A few years ago I was in a very high pressure rapier tournament. It was the largest and hardest fought tournament in the Northwest with a list of 50 fencers who were arguably some of the best fencers around competing. On my way down my travel companion asked me “So how do you think you’re going to do in the tournament?” I responded matter-of-factly “I’m going to win it.”
I had decided if I was going to go I needed to set my intention on winning, but I also knew that I needed another component: I was going to win AND enjoy myself. This two part mental strategy helped me stay focused and yet find a place of ease.
When I was struck in the first round (it was a double elimination tournament) the decision to win helped me to beat down the demons of worry and doubt and simply say to myself “I’m here to win this. It just means that I need to not get hit in any future round.” The decision to have a good time allowed me to be easy and focus on enjoyment, form, and the pleasure of fencing. This second intention stopped me from getting too psyched out. I chatted with friends in between rounds, did some free fencing bouts and found a good balance between visualizing victory and relaxing.
I made it to the finals, untouched the rest of the way, and then got hit in the first of a best 2 out of 3. I felt those same doubts start to come back up, they said things like “Do you really want to win this? How important is this? Can you beat him?” I turned my back for a moment and reinvested in my intention, with a calm certainty I pushed those ideas aside and stated to myself “No. I’m going to win.” I then imagined my joy at winning the next two fights. The next two took less than 20 seconds and I got to celebrate my victory. It was a great day and I had a really enjoyable time.
The nice thing is that I know that even if I had not won, I would have still had a great time because that idea had stayed so alive with me throughout the event.
There are many ways to find focus and ease but if you want to succeed in high pressure situations you need to find the one that works for you. I’m interested to hear other people’s strategies in this and similar arenas. Please share them.