Sometimes the best conversations come in the most unlikely places.
I was recently at my fitness center, which is a world class center with an Olympic pool, etc. A lot of the top athletes from the area train there - Pro-Athletes, Top College Athletes, other Ironman competitors that I train with, and even a few Olympic hopefuls.
After finishing a training session the other day, I was happy to find myself with time to spend 10-15 minutes in the sauna (a great benefit to your body after a training session). One of the Olympic hopefuls for swimming, who I've spoken with from time to time, happened to be in there and we got to chatting.
I asked him how things were looking as he is getting into race season and readying for the Olympic trials in early summer. He explained how physically he was in a good place and was starting to focus more on studying the times when he races his best to get more of an edge. I asked him to tell me more and he detailed how the best races he has are when he feels calmest before the race - almost at peace. I listened and asked, "Isn't that how you feel for most races at this point?" Ironically, he said "No." He went on to talk about how he has always had an issue where gets anxiety before races and at times it has derailed him from performing at his best.
Now, I swim a lot in training for Ironman racing and I've seen this guy workout in the pool - he's the prototype, Michael Phelps like swimmer with perfect technique, everything. Physically, he's as good as anyone trying out for or going to the Olympics. Right away, I could tell that this challenge of anxiety weighs on him and something he knows he needs to overcome to be his best...so I dug in a little and asked him to tell me more.
After several rounds of questions, we finally got to the cause. When he was in his early teens and an up and coming swimming phenom in the area, he wrote down some pretty lofty goals of what he wanted to do and the times that he wanted to reach as a swimmer - even at a young age. When he showed them to others that he respected and were close to him, instead of building him up and giving him encouragement, they shot him down. They told him that those goals were too big and that he should be more realistic. And, of course, after getting that feedback, when he didn't reach the goals he had put down that year, he developed a set of beliefs around what was possible for him that got cemented into his subconscious.
So, ever since, when he gets to the moment of the major race, the one in which he knows he can have a breakout performance, he feels the anxiety. I told him that I expect it is his subconscious drawing on that conditioning from years ago from that specific incident that still haunts him. His subconscious is giving him anxiety because if he really goes for it and fails like he did when he was in his early teens it will be another, "I told you so" moment for him. Another failure for those he respected to see and cement that he can't reach his lofty goals. Essentially, his subconscious is sabotaging his ability to break out - even though he is basically an Olympic-level swimmer!
When I said this, he paused and then asked me the magic question, "Then, how do I overcome this?"
I'll cover that in Part 2, but the BIG lesson you should learn to this point is that your subconscious, your mind, most often is the biggest obstacle to your success. And many times, it sabotages us without us even realizing it. This Olympic hopeful had this specific incident rattling around in his mind haunting him for over a decade and has still yet to release himself from it's impact on him. That is how powerful the mind is.
In Part 2, I'll cover how, in about 15 minutes, we worked through this and he now has the tools to help him overcome this debilitating influence in his life.
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