Reverting to research

Having concluded it would be unprofessional to share behind-the-scenes stories about my surf lifesaving and Springbok rugby experiences, I turned to my PhD research (Harris, Mental Toughness, 2008) to find stories that would liven up my talks and publications.

The problem I had to overcome was the lack of inherent entertainment in a research paper. I decided to express some of the research outcomes through storytelling. However, this decision exposed me to the possible accusation that I cherry pick the research outcomes to suit the presentation and in so doing go down a slippery slope away from the original academic rigor. Basically, the assumption is my presentations could be dominated by personal bias. I guess I am guilty as charged.  My presentations and publications do contain my personal views as well as my research outcomes.

When presenting motivational talks I include video snippets and extracts from bestselling books as mental toughness references. Many of these I did not use or were not published when I was busy with my research paper. I refer to books because I feel strongly that people who do not read have no advantage over those who can’t read. Many read magazines, and I have no doubt articles in some magazines are valuable, but I suspect magazine articles are even more prone to go down slippery slopes, providing entertainment only. Magazine articles seldom qualify as learning material. Tragically, I wouldn’t be surprised if most people spend more money on glossy magazines and toilet paper than they do on books.

I also make liberal use of the mental toughness attributes of business leaders like Richard Branson to support my claims. Most of all, I use sport examples current and down the ages to spice up my motivational presentations.

World admiration winner

I often open my talks with a reference to the 2010 FIFA World Cup Tournament in South Africa. Spain won the tournament and I pose the question, “Was there another winner in a different context?” The inevitable answer is that South Africa was also a winner.  Most of my audience members are aware that South Africa was a world admiration winner when it came to hosting, and for the spirit generated in the country at the time.

Naysayers claimed the tournament would never happen, and if it did, visitors would be robbed or even killed if they came to South Africa. Despite these claims the tournament was a tremendous success.

The acclaim, associated with world admiration, has not been maintained since then. But, World Cup 2010 was a moment in time South Africans can call upon as a positive reference point for rallying future inspiration. The question I pose to my audiences is about the opportunity of becoming an admiration winner. There is always an award on offer as admiration winner. It’s a title we could all strive for and win in any endeavour, whether sport, work or relationships.

Woody Allen claimed 80% of success is “turning up”. The South African public really turned up for the 2010 tournament. The same cannot be said for SAFA or Bafana Bafana (the name given to the South African Football side). Many other teams also failed to turn up. Think about England, Argentina and Brazil in both the 2010 and 2014 tournament, they certainly didn’t turn up.

It may sound corny but despite Rooney, England were ruined. Despite Messi, Argentina was in a mess and despite Kaka, Brazil was kak in 2010 and even though he did not play in 2014, they were still kak.

One of South Africa’s Super Rugby teams, the Stormers, have often qualified for play-offs or semi-finals in that competition. I recall the words of their then captain, Jean de Villiers, in a post-match speech. He was asked why they once again failed to win. “We didn’t turn up,” he declared. Of course he did not mean turning up physically. All of the players were actually on the field. I am sure he meant turning up with all of their faculties, particularly their minds, to maximise their performance.

On the subject of Super Rugby teams turning up, humorists claim that the only time the Sharks turn up for a final is at surfing competitions. Ask Mick Fanning, the Australian surfing champion, about his experience with a monster shark that turned up at the Jeffreys Bay Surfing Championship in 2015.

My claim is that turning up with mental toughness skills will give you the inches that will contribute to creating a competitive advantage in any endeavour.

Dr Steve Harris. Motivational speaker, team building, conference speaker, keynote speaker