As a high performance athlete, I know I wasn’t the most talented athlete out there. I learned that young, when, in 1990, I moved away from Nova Scotia and entered the big fish waters of the long distance elite of the West Coast. However, I was highly competitive and liked to succeed, and I persisted through all sorts of obstacles and setbacks. I loved to train and I mostly kept my eye on my dreams. (There were some detours, and the best thing about detours is that when I figured out I was on the wrong path, the amazing gains were made when I worked really hard to get back on the right one). I had a strong work ethic and I was rarely bored by the routine of training, I loved the game of racing, and was able to embrace the emotional and physical discomfort that comes with a career in sports. I don’t have a framed Olympic medal on my wall – what I do have is a bank of skills and tools that I keep using daily. As 2017 winds down, here are my reflections on the…
Seven Practices of Doing Your Passion Which Have Nothing to do with Talent
1. Set your Own Goals Ask yourself truth questions and make sure you own the answers. If you take ownership of your goals, your priorities will align along the way. Ask yourself questions like: What do I want to achieve? What competitions or events excite me? How long should my racing season be? What distances do I like and what would I like to try? Where can I improve and when can I work on this?
Goals can be outcome and extrinsic or very intrinsic and personal. Some people want to win their age group or qualify for Boston; some people want to just find peace and happiness in being active and athletic. Just want to do it because it feels good to move and that’s awesome!
When goals are yours, you have ownership over them and feel empowered to reach them, and when you succeed there is personal satisfaction and nothing to prove to anyone. This is very important for children. Children, while often needing encouragement and reminders, also need to do sport for themselves, not to please parents or coaches.
I was very lucky to have parents who facilitated my sports, and who registered me in and drove me to the track and basketball games, and who cheered me on, but they never put much stock on whether I won or not. By the time I was a teenager I knew what I wanted and was determined to be a full time athlete. It was my dream and I was driven constantly towards that.
‘Energy flows where attention goes’. When your mind is focussed in a positive way on your goal, your plans come together and cool things happen along the way.
2. Decide to be Happy
By happy, I mean content with what is, and not pulled into thinking that things have to be awesome and going well 100% of the time. Happy with your achievements big and small, not only when you are crushing Strava. Okay when you are injured and ok when you are setting personal records on your neighbourhood 5k loop. Wish success for yourself and your competitors. Practice acceptance for what is today, knowing every day is a day to practice and your body’s ability to move is a gift, you’re not a robot, and today’s performance does not mean sacrificing your dreams for what you can do tomorrow.
Learn to accept: workout sessions have all kinds of hidden value for you that you may not realize for a long time (like me!); they are just days and they aren’t good or bad.
3. Develop Positive Habits
Have the courage to know when your habits are creating the same mistakes over and over, and cultivate the courage to change these. Good habits work for you, and easily become the norm for your workouts.
Good habits include positive self-talk.
Taking care of basic details without anxiety: race prep logistics and being organized.
Learn to avoid self-sabotage. Habitually arriving late to practice so you don’t get to warm up well, creates a domino effect leading to less optimal sessions.
Find and embrace opportunities to succeed.
Stick to your Commitments. Don’t get side tracked.
Meditate on your intentions and what is important for you. Know what you want and avoid stepping off the path.
Review and meditate on your sense of purpose so that you can weather the ups and downs of training.
Do not allow a change of heart when having a tough day or after a tough race. Allow time to emotionally recover from disappointing big races like marathons and half marathons especially. Or any major achievement.
4. Reflect honestly
Review your path, learn from your mistakes and have the courage to makes changes when your habits produce the same disappointing results.
Have the grace to accept when your priorities change and your goals are no longer valid for you. Sometimes we fear letting go of something that has defined us, even when we know we are not comfortable with that definition. Keep the open door in mind. You never have to lock doors behind you, but a closed door means a new one opens.
There is no perfection or failure to perfect, only what’s perfectible.
There is always a silver lining in sport. Always. You just need to be patient and open to finding it.
5. Keep it in Perspective: Happiness and Success are not related to how strong you are, how fast a runner you are or whether you won the race.
Keep perspective and know that inside you are always ok, the same person no matter what the outcome, and you have a right to be happy.
Our society likes to draw a correlation between success, extrinsic reward and happiness but this is the cheap and easy social media world. Working on your own time, with your own priorities and being ‘good enough’ is the long term vision.
The path is the joyful journey, the friendships you make, the experiences you have and the lessons learned. There is no App for hard work, and I still feel that this is the greatest value that sport still has in our culture.
6. Take care of yourself and surround yourself with a healthy community of friends.
Eat well, sleep well, and take care of your body and health. It’s quite simple.
Surround yourself with likeminded positive people who lift you up. Put yourself in environments that support your dreams and passions. Develop resilience for tough situations and challenging people. As an athlete, I was often in situations or around people who could have thrown me off balance. The starting line of the National Cross Country or the World Championships were the most stressful spots for me. I used to imagine a clear bubble around myself – I would keep my positive confident energy in this bubble. When training with distractions, I would keep the focus on my work, on what I could control, not on what others were doing.
7. Find a Greater Purpose Give back when you can. Share the joy of your process and your achievement and celebrate others’ successes. Let your light out, and create opportunities to give back, and accept opportunities to give back when they come. Know that by choosing physical and emotional health, you are radiating positive vibes to the Universe, being a role model for the youth of the world, and enabling your best life.
There is only one YOU. Learn to Set Your Own Intentions and Goals without Sacrificing Who You Are
Run For Joy
Writing about the art of moving well and the lived experience of a life in sport.