MAY BLOG - URGENCY AND FOCUS (PART 1)
Thank you for the response from my last blog post about embracing the challenges and keeping a positive outlook on your swimming and life in general. I enjoyed hearing from you with your thoughts and I also fed back to our coaching team regarding some of the feedback - so thank you for that.
I want to start this month with a question for the swimmers: Have you ever been in a situation where your coach has given you a task to complete… for example 10m underwater off each turn of a repetition. Yet when you pushed off, in spite of knowing you should complete 10m underwater, you didn’t? This is then followed by the coach giving an ultimatum (eg. “We will keep repeating until everybody does the task correctly”) which is promptly followed by every swimmer in the group pushing off and going 10m or further off every turn.
Parents, have you ever been in a situation where you have a large task to complete at work that has a deadline of 4 weeks away, but instead of completing part of the task daily for the next 4 weeks and spreading out the load to be more manageable, you leave it to the last possible moment to start the task?
Why is it that even despite knowing what our best interests are, sometimes we choose to make decisions that add further stress to our lives or do not always push us in the direction that we want to go?
To complete a task to the best of your ability, you need two things: focus and urgency. Urgency is the mental aspect that produces the action, focus is the mental aspect that produces quality of delivery. Urgency without focus leads to the action being performed poorly, yet without urgency the likelihood is the task will not start at all.
I will go more deeply through focus in another blog post but for now I want to concentrate on how we create enough urgency within ourselves to make sure that the decisions we take will be for our own benefit.
The best athletes and high performing individuals find ways of creating urgency in their own minds. In a recent documentary about the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan, there were numerous stories of how Jordan would create urgency in his own mind during practice and during games. He would invent stories of opposition players delivering incredible personal insults to him to give him the urgency of task in matches, he would create conflict with his own teammates or his coaches to increase the urgency of those around him and he would often find tasks that people would say are not possible, just to give him something to challenge himself with and “prove them wrong”. The main point that comes across from these many stories (you can read about them online) is that by making so many aspects of his life a competition, he created urgency on a regular basis that allowed him to use his considerable basketball skills to the fullest extent. Michael Jordan was clearly a very competitive person, because of this he knew that to the get the best out of himself he had to create a competitive and antagonistic environment around him.
The best leaders create urgency, and the most productive environments create urgency. The most transformational environments that I have been a part of are when a leader sets out a vision and makes every team member understand that their action is vital and most importantly urgent. This can also feel slightly stressful when the task or vision is communicated, but we need to differentiate what can feel stressful with what is really just a case of giving you the energy to get moving and complete the task.
In a similar way to my last blog about keeping a positive mindset to the broad vision – this goes hand in hand with this differentiation between stress and urgency. If leaders within the environment (coaches or teammates) are demanding of you, or setting high standards, they are giving you the urgency to complete a task. Accept that and ask yourself, if you do not like other people creating the urgency, why don’t you start going for the Michael Jordan route and create it for yourself? That is when the true magic will happen. Be the leader who drives change. Be the teammate who sets the bar through their own drive and urgency. Find the ways that you can get your own mind to be that of a high performing athlete.
Within Hamilton Aquatics we look to create an environment that has an urgency to improve and be the best. One of our core values is to strive for excellence. But what happens if you go to an environment that does not have that urgency? You will need to create it. Learn how to manufacture the butterflies in your tummy, or that uncomfortable feeling when you first get moving on a brand new task. This is not an easy thing to do; but it is not impossible! Start by setting yourself a target of picking one session in the week, where you will create the urgency for yourself (not relying on anybody else!); pick out a skill or task that you know you need to work on (this could be underwater skills, turns, stroke counts, breathing patterns or any other important part of a session) then find a way of giving yourself the urgency to work on this task diligently for the whole session. If you manage it, then recognize it! Give yourself a reward at the end of it. Maybe even let your coach know of your plan before the session, so they can give you recognition for it.
In my next blog, I will go into the focus side of completing tasks. Once you get started – how do you deliver the quality without distraction or losing focus? If you want to read more on this subject in a more detailed and no doubt more complete way, please read (or watch on Youtube) some of the work by Andrew Huberman.