There’s nothing new about high-achieving sports people accepting invitations from the world of business to talk about their experience and ‘how they dun it.’
Assuming the speaker can connect with his/her audience then the ‘wow’ factor can indeed be high and it can be a moving and inspirational experience for many in the room with some powerful lessons to take away. And for many people that’s enough.
Except there are others who want to go that step further - harness those lessons to change attitude and behaviour in order to positively affect hard measures like personal and team productivity and make those changes stick.
I think it’s endurance sport in particular which is a particularly suitable teacher and most relevant playground where the formative lessons are there to be learned - if we have the wit to pay attention. Here are three reasons why:
1. We Get What We Focus On
Now there’s a whole bunch of physiological and neurological reasons why this is true – and that’s another article. In essence, this is why goal-setting works and this means that the discipline for us is to focus on the stuff we want – as opposed to the stuff we don’t. In endurance sport and especially over the ultramarathon distance the consequences of getting this right and wrong are significantly enhanced because of two realities: Compound and cumulative.
2. Pace For The Long Haul
In my experience many people in and outside the sport think that success is pretty much just a case of mind over matter. And there is truth in that – up to a point. Many athletes are indeed noted for their incredible mental strength and emotional resilience the application of which can take them to places and performances us mere mortals can only dream about. Except there is a point at which the brain – in the ultimate act of self-preservation - will simply shut the body down, and no amount of Jedi mind tricks can change that. What that means for the athlete is to have a long-term, big picture perspective, pay attention to the dials and the warning signals, and constantly adjust in order to get consistently high performance without the spikes all the way between start and finish line. In essence, to be in balance.
3. Self Regulation
You won’t find many referees out there on the trail in races that take a half or full day and more to complete. There’s no video replay either. The only person who really knows if they’ve played by the rules out there is the athlete – which requires a highly developed sense of ethics and personal standards and the discipline to match behaviour with rules even when circumstances are difficult and levels of personal discomfort are high.