I’m competitive. I can’t help it. Growing up, I played competitive tennis, fueled in part by the fact that my father really pushed me. 8 to 12 hours per day of tennis was the norm. As a child, competition and winning consumed me, and it manifested itself in really nasty ways — I lost friends over it.
I never thought about how I thought
With all the emphasis on winning, I spent every minute learning the physical game of tennis. Never once did I ever spend a second on the psychology of competition or the mental game of playing. As a result, I would essentially blow the critical points. I would think, “…this is important, I better not screw this up!” Then I played it safe, hoping to keep the ball in play. Some times it worked, but the result was that I played under my potential. Short-term gain consumed me.
Playing not to lose
With so much emphasis on the outcome, winning, I wouldn’t play to win when it counted most, I’d play not to lose. I had it all backwards. I never really grasped the mental game of competition.
Letting go of the outcome
My breakthrough came when I started to ignore the outcome, and simply focus on how I played. In life, when the outcome mattered more, I started to invest less in the future and take fewer risks.
Realize a higher potential
In retrospect, I wasn’t limited by my physical abilities as a child, I was limited by my mental game, and how thoughts of winning essentially weakened me during critical moments. I essentially beat myself.
Doing the opposite of conventional wisdom.
Lately, I’ve started to let go of the outcome. I’ve started to play every point like it was just practice. (I’m actually losing more right now, but not because I’m beating myself per say.) I’m losing more right now because I’m just not as physically good as I think I am. Given enough practice, I’ll become a better player overall. My limits are now tied to my real limits (physical and mental), not simply my mental limits.
Skooby snacks for the brain.
The key to changing my behavior was subtle. It essentially boiled down to how I rewarded myself. Before, if I won a point, I was happy, if I lost, I was angry. I was mentally rewarding myself on the outcome, not the play. I’ve since reversed this, and it’s made a big difference. Reward yourself when you know you gave it your all, when you risked it, and it mattered. Let go of the outcome, and you’ll play better. Trust me.