This week saw cricketing legend Andrew Strauss resign as England captain and retire from professional cricket, citing poor performance on the field as the reason. Yet behind his poor form were reports of increasing pressure, both on and off the field. And if pressure was the “cause” of his poor form, where was it coming from and how could he have dealt with it? Perhaps most importantly, what lessons can we all learn from his experience, whether we're under pressure at work, at home or on the playing field?
The pressure Strauss was experiencing is presumed to have come from three sources: 1) his declining performance on the pitch, 2) the England team losing their number one status and 3) problems in the dressing room, centring around batsman Kevin Pietersen. But the reality is that Strauss' pressure didn't come from any of these factors. It came from somewhere entirely different; his thinking.
100% of Andrew Strauss' feeling of pressure was coming from his moment-to-moment thinking; none of it was coming from any external factor. And this is true not just for Strauss, but for everyone. From the young mother, at the end of her tether with a screaming child, to a business leader whose employees aren't reaching their targets. Each of us is faced on a daily basis with an elusive “trick of the mind”, and a deeply ingrained misunderstanding. We are always feeling our thinking, but it looks like we're feeling our circumstances. This misunderstanding is so prevalent that it can seem like common sense. Here's a great example:
Immediately after news of Strauss' resignation broke, I was interviewed by Dermot Murnaghan on Sky TV's breaking news channel to get a psychological perspective on the story. During the interview, Murnaghan made a statement that beautifully demonstrates the misunderstanding in action. He said, “It seems like the kind of job where there are so many sources from which pressure will come that eventually it will wear you down, whether it's a dip in your own form, relations with your colleagues, relations with management, results, on it goes, there's so much there, something's got to give in the end.”
While it can certainly look alike that's the case, it's a trick of the mind. It looks like there are “so many sources”, but in fact there's just one source: a misunderstanding about how the mind works, and how life works. Our feelings are always coming from our thinking in the moment, but it looks like they're coming from our external circumstances. There's a “bell-curve” of emotional response to any external stimuli. The circumstance that has one person buckling under the pressure has another person thriving and responding to the challenge. Why? Because they're not feeling the circumstance; they're feeling their thinking.
So how could Andrew Strauss have responded differently to the increasing feelings of pressure? By getting an understanding of the nature of thought, and the role CLARITY was playing in creating his moment to moment experience. The moment a person insightfully sees that 100% of their feeling is coming from their thinking in the moment, their mind clears, and they're back in the flow.
This is the difference between high performance and poor form, whether it's on the playing field, in the boardroom or in the bedroom. When we're caught up in the outside-in misunderstanding of life (the illusion that our feelings are coming from outside of us), our heads fill up and we lose connection with the internal source of high performance, resilience and creativity. When we wake up to the inside-out nature of life, our heads clear and we find we have the internal resources we need, at exactly the time we need them.
During the Andrew Strauss' press conference, he appeared to be relieved to have made his decision, like a weight had been lifted from him. But where was that weight coming from in the first place? His thinking. While I'm sure it doesn't look this way to him, resigning gave him a good enough reason to let go of the thinking that had been building, and interfering with his performance. But what he accomplished by resigning could have been accomplished just as effectively if he had an insight into the inside-out nature of how our minds work.
This is not a criticism of Andrew Strauss. He's an amazing sportsman with a glittering career, and has made a choice that he feels settled with. Strauss is up against the same misunderstanding / trick of the mind that we all face, as individuals, organisations and as an entire society. But as people start to see through this misunderstanding, their heads clear, they have a richer experience of life, and their day to day experience improves.
The well-known superstitions and misunderstandings through history, from the flat earth to the “bad smells” model of disease, have one thing in common. We don't believe them anymore. We know better now. Great Britain is on the verge of a “Thought Revolution”, as more and more people are waking up to the inside-out nature of the mind.
The epistemologist Gregory Bateson said:
"The major problems in the world are the result of the difference between how nature works and the way people think."
As we continue to see through the outside-in misunderstanding, we'll find solutions to the problems we experience in our own lives, and the major problems of the world.