Mindset lessons from an unlikely source

I don’t suppose many of you who read my blogs are avid football fans?! I am not myself. At best, I endure it on what feels like a regular basis as the chef spends yet another Saturday evening berating the TV. Yet even I was captivated by the world cup and in particular by England’s metamorphosis. But my fascination goes way beyond football.

Gareth Southgate managed to transform the players from an underperforming, unbelieving and disparate group, into a team that is full of pride, resilience, and confidence. He crafted a team that had the strength to leave the legacy behind and move forward positively, creating a history of their own. How? The answer lies beyond the physical. The fittest and most talented player in the world cannot rely on that alone. The difference is in understanding and managing the mindset.

Recently, I have become increasingly interested in how the brain works and more importantly, how to harness its power to deliver on pretty much anything. What I have discovered is quite amazing and it is already having a profound impact on my own life and the way I choose to live it. That is probably the subject of another blog.

For now, surprising as it may seem, there are many lessons we can learn from the England team, lessons so powerful that they can change your life too if you let them:

1. Letting go of the baggage

Just like English football, we all have excess baggage. When the brain is faced with a situation or decision, the first thing it will do is reference the past. It searches through its very large encyclopaedia for similar circumstances and formulates its response accordingly. Therein lies the challenge. If the previous outcome was not a positive one then immediately the chances of things turning out differently this time are slim. Self-doubt floods in, negative self-talk takes hold: a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Imagine if you were an England player stepping up to take a penalty shot in the deciding part of a knockout match. If the mind is allowed to focus on how we never win on penalties, how many times we have lost, how many goals the keeper on the opposing side has saved and so on, do you imagine that the ball is likely to hit the back of the net? Of course not. But many of us do this every day, generally without even realising it.

The more we can challenge our default response, be aware of the voice of our saboteur and change the dialogue, the more chance we have of positive outcomes and more importantly, of unlocking limitless potential.

2. Belief

One of the things that most struck me about England’s performance was the belief in their ability, even in the face of a nation’s doubt. Gareth understood that only when there is belief can there be success and he instilled this into the players. Our ability is limitless but a lack of belief will impact performance and scupper any chances of success.
If you instruct the brain on something often enough it will deliver on that. It does not have the capability to distinguish between what is good and bad. If you give it negative instructions then it will deliver negative outcomes.

I regularly hear ‘I can’t do that’ generally before people have even tried. Even more regularly, it turns out that they actually can do everything I am asking and much more. Imagine if I had believed them! How much more could they achieve if they actually believed it themselves?

3. Managing setbacks

It wasn’t all plain sailing for England. Early matches were lost and leads stripped cruelly away in the last minute, forcing an extra 30 minutes of play. The difference this time was in their response.

So it is in life. Setbacks are a natural and inherent part of the journey. It is how one chooses to react to them that count. And there is a choice. As a child I always wanted to be the best, score the highest, and win the prizes. If I ever failed I did not like it and it took quite some time before I recovered.

These days, I realise that there are no failures, only opportunities to learn and improve. By giving up because something does not go my way, I am missing out on the chance to grow and develop. As the song says, ‘When the going gets tough…’.

4. Happiness

The press coverage of the team enjoying their down time, relaxing and having fun together reveals yet more wisdom. Pressure and stress do not bring success. The relaxed atmosphere in the camp lifted the burden of expectation and allowed the players to play to their full potential without fear of failure. They felt comfortable and free to give of their very best and the results followed.
Despite traditional assumptions that success delivers happiness, research has proven again and again that it is the other way round. True success is elusive unless we are happy first. So many of us drive headlong through life, often without even knowing why or where we are heading to.

I am not suggesting that splashing about in a swimming pool on top of blow up unicorns is what we should all be doing. Rather, that using our energy in pursuit of the things that bring happiness is far more likely to deliver success. Plus, life is so much more pleasant that way!

For me, England’s performance at the world cup was a masterclass in managing mindset and the result, the best for over 20 years, bears testament to that. The future looks exciting for England and, if we can all take a leaf out of their book, ours can too.

I never thought I would be inspired and excited by football – must be my changing mindset!!

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