You Are What You Believe

As we were about to take the stage together last week, Geoff Clapp, a New Orleans jazz drummer, said something especially powerful to me.

While giving talks on innovation, I often hire local musicians and incorporate live jazz as a metaphor for business creativity (I’ve been playing jazz guitar for more than 30 years). We were about to perform to a crowd of business executives from around the world, demonstrating how musical improvisation could serve as a framework for their own challenges, and I noticed how happy, confident, and relaxed Geoff was.

When I asked him about it, he smiled and shared his approach with me: “Every time before a performance, I envision how great it’s going to go. Sure, I think about my own playing — being completely ‘on’ and in the groove — but I also think about each of the other musicians performing at their best. I think about how great we’ll all feel just after the gig, knowing we each delivered at our highest level. I get in the mind-set where I just know we’re going to nail it.”

His smile beamed as we took the stage, and we instantly connected as musicians. It felt like we had played together for years, even though we’d just met 15 minutes earlier. Our performance was received with cheers from the crowd, which I believe was largely driven by our positive and thoughtful drummer.

Olympic athletes often take a similar approach. They visualize their performance in advance, concentrating on how they’ll execute at their best and bring home the gold. The best-of-the-best fully expect to be named champions, even before they enter the arena.

In your case, what’s running through your mind before that big meeting? Are you ruminating on all the things that could go wrong? Wallowing in doubt? Obsessing how bad it will be if you blow it? In the same way we can affect positive results, we can completely sabotage our efforts by focusing on all the things that can go wrong.

The field of Positive Psychology has recently exploded with extensive research on how our mind-set can impact our outcomes. It turns out that envisioning the win in advance isn’t just wishful thinking; that positive mental framework actually contributes to better results. More deals closed. Creative breakthroughs. Increased growth and success.

Knowing that your mind-set plays a key role in performance, start pumping yourself up each day instead of sliding into the worry trap. Take a minute to clearly visualize the ideal outcomes and focus on how you’ll deliver at your best. It can be a key ingredient to joining the ranks of top performing business leaders, athletes, scientists … and, of course, brilliant jazz drummers from New Orleans.