Leadership & Productivity

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How to use bullsh*t filters to improve your team’s performance

5 Mins

The basis for performance starts with our mindset, in other words, the way we think.

Olympic athletes know that their thoughts, beliefs and attitudes play a critical role in doing well under pressure and devote consistent time and energy to developing a high-performance mindset. This includes focusing on the ‘controllables’, making marginal gains on their performance day in day out and building trusting and supportive relationships with their team members.

Reframing negative mindsets

One aspect of a performance mindset is an approach referred to as ‘bullshit filters’, first used by my crew in the Men’s Olympic Rowing Eight in Sydney, 2000. It helps to ensure that what happens inside your head is helping you perform at your best.

Bullshit filters are a way of reframing (or ignoring) unhelpful comments, distracting thoughts and those niggling doubts that can chip away at your confidence and throw you off your game. It’s a simple but important strategy used by Olympic athletes to maintain focus when it matters.

The good news is that anyone can use this technique to develop a more robust approach to performance.

Let’s look at how some simple comments can get you thinking in certain ways about the current (coronavirus) crisis we are living in. If your bullshit filters are on (think virtual headphones), this is how you might respond:

– ‘The recent stock market crash is terrible – we’re not going to return to normal for years.’ 

The world of work is actually changing in many positive ways and so many examples of innovation are happening that we can use as inspiration for our own world of work. Now is time to embrace a ‘new normal’, become agile and innovate. We’re learning how to virtually do business and build relationships like never before. We’re also reminding ourselves about new ways to enjoy ourselves which are low cost and simple; and taking time to refocus and reassess.

– ‘The UK government should have instilled lockdown sooner.’

This is a unique situation that no politician has ever had to guide us through before. Regardless of what is happening right now, we can work to control the ‘controllables’. Looking at those things inside our control, such as taking better care of our mental and physical wellbeing.

– ‘There are so many areas our business needs to improve on right now.’

Everyone and every business should want to learn and be hungry for feedback in order to improve and innovate. It’s not a criticism, it’s not personal, it’s about how we go faster next time. Feedback is one of the most useful learning tools there is, are you making good use of it at work?

– ‘My colleagues are telling me there’s no point even trying to do business during this pandemic.’

You’re not at work just to create harmony, you are there to perform, regardless of the current world situation. Although you can’t change anyone else’s behaviour, you can choose to change your own; you can decide to stay motivated, give it your all and deliver above and beyond to your clients despite the business slowdowns going on right now.

– ‘Ooh your competitors are innovating quickly to make their offerings virtual, aren’t they?’

Comments about how good the competition is looking are not worth wasting energy on, simply because you have no control over their actions. However, you can learn from what your competitors are doing; replicate the good stuff and learn from their mistakes. Bring the focus back to what you and your team can do to improve your own performances.

Onwards and upwards

Bullshit filters immediately refocus your attention on all the things you can do to be the best prepared you can. Olympic athletes don’t just practise fitness and technique, they practise developing a performance mindset in order to maximise the opportunities to learn and get faster every day. Performance is as much mental as it is physical, whether you’re in sport or business. We can replicate what these Olympians do; to accept the facts and challenge the negative interpretation.

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