Attitude, Composure, and Peak Performance

Anger is the only emotion you can’t show if you are a professional.  You can be angry, you just can’t show it.  Last week I lost my temper at work.  It’s rare for me to lose my temper, but when it happens it’s a good time for reflection on what happened.

Tennis is unique as a sport for a lot of reasons.  It’s an individual sport (which immediately puts it in a different class than team sports).  It’s also not a race, so that makes it different from cycling, running, swimming,etc.  It requires a lot of strength and cardiovascular fitness, like gymastics, and a lot of strategy, like golf… but it’s different than those two sports as well.  To be a successful tennis player you have to be fit, strong and smart.  But like other athletes, these are necessary but not sufficient – there is still one more critical skill that has to be mastered – the ability to control your emotions.

Athletes at their peak have mastered the sport, but they also have learned how to manage adremalin and control emotions. “Peak performance” is a term usually applied to athletes, but the concept applies to physicans as well.  How do we “train” to be able to work at our “peak”?  As someone who teaches surgeons, it’s one of the biggest challenges I face.  We can teach young surgeons how to operate, we can teach them when to operate… but we can’t convince them that they can do it on their own.  The ability to stand with confidence at the baseline in the French Open or at the OR table to start a big case has to come from within and is the result of practicing the task and managing the stress.

Sam Stosur is one of my current favorite tennis pros to watch.  Her game is magnificent but its how she has struggled with and learned to manage the stress of competition that I really find fascinating.  During a recent match she had two words written on her wristband – “Attitude” and “Composure”.  It served as a reminder to her to take a deep breath and focus on the task at hand.  Physicians are no different – we need to find ways to remind us to adjust our attitude and maintain our composure.

Next time I’m tempted to get upset at work, I think I’ll remember Sam Stosur’s wristband…

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