“He’s composed. He’s not that fast, he’s not that powerful, but boy was he composed.”
“I think I smoked him in the early rounds. I was pretty handily whooping him in the early rounds. He then changed his style, he puts his gloves up and his head down, into my chest and then he went to work, I didn’t anticipate that. I had him like that (leaning back) or even like this (leaning to the side) in camp, but he completely changed his style. It completely threw me off, and he was composed in there. I wasted my punches on his gloves. It was just a composure issue, I don’t feel from a skill level..I felt alright in there.”
These were Conor McGregor’s words after his TKO against Floyd Mayweather on the weekend. Floyd seemed incredibly patient, almost annoyingly so! Even when Conor was getting some great shots in and seemed to be dominating the fight, Floyd did not panic or deviate from his game plan. As an inexperienced fight watcher, but someone who appreciates great sporting events, I found myself getting frustrated and struggling to keep my own composure, thinking that Floyd was foolish to wait so long, when the champion suddenly kicked into another gear and finished the job in style.
So, what is composure, why is it important and how do you get it?
Composure is your ability to maintain emotional control. In particular, it is about being able to regulate your emotions and control your actions when the brain wants to shift into the fight or flight response and instinctively react to a situation, often in a way that limits your options. This response is triggered when your brain perceives that there is a threat present. The brain then shifts into survival mode, which limits the amount of your brain that is active and your ability to think logically. Composure is the ability to maintain a whole-brain response in the middle of potentially threatening situation, which enables a more complete assessment of the situation and an increased recognition of creative opportunities and novel solutions. Composure helps you to focus on what’s important under pressure conditions.
Composure also helps you to live a value-driven life and stick to your natural style rather than acting based on how you feel and getting sucked into how your opponent wants you to fight or compete. If Conor was going to be any chance of winning in a new sport against an unbeaten, seasoned professional, he had to use the strengths that have made him so successful in UFC and switch the fight to his terms. As Geel Piet said in the powerful story, The Power of One,
“Little beat big when little smart. First with the head, then with the heart.”
Sometimes the best way to win is not the most obvious way. This idea is also the premise of Malcolm Gladwell’s book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. Giants can be beaten when you change the rules and even the playing field in line with your strengths, rather than trying to match them on their strengths. This strategy requires composure, as the brain naturally wants to act out of emotion, panic and based on limited options, causing an increase in miscalculated risk-taking, overthinking or playing it safe, all of which lead to sub-par performances. Conor stayed composed in the early rounds, using his reach and unorthodox style to try and throw Floyd off balance and force him to panic. However, Floyd remained composed, stuck to his plan and waited for his opportunity, even if it meant losing the first couple of rounds. Had he panicked and reacted to Conor’s strategy, I believe we would have seen a different result.
So how do you maintain composure under pressure?
Change your focus. Focus on what you can control – the process and the present. This focus reduces the threat of the unknown and shifts you into whole-brain thinking, giving you seemingly more space and time to do what you’re good at. Avoid focusing on the uncontrollables, the outcome, the past or the future as these things will create panic.
Have a plan. Like Floyd, go in with a plan but leave room for flexibility. If you have a (simple!) framework to work from it will give you a base to come back to if you lose your composure or if you need to adjust depending on the giant you’re facing. Having a simple plan gives you control, and composure gives you time to make a logical decision rather than an emotional one when it’s crunch time.
Take a breath. In between each round, each fighters’ corners gave them similar advice: “take a breath, deep breaths, you’ve got this, stick to the plan” and then would reinforce the plan. That’s as simple as it gets. Deep breaths can bring you back to the moment and calms down your brain, unlocking the whole-brain response and helping you to regain your composure. The worst thing you can do when you lose your composure is to think more. You need to calm your body before you have access to your logical mind.
Stay in control – play your game. The more you complicate things, whether you’re a superstar or a weekend warrior, the more your brain feels overwhelmed and starts to shut down into the fight or flight mode, making it hard to think straight. A lot of athletes go wrong once they receive unexpected success or get selected for a rep or elite team, as they decide to abandon everything that made them great and start going away from their natural style – which got them picked in the first place! Stick to what you’re good at, trust yourself and the process and you will be able to keep your composure in the most trying of circumstances.
For more information or to make a booking to see how you can work on maintaining your composure, contact Rachel via firstname.lastname@example.org