40-Day Business Leadership Peak Performance Programme Day 35: Set-backs and resilience

Yesterday, we looked at the stalling careers of two professional golfers. I made the point that sometimes you might have to go backwards to go forward; and that might entail a comfort zone push.

Experts in resilience talk about accepting that life is about ebb and flow. Ups and downs. In essence normalising setbacks. One hallmark of a successful person is the ability to accept setbacks as inevitable; and learning to cope better with such setbacks.


Sometime back I read an article by sport journalist Jim Loehr* who was reviewing the comeback of tennis player Andre Agassi in the late 1990s. I know it’s an old story but it is such a good one that is highly relevant to you because it clearly demonstrates the mechanics of peak performance so well.

He says:

“Many studies have determined that the most important factor in predicting success in tennis – (and you can apply this to any endeavour) – is the amount of skill; and passion and drive you have for what you are doing.” Skill and will.

I created a profile tool for the sales profession that measures skill and will. Click here.

Skill is definitely needed to move your game forward. But lets focus on passion and drive.

“If you have passion and drive, you are fuelled with tremendous energy and perseverance that allows you to smash through the obstacles and roadblocks that pop up as you pursue your goal.”

The problem is we don’t want to accept obstacles and setbacks as normal.

Psychologists Albert Ellis known for Rational Emotional Behaviour Therapy and Aaron Beck, known for Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) suggests that people have unrealistic beliefs that involve the word ‘should‘ and ‘shouldn’t’.

“This shouldn’t be happening to me.”

They say it is unrealistic to expect that things ‘should’ go perfectly. You’d ‘prefer’ they did and its great when they do, but you may have noticed, often they don’t.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) advances the CBT argument by having you accept things that are going wrong … even as they are going wrong. ACT and mindfulness are very compatible and worth investigating.

Maturity is accepting that the world has ups and downs. And Andre Agassi’s comeback is a perfect example of someone accepting the what-is, adjusting and then pushing beyond adversity.

The low point

In 1997, Agassi’s drive for tennis had waned and it immediately showed in his game. By November, his ranking had dropped to 141, the lowest it had been in more than ten years.

You need to appreciate just how humiliating that would be for a world number-one ranked player to drop so rapidly and so dramatically. And you could understand and easily forgive Agassi for retiring at that point.

Yet Agassi eventually regained his passion for tennis, and when he did, he was a different person, on court and off. He trained harder and improved his diet, which brought his weight down from 183 pounds to a lean and mean 165. He began to have that look of a fighter on court again.

The comeback

I think the key moment in Agassi’s comeback was at the end of the 1997 season, when he went back to the C Minor leagues of tennis and played in two Challenger tournaments. I believe he even lost in the first Challenger, which must have been a humbling experience for a player who was ranked No. 1 in the world just two years earlier.

“But Agassi could put up with the pain and embarrassment of losing a Challenger because his passion for the game had been rekindled. By April 1998, he was back among the top 25 players in the world.”

To give you an idea what it means to play the Challenger circuit just imagine you are playing tennis at your local church tennis club on a Saturday afternoon and a world famous professional tennis player shows up for a game … and you beat him! It’s sort of like that.

Agassi however qualified for the Australian Open and as I recall Agassi was beaten by 15 year old newcomer, Layton Hewitt in a pre-Open tournament, the Adelaide International.

After the match, Agassi fronts a press conference and they are peppering him with questions about retiring after an embarrassing defeat but Agassi politely reminds the that he has an alternative plan. He wants to be back in the top 25 players. You can sense the disbelief from the journalists. In their minds, Agassi is not capable of that level of performance.

But Agassi proves them wrong.

“Agassi’s inspiring comeback is easy to explain and something we can all learn from. His improved play really began when he got in touch with a very urgent need within himself, which was to prove to the world that he still had what it takes to beat the best players in the pro game.”

What does this mean to you?

In coaching, this is what we are often trying to get you to do. We are trying to get you in touch with your very urgent need. Or get you back in touch. Despite any setbacks. Jane needed to get in touch with her professionalism as a nurse. Ron needed to get back in touch with running a profitable business.

But expect setbacks.

Seth Godin wrote a book called The Dip. He says that setbacks (dips) are normal. Not just one but many – little ones and big ones. Resilience is moving the game on, despite the dips.

I am the head coach for the Key Person of Influence Brand Accelerator and we caution our delegates to expect dips in their 40-week course. Expecting a dip, they handle it much better when it inevitably happens.

