As a freshman at Duke, my wife's second cousin Ansley was a great tennis player. She finished that year as the NCAA's second-ranked player and was a first team all-American. She also carried a GPA of 3.8. After that year, she decided to leave school and join the women's tour. During the ensuing couple of years, she managed to get her ranking as high as 73 and even played Venus Williams twice in the first round of the U.S. Open.

In college, Ansley looked like a world-beater. Actually, she WAS a world-beater. She decimated most of her opponents. Watching these girls before a match with Ansley, one could see by the awe on their faces that they were already beaten. As a pro, however, Ansley was unable to crack into the top of the tennis world and decided, after a few years, to return to school and then to pursue a career in finance.

In a discussion with Ansley, she shared that the difference in physical ability among the top 100 pro players was insignificant. The major difference – the thing that set apart players who were consistently ranked in the top ten – was their ability to remain "in the moment." They could instantly shut out the last point, good or bad, and focus on the next. No past … no future … right there … 100%. They were the very definition of tough-minded in action.

In his newly released book Toughness, attorney, NCAA basketball analyst and former Duke basketball player and coach Jay Bilas describes Grant Hill's invoking the phrase "next play" to admonish his teammates to stay "in the moment."

"I say 'next play' all the time," says Hill. 'And I mean all the time. My teammates hear that from me constantly. It is such a little thing; two words. But it is such a big thing.' Hill uses 'next play' to refocus himself and his teammates, and to move on and stay in the moment."

As a collegiate quarterback, Russell Wilson was undersized. At North Carolina State, however, he amassed very gaudy numbers. He later transferred to Wisconsin and established an NCAA record for quarterback rating in a season. That same year after practicing with him for only one month, his teammates elected him team Captain. After being drafted in the third round by the Seattle Seahawks, Wilson displaced highly touted, multi-million dollar free agent acquisition Matt Flynn as the Seahawks starting quarterback. He went on to tie an NFL rookie record with 26 touchdown passes and take the Seahawks to the playoffs.

Thirteen years ago, after being the "it" guy among young pitchers in the major leagues, Roy Halladay's career hit the skids. He was relegated to the minor leagues to regain his mojo. While there, his wife bought him a copy of H. A. Dorfman's book (sounds like a geeky cartoon character!), The Mental ABC's of Pitching. He then began working with Dorfman, who was/is a renowned sports psychologist, and everything changed.

From Sports Illustrated: "And that's when I saw the biggest difference," Halladay said. "The first part was trying to rebuild confidence, having a positive mentality. The second part was to simplify things. Sometimes you get caught up in the big picture – the seven innings, the three runs or less, who you're facing – and you get away from what makes you successful, which is executing pitches.

"Knowing when I go into the game that I prepared the best I possibly could was a way to help build confidence. I didn't always need success on the field to feel like I was going to be good. I felt like I could create that on my own the way I prepared."

Says Brandy (Halladay's wife): "Dorfman really taught Ray to focus on one thing at a time. When he gave up a hit, he learned to think about the next hitter. He helped him deal with those mental stumbling blocks every person has to deal with. The book and Dorfman helped his pitching career, our marriage, the way we looked at life in general … it absolutely saved his career."

Many business people (maybe you?!) are so busy thinking about the next promotion, preparing the presentation to the CEO in three weeks, or checking their smart phones for the 100th time in a day that they forget to "be present." They forget that the only thing they can control is what they're doing in any given moment. They forget that by focusing on being the best they can be RIGHT NOW, IN THIS INSTANT, DOING WHAT THEY'RE DOING TODAY, all of the other stuff – the money, the broader responsibilities, the career trajectory, the ultimate success – will all take care of themselves.

Many business leaders with whom I work underestimate or dismiss the power of their minds to control (or at least significantly influence) their outcomes. They operate while being completely distracted by yesterday and tomorrow. They do a pretty good job of learning from the past and planning for the future, but on the "living in the moment" part, they blow it.

I've always been a "jock," and my entire business is geared to helping leaders develop mental toughness and discipline; therefore, Halladay's story, as well as Ansley's, Grant Hill's and Russell Wilson's, intrigue and enthuse me. They also ought to instruct you.

One of my primary interests is the power of the human mind to propel or torpedo success. I have two bookshelves in my office full of books on the subject, many of them by renowned, accredited scientists. Through my learning, I've found that the selective application of certain principles has helped me in my own life, especially in the last few years.

