The lesson, on the tennis court or in the office, is to stay attentive to what's working and what isn't. Lowering you eyes and simply grinding away with your mind elsewhere is inefficient. You must make a conscious effort to work with your head up — observant so as to soak up and assimilate every bit of available information. At the same time, you must be wary of the natural urge to discard facts that are at odds with your preconceived notions, that cause you to change your plans, or that force you to do things that you don't like. Absorb all information so that you work not just hard, but efficiently and smart.
Be alert to problems. When you find one, assume there is a solution. Successful people are vigilant and industrious in attacking problems. They understand their own weaknesses. They want to find out about them because they want to fix them. The losers, on the other hand, are insecure and don't really believe they can fix problems, so they adopt the "head in the sand" approach. They avoid dealing with problems by not hearing about them. Fox illustrates this point by telling the of Lew, an acquaintance who had, after twenty-seven years, worked his way into the upper-middle management of a growing oil services company. He was content with his comfy job and intended to tread water until his pension came due.
"If Lew was a basketball team, he would have been slowing down the game in order to run out the clock," says Fox. "He hated problems. If a subordinate came to him with a problem, Lew made a cursory effort to resolve it. But if this didn't work (and it often didn't) and the subordinate returned with the same unresolved problem, Lew became resentful and irritated. To avoid his temper, people learned to stay away from him and live with their problems. In 1996, when the price of oil began a relentless decline, companies in the industry began looking for ways to cut overhead. Unproductive employees who got large salaries were tempting targets. Needless to say, Lew did not survive in his cushy position.
How can you add value to your position and avoid the worst case scenario of becoming a "Lew"? Quite simply, seek out and identify problems and look at them as positive challenges rather than burdens. But most importantly, adopt the core assumption that there is a solution for any problem. This attitude is the key. It will keep you going if your first solution doesn't work (and it often won't). It will lead to a positive and optimistic attitude that will clarify your thinking and open your mind to novel ideas. You'll find that believing in this assumption will make it come true.
If you are still worried that you don't have the "right stuff" and, just possibly, weren't born a winner — Don't be. Fox points out that those of us who are forced to learn success strategies often end up better off than those genetic winners we may, at first, envy.
"It is not uncommon for individuals whom we identify as champions in their chosen fields to be blindly and excessively driven such that they neglect personal relationships and end up empty and unhappy," he writes. "Single-minded focus has its uses but poses its dangers. Yet people need some degree of success and achievement to feel good about themselves. For this reason, one may be better off learning the strategies that bring success in competition and achievement rather than being one of the born super-competitors and achievers who has never behaved in any other way."
"Balance, perspective, and a thoughtful approach to all of life's difficulties provide the likely path to ultimate fulfillment," he adds. "But getting a few more wins and the odd bit of extra success won't hurt the process either."
Billy Jean King, Hall of Fame tennis greats says: "Allen Fox's simple yet profound insights into the competitive process will be incredibly helpful to anyone who competes at anything."
Alex Hiam, bestselling author of The Vest pocket CEO and Marketing for Dummies, writes: "In this important new book, Allen Fox brilliantly explores the many faces of competition and achievement. I recommend it to anyone who wants to reach consistent success and become a true 'champion' in business — one with enlightenment, discipline, and persistence."
Allen Fox, Ph.D., is a former NCAA champion, Wimbledon quarterfinalist and a three-time member of the U.S. Davis Cup team. Dr. Fox also coached the Pepperdine tennis team to two NCAA finals. He currently lectures on sports psychology and consults privately with athletes on the mental issues of competition.