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  • Ben Bowen

Mental Toughness



If you haven’t met Ed Tseng, let me introduce you. Not only will he teach you a thing or two about tennis, as a friend of Andre Agassi and himself a former player on the pro circuit, he will inspire you to be your best self, as an internationally renowned speaker and author.


He is an amazing coach, who believes in paying it forward, and does a tremendous amount of charity work. His email newsletter is a source of personal inspiration for me and his book, “Game. Set. Life.” has been on Amazon’s Top 10 in Sports Psychology. Highly recommended.


In this conversation with me, he distills his wisdom on mental toughness and what it takes to live a full life. You can listen to the full podcast here.


Ed: Two years ago I was at the Olympics in Rio, working with the world’s best athletes on their mindset. What I found was that Olympians, top athletes, gold medalists, are just like the rest of us. They have to have the right mindset to succeed. They have to keep their foot on the gas. They also get negative and lack confidence, just like everyone else. It was cool to see the mind of Olympians and a real honour to help them.


And it’s a real honour to be on this podcast because there are people listening who want to reach their peak - not just in sports of course but in their job, in their relationships, their health, their fitness.


When I started college I was studying computers because my dad made me. I liked it but I didn’t love it. I failed out twice. I appealed it. I said “I’m sorry, I promise to work harder”. They let me back in. I failed out again. I appealed it. They didn’t let me back in this time. I felt like one of the stupidest people in the world. But looking back it was one of the most significant turning points in my life.


So I followed my passion, started my own company, started working with elite performers of all walks of life - from business to sports to school - started writing books, started giving talks, and contributing to other publications. The best part of the story is that the school I failed out of twice asks me back every year to give lectures. It’s really fun to help people perform better; it’s an honour because it helps me as well.

Ben: Thank you for giving that detailed and honest story. Hopefully one day, the school you failed out of twice, will offer you an honorary doctorate for performance. The cherry on top.


I know you’ve had a pretty amazing summer. Maybe you can let everyone know what you’re up to?


Ed: Every day is different. My days are pretty packed. I meet with people around the world. I use Google Hangouts and Skype to talk with them, I meet them in person, I lecture, I write, and I hang out with the family.


I was selected to represent New Jersey for the Special Olympics USA Game (as a coach). I was a unified partner for tennis. The Special Olympics were an amazing, beautiful world where these people all come together. It’s wonderful to see: everyone cheering everyone no matter how they did. They celebrate even when they come last because they did their best. It was all about teamwork and contributing. It was so cool. Everyone was less about themselves and more about each other and teamwork and contributing.


Ben: My audience knows I love paying it forward. Many entrepreneurs need to hear your story. It puts me in mind of the “Fill my bucket” story. It teaches kids - and adults can learn from it too - that if you plan to fill your own bucket in life the best and fastest way you can do that is by filling others’. And if you’re not filling others’, you’re emptying them and in part emptying your own.


We talk about being Comfortably Profitable as a cautionary tale. We need to be aware of it. When you’re about to go down in your career is right when you think you’ve “made it”. You celebrate and you just can’t back to putting your foot on the gas. But you don’t know why and you’re not content with the results because you’re not giving your best effort. Do you see your clients in this state?


Ed: I see it every day. How I see it is that it doesn’t take talent to give effort. I was with Derek Jeter in the last years of his career. He said something similar: “there’s no excuse for anyone to out work you. It’s choice.” Which reminds me of another of my favourite quotes: “hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.” I think so many people rely on their talent and they cruise and they’re not happy, not enjoying it. We weren’t put on this planet to hold back.


Don’t be a Porsche driving with the emergency brake on. We can realize it’s a choice. We can choose otherwise. Because we know ultimately it’s just a bad habit; it’s conditioning.


Ben: The conditioning piece is fascinating to me because my research shows that Comfortably Profitable is usually a state, especially in the city I’m in, after some level of success. What do you think changes in the mindset of someone who has hustled so hard that they could grow and now they’re not? And why is it so hard to get out of?


Ed: I don’t think it’s so hard to get out of. I think people are just stuck. I think part of the fix is realizing we never make it. The most successful people realize they never make it. It’s like what Bruce Lee said: “Life is not about limits; it’s about plateaus and constantly getting to the next plateau.” That’s how I see every aspect of my life. Strive to be a little bit better every day and improve on my weaknesses. I am satisfied with what I’ve done. Yet at the same time I enjoy the process.


So many people think “I’ll be happy when, I make that million dollars”. You might. But it’s probably going to be short lived. Do you want to waste all that time going up to it? There are a lot of miserable millionaires.


We feel at our best when we’re going for it. When we’re living! A lot of people die in their twenties but aren’t buried until their eighties. We die when we give up, or listen to the voice in our heads “life is difficult” or “I’ve made it”. No! If you think you’ve made it, you’re done. But the good news is, you can be in that funk, in that cruise control, and still recognize it’s not getting you anywhere. It’s like an alarm clock going off. Too many people think “this is just how it is.”


Ben: Let’s talk about the voice inside your head. There’s a debate about whether it’s our voice or one that’s been put there by someone else. Do your actions change depending on that answer?


Ed: They don’t have to. And that’s the good news. I don’t care what thoughts and feelings you have inside - you can still take the right action.


