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What's Important Now?
by John Kuypers
you are living in the present, you know what's important for you, and you act on
that knowing. You are able to see the big picture and the smallest detail all at
the same time. Your sense of timing and your instincts become sharp. Time itself
slows down and you adapt fluidly to the reality of the present moment. You
become an extraordinary and powerful human being. Great athletes show us just
how true this is.
Even if you are not an athlete yourself, you can learn something from them.
After all, no person's body is independent of their mind, their heart, or their
soul. When you are fully present, all four of these dimensions of your humanness
are operating in harmony, letting you be as excellent as you can be.
Wayne Gretzky has been hailed as the greatest hockey player who ever lived.
Hockey experts often describe him as having a sixth sense. They say he could see
the whole ice surface at once, recognize the pattern of how the play was
unfolding, and intuitively make the right decision about where to pass or shoot
the puck. By his own admission, he did not possess superior skating or shooting
skills. Wayne Gretzky is simply an incredibly present athlete.
In the summer of 2000, Tiger Woods won the PGA championship, the only one of
the four major championships he had yet to win. When asked afterwards how he
handled the pressure of making a crucial chip shot on the last hole that
ultimately led to his victory, he said, "I just tried to stay in the moment
and focus on the shot I had to make." Tiger Woods did not let his mind
drift to the importance of making that shot, or to worrying about what people
would think if he failed. His entire being was focused on what was important for
him in that moment.
At the 1999 World Track and Field Championships, Canadian sprinter Bruny
Surin lost the one-hundred-metre dash to American Maurice Greene. Greene set a
new world record of 9.79 seconds. However, Surin was leading the race for the
first forty metres. When Surin was asked afterwards what happened at that moment
in the race, he said that he became aware that he was beating Greene and became
elated at the possibility that he might actually win. At that moment, Greene
raced past him to win gold and set a new world record. Surin had let his mind
drift to the future, a future that was still five seconds away.
All great athletes describe their talents at the moment of truth with one
common reality: Time slows down. Great home-run hitters say the baseball slows
down for them, even though it is streaking in at over ninety miles per hour.
They say that the ball looks like the size of a pumpkin. They feel they have
lots of time to decide whether to swing or not. These athletes are incredibly
present in those moments.
It is not that you and I don't know how to live in the present in our own
less glamorous lives. We are often present when we are pursuing a favorite
pastime or hobby. Gardening, cooking, watching a fire crackle, and mountain
biking are just a few of the hundreds of ways in which we can get into times of
flow that could be described as being fully present. The key question for you
and me is whether we can create that same experience for ourselves when we feel
under pressure. When the chips are down, our ability to be present measures
whether we are able rise to our full potential. I learned a lesson on how we can
do this from a professional basketball coach, long before I had heard of living
in the present.
What's Important Now?
I was at a senior management meeting in Connecticut. Our president invited
Pat Riley, then the coach of the NBA's New York Knicks, to speak to us. Pat
Riley told us about the concept that he used with his players to get the best
out of them: W.I.N. What's Important Now.
I was struck by this simple idea. "What's Important Now" was Pat
Riley's way of helping his players to be fully present while they were on the
court. He talked about the distractions that his professional basketball players
had to deal with -- endorsements, business deals, contracts, money management,
women, and so on. I could certainly imagine how easily any human being could get
distracted by these seductive things, and how these distractions could reduce a
I was also impressed by one other aspect of What's Important Now. These were
top players. Their skills were among the best in the world. They did not need a
lot of skill-based teaching and instruction. What they needed was the right
attitude to succeed. In Riley's experience, motivating his players to be present
was the most powerful tool that he had to help them perform to the top of their
game... to be the best they could be... superstars in their field. He knew they
could achieve greatness if they devoted all of their mental, physical,
emotional, and spiritual selves to that one thought: What's Important Now.
Is it any different for the rest of us? When we focus on What's Important
Now, we become the best we can be during our own most challenging moments.
Whether we are dealing with a rebellious child, persisting with an annoying
repair job around the house, or leading an important business meeting, we are
deciding that this activity is the most important thing we could be doing in our
lives in this moment. We are not experiencing an urge to be somewhere else, to
do something else, or to think about something else.
To achieve this wonderful state of mind, you must know who you are. You must
trust yourself that you will do what is right for you, without having overly
pre-planned your actions, and without the memory of past wounds holding you
back. Mark Twain once said, "I have worried about a great many things in my
life. And a few of them actually happened." To experience the joy, the
self-confidence, and the excellence that comes with living in the present, you
must find a way to let go of what you think should be happening, in order to
immerse yourself in what is happening.
article is excerpted from What's Important Now, ©2002, by John Kuypers.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Present Living & Learning, Inc.
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More books by this author.
About the Author
Kuypers is the Director and Founder of Present Living & Learning, Inc.,
an organization dedicated to helping people from all walks of life learn how to
work and live passionately with no regrets by living in the present. He is also
the founder of Rapid Shift Performance
Systems, which offers tools, training and coaching to help business leaders
achieve cooperative performance and productivity gains.
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