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.

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.