In advance of his highly anticipated bout with Floyd Mayweather tonight I wanted to share an interesting insight into the mindset of Manny Pacquiao as described in Sam Sheridan's The Fighter's Mind.
According to his trainer Freddie Roach, "Manny, he's been KO'd and he just says, 'There's always a winner and a loser, tonight just wasn't my night'. ..It didn't hurt Manny. It made him better. He learned from it, he knows it could happen, and most guys don't think it could ever happen.
This brings to mind of instructor Ricardo Liborio thoughts on accepting that loss can happen. When one can accept the possibility of loss Liborio believes they release unneeded pressure. Sheridan noted something durable about having a fatalistic understanding, which Roach attributed to his upbringing in the Philipines.
“If I knew the guy was on steroids that would help me whereas some would think he’s cheating or he’s got an unfair advantage, for me you didn’t pay the price. You’re not as committed as I am. I’ll tear him apart. He may be strong, but all I have to do during that nine minutes of wrestling is loosen one single wire in his brain, make him do something that isn’t perfect and he’ll fall apart. That’s what I feel.”
Athletes have two lenses through which they can view an obstacle. The first is the lens of threat. This evolutionary wired perception accepts competition as something with the potential to do harm. Athletes with this view trigger the same mechanisms in mind and body that one would expect when coming across a bear in the woods. Their exists a direct link between how we perceive something and our body's response. Responses in extreme cases can have us fighting, fleeing, or freezing. In most situations are responses may not be that strong but pervasive feelings of anxiety and uncertainty can require the use of self regulatory behaviors to remain tasked focused. More simply these thoughts promote the tendency to shift us away from the task at hand and allow our attention to be distracted by uncontrollable stimuli, Dan Gable's task was to wrestle and he found a way to turn a potentially draining situation into a source of strength.
He chose to view his obstacle as a challenge which allowed him to leverage his thoughts to improve performance. The steroid user became a problem to solve. Turning the obstacle into a challenge allowed Gable's to maintain a barrier of control against outside forces. A 2009 study indicated that athletes high in "mental toughness", a group of which Gable could certainly count himself a member, tended to see obstacles as challenges. Understanding that it was within his control to solve this problem motivated him to create a singular goal of wrestling for 9 minutes to prove his opponent was flawed. Seeing his opponent as a challenge promoted controllable action and gave us a model for establishing an effective mindset.