The Art of Strengths Coaching

T is for Transferring Your Performance From The Training Ground To Testing Situations

There are many stories about people who perform brilliantly during their equivalent of training but then buckle when under pressure. Such people can develop strategies, however, that enable them to perform well in testing situations.

Every person has their own equivalent of practicing on the training ground. This could be in their personal or professional lives.

They may rehearse facing challenging situations in their role as a student, singer, actor, athlete, leader, speaker, crisis manager or whatever. They may prepare for tackling a personal challenge such as an operation, court case or what they may see as a defining moment in their lives.

Sometimes, however, they may be hit by an unexpected setback. Suddenly they find themselves thrown into the situation they thought applied to others. They may say:

I know the theory about how it affects people. But now it is real. It is happening to me. Now I have to put the theory into practise.

Looking back on your life, when have you transferred your performance on your equivalent of the training ground to a testing situation? This could have been in your personal or professional life.

You may have rehearsed for something you expected and then embarked on tackling the challenge. This may have been an exam, a job interview or a potentially stressful situation.

Alternatively, you may have anticipated a challenge you might face later in your life. But then suddenly it arose, much earlier than you anticipated.

What did you do to stay calm? What did you then do to tackle the challenge? What happened as a result of taking these steps? What did you learn from the experience?

Imagine that you want to transfer something you have rehearsed to practising it in a specific testing situation. You may want to deal with managing a transition, having medical treatment, competing in a sports event or dealing with another challenge.

There are many approaches to making this happen. One approach is to focus on the following steps.

Perspective

Staying sane calls for having a perspective about what you believe is and is not important in life. Sometimes this can lead to an interesting balancing act.

Imagine that you are about to embark on tackling a tough challenge. You may have two parallel thoughts in your head. Let’s look at these.

You recognise the really
important things in life

You may believe that these include your health, your loved ones and helping other people. You may also recognise that you are just one person who lives for 70 years on this beautiful blue planet. Billions of people have come before you and billions will come after.

You recognise that what you are about to do has its
own importance so it is important to do it properly

You may recognise that, in the great scheme of life, what you are about to do is relatively small. At the same time, however, it is important to do it properly.

It may have significance for you or other people. So, whilst maintaining a sense of perspective, you focus on doing your best when tackling the challenge.

People sometimes need to balance these parallel thoughts. Let’s look at one example.

Matthew Syed, the author of Bounce, describes how athletes aim to stay calm at the height of competition. He explained how Sarah Lindsay, the speed skater, achieved this state by maintaining a sense of perspective.

Sarah spent years focusing on reaching the final of her speed skating event in the Winter Olympics. She knew it was necessary to beat her previous best to reach this goal.

In order to do so, however, she knew it was important to flow and finish. Sarah was seen preparing in the locker room before the final qualifying race saying to the following things to herself.

It’s only speed skating. It’s only speed skating. It’s only bloody speed skating.

She kept repeating the mantra. Sarah went out and performed beyond her previous best to reach the final.

Matthew goes on to describe how an athlete can overcome choking – continually failing to perform when it really matters.

As Mark Bawden, the sports psychologist who worked with Lindsay, put it:

‘In order to make all the sacrifices necessary to reach world-class levels of performance, an athlete has to believe that performing well means everything.

‘They have got to cleave to the belief that winning an Olympic gold is of life-changing significance.

‘But that is precisely the belief that is most likely to trigger a choking response.

‘So, the key psychological skill for someone with a tendency to choke is to ditch that belief in the minutes before competition and to replace it with the belief that the race does not really matter.

‘It is a form of psychological manipulation, and it takes a lot of work to master.’

Let’s return to your own life and work. Looking ahead, can you think of a potentially testing situation that you may face in the future? How can you maintain perspective and yet also tackle this situation properly?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific testing situation you may face in the future. 

Describe the specific things you can do to maintain perspective about what is important in life when tackling this situation. 

Describe the specific things you can also do to tackle the situation properly.

Principles 

What are the principles you want to follow in your life and work? How can you follow these in the potentially testing situation? What may happen as a result of taking these steps?

Some people are principles-driven. They believe in following their principles, especially in pressure situations. They aim to do this in both their personal and professional lives.

Some people are prize-driven. They are prepared to do whatever is required to get recognition and badges. Sometimes they may become consumed by simply grasping the prize.

Some people follow their principles and, as a by-product, sometimes get prizes. A person may believe in, for example, taking responsibility, encouraging other people and always doing their best. They may then aim to translate these beliefs into action and, as a result, find they achieve their picture of success.

Some people gain enormous strength from following their inner compass. They are prepared to be pragmatic, but the actions they take must be an expression of their principles. The key is for them to be true to themselves in their life and work.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the specific testing situation you may face in the future.

Describe the specific principles you want to follow in your life.

Describe the specific things you can do to follow these principles in the testing situation.

Planning 

People often prepare on their equivalent of the training ground before going into a testing situation.

Imagine, for example, that you are going into hospital for an operation. You will do a lot of practical and psychological planning.

The practical part may involve organising your schedule, work and finances. You will also ensure that things run smoothly for your loved ones. The practical planning may be relatively straightforward.

