How do you respond when the popcorn’s popping?

Your initial reaction may be that your mouth begins watering. Mine, too. I love hot popcorn with plenty of butter and salt. But that’s not what I’m talking about…

I listened to a podcast talking about the legendary Seattle SuperSonics player, Gary Payton. During practices when Coach George Karl would introduce a play that Gary was dubious about, he would respond with, “Yeah Coach, that’s all fine but when the popcorn starts popping, it’s not going to work.”

Gary Payton was known for his mental toughness as a player. Are you mentally tough as a business person? As a human?

I used to like to believe that I was mentally tough. The problem was that I had no metrics to back it up. Now I do.

I define mental toughness as the ability to slow down the mind and be able to focus amidst chaos, confusion, and uncertainty. In other words, to be calm, cool, and collected in your head when the popcorn is popping.

This isn’t an innate thing; it’s a skill and a learned behavior.

In my own life, I found that too often, my brain would start speeding up in stress. I’d breathe faster, move faster, and think faster (and not in a good way). That’s a bad recipe when playing a sport, running a business, or dealing with real-time decisions.

I began a three-step process to become more mentally tough.

Step 1: When the popcorn starts popping, slow everything down. I began to focus on my breathing to slow the heart and head rate. I work at being more intentional on my movements, even if it’s simply walking. When things speed up, I try to focus to slow me down.

Step 2: I assess the situation unemotionally. This is hard. Really hard. You must be honest about what’s in front of you. How bad is it? Is it temporary or permanent? What can you control? Once you begin the process of honest, unemotional assessment – with intentionality and focus – you’re in a better position to go to the next step.

Step 3: Commit. All decisions and actions may not turn out the way we hoped for. That doesn’t mean they were wrong, they just failed to be successful. Too often, we make decisions or take actions worried about being perfect. Take the information you have, make an honest assessment, use your smarts, make a decision, and then commit.

Mental toughness is something we all need to be successful in business and as humans. It requires mindfulness, self-awareness, and discipline. That’s code for we have to work on it daily.

When the popcorn starts popping, we all need to be ready to eat. Are you?

Quote of the Week:

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”

~ e.e. cummings

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