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“Good things come to those who…?”

While sports themselves don’t overly interest me, I find sports psychology fascinating (which is why I’m finding Netflix’s The Last Dance so compelling). In today’s Marketing Academy virtual campus we were fortunate to hear from a sports psychologist with a storied history and plenty of wisdom to offer. I’d like to run through some of what we all learned today.

Dr Chris Shambrook

Dr. Chris Shambrook is ‘a world-class sports psychologist who’s worked with GB Rowing since 1997 and at five Olympic Games.’ Since 2003 he’s been working at ‘The Performance Room’ under the umbrella of the wider K2 group, and the tagline running across the whole of today’s talk was the entirely appropriate ‘because talent is not enough’.

He began today’s session with context, by running through the similarities between his sporting world and the world of corporate performance – and by extension, marketing.

In sports it’s about performing all the time. The corporate world is the same, but the difference is that in sports you have the time to train, whereas in the corporate world training is often sacrificed – and if it happens at all it’s simultaneous to performance.

Quick preface

I’d like to preface the following write-up with a note on how Dr Shambrook spoke of the current COVID-19 circumstances. He was focused on performing the best you can in any given situation but his talk was very, very far from the sort of ‘suck it up’-type of coaching you might expect to see in certain places. He delivered his talk with huge amounts of empathy (as you’ll see from his final point on compassion) and was in no way talking about writing King Lear II in lockdown.

What I particularly enjoyed from this talk – aside from so many helpful learnings – was the steely gentleness to everything Dr Shambrook delivered, beginning with an acknowledgement that even tuning into his session was evidence that you’re someone who cares about their performance and is therefore committed to self-improvement.

Further reading

If you’re looking for a complementary piece, I’d recommend checking out what I learned from Jamil Qureshi’s session last week.

On adverse conditions and mindset

Take whichever of the five Olympics Dr Shambrook’s been a part of and you’ll find that conditions were tough for many varied reasons;

  • Sydney 2000: rivalry between Great Britain and Australia
  • Athens 2004: facilities unfinished
  • Beijing 2008: political conditions
  • London 2012: home games
  • Rio 2016: Zika virus

In sport there’s no such thing as the ‘perfect conditions’.

The corporate world is the same.

It’s a place of performance and ambition, but good luck getting favourable conditions – they’re always changing.

Accordingly, Dr Shambrook focused on four themes:

  • Mindset – You’re great already. But how can you get even better by being productive?
  • Proactive performance – critical to success; you need to think of yourself as a performer.
  • Choices – whatever the conditions, what are the choices I can make to adapt and respond?
  • The four anchors – you want to be as good as you can be whatever the cards you’re dealt.

The background

Dr Shambrook showed everyone a well-known photo of the launch of 2008’s Team GB kit, shot in the window of the flagship London adidas store. It featured well-known members of Team GB including Bradley Wiggins, John McFall, Heather Fell, Victoria Pendleton, Liz Yelling, Tom Daley and Chris Tomlinson, all of whom were posing above the powerful words

‘This kit cannot be bought. It’s earned. Impossible is nothing.’

With that introduction he explained that you need to understand your backstory and what’s allowed you to get to your current position. You need to think constantly about how you’ve earned your position, and how you’ll continue to earn it.

  • How do I need to build on what I’ve done?
  • What are my daily challenges?
  • What skills do I need?
  • Where does my energy level need to be?

If those are questions you’re asking yourself, then you’re already a performer.

Have pride in how you’ve created your performance legacy so far and think about how you can continue to grow your performance in each category that affects your work.

What skills and strengths can you grow today?

Anchor one: conditions agnostic

In any situation, I know I can deliver.

As Dr Shambrook says ‘whatever the conditions, someone still always tops the table.’

Is that person going to be you?

He began by sharing with the group a book of 21 rules that he and his business partners have written (they’re also available on his website), and number one is:

‘It never gets easier, you just perform better.’

It’s based on a well-known quote from the cyclist and Tour de France winner, Gary LeMond who said ‘it never gets easier, you just get faster.’

You have two choices in facing a situation: you leave, or you use the conditions as a stimulus.

There are unparalleled opportunities with unreasonable demands.

How will you make the most of them?

When you’re thinking about the conditions you’re facing, think about Hamlet:

‘There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.’

Hamlet, Act II, scene II

By being ready for anything you’ll avoid massive emotional changes. You’ll look at your conditions and focus on:

  • acceptance
  • adjustment
  • performance

In the case of acceptance, you want to be thinking about individual/collective demands and how you’re choosing to step into your circumstances

  • You’ve signed up for your job; 
  • You’ve signed up for the deadlines;
  • You’ve signed up for the budgets;
  • You’ve signed up for the constraints.

All of this is part of the marketing role you’ve chosen for yourself.

Dr Shambrook likens those people in the office who are always complaining, to swimmers whining about getting wet.

You need to accept what you’ve signed up for in your office, then look at the conditions with fresh eyes and ask yourself on a regular basis:

  1. What’s the same and what’s different?
  2. What’s helpful and what’s unhelpful?

You gain confidence by looking at the similarities and you gain control and comfort from the familiarity of the conditions before examining what’s different or what’s changed.

