No sport piles on the psychological pressure like cricket.
According to Cricket Australia psychologist Dr Michael Lloyd, long days peppered with bursts of action create a pressure-cooker atmosphere that can wilt the toughest of minds. “As human beings, if we’re under pressure and we’ve got time on our hands, then our thoughts and emotions can get the better of us,” he says. “So for an elite cricketer, how you manage your attention under pressure is critical.”
Heat-seeking short balls aside, the office throws up similar challenges, with long days punctuated by flashes of pressure in the form of impending deadlines, tightening budgets and looming presentations. Heed the psychological secrets of Australia’s elite cricketers to build an invincible mindset in your workplace.
Calm Your Nerves
On the field: The big quick’s steaming in for the first ball of the day – one last check the box is in place.
In the office: You’re heading into the meeting room for the big presentation – you zipped up after that nervous bathroom visit, didn’t you?
Don’t fret: Those butterflies aren’t a bad thing. Nerves show that you care about your work. But you can intensify them by fixating on things outside your control. “All of us share three common time frames – the past, the present and the future,” says Lloyd. “The only one of those we can control is the present. But we often inflame our nerves by bouncing between the two we can’t control – the past and the future.”
Your move: Bring yourself back to the present. Take a seat, close your eyes and focus on your breathing for 30 seconds. Not working? Chat with a colleague or do a crossword – “anything that brings you into the ‘now’,” says Lloyd. “The key is to catch yourself early before your mind starts racing to the future or dwelling on the past.”
Stretch a Winning Run
On the field: The ball looks as big as a balloon, the bat feels a metre wide and runs are flowing like water.
In the office: You’re lighting up meeting after meeting with your bright ideas and sparkling wit.
Enjoy It: Don’t dampen the fun by over-analysing a form surge. “But you also need to understand that optimal performance isn’t a chance occurrence,” says Lloyd. “It doesn’t happen by accident.” So don’t gleefully shrug your shoulders or put it down to that lucky pair of socks you’ve been wearing for a week straight. Now is the time for action.
Your move: Spend 10 minutes compiling a detailed list of your daily habits, including everything from your exercise regimen to your sleeping patterns. “Awareness is the key to good performance,” says Lloyd. “People use vague terms like ‘balance’ and ‘momentum’. But you need to think in detail about what you’re doing right.”
Beat the Form Slump
On the field: Nothing’s finding the middle of the bat and every time the ball catches an edge, a safe pair of hands is waiting.
In the office: The boss is so tired of dead-batting your lame proposals he’s stopped responding to your emails.
Don’t overreact: Your mojo hasn’t magically disappeared. Form slumps can invariably be traced back to some rupture in your routine or shift in your emotional state. “You need to look at the situation in a proactive, problem-solving way, as opposed to getting critical with yourself,” says Lloyd.
Your move: Start by humming a tune – a trick Glenn McGrath used to employ between deliveries. “You can unclutter your mind by giving yourself a single point of focus,” says Lloyd. Now map out a steadfast morning routine. Wake, eat and exercise at the same time each day. “The mind craves control,” says Lloyd. “But a competitive environment is the ultimate realm of uncertainty. Developing a routine allows you to regain control.”
Ration Your Mental Energy
On the field: The bowler’s holding a tight line, you’ve got a chirpy ’keeper in your ear and the mercury’s already nudging 30.
In the office: A barrage of emails and phone calls has you pinned to your desk. Friday-night drinks can’t come soon enough.
Slow down, big guy: It’s important to recognise that your mind, like your body, has limits. “The ability to switch on and off is one of the most important skills to progressing through the ranks, be that in sport or the office,” says Lloyd. “People who are ‘on’ all the time quickly reach a point of cognitive and emotional exhaustion.”
Your move: Break your working week down into manageable chunks, highlighting periods where you can switch off. “Cricketers don’t think about an entire Test match,” says Lloyd. “They break it down into sessions, hours, spells – until you get all the way down to individual balls. When you do that, you realise you only have to be ‘on’ for specific periods of time.”