Focus: Make Your Mind Your Friend, Not Your Foe
26 April 2018
Siri Lindley, world champion triathlete, coach and author, offers insights on how to direct your focus to get the career you want—and the life you envision.
Let me start by saying this is not a “positive thinking” article. Yes, I am going to share some ways you can get the most out of your mind, to help you in your pursuit of your goals in the sport—that is true. But this is not about convincing yourself you are fit, strong and fast. This is about directing your mind’s focus so that every day you can maximize the time and work you put in to your training.
I am going to start off by asking you some simple questions, or having you finish some simple sentences. Let’s start with these:
- Life is…
- I am…
- I am NOT…
Now consider these questions:
- Do you have a tendency to focus on the past, the present or the future?
- Do you tend to focus on what is missing? What you are lacking? Or what you need? Or do you tend to focus on what you have? What is good?
- What do you desire the most in life, sports or relationships?
- What do you fear or avoid the most in life, sport or relationships?
Whatever dominates your thoughts, that’s how you will live your life.
You get whatever you focus on! Especially when you are focused on something consistently for prolonged periods of time. For example, if you are constantly focused on what is missing, what you are lacking, or what is wrong, you will get more feelings of lack, or disappointment. If you focus consistently on what is great in your life, or what you have an abundance of, like strength and courage, you will get more of those.
Think about it this way. If you finished the sentence, “Life is hard”, you will get hard experiences. Everywhere, all the time. You will experience challenge and see everything as life being difficult.
Have you ever known someone who shows up as a “victim” in life quite often? They expect bad things to happen. It’s almost like they are always waiting for the next bad thing to come around—and so it always does. If you listen to these people you will hear them ask themselves questions like, “Why do bad things always happen to me? Why can’t it ever work out? Why do things always go wrong? “
You get what you focus on, and you also get the answers to the questions that you always ask.
If you are consumed by the thought of terrible things happening, they will continue to happen. If you want to change what happens to you, start by changing how you think. Instead of asking “Why do bad things always happen to me?” ask “What if things worked out perfectly? What would that look like, what would that feel like?” Or a more proactive and productive question like, “How can I make this work? How can I make this better?” will lead to much better results, and a much more enjoyable experience of everyday life.
If you want to change what happens to you, change how you think. Learn to think differently.
How do the most successful people think?
Knowing that our thoughts control our feelings, and our feelings control our actions, we MUST discipline ourselves to think of things that empower us, rather than disempower us.
For example, instead of thinking of all the things that could go wrong in your upcoming race, how about thinking of everything that can go right?
Instead of thinking about the one or two sessions you missed in your lead-up to the race, how about thinking about the hundreds of other sessions that you completed successfully.
Instead of thinking about your weaknesses, how about focusing mainly on your strengths?
The meaning we give certain things can also change our whole experience. For example: you can have an athlete who slows down the moment things start getting really hard. Why? Because they assume that they are having a bad day. They FOCUS on how bad they feel, how much it hurts, and on the fact that they must be having a bad day, and things just get worse and worse. They basically give up any chance of having a great day, right then and there.
Take another athlete who starts really suffering in the race, and they say to themselves “Wow, this is hurting, I MUST be flying!! Going fast hurts. It hurts. So, I am doing what I need to do to have a great day." Guess what? They do—they have a great day!!
Again, what you focus on is what you will receive.
So, what about the other questions? How about the “I am…” What did you answer?
Is your identity one that is serving you, and your goals? Or is it disempowering you?
If I wrote, “I am an outcast,” do you think that will help me achieve my goal of making the team? Or finding love? Or making friends? No. because what I focus on, I will get. If I believe I am an outcast, everything that happens around me I will perceive as me not fitting in, or me not being good enough, or me not having a place in this world.
What about if I changed that to, “I am unique!” Now that is empowering. Look at all the great leaders in our world, the inventors, the powerful people who've achieved amazing things. They all have a uniqueness to them. They stand out due to having something others don’t have, and this has led them to being able to achieve amazing things. That is a far more empowering identity, wouldn’t you say?
If I changed “Life is hard” to “Life is a great adventure,” don’t you think my experience of life would be a lot different?
Say I’m training hard for my key race, giving everything I have, preparing myself to be the very best on race day, then…I get a flat tire in the first 10km of the ride. I can either focus on how terribly unfair it is that I can work so hard and then have this happen to me. OR, I can say, okay, this sucks, but I am going to make this the best race I possibly can from this moment onwards. I fix the tire then relentlessly go about making it the best race possible. I feel proud. I feel happy that I never gave up. I strengthened my resilience muscles, and that will serve me often in my future.
What if I changed it to “Life is beautiful”? Wow, that would be a powerful one. I would feel grateful for every person and every experience, and this would invite absolute abundance into my life, which then allows me to fire on all cylinders, at all times.
Where focus goes, energy flows.
You can obsess over the FEAR you feel pre-race, OR you can decide that those feelings aren’t fear, they are excitement!! Lucky, you are feeling this! If you weren’t, it would be hard to get up for race day, wouldn’t it?
One thing I always tell my athletes on race day is to STAY IN THE MOMENT!! We are most powerful when we are fully invested in the moment. Doing the best that we can in each and every moment. If we are dwelling on a past mistake, or worrying about the outcome of the race, we are distracted and are letting our energy go everywhere else but into the effort we are putting forth. This is not effective. So, if you know that if you can put all your focus into being the best you can in the moment, you will be your most powerful and your most effective self—wouldn’t it be worth doing?!
Finally, let’s talk about what we desire most, and what we fear the most.
Most people will do more to avoid what they fear the most, than they will to get what they want the most.
Say that an athlete wants to be the BEST AUSTRALIAN TRIATHLETE EVER, that is their greatest desire, but their biggest fear is failing. This is a recipe for disaster, because in trying to be the best, you have to be willing to fail along the way. Failing is a part of the process. It’s not failing, it is LEARNING. Every time you fall short, you will learn something more about yourself, and what is required to make it work the next time. This is where we grow the most, in times of struggle. So, we must all embrace the challenges, be willing to fail (or to learn) and know that anything great will never be easy to achieve.
So, athletes must try to take their minds off of potential failure, and instead focus on everything that they can do to become the best athletes they are capable of becoming.
Ask yourself all the above questions and try to see where you may have some internal conflicts. Or, perhaps, the way you have been thinking isn’t allowing you to be all that you can be. Just becoming aware of this can help you take that first step to changing your way of thinking, to help support you in your goals.
Set yourself up for the ultimate success, by starting with your mind. Where focus goes, energy flows.
- Focus on what you WANT, not on what you don’t want.
- Focus on where you are going, not on where you have been.
- Focus on all the good in the world, not on the bad.
- When faced with problems, instead of obsessing over the problem, put all your thinking into possible solutions.
- Be your most powerful self by disciplining your thinking, so that it leads you to where you want to go—not to where you don’t want to go.
See your experience of life change and celebrate the simple task of mindfulness!!
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As a world champion triathlete, high-performance coach and author, Siri offers inspiring lessons on cultivating the mindset of a champion and a winning formula for life and career success. In her book, “Surfacing: From the Depths of Self-Doubt to Winning Big and Living Fearlessly,” Siri offers a candid account of her journey to personal growth, self-belief, and self-discovery.