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James Coburn's Process is the Message
Joe Montana's Competitive Secret
Diana Ross's Performing Secret
James Coburn's Process is the message
People say that what we're all seeking is
a meaning for life. I don't think that's what
we're really seeking. I think that what we're
seeking is an experience of being alive, so
that our life experiences on the purely
physical plane will have resonances within
our innermost being and reality, so that
we actually feel the rapture of being alive.
Many years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting James Coburn at a New York party. He was in Manhattan rehearsing a six-hour miniseries for CBS. Seeing as he was starring in the miniseries, I thought it strange that he was spending such precious time at a party. We began talking about many things, one of which was music. I discovered that he had recently started playing the flute (an instrument that I have played since childhood). Toward the end of the evening, I mentioned to him that I had developed an unusual system for practicing and learning the flute and offered to share it with him. I was delighted when he accepted my offer.
- Joseph Campbell
Two days later, at ten in the morning, I found myself entering the lobby of the legendary Drake Hotel. The elevator operator took me up to the tenth floor and pointed out the room to me. When Mr. Coburn opened the door, he was wearing a beautiful bathrobe. He looked well rested and relaxed. I was intrigued by his calm and mellow demeanor. After giving me a warm hello, he walked to the phone, dialed some digits, and said, "This is Mr. Coburn. We're ready." Ready for what? I thought. A few minutes later, breakfast for two was wheeled into his room. Now this isn't your ordinary flute les
son, I thought. As we were eating our melons, I noticed his script for the miniseries sitting on a table. It was at least three inches thick and looked more like the Manhattan phone directory. God, that's a lot of lines to memorize, I thought. How does he have time to take a flute lesson? How come he's so relaxed? The way he's behaving, you'd swear he had just finished the movie. Isn't he supposed to be anxious and uptight right now?
After a leisurely breakfast, we proceeded to have an hour-and-a half lesson. The session went so well that he asked whether I could return two days later.
Upon my return to his room, the same scenario occurred. I appeared at ten o'clock, and a few minutes later, breakfast was wheeled in. The script looked as thick as ever, and “ James was just as relaxed. This time, however, I was comfortable enough to ask him some questions about his calm state. I wanted to know how he could be so at ease with so much riding on his performance. Also, I wanted to know why he took time for flute lessons when he could have been working on his part. His answers really turned my head around.
What I learned was that James Coburn approaches the entire craft of acting as a process. His goal is to have an enlivening and enriching experience throughout the entire performing schedule. What he discovered after years of trial and error was that if he enjoys the rehearsal process more, his performance is usually better. His creativity and spontaneity get stifled whenever he attempts to close himself off from the outside world. His challenge is always to design a nurturing and enjoyable day for himself rather than a tense and serious one. When he is successful, unexpected insights and experiences occur that ultimately help his performance.
From reading the script to working on his character, from memorizing the lines to rehearsing, from costume fitting to shooting and reshooting a scene, his mission is the same: to enjoy and value each and every step along the way. The first day of rehearsal was just as important to him as the last day of shooting. Each phase of the acting process was valued the same.
It was also interesting to hear that he doesn't consider a star-studded premiere to be an important part of his process. His true excitement and challenge actually ends once his last scene is shot. In fact, he would much prefer to be working on a new project than to be attending one of those gala events at a movie theater.
What turns him on more than viewing the movie is making the movie. He believes that if one's main motivation is to see oneself up on the big screen, then acting is never going to be a truly fulfilling experie Õnce. That's because the actor will be giving up many months of his or her life for just two hours of ego fulfillment at the premiere. He believes that's not a very healthy trade-off.
James also tries to control only those things that are within his power. In other words, the things he can't control - the editing, the final cut, the reviewers' taste or the public's opinion - he tries not to worry about. He focuses his attention on his performance and on the experience of making a movie.
The Process of Working
If you ever hope to reach your full potential, you must work at your chosen field for a long time. This is a reality that we all must live with. The person who can create an enjoyable journey (o ne that nurtures and inspires) will never be a victim of his or her own success. This prescription is also very valuable in any competitive endeavor (sports or business for instance). Your goal should be to enjoy the process of competition. Be as loose when it counts as when it doesn't. In addition don't use fear of failure as a motivator nor tension as your technique. If you do, you will experience exhaustion and achieve hollow victories.
Bruce Jenner, the gold medal decathlon winner, says it best when he talks about his pursuit of the Olympic Gold; "It's the process. The fun part is the journey." It's interesting to note that the word competition comes from the Latin word competere. Roughly translated, it means "to meet, to seek, to come together, to be influenced by." Nowher me in the Latin translation does it mention superiority, victory, annihilation, or humiliation.
