The Key To Winning Gold, In Anything

The 2012 U.S. Womens Gymnastics Team

As the Olympics begin to wrap-up and I take a Yoda-moment to reflect on the dedication and drive required to, not only be an Olympic athlete but to win gold in such prodigious company, my thoughts gravitate to an interview I watched with Michael Phelps’ coach, Bob Bowman.

Bowman revealed how during training, he would create unexpected challenges for Michael to navigate, including stepping on the Olympic athlete’s goggles before a swim so that the eyewear would fill with water and Michael would have to accommodate the new circumstances. In 2008, Phelps encountered this exact scenario in the 200-meter butterfly, but because he had prepared for it, he knew exactly how many strokes he needed to touch the wall and was able to swim without disruption to win the gold. If you look up the definition of sang-froid in Wikipedia, it links to this exact event. Okay, not really, but it should.

This ability to practice and execute, no matter what the circumstances, is the key to excellence, the difference between “nailing the landing” — or not.

As a writer, I can cite every distraction in the book, from noise to lighting to the “comfiness” of a chair, to keep me from getting the pages written. But these are just excuses, and weak ones at that. As Yoda says, “Do or do not. There is no try.” What he was really saying to Luke was, “I don’t want to hear your frickin’ excuses!”

There’s a Buddhist saying: If you can practice even when distracted, you are well trained. Champions are made, not in spite of the distractions, but because of them.

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