A Daily Dispatch from the Front Lines of Leadership.


Forgetting Is an Essential Skill

The best performers and athletes work hard to overcome setbacks in an exceedingly simple way —they forget about them. Forgetting is an essential skill that anyone can master. The key to forgetting is to force yourself to charge forward without delay. Any hesitation allows the mind to remember. Recalling the misstep is what top performers don’t do.

When a dancer makes a misstep, when a presenter stumbles on an expression, when a skater falls during a jump, when a leader cites an incorrect statistic, there’s nothing they can do in the moment to make the error disappear. The sickening feeling of failing with an audience watching can undermine what happens next in the performance and linger even after the event is concluded. The only real choice is to move on and recapture the confidence to execute for the remainder of the performance.

By intentionally forgetting, we don’t allow our minds to fixate on the negative. This eliminates the interference the error causes in our ability to perform. It’s exceedingly hard to execute anything, much less a precise performance, with thoughts of prior failure in our head. What matters most is not what occurred, but what you chose to remember.

After the performance, it is equally important to forget. Selective memory is the ability to forget the negative, even to the point of misremembering it. Maintaining a confident self image is largely about accentuating your positive memories and forgetting about everything else. As Garrison Keillor once said, “Sometimes you have to look in the eye of reality and deny it.” The mind can’t distinguish between what actually happened and what you chose to recall. Your imagination exerts a powerful force on what you do, so remember the best and forget the rest. The more you practice forgetting any mistake, large or small, the easier forgetting will become.

Sometimes, we perform best by forgetting. When we forget, we focus. Performance is short. Forgetting is long. Play the long game to perform at your best.

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