These very famous words from the poem “IF” by Rudyard Kipling can help you learn to become a consistent peak performer under pressure. Most athletes get far too hung up on winning and/or a fear of losing. However, when you go into any performance with this kind of “outcome focus” you will inadvertently set yourself up to fail over and over again.
As I’ve said many times, an outcome focus before or during a performance, (i.e. winning, losing, worrying about an opponent, what’s at stake or making a mistake) will put your concentration in the wrong place, send your nervousness into the red zone, tighten your muscles and insure that your performance will be a mere shadow of your potential.
As Kipling puts it, winning and losing, or triumph and disaster are really nothing more than two impostors! Their “song” is like that of the Sirens in Greek mythology. Listening to them would always lead to death and destruction. Becoming preoccupied with and “listening” to your thoughts about either winning or a fear of losing will always lead you down the same, dead-ended path. The athletes who consistently perform to their potential regardless of what’s at stake are the ones who don’t get seduced and distracted by these two impostors. These athletes know that to consistently be at your best you must keep your concentration on the moment by moment experience of your performance. They understand that the instant you get preoccupied with the winning and losing of the outcome, it becomes completely impossible to compete the way you’re capable of.
The problem arises because so many people mistakenly measure success and failure as an athlete in winning and losing terms. If you want to become a peak performer, then you need to learn to use a different yardstick to measure your success. That yardstick is about YOUR performance in relation to YOUR potential. It’s about doing YOUR VERY BEST regardless of the outcome. When you have a peak performance, (that is, you performed to the very best of your abilities) and yet you still lose, then this is called success and “winning!” If you win, yet you do so “ugly,” playing tentatively and scared to lose, then this “victory” is really nothing more than a failure.
Your performance goal needs to be to go for YOUR VERY BEST, separate from the outcome of the contest or what an opponent may do. Too many coaches, parents and athletes don’t understand this. They mistakenly believe that winning and NOT losing is the true goal! Remember, winning and losing are really impostors and you want to treat those two impostors just the same!