A big part of performance is looking at where you are Now and deciding what the Ideal is and therefore Where you want to be instead.

By contrast, have you noticed that most people talk about, think about and contemplate what isn’t working.  I once analysed a conversation and 60% was easily devoted to the problem. Most books on success urge you to focus on where you want to go – the Ideal.

If you drive for F1, it is only about focusing on where you want to go!

“Once he identified this need, Agassi then connected it in a very powerful way to getting his game back in high gear. That’s when the hard work kicked in, not to mention the determination that could not be discouraged by any losses or obstacles.

These are very important phrases for you to consider and the essence of peak performance.

He identified this need. He connected it in a very powerful way. And then this, ‘That’s when the hard work kicked in.’

Like Agassi if you want a result you have to identify your need. Without a vision we perish. You have to connect in a powerful way. It has to feel powerful. Not so-so.

And you have to lean and do the hard work.

I really like Agassi because he is a realist. He knew it would take hard work.Too many people want results without expecting to have any skin in the game.

Champion Olympic swimmer Suzie O’Neil once told a story of how her coach told the swim squad to warm up by swimming 100 laps. Gold medalist, O’Neil swam the 100 laps but noticed that she was the last out of the pool. “The coach isn’t counting. Its an honour system. If the coach says swim 100 laps, you swim 100 laps.”

O’Neil knew that her colleagues had cut their warm-up short. “A lot of people do that in life. They want the medal … but don’t want to swim the laps. Basically, if you do that, then understand, you are training to fail.”

In his autobiography Agassi writes about his training regime in 1997. He was out pounding the Arizona pavement under harsh weather circumstances. By 5am he is fronting up to an already hot Las Vegas morning for a two-hour run.

Loehr says, “Like Agassi, if you want to stoke your passion and desire for tennis, you have to take a moment to go inside yourself and discover what your most urgent needs are.”

Don’t skip over that sentence.

“It could be something as simple as wanting to get in better shape through tennis. Or it could be that you want to raise the level of your game so that you can play doubles with a friend or your spouse. Maybe you want to beat your nemesis in the club championships this summer, or you want the recognition that would accompany a ranking in your section. Whatever it is, your need often will be accompanied by a sense of dissatisfaction. You recognise a feeling of incompleteness inside yourself. At the same time, you can clearly see that fulfilling this need through tennis will feel incredibly good.”

“Getting in touch with these needs can be a little scary. Any time you set out to accomplish something, you are taking a risk because you may not obtain your goal. Or, you might! That is why it is important to set goals that are broader than just winning one match or a small tournament. Agassi’s goal of becoming one of the top players in the world again could withstand losing in a Challenger along the way.”

I think this is an important point. It is a reality check. It might be confronting because you might not succeed.

I used to row in an eight-man boat and we trained and trained and trained. I recall a major race where we were pipped at the finish line by a bee’s whisker. It was that close. After 12 months of training it came down to second place. We were gutted.

Sometimes you need to factor in set backs. They are normal. Importantly, you can ‘withstand’ losing along the way. And then theres the benefits in deciding to try, setting the goals, planning your work … and working your plan, no matter what the outcome.

“The beauty of rekindling your passion for tennis is that you will receive many hidden benefits. Let’s say your goal is to win your club championships this August. You may begin to watch your diet, to jog regularly, to practice a bit harder. By just having set the goals you will get in better shape and your life will be more focused and purposeful, both of which go a long way in raising your self-esteem. You may or may not win the tournament, but you will reap tremendous benefits just by getting in touch with your need, and the passion that it brought out.”

There are three tips on setting goals that work.


What can you get excited about accomplishing? Are you in touch with your urgent needs?



You may not have a coach reminding you of why you are practicing hard and working out, so you have to do it yourself … in writing.


Your goals should compel you to get moving … right away, like watching your diet a little better or spending more time on the court. Plan your work and work your plan.

Again, reread these session notes. See what springs to mind from the second or third reading.

*Article cited with permission.

Andrew Priestley is a qualified business leadership coach with clients worldwide. He is the author of The Money Chimp, Starting and How Money Flows Through Your Business. You can contact him through www.andrewpriestley.com

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It goes without saying that this is for information only and The Author or LinkedIn cannot be held responsible for any losses or damages that occur as a result of reading this material.

© 2017 Andrew Priestley/TCE Ltd

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