Working for performance and working on our limitations are different, and unfortunately, we all fall into the trap of performance first. This took me a long time to understand, and I still work at it each day on not allowing my mind to play games with the reality of working on my limitations. The hardest part about this is when we are performing and chasing performance, we can be exposing and working on some of our limitations. However, the paradox is not only does that not work out long term, it ends up creating more significant gaps in some of these limits.
While I am very capable of going faster or harder in many of the activities I do if I’ve exposed myself to understanding I haven’t developed the skill level, or the physiological capabilities of maintaining work beyond those limits or resting from those activities I am now chasing a ghost. That ghost, while it may validate something in my mind, ends up producing ghosts in many other areas of my life and I end up in competition not with the world, but my inner unsatisfied child.
Using running as an example as it is a pretty easy way to get this across. Suppose I wanted to start running. I decide to go for a run one day and wind up pretty sore. Sore enough to not run for another 2 or 3 days. In that I learned I went and did too much to start. Or did I? I head back out again and do the exact same run as before. I’m sore the next day, but not as much. So I keep this process up until this run is no longer hard nor does it create anymore soreness. So I ramp it up again. I get sore again for 2 or 3 days and don’t run, and again repeat this process, again, and again. Until I’m running enough to fullfill my desires for what are my perceived limits.
Most of us go about things in very similar ways to this runner. What do you think this runner could have done differently? There are so many different ways to go about it everyone has two-cents to add. Walk some, run some. Do some skill work. Go slower. Go shorter but faster. And nobody would be incorrect, but what any and all of us are giving advice on are hypothetical limiters and how to work in order get an adaptation to that limiter. So what happens once we’ve made serious progress with that limitation? Most of us test it against performance, right? Lets see how fast or strong we are and then lets chip away again. The problem is exposing another limitation once we’ve seemed to make some progress, because now we like what we feel in the performance. We are ritualistic head hunters who simply do not like to be confronted with change, and yet (another paradox here) change is the one constant in our lives.
The elite athlete has it very differently, and in my opinion a much more difficult road here since everything about what they do in sport is based on results, not limitations. Imagine being the best in the world at something and winning being at the front of everything you do. What sort of life do you think you’d want in order to maintain this? It would look like groundhog day, and everyone important in your life would be out of your life for a season or camp so you could focus. You’d be surrounded by staff and people who were constantly giving you input and updates on your schedule, nutrition possibly, hydration possibly, supplements, training, practice, and you’d most likely be traveling more than anyone wants to travel. And when your career is over you’d get to unpack the winning thing, and how the real world doesn’t actually work that way.
I find it incredibly interesting how we as fans seem to really only care about the same things in the sports we love, or the player we love. Yet, at the same time each of us understands this really isn’t a way to live and if you’ve seen any of the recent sports documentaries, you’d see a lot of the psychological outcomes from all of this. Please see: Bigger Faster Stronger, Trophy Kids, The Weight of Gold
While you may not believe performance or winning doesn’t have space in your mind you’d not own a smart phone and live on an island. Everything in our culture is about getting ahead and performing which requires some real deep work to unpack. Maybe not, maybe you can give or take and have a healthy relationship with it. You, afterall are the only one who really knows that truth. For me, and working with professional athletes I know I always want to see them do well, and if winning is a part of that great. If it is not my hope is the work I’ve been able to show them far transcends winning, and sport. Yet the paradox of this is that winning or simply getting faster or stronger can always be a part of that as well. The practice is in how it’s training our minds!