Rafa’s lessons on Life and Peak Performance

Living in the past, wishing that things were different from the way they were or are, not only causes our suffering, but also makes us mediocre.
Photo Courtesy: Times of India/Internet
Yesterday’s Times of India and Economic Times had interviews with Rafael Nadal. His answers to a couple of questions establish a deep linkage, yet again, between spirituality and high-performance.  
TOI asked Nadal: Talking about your worst losses, do you think it is tough getting over them and how do you prepare yourself after the loss?
And he replied: I am a very good loser. I always accept losses very well. We lose more than we win. Every week, just one player wins and the rest lose. You need to accept that and be positive and see where you can improve. For sure, the family helps but I am a good loser and I’m not a guy who becomes sad for three weeks after losing. I accept it and move on.
ET’s Boria Majumdar asked Nadal: You have been plagued by many injuries in recent times. Have you ever thought that had it not been for injuries where would you be today? Perhaps a few more Grand Slams, perhaps a higher ranking? 

And he replied: Injuries are part and parcel of a sportsman’s Life. They will happen. Having said that I don’t always think about them or about what could have been. 


There is a direct connection between inner peace, happiness and peak performance. You may be able to perform at the top of your game a few time based on your talent and potential, but you need to have a Nadal-like spiritual perspective to stay at the top and remain relevant consistently. This, I say, is not just true for sport – it is as true in any walk of Life. The sum and substance of what Nadal told TOI and ET is this: There will be ups and downs in Life. Don’t get bogged down by what could have been or what isn’t there. Just accept what is and move on.
High performers go beyond hard work. They know the value of inner peace and happiness. They know that both of these come with acceptance of what is – and that includes failure! They know that their peak performance depends on how anchored and peaceful they are.
The truth is that each of us is capable of high performance in our chosen fields. But we rarely achieve our peaks or sustain them only because we are going by social definitions of who we are and what we are doing or have done. To be able to do very well, what you love doing, just don’t brood over what’s dead – the past! Keep moving on.

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Peel off and junk this label called “failure” – to hell with it!

You fail at something only when you can’t – or refuse to – face the reality. Not when you try, fall and don’t achieve the outcome you planned for.
I read an interesting interview with American researcher, story teller and author, Brene Brown, in a recent issue of TIME. Her most recent book Rising Stronghas just been released and deals with the subject of failure. Brown tells Belinda Luscombe of TIME, “We are handling failure with a lot of lip service. When failure doesn’t hurt, it’s not failure. He or she who is most capable of being uncomfortable rises the fastest…Shame needs three things to grow: secrecy, silence and judgment.”
I can relate to every word of what Brown is saying. I come from the view that nobody fails at anything just because the outcomes are not what society expects or what you want. Failure and success are but social labels. They come from judgment. Now, why judge anyone for any reason in the first place? So, when Brown says that one’s capacity to deal with being uncomfortable contributes to rising strong, she’s right! What does being uncomfortable mean? It means you don’t like what you are seeing. It means you are honest to yourself and are seeing the reality as it is. You are not in denial. When you accept a situation, you can handle it much, much better than when you don’t accept it. It’s as simple as that.
A friend of ours is separating from her husband. Now two people, mature adults, are concluding that they can’t be together anymore. Where is the need for failure as a label to come in here? But it does. The families of both people are labeling the marriage as a failure. And they don’t like our friend talking openly about it. They are trying to cover-up the separation as something that is bad, as if something grave has happened. But our friend is very clear. She says, “Listen, it is not working out. I didn’t sign up for this to be unhappy. I am very unhappy in his presence. I am moving on.” This ability to face the reality, to accept an uncomfortable truth that it’s all over (in the context of our friend’s marriage) – this is what determines how strongly you rise from a setback. Earlier this week, actors Konkona Sen Sharma and Ranvir Shorey too handled their separation – or their ‘failed’ marriage per a social definition – admirably. Here’s what Konkona tweeted: “Ranvir and I have mutually decided to separate, but continue to be friends and co-parent our son. Will appreciate your support. Thank you!”
We must all realize that things just happen in Life. We don’t always get what we want. To feel shameful of a situation is never going to help change it. Shame breeds guilt over what you may have done. Covering up an outcome that you don’t like to accept doesn’t help either. It is only going to accentuate your stress. And please don’t judge yourself. We all try. And we often don’t get what we set out to achieve. The logical next step is to try again – and try differently. It is not to sit and brood over what has happened.
I would go a step further than Brown and say there is nothing called failure. Or success. Both are subjective and are defined by a society that judges people far too quickly without ever having been in their shoes. I think you fail at something only when you refuse to face it. When you face a situation, when you see and accept reality, your desire to change that reality spurs you into action. Only through action can there be change, progress – and inner peace!

