Play your game, not theirs. I just wrote that in a text, and the more I think about it, the more I believe in the inherent wisdom of that statement.
When athletes engage in their sport, sometimes they let their opponents get inside their heads. They stop competing in the manner that is best suited for themselves and instead get seduced into playing faster or perhaps more recklessly and reacting to what is happening rather than proceeding from their own game plan. As soon as they start to do that, they lose power, focus, and their connection to their game plan. (And the game plan is important in sports and in life.)
In other words, they become more passive because instead of actively pursuing the goal they had set out for themselves, they only begin to react to what is being thrown at them. They no longer initiate their own plan of attack. They lose their power to do what needs to be done in the very next step of what they are trying to accomplish because they are so focused on beating their opponents. They lose because they are so focused on the ultimate goal of winning that they forget to implement the best way to do that – following their plan.
Rather, they just defend themselves. That makes it much harder to win. Sure, if you are so far ahead that you can relax and just defend your position rather than actively trying to score, that’s great! But how many of us can say that we feel so secure in our position that we can just do that? And I’m not talking just about sports here. I can say the same for work, fitness, and any other goal-oriented activities where we find ourselves in competition. Sometimes, we compete against others (e.g. applying for a job) and sometimes we compete against ourselves (e.g. improving our health by learning to run). It doesn’t really matter which it is. What does matter is that we must constantly check in with ourselves to see if we are following our own game plan or if we have been seduced and absorbed into someone else’s plan.
Chances are if they are competing against us, they don’t have our best interests at heart. Additionally, if we are following someone else’s generic game plan, we are still not necessarily doing what is best for us in each moment. The best way to do that is to create a plan that works for us and to consistently check in, really check in with our internal radar to make sure we are following that plan. When we do that, we will be more calm, peaceful, and able to proceed with our own plan. When we don’t, we will react too quickly and often in a foolhardy manner and we will not only lose our focus, we might lose the entire game.
It is easy to fall into following someone else’s plan. Urgency, fear, and anxiety overtake us and we begin to flail blindly in an effort to stave off failure. It’s not the way to go.
As often happens to me, I am reminded of a movie scene that illustrates my point. Today, it’s the fight between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader in “Empire Strikes Back.” At first, Luke stays calm and follows his own plan. Then, Vader gets into his head, throws too many stimuli at him, and Luke loses focus and flails into failure.
I don’t know what would have happened if Luke had kept his calm and played his own game during that battle. I do know it would have been a very different movie.
Tomorrow: We will look into some strategies for maintaining focus while in competition.