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“I firmly believe that anything can be learned. Even if you’re born without it, you can learn it.” -Ryan Flaherty
I recently listened to a podcast episode that featured Andy Puddicombe and Ryan Flaherty. To make sense of this, I have to give you a background of both these gentlemen.
Andy Puddicombe is the co-founder of Headspace, the meditation app with more than 15 million users worldwide. He originally started on his way to a sports science degree, but felt overwhelmed with emotions. His mind felt busy and active all the time. In 1994, he entered a monastery which was the start of his ten year journey in meditation. Ten years later, he returned to get a degree in the Circus Arts. Eventually, he met co-founder and current CEO Rich Pierson. Together, they founded Headspace. Andy’s vision is to provide a comprehensive guide to health and happiness through meditation.
Ryan Flaherty is the Senior Director of Performance at Nike. He’s known for improving speed in the athletes that he trains but athletes also seek him out for injury prevention purposes. His clients include sports superstars such as Serena Williams, Russell Wilson, Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston, the Arizona Cardinals and many other professional athletes. I’m particularly a fan of his algorithm that is particularly accurate in predicting speed. It involves one’s strength in the trap bar deadlift relative to one’s bodyweight.
The fascinating part of this podcast is that they have both trained professional athletes and Olympic medalists in different capacities. Both train athletes differently, of course, but were still able to spot the commonalities. Like Tony Robbins said, “Success leaves clues.” By studying the commonalities of world class athletes, you can emulate their mental approaches for better success in your own life. They also agreed on certain things that I’d also love to share with you.
Body and Mind Are Not Separate
Andy emphasizes that you cannot deliver world class physical performances with an untrained mind and vice versa. He mentions that you can reach a certain level of performance but will be unable to reach the pinnacle of sport or performance without mastery of both body and mind. On the other end, it becomes increasingly difficult for the mind to perform well without a healthy body to live in. The flow state in which athletes deliver inspiring performances stem from a clarity and calm focus in the mind. In this state in which just about any physical feat seems possible, there are no distractions in the mind. When an athlete seems to be moving effortlessly, you can bet that they’ve reached the flow state. Through mental training, this flow state can be extended, deeper, or easier to reach.
Nothing Lives in Isolation (Your Lifestyle Must Embody Your Principles)
People often train and focus on only one item. In sport, this could be focusing on the physical aspect of training but not the recovery aspects. If we dig into the recovery aspects, one could focus on nutrition but neglect sleep or stress management. Truly rich qualities or life and world class performances both have something in common- their lifestyles are an embodiment of their goals. Think your hangover or lack of sleep doesn’t affect your performance the following day? Think again. Until your lifestyle is fully in line with your goals, you’ll find yourself running into the same problems.
Anything Can Be Learned
Ryan specifically mentioned the learning of physical qualities such as speed. Sure, some people are born faster than others, but it is certainly a skill than can be learned. The same goes for qualities such as strength or endurance. Andy would also agree that mindfulness and clarity of mind can be reached through practice. Those who say that “I can’t shut off my brain” and “My brain just doesn’t work like that” are missing the point of meditation but also missing the fact that meditation and focus are learned skills.
Top Performers In Any Field Have Remarkably Similar Mental Qualities
This was far and away my favorite part of the podcast. Both agreed that the world class athletes that they had worked with had some striking commonalities. All of them had a very clear idea of where they want to get to and were prepared to lose along the way. They also understand that many things will happen from where they are now to where they want to be.
From an everyday mental approach, all of these world class athletes had or developed a willingness and ability to let go of inner chatter or previous experiences for the sake of reaching the flow state, which requires one’s mind to be in the present. Their self talk is also very positive. However, these world class performers allowed negative thoughts to come and go as they see the mind for what it is- just thoughts. By approaching the mind in this way, less negative thinking and more positive thinking seems to occur to them. In approaching fear, they go beyond fear. They get so close to it and try to understand it that fear itself does not faze them anymore. They see fear as thoughts and emotions in transitory. Andy makes it clear that our thoughts and emotions do not shape who we are and they certainly don’t define us.
Ryan also speaks to the athletes’ remaining true to their goals. He says, “There’s too many people in our lives telling us we can’t do something instead of ‘we can’. The people that are the most successful never believe anyone who doubts them. They have more self belief… they don’t have time to allow others to tell them they can’t do something. They just know they can. I know, and I talked to them personally, that they’ve gone through periods where they’ve struggled with that but I think that they always maintain that.”
Finally, he says, “I see it with athletes all the time where they just have this belief that nobody’s gonna stop them and to the point where they can’t walk anymore, they’ll believe that.”
That’s some powerful stuff! Regardless of whether you are seeking the pinnacle of excellence or just trying to improve your quality of life, there’s plenty to be learned in this podcast that can be applied to more than just sports. In some sense, sports seem to be an amplification of life’s important lessons, and studying the greats in sport will leave clues on how you can reach that next level in life.
How do your beliefs compare? What’s stopping you from reaching that next level?