I have heard this approach as an athlete in a couple of different contexts, much of it being the same thing worded differently. Allow me to expand on this, as you may need to hear this now or save it for later. The Rule of Thirds works like this:
One third of the time you will feel good about your training, your preparation, or your performance
One third of the time you will feel neither good or bad about your training, preparation, or performance
One third of the time you will feel bad about your training, preparation, or performance
When you read the three lines above, you’ll find that two out three times you will feel either good or neutral about your output. And yet, it is so easy to focus on the other third and feel like nothing is going your way, that you’re not making progress quickly enough, etc. I know, I have been there. Nothing worthwhile comes easy, but the daily routine of incremental improvement can be difficult to see any gains in. They are there, but they are small enough that you have difficulty seeing them.
If you are functioning in this pattern, things ARE going in your favor, it is just hard to see in the short term. Some of the best tournaments I ever played I felt under-prepared or off my game right up until I started to play my first match. My training suffered for one reason or another, my preparations didn’t follow my usual patterns and I felt uncomfortable about how ready I was. Maybe it was the fact that I had those concerns that I performed better. Maybe I was more focused because I felt just a tad off kilter. In some ways that lack of certainty may have served me well and worked to my advantage. Even though as an athlete you work to have certain skills at your command, it is not always the case that you will execute every forehand you swing at. Statistically this is very evident; when you look at the stats of a baseball game, a boxing match or tennis match, it is clear that the best in the world are not perfect.
So this begs the question, what does “ready” mean? If you are reasonably fit, have at least your usual level of command of certain skills, and you have the hunger to win, you may be as ready as you are gonna get. This is building the base, creating a minimum level of performance that you can ALWAYS count on, no matter what. As I said above, some of my best performances came on the heels of a rough couple of weeks of practice sessions, or after nursing an injury back to health and missing a bunch of the usual preparation steps. Once you reach a certain level of performance on a fairly consistent basis, those skills are there. I am not talking about a once a year, out of your mind, everything you touch turns to gold kind of moment, but rather a consistent level of play that you recognize as a higher level of performance than previous outings months or a year ago. Here is a great quote by the great tennis player and coach Brad Gilbert:
“Five days a year it seems you can beat anyone on the planet, and five days
a year you it seems you couldn’t beat your grandmother.
The rest is spent somewhere in between.”
This is why building a game plan that works in all of those “in-between” days is so critical, because this is where you spend 98% of the year. You cannot build a game plan on those few fleeting moments of brilliance that you are capable of ONCE IN A GREAT WHILE . I have coached a lot of people who think this way and yet wonder why they are unsuccessful far less often then they would expect.
When you apply Brad Gilbert’s logic into the concept of The Rule of Thirds, you can really start to see how to build a game plan for success. If you can trust the process of what you are doing, focus on the fact that two-thirds of the time the work you’re doing is going well or you feel neither good nor bad about it, and then have a performance plan that does not require a moment in the zone to work, you have a recipe for success. This is workable, repeatable and will likely yield the (realistic) results you desire.
I apply this same process to both my own sales approach and my client coaching. Once I figured out the best approach to take when it comes to sharing the information I need to, I have stuck with that approach and expanded upon it. I am not reinventing the wheel each time out, and I am certainly not putting myself in a position where I need to get a lucky break to obtain the outcome I am hoping for. Everything I do is a calculated approach and the process can be repeated once it proves out to be a valid path to the goal. When coaching clients, I make sure that they understand what it means to set themselves up for success, and this approach of The Rule of Thirds plays into that heavily. You will not always win and you will not always perform at your absolute maximum best. But when you put the pieces in place for success, focus on the two-thirds of the time that things feel a “right”, and then have faith in your abilities when game time comes, you have found a recipe for success.
As you undertake new opportunities or skills keep The Rule of Thirds in mind. You will struggle more in the beginning, as this is to be expected when you have little to no knowledge of something. One of the ways to tell you are gaining proficiency is when you settle into the Rule of Thirds. Trust your ability, trust the plan and path you are following. Understand that ups and downs are part of the process –> every process –> and this has to be accepted. Once you really gain a level of understanding of what you are doing and the skills needed to get there, you’ll possess a minimum level of performance that will allow you to have the wins you want for more often than not. Nothing is a guarantee to victory or success, but if you master the Rule of Thirds approach and then factor in what Brad Gilbert’s quote means, you’ll be far better off than most.