Muhammad Ali's victory over George Foreman was the result of strategy and tactics, belief and confidence.

No Fear!

“To see a world in a grain of sand…/And eternity in an hour” wrote William Blake in “Auguries of Innocence” and the recent passing of Hugh McIlvanney provides the perfect opportunity to follow a thread that leads to another time and some other event which resonates back to the present via The Sniper Mind.

I have written in the book about Muhammad Ali’s famous quote that “Impossible is an opinion” but it is in this insightful interview McIlvanney bagged just two hours after the post-fight brilliance of Ali’s defeat of George Foreman that we actually see the true flight of a mind in full grasp of its own abilities, aware of itself and focused on overcoming the challenges presented to it.

In answering the question of how he managed to beat a seemingly unbeatable opponent Ali, generously opened up and revealed some of his own thought processes:

“An experienced pilot flies a plane through a storm without gettin’ in a panic. If new things happen he is cool. I have been boxin’ twenty years and I’m a pretty good fighter. I can walk into the firin’ line with a man like Foreman and I got no fear. Nothin’ can happen that I don’t understand. I been to school.

“I was a pro nine years before he was. When he got knocked down it was new to him and he was lost. I’ve been down. I’ve been humiliated. Had my title taken away. Had my jaw broke.”

This is 100% mental territory covered in The Sniper Mind. Managing fear, training for the unexpected. Preparing for what seems insurmountable by being sure about yourself and your own identity. Formulating a strategy while being fully prepared to change it because the unknowns always remain unknowns until the moment they are faced. These are mental skills, cognitive competencies that themselves revolve around ten very specific modalities.

Ali’s personal account of it demonstrates several things:

  • Underlying principles do not change. The way you approach a difficult decision in the middle of a world-class boxing match is no different to how you’d approach it in the middle of a boardroom or a tough business negotiation.
  • Skillsets are transferable. Former heavyweight champion boxer Wladimir Klitschko makes the case with his transition from the ring to the world of business consulting.
  • The game is mental. Whatever the arena, whatever the rules of engagement and whatever tools you will have to use as a result it always comes down to the same thing: mental modelling, perception, one’s idea of reality and the way all this is synthesized so we can function properly.
  • Preparation is important. Strategy and tactics are the result of preparation. So is attitude and grit and a winning mindset.
  • Belief in oneself is key. Our sense of identity and our ability to face the things that scare us most become integral building blocks for success.