I recently wrote about my tagline – Never give up! – and why it has been so important in my decathlon and fishing careers. However, I also have another key mantra: Do your best! It’s this seemingly simple but profound statement that helped me cope successfully with the mentally and physically painful two-day war of attrition that decathlons always devolve into. It’s been helpful in my fishing, too.
Like many platitudes, “Do your best” seems to be simplistic and Pollyannaish at first glance. But I found that when the pressure was intense, it was the key to freeing myself mentally enough to perform well when I really needed to.
One of my first decathlons made me aware it was no longer important whether I won an event. All that mattered was what my best mark was for that event. So the question was, “Am I winning or losing?” Ergo, if I was winning, I would get excited (or if losing, it would bum me out). Like most athletes, “Am I beating the other guy” was my standard of success. It left me feeling great or terrible. I found that comparison was the real enemy, one that could destroy me quickly because it took my eyes off my effort and got me reacting to uncontrollable issues.
I realized that working off a comparison model may work for awhile, but when another athlete had an incredible event you would see guys mentally crumble. They stopped centering on what they could control, forgetting there were other events and that the competition wasn’t close to being over. Watching others and judging your performance on what you saw was a deadly trap that could poison your ability to focus and execute.
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“Do your best” changed the whole game for me. It got me to concentrate totally on doing my best and not on what others might be doing. Each race, jump and throw was all about executing what I knew how to do and control. I was now in an internal competition with my own potential. I was NOT thinking about whether I was going to get over the bar or not, and what it would mean. My whole paradigm changed and it freed me up to keep the competition all about maximizing my effort and being relaxed doing it. Relaxed effort is optimal effort. I wasn’t distracted by others’ performances, good or bad. That’s why a personal best mark was something all decathletes celebrated – it was a victory over yourself. That’s the real battle.
But self-expectations can also be defeating. You could always expect to have a bad event during a decathlon, but “doing my best” kept me from getting paralyzed by it. Expectations can put you into a comparative trap with yourself. Doing my best became my standard, rather than telling myself I screwed up.
I’ve been talking about extreme competition, but the issues are common to competitive sportsmen. I see anglers compare their catches to others – and they tend to feel they’ve been defeated or that they crushed the competition. However, getting beyond a win/lose paradigm like that is what I’ve seen great sportsmen practice. It sets the highest standard possible – being the best you and doing your best every time.
The real battle is always internal. If we truly master ourselves, we will perform well in life and on the water no matter what we encounter. Your perspective and chosen thoughts determine how you react and act.
Do your very best – and never ever give up!
Roger George is The Bee’s fishing expert. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org,