Do you ever feel really anxious in the build up to a big event? An event where you know that
you simply have to be at your peak performance? You may find that despite spending many
hours preparing, you're still having sleepless nights. If you want to learn how to fully prepare so that you are able to put yourself in the best possible position to really excel, then read on. I'm going to show you how to execute on your big goals by becoming what I call the ‘Master of the Mess-up’, by training your brain for the ‘belly-up’.
If you are serious about really excelling in the big moments in your professional life, then you're probably doing what many top achievers do: spending hours rehearsing and preparing. Performing many repetitions of the task that lies ahead. You may even be using visualization techniques, picturing yourself excelling and achieving your goal. You may have noticed, despite all the practice, that the worrying doesn't go away. Deep down you know there is still a chance that you could scupper your big attempt. You know that something may happen to prevent you from being at your peak. It is the underlying knowledge that something may go wrong, that keeps you anxious.
What can Michael Phelps teach us?:
In the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Michael Phelps was a man on a mission. He had already won
seven gold medals, and he had one race left to go. The 200 meters fly. If Michael Phelps were to win gold in that event, he would break the world record and become the first person to win eight gold medals at one Olympics.
He lined up for the race. A race that should have been pretty easy for him. As soon as he dived into the pool, something went wrong. Immediately, his goggles began to leak and they filled up with water. But he kept swimming. By the time he made the turn at the end of his third length and went into the final stretch, Michael Phelps was swimming blind.
He could not see where he was going. But he didn't flinch. And it didn't impact his performance. He went on to win that eighth gold medal, rewriting history. Lesser mortals may have veered off into another person's lane, crashed into the wall or (if it were me) sunk to the bottom of the pool.
But not Michael Phelps.
How did Phelps win that 8th gold medal?:
Later he was asked how he dealt with the fact he was swimming blind. Phelps said that he and his coach spent a lot of time training for the obstacles. Not just training for the actions that would lead him to success, but planning for and visualizing the obstacles that he may encounter. He imagined them in advance, practiced them and visualized how he would respond in detail.
Fail to prepare, then be prepared to fail:
Most high achievers know that if you want to excel in something, then you need to prepare.
As the saying goes: fail to prepare, then be prepared to fail. Most high achievers know that
techniques like visualizing your success can be extremely beneficial. You probably know it is
extremely important to visualize the moment you achieve your goal. And you may already know that it's important to visualize the process that you will go through to achieve your goal.
A key component of visualization:
What you may not know is that it has been shown that visualizing the obstacles and how you
will handle them are equally as important. Coming up with a plan B/C/D or E and exactly how you will handle those situations is essential. You then need to rehearse, practice and visualize those plans. Like Phelps, you cannot let those obstacles set you back from achieving your goals. You cannot let those obstacles hijack your performance. The point is that you cannot start to problem solve in the middle of a crisis. You need to visualize and be prepared for exactly how you will handle an obstacle if it occurs during your big event.
I learned this the hard way recently: I gave a keynote to a company via webcam. I was a little
anxious and a little nervous, so I spent many hours preparing and practicing, going over my
speech until I felt really prepared. However a niggling feeling remained. I hadn't given a keynote over webcam for some time.
The day before the event, a colleague suggested I ensure that I had additional slides ready, to keep the audience engaged, should something go wrong. So fortunately I took his advice. Not long into the event, I received a frantic age from the event organizer letting me know that their internet connection was unstable. They needed me to turn my camera off ten minutes into my keynote! Now, if you have ever given a keynote or seen one, then you’ll know that so much of what you do is about how you engage with the audience.
Suddenly there I was talking to a blank screen, aware that it was just my voice that the audience were listening to. Far from ideal. Fortunately, I had those slides ready and kept going. I had a narrow escape and managed to get through to the end of the talk. The talk went well, but it was hardly my finest moment.
The truth was that I had not spent the time planning for the obstacles. I had not considered how I would deal with the obstacles if, and when, they came up. In that moment, it made me realize that if I want to excel in my craft, then I need to spend a decent part of my preparation getting ready for the failures. I need to become the ‘master of the mess up’ and have my brain trained for the ‘belly-up’.
How to visualize effectively:
If you are preparing for a big event in your professional life, then remember that there are three important stages to the powerful technique of visualization.
These three phases will help you prime your brain ready for success:
Visualize actually achieving your goal.
Visualize the process that you will go through in order to be ready to achieve your goal.
Visualize the potential obstacles and how you will respond to them.
Before your next big event, I encourage you to choose three to four obstacles that you think you may encounter, and prepare for those. Take a moment to remember how Michael Phelps made history through having rehearsed (physically and mentally) exactly how to swim at his best, without his vision. It is not just the execution of your skill with excellence that will catapult you to your goals, it is the ability to not let the obstacles scupper your peak performance.