Several things have stirred our performance thoughts this week – the competitive inter-team rivalry between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, the thoughts of Andy Murray about finding the right coach to do the right role for him and the Williams sisters early exits from the French open.
However THE performance of the past week for us was from Rory McIlroy at the PGA Championships last weekend at Wentworth, immediately following his break up with his fiancée, which resulted in a lot of press coverage and questions towards him.
McIlroy clearly demonstrated his ability to perform under pressure, and a different kind of pressure to the sort that he’s used to. Obviously he’s familiar with competing under the eye of spectators and the world’s media but this was a pressure on him by the circumstances of the previous week. Most elite performers will recognise that some pressure is really helpful for their performance and so managing that pressure to make and keep it helpful is a key performance skill. (In fact your attitude towards pressure and stress can be a key determinant in managing it! https://www.ted.com/talks/kelly_mcgonigal_how_to_make_stress_your_friend)
Anyone who has played golf will know what a psychological game it is. McIlroy’s ability to concentrate and focus on the technical and tactical parts of his game really came to the fore (sorry about that). In doing so he was able to park the emotion that could have troubled and derailed him.
In McIlroy’s case the technical execution of shots under pressure is helped by the huge amounts of time practicing all sorts of different shots in different situations. Clearly these things are linked – having the right mindset to allow your technical and tactical capabilities to work for you, and having the necessary technical and tactical abilities that the right mindset can exploit.
As McIlroy said afterwards:
“When I was inside the ropes it was a little bit of a release. I was on my own, doing what I do best and it gave me four or five hours of serenity or sanctuary, whatever you call it.”
It seems like he was able to use his thoughts in a helpful way, and in so doing, to focus on what he is really good at, to go back to what he really knows and to do what he loves.
These are all great strategies for making your thoughts as helpful as possible when you’re under pressure. You’ll have probably come across the phrase “start with the end in mind” but perhaps not “end with the start in mind”. Tapping into why you do what you do, what was your motivation for starting, what it is about your current job that you like most (or love) and what parts of your job you’re really good at, can all be really helpful at getting you into a place where you’re free to produce your best performances. Useful stuff indeed.