Expressing Your Potential
by Gordo Byrn
What is my potential?
This week, I am going to share ideas on the role of genetics in sport. Clearly genetics, and inherent ability, play a role in all areas of our lives. However, the way I was taught genetics doesn't fit the reality of what I observe in my peers. When the map doesn't agree with the ground, the map (may be) wrong.
A book that greatly helped my thinking on this issue is Consilience by Wilson. The book forms an interesting bridge between science and the teachings of Ticht Nhat Hanh. The two points being: (a) we have many seeds within us -- so make sure you water the seeds that you want to grow; and (b) our lives are impacted by patterns that we reinforce. Taking those points into science: (a) our genes are expressed by exposure to the environment; and (b) our mind is an array of constantly firing neural pathways.
What does a Buddhist monk and our chosen environment have to do with our genetics? I had been taught that genes are black and white -- athletically, we either have "it," or we don't.
The challenge is that we don't really know what "it" is. There's endless discussion about physical markers and genetic gifts but when I look at people that perform, that's not it. Environment appears to have an essential role in how our genes are expressed.
There's Always More
I'm pushing the issue of motivation because the first trait of high performers is that they are likely to do-the-work regardless of outcome. This is most obvious in the agegroup ranks where there are material opportunity costs from following a path of athletic improvement. Within the elite ranks, a common desire is the external validation of a pro-card and life of leisure.
Performance arises from internal motivation to play a game of self-improvement.
Externally-driven performers succeed (at the very highest levels) but watch them over long time horizons. Achieving potential is a dynamic process, over our lives, not at a particular point. High performers don't retire, they move on (typically teaching others how to perform).
The Intelligent Athlete
If you are consistently not performing then you need to look deeply into your true motivators and fears. You might have a blockage (fear), you might be a bit clueless (lack of knowledge), or success might not be your #1 motivator (alternative goals). As a coaches, most people hire us to address a perceived lack of knowledge. Knowledge rarely limits performance -- structure and recovery can limit performance but its not rocket science to sort those out.
The take home point is that high performers have the ability to learn from their experiences.
The mechanisms for learning are straightforward. Document the following: what you do (training log); what you expect (race plans); where you are at (benchmarking); and what you deliver (race reviews). Many athletes state that tracking these aspects of their sport (or business, or life, or marriage, or family) isn't "fun" and that might be the case. However, if you want to live your life blindly then you are unlikely to achieve your potential. Even if you did... how would you know that you'd arrived there?
If there is a skill that limits performance then it is a basic model to quantify log, plan, benchmark and review.
Capacity to Change
My final take home point is about change and the key to that is understanding what you don't want to change!
It takes years to understand who we are -- things didn't begin to come into focus for me until I was 30 years old. However, if you have a basic tracking system then you'll be able to see what works (keep that); what doesn't work (remove that); as well as areas which limit performance (make these visible). This is where a trusted advisor can play a useful function. Not to tell you what to do! Rather, to point out the areas which may be self-limiting. In my early career (in finance), I had world-class coaching that I was unable to fully exploit. Why?
In my 20s, I was presented with clear areas where my actions were limiting performance (my manners, mainly) and I was unable to see the need for change or the benefit to change. In fact, I took pride in the fact that I was a high-performer despite being a pain in the butt (at times). It takes a lot of talent to overcome the combination of intellectual arrogance and pride!
This comes to the heart of whether you are coach-able.
High performers have the ability to change when presented with feedback that their current approach is self-limiting. It's not "the change", it is the "ability to change" that is special.
However, if you:
then you will have the best shot of finding out for yourself!
Remember that race day is the fun part -- that's when our results are revealed.
Until next time,