I am a huge college football fan – I watched 12 hours of college football yesterday. I was even in the Redcoat Band when I attended the University of Georgia. What can I say? I’m a coach who has developed a taste for watching coaches motivate their players (like I motivate clients) to deliver peak performance in the midst of high pressure situations (and lots of distractions). Every time I watch a game, I am amazed by the ability of the players to shake off setbacks and move forward quickly.

Shake it off!

I’m particularly fascinated by the resilience of elite quarterbacks. I see them throw beautiful, accurate, long passes that are intercepted. And what do the quarterbacks do? Well, they sure don’t rail against the people who intercepted the passes and they don’t blame the receivers who missed the passes. Instead they shake it off and set up the next play – immediately – and keep their teams moving forward. It’s like the previous play never even happened. Like their memories have been wiped!

So I started thinking about how that type of resilience and flexibility can help us in our day-to-day lives. Here’s my coaching on the virtues of cultivating a very short memory.

Do the work and walk away.

  1. A short memory allows you to put your work out there and walk away. When you’re working really hard to deliver amazing results, things are going to happen to trip you up. You don’t have total control over your efforts – even if you own your own business! That player is going to set up wrong for the next play, clients are going to change their requirements, your project is going to change in ways you would never imagine, and co-workers are going to be sick on mission critical days. To deliver amazing results, you have to put your best work out there and let go of what other people think about it. You have to forget about it to go forward. You don’t have time to dwell in the “if only” of the past.

Big risk = big failure.

  1. A short memory lets you forget about your failures quickly so you can focus intently on the next thing. Yes, fail has fallen out of favor. But when you throw a 60 yard pass and it’s intercepted or you take on a huge project that you’re sure is going to make your career and it falls flat, you’ve failed. When you fail, shake it off and try again. The football player who misses that 60 yard pass doesn’t sit out the next play and pout. Nope. He gets back in the game for the very next play. He erases the memory of the failed play and puts 100% of his focus on the next play. I’ve heard quarterbacks and their coaches talk about how important it is to have a short memory when you’re going for the win.

Figure out the scale of your failure.

  1. A short memory helps you regulate the scale of your disappointment in your performance on any given day. When you learn how to move forward quickly after a failure or disappointment, you train yourself to see your failures in a different way. The act of moving forward quickly in spite of disappointment begins to take the sting out of it. If you throw 36 passes and connect on 18 and 4 of those are touchdowns, those 18 you missed don’t feel so bad – as long as you get right back out there and throw the next pass as if the missed one never happened! When you don’t let the failure crater you; you start looking at the disappointments and failures like bumps on the road to your next success.

To fail forward you have to forget about it.

  1. A short memory is required to fail forward. You have to forget the pain of the failure. When players screw up plays, they have to go back and assess what they messed up. Same thing for you. If that interview felt like a total disaster, take 5 minutes and figure out something you learned from it that you can take to your next interview. Do you need to prepare more? Do you need to read the job description more carefully? Hold on to what you learned and keep on going forward.

Don’t dwell on the failures – or the successes – for long.

  1. A short memory keeps you from dwelling in the past – and this one applies to wins, too! To reach maximum effectiveness and level up your accomplishments, you have to mourn quickly and celebrate quickly, too. You have to maintain your focus on where you’re headed, not where you’ve been. So take a few minutes to figure out what went wrong on the losses. Take a few minutes to celebrate what went right on the wins. Then erase those memories and then keep moving toward your destination.

PS, the other name for this concept is mental toughness. You’re tough, you’re resilient, get going.


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