3 More Things Creatives Can Learn From Athletes

Posted on January 23, 2013

Last Friday, I briefly recapped Dr. Bhrett McCabe’s talk for the AAF Birmingham January Luncheon about the similarities between creatives and athletes, and importance of preparation and finding your flow.

Despite the ideas being relatively topical, each piece can be broken down and analyzed. I highly recommend taking sufficient time to process and figure out if and how it can apply to your own life. I found these next few ideas extremely helpful and relevant to me: the ability to self-regulate, dealing with anxiety and finding flow. Really interesting stuff coming up here, so listen up.

Please participate as we experiment for a minute. Raise your hand if you enjoy speaking in public. *Twittles thumbs… Looks at watch, er, phone…* Truth is, most people despise it. They get anxious, and not the excited anxious where they’re itching to just get up on stage, yell into the microphone “ARE YOU READY NEW YORK CITAAAAY,” pull off a rock star performance and drop the mic as they exit stage left. Yea. That doesn’t happen. Ever. We all dream that’s how it’ll go as we prepare tirelessly for the big day, but you and I both know that’s never how it turns out.

This scenario may sound more familiar: Your palms begin to flow like Niagara Falls. Thoughts wander from “I’ve got this, I’ve got this, just breathe” to “holy shit there are people sitting here in chairs and they’re looking at me with their judging eyeballs and pitchforks.” A person in the back of the room asks you to speak up because your heartbeat is overpowering your voice. You suddenly have to pee really bad, but wait, what’s that warm substance flowing down your right leg. My God this is getting bad and just then you realize you’re an hour early and no one is actually sitting in the audience yet.

Reality bites, man.

Anyone can be awesome and pull off a Steven Tyler-esque performance (pre-American Idol, duh). If it isn’t anxiety, what gets in the way then? You’re looking at this from the wrong angle, bro (or sis). While some of us may actually find displeasure in the act of public speaking, more often than not the problem is that we get anxiety about our anxiety. According to Dr. McCabe, a certain level of anxiety or tension is actually desirable. We get caught up in what the outcome should look like and how we want to be perceived by our peers. We want to appear awesome, and it seems so easy, but our brains love to trick us. We think in the moment and not about the preparation that goes into delivering a Steven Tyler-esque performance. We lack the perception of how much effort goes into a performance because we don’t see it.

The solution is just another simple equation of life; being able to reduce pressure lies in the time and effort put forth to being prepared. When pressure reduces, control increases.

For the most part, the outcome you’re capable of delivering is limited by how much you put into the preparation. Sure, some people are freaks and don’t have to prepare as much as others; they’re born ready for everything. My brother, for example, is one of those freaks and excels in everything he touches. From the earliest moments that I can consciously conjure he was winning scholarships right and left, getting selected for this and that achievement in both his professional and academic careers, and now he’s become one hell of a father (under the careful eye and training of his even more amazing wife, of course).

Back to my point. Anxiety can help you, as long as a balance exists. A balance of challenge and skill. Finding that medium and being able to self-regulate your stress or tension is the key to gaining control of a situation. It’s definitely easier said than done and is just another skill you need to put the time in to master. Nothing, I repeat, nothing happens overnight.

So this is the “flow” I’ve been mentioning all along. We all want it. (And no, I don’t mean that Progressive chick.) Flow is what happens when everything comes to you easily and intuitively. We know this as “nailing it,” or “Hot streak.” Everything you do is just so right. This is that medium that everyone dreams of finding, especially creatives and athletes.

To drive it home, you don’t get here by accident. It comes with training and preparing for both the expected and the unexpected. It comes with being comfortable in the uncomfortable. It all lives in your head and in your heart.

You get to this magical place by having a specific, clear set of steps to achieve your goals. Focus on the training, get feedback from a mentor and be totally absorbed in the moment, not the outcome or the perception. It’s in your head and only you can change it.

McCabe explained that choking happens, but for a reason. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, it just shows a gap in your focus. When you start to think about what an outcome means to you or more importantly what it means about you, your brain jams and loses the ability to focus on the now. “I need this to happen” for the client to be happy and get what they want. Steer away from that mindset and towards one of focusing on what you’re trained to do. I absolutely love this quote from McCabe: “You think, therefore you choke.”

I’d like to give Dr. McCabe a huge thank you for coming out to speak with the Birmingham advertising community. I truly hope everyone enjoyed the presentation and came away as inspired as I did. It’s amazing that the same concepts athletes depend on for growth and success can be used for many different career paths. When you put your mind to something, give it the full attention it deserves and give it a little heart, too. Remember, “the goal is to trust your preparation by striving for what you want.”

I’ll leave you with a few more quotes I found interesting from the presentation:

“The human mind is not meant to be content.”

“Excellence is a culture, not a goal.”

“Perspective is critical. Think about what you actually need.”

“We prepare to be in a better place, not expect to be in a better place.”

“Expectations lead to entitlement. Effective coaches have high demands, but no expectations.”

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