Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth. – Mike Tyson
If you’re a high performer: you’re competitive, you hate to lose, you’re used to winning and being successful, you have high standards, you like to be the best at what you do.
If this describes you, congratulations, you’re kicking butt, but there’s one thing you’re probably NOT doing that can take your results to the next level, while also increasing your happiness, satisfaction, and longevity with your work.
My first Golden Glove heavyweight championship bout was in Chicago in front of 10,000 people, televised live on Chicago’s favorite sports station to the entire city.
I was 19 years old, had only been boxing for four months, and I suddenly found myself fighting for the Chicago Golden Gloves heavyweight championship for the first time. Little did I know the guy I was fighting had recently beat up the US Olympic silver medalist in a training session. About ten years later, he would be the heavyweight champion of the world.
I was in the ring boxing with him, lights flashing, crowd cheering, feeling like I could hold his pace and had a chance to win, when out of nowhere he seemed to change gears, and in that higher gear, I realized that there was a major skill difference.
I started taking shots and they were beginning to add up. The referee saw the skill difference between us and the toll his punches were starting to take. The ref stepped in before I could be knocked down – he stopped the fight.
I remember leaving that arena completely devastated and ashamed. I had come in 2nd place for the Golden Glove Championship… I felt I’d humiliated myself in front of thousands of people. That was how my mind saw it, how my past coaches and peers had conditioned me to view a loss. I was drowning out the voice of any reason. I felt I didn’t just lose, I was “a loser.”
That loss had a crushing effect on me emotionally. At that age, even though I’d only been boxing for four months, I had no ability to gain perspective on what had just happened. All I could see was a failure, and that failure became my identity.
I replayed the fight in my head over and over again and punished myself for not doing a better job. I was beating myself up a hundred times more than what had happened to me physically in the ring. I remember walking out of the ring trying to hide the tears flooding down my face, and my trainer, Tom Delaney, put his arm around me to try to console me.
Tom wasn’t worried about the loss at all. He knew I was just beginning my career. He also knew the experience and talent my opponent had. But I was confused because I never expect myself to lose ever, no matter the odds or logic of the situation. I expected perfection from myself.
Tom didn’t even understand why I was so upset. He was proud. But his words couldn’t help me. I had identified with the loss. I couldn’t see the bigger perspective. My negative self-talk, criticism, and judgment of myself drowned out the kindness and compassion from Tom, a guy who had taught me everything I knew about boxing – a guy who knew the bigger picture. He was there for me, but I couldn’t be there for myself.
I had complete amnesia of the fact that I’d only been boxing for four months in Chicago fighting my way into the finals, which is one of the toughest Golden Glove tournaments on the planet. It didn’t matter that the other guy had more skills and experience than me. My brain literally could not hear it.
The #1 secret to high performance that no one is talking about is self-compassion
Self-compassion means being there for yourself in a supportive way in the face of failure, adversity, and challenges.
Most high performers are tough on themselves, especially in the face of failure. They push themselves to higher and higher levels of achievement, often using negative self-talk, beating themselves up, being overly judgmental and believing that this is the only way to get ahead, stay competitive, and be successful.
This is great – it’s part of what makes them perform so well, but it also can come at a huge cost and can have a “dark side” that over time, if not dealt with can quickly lead to a lack of motivation, burnout, unhappiness, and never being truly satisfied.
Here’s the mind trick we play on ourselves: If you believe and know that you will get beat up more often when you “go for it” and don’t succeed, then over time you will be more likely to delay, hold yourself back, or not to go for it at all. But to be successful, we have to be willing to take risks and be ok with failure. That’s the only way to push ourselves to new heights and our next level of growth. We have to be willing to get back in the ring.
Our society has led us to believe that being kind and compassionate to ourselves in the face of failure, personal setbacks, or when things just don’t go our way, will lead us to being “soft,” losing our edge, or will decrease our motivation. We’re told that going easy on ourselves will lead to not being as competitive, and we may even feel that it’s an act of selfishness. Interestingly enough, the research on this subject shows the exact opposite!
Research shows that self-compassion increases grit, the ability to recover from a setback or an upset faster, it increases our willingness to take positive risks, and it increases overall wellbeing. One of the biggest additional benefits is that you also gain more compassion for others, which leads to increased connection and growth in all your most important relationships.
Are you compassionate to your Self?
Here is a quick litmus test for self-compassion:
Imagine for a moment that your friend has a problem or intense situation that they are dealing with.
- How are you being there for them?
- What are you saying to them?
- Do you have a compassionate tone?
- Are you patient with them?
- Are you understanding?
- Is your body language loving and supportive?
Now imagine that you are talking to yourself with the same problem.
- How do you typically communicate with yourself?
- Is it the same or different? Compare the two.
- Are you as compassionate to yourself as you would be to a friend?
If you’re not, don’t worry most people aren’t.
In my years of coaching of executives, pro athletes, high performing teams, and corporate organizations, over 98% report that they are not as compassionate to themselves as they are with a friend. This is the only exercise I know of that gets people to really see the difference in their internal dialogue and if they are self-compassionate.
Why is this essential? Because nothing wastes more time and energy than beating ourselves up after a loss or disappointment.
Learning to be in your own corner, when you need help the most as a friend or coach, is the new superpower in today’s high-performance lifestyle. This is the most cutting-edge process for reprogramming your mind to perform at a higher level when challenges and adversities arise. I coined the term “Compassionate Productivity” to describe this state.
