I paused the television screen as Tiger Woods was walking up the 18th-fairway at Sunday's PGA Tour Championship. I called my two daughters over to watch. Since they're gymnasts, I wanted them to see one mental habit that makes Tiger Woods a champion--relentless focus.
In one of the wildest scenes the golf world has ever seen, thousands of fans mobbed the fairway behind Woods as he approached his ball, which had landed in a green-side bunker. His security detail could barely keep the crowd back. Woods's shot landed softly on the green and he two-putted for his first win in five years.
After the round, Woods was asked how he kept his focus during all the craziness. He said, "I still had work to do."
In six words, Woods taught us--once again--why he has a champion's mindset. An ability to put aside distractions is a hallmark of great athletes and great entrepreneurs. It's a skill that can be honed over time.
Tiger's Unusual Training
Tiger credits his late father, Earl Woods, for his ability to focus when the pressure is on. In a famous Nike ad about 10 years ago, Earl talked about his unusual training methods. He would intentionally drop the golf bag, or jingle coins and make noise during Tiger's backswing. He promised his son that nobody would be as mentally tough.
Earl knew how to train for mental strength. He served in the U.S. Special Forces (Green Beret) in Vietnam. Many people who are in great physical shape try out for the Army's most elite commando squad. Most fail in the first week because strength is only one attribute they look for. Intense focus on the work to be done--the task at hand--is a critical attribute.
Recently, an ad for a British commando unit (the Royal Marines) showed a soldier hiding in the jungle, focused on watching the enemy. A big, hairy, and really scary spider is shown slowly crawling across the man's face. Of course, the soldier doesn't flinch. It's a real Marine and a real spider. The ad is intended to show that these elite fighters are taught to keep their focus, despite the terror.
Mental Training to Overcome Stage Fright
Winning a golf tournament under pressure isn't the same as facing down an enemy in the jungle, but they're both achieved by using the same mental habit--focus on the work to be done. Nothing else should get in the way.
We use similar mental training to help people overcome stage fright in public speaking. Anxiety is caused when people allow their minds to become distracted, typically with fearful thoughts. For example, during a presentation speakers will think to themselves: What if my boss doesn't like my presentation? What if I fail to win over the customer? Instead, calm and confident speakers will focus on one slide at a time, one message at a time. They let the outcome take care of itself. They're only focused on performing their best in the moment.
When the pressure is on, maintain your focus on the task at hand and achieving a positive result. Golf commentators made several references to "Tiger's steely stare" in the final round of the Tour Championship. It's not the stare that makes him successful--the stare is a symbol of single-minded focus, a skill you can--and should--build to be successful in any area.