Michael's Monthly Column "Throwing My Loop"

Throwing My Loop…    

By:  Michael Johnson 



      I’m obsessed with it.  Improving performance, I mean.  No matter what line of work we are in, we could still do a bit better.  In sales, in parenting, in roping, and any other facet of life, we could improve.  And the proof that we can is right before our eyes…
     No matter what we would strive to do well, there is someone right around the corner who can do that thing in a higher fashion than we can.  We can spot a more successful salesman a mile away, our friend seems to parent his or her child in a way that brings a rich relationship, and Lord knows, we can certainly see a better horseman, and we wonder how he or she can move the horse with no detectable physical cues.  Indeed, it seems they are moving the horse with their mind.   Why is that?  Why are some people such high performers, and how do they become that way? 

     Do those people who seem to do things well have some special gifts that we lack?  Are they smarter, better looking, or just plain luckier?  At one time, my thinking was if I could just find a good horse like that woman over there had, then I could look really professional on my horse too.  She just got lucky; her horse was better than mine.  While it’s true some may be more gifted, I don’t think that’s the real secret of high performers.  After thirty years of watching them - and spending the last decade interviewing some very skilled and accomplished people - I’ve found some interesting differences between their behavior and mine… 

     No. 1 – High performers work on their game!  For some reason in my former life, I thought when you became really skilled at something, you could kick back and relax.  Just sit up there and laugh at all those below you, and make money, win money, sing or play the guitar, or write a book with ease.  Okay, that’s wrong. 

     The best in the world work harder than everybody else.  I don’t like that rule, but that’s the way it is.  That’s the rule.  Butch Harmon said he thought Greg Norman was the hardest worker in the world until he began coaching Tiger Woods.  The greatest player in the world worked harder than everybody else in the world.  When a musical group has a hit record, then that success requires them to play a concert in a different city every night for eleven months straight.  I was in the audience one night listening to the famous novelist, James Michener, and someone asked him, “Where does your talent to write all those thick books come from?”  The question seemed to annoy him.  He said, “Madam, I’ve answered that question hundreds of times.  I don’t have any more talent than any of you in this room.  I wake up every morning, brush my teeth, shower and dress.  Then I stand in front of my typewriter for six hours each day, 365 days a year.  If you did that, you could write big thick books too!”
     When world champion roper, Speed Williams, won his first roping crown in the late 90’s, he felt like he had arrived, and by his own admission, thought perhaps he might not have to work as hard.  At his first rodeo in the new year, he failed to even hit the steer with his loop, much less catch the steer.  “I knew I had to go back to work,” he said.
      So, that is one valuable lesson we can learn from high performers.  It may sound corny, but hard work is the key.  When I applied a strict practice regimen to my roping, and maintained it for years, my skills far surpassed those I possessed even when I was young.  Close observation of high performers has taught me they believe the work is never done.  What a good tip that really is, brothers and sisters. 

No. 2 – High performers think the right way!
     Have you ever tried ‘positive thinking’ and failed?  We all have.  I had a student once who told me, “That stuff you talk about doesn’t work!”
     “Why do you say that?” I asked him.
     “I sat in my room the other night, and over and over, I said I would make a one hundred on your test, and after repeating that positive affirmation one hundred times… I made a 40!”
Simply repeating positive statements is just wishing and wishing doesn’t work.   
There is such a subtle difference between how high performers think and how others think, but that difference is so powerful… 

     Listen carefully to the high performer’s words.  “I stay within myself,” they will say.  “I don’t try to do anything I can’t do,” we hear them say, meaning they rarely take a shot they know they can’t make.  Or sometimes we might hear, “I can’t control what other people do.”  Contrast those statements with those we hear from low performers…
     “My horse is acting up today; I know I’m going to have problems with him.”
     “I’ll have to have my best performance ever to do well here.”
     “That guy over there shouldn’t be in our group.  He’s better than everyone here.”
     Those negative thoughts about performing at a level we have never reached, or the fact that we are competing with someone better than us build tension, drain positive energy, and cause us to lose focus.  Dean Oliver won eight world championships in calf roping, and everyone knew if old Dean had ever had a good horse, he would have won so many more.  But even he admitted, “I was never much of a trainer, and never did have a really great horse.”  He won anyway.
     High performers tune out the competition, and we all wish that we could.  Here’s some news…we can.  After roping for years, and spending many of those early years worrying about what someone else would do, I finally learned I cannot control what they do.  I can only focus on what I can do.  If I can learn to do that, you can. 

No. 3 – High performers know how to handle failure!  Perhaps the most valuable key I’ve learned from peak performers is failure is your best friend.  After a really bad stage performance years ago, I knew that this business was not for me.  I went to visit a master of the game, a man who had helped me greatly.  Crying in my beer, I told him about my embarrassing and humiliating experience, and how I had no choice but to set my dreams aside, and quit.  He listened patiently, and once I was done, he stood and thundered, “Who on earth are you to think you are exempt from mistakes?”  I was stunned.  I couldn’t believe this dear friend of mine didn’t feel sorry for me.  “GET UP AND GET BACK OUT THERE!” he screamed at me.  I did, and now I know that man knows more about helping people than I ever will.  The most important difference between high performers and all the rest, is high performers can handle humiliation better.  And instead of quitting when their soul is crushed…they learn from the experience, and continue on! 

     At a roping a few years ago, I had a chance to win $1000.00, and all I had to do was catch the last steer.  I split the horns, meaning I caught the right one, but failed to catch the left one.  In my former life, I would have been depressed, discouraged, and walked around berating myself for choking.  But high performers had taught me something of great value.  They forced me to ask myself the key question…“What do you do after you fail?”  Man, that’s a good question.  If you can answer that question the right way, your performance will begin to improve.  It’s a dead lock cinch. 

     After that failure, instead of getting down on me, I went to my trailer.  In the blistering heat of the day, I roped the dummy one hundred times, and on each and every swing, made a pronounced finishing motion with my arm to insure the loop cleared the left horn.  I didn’t wish.  I analyzed my mistake, then went to work on correcting it.  For the rest of the roping, I really didn’t care if I caught steers or not, but I did care if my arm finished the swing.  I didn’t split any more horns.  As Rosie Austin says, “We all make mistakes, but we don’t have to keep making the same one twice.”  That is how high performers think. 

     So the mystery has been cleared up just a bit – for me at least – how some people seem to do better.  They work hard, they think the right way, and they use failure in a positive way to win.  And I’m thankful to finally learn, that woman over there doesn’t really have a better horse than me after all.  Mine can be just as good as hers…if I’m willing to do what’s required to help him.  So it is with each of us.

Michael's latest release, Reflections Of A Cowboy, is currently available in audio book form. The two volume set consists of articles, essays and excerpts from radio performances about good people and good horses in the life of an Oklahoma cowboy. Approximately 8 hours in length. Reflections Of A Cowboy in printed form is scheduled for release in the summer of 2005. Order from Michael's website.

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