A More Fulfilling Life: Learning From Elite Athletes

To truly excel at what you do, there has to always be some part of your life that is not automatic yet. When this is the case, you can practice in this zone until you achieve automaticity. Then raise the bar.
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(1) Movements have goals and costs. In sport, the goal is to win. Thus, the most skilled movement is one that accomplishes the goal at the lowest cost:
This made me think of how so often we pay much more than we should to get what we want. We tend to think more of just getting it than the cost of getting it. Also, we tend to think less about getting what we want efficiently. Signs that you may not be working efficiently are: you spend little time thinking about strategy and just "do" instead; you take on whatever opportunities come your way rather than eliminating those that are energy drains; you work extremely hard every day for unmatched social or financial benefit. If you do any of these things, then you have not been spending enough time thinking about efficiency in your life.

(2) The best way to advance is through action-based feedback:
So often, people think for a very long time -- too long -- about how they want to advance toward what they want. Thinking is not risky. Doing is. And the risk of doing provides learning that no thinking will ever provide. If there is something you have been longing to achieve: lose weight; find romance; make more money; move -- put away your thinking cap and do something toward that goal. When you do, whether you succeed or not at what you want, think of each attempt as learning. When you next attempt to do this, do something different that illustrates that you have learned rather than that you are acting out of habit.

(3) Focus on long-term benefits as well as short-term benefits:
Elite athletes are able to practice a lot, and in the process, make a lot of errors if that is what is needed for success in the longer term. If they focused only on success in the short term, they would not push themselves into zones beyond their immediate potential. In your own life, discern whether you want to become expert at something, and push yourself out of your comfort zone. Get someone to coach you on this if you need support. Research shows that coaching can be very helpful to support you outside of your comfort zone.

(4) It is not automaticity per se that leads to high proficiency but the level of skill at which automaticity is attained:
Most people never develop beyond their hobby levels of expertise because that is the level at which they are able to do things automatically. To truly excel at what you do, there has to always be some part of your life that is not automatic yet. When this is the case, you can practice in this zone until you achieve automaticity. Then raise the bar, so that you become non-automatic again. We are addicted to automaticity. That is why we often fail to reach our highest potentials.

(5) Let your actions be a consequence of your movement and connected to your imagination:
When a golfer golfs, there is an intention that is enacted when the club makes contact with the ball. The goal for the ball has been visualized and internalized and it has been set in the golfer's brain. The golfer's action has a consequence that the golfer is not fully in control of. After the follow through, the ball is in the air and is an extension of the golfer's imagination, of which the action was only the preliminary part. When you want something in life, recognize that what you want may not be within sight, but it has to always be within your imagination so that your actions connect to it.

We can learn a lot from looking at the behavior and brains of elite athletes. Even if we apply one of these recommendations, we will start ourselves on a different course in life.

Yarrow, K., P. Brown, et al. (2009). "Inside the brain of an elite athlete: the neural processes that support high achievement in sports." Nat Rev Neurosci 10(8): 585-96.

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