After doing some research, including talking to a number of professional athletes, special forces officers and neuroscientists, I decided that Dorfman's approach to counseling athletes might help me in my work with executives. I ordered and read copies of two of his books: Coaching the Mental Game and The Mental Game of Baseball: A Guide to Peak Performance. I've found both books totally relevant and broadly useful. Following are some tidbits that can contribute to your effectiveness and maybe incite your interest sufficiently to read Dorfman's books:

Dorfman cites a study by Albert Ellis in which he documents 10 irrational beliefs that he found to be common in our society. While Dorfman mentions them in a baseball context, they have just as much significance in other areas of life, including business management and leadership:

* You must have approval all the time from the people you find significant.

* You must be thoroughly competent, "producing" every time.

* Things must go the way you'd like them to, and it's terrible if they don't.

* Others, particularly "superiors" in rank, must treat your "fairly" and "justly," and it's terrible if they don't.

* When threatening and/or "clutch" situations present themselves, you must become preoccupied with them and the consequences (as YOU perceive them).

* It's terrible when you don't immediately find solutions to your problems, on and/or off the field.

* Your emotional misery comes from external pressures, and unless these pressures change, you can do nothing to make yourself "better" (i.e., more effective as a player and/or person).

* It's easier to avoid responsibility (be passive or quit) than to take charge of your life and/or a situation.

* You are helpless to cope with the overriding influences of the past.

* You can gain happiness and/or effectiveness by inertia or by "having fun" in a non-committed and undisciplined way – waiting/hoping for the right things to happen to you.

Do any of these points (maybe ALL of them) ring true for you?

Dorman adds several others of his own to Ellis's list: emotional swings; negative thinking; pressure and anxiety; slumps; pain; anger. In my experience, while the issues on Dorfman's list are derivative of those on Ellis's list, they're every bit as relevant.

How does Dorfman help players overcome these problems? It's called "discipline" for a reason. He helps players regularly employ practices that better enable them to stay "in the moment" and be productive. He says, "the athlete knows what direction he wants to take and how to take it. Now he disciplines himself to take it. He controls his mind; he disciplines it."

Dorfman calls his approach the "cycle of control," and it contains four steps. Here they are along with Dorfman's complete descriptions. Assess whether these steps, employed consistently, would make you even more effective than you already are. For the sake of example, imagine yourself preparing to give a presentation to your company's Board of Directors.

The Cycle of Control

* Control through awareness: The control of the ability to recognize what you are thinking, feeling and doing, and what is happening to you. This control gives you the understanding of where your attention is directed and, if it's not where you want it to be, the reason it isn't. You are then able to follow the cues you know that can help you concentrate on the task.

* Control through thoughts: This control is exerted after concentration has broken down or has been "given a break." These thoughts should be rational and relevant to the task of the moment. They redirect focus.

* Control through self-coaching (self-talk): If the quality of your thoughts has deteriorated, you control the words you speak to yourself internally or externally. These words are directives to get you back to a general positive attitude and to concentrate on positive function.

* Control through behavior: This control is of physical behavior, guided by rational, rather than emotional, directive; the "final instructions" provided by self-talk. Examples: "See the ball." "Be easy." "Find the open man." "Stay low." Regardless of how you feel, you act out of what you know, what you've been reminded of. After that action, you assess your behavior, and the language that directed it. You come full cycle and anticipate greater success in the next cycle.

More from Dorfman:

"Of course there will be many external and internal challenges. The extent of the discipline applied will determine the success you have in executing your task effectively. Mental discipline requires great effort. It's worth having; worth that effort. An unyielding persistence is a part of that discipline. It will ultimately allow you to focus on your task in the toughest of times."

I call it mental toughness; Dorfman calls it mental discipline. Whichever, it is an absolute prerequisite for success in any field of endeavor, including yours. A solid commitment to developing and sustaining these practices, or ones like them, will propel your effectiveness.

Copyright 2013 Rand Golletz. All rights reserved.

Author's Bio: 

Rand Golletz is the managing partner of Rand Golletz Performance Systems, a leadership development, executive coaching and consulting firm that works with senior corporate leaders and business owners on a wide range of issues, including interpersonal effectiveness, brand-building, sales management, strategy creation and implementation. For more information and to sign up for Rand's free newsletter, The Real Deal, visit