Did you watch much of the Olympics? If you saw some of the gymnastics, swimming or track and field, you may have noticed commentator after commentator noting how "relaxed" the leading competitors were. They also seemed to make note of how tight those who were trailing seemed to be.
I recall the Winter Olympics several years ago when Dan Jenkins won the 500 meter speed skating sprint. Dan came into the Olympics as the world record holder and favorite in just about every distance. The 500 was the last event and he had failed to even finish any of the other races!
As he sprinted through the first turn of the 500, he caught an edge, put a hand down, lost incredible amounts of speed, and yet wound up not only winning the gold medal, but setting a world record as well.
Asked later how he managed to pull that off, he commented that in the earlier races where he had crashed and burned, he was tense and almost afraid of falling. So, when he caught an edge or lost his line in those races, he applied extra effort (tension) to overcome the error and instead crashed out.
This time around, he told himself what every top athlete knows, and especially those artful karate magicians who break boards and bricks with their bare hands: a relaxed muscle is a fast muscle.
So what did Dan do when he caught his edge in the first turn? He relaxed! And, as he relaxed, he came "fully present," not lost in remembrances of earlier crashes, or fearful of what might become, he just came present, relaxed and allowed his well trained body to do what it knew how to do -skate fast, really, really fast!
Most skaters would have either fallen or simply limped across the finish line, having given up when they slipped or become so tense that the only real outcome was the crash.
What can we learn from Dan's lesson about relaxation? Well, how about the countless times we find ourselves under pressure to perform, fill up with coffee, bear down with focus, and wind up screwing up anyway?
One of my favorite clichés: if you don't have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?
A good friend, Dick Schubert (former Secretary of Labor and then CEO of the Points of Light Foundation), taught me the practical application of this one day in his office. We were working "hard" at getting a communication "right" that would later lead to a merger with the Volunteers Centers of America. We were struggling, not getting anywhere useful, despite the small forest of destroyed trees crumpled in the waste basket giving testimony to our "diligent" efforts.
Dick called a time out, and suggested that we both just take a "mini-nap." "What's a mini-nap?" "Ah, just close your eyes for a few minutes and let your mind focus on anything except work." I chose to just notice what I was feeling.
Well, five minutes later, he looked 10 years younger, a youthful vibrancy spilling out of his eyes, and a clarity of thought and vision emerging from his mind and through his works. I found I was more focused, crisp and relaxed as well.
Although I had been an athlete of some promise earlier on in my life, I had never really learned this lesson about the relationship between relaxed and fast. Dick showed me how the lesson applies in day to day life.
If you find yourself scurrying around the DNC this week, or wherever you might find yourself this week, and you find the pressure mounting to be quick, accurate and successful, try this little tip:
Read these simple instructions through, and then give it a go:
1. Sit comfortably, or lie down
2. Close your eyes
3. Notice how your body feels and what part of your body you are feeling (neck, shoulders, stomach, legs, etc)
4. Focus on your breathing and notice if you are breathing deeply, from your diaphragm or more shallowly from your upper chest
5. Move your breathing more deeply, more slowly
6. Breathe in through your nose to a count of 4 or 5
7. Exhale through your nose to a count of 4 or 5
8. Repeat this rhythmic breathing for 2-3 minutes
9. Open your eyes
10. Notice how you feel
You may be surprised to discover a greater sense of well-being, of greater peace, even though nothing changed! Unless, of course, you did!
I'd love to hear from you. Please do leave a comment here or drop me an email at Russell (at) russellbishop.com.
If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of reframing to your life and to your job, about a few simple steps that may wind up transforming your life, please download a free chapter from my new book, Workarounds That Work. You'll be glad you did.
Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about my work by visiting my website at www.RussellBishop.com. You can contact me by e-mail at Russell (at) russellbishop.com.