Successful athletes take an interesting headset into all of their performances. It is captured in the following Zen saying: “When the archer shoots for the love and passion of the shooting, he has all his skills and he hits the Bull’s Eye again and again… But, when he shoots for the gold, he goes blind.”
What does this mean? When you go into a big game or match completely focused on the process of the performance, enjoying the challenge and everything about the competition, you will be relaxed, have access to all of your skills and therefore perform to your potential. However, if you go into a game “shooting for the gold,” that is, with the goals of winning, beating a particular opponent, proving yourself, improving your ranking, etc. in the front of your consciousness, then you will lose access to all of your skills and be performing “blind,” that is, WAY BELOW your abilities!
This means that no matter how important a competition is to you, you can’t take your “outcome goals” with you into the contest and still be successful. Over-focusing on your expectations/goals going into and during a game will always result in you getting too nervous, misplacing your focus of concentration and ultimately choking. Trying to “shoot for the gold,” (the center of the target) will consistently make you “blind” and miss. It’s only when you consciously stop trying to hit the target/win and instead focus on the joy and passion that you have for the activity in the moment that you will be able to win.
Here’s a common example of this phenomenon. How many times have you had the experience of going into a performance feeling sick, exhausted or otherwise so badly that you had already given up on the idea of doing well way before the performance even started only to be totally surprised at the end by an amazing performance? Why does this happen?
When you feel ill going into a performance, you automatically let go of any expectations that you might have ordinarily held. The thought process is, “I’m so sick, it doesn’t really matter how I do today!” Dropping your outcome expectations as you go into a game allows you to relax as an athlete and concentrate on all of the right things. Staying loose and focused are the two crucial mental ingredients of all peak performances.
Champions intuitively know that you can only be at your best when you drop all of your self-imposed expectations and pressures to win. Paradoxically it’s only then that winning will come within your grasp. Conversely, the more you dwell on the need and importance to win, the further away it will get from your grasp.