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Personal Growth

Losing Your Competitive Edge? How Mental Laziness Can Hurt You

A loyal client of mine, and a highly respected member of an NHL hockey team, practices something I call the Four Levels of Accountability off the ice as well as on. This consummate competitor experienced a number of consecutive games he felt were below par, both for him and for his team, and he took action. This is what he said:

“I’m one of the leaders on this team and I need to do better. It’s not like I’ve been slacking—in fact, I’m busting my butt. But the truth is, I need to be doing more—and I can do more. I’m at ninety to ninety-five percent of my potential, but it hasn’t been enough. For the first time since I can remember, I got a pretty stiff message from the coaches. I didn’t like to hear it, but I won’t argue. I need to respond with more effort.”

In the office or board room, or on the field of play, accountability is understanding what needs to be done and doing it without excuses. Lazy-minded people make excuses; tough-minded people take themselves to task to learn from their mistakes and get back in the groove.
It is only by being willing to work through a few moments of discomfort as you learn to reinvent yourself on a higher level of play that you can perform better under pressure—and be a better person overall. Over time, you will achieve mastery of your craft, or sport, whatever it is, and feel more fulfilled than you ever dreamed possible.
Excuses are easy; accountability can be hard. The hockey player in question could have made the old excuse, “It wasn’t just me! Everyone else was slacking off too!” Not wanting to take the easy way out and avoid accountability for his part in the team’s losses, this exemplary player took immediate action and followed these four steps to boost his performance.
Personal Accountability

The first person this athlete needed to be accountable to was himself. He wrapped two bands of tape on his stick. The first band carried the words 100% Focus and Intensity, his motto for the next two weeks. He vowed to turn up the volume on his intensity in both practices and games from a level 8 to a level 10.
On the second band of tape he wrote the letter V. But V wasn’t for victory; it stood for visualization. He vowed to remember to visualize, with intensity and focus, the victory that he and his coaches were shooting for in the next upcoming game. Every time he picked up his hockey stick, he would see this letter V and be reminded to give a good three to five seconds of his rink time to execute this simple but important mental exercise. His goal was not just to visualize victory, but to also picture himself going through all the steps of preparation in a highly exceptional manner, including exercising and eating properly, helping his teammates, and contributing to a productive practice session before the game.
Peer Accountability

This athlete knew he had to be accountable to his peers. He called a team meeting and told his teammates that he intended to do a better job of maintaining focus and intensity during practices and games. Although they had been losing as a team, he chose not to criticize anyone but himself. Instead, he told them of his intentions. Whether you’re an athlete or businessman, let your coworkers know that you’re aware of your shortcomings and that you’re working to improve your productivity. It will inspire them to do the same.
Coach, Boss, Mentor Accountability

Everyone has someone they report to, whether it’s a sports coach, a board of directors, or a mentor. As you’re working on improving your productivity, make sure you discuss what you’re doing with those you report to. The athlete in question told his coaches he was sorry, that he had become aware of his weaknesses, and that there was no excuse for his slacking off. He promised that he would focus more, and that it wouldn’t happen again.
Public Accountability

Going public with your apologies and your desire to improve performance and productivity can bring you greater success and improve your reputation as well. At the workplace, this could mean writing a guest blog on the company website, sending a bulk email to your coworkers, or making a few phone calls to discuss your self-improvement process.
This hockey player told a newspaper man that his teammates deserved more intensity and focus from him. He was also quoted as saying that they could count on him to deliver. His inspired words appeared in the sports section of the local newspaper and had a positive reaction that rippled through the entire community.
You may not have the chance or need to grant interviews to the press, but it is important to notify everyone involved of your intention to be more accountable—whether it’s your department, your task team, or your closest coworkers. All of these steps count as a way of going public with your intention to be held accountable.
When it comes to meeting big goals and achieving unusually high levels of excellence, there is nothing like declaring one’s own accountability, to yourself and everyone involved. It’s the mark of true leadership.
Dr. Jason Selk is a mental toughness coach for individuals, businesses, and professional athletes and their coaches. He has two business bestsellers, both published by McGraw-Hill, 10-Minute Toughness and Executive Toughness. He’s a regular television and radio contributor to ABC, CBS, ESPN, and NBC, blogs at, and has appeared widely in print. Learn more at

Image credit: Baranq/Shutterstock


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