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June 26, 2012

Attitude and performance – Cause and effect, but which one's the cause?

I was chatting with a colleague about his recent cycle event, the 206 km dragon ride in Wales, and found the challenge to be quite intriguing. Stamina, an essential ingredient for avid cyclists, constitutes only one portion of the broader term performance (at least in the sporting context and specifically in the context of cycling). As the iPhone Dictionary app states, performance is the efficiency with which something fulfils its intended purpose.

So how do we assess this efficiency? Here are two sporting examples.

Andre Agassi, in his autobiography Open, is adamant about the fact that he hated playing tennis. One could say that he had the wrong attitude but did that affect his performance? I'm sure many will regard him as one of the greatest and most prominent players of all time (and that's not only due to his legendary denim shorts). His performance was great, but he often doubted his ability and resented his profession.

  • Does this present the wrong attitude?
  • Does the wrong attitude give him enough doubt to give him the edge?
  • Was the edge enough to make him a great performer?

Maybe it was the attitude of his father, who created a good habit in his son, that led Agassi to become one of the world's greats.

Lance Armstrong performed. In fact, be excelled in the world of international cycling. At age 25 he was diagnosed with stage three testicular cancer. By then he was already a seasoned cyclist, a champion. He had learnt to win, to overcome challenges. I assume that his early success would have added to his winning mentality. It would have contributed to his attitude. In the battle with cancer, it took about three years of treatment until it went into complete remission - a period of time that can make or break a sporting career.

  • Did he give up? No, he went on to win several stages of the tour de France and claim his place as one of the greatest competition cyclists that has ever put foot to pedal.

In Armstrong's case, performance drove attitude which drove performance.

So is there an easy way to answer this? Does attitude drive performance or does performance drive attitude, or is it a closed loop we can only try to improve with each revolution?

What if I hadn't missed that train?

This morning I missed a train by one minute. It was an express train, the kind where you skip a couple of very busy stations and you can actually find a seat for the entire journey. The first stop would have been my destination.

I didn't get that one. I had to wait ten more minutes for the slow train. It was packed when I got in, it stopped at all stations and more people got in. I felt like a sardine - welcome to London. My only consolation is that I am tall, so I don't have the unfortunate experience of having somebody's armpit up against my face for the entire journey.

I wonder how different my day would have been had I made that train. Did this morning's occurrence contribute an element of negative emotion that sets my day off on a particular course? Would my awareness of this allow me to evaluate and adjust my attitude and reaction to what happened in a more positive way?

I have missed several trains before. Would all of these occurences be contributing to a longer-term mood and approach to life? Could that attitude affect my performance at work or my attentiveness at home? I think awareness of emotion and attitude is key and being able to identify catalysts that could tip the scale either way is a good skill and habit to develop. Without it, our daily journey is not up to us and we'll only be reacting, instead of reevaluating and taking new opportunities that come as a result of a change in circumstances. For me, the slow train means more time to write and reflect on what happened - to analyse my opinion while in the thick of things (without somebody's armpit in the way).

We can't predict a course of events in something as random as daily life and continuous interaction with strangers. There are so many individuals crossing paths at random events that may force you or influence you to pivot and continue along a new path. Chaos theory tries to interpret this type of behaviour and activity. The best I can offer chaos theory is to analyse what happens in my life. If you are religious or believe in fate you can argue that the path you walk is chosen for you, but everybody has the choice to reflect on these events and influence their attitude as a result of it.

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