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.
"Your Determination is Limitless"
- Elizabeth Wright