Category: Performance

The Difference Between Losing and Being Beaten

Not everytime you lose, are you beaten. And not every time you win, did you win. There is a difference between losing and being beaten and it comes down to you.

“Life is available only in the present moment. If you abandon the present moment you cannot live in the moments of your daily life deeply.”

— Thich Nhat Hanh

From Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

Larry Gelwix coached the Highland High School rugby team to 418 wins with only ten losses and twenty national championships over thirty-six years. He describes his success this way: “We always win.” With a record like Highland’s he has the right to make the statement. But he is actually referring to something more than his winning record. When he says, “win,” he’s also referring to a single question, with its apt acronym, that guides what he expects from his players: “What’s important now?”

By keeping his players fully present in the moment and fully focused on what is most important— not on next week’s match, or tomorrow’s practice, or the next play, but now— Gelwix helps make winning almost effortless. But how?

First, the players apply the question constantly throughout the game. Instead of getting caught up rehashing the last play that went wrong, or spending their mental energy worrying about whether they are going to lose the game, neither of which is helpful or constructive, Larry encourages them to focus only on the play they are in right now.

Second, the question “What’s important now?” helps them stay focused on how they are playing. Larry believes a huge part of winning is determined by whether the players are focused on their own game or on their opponent’s game. If the players start thinking about the other team they lose focus. Consciously or not, they start wanting to play the way the other team is playing. They get distracted and divided. By focusing on their game in the here and now, they can all unite around a single strategy. This level of unity makes execution of their game plan relatively frictionless.

What really struck me about Larry was his approach to winning and losing. As he tells his players: “There is a difference between losing and being beaten. Being beaten means they are better than you. They are faster, stronger, and more talented.” Losing, on the other hand, means that you lost focus on what was essential. In other words, you beat yourself. “It is all based on a simple but powerful idea: to operate at your highest level of contribution requires that you deliberately tune in to what is important in the here and now.”


The Science Of Habit Formation And Change

From The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

Chunking — The Root of Habits

The process—in which the brain converts a sequence of actions into an automatic routine—is known as ‘chunking,’ and it’s at the root of how habits form.

Why do Habits Emerge?

Habits, scientists say, emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort. Left to its own devices, the brain will try to make almost any routine into a habit, because habits allow our minds to ramp down more often. This effort-saving instinct is a huge advantage. An efficient brain requires less room, which makes for a smaller head, which makes childbirth easier and therefore causes fewer infant and mother deaths. An efficient brain also allows us to stop thinking constantly about basic behaviors …

The Three Step Loop of Habit Formation:

This process within our brains is a three-step loop. First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future: Over time, this loop—cue, routine, reward; cue, routine, reward—becomes more and more automatic. The cue and reward become intertwined until a powerful sense of anticipation and crav­ing emerges. Eventually… a habit is born.

Does the Brain Stop Working?

When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision making. It stops working so hard, or diverts focus to other tasks. So unless you deliberately fight a habit—unless you find new routines—the pattern will unfold automatically.

How To Change A Habit:

We know that a habit cannot be eradicated—it must, instead, be replaced. And we know that habits are most malleable when the Golden Rule of habit change is applied: If we keep the same cue and the same reward, a new routine can be inserted. But that’s not enough. For a habit to stay changed, people must believe change is possible. And most often, that belief only emerges with the help of a group.

Does a Habit Disappear?

Habits never really disappear. They’re encoded into the structures of our brain, and that’s a huge advantage for us, because it would be awful if we had to relearn how to drive after every vacation. The problem is that your brain can’t tell the difference between bad and good habits, and so if you have a bad one, it’s always lurking there, waiting for the right cues and rewards.”

Still curious? Read The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.

Top Athletes And Singers Have Coaches. Should You?

Getting better at something you’re decent at, isn’t as easy as it sounds. Consider driving. A skill you likely learned as a teenager. Within a few hundred hours under the wheel, you went from a petrified know nothing to a competent and predictable driver.

Let’s say you’re mid-30s now and you want to get better at driving. How would you do it?

The easiest way is to hire a back seat driver — someone to tell you that you’re taking the turns too sharply, or not coming to a complete stop. Basically, their job would be to point out all the little things you do that keep you from getting better.

Isn’t not hard to find this person. The hard part is putting your pride and reputation on the line.

We can’t do this for everything but we can do it for some things. The things that matter the most.

With that in mind, here is a wonderful essay by Atul Gawande in the New Yorker on whether we need a personal coach.

…I’d paid to have a kid just out of college look at my serve. So why did I find it inconceivable to pay someone to come into my operating room and coach me on my surgical technique?

…Élite performers, researchers say, must engage in “deliberate practice”—sustained, mindful efforts to develop the full range of abilities that success requires. You have to work at what you’re not good at. In theory, people can do this themselves. But most people do not know where to start or how to proceed. Expertise, as the formula goes, requires going from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence to conscious competence and finally to unconscious competence. The coach provides the outside eyes and ears, and makes you aware of where you’re falling short.

…Osteen watched, silent and blank-faced the entire time, taking notes. My cheeks burned; I was mortified. I wished I’d never asked him along. I tried to be rational about the situation—the patient did fine. But I had let Osteen see my judgment fail; I’d let him see that I may not be who I want to be.

This is why it will never be easy to submit to coaching, especially for those who are well along in their career. I’m ostensibly an expert. I’d finished long ago with the days of being tested and observed. I am supposed to be past needing such things. Why should I expose myself to scrutiny and fault-finding?

If you’re interested in learning more about effective coaching, check out Barbara Lourie Sand’s book “Teaching Genius,” which describes the methods of the legendary Juilliard violin instructor Dorothy DeLay. DeLay trained an amazing roster of late-twentieth-century virtuosos, including Itzhak Perlman, Nigel Kennedy, Midori, and Sarah Chang.