Years ago, I had a personal trainer who told me that exercise is 80% mental and 20% physical. I heard it so many times, I began to approach my fitness goals in a different way. I also began to see athletes, runners, leaders, teams, and others in a different way. After all, this can't just be a fitness rule. If exercise is 80% mental, what isn't? I began to have a different approach to all facets of my life and leadership. I started to see the correlation between strategic leadership and the 80% mental approach. If you are focused on where you want to go, then each decision/act/move will either get you closer or further away from your goals.
We went to see this trainer (also our friend) complete an Ironman. He had completed several different Ironman competitions and we finally got the chance to go. I was blown away by the variety of different athletes, different shapes and sizes and how they approached the event. I'm a people watcher, so this was a fascinating science time for me. In order to complete a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bicycle ride and a full 26.22-mile marathon run, in that order, without a break, you had to have this 80% mental thing down. I watched people break down and cry, shout for joy, heard family and friends screaming their persons' name as they went by, saying things like "you got this" "way to go" and "see you at the finish line" etc. These encouragements helped to drive the athlete's mental toughness and spur them forward.
I have reflected on this a lot over the years in my role as a strategic leader and people developer. How do leaders coach their teams to have a laser-focused approach and decision making to ensure that the 80% mental rule is applied? How many leaders even actually think about this? How much time do your teams waste on doing tasks or projects that are not moving your team forward toward their goals? These time wasters come along in all shapes and sizes as well, and most of them look like "good things to do". Are you disciplined enough to avoid these traps?
Do your team members have the autonomy to say "no" when asked, if they know that what is being asked of them is diverting them from their path? Have you done strategy work with them to the point that they absolutely know what should be included and what should be avoided?
I've recently been working with a different trainer and her mantra is similar .... but different. She says every day "connect the mind to the muscle". A little bit of a different approach that teaches you to focus mentally on what the muscle is going to do and then staying mindful of what it is doing while it is doing it and following that through to completion. The premise is that if you train your brain to connect to the muscle, you will have more control, your form will be correct, you will train your brain to do the exercise properly and get more from your training. Who doesn't want to get the most out of their workout?
Who doesn't want to have their mental toughness, tied to their mindful behaviour for maximum results?
When I was in the Corporate Gig, and interviewing for leadership positions on my team, I drove the HR folks a little batty because I didn't stick to the work experience, behaviourally based questions that were always asked. Scattered throughout the interview, I would ask questions like:
What was the hardest thing you have ever accomplished? Why? Give me an example of how you overcame a difficult obstacle? What did you do? What was the outcome? What sports did you play in school? What are your hobbies? What is the toughest decision you have ever made etc. etc.
Why did I ask these questions? I was looking for grit, mental toughness, ability to thrive through difficulty. Discipline.
I remember back in the early days of having a young team and taking them through a whole series on discipline. How do you teach a young team how to persevere and work through problems and develop their "grit" muscles if they have never had to?
Some of my best and brightest young leaders had been hockey players, or dancers, or violin players or gymnasts or a multitude of other activities that build discipline in at a young age. If you got up at 4:30 every morning through school and were in the pool at 5:30 with your swim team, and were at a meet every weekend while your friends were at home lying in bed watching Netflix, you know what I am talking about.
If you paid your own way through school and maintained that enviable GPA then you know what I'm talking about.
How do you teach your team about grit, resolve and discipline, How do you bring these competencies into your team on a daily basis? How do you teach them it is 80% mental? What is the mind-muscle connection you need to model for your team? Does every meeting start with a reminder of the roadmap and review of your values/goals so there is never any confusion around where you are headed?
I've recently been watching short video clips of a friends son on the internet. He is a bright young man who owns his own business, is married, 4 beautiful kids. Building a house, with the world by the tail, staring down a very bright future. That same young man had a horrifying accident and almost died. Fast forward a few months and his daily victory was picking up a piece of fruit and actually getting it into his mouth to feed himself. You could almost see the perspiration on his forehead as he is mind, muscle connecting to his fingers, his arm, his hands as he gets that spoon up to his mouth. He is publicly showing the world that he has grit, that he is a fighter and that he is never giving up. This guy may or may not walk again. Right now he is wheelchair bound. But I can tell you with confidence that he will have a fulfilled and successful life. He is already succeeding in the face of enourmous adversity and seemingly insurmountable challenges. He has already won! He is a hero to his wife, his kids and to many others, including me.
I wish there was a way to bottle that tenacity and that grit. But guess what, it is one of those gifts that come through blood, sweat, and tears. Do you let your team members fall and scrape their knees? Do you let them fail safely and then encourage them as they get up and get back in the game? Have you done sufficient strategic planning with them that they are uber clear and laser focused on where you are going as a team?
The mind is a powerful thing. Your "team brain" is also a powerhouse of knowledge and new information. Does your team have the mind/muscle connection to get them where they need to go? What are you doing as their coach to help them train?
I would love to hear your successes and your challenges.
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