Lots of people ask me to help them get in the right mindset before a big event, or key moment in their life. That tells me that they don’t get it. One of my clients, a state level wrestler, one of the best athletes I’ve ever seen, said to me “it doesn’t matter what mindset I'm in - I just go for it!” He got it right.


When business people, or entrepreneurs, or anyone on planet, believe that voice inside their head, it can hold them back. Remember, that voice is random, not an instruction or a prediction. You just do what you need to do. I think that’s huge.


You don’t have to be positive all the time. We’re humans, not robots. You can have negative thoughts and fears. The best athletes I saw in Rio were the ones who just did it despite these things. We live in a society where we think we need to fix bad thinking. I may be the first person to tell you: you don’t have to fix it.


Imagine tonight you had a dream. In it, I call you up and say “Ben, I really don’t like your hairstyle or taste of clothing. The voice on your podcast is really annoying.” When you wake up, would you call me and say, “Ed, that was really rude. I need you to apologize.”? No! Because it was just a dream. But dreams are only our thoughts when we’re sleeping. Why do we care about our thoughts when we’re waking? Some people have nightmares. Some people have daymares too. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Ben: I love that “daymares” analogy. I will take that with me.


I talk a lot about ambition. I describe it as a rudder on a ship that can take you to interesting places as long as you’re feeding it. How important is that for the people you work with? And the bigger question is how often do you need to feed it to continue.


Ed: I have a different take on ambition and/or mental toughness. I believe that we’re born ambitious, focused and motivated, and stress free. My daughter is five and my son is three. When I look you at them, young children, man, they’re ambitious. When my daughter was learning to walk, do you think she was discouraged after every time she fell, time and time and time again? No. She got up and kept trying. Now she can walk. Now she can run and swim.


Marianne Williamson is one of my favourite authors. She said “love is what we’re born with, fear is what we learn to hear.” That can be true for ambition as well. Comfortability is what we learned to hear.


It’s helpful to have a reminder about why we do what we do. I even get emotional when I think about mine: because I do it for my kids, to buy nice things and to be financially secure. But when we’re cruising sometimes our ambition gets cloudy. When it’s cloudy you might not be able to see the sun; but it’s still there. It can peak out anytime. Likewise, our ambition can get cloudy when we don’t remind ourselves of the why and when we listen to the other voices that pop up.


Ben: Those other voices that pop up when you’re not feeding your ambition are not only in your own head. They’re from society too. Everyone wants to emulate the entrepreneur who looks like they’re on cruise control - cutting out early, taking big vacations.


Ed: Yup.


Ben: What they don’t know is that’s when that person is the most dissatisfied because their effort level is lower than ever before. But those outside influencers think it’s cool, hoping that success looks like cruise control. Certainly social media is feeding what success looks like, like this. I’m not sure if the world understands and respects what it takes to be successful.


Ed: It’s kind of like the visual of an iceberg. The tip of the iceberg is playing it easy. The part of the iceberg that’s under the water is the hardwork. The good news is, we don’t have to let society and social media affect our actions. Life always throws stuff at you. I feel like Superman: bullets bouncing off the chest .


Life throws adversity, meetings, family stuff, complaining customers, the weather, your bank account. We could live like every else lives. But then we’re going to get what everyone else gets. Or we could have be bulletproof with perspective.


You get a hundred business people together, they’re going to see things a hundred different ways. Say someone gets fired. One person might say, “Oh my God, kill me; my life is over.” Another might say, “Yes! I’ve always wanted to start my own company and this is the chance.”


It’s never the external. If you know adversity will happen and you it doesn’t have to affect us, and have perspective, you can still keep the pedal to the metal and surpass others. For me, that’s why the mental game, our mindset, is the most important part of peak performance and the foundation for all success.


Ben: Fantastic. Ed, it’s been so great to talk to you. Part of my mission is to help entrepreneurs understand the CPS and pull themselves out of it. And you’ve helped shine a bright light on the CPS. Thank you. Before you go, could you give three things my audience can do to get unstuck sooner than later? What are you best three?


Ed: 1) You’re not stuck. You just think you are. Stuck is a perception. But if you believe it, you’re going to find ways to confirm it - focus on it. The reality is we’re always focused. The question is on what. When I was in Rio, if I was in a race with Usain Bolt and he was faced the wrong way, focused in the wrong direction, I’d win. The question is not, Are we focused? It’s, What are we focused on?


2) No circumstance, customer, significant other, child, no external thing can affect how we feel on the inside. Think of cars. A classic and a clunker. It could be both. Again, it depends on your perspective.


3) Most people say, “don’t believe everything you hear.” I say, Don’t believe everything you think. Wake up to the fact that thoughts are random, temporary, even when they are negative and comfortable. We can still do what we need to do. Winners do what losers don’t feel like doing. I don’t care if you don’t feel like doing it. Just do it.


Ben: Amazing. A great way to leave off. How can my audience reach you?


Ed: edtseng.com. ed@edtseng.com. 609-558-1077. Let’s do something crazy and have a free coaching call for a lucky listener - you can choose them. It’s been a blast being on here and I appreciate talking to you.


Ben: You’re going have to figure out how to handle all the people asking you for a free session.


Thanks for this excellent conversation.

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