The Australian Open captures the hearts and minds of Australians for the last two weeks of January each year.
This year was no different, especially with the dream run of the world’s number one tennis player, Ash Barty, as she cruised into the finals of the grand slam.
Despite being down in the second set of the final, five games to one, the Australian broke back, winning the set and the championship. As the television cameras panned to show shots of the player’s box, not only was her family and tennis coach there, so was her mind coach, Ben Crowe.
Last year, I had the privilege of seeing Crowe in action. Not only does he serve as a mind coach to Barty, but he’s also mentored and coached the Australian Cricket team and Richmond Football Club, who’ve both gone onto significant success on the sporting field.
Crowe often talks about high performers – be they sportspeople, business leaders or founders – having access to three different mindsets: connection, purpose and performance.
Have you ever been to a talk by a famous person where the MC provides an endless introduction of their achievements and qualifications? Or have you found yourself in conversation with a former boss or business leader where the conversation remained firmly fixed on themselves?
Crowe believes that a connection mindset is crucial to today’s high performer. Understanding who you are and focusing on the human being (not human doing) is key to adopting a connection mindset. So many of us are fearful of other people’s opinions of ourselves that we lack confidence in who we are.
One practical way to build confidence in connecting with yourself as a human being is to write a “to be” list in the morning, instead of a “to do” list. Connect with the person you want to be and add it to the list. Do you want to be a playful dad, an interested leader, a daring skier or an innovative founder?
Shame is the fear of disconnection and while everyone has shame, the less we talk about it the more of it we have. We all have shame about not having the perfect life or other external manifestations that can’t be achieved. No one can achieve perfection but the antidote to the perfection myth is to celebrate imperfections of self and the world.
It’s good to recognise there are others who are more organised, timely or smarter than you. By acknowledging your imperfections and vulnerabilities, it allows for those around you to empathise and connect.
It also acts as an encouragement in an organisation to experiment and not fear failure.
There are two types of people: those who see vulnerability as a weakness and those who see it as a strength. Crowe strongly believes that vulnerability is a strength and tied to the innate desire for humans to connect with other people.
The purpose mindset helps you understand what you want from life. Where do you find purpose and meaning? Is it seeking happiness? Or by helping others? Understand your why is critical. Understand your passions are linked. What excites you about helping others? What do others want or need? Is your purpose to do something for others?
In 1949, Joseph Campbell published a book introducing the world to his theory that many stories from around the world share a common structure. The monomyth, commonly known as the hero’s journey, is made up of three key sections with 17 underlying stages. Many stories through history use this structure along with one the most famous stories of modern times, the Star Wars trilogy.
The first section of the story is about separation. We see Luke Skywalker living an uneventful life until he’s presented with the first step of the story, the call to adventure. He refuses this call (the second step) but there’s a supernatural aid (the third step) before he crosses the threshold (the fourth step) before being captured in the belly of the whale (the fifth step).
Crowe observes that many people are stuck in step two of the hero’s journey. To move beyond this, at key times in our life, high performers need to lean in and not withdraw. There’s a transformation from “I” to “we”, where life isn’t about you. It’s about the impact you can have on others. That’s why it’s critical to be interested and not interesting. By moving from extrinsic motivations to intrinsic ones, achievement comes with fulfilment.
How can you be the best part someone else’s day?
If a golfer can play drive perfectly at the range but not on the course, that’s mindset. Skill set is different to mindset. We may have the skills but without the right mindset we’ll be unable to put our skills into action at critical moments.
We all have a conscious mind and unconscious mind. While we are in direct control of our conscious mind, we can’t control our unconscious mind. But we can use our conscious mind to direct our unconscious mind.
Aren’t you in control of your emotions? How can you send good signals from your conscious mind to your unconscious mind? Think of a time where you’ve hit the golf ball well. Or a time where you’ve delivered a jaw dropping talk. Or a time when you aced the interview. How did you feel? What was the scene? How did you breathe? Where were your hands? What expression was on your face? Can you recreate those experiences?
Crowe believes that high performers accept the things they can’t control and focus on the things they can. Anxiety comes from trying to control the things you can’t! One way to direct your mind is to think about the last time you did the task successfully. By recalling good memories of a previous experience, you can get into the right mindset.
So next time you’re about to take a shot, give a talk or get interviewed, think about the last time you did that well. Can you replicate the same emotions, breathing and facial expressions? Can you get into the right headspace where you decide your story?
Acceptance, gratitude and self-compassion are key parts of the performance mindset. We need to accept that despite the big goals we may set ourselves, there are no guarantees on their achievement. We need to remain grateful of the opportunities and experiences along the way and we need to take care of ourselves.
There’s my short summary of the three mindsets. Are you ready for a game?
- Benjamin Chong is a partner at venture capital firm Right Click Capital, investors in bold and visionary tech founders.