The Olympics are over, but the spirit of humanity that we witnessed remains. World-class athletes extended themselves beyond even their most grueling training days in search for a medal. I wonder how they got themselves mentally ready to shine amidst the immense pressure to perform at their ultimate best. Now that September has arrived and we are back into the swing of things, I aim to bring some of the excellence and grit from the games into my own daily life.
Michael Phelps was my personal favorite. I marveled at his chiseled physique every time I saw him on TV. He apparently worked, recovered, slept, and took care of himself more than he ever had. Despite the proof of his body, the moderators were tireless in their criticism and doubt. They talked about his relative old age, how tired he seemed after a race, and the stale story of his personal setbacks and rehabilitation. Phelps accomplished much more than a lukewarm comeback to warm your heart. He came out of retirement to reclaim his former glory for himself, not to please other people. It was astonishing to watch him win race after race, walking away with five gold medals. He asserted with a smile that he had never felt better and was living the life of his dreams.
I was also awe-struck by the athleticism and ease under pressure of the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics team. Its five members are only between 16 and 22 years old, yet they have reached the pinnacle of their sport. It seems unfathomable to walk through life at your full potential at this age, or any age. They train their minds to think like champions as much as they train their bodies to leap and twist. When asked how Simone Biles handles the pressure, she confided that she tunes it all out. Aly Raisman was caught on camera rebuffing her coach’s rebuke about her performance on the uneven bars. She brushed off her coach’s criticism with confidence, and simply said that she was now focusing on the beam. Instead of dwelling on the past, she concentrated on her opportunity, and won a silver medal.
Star athletes focus only on the event before them. Phelps thinks about nothing before a race. He turns off the chatterbox of past events and future aspirations. As an avid amateur golfer, I am fully familiar with the unhappy consequences of negative mind games. My tendency is to admonish myself with all the things that I am not supposed to do, and to remind myself of too many things to possibly execute in the short seconds it takes to strike the ball. Flooding my senses in this way only assures a bad shot. It is like praying at the altar of fear and failure, which keeps feeding errant balls. Sometimes I am simply distracted. I have thought about completely unrelated things, like whether I ran the dishwasher or what time a television show airs. The ball then swerves in the wrong direction or flops short. My best successes on the golf course are when I have a clear mind and focus only on the shot at hand. When I can simply think “breathe in, breathe out,” I trust that I can play every ball as I intended. I somehow automatically connect with everything that I have learned, and I feel like I should play on tour. This is not easy to do at first, but the more we do it, the more we are able to. The naysayers on the sideline have no influence on the outcome unless we start believing their negative talk. The power of our thoughts is inescapable.
Olympians are inspirational reminders for us mere mortals that we all have the ability to create the life of our dreams. Hit the reset button this fall, and inject your life with renewed vigor to be your best self. Whenever you feel you are veering off course, center your mind, and trust in the immense force within you.
Mila Atmos is a columnist whose work has been featured by The Huffington Post, Quartz, and Medium.
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