It was right before game 5 of the 1997 NBA finals. The Chicago Bulls and Utah Jazz were locked at 2 games apiece in the best of 7 championship series, but nobody knew if Michael Jordan was going to play in the go ahead match. He had the flu. Some say it was a virus, others say it was food poisoning. Whatever the case, the legendary superstar was visibly weak in the hours leading up to tip-off. Many assumed he wouldn’t play, but that’s not what happened.
That night, Michael Jordan put up 38 points (if you don’t know basketball, that’s really good), including a final minute 3 pointer that sealed the win for the Bulls. In true GOAT fashion, MJ23 brought another championship to Chicago a few days later and picked up finals MVP along the way. Game 5 of the 1997 finals has since been known as “The Flue Game”, always noted as one of the top finals moments in NBA history. The headlines were prompted by the time before and after the buzzer, but what’s memorable isn’t how good or bad Michael Jordan felt on the sideline. What’s remembered is his peak performance at the right time.
Significant moments are defined by the outcome, not the lead up. A whole sequence of events occurs before a defining moment, so our focus can easily be placed on the lead up rather than the desired outcome. The point of telling you about “The Flu Game” is to say that the desired outcome of our defining moments can happen even when the events leading up to the crescendo seem to be suboptimal. The key is to be able to peak at the right time.
It’s not realistic to live at peak arousal, ability, attention and awareness 24/7. This is why I have a beef with many seminars, conferences and the like that are designed to get you all jazzed up to use your new skill, mindset, strategy, etcetera. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for seeking out opportunities to enhance your performance as a human, and I think big events can be a great way to do that, but they usually have everyone peaking right at the end. The idea is, of course, to take what you learn and go implement it, however, the timing just doesn’t work out. By the time you’re ready to implement, you can’t possibly be in the peak state that the event had you in.
There are a few approaches to peaking at the right time that we need to understand. Firstly, we need to know what moments in our life require our highest and best selves. Yes, try to be your best self at all times, but recognizing when life demands the most of us will help with that, trust me. Let me give you an example. As a realtor, I often make and receive phone calls. It’s a fairly important part of my job as your agent, but if someone calls me when I know I’m not going to be able to be at my best, I let it ring. Don’t worry, I’ll make a note and prioritize calling back right away to take care of business, just not until I’m ready to perform. It wouldn’t be in your best interest or mine to answer an important call when I’m not physically or mentally ready for it. At the same time, if I find that I’m in a pattern of dodging calls, I need to adapt my routines so that I’m at my peak either at different times or more frequently.
All this considered, attempting to complete important tasks only in peak states is not an excuse to not complete important tasks. I’m certainly not one to predict the future, but we can reasonably forecast our days and weeks. You know when your meetings are, when you have to do pick up or drop off, what time dinner reservations are and what hours you’re required to be where. That being the case, plan ahead. Have a look at what’s coming and plan your optimal week around it. Read through Craig Ballantyne’s “The Perfect Week Formula” for some tactics on creating a week most likely to allow you to perform your best. You have to do what’s necessary in non urgent moments to allow yourself to peak at the right time. On the other hand, sometimes you’re thrust into a peak performance scenario that you couldn’t have predicted.
There are two ways to handle those scenarios. One, you can use unpredictability as an excuse for not doing well and accept defeat. Two, you can buckle up and perform to the best of your ability anyway. Michael Jordan took option two in game 5 of the ‘97 finals and I suggest you do the same. You can bet that guy had been doing all the preparation you can imagine leading up to every game, but you can’t exactly prepare for a mysterious case of the I don’t feel so good’s. Sometimes we just don’t feel so good, and sometimes that worries us because we know we have a championship game to play (or a call/presentation/interview/date/meeting/competition/discussion/something important). Yet, worrying about a championship game before it happens doesn’t make a lot of sense even if in the present moment it seems like the odds are against you.
There’s a reason all sports have playoffs. It’s because peaking during the regular season doesn’t matter. What matters is peaking in the playoffs and winning at the right time. Yes, you have to get there, but don’t be too proud of yourself for being really good at preparation. Those who peak in championship games always win against a more prepared competitor who already watched their peak come and go or can’t quite get there at the right time. We can’t afford to get too excited when we feel great the morning of a big sales meeting at lunchtime. The key is to still be excited at the meeting, to peak at the same moment of your performance.
The odds won’t always be advantageous and sometimes it seems like we’re down and out. Just don’t forget that significant moments are defined by the outcome, not the lead up. If you remember that, you can tilt the needle in your favour. It won’t always go your way, but it will more often.