I heard an interesting podcast interview with Paul O’Connell recently (you can listen to it here). In the interview, the Irish rugby legend discussed how he struggled to cope with the mental preparation for games in his younger days. It was an interesting insight. We think of O’Connell now as the ultimate professional; a consummate leader who always adapted well to the rigours and disciplines of professional sport.
Not so. In the interview, the Limerick man discussed how, on the contrary, his psychological preparation often left a lot to be desired. In particular, he recounted how his goal-setting, especially, was extremely unrealistic and often quite counterproductive in terms of achieving the desired outcomes. Despite his tremendous success, the big man was often anxious about his performance and struggled to enjoy his enviable life as a rugby professional.
To remedy the problem, Paul sought out sports psychologists and sourced advice from other renowned sportspeople and coaches to establish how they coped with the dreaded pressure to deliver, to achieve constant success. In the end, the former Irish captain used a variety of techniques to help him enjoy what is often the tedious, daily grind of the elite sportsman. However, interestingly, it wasn’t a psychologist that offered the most useful and applicable piece of advice. So, what were the words of wisdom the big man found so helpful? How to stop fretting about the past and silence your nagging doubts about the future? Simple. “Win the moment in front of your face.”
Think about it. It’s genius simplified in terms of advice. And it’s universal. In fact, it’s hard not to think of a scenario where the advice above isn’t useful. Worry and stress are certainly destructive emotions, if left unchecked. We all do it. It’s so easy to let the demons take over and succumb to the negative force that is worry. Whether it’s fretting pointlessly over perceived mistakes from the past, agonising over a decision, or torturing yourself over future scenarios, many of which never come to pass. Preparing endlessly for disasters that never happen. The hectic nature of modern life encourages and exacerbates these stresses in a way that didn’t happen in days gone by.
Everything is measured nowadays. Everything has a (often quite artificial) deadline. We all feel rushed and hurried. Either we’re late for something or it feels as if we should be! More and more is demanded of us and we often struggle to cope with the pressure. The strains of modern life can be extremely burdensome. So much to do and so little time to do it in. I must admit I’ve struggled myself with prioritising tasks and separating the urgent from the dispensable; the immediate from that which can be deferred safely. Like a lot of us I suspect, my reflex instinct is to try to do as much as possible, regardless of the task’s actual urgency. I set unrealistic goals and often beat myself up for failure to meet self-imposed deadlines and targets.
And you know what? All that stress and worry is ultimately futile. Pointless. So much wasted energy. I guess that’s what Paul O’Connell discovered, albeit belatedly in his career. There’s a great saying in sport: “Control the controllables.” It makes total sense. Don’t worry about the superficial and irrelevant. Don’t let ancillary factors distract you from the task at hand. Don’t worry about what your teammates or perceived rivals are doing. Just focus on yourself. Do you what you can to improve and don’t dwell on mistakes. Learn from them.
Concentrate on being the best you can be and shut out unhelpful, irrelevant distractions. Let’s be honest. Life can be stressful enough. Why let unnecessary worry destroy all joy and fulfilment from your daily routine? Ever since I heard the interview, I find myself regularly reinforcing the message. I can’t get away from it. It’s so simple. But it’s beautiful in its profoundness. So next time you’re lamenting a supposedly bad decision or worrying needlessly about the future, don’t. Listen to O’Connell instead. Just win the moment in front of your face. It’s all any of us can do, anyway. The past has already happened and the future will take care of itself. “Mindfulness for rugby players,” O’Connell called it. The wise sage who provided this advice? Joe Schmidt. “Win the moment in front of your face.” There’s a lesson for us all in there somewhere.