Steve, one of the things you talk about in the book is expecting the best and the importance of having the right expectations. I wonder if you can sort of develop that idea for us a bit.
Steve Head: Well, things have moved and I’ve done a lot. I wrote that book a few years ago, and I still read it sometimes, bits of it and think, “Yeah that still makes sense,” but my point about expecting the best is … I suppose it’s a sense of optimism. That’s the kind of essence of it, but the research that’s come out in the last few years around people achieving what they want to achieve in life is more about doing the very best that you can, than it’s about necessarily constantly hitting the targets you want to hit.
In other words, you may … Like my daughter’s doing GCSE’s literally at this moment, revising for her exams, and these are big exams. You know, she wants to do really well. She’s very conscientious, and she’s working very hard, certainly harder than I did when I was in school, and she’s revising and she’s spending time to get it right.
She wants to achieve … ‘A’ star is the gold standard. She wants to get as many ‘A’ stars as she can, but the reality is that … She’s already setting herself up for … She knows what good is or what world class is, but in order for her to achieve that, I think she has to be sensible, and by that I mean if you’re going to say, “A star is success. Anything less is failure.” Anything less is failure, then the risk there is that you get a B, for whatever reason … Some of the questions didn’t quite work, or you weren’t zoned in on the day, and you come away completely disappointed in yourself, and that massively affects your self-esteem.
Or you simply expect that when you go to the exam, you’re going to be able to do the very best that you can, right? It’s not the outcome you’re focusing on. It’s just … You know what the outcome is, but you’re just simply going and thinking, “I’m going to go up …” The only thing I’ll ever say to my daughter, as she prepares … This is … I’m not just saying this for effect. She will never ever and has never heard from my lips, “Anna, it’s all about A stars.” It’s all about A stars, right?
What I will have said to her 1,000 times is, “Do the very best that you can. You have great potential. You’re very talented. You’re very gifted.” She’s into dance, into drama … Got maths and English obviously to do. “If you prepare and do everything you can within your gifts, however your neurons are wired, and you prepare, and go in there expecting and knowing that you can deliver your very best,” because that’s in your gift, isn’t it?
We’ve got control of that. We can decide whether we do our best. Whether our best is a gold medal, whether our best is an ‘A’ star is another matter, but we can do our best.
The paradox is, that if you go into something and only accepting ‘A’ star as the outcome you can achieve, which you should achieve, and you’ve failed if you don’t achieve ‘A’ star, then if somebody scores you down, which is outside of your control to a greater or lesser degree. You can only do what you can do. You come out thinking, “I’m not good enough.”
Then, over time, unless you’ve got tremendous support resilience, you could easily get worn down, so for me, expect the best is about going and knowing I’m ready to give the best I’ve got. I’m going to give it everything, and then I’ll worry less about the result. The paradox is more often you relax more, therefore you can do what you need to do. Your brain’s clearer. You’ll answer the questions better. You’ll get better scores.
It’s the same in golf. If you want to put a ball in a hole from 4 feet at Augusta, if you stand over the ball worrying about the consequence of it going in, almost certainly the ball will not go in. You’ll be so tense you’ll miss it, but if you stand over a ball and think, “I’ve trained. I’m ready. I’m practiced. I couldn’t put any more time in. I’m going to do what I know. I’m going to hit this ball to the best of my ability,” and you know what? You’ll be more relaxed and it’ll probably go in the hole. That’s what I mean by that.
Grant Leboff: I fully get what you’re saying. It makes all the sense to me. What would say is where’s the line? Where do you go from not putting too much emphasis on the result but on your own performance and doing the best you can be, but at the same time not kind of, then almost talking yourself out of the result, if that makes sense?
Steve Head: Well they’re two different things. I know what you mean, because whenever I say this to an audience, I can sense the chunk of people in the room going I’ve become a softy, you know? Because when I was young, it was like, when you did sports day, you turned up on sports day, and the winner actually got a medal, and other 32 kids that didn’t win the race got nothing. They didn’t have a medal for tuning up, so I think, it’s not like you’re giving somebody permission to not try, to not bother.
You’re not saying, “It doesn’t matter if you don’t win.” You’re actually saying to them, on the contrary, I want you to give everything you’ve got, but with the understanding that sometimes no matter how much effort you put in, not matter how much you work at something, you don’t always get the results that you think you’d either deserve or want. That’s just life, getting prepared for an interview and not get the job.
Because there is another part, which is about accepting failure, which is a whole other story, but in terms of the thing you’ve touched on, I do think there are some people, and I’ve seen this … I’ve worked with people, because I do a lot of one on one work with people, where they self-sabotage. What they do is they … It’s called self-handicapping actually, the sort of psychological phrase that they use. Self-handicapping. What they basically do is … You’re going to play in a major golf competition, professional golfer, let’s say on the Euro Pro, which is the sort of 1st stage of golf. You’ve got Euro Pro, Challenge Tour, and then the big money tour.
These guys on this tour get say 10 grand if they win, and if you have 5th or worse, you probably barely cover your costs, so this is how a lot of golfers fail in golf, because they don’t make enough money to keep going. As a golfer, standing on a practice round, and you’re chatting away, and you say, “What’s that club you’ve got in your hand?” He says, “Oh, it’s a wedge, and it’s a bit worn, and I need a new one for the tournament next week.”
I go, “Well, what does a wedge do?” “Well, a wedge gives me control and gives me distance, and I can get the ball to within 2 yard and then more chance of winning.” “Is it an important club?” “Yes it is.” “Without a wedge, how would you do?” “I’d struggle.” “So you need a new wedge?” “I definitely do, yeah.”
Then you meet them a few days later. “Did you get the wedge?” “Oh, I’ve not had time to get the wedge.” Then they go and play the tournament a few days later, and they don’t win any money, come 10th, maybe win £100. Barely covers the petrol, and then they turn and say, “Well of course, the reason I lost is because I didn’t have the new wedge. If I’d had the new wedge …” “Why didn’t you get a new wedge?” “Oh, I was so busy, and I got tied up with a lot of stuff. I didn’t have enough money.”
What they’ve done is they’ve given themselves the perfect opt out. If I don’t win, I have a very, very good excuse. That’s called self-handicapping. The same thing happens at school. If you’re at college or school, you mates standing before you go in an exam, saying, “You’ve been revising the study?” “Oh, I was out on the lash last night. I was drinking all night, so I’m absolutely hung over,” and the reality is they actually have. They’re not just saying it. They’ve actually not revised. They’ve actually not studied, because they need to know that if they get a D or an E or an F or whatever, they can say, “Ah, the reason I failed …” If they turn out with a C, they can turn and say, “Imagine how well I’d have done if I’d revised.”
So there’s a difference between the doing the very best that you … Because for me, doing the best that you can is not just physical, mental, it’s having the equipment, it’s preparation, tools, so you’ve got to have a lot of tick boxes to go, “Are you as ready as you can be?” Yeah, now go forward and worry less about the outcome, but don’t you come to me and say, “Well I didn’t actually study anything, read anything, and I got a D,” because that’s not doing the best that you can. That’s just winging it, and I won’t be unhappy with my daughter if that happens. I love my daughter to bits, and I’ll love her forever, but she will be able to look at herself in the mirror and go, “I could have done so much better. Why didn’t I put that more … What is it that stopped me?” Then you can deal with that, but she needs to … All I want her to do is her best, and not self-sabotage along the way by missing things out on purpose so she can give herself a really good excuse.
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