Have you ever wanted to achieve or attempt a sporting feat? To challenge yourself or to prove something, to someone, or yourself? Maybe you’ve wanted to raise money for charity or test your own physical ability. Perhaps you’ve wanted to do something to lose weight, to stay fit, to continue a love of sport? Or you might be the type that loves to feel the thrill of winning.
There are a number of studies that outline the benefit of Sport and exercise. I'll be addressing these in the next Want Gap book, The Want Gap for Health. But as I watch Wimbledon and the Tour-de-France, I find myself constantly curious as to how on earth these individuals find the “flow”. Why do they want to win so bad?
Why Are Athletes Different?
There have been a lot of books written about success and goals and experiences from athletes in all genres and they all tend to be really great stories of perseverance, determination, and grit. But, what’s the want in these athletes and the why?
To answer this question, I searched for a sports psychologist to help me understand the principles behind coaching, motivation, and self-discipline of those that want to achieve all the above. An old friend introduced me to a former Boston Marathon winner, who’s also a professor of sports psychology. Perfect huh. I’m not only intrigued to talk to him, I’m excited and fascinated to find out the secret to being a winning athlete.
Meet Jack Fultz
Jack Fultz is the 1976 Boston Marathon winner and professor of sports psychology at Tufts University in Boston. Jack won the ’76 Boston Marathon with a time of 2:20:19 when the course temperature, at the start, was 100 degrees F (or 40 Celsius)! The race was called “The Run For the Hoses” as spectators along the 26.2 mile course used garden hoses to spray water on the runners to keep them cool. So, how on earth does one accomplish this goal in such heat? AND WIN IT?? I had to ask.
“Good question - and the answer is good pacing.” Jack says nonchalantly. With his outward style and fabulous smile, Jack continues to give me a lesson in sports psychology that gets my head reeling.
We talk about having a partner, objective goals, expectations, and my favorite "intentionality". All topics that I find fascinating when it comes to how our minds work. And even more fascinating when you learn how to change your mind to work for you. But for this post, I'm going to focus on Jack's core answer, pacing.
To start, good pacing is not just about getting through a marathon race in 100 degree heat. Pacing is a motivational, psychological and flow approach that sports psychologists use to train their athletes. And here I see “pacing” as a life approach.
Sports Psychology Secret
So, how do us everyday people apply this thinking to our lives to GET WHAT WE WANT? Again, the answer comes thoughtfully from Jack.
“The principles of sports psychology are Universal actually - if the primary theme is to maximise one’s potential. It’s when one attaches their sense of self-worth to the outcomes where problems arise.” Read that quote again.
Did a light bulb go off for you? It did for me. A sense of self-worth needs to be aligned with endeavours or goals of the individual. This is how we get what we want. Your “core values” need to be aligned with your “important" or ultimate goal, NOT the actual outcomes.
Jack then explains that the second principle of sports psychology is that “one must focus on the process, whereby a number of outcomes are achieved.”
To make sure I understand this correctly, I ask, do you mean… “A person needs to focus, not on the outcome of the goal, but on the process in which the outcome is part of a bigger picture?”
He responds with a yes and “one [must] remain vigilant to not let an excessive focus on the outcome - achieving the individual goal itself - contaminate the process of the ultimate goal.” I think we're all victims of this. And I think that's why I never liked to compete. The thought that I have to "beat" someone never sat well with me. So, it's great to hear that it's this type of thinking that contaminates the process of achieving an outcome!
The Best In The World
I am watching tennis and I know that Roger Federer’s goal is to “be the best tennis player in the world.” To be the best player, he doesn’t focus on being the best player but instead on how to become the best player, which in turn makes him the best player!
Confusing but so spot on that I almost fall off my chair! Roger is focusing his efforts on his process where his outcome is bigger than him. He prepares for Wimbledon, and although winning Wimbledon is a great feat, he sees that as part of the journey to becoming the best player in the world. How many Wimbledon championships has he won? It’s just a part - not the whole. The whole is bigger than he can imagine. So he just works on the process, enjoys it, and watches each outcome add to the bigger picture.
Right - this is all really big picture hard to comprehend stuff. I start to ask myself, how does this relate to me and my life and getting what I want?
Pacing Your Life
We come back to Jack’s simple, lightbulb concept of “pacing”. To finish a marathon in heat or rain or freezing temperatures - no matter the conditions - it’s about pacing. Living life, through heartbreak, excitement, joy, and pain, is about pacing. Every part of life is a process and is part of a grander, bigger goal. And here again, I have to stop.
I don’t have a grander, bigger goal. Oh, there are things I want, I want a house, a new car, to be happy. But when I look at life through an athletes view, "pacing" is the only way to achieve the end goal. The ultimate goal. The big picture, whatever that may be... and I don't have one.
My Ah Ha Moment
As I go back and forth with all these concepts with Jack, I have two “ah ha” moments.
The first is that I realise there’s no way I can go through this “process of life” without knowing what my bigger end goal is. I don’t have an ultimate goal and I don’t know what I really want. I also don’t know what my outcome is. WHAT AM I PACING TOWARDS?
Then I think, well, I know who I am (I’ve done the work on finding my core values and my important, which is outlined in The Want Gap Book) but how do those link to the ultimate goal? My ULTIMATE WANT?
They’re huge questions and I can’t thank Jack enough for bringing them to light.
You need an ultimate goal. Why? Because having an ultimate goal or want allows you to...
- ..understand that, your accomplishments and disappointments in your life, are just a part of your life's bigger picture.
- ...accept your accomplishments and disappointments and forgive yourself and others so that you can push forward and attribute those learnings to something bigger.
- ...feel every bit of reward and satisfaction in its fullest, but only when an accomplishment or disappointment is related and attached to who you are and what you’re meant to do. (your core values and your important).
The Ultimate Want
I left our discussion for couple weeks to think. What is my life “goal”, “purpose”, and “outcome”? Now, don’t get me wrong, I want to be successful, to be happy, to be loved, respected, wealthy, (add in all the other adjectives here). But none of it made sense until I figured out what my ultimate want was, my ultimate goal, my ultimate purpose, my ultimate objective - whatever you want to call it.
Do you have an ultimate want? A life purpose? Are you pacing yourself towards the ultimate goal?
I am off to do the work to find out what this means to me and will post next time on the process I went through to find my ultimate want.
Because as Jack says, “once you know the goal, the answer is... good pacing.” I’m with you Jack!!!