Get out of your own way

Hear no evil - get out of your own wayI was watching the women’s downhill skiing event at the Olympics yesterday (only on television, unfortunately) and something the expert commentator said fascinated me.

One of the competitors was not doing as well as might have been expected and as she went round a bend she shouted to herself, “Come on!”. Now this is a common enough sight in sport, watch tennis players, for example, but the commentator remarked, “if you have to self-encourage, it’s not coming from inside”.

This was something I hadn’t really thought about before, but it’s so true. If things are going well, if you are “in the zone” or “in flow” as it is sometimes described, you are so focused on what you are doing that you aren’t thinking about it at all. That’s when things can really work for you, and it often appears to be happening unconsciously.

However, this can sometimes frighten us. We feel like we should be in conscious control of what we are doing and we start to “get in the way of ourselves”. Hence the advice that is often given, “you need to get out of your own way”, to avoid inadvertently blocking or sabotaging our own success.

The real winners in life are able to do this, seemingly every time it is required, and the place that it can be most clearly seen is in sport. Whatever field we want to succeed in, whether it is business specifically, life generally or sports, we should develop the ability to trust ourselves to perform and stop getting in our own way.

Watching the lady who won the downhill skiing gold medal, Lindsey Vonn, I would imagine the only thing she could hear on her way down the mountain was the wind and the sound of her skis on the snow. No critical voices in her head telling her what she was doing wrong, or to be careful not to blow it.

Whether we are Olympians or not, we should all learn to cultivate this silence ourselves. It takes practice to quieten those voices, or at least learn how to ignore them.

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