Michael's Monthly Column "Throwing My Loop"

Throwing My Loop…    

By:  Michael Johnson 



     “I’m not sure I can do this,” said the child.
     “You can,” replied the teacher.
     “I’m having trouble believing that.”
     “At this stage in your development, it’s not really so important whether you believe you can or not,” said the teacher.  Then she added, “What is important…is that I know you can.”

     Are you nervous when you give a speech?  Are you one of those people who can’t seem to make a three-foot putt when the chips are on the line?  Do you rope the same in the final round for the big money as you did in the first three rounds?  We all know people who seem to come through in the clutch…always.  And it appears pressure not only fails to bother them – they thrive on that pressure.  They seem to be in the groove, in the zone – what some psychologists call “in the flow.”  If only we could be like them.  If only we could rid ourselves of the sweaty palms, racing heart, and shaky weakness.  How could we improve our ability to perform at a higher level come crunch time?  There are ways.
     When it comes to remembering names, most everyone says the same line.  “I can remember everyone’s face, but I can’t remember anyone’s name.”  Here is a tip to become better at remembering names – quit saying that!  First of all, it’s ridiculous.  Experts in such matters tell us on average most of us know about 1300 names.  We know the names of our parents, children, everyone we went to school with, and our friends.  Obviously we can remember names.  One key to remembering more of them is to stop saying we cannot.  As with most other activities in life, if we work at it – we will improve.
     Handling pressure situations is much the same.  How many of these negative statements have you heard? “I just can’t seem to make the short putt when I need it.”  “I always miss the money steer – what am I doing wrong?”  “I have a prospect who seems really interested, but I can’t ever seem to close the sale.”  “I just can’t do fractions!”
     Psychologists say the “self” has great difficulty holding contradictory beliefs.  We all strive to be congruent inside.  If we make negative statements, we work in many ways to make those beliefs come true.  To improve your ability to deal with pressure, cease saying negative things to your self.  Am I suggesting we become arrogant and boastful?  Certainly not.  Just stop making internal negative statements.  That’s the first step to improving your performance in pressure situations.
     I really like heroes and think we need them, and I mean no disrespect, but…we need to remember they are human.  Even the greatest golfers don’t make every putt, the best cowboys don’t ride every bronc, and the most successful salesmen don’t close every deal.  My favorite sports commercial showed the great Michael Jordan’s many game winning shots, and then his voice-over added how many times he had missed the game winning shot.  The misses far outnumbered the heroic buzzer-beaters.  “I’ve failed more times than I’ve succeeded,” Michael said at the end of the commercial, and then added, “But…I’ll keep trying.”
     If Tiger, Speed Williams, and Bill Gates fail on occasion that should tell the rest of us something.  Really, no one is a polished smooth professional free from trials and tribulations.  When you face a pressure situation, remember the best in the world feel the same way you do.  Lee Trevino said once, “It doesn’t matter if it’s a five dollar putt or a five-thousand dollar putt…we all leak oil.” 
     Placing heroes on an unreachable pedestal causes us to feel inadequate and incapable when comparing ourselves to them.  We do this with sports stars, the fellow in our golf foursome, and business associates.  We unconsciously assume others never have a bad day.  Everyone does.  They just don’t tell us about it.  Winners get over losses and failures.  Winners don’t let one defeat – or ten – affect their next effort.  When you fail in a pressure situation, forgive yourself.  Calm your thoughts and mind…and try again.  Eventually your time will come.
     Perhaps the biggest impediment to our improvement comes from our intense desire to do so well.  We see Tiger crush it 340 off the tee, we see Speed throw his rope like a Zebco 33, and we watch Robert Schuller address an audience of thousands at the Crystal Cathedral.  So we want to be like them.
     When we hit the golf ball, we explode from the toes.  We throw our rope as quickly as we can, or we might decide our first public address will be a testimony given to the entire congregation.  The problem is…we are not ready.  There is nothing wrong with reaching for the moon, but we should be prepared for the trip.  When we are not ready, chances are good we won’t look too stylish.  When we try to play or perform at a higher level, and the results are poor, we conclude we cannot do the thing – and we give up.  “I tried speaking in front of groups.  I just can’t do it.”  Here is another approach…
     What if we asked the Sunday School teacher if we could read a single line of scripture at the next class meeting?  Practice that one line all week – then when you deliver your “mini-address,” chances are excellent things will go well indeed.  You’ve just had a success – a small one – but a success.  Repeat this behavior several weeks until you are ready to read a psalm, or even teach a complete class one Sunday.  Such experiences breed confidence, and there will come a day when we can stand in front of the entire church body and share what’s in our heart with a relaxed calmness, free from fear and completely focused on what we originally intended.
     If we seek help from a pro, he probably won’t recommend we go play a round.  Rather, he or she will have you hit many practice balls, and talk to us about tempo, and “staying within yourself,” and how we are not so interested in distance as we are in keeping the ball in play. 
     First time you rope, your red-neck beer drinking buddies will put you on a bronc, and have you run the fastest cows in the pen.  The professional trainer, on the other hand, will ask you to rope the dummy many times, all the while talking to you about building a solid foundation, and having you repeat sound fundamentals countless times…all before you ever mount a horse.  Your body will have such a much better opportunity to execute using the second method.  This second approach is also a way to save fingers.  The first is not.
     If only we could be like them.  If only we could be cool and calm and be in the flow. My friend and superb novelist, Jim Ainsworth, defines flow as, “…the difference between the way things are, and the way they ought to be.”  In the early 90’s, psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Chik-sen-me-hi), wrote a book called Flow.  In that book, he describes how and why some people experience life satisfaction more often than others. 
     “Cars, yachts, condos, money, and planes will not create a “flow experience,” he says.  “Rather, selecting a task, and learning how to do the thing offers the best opportunity.  When we feel ourselves improving, we find ourselves ‘in the flow.’  The awareness of improvement comes from friends who encourage and applaud our efforts, and from an inner certainty.” 
     And Mihaly even offers a road map to one on the most pleasured states of living.  “When we work on a thing for an extended time and on some occasion, do the thing better than we ever dreamed we could – when we exceed what we thought was our potential - the result is intense life-satisfaction.”
     Can we really improve our ability come “crunch time?”  Or are we sentenced to be a woefully inadequate, uncoordinated, worthless lump all our days?  Could it be that we are not really incompetent, but maybe we haven’t clearly identified our target?  And perhaps we have not sought a mentor and listened to him with every bone in our body.  Have you worked hard on and toward the thing for an extended period of time?  If we will stop berating our self, and remember heroes are human too, we immediately increase our chances to do well.  That is a key first step in allowing our mind to relax, and begin the most important process of getting out of our own way.  Such a good and productive move.    

And if we provide an opportunity for our self to experience small successes that can grow into dreams we never thought possible, we too are just as entitled as anyone to be in the flow.  Do you believe that?  When you first begin, it doesn’t really matter if you believe you can or not…

     I know you can.



Michael heading for the great Sonny Gould

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