The psychological part may depend on your feelings about the operation. You will want to know everything about the procedure and possible side effects.

If you have had similar treatment before, you may mentally rehearse what will happen on the day. Some people may prefer to put things out of their minds before the actual date. Imagine, however, that you want to feel that you are mentally prepared.

You may rehearse arriving at hospital, sitting in the waiting area, going through the various tests, getting ready for the treatment and receiving the anaesthetic. You may imagine recovering on the ward, going through more tests, getting the okay to be discharged and then returning home.

You may also prepare for what you can and can’t do during your rehabilitation. Your body may be able to do certain things but not function fully. You may imagine slowly returning to health or beginning to adapt to new ways of living.

Some people prefer to do such preparation and, as far as possible, cut out the surprises. They may then learn techniques for staying calm, such as deep breathing.

They may also plan to focus on the positive things in their life during this time. This can help them have a sense of perspective and patience in the testing situation.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the specific testing situation you may face in the future.

Describe the specific things you can do to plan properly for the testing situation.

Positivity 

Imagine that you have done all your preparation. You are now about to embark on the testing situation.

Different people use different approaches to maintaining a positive attitude during this time. Here are some of these. 

They focus on the positive things in their life and see things in perspective.  

They follow their personal principles in the testing situation.

They focus on the things they can control – rather than worry about what they can’t control – and find creative solutions to any challenges. 

They have a positive script or mantra they say to themselves and use techniques – such as deep breathing – to stay calm in the situation.

They focus on the positive rewards of achieving their picture of success.

Norman Cousins was somebody who became known for this kind of approach. A political journalist, he was well known for his humanitarian views.

He reached a wider audience, however, with his best selling book Anatomy of an Illness. The book showed how people could mobilise their inner strength to regain their health.

In addition to his journalistic work, Norman was Adjunct Professor of Medical Humanities for the School of Medicine at the University of California. He specialised in researching how human emotions could affect a person’s ability to stay healthy and overcome illness.

Norman translated this into action himself when diagnosed with a life-threatening condition. Told that he had little chance of surviving, he developed a personal recovery programme.

This involved taking lots of Vitamin C, together with mobilising his positive emotions. The latter involved him watching lots of Marx Brothers films. Norman later wrote:

I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anaesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep.  

When the pain-killing effect of the laughter wore off, we would switch on the motion picture projector again and not infrequently, it would lead to another pain-free interval. 

Hearty laughter is a good way to jog internally without having to go outdoors.

Below is a video in which Norman explains some of the things that he learned from some of the illnesses he encountered during his life.

Norman recovered and published his findings in medical journals. This led to him producing the book, whose full title was Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient: Reflections on Healing and Regeneration.

Whilst warning against charlatans who ignored real medical problems, Norman stressed the importance of people mobilising their inner resources to live healthy lives. He also believed that people could take a stand towards setbacks. He wrote: 

Wisdom consists of the anticipation of consequences.

A human being fashions his consequences as surely as he fashions his goods or his dwelling his goods or his dwelling. Nothing that he says, thinks or does is without consequences.

Let’s return to your own life and work. You will, of course, have your own approach to maintaining a positive attitude during the testing situation.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the specific testing situation you may face in the future.

Describe the specific things you can do to maintain a positive attitude during the testing situation.

Peak Performances

How can you do your best in the testing situation? What would be your equivalent of achieving peak performance?

Charles Garfield popularised this phrase with his 1986 book Peak Performers. But he had first heard it from a cancer patient who said:

Staying alive these days is my peak performance.

Charles went on to study great workers in many fields. These included people in medicine, sports, business and the NASA work in which he was participating.

Towards the end of the 1970s he discovered a several triggers for peak performance. Some people were motivated by an external mission.

The key factor, however, was for them to make an internal decision to become the best they could be. He explained this in the following way.

Do not compete with anyone except yourself.

People want to feel proud of themselves, to achieve something, to leave a mark and a contribution, and they follow their plans for doing all that purposefully and tenaciously. That is what I – and many others I knew – wanted.

So peak performers are not merely exceptions. They represent a kind of person any of us can be – once we find the capacity in ourselves.

Peak performers develop powerful mental images of the behaviour that will lead to the desired results. They see in their mind’s eye the result they want, and the actions leading to it.

 

Charles believes it is vital to nurture the human spirit and build sustainable systems that deliver success. Here is what he said in an interview for Educom. You can discover more via the following link.

Charles Garfield

The most powerful human motivator of all is the desire to be proud of ourselves in the pursuit of something we care about deeply.

The mission of the individual needs to align with the mission of the team, which needs to align with the mission of the organization.

In fact, I would take it further – the mission of the organization needs to align with the mission of the society in which it is embedded and the mission of the planet to which we are all indebted.

There are many approaches to moving from the training ground to testing situations. One approach is to maintain perspective and follow your principles. It is to do the planning, be positive and achieve your equivalent of peak performance.

Let’s return to your potentially testing situation. How can you follow some of these steps in your own way? How can you aim to be the best you can be?

If you wish, try tackling the final exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the specific testing situation you may face in the future.

Describe the specific things you can do to give your equivalent of peak performance.

Describe the specific things that may happen as a result of taking these steps.

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