From what you learn from your Life experiences, you can only get better at the art of living

There is no success or failure in Life. There are just experiences and there are the lessons you learn from those experiences.
Yesterday, at a workshop I was leading, a manager asked me: “How do you retain your hunger for success while not getting too desperate with whether you succeed or not?”
That’s a very interesting question.
Success and failure, victory and defeat, win and loss – all these are social labels. In reality, all of us have only choices, to act in a given situation or not to act. When we act and the outcomes match our expectations, we call it success. When the outcomes fall below our expectations we call it failure. But the truth is that our choice of action – or inaction, as the case may be – is far more important than the outcome itself. Which is why the Bhagavad Gita invites us to focus on our efforts, on the action, and to leave the results, the outcomes, to Life.

So, I would simply rephrase the manager’s perspective. I would say that we must exercise our choice of action and learn from the experience that leads to the outcome. It is when you are attached to the outcome that you invite ego and suffering. You turn egoistic when the outcomes match or exceed your expectations. You suffer when they don’t. So why go through this up and down cycle? Why not simply be focused on the action and leave the outcomes to happen in their own way? And whatever is the outcome, the way it is, simply accept it – without qualifying it as good, bad or ugly. At the end of the day, nothing is good, nothing is bad, nothing is won, nothing is lost, no one succeeds, no on fails. Life is just a series of experiences that you learn from you. And through your learning, as long as you are continuously learning – and sometimes unlearning too – you can hope to get better and better, and better and better, and better and better, at the art of living! 

Recognize the futility of fearing Life

Face Life. Don’t fear it!
Worry, anxiety, stress, depression, anger, hatred are all different incarnations, avatars, of fear. Your child is not studying well. You worry because you fear that the child’s future is in jeopardy. Your small business is not doing well and you are anxious to bag a new customer because you fear that if you don’t, you will have no money to run the family. You are angry with someone because you fear that their not meeting your requirements or expectations will affect your plans. You hate someone because you fear that your opinions, values, your freedom is violated. So, at the core of all destructive, debilitating emotions is fear. We fear everything: change, the unknown, risk and reality too!
Recognize the futility of fearing Life. Your fear is not going to help your child study better or get a customer to give you a contract or make someone work more efficiently or get anyone to love you, to appreciate you, to respect you. Look every Life situation in the eye. Face it. And deal with it. As children we were all scared of dark rooms. We would hesitate to enter them and require parental help in turning on the lights. So, how is it that we overcame that fear of dark rooms as we grew older? Simple. We learned to face that Fear. Because we learned that every room will have switches that would illuminate them. Learn, similarly, that in every situation in Life, a switch called trust can bring light and remove the darkness.
Here is a short story with a beautiful learning for us. A little girl and her father were crossing a bridge. The father was kind of scared so he asked his little daughter, “Sweetheart, please hold my hand so that you don’t fall into the river.” The little girl said, “No, Dad. You hold my hand.” “What’s the difference?” asked the puzzled father. “There’s a big difference,” replied the little girl. “If I hold your hand and something happens to me, chances are that I may let your hand go. But if you hold my hand, I know for sure that no matter what happens, you will never let go of my hand.”


The essence of trust, as in the little girl’s story, is not in the bind, but in the bond. To quote Khalil Gibran, the Lebanese-American thinker and writer, you__and I__and all of humanity, are a creation of Life’s longing for itself. Believe in, bond with and trust Life to take care of you. This kind of trust can be transformational. And only such implicit trust in Life can extinguish fear and teach us how to face Life and live fully. 

Learn, unlearn from failures and can them!

Welcome failures. Embrace defeats. Celebrate losses. And learn from each of them!
When you have lost, failed and have been defeated, you have nothing more to protect, cling on to or fight to save. You are free. This freedom is what will give you wings. You are now entitled to your privacy. The world doesn’t want failures. So you are left alone. This is the golden hour then. Instead of grieving that no one wants you, experience this moment of liberation. Use this time alone to think, re-think, learn, unlearn, review and to re-energize yourself and your game.
This doesn’t come easy. You will be tempted to wallow in self-pity. It is comforting always to grieve and sulk than to get up, dust yourself and walk. But by brooding over what is over, you are only punishing yourself. Instead forgive yourself for what has happened and how you played. The truth is unless you forgive, unless you let go of that situation in your mind, you cannot move forward. This applies to any situation. You lost a business deal. You lost money. You lost a friend to a misunderstanding. Someone stabbed you in the back or you were let you down. In almost of these situations you respond, subconsciously, saying, “How dare so-and-so do this to me?” Instead respond with a daring to be happy with the situation, with the person that caused the situation, with yourself. Daring to be happy is an uplifting, appropriate and courageous response. It is proof that you have chosen to be happy despite the situation. Whoever said that a failure or loss must be met with unhappiness? It is just the way we have conditioned ourselves to be so far. Break free from such deceiving conditioning.
Here are some reasons why you should be happy in lost or losing situations: Because you have nothing more to lose. Because you have so much to learn from your defeat. Because you have the opportunity to challenge destiny and try winning one more time. Because you have the option of being happy. Because defeat is inevitable in any pursuit in Life. Because defeat, like winning, is impermanent.
Choosing happiness over sorrow, in the face of defeat or failure, does not mean lack of aspiration or lower self-esteem or lacking in will power or failing to reflect and learn. It only means while summoning your will power, when reviewing and learning, when drawing on your self-esteem, you are choosing to do it with a positive frame of mind__being happy__than in grief. So, in whatever situation you find Life has placed you currently, don’t go by your past conditioning. Once you learn from them, can and junk your failures. As the famous campaign for Coke goes, “Open Happiness”!

