Whenever I stepped onto the football field, I was not consciously thinking beyond the moment. Above all, I was not thinking about winning or losing. In the rest of my football career that followed, in college and in the NFL, I never thought about winning or losing. Not against Texas on September 20, 1958, in my first college game, and never afterward did I stress out reciting a mantra of We gotta win today! I never wasted a single distracting thought on it.
To this day, in business, I never worry about winning or losing. In business, as in football, I’ve always embraced the moment, so that I can focus exclusively on the individual things—the “action items”—I can tick off, one by one, to give us the best chance we have. I focus on solving problems now, and if these immediate actions ultimately contribute to a win, great. But all I can directly control is what I can do, right here, right now, concerning the task right before me.
When the moment to act came, I just took it. A decided bias for action is key in football and business alike. But please don’t get me wrong. In the long run, it is careful planning that provides the edge. As my experience accumulated and grew, I came to understand that one of the most important things I could control was my own level of preparation.
I knew I could not control chance or luck or whatever you want to call it. But I could prepare so thoroughly as to make it unlikely that an opponent could surprise me with anything. Armed with this preparation, I could then focus on each play, without so much as a stray thought about the outcome of the play, the quarter, or the day.
A lot of people think there is some special magic in psyching yourself up, convincing yourself that one game—one work day—is more important than another. They sincerely believe that, some mornings, you should tell yourself, This is the Big Game! or This is the Big Day! Wrong! Every game is important. Every play is important. What you do determines the outcome, so focus on the tasks at hand, one after the other. It is common to pressure ourselves over things we cannot control. But just because it is common doesn’t make it helpful.
Adapted from Fran Tarkenton’s book, The Power of Failure: Succeeding in the Age of Innovation