In the sport of tennis, John McEnroe's greatest challenger was Bjorn Borg. Many of their matches took the world of tennis to new heights. When Bjorn retired prematurely, John described Borg's surprise departure as his most disappointing moment in tennis. Borg and McEnroe came together to play tennis the way two genius violinists play duets. Apparently, no one could inspire John to reach such brilliant levels as Borg. Is it any wonder then that McEnroe's passion for tennis and tournament success went downhill soon after Borg's retirement?
In this chapter, we will continue "the process" conversation. It's helpful to remember that whenever we make the stakes too high or the results too important, our performance usually suffers. Whenever you sense that you have become too consumed and obsessed by a specific outcome, stop and explore other channels for achieving your goals. This is where The 15 Second Principle can be helpful. By momentarily stopping and detaching from your pursuit, you stand a much better chance of shifting perspectives. This, in turn, can help you to discover a more effective and pleasurable mode of producing results. This intervening action might be as simple as taking a few deep breaths, listening to some soothing music, walking around the block, or taking a comedic action to break up a serious and stifling mood.
The lesson here is to value the process that allows something to be created. The more we can honor the skills of relaxation, energy, faith, and focus, the sooner we will realize that the process is the message. B When the pressure is on, can we still smell a rose, taste the full splendor of a piece of fruit, and feel the warmth of someone's hand? Once we understand the power of living in present time, we will begin to experience more satisfaction, synchronicity
and success regardless of the circumstances.
I used to work on parts 20 hours a day, my mind
was always working .... I kind of beat myself up,
that if I wasn't digesting this stuff 24 hours
a day and if I didn't measure up to my own
standards, it meant I hadn't worked hard enough....
A lot of it was working ¤from insecurity and fear.
But then I came to realize that ... you don't have
to drive yourself mad.*
* Gary Oldman, Los Angeles Times, Saturday January 28th,
1995 p. F4
- Gary Oldman, actor
Many of us think of creativity in relation to an
end product: a painting, a book, a sculpture. We
respect the work of art but give little credit to
the process that allows it to be created.
Creative endeavors - whether you're remodeling
a home or planning a meal - involve both an active
and a passive process. Ideas flow through us, and
we take action to create the work. Yet, allowing
ourselves to rest in between these actions is
equally important. During the times when we are
not working, we can recharge our creative batteries....
There is a rhythm to our creative process, and when
we are in tune with it, we can observe the
beauty around us and renew ourselves.
Author, Seminar Leader, Producer
*Lerner-Robbins, Helene Creativity, A Hazelden Book
Harper Collins Publisher N.Y. l993 pp. l6-l7
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Before becoming a successful motion picture actor, Billy Drago worked for Elvis
Presley during one of his tours. Billy told me about a fascinating process that
Elvis would go through just before performing. Hours before the concert, some
members of Elvis' staff would arrive at the performing venue. They would then
meticulously measure a distance that was exactly l,000 yards away from the
arena, theater, or hall. Finally, a large trailer would be hauled to this
A few hours before show time, Elvis would arrive and enter this dressing
room trailer. From Billy's viewpoint, Elvis rarely appeared ready or able to
work. In fact, it appeared that he needed an energy and charisma transplant.
According to Billy, even after Elvis showered and changed into his costume, he
still was in a low energy state.
Elvis would remain in this nonenergized state even after he left his
trailer and started on his l,000-yard walk toward the ve nue. Soon after the
walk began, however, something incredible always happened. With each step,
Elvis would slowly but surely regain his energy, vitality, and focus.
By the time he reached the venue, Elvis would be radiating an enormous
amount of energy and charisma. In fact, according to Billy, Elvis' energy
field became so radiant and powerful that the audience would miraculously sense
his presence before he ever entered the venue. They'd react by going into a
clapping and screaming frenzy. This would continue until Elvis entered the
venue and finally appeared on stage. The rest is history.
It's important to note that whenever Elvis would begin his walk, he was
not trying to cover up his low energy state. Instead, he was being authentic
with his fatigue. He did not pretend that he was ready to perform. Rather, he
accepted and began from wherever he was at -- a low energy state. Elvis was
congruent with his emotions every step of the way.
