The top players in every field think differently when all the marbles are on the line. Great performers focus on what they are doing, and nothing else...They let it happen, let it go. They couldn't care less about the result.
- John Eliot
On ESPN's Mike and Mike in the Morning, Mike Greenberg asked Tiger Woods what he was thinking on the eighteenth green standing over the 12 foot putt that would either send the match into a playoff or send him home in second place. Woods unemotionally said, "I was thinking that the putt would drift left to the edge of the cup and then drop. Then I just putted it." Greenberg commenting on Tiger's remarks said, "That is why he is Tiger Woods and the rest of us are who we are....when I stand over a putt, I am thinking about all the consequence of missing the thing, what I had for dinner and what I am gong to wear the next day. I can't clear my mind. It is incredible how he can focus on just that single moment."
It is incredible what Woods can do, but to be perfectly candid, that is the mindset of most great athletes. They have the ability to live in the moment. It is the capacity to focus all of their energies on the task that they are performing. When you are totally focused in this manner, you can put yourself mentally and physically into whatever you are trying to accomplish. Once you are capable of doing that, you can make something extraordinary happen. When nothing exists except the game, or the task that you are engaged in, that is when you can perform at a higher level of existence.
This type of control is very typical of the great athletes that I have come in contact with. They don't run away from the experience; they participate in it...they stay in the moment, the feeling, the development. They are a part of it all. Nothing occupies their awareness, only the present. They live totally in the moment, not in the past or the future.
Arnold Schwarzenegger was a master at this type of focused concentration when he was competing in bodybuilding. He would centralize all of his body's energy into the muscle he was training. Let me read to you what Schwarzenegger says about focusing on the moment and/or the task at hand. He says:
When I trained, the most important thing was that my mind was always in touch with my body. That not only helped my training, it was like meditating. I could get into myself. I locked my mind into the muscle during training, as if I transplanted my mind into the tissue itself. I became one with the weights. Nothing else in the world mattered to me.
For most of us such single mindedness is difficult, but not impossible, to achieve. The great athletes though, the Jordans, the Montanas, the Pacificos, the Schwabs, have all achieved this type of single-mindedness in which they become totally immersed into each event that they encounter. For them each moment is infused with importance and necessity. When you reach that point, you can go beyond what even you think is possible.
Case in point: A number of years ago I saw this guy on Wide World of Sports named Mas Oyama demonstrate what he called the powers of the consciousness, which happens to be a fancy way of saying focusing. Oyama was a Korean who just happened to be teaching karate in Tokyo. At the time he was considered by most karate experts as a master of masters, and the greatest martial artist since Bruce Lee. People who were close to him claimed that he had absolute control of every muscle in his body and that he could generate super-human power by fusing his mind and body into a single, disciplined unit.
In all honesty, I thought they were selling wolf tickets...selling wolf tickets is just a nice way of saying that they were bullshitting. Oyama's demonstration changed my mind significantly. (Try to apply this to your lifting.) He walked unarmed into a bull ring and faced off with a 2,000 pound bull. At first the bull walked around the ring rather peacefully. Then, when it saw Oyama, the bull stiffened, began snorting and pawing the dirt, and then charged straight at Oyama with its horns lowered in the classical attack position. Oyama stood squarely in front of the bull until it was a foot or two away; he then took one step sideward and slammed two punches into the bull. His first blow sliced one of the bull's horns in half. The second blow brought the huge beast down killing it instantly.
Oyama explained in a post-event interview how a man of moderate stature could drop of 2,000 pound bull with his bare hands. "I relaxed until the moment; then I brought every energy source of my body into play, but I concentrated all of that power into just my fist. To generate great power you must first totally relax and gather your mind and all your strength on hitting your target. When you have this union of mind and body, you have the power of many."
The great athletes have all discovered through experience that the ability to fuse mind and body into each and every task is of paramount importance in reaching an optimum level of performance. Having complete communication with your mind and muscles is a significant edge, a power if you will that can help transcend performance beyond what most people believe is possible.
When you are totally focused on each and every activity, when your mind is fused with your muscle in a single-minded focus, the will to perform is transmitted into the act of performing. At that moment, muscle and mind are mixed in a crucible of intensity. It is at that moment that the awesome power from within surfaces. That is when you become AWESOME! That type of ability is what you will find in most great athletes.
It should also be noted that when your mind becomes totally focused on a task, all doubt and uncertainty is pushed aside. In brief, you cease to experience a body that is inhibited by mental or physical distractions. The mind becomes one with the task at hand.
I have used this illustration before in a past article, but it is such a meaningful one for understanding the power that can be derived from totally focusing on an event and not the outcome. Consider for example what would happen if I asked you to walk across a board that was 12 inches wide, 15 feet long and a foot off the ground. I'm sure you would be able to complete that task without any difficulty at all. In fact, you probably could do it blindfolded. On the other hand, what if I extended the board between two New York skyscrapers with a drop of about 100 feet to the ground? I would be willing to bet a walk across that same board would cause considerable anxiety for most of us. I'll bet some of you would not be able to do it. The skill level required to walk across the board is exactly the same, whether it is 12 inches or 100 feet off the ground.
The difference is the psychological response to the perceived trepidation. Instead of totally focusing on the task, your attention is directed to the possibility of what could happen. If you were totally focused on walking across the board... if your mind became one with that task...you would not experience any fear or uncertainty. Walking the board would be...well, a "cake walk."
Our thoughts create our reality....where we direct our focus is the direction we tend to go. The key to success is to focus the full power of our conscious mind on things that we are engaged in, not things that we fear. I like what Katarina Witt says about this very issue. She says, "When I go out on the ice, I just think about my skating. I forget it is a competition." That is what great athletes do....they perform so naturally and so instinctively that they seem to be able to enter a pressure-packed situation that would terrify or freeze the rest of us as if nothing matters. "They let it happen, let it go. "That's greatness!