Listening to a couple of athletes in top condition talking about how to handle the ups and downs of competition can be very instructive for those of us in the writing game. As one athlete pointed out, advanced competitors tend to be perfectionists: they are always striving to create optimal conditions for themselves in terms of training, equipment, and preparation. And yet, there’s really no way to control every aspect of a competitive situation. Certainly, no one knows this better than seasoned athletes — especially those who compete in rough-and-tumble sports like cycling.
Hearing my son Alex and his wonderful coach and mentor Herb talk about a rough bike race they’d just been in really gave me an insight into the importance of being able to bounce back from a tough day when things don’t go as planned when you’re a serious athlete. Here’s what they do:
Take responsibility: When results are disappointing, there are plenty of excuses you can make; but in the end, it’s important to acknowledge the role your own decisions made in where you find yourself.
Figure out what went wrong: When something goes awry, it’s easy to expend lots of energy bemoaning what’s happened. But it’s far more productive to step back and cast a cold, analytical eye on the results you’ve reaped and determine as precisely as you can the nature of your misstep. “There’s no failure, only feedback” — that’s what my own coach and mentor Rob Gilbert says. Forget about the frustration — focus on the feedback.
Come up with a better game plan: After assessing what went wrong, you’re in a perfect position to figure out how to avoid making the same mistake again. The quicker you focus on the future, the less impact your mistake will have on your performance going forward.
Shake it off: Recognize that highs and lows are inevitable when you’re engaged in demanding work that requires a consistently high level of performance. Keep your eye on giving your best effort the next time around and move on. Don’t let your mistakes entangle you — let them go.
Celebrate the good stuff: Today was Alex’s 22nd birthday. And despite a tough day at the races, Alex, Herb, and I went out to celebrate. Alex got some great counsel and perspective from Herb, had a chance to relax, and started talking about the next races he has coming up. I really admire the way he bounced back and began planning his next bike race — and didn’t let a bumpy patch on the road keep him from having fun. Bravo, Alex!