July 02, 2018

Love, Anger, and Performance

If you’ve ever lived in the world of athletes, you’ve seen how many of them prep for a race.  Jumping up and down, hooting and hollering, smacking their face, and generally getting excited.  Those are the people who are the most fun to watch at the start, but they’re rarely the first to cross the finish line.  Why?

It’s the question and answer to an enduring problem:  Quick fix or lasting change?

The quick fix is easy:  Slap yourself in the face a couple of times, roar in defiance of anything you can think of, make some explosive movements and I guarantee you’ll get excited.  The problem is that this is temporary excitement built on a wobbly foundation, usually the idea of “get pissed” or “get angry” or to “crush your opponent.” 

Those are temporary states; anger is a hot burning fuel.  In the lens of today’s understanding of diet, anger burns on sugar; fast, hot, and dirty.

What then, should you do to psych up before a race or performance?  What will burn clean and long with plenty of energy? 

One of the lessons I’ve learned over the last 30 years of competing and consulting at all levels, from local 5k races to non-traditional sports like motocross and fencing to representing America overseas in international competition, is that love is a far more powerful motivator than anger.

It’s also more difficult to manage, because for many of us, love is a calming emotion.  If you’ll take a minute to think of love in a different light, you’ll be able to use its extraordinary power for your next event to great effect.  Here’s how to do it.

First, before the event, think of the most difficult times you’ll encounter.  If it’s a speech in front of a crowd, the most difficult piece is usually walking out and starting to talk.  If it’s a running race, it may be that long hill in the third quarter.  If it’s a hard push on skis way out in the backcountry, you may only know what strikes fear into you in a general sense. 

Once you’ve identified potential difficult points, you’re going to imagine two different things.  You’ll switch back and forth between them to build the energy up and support your efforts. 

First, imagine the people you love the most popping up a little in front of you and cheering you on.  For me, it’s my grandfather, my Mom & Dad, my sister, my wife, and good friends who’ve shared hard times with me before. 

You can also imagine animals or even entities; your dog, your god, some idea you have a connection to.  Place them in your imagination a little ahead of you, and have ‘em cheering in ways that make your heart skip and your jaw shudder a bit.  The emotional response should be strong.  Go ahead, let go of inhibitions regarding who cheers for you, you are the only one who will see and feel this.  Get deep.

Second, imagine the emotion of love completely surrounding you, enveloping you.  Imagine that this emotion, whatever it means to you, fills you up, saturates you completely, becomes your core motivator, your prime source of power. 

Imagine it pumping through your veins and arteries, filling your muscles, soothing your hurts, aches, stiffness, soreness, any pain.  Allow it to build throughout you until you are emanating extraordinary power in the form of love.  Imagine that everywhere you turn, or look, or move, a wave of energy crashes out before you, creating positive experiences for everyone around you.

Move back and forth between those two states; people or things and submersion in the emotion.  At first it may take a while; you’ll have to “build the world” before you can step in and inhabit it easily.  After you’ve practiced it enough, you’ll notice that you can enter that state every time you remember it.  Use it, strengthen it, make it a tool in your performance tool kit.

The next step is to make sure that once you’ve imagined the scenarios enough to be comfortable stepping into it, you’ll remember to use it for the actual performance.  I like to do this with simple visual cues; I’ll take a Sharpie and make a dot on the back of my hand, between my thumb and index finger.  Whenever I see that dot, it reminds me to enter the state of love. 

You can use index cards, a string bracelet, Post-It notes, whatever.  Just don’t rely on your memory the first few times.  In the stress of pre-event jitters it’s easy to forget everything useful you’ve ever learned and rush through to a sub-par performance.  Trust me on that one.

This will take practice and time.  It isn’t a quick fix, hint, tip, hack, or trick.  It is, however, one of the most powerful tools in your performance tool kit, and when you can enter a state of love at will or upon cue, you will be not only a far better performer, but a more excellent human.

Go forth amigos and apply the power of love to the most important things in your life.  Together, with love as our motivator, we’ll make this spinning sphere of rock and sky and water a little bit more enjoyable for all of us to ride.

To life!

Nik @ PT

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Nik Hawks


Nik Hawks helps run the show at Paleo Treats. Fascinated by humans in all their strange glory, Nik is harnessed in and pulling hard in pursuit of excellence with the rest of the PT Crew. Enjoy!

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