Another helpful point is that Elvis became electrified before he took the
stage. He didn't wait for the audience to energize him. Rather, he took
responsibility for energizing himself. Apparently, this process was so
successful that the audience felt his presence even before he entered center
stage. He accomplished this by walking his way into a potent, positive, and
It would be extremely helpful for you to develop your own preparatory
process. Before you give a sales presentation or speech, before you compete or
audition, before you perform or go on an important date, invent your own
personal warm-up approach. When getting creative remember that if you are in a
negative mood or are exhausted, your goal is first to embrace the current state
and to be authentic with your feelings. Next, you want to convert that state
into a positive emotional and physical state. Elvis did it with his walk. How
will you do it? Some healthy options are jogging, relaxation exercises,
swimming, breathing exercises, meditations, a short nap, making or listening to
music, and finishing your shower with cold water. What you are seeking is a
physical and emotional opening; a positive shift in energy, attitude,
relaxation, and emotions.
Use The 15 Second Principle to stop and take stock of your physical and
emotional states. Honor where you currently are rather than where you wish you
were. The goal is to design a technique that helps you transform a down,
low-energy state into an up, high-energy state. This approach will allow you to
become more vibrant yet calm, powerful yet relaxed. By changing your behavior,
you can improve your state which, in turn, will enhance the quality of your
performance. As Elvis did, by treating the preparatory process with as much
respect as the actual performance, you will add another dimension to your
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Joe Montana's Competitive Secret
Joe Montana is one of the greatest professional football players ever to play in the National Football League. He played for the San Francisco 49ers and is considered by many experts to be the best quarterback in the history of football. The following is a story told to me by Bo Eason. Bo was a member of the 49ers and played the free safety position. He is currently a professional actor living in Los Angeles.
Super Bowl XXIII was played in Miami in 1989. The San Francisco 49ers were playing the Cincinnati Bengals. Very late in the fourth quarter Cincinnati broke a tie by scoring a field goal. The score was now 16-13. Cincinnati kicked off, and San Francisco took possession of the ball on their own eight-yard line. To achieve victory, San Francisco would have to travel 92 yards and score a touchdown in three minutes and ten seconds.
Before play began, a television commercial time-out was called. To take advantage of this extra time-out, the 49ers went into their own end zone for a huddle. The energy in the huddle was quite charged, nervous, and frenetic. Everyone was trying to inspire everyone else. Suddenly, the players realized that Joe Montana, their team captain and brilliant quarterback, was missing. They all looked up and discovered that Joe was about ten feet away. He was looking directly into the stands and appeared to be quite focused and fascinated.
The guys yelled for Joe to get back into the huddle. After all, they had to get ready for the next play. Joe, however, had something quite different on his mind. Hey, guys. Hey guys, he yelled. Youve got to come over here right now and take a look at this. Because he was their inspirational leader and seemed very determined to share his discovery, his teammates rushed to Joes side. Once they joined him, Joe began pointing into a specific section of the stands. Look, guys, over there. Look whos sitting right over there. Look. I cant believe it! Its John Candy. Can you believe it? John Candy is watching us play ball.
His teammates looked at Joe, their superstar quarterback, in disbelief. While the world was watching Joe Montana, Joe was fascinated by the fact that the actor John Candy was watching them play football. Had their brilliant leader lost his mind? Didnt he know they only had three minutes left to win the Super Bowl.
History goes on to report that after the television time-out, Joe, with the help of Jerry Rice and Roger Craig, took his team downfield and with almost no time left, threw a successful touchdown pass to John Taylor in the end zone. San Francisco won the Super Bowl (20-16).
After the game, his teammates realized that their response to the remaining three minutes had been much different from Joevs. While they were rushing and frenetically trying to beat the clock, Joe was feeling and reacting as though he had all the time in the world. Montanas perception of the situation seemed to be different from his teammates. According to Bo Eason, Joe Montana never played like he was in a stressful and serious emergency. Regardless of whether it was a practice, preseason game, or Super Bowl, Joe treated every situation the same. He responded to each scenario with confidence, looseness, patience, and playfulness. He played the same way regardless of whether he was ahead by three touchdowns or behind by three touchdowns. :If anything, Joe appeared to become even more relaxed and alive whenever he was losing or placed in tight situations.
Joe is someone who exemplifies the pleasure priority performing mode. To achieve success, he drew upon relaxation and precise actions. He let pleasure and trust fuel his competitive approach to excellence. Even though he cared a great deal about winning, worry, fear, and tension were not the competitive tools he relied upon. Instead, he always had the courage to let relaxation and trust be the driving forces that directed his amazing career.
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Diana Ross's Performing Secret
There are some things which can not be
learned easily (quickly) -- they are the very
simplest things, and because it takes a man's
life to know them, the little each man gets is
very costly and the only heritage he has to
leave. - Ernest Hemingway
Several years ago, I was fortunate enough to see Diana Ross perform at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. There I was in a front row seat at Circus Maximus watching one of the greatest entertainers of our time. What I experienced was a passionate and perfect performance. It was also inspiring to feel the love that was constantly being exchanged between Diana Ross and her fans.
