice is for life. It is so easy to get caught up in measuring how we are doing and to forget about living. Whatever metrics we use, business statistics, size of our bank account, looks, number of friends, they are only feedback. The numbers give us information, but they do not help our performance.
When we focus on, “How am I doing?”, it breeds insecure thoughts and feelings. There will be times when we will be doing well and exceeding whatever expectations we set for ourselves, and there will also be times when we aren’t meeting those goals. If our wellbeing is externally referenced, based on our perception of how we are doing, our good feelings will go up and down like a roller coaster. This is exhausting, and it puts us at the mercy of forces outside of ourselves. It does not bring out the best in anyone.
In order to navigate this, we often focus our time and energy on improving the statistics so we can have more good feelings and less bad ones. It seems like common sense. No one wants to feel badly. We want to feel good so we put our energy where it feels most important, but in the process we forget about the simplicity and joy of playing the game. We ignore that we can have a good experience no matter what the scoreboard says.
Someone’s scoreboard might say they don’t have a partner. They can then become so focused on trying to solve that metric, that they forget about enjoying life. This usually results in them being less likely to find a partner because they aren’t happy. Optimal performance comes from a mind that is not caught up in insecurity. Athletes call this experience being the zone. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls it flow. It is essential a state of having a quiet mind.
A quiet mind is our natural state. It is a possibility in any moment. As Sydney Banks would say, we are only ever one thought away. In this state of mind, there is no drama or complexity. There is simply what is.
A quiet mind allows us to have perspective and to focus on what is important. Fear stirs up our thinking. It muddies our view, and makes it easier to spend time in ways that have little impact in an attempt to escape the uncomfortable feelings that accompany insecure thoughts. This would be like me organizing my emails rather than writing.
Most people experience a quiet mind when they meet whatever standards they make up for themselves. At these times, we let go and relax. Any insecure thoughts that surfaces are easily ignored — until we fall short. This makes it look like the state of internal peace comes from outside. It magically appears when certain conditions are met, and disappears when they are not.
If this were true, it would be disastrous. In sports, players would only be able to perform their best when their team is winning. That is when peak performance is needed least. Fortunately, our state of mind has nothing to do with outside circumstances and everything thing to do with our thoughts. We experience well being and peace when our thinking gets quiet. This can happen at any time, any where, under any conditions.
When we forget about the scoreboard and let go of all the worry and anxiety created from chasing the numbers, we get better performance naturally. Being less preoccupied with results allows our thinking to settle. It frees us up to have inspiration, to be open to creative solutions, and to enjoy living. There is no magic to a having a quiet mind. We don’t need to do anything to get there. It occurs without effort every day, perhaps when we are driving, daydreaming, or having a shower. Our thinking is designed to settle as soon as we stop putting energy into it.
Perhaps even more important than improved performance, is that our enjoyment of life increases when we forget about the metrics. Our happiness comes from inside of us. Peace and wellbeing are what we are born with. Have you looked into the eyes of a baby recently and felt the bliss of connection and presence? That is our true nature. That is our birthright.
We complicate things by mistakenly thinking if we let go of worry and pressuring ourselves that we will turn into blobs of unproductive matter and suck energy from the universe. It may be true that many of us do need to rest. Exhaustion seems to be of epidemic proportions. Check out Arianna Huffington’s book The Sleep Revolution. So yes, perhaps for many, taking the foot off the gas would result in needing to rest. This is healthy, but resting would not be needed forever. Our natural state is to be creative, to learn, and to grow, simply for the pleasure of it. We are designed this way.
We can trust our design. We can trust the intelligence of our true nature. We do, however, need to ignore the sometimes very loud, voice of the ego’s fearful and insecure thinking. This becomes easier and easier to do. Those thoughts become less compelling. They look more and more ridiculous when they show up, and there are those graceful moments when they just aren’t there.
I am having this experience currently as I prepare to tell a personal story at a Spark Off Rose storytelling evening. As I was working on my piece, I noticed I wasn’t feeling nervous. This surprised me because in the past, I felt significant fear and anxiety regarding public speaking. I briefly wondered if there was something wrong with me. Was I numb? I thought it can’t be healthy not to feel scared. Then I realized, I wasn’t thinking about the results. I wasn’t focusing on what people would think of me, or how I would come across. I was just writing my story. Worrying about it certainly wouldn’t make me a better writer.
It has been a beautiful experience for me to not be caught up in my self-evaluation. I may not always feel this way and have as much clarity, but I know it is possible.
I know my well being is much deeper than any transitory feeling state I am having. My well being is there good mood or bad, peaceful or scared, experiencing it or not. Like the sun, it will eventually shine through no matter how intense of a thought storm I get myself embroiled in.
This helps me to take my insecure thinking more lightly, and to shift my focus from the ever changing scoreboard of how I am doing, to the constancy of knowing — I am. This frees me up to experience the fullness and possibility in each moment. As a result, my performance improves and so does my ability to relax and have fun!
Rohini Ross is a psychotherapist, a leadership consultant, and an executive coach. She helps individuals, couples, and professionals to connect more fully with their true nature so they can experience greater levels of wellbeing, resiliency, and success. Her years as a therapist give her significant insight regarding the impact and importance of state of mind on fulfilling potential. She supports her clients with achieving success both personally and professionally. You can find out more about Rohini’s work on her website, rohiniross.com.