Today begin the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
Every Olympiad I am inspired by the spiritual strength, mental discipline and physical excellence of the Olympic athletes. After all the controversy, when athletes from all over the world make their ceremonial tour of the Olympic stadium, when the flame is lit and the games begin, inspiration starts to flow freely.
Each time, as they make it look so effortless, I feel the longing: to commit to a sport, work hard at it and produce some extraordinary result with my own body. Perhaps I even get started during the course of the games. But more often than not, by the closing ceremony, I’ve abandoned the dream.
What does it take to go the distance?
WOC: What does it take to be an Olympic level athlete?
AB: I think that the most important thing is you’ve got to be in love with the process. It’s not just that you want to go to the Olympics one day; you’ve gotta love the project itself.
The passion has got to be there. It’s not as glamorous as people might think. In many sports, it’s a hassle to get the funding and if you don’t have the passion forget it. It can also be a lonely project. If you’re in an individual sport, there’s a lot of stuff you have to do alone. You have to be comfortable on your own.
It’s never a straight line. There are always going to be obstacles, setbacks; and you have to go beyond that. Even if you have a setback, you’ve got to learn to love all the little steps of progress along the way.
WOC: What kind of structure do you put in place to help you?
AB: It depends on the sport, but you have to be able to ask for help. In some sports, everything’s set up for you; but in others, you have to be able to pick the people you want to work with, and put together a team to support you. For the rest of the preparation to be effective, it’s really important to have a good team around you.
WOC: How do you use scheduling to keep yourself on track?
AB: You have the vision of the Olympics guiding you of course; and then you have a weekly schedule, and you try to stick to it. As in life in general, things don’t always go as planned, so you have to revise your plan. But you have a pretty set schedule; you’re not just improvising to get to the Olympics.
WOC: What role does a coach play in the process?
AB: The coach is the person who pushes you when you need pushing and holds you back when you need holding back. They hold the view from a distance, which can be really hard. The coach doesn’t get caught up in the little things but steps back to see the big picture. She stirs up the feelings that you want to stir up and calms down the feelings you want to calm down. It’s a really important role for balance and for confidence.
WOC: How do you approach rewards or breaks?
AB: I think that’s the role of the coach too. It can be really hard as an athlete to give yourself those breaks. Of course there are athletes who need to be coached to do more and break less; but in general, if you really burn for your project you always want to do a little more. You’ve got to have that view from a distance to help you take time out when needed.
WOC: If there is one most important thing, what would it be?
AB: Really the most important thing is that you realize that this is not just about the Olympics; it’s about the whole process, years and years and years of preparation. If the only thing you want to do is go to the Olympics, it’s not worth it. There are too many sacrifices. But if you’re doing what you love, you don’t see the sacrifices as sacrifices.
Your Own Olympic Torch
The early Olympic Games expressed the highest values of ancient Greece – physical fitness and mental discipline. The first recorded Games in 776 BC had only one event – a 192-meter race – won by a humble baker from Elis named Coroebus. But they were such a peaceful influence that city-states such as Sparta put battles on pause for them. Still today, they stand as a symbol that even the lowliest among us can pursue their personal best, achieve excellence and create a peaceful influence on the world.
Though I imagine the majority of you reading this post are not competing this year in London, each of you has a dream. Olympic or not, each of you carries a torch for your life. You are inspired, you are called, you are committed. So how do you apply the inspiration of today’s Olympic Games in your daily life?
Anja’s Secrets of Success
- Choose something you love to do.
- Create a structure for making progress.
- Hire a coach to support you.
- Schedule breaks and enjoy them.
- Value the journey as much as the destination.
In other words, live your own life as well as you can. In Anja’s beautiful words:
“It’s a privilege to be working with yourself. You get to know yourself like not many people have a chance to do – what blocks you, how can you change those patterns, and how can you get to be the best you can be. And that’s something you can use that for the rest of your life.”
Wherever you seek personal excellence in your life, make a plan to make it happen. If you think I might I help, just ask me.