“So,” a perky blonde reporter asked Michael Phelps soon after he lost the first race of his fourth Olympics - the 400 meter individual medley - to Ryan Lochte, and shortly before he was about to swim his next race - the 200 meter individual medley - “How do you feel? What are you thinking about? What’ll we see in this next race - the “old" Michael or the, uh, Michael we just saw?” (I’m paraphrasing, but you get the message..) Phelps thought it over briefly, said something gracious and moved on. Actually, he moved on to win the gold in that next race and became the first man to win the same individual event in three consecutive Olympics. “He got himself together,” his coach, Bob Bowman said. “Together" is right: In spite of that first race - what Coach Bowman called, “The Big Downer” and others called a “way off,” “disappointing” or just “slow” performance, Phelps - the “old Phelps” - “got himself together.” And before he hung up his cap and goggles for the last time Saturday night, he'd won a total of 22 Olympic medals - 18 of them gold....and became whom some people consider the greatest athlete in Olympic history.
But here’s the thing: In the end, we are what we think about: the outcome is largely determined by the attitude. Sure, ya gotta do the laps, practice the starts, the turns, lift the weights - all of it. But in the end, winning - whatever that means to each of us at any given moment, is an “attitude.” And, as Phelps knew, that attitude didn’t include an in-depth self-analysis of whether he could - or couldn’t - "get it together."
What’s your “Olympics?” Maybe it’s showing up big on the tennis court or the golf course or the dance floor; maybe it’s nailing that interview for your “dream job” - or making the presentation of your career at your company’s annual all-hands-on-deck conference. Or...maybe it’s simply showing up big after a set back - your own “way off,” “slow,” or “disappointing" performance. And just as you’re about to climb up onto that "starting block," some perky blonde who never swam a lap, walked up on a stage, or put it all on the line, says, “So, how're ya doing? Think you’ll be able to pull it off? I mean, after that last, uh, ’situation’ and all...” What do you do? What do you think about? What’s your attitude? Here’s what works for me:
1. Don’t analyze - or dwell on the “The Big Downer.” That was then, this is now.
2. Wrap your head around the times you knocked it out of the park. When you owned it. Remember how it felt; remember that you are that same person...
3. Loosen up. Loosen up your body like an athlete (legs, arms, neck, jaw... loosen up your mind.) Work out, take a walk, shake it out.
4. Focus. Focus on the moment...and absolutely nothing else.
5. Let go! Get out of your own way. Let your body, your mind, your talent take you there. Remember Yogi Berra's wise words: “You can’t think and hit at the same time.”
6. And finally, say these four words out loud : “I can do this.”
In full disclosure, I tried out for the Olympics more than a few decades ago in the 100 meter freestyle. I missed qualifying...by three tenths of a second. Okay, it was, for a moment , “The Big Downer.” But it’s the wins I remember when I climb up onto that next starting block...
Bet you’ve got a story of your own. Love to hear it...
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