It's that time of year again. You know, the time where we say the following words:

Tom Brady and the New England Patriots are going back to the Super Bowl.

Again.

Love him or hate him, you can't deny the success of the Patriots' star quarterback. Despite being way past his prime and one of the NFL's oldest players (at 41 years old), Brady just secured a starting spot in his ninth Super Bowl.

That's not only the most appearances by any single player, it's also more than any other NFL franchise.

The Patriots are in this position because they're peaking at just the right time. This was no more evident than last night, when Brady led his team to yet another game-winning drive, this time in overtime, against the team many thought had the best chance of taking the Patriots out--the Kansas City Chiefs.

In his postgame press conference, Brady was like a kid in a candy store, barely able to hold his excitement.

"How do you do it?" reporters wanted to know. "How do you manage to stay so calm in the biggest moments?"

Here's how he responded:

"Part of playing sports is just staying in the moment. You know, we always say 'one play at a time.' You can't make up for things that have happened in the past. You've just got to think about what you're going to do moving forward."

One play at a time.

You might think this is nothing more than an age-old sports cliché. But you'd be wrong.

Because these five simple words actually make up a core tenet of emotional intelligence. And they can make all the difference between sustained success and complete and utter failure.

The exceeding value of focusing on the moment

Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify, understand, and manage emotions. Put simply, it's making emotions work for you, instead of against you.

So how can the philosophy of "one play at a time" help you exercise your emotional intelligence?

"No matter what has just happened, I've gotta be really good in the next thing," said Krzyzewski. "I can't let a failure, like I just missed a shot, impact my defense the next time I'm on the court. Nor can I, if I hit something good, get so caught up in it that I'm celebrating, that I don't do [what I need to do]."

He continued, "In other words, how do I stay balanced? How do I stay me throughout this whole thing?"

One play at a time.

"It keeps your emotions in check," says Krzyzewski.

Taking one play at a time doesn't mean that you don't learn from your mistakes, or that you never celebrate your successes. 

In contrast, it means not letting those mistakes and successes define you. 

And continuing to move forward, instead of living in the past.

For example, focusing on the moment helped Brady keep his head in last night's game, with enough presence of mind to lead what seemed like his millionth game-winning drive, despite throwing more interceptions in the game than he did touchdowns (including a heart-breaking pick at the goal line, early in the game).

One play at a time.

It also helped the New England Patriots stay hungry for success, which is not so easy to do when you've already appeared in half of all Super Bowls for the past two decades.

One play at a time.

And it's gotten this team right back to the big game, for the third year in a row, despite losing to the upstart Philadelphia Eagles in last year's championship and being counted out by many for much of this season.

One play at a time.

So, whether you've just made a crushing mistake and you're tempted to head down the rabbit hole of despair, or you've done something great and you begin to feel your motivation slipping away, take a page out of Tom Brady's playbook.

And remember the five little words that can make all the difference in the world. 

Published on: Jan 21, 2019
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