I had an epiphany last night while talking to a friend who is a bodybuilder. She trains me once a week and as fellow athletes, we often share updates about our workouts and progress toward goals. She’s at her peak right now, competing in figure competitions where the attire consists of bedazzled floss, clear plastic stilettos, and bronze “basting” paste. The contest probably covers a grand total of twenty square feet, and is fueled by bright lights, loud music and a cheering crowd.
It is perhaps the exact opposite of an Ironman venue, where the contest covers 140.6 miles, music is prohibited, and nipples bleed rather than glitter…but I realized something as my friend described the outcome of her recent show.
“The judges told me that I was every bit as fit as the woman who got first place, but that I didn’t have confidence. I wasn’t smiling.” She ended up placing fifth as a result.
Imagine that. A woman voluntarily struts onto a bright stage wearing enough fabric to cover a tube of Chapstick (maybe), posing in front of people to music she has chosen, and someone has the nerve to say that this woman has no confidence? I guess I should never feel self-conscious in my wetsuit again!
As it turns out, my friend is going through some stressful life events and despite the fact that she physically had the presence of a champion-caliber bodybuilder; her mindset had let her down. The absence of her attention to the moment on that stage let her mind wander to concerns that were “off stage” and it robbed her of the energy she needed to activate her mojo.
This idea was familiar territory, as any endurance athlete can tell you that one must be able to manage their emotions over the course of a race in order to find success. Four-time Ironman World Champion Chrissie Wellington is famous for employing “the smile” as a means to get through her toughest races, and tap into the confidence needed to endure the rigors of competition.
It never occurred to me that in a sport like bodybuilding (where one spends most of their time standing still in the height of competition), that mental skills would come into play. It solidifies what I already believe about the power of the mind—that it can make or break you, but your chances for success are exponentially better if you can learn how to wield this power as if it were a mighty sword.
If you don’t know how to use a sword, it’s nothing more than a heavy burden you’ll fumble around with until ultimately wounding yourself. If you do know how to use one, you can slay dragons.
Ironman tends to lead you to a dragon or two over the course of the day.
Curious, I asked my friend what she did the morning of her competition. I wanted to get an idea of what could cause her to go from first place to fifth place in the judges’ minds. She confessed that a brief phone conversation earlier that morning had unraveled her. Of course the first thing I said was, “weren’t you using mental skills to refocus the mind?” She looked at me for a second as if I had engaged her in a Star Wars conversation about “the force,” and then admitted that she could use some help in that area. In my nerdy enthusiasm, I mentioned my affinity for the mind and how there are oodles of things one can do to essentially close off the brain to anything that might deter you from reaching your goal.
I’ve come to the conclusion that another aspect to the power of the mind is to NOT wear your heart on your sleeve. For people who are honest and outgoing with the way they feel, this is not an easy thing to do. I consider myself to be one of these people. Not only do I often wear my heart on my sleeve, I make sure that it’s day-glow pink and big enough for the world to see. Also, it sounds like a car alarm is going off. You can’t miss it!
This is a bad plan when it comes to staying strong in competition. For one thing, it gives away your emotional state. In his book, “I’m Here to Win,” Professional triathlete Chris McCormack shares Wellington’s advice to keep the emotions neutral, lest you divulge any intel to competitors who may see your sagging face as a sign that you are tired and easy to take down; or your wide eyes as a sign that you fear the course ahead. “Give your opponents nothing,” they say.
Letting your emotions have free reign not only jeopardizes your ability to mentally convince yourself and others that you are capable of the challenges at hand, it compromises your physical ability to manage energy in a way that allows you to execute a strong performance.
Triathletes and bodybuilders might not seem like they have much in common, but here’s what it comes down to. Whether we are faced with the reality of the clock, or the reality of the scorecard in a judge’s hand, we look for certain numbers to appear as we go through the motions of the craft we’ve mastered. But the motions alone cannot carry us all the way to success. It is the mojo that must cross that bridge.
It’s time to wear our mojo on our sleeves. Let the world see the athlete that is present, devoid of emotion or concern. Give your audience an undiluted specimen of pure focus, as if snared by your goal in an invisible tractor beam. This is what the heart of competition is about, no matter what your sport is.
For a moment in time, suspend the delicacy of being human and give yourself completely to the goal. May the mojo be with you…