By now, I’m sure many of you have seen, heard or read about the epic U.S. Open Women’s Final between Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka. Many will remember the history-making win of Naomi Osaka, who became the first Japanese player to receive a Grand Slam title, but none of us will forget the heated battle between Williams and umpire Carlos Ramos. After receiving a code violation for coaching, a penalty point for racket abuse and a game penalty for calling the umpire a “liar” and a “thief,” Williams didn’t waiver in her determination to achieve justice for what she felt was unfair and sexist.
It was clear that Williams was rattled throughout the remainder of the competition, and many have discussed whether that aided in her loss to Osaka. We’ll never know, but Williams’ reaction got me thinking about how easy it is to get side-tracked when something doesn’t go the way we planned. When we’re faced with opposition on something we have worked tirelessly for whether it’s a presentation landing differently than expected or the report we put together didn’t resonate with our clients, it’s all too common to tap into our fight or flight modes and lose focus. And when we lose focus we forget our purpose and, ultimately, what we were working towards in the first place.
Below are four ways to remain engaged, energized and focused when we’re thrown a curve ball during a pivotal point in our days or careers:
Acknowledge your thoughts and feelings
Many times we try and distance ourselves from our feelings. We push those thoughts away or pretend we’re not really feeling anger or sadness. But doing that only intensifies those emotions and prevents us from moving forward. Rather than burying those feelings, try acknowledging their existence. Acknowledging those feelings doesn’t mean you agree with them, but it allows you to not resist their presence, which makes it easier to let go and stay focused on the current task. Serena did a good job of acknowledging her thoughts and feelings and then having the courage to express them.
Don’t let your emotions drive your behavior
Similar to acknowledging your thoughts and emotions, it’s important to try and not react directly from your emotions. Emotions can take you on a roller coaster, and it’s important to allow yourself to calm down, get into your rational mind and then ask yourself, “how is this going to affect me?” “What are the consequences?” “Will this affect me a year or two from now?” If you realize that yes, this will affect me, then try and remove yourself from the situation. Try seeing yourself as a representative of your company instead of a participant, for example. By adjusting your mindset, you’ll resist being a victim to your emotions so you can make better decisions going forward. This was probably Serena’s biggest mistake, although as a new mother myself I can empathize with her. Your emotions are as powerful as a big mac truck. If she reeled in her emotions and got into her rational mind, it would have allowed her to move on, get back in the game and address the violations afterwards in a more rational manner.
See the situation as an opportunity to learn
When push comes to shove though, no matter what situation you find yourself in, there is always something to learn. Failures and disappointments are often our greatest teachers. In fact, learning to manage yourself through failures is a key component of Grit, something Angela Duckworth has found to be essential for long-term success. We don’t know what’s going on with Serena now, but given her dedication to excellence, there is no doubt she is already starting to see this situation as something she can learn and grow from. Every failure is a gift in some way.
Remember your purpose
Remember the impact you want to have on your colleagues and clients. Staying focused on your why will keep you motivated to move forward, and you’ll be less likely to react in a negative way. This is another thing that Serena seemed to lose sight of that could have helped her. She allowed the decision of one umpire to pull her away from the big picture of her mission and dreams. This requires some mental maneuvering in the moment, but once you remember your purpose, you can prevent almost any complete derailment.