Afterward, I was able to go backstage and talk to Diana about her wonderful and flawless show. She was quick to point out that her show was not perfect. In fact, there was a moment in one of her songs when she realized that her focus and concentration were off. That was very surprising to hear because her off time was not apparent to me. She said that I probably didn't notice it because she got herself back on track very quickly. Fascinated, I asked her just how she accomplished this feat.
Diana graciously revealed that when she was off, she regained her focus by asking herself a simple question: What is the real purpose for my being on stage? Her instant response was to give and receive love. She immediately realized that the reason she was off was that she had become distracted and had left this giving and receiving mode. Once she realized this, she took specific actions to bring herself back to a more loving state. She selected one receptive person at a nearby table and started singing and sending loving directly to that person. Once she connected with this person, she
expanded her focus by including the entire table. Within a few seconds, she had the entire room back in her command.*
Diana Ross's statement helped me to look at mastery and performing excellence in a totally different light. Before our conversation, I always assumed that becoming a consummate performer meant that eventually you would achieve perfection. That is, the better you got at performing, the fewer mistakes you would make until you were able to achieve flawless performances. After oyur conversation, I realized that an ultimate performance is more about passion and correction, rather than perfection. The ultimate performer doesn't fear or obsess about being off because she knows how to take specific actions that will enable her to recover.
Morihei Uyeshiba, the founder of aikido, also views excellence in a similar fashion. When asked whether he ever loses his center and
*Pick a person who is already enjoying your performance.
Choose someone who is showing warmth and acceptance. You
need an immediate and receptive safe harbor to sail to. Don't
look to convert someone who is not having fun. tHe or she might
have had a death in the family, not speak your language, or be
the world's worst grouch.
balance, he replied, "Yes, all the time, but I regain it so fast that you do not see me lose it."
A professional tightrope walker is someone who also understands the importance of corrections. He success is always determined by how well she can keep herself balanced as she walks a fine line. By continually making adjustments with her feet, arms, and head, she is able to work in harmony with the laws of gravity. She arrives at her destination because she has become a master of correction, not perfection.
It's fascinating to hear Greg Luganis talk about competitive diving. Greg, an Olympic Gold Medal Champion, is perhaps the greatest diver in the history of the sport. In an interview with George Leonard, he revealed that 90% of the time, he was not able to leap off the diving board in a perfect manner. So, for Greg to have created those gold medal dives, he was constantly in a state of mid-air correction.
Another name for correction and recovery is The 15 Second Principle. In order to have more mini-breakthroughs in your personal and professional life, you must learn how to convert interruptions and detours into mini-breakthroughs. Whenever you feel you are in a tailspin situation, do the following:
1. Don't take the problem personally. Develop a third eye that enables you to detach yourself from the immediacy of the situation. This will enable you to think, act, and feel from a fresher and more objective place. If you were an emergency room doctor who was trying to save the life of a young boy, although his parents might be weeping and screaming in the reception room, to do your best work, you wouldn't want to buy into their panic and pain. To take the most appropriate actions, you would have to remain calm, trusting, and focused. At some point, you would have to become larger than the situation; otherwise, you would become a victim of it.
2. Your goal is to take quick mini-actions that will guide you back into an experiential performing mode. More often than not, what caused you to go off course in the first place is your veering into a result, approval, or control mode. It is difficult to live and perform in present time when you are totally obsessed with reaching a goal, receiving accolades, and controlling everyone and everything around you.
In addition, regardless of how well we understand our craft, some days are still going to be better than others.N It is said that after an incredible Shakespearian performance, Sir Laurence Olivier came backstage in a fury. "What's the matter?" a fellow thespian supposedly asked. "You just received all of those curtain calls. Everyone agrees you were brilliant tonight."
"Thank you, I appreciate the compliment," Olivier supposedly replied, "but why tonight and not every night?"
Our goal then must be to strive for new heights while developing corrective skills when we are veering off course. That's all we can really ask for. The more refined our adjustment actions, the smoother the recovery, and the better our results. In this chapter, we will be discussing more specific ways in which to produce a safe and nurturing environment. This, in turn, will help us to tap into more of our potential as we create more satisfaction and success.
Whenever the level of your performance deteriorates, welcome it as an opportunity to become an inquisitive investigator. What just happened? Why are you suddenly off? Even more importantly, what action(s) can you execute or what adjustment(s) can you make to get yourself back on track? Recovery, then, is one of the most important elements of the ultimate performance game. This is another reason why The 15 Second Principle is so valuable. It helps us to make quick modifications in our behavior which, in turn, produce more balance, pleasure, and precise results.
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