On a quest to be the best athlete you can be, you’ll often hear confusing and seemingly conflicting advice, some of which will leave you feeling like you’re stuck in a hall of smoke and mirrors: Dream big, but set realistic goals. Try your best, but don’t force things. Be relaxed, but attack in a race. Aim to win, but focus on the process.
Somewhere amidst the confusion of these paradoxes exists a “Sweet Spot" you should be trying to find. But unfortunately there’s no google map to these seemingly elusive zones: What constitutes too much or too little? How do you cultivate success without being obsessive or disengaged?
The answer boils down to developing the self awareness to figure out what’s right for you through trial and error. You might have to discover your edge (hopefully before you go over it) before you arrive at your sweet spot. You can copy what someone else does, but that will only get you so far. A successful athlete keeps readjusting until they find what works for them, for example; how to set up their life, what type of training to do and the recovery methods that work best for them.
Let’s explore some of the paradoxes that could be making your head spin! (Much deeper exploration can be found our new Believe Training Journal)
Dreams by their definition are imaginary make-believe fantasies. These visions can inspire and motivate you, but when it comes to actualizing those aspirations, you must take realistic tangible steps by creating goals with clear lines to cross. If you can keep hitting those small targets everyday you’ll be on your way to creating your dreams.
It’s obvious that training and racing takes energy and effort. You’ve got to push your mind and body to get your best performances. But in order to reach your potential you must also train, rest, nourish and most importantly, respect what your body is doing for you. You can’t and shouldn’t push your body to it’s max everyday—it is just not sustainable and you will end up injured, sick and burned out. Your body is your machine, so look after it to keep it running smoothly.
The number one golfer in the world, Irishman Rory McIlroy, said in an interview after he won a PGA Major this year that one of his two mantras for competition was “process”. While his goal was to win, his focus was on each and every shot over the four days of competition. The process of repeating a mantra or focusing on goal time splits instead of your final time can get you to the outcome your heart desires.
It’s good to meticulously plan your upcoming season—what races to do, which workouts and training, your travel details and race day schedules, and even plan ahead for different race scenarios. But It’s also important to be spontaneous and open when things arise that you could not foresee: something pops up, and opportunity arises, or travel delays, or a race playing out differently than you expected. You must accept the changes and be in the moment, ready for anything. Often this where excitement, fun and adventure is. Embrace it!
Usain Bolt is the best at this! The multiple Olympic champion has fun busting dance moves just before he races. Research shows what we all know to be true, that playfulness can bring out enjoyment and creativity. But it’s a balance—you don’t want to get too giddy and lose focus of the task at hand. If you’re putting in time and effort, you'll want to have fun while making sure you perform when it counts.
Passion is a palpable energy—it can ignite your life, your work and your performances. However, if passion becomes an obsession or worse, a desperation, then the positive energy can turn toxic and unhealthy. Try to be aware if you’re crossing over that line. If you’re fixated on one thing only, no longer enjoying other interests, and the rest of your life is being negatively affected—it’s time to take a step back and re-balance your lifestyle.
It’s not uncommon to want something soooo badly, that without it you feel inadequate—like a failure and unhappy. What do you do if you believe you NEED to achieve "X" to be happy? Even if in fact you do rationally need something, the emotional charge of neediness can actually repel what you are looking for. Frankly we really only need our basic human needs to be met (food, water, shelter, love). Everything after that is actually a want (and it’s good to know what you want!) Remember that you are already whole and perfectly imperfect; your sense of self shouldn’t be defined by what you have or what you do. Keep doing your best, that's all you can do.
How will you know you’ve found the sweet spot?
+ You’ll feel good.
+ You’ll get fitter.
+ You’ll get faster.
+ You’ll feel healthy and strong.
+ You’ll have time.
+ You’ll improve and gain momentum.
+ You’ll feel energetic.
On the flip side, you’ll know things have gone off kilter when:
– You feel bad.
– You’re forcing things.
– You’re not seeing results.
– You’re feeling wrecked, a lot.
– You keep getting sick or injured.
– You’re always stressed out.
– You’re not recovering and you’re under-performing.
Interpret these as warning signs that changes need to be made!
Recruit a Coach
A wise coach can help keep you on track. They should advise you on what effort to give, what performance times are realistic and who to try to run with in races. They often know what you are capable of more than you do. Let them guide you with training and racing, and your feedback will guide them to create training plans that suit you.
Check In With Yourself Daily
(a journal is a great place to do so!! :) Keep tweaking your set up until you’re feeling good and improving. The ideal zone, where the effort feels right, really is a sweet place to live and train.
Remember, a quest by nature will have roads of trials, and anyone on the running quest will surely know this. This is why Lauren Fleshman and I created a pen and paper training journal (instead of some gps app) to encourage developing self-awareness to help you navigate; a running journal for your running journey. Hopefully our hard fought lessons that we've had to learn and re-learn (many times over) can help guide you through some of the dark spots and on to a few sweet spots of your own.
To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe.- Anatole France
Roisin McGettigan-Dumas, is an Olympian, sports psychology consultant and co-author of Believe Training Journal (VeloPress), available for pre-order now.