The Unforced Error

In some sports, they track a statistic known as an “unforced error.”

I’ve always found this concept intriguing.

When a competitor does something exceptional and beats you, that’s a “forced” error.

It’s when your opponent hits a nearly impossible cross-court groundstroke to win the set.

It’s when you throw the batter your absolute best pitch and they hit a home run off it.

Sometimes, your opponent just flat out beats you.

It’s the other times that I find fascinating.

It’s the times when your opponent does absolutely nothing remarkable at all and you still lose.

These are the times when you're responsible for your loss.

These are known as unforced errors.

It’s the time in an American football game when you have two minutes left in the game. The score is tied. You have an opportunity to make a play for the win.

Instead of winning the game in the last minute, you get penalized for having too many players on the field and lose as a result.

That’s an unforced error.

In business, it’s showing up to the biggest presentation of your life... without your slide deck.

In dating, it’s forgetting to show up for the biggest date of your life because you got the time wrong... and the name of your date.

In the world of search and rescue, it’s setting out to locate your subject and getting lost yourself because you forgot to bring your map, compass, and GPS.

Life is hard enough as it is.

No matter how hard you try, you’re going to lose, face challenging times, and fail.

The part that you can control is the part where you avoid the unforced error.

These are the mistakes you make not because your opponent or the situation beat you.

These are the mistakes where you learned the lesson long ago but you simply forgot to apply it.

Avoiding the unforced error isn’t about possessing exceptional talent. It’s much more about discipline.

It’s the discipline to have a checklist (like a packing list) for what you’re supposed to do in a situation.

It’s the discipline to show up at practice and put in the time to develop autopilot competence.

It’s the discipline to recognize when you’ve taken on more than you can handle, to say “no,” and to focus intently on your most important priorities.

Unlike raw talent, discipline isn’t about getting lucky in the DNA lottery.

Instead, discipline is merely a practice.

It’s available to everyone merely by their choice to focus on it.

When you decide to focus on it is up to you.


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