I recently finished The Lord of the Rings books and listened to Matthew McConaughey's Greenlights on Audible (it was narrated by McConaughey himself and was truly a great listening experience -- it was basically six hours of story time with Matthew McConaughey).
McConaughey had a section of his book that really struck home with me, had parallels to LOTR, and applies to various parts of our lives, from sports to just straight up livin.
His message: you never truly "arrive" at your goal, but you keep working on your craft, enjoying the process of perfecting your craft along the way.
Hobbits and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
WARNING: SPOILER ALERT
The end of the Lord of the Rings books is way different than the movies. Both endings are acceptable, but there are lessons from the book that are applicable to training, sport, and life: The best way to execute on a task is to have already executed.
In the books, the Hobbits are venturing back to the Shire when they realize their quaint, peaceful land had been taken over by scoundrels, thieves, and thugs. These leeches imposed arbitrary rules, stole crops, and upended the lovely way of life the Hobbits had enjoyed for forever.
Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin immediately spring into action to liberate their land, reclaim their rights, and vanquish these vermin. They are calm, cool, and collected as they shake the fear out of the town folk, organize a militia, and drive out the invaders. They knew what to do, how to do it, and achieved their goals with an air of confidence and minimal bloodshed.
How were these four tiny hobbits able to pull off this success against a much bigger, meaner opponent? And how can you accomplish the same thing in sport and life?
They were ready for the situation because they had already been in that type of situation.
They had been in the battle of Helms Deep, the sacking of Isengard, the battle for Minas Tirith, and the battle at the Gates of Sauron. Up until then, they hadn't experienced battle at all except for creating mischief and friendly wrestling in the shire.
Had they not gone on their journey and been exposed to these types of scenarios, they never would have had the wisdom, courage, and technical skill to free their people.
It's sort of like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is a tactic in therapy to handle stress -- if we expose our brain and body to small stressors and slowly build up to bigger and bigger stressors, we can better manage big stressors when they come. We build confidence in our abilities and our brain feels like we can handle situations in the future and therefore won't have AS MUCH performance anxiety when that situation arises.
But I believe we can go a level deeper than just mitigating performance anxiety. What if we don't actually perform?
Develop a Process to Perform & You'll Never Truly Perform At All
We can achieve more in sport and life if we focus on the process, not the performance. Succeed through process, don't succeed through performance. How can there be performance anxiety if you never have to perform?
You don't start off with your best back squat ever. Every squat is part of the process to getting your best back squat.
You don't start off playing your best football. Every game is part of the process of playing your best football.
You don't wake up as a great parent. Every day is part of the process.
There are two key factors I'd like to dive into here that are really helpful (for me at least!) in understanding how this all works.
First, you will never MAKE IT. You will never ARRIVE. You will never have a perfect back squat, but you will have YOUR BEST back squat. You won't wake up in the NFL, but you might play D1 ball. You aren't a perfect parent, but you are the BEST you can be.
Second, and this is crucial, because you never MAKE IT, every step throughout your life is part of a PROCESS.
This means we can reframe how we perceive "performance anxiety" or "high stress situations"
- I am here as a RESULT of previous PROCESS
- This PROCESS today will help me be the better (insert goal here).
Viewing current situations as BOTH a RESULT of your previous experiences and a PROCESS for continued growth, current situations -- high stress or not -- are just part of the PROCESS for getting to where you want to go.
During your process you learn -- What are you good at? What are you bad at? What are scared of? Why are you scared? How to focus the mind. How to remain calm. How to lead others.
Ultimately, you're going to find yourself in situations that some may find as "high pressure", but to you, they are just an acknowledgement of your previous process and an opportunity to push the boundaries of your accumulated process.
This process truly never stops. You never arrive. You can always grow. To grow, you've got to have GRACE for yourself to learn from your mistakes.
MISTAKES are made AS PART of your process, not DESPITE your process.
And before you know it, your back squat will be more weight than ever before; you'll be playing in that "big game"; you'll be a grand parent to a handful of adorable grandkids; you'll have to saved the Shire from thugs. You will be able to handle whatever comes your way, because whatever comes your way is just part of your process.
The PROCESS you put yourself through TO BE SUCCESSFUL enables your SUCCESS.