More Valuable Than Winning
Everybody loves winning, but what happens when you lose?
There will always be a winner and a loser. No matter how hard you work or how long you’ve been around, there will inevitably be times when you do not win. Even the greatest of all time (MJ, Kobe, Nadal, Gracie, Slater) have lost thousands of times in their careers. The greats are not defined by their wins and losses. They are defined by their consistent and rapid ability to internalize the lessons learned and bounce back even stronger. Good competitors who have achieved an average level of success always visualized and believed they would be victorious. Great competitors also visualized success. However, they did not linger on their visualizations of pristine and perfect performances…they always addressed the reality and ugly truth of competition.
Things will not always go your way, plans will seldom work, and often you will find yourself in uncomfortable situations scrambling to just get by. There’s a saying in combat, “No plan survives first contact with the enemy”. To put it simply, do not be surprised when things don’t go according to plan and always prepare for contingencies. One must be able to execute Plan A, B, and C, think on their feet, and come up with unique ways to win, regardless of the circumstances.
Utilizing the hope-factor approach only prepares your mind for the good times - when things are going well. What happens when you inevitably make a mistake? Will your rigid visualizations of having a perfect game, flight or match cause you to crumble after you make some mistake? How will you respond to adversity when your blood pressure is elevated, your situational awareness is minimized, you’re overthinking even the simplest of tasks, and your game plan is not effective against the competition? Most people will only ever visualize themselves winning or in a positive light out of fear that they will not be able to handle themselves when they lose, fail, or experience a setback on their journey. You will not always win, things will inevitably go against you…it is still your responsibility to turn the setbacks into comebacks!
As an elementary school student, I frequently competed in the Menehune Surfing Division of the Florida Eastern Surfing Association. This required daily commitment. No matter the conditions, I would conduct dawn patrol with my father, putting in the reps and being humbled by the ocean. Whether it was a standard day in Lake Atlantic, or a Hurricane ripping through town, you could find us out there. No excuses. The ocean presents a steep learning curve for a 10 year old, as most of Cocoa Beach’s best waves appear during Tropical Storms and Hurricanes. Learning to fight the rip current, duck dive, and take a heavy wave to the nugget several times over taught me resilience. When first learning to surf, getting beyond the shore break requires all of your energy. White water grenades, coupled with the exhaustion that inevitably plagues any inexperienced waterman makes cowards of us all. Any and all surfers have been sat down by Mother Nature at some point in their lives...feeling sorry for themselves and wondering if they have what it takes to not just catch a wave, but to even make the paddle out. I was fortunate to be in this position several times as a kid.
The ocean teaches many things. The least of which is the ability to remain resilient. As I grew stronger, spent more time training and surfing, I would eventually be able to paddle out to just about any lineup and compete with some of the best surfers in my age group. The lessons learned as a child in the ocean developed resilience for anything I did in the future. This paid special dividends for my time as a Division 1 College Tennis Player, Cadet at the Air Force Academy, and Student going through Air Force Pilot Training. However, growing up surfing is not a requirement to develop resilience nor does it guarantee somebody who surfs is by nature a resilient individual.
In this article I share three inclusive techniques (that do not require an ocean or a surfboard) to intentionally activate your resilience and strengthen the muscles necessary to overcome defeat, manage mistakes, and let go of the past:
1. Cold Exposure: The most important thing you can do to activate your grit is to intentionally make yourself uncomfortable. Every morning, without any thought or debate, I crank my shower full cold, and stand there as the freezing water pierces my skin. The cold shower is my favorite part of my morning routine for both the therapeutic benefits as well as the mental challenge of not wanting to go under the cold water. The cold shower requires significant determination. If you can find a cold tub or a barrel full of ice water, even better. Many of today’s top athletes begin or end their days with 5-10 minutes of cold exposure. I know everybody can make time for at least one minute.