The 3 elements to Self-compassion and taking your performance to the next level
Kristine Neff, a leader in the field of self-compassion research, defines the 3 elements of self-compassion as Kindness, Common Humanity, and Mindfulness.
- Kindness – It’s being warm and understanding in the face of failure, suffering, or underperforming. It’s saying things and doing things that are kind, gentle, and supportive in moments of pain, self-criticism, and when we feel we have not lived up to our potential. It’s knowing we are not perfect and being kind to ourselves in the moments of imperfection. This helps soften our approach to the current situation we find ourselves in.
- Common Humanity – Understanding what’s happening for me is a common human experience and happens for other people as well. It’s not just me in this predicament. It’s a reminder, “I’m not alone.” There’s nothing wrong with me or my situation in particular. We all go through struggles. This helps us recenter and not isolate ourselves with shame.
- Mindfulness – Being aware and present of what’s going on now: how you are feeling physically, mentally, and emotionally without judging, over-identifying, dissociating, or exaggerating your situation. It’s about taking a non-judgmental, friendly, and balanced viewpoint so that we are less reactive and attached to the situation. This helps us loosen our grip, gain perspective, and be more at ease with our Self.
When you find yourself struggling, feeling you failed, or not performing at your potential, do the following 3 steps:
Step 1 – Be present and aware of your experience
First, take a deep breath, become aware of how you’re treating yourself in the face of this failure. Ask yourself “How am I treating myself?” “Am I being over-critical or judgmental?” This gives you the space to soften your approach and loosen your grip to “just be” without judgment. It allows you to shift your disposition to a more caring attitude.
Step 2 – Acknowledge and connect to common humanity
Remind yourself that no matter what I am going through others have gone through the same thing. “I am not alone, it’s not just me.” “I’m not defective.” It’s human to be in this situation.
Step 3 – Offer kind support to yourself
Asking the question “what do I need right now?” can help guide you to the support you need. Bring support to yourself by repeating the following kind words and phrases such as, “May I be supported,” “May I be kind to myself” “May I be loved,” “May I be protected,” “May I be at ease.” Feel how it soothes and calms your mind. Gently repeat these phrases for a few minutes.
For the record
Self-compassion isn’t letting yourself off the hook or not holding yourself accountable for your results, actions, and performance.
This is not giving yourself a trophy for coming in last place.
It’s about being there for yourself as a good friend or coach would be there in the face of challenges. It’s taking care of yourself mentally and emotionally when the chips are down. It’s bringing your best Self to yourself when you need it most. (Remember how you supported your friend in the earlier exercise.)
Once we have brought compassion to ourselves and tended to our mental and emotional needs, we can then be in a positive and receptive space to reengage and learn from the adversity, integrate new lessons, adjust our strategies and tactics, AND get back out there and compete with an even higher level of confidence, resilience, power, and tools to succeed.
The key here is the “AND.” This is what being a high performer is all about. Being compassionate AND getting back out there to kick some butt like the badass that you are.
Let’s face it, failure is part of being a high performer. It means you’re pushing the boundaries of the status quo, taking risks, and doing things others are too scared of or don’t have the skills to do.
Here is the truth
When I first learned about self-compassion, I was less than impressed with the concept. I’m a 6 foot 5, 250-pound, ex-football player and Illinois heavyweight boxing champion, so I was reluctant to believe that it would have any effect on me. This “nice” stuff did not sound like my thing.
It finally made sense to me when I started thinking about it from the perspective of a fighter in the ring. In boxing, you have three minutes to compete and perform, followed by one minute of recovery and reflection. In that one-minute recovery period, your team is there to help you recover mentally and physically: they tend to your wounds, they are supportive, and they give you strategies to improve in the next round.
Without that recovery phase, you couldn’t go back in successfully. You don’t put the boxer back out in the ring after he just got knocked down. The team in your corner heals you up, teaches you what to learn from the hits you took, and then they push you back into the battle for you to win.
The funny thing is, in the last several years, I have not found a more powerful technique in my daily life. It felt foreign at first and took a little time to practice because it seemed so simple. Over time, I got more comfortable being there for myself.
Today, I feel calmer, I’m taking more positive risks, and I’m recovering from failure and adversity more quickly. I still have my good days and bad days, and I’m still a work in progress, but I have a sense now that no matter what the adversity is in life, I’ll not only be ok, I can be there for myself when I need to be. Most importantly, I’m more confident and competitive than ever before.
The world is tough enough in today’s conditions. There’s no reason to make it harder by being hard on yourself. It’s time to be in your own corner supporting yourself.
My boxing coach, Tom Delaney, whose story in this book, The Time Cleanse, was in my corner in and out of the ring. He was gentle in his approach, kind in language, understanding of the situation, and always told it to me straight without pulling any punches. He asked questions that provided insight, and ultimately, he focused on what went well and what could improve.
He taught me everything I knew about self-compassion when I was 19 years old, but I didn’t recognize it until years later. I couldn’t see what he was doing. Now I can, and it makes all the difference. Now I know how to be there for myself. We all can with a little practice.
Using these steps, you can support yourself, consistently improve, and remain highly productive. Compassionate productivity is all about one thing: taking care of your Self so you can take care of business.