By Debbie Muir – GREAT TRAITS –
Recently, Mark and I were at an event, and at the end, one of the participants pointed to her head and told us her biggest surprise about our presentation to her was “what goes on up here”. She was talking about how powerful our thoughts are in determining how well we perform.
We call it the mind-body connection. It is easy to see in sport – who can’t think of a time when a highly ranked favorite completely psyched out and bombed? This connectivity between what we think – our psychology – and the actions we take – our physiology – is at the core of everything that we do in life.
The two are completely interconnected.
As we head into the Rio Olympics, we have been remembering back to the events that brought us to work together for the Barcelona Olympics. We’d spent a few weeks working on his starts, turns and underwater breath holding and it seemed to be going quite well. Mark is a very coachable person and he was improving in the work we were doing. But, I could tell something was missing. Somehow he wasn’t acting the way a future Olympic Champion should be acting. I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it was, but the things he would say didn’t resonate with me and with my experience working with Olympic and World champions.
He was quite negative and seemingly not very confident. I’d go home thinking, “Hmmm, how is this guy going to win the Olympics being like this.”
I didn’t quite know how to handle this situation at first. Then I thought, just ask him THE question and shock him out of it.
So one day as we were leaving the practice, I just said, “Why can’t you beat Jeff Rouse?” I expected him to say, “There’s no reason I can’t beat him”. That’s what my synchronized swimmers would have said. I thought it was going to be a great way to startle him out of being so negative and to start acting like a true champion. But no! I was dead wrong. In the space of 20 seconds he came up with an entire list of reasons for why he couldn’t beat Jeff:
- I’m weak off the start
- I’m weak off the turn
- He’s 6’4 and I’m 6’2
- His arms are longer
- I’ve never beaten him
- He’s American and I’m Canadian (the USA is an absolute powerhouse in swimming and Canadians rarely beat them)
As soon as this extensive list came out of his mouth we both were astonished. “So, that’s why!” I said. Now, I knew what to do.
All this negative thinking, hidden just below the surface of Mark’s consciousness, was hindering his ability to access his full potential. There was no question that Mark was improving technically and physically, but it wasn’t to the level it needed to be if he was going to win the Olympics.
He was not reaching his full potential because his thinking wouldn’t let him.
Once we uncovered all these thoughts, bringing them to the conscious level we could start to do something about them. Even just acknowledging that they were there took away a lot of the negative influence they were having.
Specifically, we wrote down every single one of those thoughts in a chart. One column for the thought, and the other for what we were going to do about it. For things we could do something about, such as, “I’m weak off the start,” we wrote a list of the things we would do to strengthen it. More importantly, for all those things that he had no control over we simply accepted that he couldn’t change it and crossed it off the list. So suddenly, the thought, “He’s 6’4 and I’m 6’2,” had no power over him.
Once Mark realized he was taking care of the areas he could control, he started to improve exponentially. And with all the improvements came a much stronger belief system that was telling him he could beat Jeff Rouse.
When he did this—the mind-body connection started to work for him, rather than against him, and this is one of the key reasons that Mark was able to win the Olympics.
As you are watching the Games, listen to the interviews of the winning athletes and hear how often they will credit their thinking and beliefs for their success. For those that aren’t successful, listen to what their interviews tell us as well. The mind-body connection, whether it culminates with positive or negative results, will be a factor in performance at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
by Debbie Muir