October 01, 2018

Love as a performance enhancer

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 fun to watch at the start, but are 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. 

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

One of the lessons I’ve learned over the last 30 years of competing at all levels, from local 5k races to representing America as a Naval Pentathlete, is that love is a far more powerful motivator than anger.

It’s longer lasting, burns cleaner, can be used over and over again, and leaves you a better person for having used it.  It’s also more difficult to manage in pushing the physical envelope, 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 are two healthy ways to use love to power through to victory.  Switch back and forth between them to build the energy up and support your efforts. 

First, during the event, 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, you are the only one who will feel this.  Get deep.

You should use this in both training and the race itself.  When you use it in training, notice how long that joyous emotion of love lasts, and what it can push you to do.  Pay attention to who evokes the strongest emotion in you, and if there’s anything specific they say, or do.  I usually hold my most powerful ones in reserve, keeping ‘em for when I’m really hurting and need some serious motivation. 

Practice the idea of using one person over and over again; they’re in your imagination, so you can move them as much as you want.  Place them out at the edge of where you can hear them, imagine their voice at first only faintly cheering for you as they catch sight of you, high five ‘em as you pass, feel their strength and belief in you as they cheer you on.

This is an extraordinarily powerful method, and one that I turn to only when I’m flagging.  When you practice using it in training, notice how much it buoys you up, and also how long you can keep it going for.  I think of it as most appropriate in the third quarter of a race or run, but figure out when it works best for you and use this aspect of love to propel you on to your best efforts.

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.

The more deeply you can immerse into this visualization, the more powerful it becomes.  You can use this while in motion, or before a training session, or a race.  By connecting deeply with the power of love, you create an ultra healthy space in which to put forth your best efforts.  Once you start doing this regularly, it’ll become easier and easier to summon, shape, and direct.

Move back and forth between those two states; people and 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 either state quickly.  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 need to remember to use it in the actual performance.  Race day can be a whirlwind, so take the time prior to the race and set yourself up to do the things that you know work well.

I like to prepare 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 place my supporters out on the course with me, or 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, and 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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