Saturday, March 27, 2010

Three words - Part III

Read from Part I

Focus - As you might have guessed by the way I write (sporadically and in pieces), I sometimes have a short attention span. I might have been diagnosed with ADD if it were fashionable back when I was a kid. And it sure doesn't help that I spent a significant portion of my career in the era of "multi-tasking".

For a long time we believed that we could be more productive by doing two or more things at writing an email while talking on the phone. We have since learned that while it may seem we are focusing on multiple things, our brains are actually just really good at shifting focus rapidly. The problem for me is that I tend to let go of my focus on one thing before I get the job done. While writing this, I've already stopped twice mid-sentence to do other things. When I let that happen I may end up doing a lot, but not doing any of it particularly well.

Watching that MMA event, focus is the first of the three words that came to my mind. The fighters never take their eyes off each other. They are constantly scanning their opponent to find their opportunity to score a point or get the knock-out. It's intense and it's thrilling.

Yes, you need focus in other sports. But other sports are more forgiving of momentary lapses in focus. If you strike out in baseball, you likely have several more chances. Same if you fumble the football or miss the free throw. It's not over until the clock says it is.

Lose your focus during a fight for even a split second, and if your opponent hasn't he will take advantage. Next thing you know they will be helping you onto the little stool in the middle of the ring while somebody the other guy is celebrating his victory. No do-overs. No two-out-of three.

Fighters actually do multi-task during a fight, but they do it effectively. It's during training that their focus is singular. They will practice each move hundreds of times until it becomes almost an automatic reflex. Then during the fight they are able to execute that move the moment they have the opportunity. It's their ability to focus singularly during training and shift focus effectively during a bout that I admire so much.

Because we tend to admire the things we feel we lack in ourselves.


Friday, March 26, 2010

Three words - Part II

Read from Part I

Passion. I have always admired people who approach what they do with passion. It doesn't matter if you're a doctor or an entrepreneur or a pastor or a fast food worker. When you do what you do with passion, that passion shows. And it's contagious. Spending time with passionate people is energizing. It's like you automatically tap into their energy just by being around them.

And the opposite is awful. People who hate their work or their lives (especially those who don't seem to be doing anything to change their circumstances) create an atmosphere that is dark and draining. There is almost nothing less appealing to me, in men or women, than treating their work or their life with disdain or calling it drudgery.

The passion these MMA fighters possess is obvious. I mean, you would have to have a serious passion in order to walk into the octagon knowing what might be coming your way. It's sure not the money, at least not until you hit the big time...title fights, big endorsements and merchandising. A $20,000 payout might seem like a lot for a few minutes in the ring. But take away taxes, trainer fees, manager fees, equipment, travel and medical expenses, and you might be lucky to afford a new customized mouth guard.

Excellence. It seems to me that the pursuit of excellence is not valued the way it used to be. True, there are some situations where "good" is certainly good enough. But when "good enough" becomes as far as we ever want to bother to go, it becomes the new "excellent". What a depressing thought.

One of my favorite movies is Apollo 13. This is a true story of the triumph of excellence over the consequences of not-quite-good enough. In a machine with hundreds of thousands of parts, one single part - a damaged coil in an oxygen tank - caused an explosion. And it was the excellent work of thousands of people that saved those three astronauts. How might this story have ended if even a few of those thousands of people stopped short of their absolute best?

An MMA fighter must pursue excellence in a multitude of disciplines. It's not just about who is the biggest or the strongest. Striking, grappling, footwork, cardio conditioning and more. And on top of all that you have to know all the rules. A fighter who falls short in their work on any of these aspects of the game is not going to get very far.

But what I think I admire most about these guys is their focus.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Three words

Whenever I would imagine what my life would be like as I approached fifty, somehow being a huge fan of any sport wasn't in my mental picture. And if it had been, I would have expected it to be because the Cubs had finally put it all together and won the World Series. Oh well, maybe if I live to be 150.

But mixed martial arts? Seriously? Yep, that's what I'm into.

Every since watching my first event last August, I've been fascinated by the world of what is also known as "ultimate fighting". I prefer the term "mixed martial arts" as it is simply a more accurate description. Yes, they are "fighters". Yes, there are knockouts and there is blood and even an occasional broken bone. At first glance it is savage. But from the beginning I saw more.

And I've tried to figure out what the appeal is for me. It's not like I have even the slightest desire to get in the ring myself. My entire personal "fighting" history consists of one schoolyard scuffle in sixth grade (that I tried desperately to get out of) and a kick fight with my sister. I think it was about a sweater, and I think she broke my pinky toe (but she was in the right).

And it's not just the natural reaction of a healthy woman to the sight of a well-made man. Although that sure is appealing. There is something I admire about these guys beyond their athleticism and machismo.

Finally, I decided to watch an event and concentrate on coming up with three words that describe the elements of what I was seeing that I most admired. And here they are:

Focus. Passion. Excellence.