Don’t fall for the bait and get attached to outcomes – stay detached!

Stay detached from the outcome of your efforts and you will be at peace. Detachment really means to be unmoved in any situation – success or failure, victory or defeat.

Picture Courtesy: The New Indian Express/Internet
Team India’s Captain Cool, M.S.Dhoni, reminded us yesterday, yet again, why he is such a rare human being, player and leader. After India’s comprehensive defeat at the hands of the Aussies in Sydney in the 2015 ICC World Cup semi-final on Thursday night, Dhoni said: “Of course we are disappointed not to be in the final, but then only one team can win. Australia played better cricket today (Thursday). The Cup did not belong to us. We took it from someone and someone else will take it from us. If we had played better cricket on this particular day, we would have won.” This is the simplest, most logical explanation anyone can give in any situation like the one India finds itself in – they played a great World Cup campaign, winning seven out of seven games until losing in the semi-final. Also, when you do badly and lose a game, there are only learnings, never justifications. And finally, staying detached – as Dhoni is and has always been – from the outcome is the best way to preserve and nurture your inner peace.
Indeed, like sports, Life too is competitive. But no matter how hard you work, and how ethical you are, there will be times when you will not get what you want or perhaps even deserve. And there will be other times when you will be successful. In either situation, stay detached. Remember this: Life happens through us, never because of us. So, when we succeed at what we are trying to achieve, stay unaffected by the accolades. And when you fail at something, or rather when someone else succeeds in your place, choose again to remain unruffled. In the game of Life, someone will necessarily have to win. And it need not always have to be you!
To be sure, however, on the spiritual plane, success and failure, victory and defeat, mean nothing. Everything is transient, everything is a mere experience, and if you pause to reflect deeply, everything is an impermanent illusionary experience! So, don’t fall for the bait and get attached to outcomes – stay detached. In any situation, you have only your efforts to focus on and count on. Here’s how you deal with your efforts:
       Good efforts and you succeed at the task – take it easy
       Poor efforts and you succeed at the task – take it easy
       Good efforts and you fail at the task – take it easy
       Poor efforts and you fail at the task – take it easy
Take it easy every which way. Learn every single time. Remember this too: as Dhoni recounted and the Bhagavad Gita says, “Nothing belongs to you. And nothing will be with you forever. What is yours belonged to someone else yesterday and will belong to yet another tomorrow!” So, stay detached. Stay in peace.

No Rights, No Wrongs, Only Learnings!

Don’t struggle with making Life decisions – career or relationship choices and such. Go with what you want to do the most and what you can do the best! You will either pull it off. Or you will not. Either way, you will learn!
A young friend is a brilliant musician. But his parents wanted him to pursue an academic degree. So, he parked his music career aside and completed a Master’s Program. Now, he’s employed and is looking to re-start his music career but his folks – and extended family – want him to apply for a better-paying job in the US and migrate as soon as possible. The young chap is vexed. He believes next they will insist that he gets married. “And that will be the end of my music career,” he bemoans.
I asked him why he didn’t think it was possible that he could just do what he wanted to do. “I am not sure I will be successful with music initially. There won’t be money in it as I begin. And my folks warn me that if I realize later that I cannot be a successful – and well-earning – musician, my professional career too, which is starting-up smoothly now, may stand derailed,” he confessed.
I asked him if he enjoyed his “professional job”. And he replied that he didn’t quite: “It is dull and monotonous. I know I will never be happy working at it.” And what about his music, did he enjoy playing and making music? “Oh! Totally! I don’t even know it when I am playing. I just lose myself. I am happiest when I playing or composing music,” he exulted.
I did not force my opinion on my young friend. I simply suggested that he must pursue what gives him joy, what he’s deeply passionate about – which is music. And that he must focus on becoming a world-class player. Money, I said, will come on its own when his music touches lives and creates waves!
Undoubtedly, there are many in my young friend’s shoes. Maybe not all of them are faced with a career dilemma. Some are dithering on relationship decisions as well. All I have to tell anyone who’s torn between “what’s right and what’s wrong” – as a decision – is to do whatever they feel is the best for them. Which again is defined as what gives them happiness. Nothing is wrong. Nothing is right. What we call as a great decision that resulted in us getting or doing something valuable, is really an amazing confluence of place, time and opportunity. So, when a decision works for you, you learn what to do! And what we call a mistake is the same__a combination of place, time and opportunity__this time to learn about what not to do.
When we let go of our fear and insecurity that our decisions may be wrong, and let go of our need to be right every time, we will find inner peace, happiness and success – in that order!