Sunday Dinner and Olympic Monsters


Every now and then you receive surprising advice from the most unexpected sources. Case in point. My brother-in-law. I was floored when I found out, after he and my sister had been dating for a few years, that he is a former Olympian. WHAT?!?! Now, don’t get me wrong, he’s incredibly fit and I can totally picture him as a world-class athlete, but it caught me off guard – to say the least. And he didn’t just compete in one Olympic Games but two! TWO!

I decided that because of his background, he would be an excellent source of information. How do elite athletes mentally prepare to compete at an international level? The holy grail of self-awareness and mental preparedness. This is what I had been searching for.  So, at a family gathering, somewhere between “…pass the ham” and “…I just can’t eat quinoa, it looks like worms…”, I seized the opportunity.

“How do you mentally prepare to compete in the Olympics?

What do you do to deal with the fact that you are up against the top athletes from around the world?”

His answer wasn’t what I expected at all. I wanted to hear about his Olympic Monster. Did he have a process or mind-set that I could use myself. Is there a “zone”. I want to have a zone. How do I find my zone? What’s the secret???

“I don’t think about the other competitors,” he said dryly. And that was it. The answer that I had been waiting for. The secret… Wait… WHAT??? Where’s the insider trick that only elite athletes know? Where’s the magic? But then he continued. “Their performance is something that I have no control over. I focus on beating my best time. I can control my pace, my rhythm, my breathing. I can’t control theirs. If I beat my own personal best then I succeed. If it means a medal, great, but that’s not the point.”

This has stuck with me for many years. In the end, I did get the answer I was looking for – it’s just not what I expected. It was better! I use it constantly and so should you. You are only in control of yourself. You can’t control others or situations around you. That is where your monster takes control.

I talk about this in The Frankenstein Condition. About what your monster is and isn’t. Your monster is external and you create it by comparing yourself to others. You want speed like him, or agility like her. You build it from parts of others. Eventually you compare yourself to others and it consumes you. But these pieces and parts are things you can’t control and more importantly, the monster you’ve created is not you. Don’t let it affect you. You have your own talents.

Pay too much attention to the others in a race and you will lose. Control your pace, your rhythm and your breathing. Beat your personal best and you will leave your monster in the dust!


Robert SmithComment