See It, Hit It

Last month, nationally recognized speaker and best-selling author Barbara Babbit Kaufman spoke to one of my Vistage groups about “Attitude”. Among her “Ten Tips for Maintaining a Great Attitude” was to create a personal mantra. A mantra is an abbreviated (3-5 words) personal mission statement. Kaufman suggested to my members that a personal mantra helps bring clarity and focus to our lives and can help us maintain a great attitude.

During the course of Barbara’s presentation, I was reminded of my own journey towards creating a personal mantra and the profound impact it has had on my life.

I have played tennis for most of my life. As a teenager, I would play tennis after school as often as possible. I never took tennis lessons. I just enjoyed playing the game and competing against my friends.

As an adult I have continued to play tennis as often as possible. I enjoy playing in tennis leagues such as USTA and ALTA as well as playing recreational tennis with friends and neighbors. I dread the day that I will not be able to step onto the tennis court and compete at the highest level.

Several years ago my tennis game was as bad as it had ever gotten. I found myself getting increasingly frustrated about my game. I was losing more matches than I was winning. I was not enjoying the sport. I considered taking a tennis sabbatical. Not possible. I also considered taking tennis lessons. No time. Then I remembered a book that was given to me years ago titled “The Inner game of Tennis” written by Timothy Gallwey. This book single handedly resurrected my tennis game.

My struggles in tennis at that time were very similar to what many athletes experience in a range of different sports. When I would hit a good tennis shot, I would think, “It’s about time! Where’s that shot been?”

When I would hit a bad shot, I would mentally crucify myself. “Where did that shot come from? That was awful. You are a miserable tennis player.” That inner discussion would go on until the next point. Imagine how excited I would be at that point to hit my next shot. The mental aspect of the game was killing me.

In his book, Dr. Gallwey discusses the importance of “quieting the mind” between points. Instead of analyzing each shot and trying to figure out what went wrong, just move on to the next point.

I realized that I had most likely hit every possible shot on the tennis court hundreds if not thousands of times. I did not need to waste my time instructing myself how to hit each shot between points. Nothing constructive was coming out of this mental exercise.

What I began to do otherwise was quiet my mind between points and focus on the task at hand. It was at this time that I developed a personal mantra for my tennis game: “See it…Hit it.

Before I would return serve, I pictured myself hitting the perfect return of service. Next, I would look for the tennis ball in the hand of the server as he prepared to serve. I would focus on nothing but that yellow fuzzy ball as it left the server’s hand, was struck by the tennis racket, and then approached my side of the net. I trusted my body to do what it had done quite competently thousands of times before…”see it, hit it”.

The results were fantastic. I began playing much better, began winning more, and most importantly began to enjoy the game as I had for many years.

Not long after employing this new mental tool in my tennis game I began to consider if this mantra would work as effectively outside of tennis. Is it possible that I could apply this tactic to my work?

I spend most of my time either in one-to-one or group meetings with clients and group members. It is not unusual in those meetings that I am having a conversation with the client while also simultaneously having a conversation with myself:

Is this meeting going well?

What could I be doing differently?

What’s the client thinking?

Should I ask more questions?

Did I spill something at lunch?”

Experiencing these dual conversations creates confusion and certainly impacts my effectiveness as a listener and a consultant. I wondered what would be the impact of “quieting my mind” in these experiences? What if I could be more in the moment?

It seemed that the same strategy that had changed my tennis game could also work here as well. I began to adapt my personal mantra “See it, hit it” to my work and experienced very positive results as well. I focus on the task at hand and not on what I thought was going on around me.

This is still a work in progress. I still find myself playing tennis and occasionally getting frustrated at missed shots. I still from time to time find lose my focus during the match and find myself replaying missed shots. I still have work to do, here. Likewise, from time to time in my work I experience those “fierce conversations” with myself as I am trying to work with a client or group. Old habits are very hard to break.

What’s your personal mantra? If you have a personal mission statement or core purpose, is it possible to narrow it down to a 3-5 word mantra? Life is increasing complicated and I believe that anything that allows us to better focus and gain more clarity must be a good thing. In the meantime, you are welcome to borrow mine. “See it, hit it”.