This past weekend for sports fans was an edge of the seat thrill ride all day Sunday. The champions down the stretch did not disappoint on the highest level of golf and basketball. Dustin Johnson conquered doubts from previous majors, the USGA putting him in mental purgatory from the 12th hole on, and an Oakmont course that was faster and tougher than ever before. Lebron James, on the other hand, did something that had never been done on multiple fronts: bringing a championship home to Cleveland, overcoming a 3-1 deficit, and, to top it all off, did so while achieving a triple-double in the final game and winning the NBA Finals MVP.
It’s incredible to sit back and marvel at these athletes on the grandest scale achieving the pinnacle of athletic success. What is not commonly seen is the road to reach that level, and how staying on that rocky, winding, pothole-filled road allows them to perform when it truly matters most. Through hours, days, and years of work, practice, coming up short, experiencing success, and falling short again, they were able to put themselves in a position to win. This is a lesson that we all can take from the best in the world.
How can we finish when it matters most? How do we put ourselves in the position to achieve that personal best time, finish that deal at work, stand confidently when pressure and stress are at their pinnacle, and, at the end of it, still finish strong? The first step is a given, and that is to prepare and consistently develop through intentional and deliberate practice.
Beyond the hours of practice, when that moment comes, where does your focus go to during that opportunity? Does it shift as the moment gets closer and the stakes are higher? It’s very easy to focus on the end result, your heart beating faster, your thoughts racing, the emotions of anxiety and stress increasing, but placing your focus on these areas is not helpful in terms of performing at your best in that moment.
If you want to perform at your best in big moments, bring your awareness back to the present and “Own Your Space.” The only moment that matters is the one right in front of you. When your mind drifts to the future or past, anxiety, fears, worries and doubts set in. When your mind is on the present, it is locked into what needs to happen right now to perform the way you have practiced and rehearsed over and over. When your mind is in the present, you can easily identify what your thoughts, emotions, and physiology are, and then, you can shift them to what you want them to be in order to crush that moment. If you are not happy with where your mind and body are going, then don’t just sit on the sideline: “Own Your Space” and deliberately shift your thoughts to ones that will put you in a position to perform to your full potential.
To help push yourself into the present, develop a strategy to recenter and bring yourself to where your feet are. Practice taking a deep breath, and mentally drive yourself to what you want to do and how you want to feel at that exact moment. You can bring yourself to the present by developing a cue, phrase, or image that shifts your awareness to what is going on right in front of you. Then, let your body and all those practice reps take over.
The best in the world know how to shift their focus to only what matters from moment to moment. It’s a thrill to watch them compete at the highest level and hit clutch shots and putts. You too can perform when it matters most by taking a lesson from Dustin and Lebron and driving your focus to the present, “Owning Your Space,” and crushing that moment.