Psychology of an Olympian

With the Olympics in full swing, and in need of a great read, “The Secret Olympian” book stumbled across me with precise timing. This book is authored by an anonymous Team Great Britain (GB) Athens Olympian and is the ‘inside story of the Olympic experience’. Now there’s a tag line that reeled me in.

Having watched a few Olympics in the past, this one certainly has a very different perspective thanks to the pages of this book. Often we don’t know or hear much about the athletes until we barrack for them on the big screen. Have you ever taken a moment to consider what got them there in the first place? One Olympian in the book advised that to be an Olympic athlete, you need to have trained atleast 10,000 hours. To put that into perspective, lets do some sums. 30 hours a week of training x 39 weeks a year being ¾ of a year (I’ve allowed for rest time) is 1,170 hours per year. Multiply that by 9 years and you reach 10,500 hours.

Then add into this equation the early training times especially for swimmers, the dietary regimes, the psychological pressure, the physical exertion of pushing their bodies further than any of us could comprehend, the altered lifestyle that comes second to training, the years and years worth of maintaining this and the science of tweaking the fitness or technique to within an inch of its life to give them the advantage over their competitors.

Lets not forget the pressure. The mental conditioning that sets the mind straight to have already won Gold in their mind over and over. To taste it and feel it and see it and smell it, to not let doubt stand any chance. 9, 10, 11 years worth of training diligently, never giving up the fight and goal and all for one shot at Gold. A decade or more of training riding on one event, sometimes over in under a minute with billions of people across the world watching and waiting and cheering. Dreams of a nation riding on the shoulders of a single athlete in the one moment that defines them and gives meaning to everything leading up to this. These are very special people. These athletes have qualities and attributes that make them the best of the best of the best, and this is no mean feat.

It got me thinking about how this translates into my world and the life of my clients. There is a tendency to give up so quickly. More and more, we are looking for instant results. If that product or technique didn’t give it to us, we search for another, just tossing the old one aside. Where has our diligence and commitment gone? This brings me to meditation. What goes on behind the scenes in meditation (and not the ‘I downloaded the latest app variety. I’m talking about the real deal, sitting quietly and having single pointed focus in the present moment, day after day for months and years), is where the greatest benefits lie. It is when you stretch yourself to sit for longer, to feel the pain in the body, to watch the rising frustration when distraction repeats itself, to manage the flood of emotions that rise, and to remain calm through all of it, this is when you start to behave like an Olympic athlete. Not giving up the second it gets hard, not listening to excuses that become more creative as time goes on.

We are so afraid of feeling the pain that we run in all kinds of directions. We dull and numb the pain, physical and emotional, with substances, food and distractions. But what if like an Olympian, you trained yourself to deal with any pain that came your way? Face it head on, with your whole heart, honestly and with courage. Whether you learn this through meditation, study or physical training, it’s your unique choice. 

The end result is a profound sense of accomplishment, a stillness and centeredness that is unwavering. A clear sense of who you are and an inner strength and discipline that will diffuse any fear that is standing in the way of becoming who you want to be.



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