I think the biggest shock I give people, when I tell them my story, is about my steadfastness in choosing NOT to try and win a medal at the 1996 Atlanta Paralympic Games.
The usual comebacks include: "but .... isn't that why you were going to the Paralympics?" "Every elite athlete wants to win a medal!" "But don't you want to be the best ever and win the gold?!?"
Yet, as I boarded that plane as a 16 year old, to fly from Sydney to the US for the 2nd biggest sporting event in the world, I really had talked myself into not trying for a medal. My reasoning is pretty self explanatory - I didn't want the pressure .... and then subsequently cave into the pressure. So I simply chose the only option that we always have, everyday of our lives, and that option was: to go to the Atlanta Paralympics and swim my best each and every day. Easy peasy, no stress, no pressure, no mental explosion and gross disappointment with myself if I failed to bring home a medal.
You see, even at the age of 16, I was recognising a concept that most people really don't get till they're in their 30/40's .... if they get it at all - "focusing on the process."
When I speak to pre-teens and teens, I talk about the goals that they want to set, and I get a ton thrown at me: I want to be, an Olympic sprinter, footballer, engineer, architect, fashion designer, doctor, etc etc etc. That is so great that so many young people out there want to achieve these exciting and personal goals .... but when I ask them if they know how they are going to get there ... well, a lot have no idea at all. So focused on what the end goal is going to be, they fail to bring themselves back to the moment, and focus on the process.
In Lucy Sheridan and Jo Westwood's book #HIGHERSELFIE (a book I highly recommend for the younger set out there!), they have a chapter called "Commitment + Detachment = :)" and boy did this chapter sing to me. It was like reading my unconscious 16 year old mind when I was heading off to Atlanta. You see, for all of my swimming career I was driven by my love for swimming, not by the glittery glitter of medals - bronze, silver, or gold, and because I was driven by my love of swimming, I was focused more on what I was doing in the water, rather then what position I was in the race. I let go of ego outcomes, and instead just showed up each and every day, to do the hard slog. I focused on the process.
I love what Jo and Lucy write about focussing on the process -
The way to practice outward detachment is to switch your focus from the outcome to the process. This is where commitment comes in. Instead of throwing your energies at a set, predetermined outcome - which has probably been manipulated, twisted or idealised by your ego anyway - you pour your commitment into the process.
So what outcomes have you attached yourself to? Uni? Work? Fame? Are you so focused on how you see yourself in the future that you are failing to see who you are now, and not making the changes, day in and day out, that will get you to where you want to go?
I would like you to write down your goal ..... go on, grab a piece of paper and a pen and write down your goal - I can wait.
Right, got that goal written down? Now I want you to write down one thing you can do today to take a step towards that goal, then write down what you can do tomorrow, and what you can do the day after that, and so on and so forth. Write out a step a day that you can actively do for the next month .... and when you get to the end of that month assess where you are at. Do you feel more confident about achieving your goal? Do you feel closer to your goals? Let me know in the comments below.
p.s. I did walk away with a medal at the Atlanta Games, a bronze in the 50m Butterfly ... I truly believe that medal came down to the fact that I let go of any outcomes and just swam, and in focusing on that process, the result was spectacular - and guess what, your results can be just a spectacular too.
BIG DISCLAIMER HERE: I wrote this blog post over 6 months ago .... and for some reason I never posted it .... but reading back over it, I kind of like the significance that it had for me then, and it has for me now. SO I am going to share it with you now, though it is slightly (okay, a LOT) out of date, but only in the date it was written, not in its relevance.
So please, enjoy!
"I pulled my mat over and thought about flipping up into headstand, which was no problem for me. My forearms, my shoulders, I knew they were strong. But in a trice, I made a decision: Fuck that. I was a Boulder lady now! I could hike up and ski down! At ten thousand feet! Certainly I could pull off a handstand. I would trust my skeleton, like Seidel said, and not overthink it."
As I read this paragraph from Claire Dederer's autobiographical account of her journey into Yoga, "Poser," I felt a truth click into place, something felt rather then thought, and it was a beautiful millisecond. And then my brain jumped to something that happened yesterday and how that something became an acknowledgement that overthinking drives fear and fear stops you in your tracks.
For the past few days the ocean had been rough, very rough, the waves high and deep, the whitewash like a rabid dog, growling and rushing at you with a madness that made you flinch. But this day, this particular day, Dad, his partner, and I had made it to a bay that was usually quieter, with dignified waves, little licks of waves that gently tasted the sand on each passing through. And there I stood, my prosthetic leg off and safely kept dry by the beach chairs, Dad on one side of me, Lesley on the other. The expected gentle waves were non-existent, they were dumpers coming in, rolling up into a high peak, before crashing down with a thud and roar, gurgling to our feet and gushing behind us in defiance. An irrational fear grew up from my stomach, into my chest, and into my head. My thoughts rushed around picking up irrational thought after irrational thought, until I just said "NOPE!"
I had stood there overthinking the waves on this beach, convincing myself that I couldn't handle the conditions, it was too rough, too dangerous - never mind that behind me about ten metres up the beach stood ten lifeguards ready to leap into action, to my right people were walking out through the waves, only up to their knees, they leapt with the incoming waves, handling them deftly. Right next to me a young child came running into the water, laughing with delight, no fear, just trust in themselves, in the water, in the people around them.
I went and sat down on my beach chair .... and from my beach chair the waves didn't seem so big or dumpy, in fact they looked exactly how I had expected them to be. The fear still lingered.
Time passed, and the sun grew stronger, and sweat beaded on my back, and the water looked more and more inviting. The waves seemed smoother somehow; I leapt out of my chair and whipped my prosthetic off, yelped decisively at my Dad "It looks great now, I'm going in," and I started to hop across the sand. No thinking, just reacting. Dad followed me, and Lesley, and I pushed into the water, feet, ankles, knees, float. The waves came in, but I bobbed over the top, or dived under their bellies. There was no fear, just joy and clarity, and a feeling of silliness, that earlier I had allowed my thoughts to give me such irrational doubt to the situation. We are stronger then we think we are, braver then we give ourselves credit, but start to overthink a situation and that strength and bravery take a running leap from your mind and heart, letting fear become the supreme ruler.
Do you find yourself overthinking situations? Are you even aware that you overthink? How do you overcome overthinking?
I really like how Claire put's it "I would trust my skeleton, like Seidel said, and not overthink it." She literally was talking about trusting her skeleton in Yoga, but what if we see it for what it really is, trusting ourselves. I think we need to start to trust ourselves more, and not let the worries and negative thoughts cloud that trust. Those waves that I feared were not that big (trust me, I would trust myself if the waves really were dangerous, and I would never put myself, or anyone else in danger by putting myself in dangerous surf), the people around me were proving that, I had only, the other week, been in even bigger surf and survived - so why had I let the fear takeover this time? The why was the overthinking ....
Strip back to basics, when the brain clicks into hyperdrive, let go, let go and trust your instinct, trust what you see, trust what you really feel.