2. Kumbhakasana: One of the foundational asanas of yoga is called Kumbhakasana, otherwise known as Plank Pose. Plank pose trains every muscle in your body. It develops the arms, wrists, shoulders, and back to support your body weight. This pose is often used to activate the core and to improve posture. Practicing plank pose for 5-10 minutes every morning builds endurance and stamina, while also triggering a healthy response from the nervous system. Performing this exercise every morning for a minimum of 5 minutes will be challenging. Your body will start to shake, your wrists will become tired, and your mind will convince you to set the knees down, lift the hips up, or in some cases, quit. Do not quit! It won’t always be easy. When the plank gets tough, this is an excellent opportunity to visualize yourself fighting tooth and nail against the competition. This exercise develops true strength - the type of strength needed to handle challenging situations in life. Some drill instructors in the military refer to this as the “Front Leaning Rest”. It almost seems like they were trying to teach us something about mental toughness in Basic Training…Here is a video explaining the simple, timeless, and effective, Plank Pose.
3. Savasana: Do not be the person who wakes up and immediately starts scrolling on social media, starts blasting music, or snoozes their alarm. These days, our lives are filled with noise, which means our minds are filled with wandering thoughts and distraction. Savasana is an asana focused on relinquishing control of the breath, thoughts, and body to achieve total relaxation. Savasana presents a unique opportunity to minimize sensory stimulation, and enjoy stillness and quietude. For most people, this is the most challenging pose in the yoga asana practice. I do this every morning before listening to any music, podcasts, or going to work. Most people do not know how to be alone with their thoughts and quiet the mind. This position promotes mental clarity by activating the parasympathetic nervous system and deactivating the sympathetic nervous system. Additionally, it lowers blood pressure and relieves muscular tension. Just 5 minutes of laying down with your eyes closed calms the nerves, and relieves sensations of restlessness and fatigue. When it comes to managing stress and remaining present in the moment, mindfulness and stillness offers the chance to take control of your mental and emotional energy. You may not feel any benefit after doing this the first time, but after weeks and months of consistent practice, a mindful savasana transforms high stakes circumstances and stressful situations into ones that are easier to handle. Knowing how to relax under pressure is ironically a skill that must be trained without pressure. Training savasana for 5 minutes every single morning promotes mental clarity, peacefulness, and gratitude. For an added bonus, visualize the most stressful part of your day while focusing on your breathing and your relaxation. Your amygdala will thank you! Click here for a guided Savasana.
Referring to these exercises in Sanskrit serves as a reminder to connect the mind and body to the breath. Performing these exercises without consciously breathing through the nose is purposeless. When things become challenging, focus on your breathing.
Learning to thrive in stressful environments does not happen overnight. Developing grit and resilience takes years of consistent and deliberate training and reflection. When included in a daily routine, these three exercises provide a great foundation from which to grow your mental and physical resilience. With practice, it will seem as though life is becoming easier. Small mistakes will no longer cause you to crumble. You will learn from mistakes and bounce back faster than you ever have - without judgment. You will get to the point where winning or losing no longer matters, and you are solely focused on true learning and development. Life is not getting easier, you are just becoming stronger.
In my profession, if you unravel under pressure or are unable to let go after making a mistake, you can put yourself in a dangerous situation. I practice these three techniques every morning before leaving the house to give myself the best chance of having a calm, clear, and collected mind for the day and flight ahead. I cannot control what happens when I walk out of the door, but I can control my morning routine. I do not leave the house praying to God for an easy path; through spiritual awareness, acknowledgement of my fears, and disciplined action, I show God every morning I am ready for whatever path He chooses.
The only way to understand true victory is to first understand defeat. I encourage each of you not to ask for an easier path, for an easy win, or a participation trophy. Take the path less traveled, bounce back strong from a tough defeat, and live without entitlement. Do not be so rigid that you are unable to handle roadblocks, speed bumps or emergencies.
More valuable than winning is the resilience to learn from your mistakes.
I leave you with a timeless mind vitamin, useful for getting in the cold shower when you really don’t want to:
“Suffering is not optional, but where we experience it is.”
Thanks for sharing, and stay grinding!