Every four years, I am overcome with Summer Olympic Fever. I love the pageantry of the opening ceremony, the sentimentality of the medal ceremonies, and the amazing focus and dedication of the athletes. I marvel at the power and control they have over their muscles after years of training.
However, watching the games this year has resonated with me in a different way. Obviously, all of the competitors are elite athletes. What sets apart Olympic champions is their mental toughness, determination, and how they handle themselves when things go wrong.
A gymnast might bobble on the beam but she still has to regain her composure and electrify the judges with her incredible dismount. A swimmer may miss a medal by .02 seconds, but he still has to be ready for the next race only moments later.
Resilience is the key to success.
Resilience is part temperament and part taught.
Case in point is Michael Phelps and his coach, Bob Bowman. Bowman, to whom Phelps credits much of his success, focused Phelps’s mind as much as he did his body. He would create obstacles for Phelps to overcome, training his mind for resilience. In a prescient moment in coaching, Bowman stepped on Phelps’s goggles so they would fill with water when he swam. In Beijing, enduring this specific torment paid off in the 200M Butterfly Final. As he dove into the pool, Phelps’s goggles filled with water. He relied on his training to stay calm and find a solution to the problem. Because he could not depend on his eyes to set his pace, he counted his strokes. He handled adversity, kept his cool and won the gold.
Phelps was completely burned out on swimming after the London games. No one makes good choices from a place of depletion.
He made self-destructive choices, hit rock bottom but got help when he needed it most. While in rehab he was able to re-discover himself, his passion and his resilience. And, win gold again in Rio.
We are not elite athletes and we don’t need anyone to manufacture obstacles. Life brings its own challenges.
The point is not to prepare for every possible obstacle, but to prepare the mind that obstacles inevitably come.
Likewise, we do not need to protect our children from the normal growing pains of life. Rather, we need to prepare by helping them to navigate adversity so they will be ready to face challenges on their own someday.
The more we train ourselves to remain flexible, to create a solution, and have faith in our own resilience, the stronger we will be.