If you track US Open, you may vividly recollect one special semifinal. The semifinal between number 1 ranked Serena Williams and Reberta Vinci. Vinci has had successes in doubles tennis over the years however she had never reached semis in singles. So the predictions of the match were excessively in favor of Serena Williams and for all the right reasons. Her proven track record, consistency, strength, focus, confidence etc. In fact, in the post-match interview, the interviewer revealed that Vici was underdog 300 to 1.
In spite of all this, Roberta Vinci won the match against Serena Williams. Here are some of her reactions given by her in her post-match interview.
"I tried to stay focused and didn’t think about the match, about Serena’s incredible play"
Interviewer: When you woke up this morning what gave you the belief that this moment was possible?
Her Answer: No (laughs), really it is true. When I woke up I said Okay, I have a semifinal today. Try to enjoy. Don’t think about Serena. Play, enjoy. But I didn’t expect I will win.
In my mind, I said, put the ball on the court. Don’t think. Try to put all the balls on the court. Don’t think Serena is on the other court and run. And then I won.
Most of us know the story of David and Goliath. Victory of a small and tiny over big and mighty. I am sure you have come across many such examples where the underdogs have won.
The key question is what gives them the strength to face someone who is strong, mighty and has a very successful winning track record?
My friend who works as an assistant professor of Psychology once told me about this concept. Usually we associate stress with something that is undesirable. However, she told me that we need some amount of stress to get into action.
Eustress means beneficial stress—either psychological, physical (e.g. exercise), or biochemical/radiological (hormesis). The term was coined by endocrinologist Hans Selye, consisting of the Greek prefix eu- meaning "good", and stress, literally meaning "good stress".
Staying the course :
I was speaking to my friend Shankaran who is a marathon runner for the last 5 years now. Shankaran is not a disciplined exercise person and yet he completed the half marathon 5 years back and is regularly completing it since then beating his own record year on year. His secret?An advice from his runner friend/mentor. The advice was it does not matter how fast you run, what matters is how long you stay on the road. This changed his entire perception and made him comfortable with self. So no grand vision, but a bit by bit practice, mental orientation to stay long on a road and finally making it to completing the half marathon and beating one’s own record year after year.
Focusing one shot at a time:
One finds the similar approach that Roberta Vicni spoke about while facing Serena Williams. “In my mind, I said, put the ball on the court. Don’t think. Try to put all the balls on the court. Don’t think Serena is on the other court and run. And then I won”.
Getting over obsessed with winning can burn you out. Focusing on one shot at a time can keep you in the game.
Does this approach apply to work?
“Whether we have a job, a start-up or a business we are required to do multiple simple or complex projects. Thinking about the magnitude of the project can saturate our thoughts and lead to confusion, energy drain, heart burn, project delays and lot of embarrassment” says my friend who works at a senior management position in a pharma company.
Eustress, Staying the course and Focusing one shot at a time does have its merit to take on the Goliath’s in our personal and professional life.