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.

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! 

Accept Life’s verdict as it is

Don’t see anything as a loss in Life. See it as someone else winning!  
A simple way to remain peaceful in the face of a perceivable loss is to partake in the joy of winning that someone else is experiencing. Be it a high-school debate that your child did not win or an admission to a premier academic program that she failed to get! Be it a job you did not get or a companion that you were unable to convince to marry you. Or the loss of business opportunity to a competitor. Whatever you don’t get, remember, someone else always does. And they do get it, because that’s the way it is__that’s the way it is ordained to be! This applies to even the passing away of someone very dear. Just accepting Life’s verdict as it is can be liberating.
Additionally, sharing in the joy of the winner, in cases where you were in the reckoning but did not win, is an awakening experience. It helps retain your focus and energizes you completely. On the other hand, grieving over a loss can be debilitating and can cause inertia, depression and subsequent inaction. Again it is a matter of personal choice. Do you want to be celebrating everything in Life__including someone else’s victory__or do you want to spend time lamenting over what you did not get?
It’s a no-brainer: choose joy over grief. It’s so simple. If you inquire within, all you want and need in Life is happiness. Here’s one sure way of finding it and inviting it to be a part of your Life!

Never lose joy and sleep while competing!

Whatever you do, do it for the joy it gives you, do it with love – don’t do it to be the first or the only one or to be famous!
Our education system is such that it forces us to be competitive even before we understand what it means to compete. The whole social environment of a child (particularly in India) is focused on academic excellence. And that is measured not by how much the child has learned and imbibed, but by what grades the child has got. So, naturally, there is anxiety among young, impressionable children – they all want to be the first in class – even if not for themselves but to do their parents proud! However, the nature of any competition is such that there can only be one first. Everyone else will have to follow. So, the ones who do not get to be first in class, continue to compete, often vainly, rabidly. And the one who stood first is competing to protect and so becomes possessive of her or his first position! This continues through college. At work. And in society. Look around you. You will find this evident in all walks of Life – even in a queue in India, where people simply have to push and jostle to get into a movie hall or a plane!
Let me clarify. I am not against aggressive people or against competition. But if competing is going to make you miserable – thinking about winning all the time and feeling depressed if you don’t win – then what’s the point in doing whatever you are doing? A constant state of urgency and the often-avoidable aggression, takes away the joy that any activity can deliver, especially when the focus is only on winning, on coming first, on being hailed, on becoming famous!
Whatever you do in Life has to fundamentally give you joy! If you are not feeling the joy when you are doing something, it is simply not worth doing it. Good coaches will always inspire people to strive to be the best, deliver what they are truly capable of, while enjoying themselves in the process. If what gives you joy also gives you wealth, fame and recognition, great! But if you work with only wealth, fame or recognition in mind, if you play the game only because you have to be the first – it may just not always be possible. Because, chances are, someone may be better than you are on any given day. That doesn’t mean you are worthless. But your hunger to win and your lusting to be number 1 will make you believe you are good-for-nothing. The Bhagavad Gitaexplains this simply, beautifully. Krishna says: “Don’t focus on the result at all!” – just make sure the “motive is pure” and the “means are right (ethical)”. Offer whatever you are doing to “Me”.
Look at any great artiste or sportsman or actor or business leader. You will find one trait common in all of them. They simply lose themselves to whatever they are doing. They are not bothered about what people are thinking or about winning or losing or about coming first. They are offering themselves, and their craft, to Life (cosmic parlance for the “Me” in the Gita!). When the doer becomes the deed, when the singer becomes the song, when the painter becomes the art – magic happens. If the magic delivers a world-class performance, and with it material rewards, fantastic. But even if doesn’t, a truly great professional will not bother. Because she or he has enjoyed the process of doing thoroughly!
Life is not a 100-metre race. How you run in Life and did you enjoy yourself running – these are far more important aspects to consider than any medal that you may win at the end of the run! So, the next time you are placed in a competitive context, compete by all means. But do so only so long as you don’t lose the joy of doing, or sleep, over wanting to win or be the first or the only one!

Play the game of Life, to not win or lose, but to enjoy!

Winning in Life is not about how much you made or what you got, but, simply, is about how well and peacefully you played!

It is fantastic to win. To compete. To work hard. To want to get all that you want! To be on top of the world and to celebrate your conquest of hitherto uncharted waters. But it is also important you play. And just play. And play to enjoy the playing than wanting only the winning. This I say from a Life attitude point of view. Several of us have a ‘winning obsession’. Nothing wrong with it. Without wanting to win, there can be no discoveries, no conquests, no progress and no excellence.

Yet know also that Life may always not be fair. What if, despite your best effort and intent, your Life doesn’t fit into any logical framework? You have no idea of what’s happening to you and how you are going to handle it. How would you classify winning in such a scenario? When WHATEVER you try, how much ever you try, Life keeps plucking away from your hand?

In Life you can keep asking these questions, including others like ‘Why (only) Me?’ or ‘Why now?’. But there are no immediate answers. Your measure of success, financially, socially, physically, is always disproportionate to both your effort and intent. This is the harsh reality. Which is, the harder you work, the more ethical you work, the lesser you get rewarded in proportion! Yet you must play on. Remember, you DON’T have the option of quitting the game. Because quitting is easy. It is simply conceding defeat. It is in the playing, staying on, fighting every single day, getting better, not BITTER, with Life, that there is the winning, in this game of Life!

The world may define success as performance on parameters that are ‘visible’ and measurable __ the most easily available metric being money. You will be encouraged, actually coerced, to believe that success is only equated with how much you have in the bank, what is your credit-worthiness and what is the ‘method’ you employed to get rich?

But true wealth is your rich experience of having lived a full__irrespective of your circumstance__Life. Real success is not giving up and being positive and being present when Life is happening to you. 

I don’t know what you think. Or which side of Life you are on. But what I can tell you, and what you may want to tell your kids, is that Life will come at you, despite your best effort and intent, not to see you winning with riches and rewards, but to teach you how to win when all you have is a crown of thorns and a cross to bear! Winning then is just being present. Just being. When you are just being, you are  refusing to lose. And know that we cannot quit the game, because while giving in is an option (giving in = loving what IS!) in Life, giving up is not! We may depart some day, as all of us will, but it must not be because we quit the arena. But because we were called back by Life!     

Here’s an old Tao story on an archer’s obsession, his desire, to win! And there’s a great learning there for all of us too.