From there, focus on the ratio of same to different.

It’s very easy to focus on the differences and on what’s changing, slowly becoming overwhelmed by things out of your control, until you realise just how many things haven’t changed.

If you just focus on change rather than examining that ratio you’re always giving yourself an excuse to get out. But by re-focusing on the consistencies you regain control and perspective, realising that the situation needn’t be as overwhelming as you might have first thought.

Further, the framework Dr Shambrook uses deliberately avoids ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ attributions in favour of ‘helpful’ and ‘unhelpful’

You could have four people around the table, and two of them would interpret something as being positive. And the other two would interpret the same circumstances, the same conditions as being negative.

What are you going to choose to ignore? And what are you going to choose to elevate?

Get to know your conditions, get comfortable with them, and decide whether they’re fit for purpose. You have to train and be ready for the conditions you find yourself in and to do that it helps to research for preparedness:

  • What can you do to draw data down?
  • Cap you tap into related trends?
  • How can you compare the situation to similar historical conditions?

Anchor two: performance mindset

In any situation I choose my mindset.

This is all about choosing your attitude, and then choosing to keep reinforcing it. You need to keep your commitment to the attitude and use it to consistently to prime your thinking. You can use it to influence everything you do, and review that attitude constantly and consistently.

In the 1991 rowing semi-finals, Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent found themselves really happy ahead of their heat, because they had a really good tailwind. It was in their favour, particularly as they were slightly larger than their competitors. Redgrave remarked ‘these are my favourite conditions!’ Lo and behold the pair went through with the world’s best time.

Two days later – the day of the finals – and the conditions have changed. The wind has done a total 180˚ and has suddenly turned into a serious headwind. What does Redgrave say? ‘These are my favourite conditions. I love a headwind.’

They go on to win.

How can you operate best with whatever conditions you’re faced with? What’s your winning mindset? What are you going to do to keep us on track no matter what the conditions are?

It’s not just about the outcome or the result, it’s the process as well,

This leads us into anchor number two, which is your performance mindset: the ability to become an expert at predicting conditions and then getting ready to perform no matter what they are.

You need to maintain a balance between a focus on yourself and a focus on the target.

And in the corporate world, it’s often just the targets that are forced down your throat. It’s all about the targets (‘the bullseye, bullseye, bullseye’). You’re always focusing on the targets you’re supposed to be hitting, and you’re not thinking about the performance at all.

How can you be working on input and output at the same time?

How can you be working on you and your results, and thinking about not just feedback, but feed-forward?

How can you give yourself the honour of being able to perform in the best way possible?

You need a balance of both of these.

Goal-setting is a dynamic process and you want to focus on the how and the what simultaneously.

Sometimes you can be proud of how you delivered something, but you’re not really satisfied with the result. Other times, you might be proud of the result but not proud of how you got there. And there are times when you’re proud of both, or maybe not even proud of either.

Finally – and importantly – once you’ve delivered the work, evaluate what your recipe is for success.

Anchor three: fit for purpose

I’m prepared for whatever comes.

Are you totally ready?

Are you ready to perform?

Can you prepare, perform and respond?

This anchor is all about coaching readiness, ensuring you have the:

  • Right skills
  • Brilliant basics
  • Essential upgrades

One approach Steve Redgrave took is that he operated on the basis of ‘on my worst day, I want to be good enough to beat anyone in the world.’ That’s how he practiced; that was his mindset. So how are you going to rise to the occasion? Or even sink to the lowest level of your preparation and still be certain you’re going to win.

The perfect example is British Judo and their What It Takes To Win model. Follow the link and you’ll see that the road to success is built on the mastery of skills, knowledge and practice in all the fields of their sport, from weight management, through to judo techniques and psychological readiness.

Their everyday preparation is in place for on-the-day success.

And that’s preparation that you can follow for your own success in marketing.

Are you well-rested? Have you got the right mindset? Are you eating right and relaxing too?

That final part leads nicely into the fourth anchor.

Anchor four: performance compassion

I’ve prepared and now I’m curious to see how I’ll perform.

Cut yourself some slack.

You want to be going into something thinking: ‘I trust my track record. I trust the work I’ve put in. I’m operating with a high level of curiosity to see how I’ll do.’

What do you want to learn about yourself here in this performance situation?

You also want to develop a 100% mentality.

What does that mean? Well, Dr Shambrook outlines it perfectly in this article on his website, but the basic premise is that you want to make the most of whatever your current mindset and conditions are.

You want to go from feeling like you’re six out of 10 (on a scale of one to 10) to six out of six.

Many of us going to work feeling like we’re in a general state of readiness, but we’re still only at about six out of 10 or seven or eight out of 10.

How can you change your mindset?

You think to yourself ‘Yeah, today I’m six out of 10. But I’m going to make that a six out of six.’ Or ‘I’m an eight out of 10 right now, but I’m going to make that an eight out of eight.’

That way, you’re not constantly disappointed in yourself and setting yourself up for failure.

Practicing this level of self-compassion ensures that you get 100% of the best prepared version of yourself at any time.

Importantly, you should go into any situation with an open mind and ask yourself open questions.

Just think: how good can I be?