When you watch any athlete, any competitor, or any performer, there’s a certain sense of understanding when they walk into a competitive environment. There’s a sense of comfort there. Now, that doesn’t mean that people who are much more successful, who have been through the ringer, who have been through the most chaotic periods of competitive environments are not comfortable in the chaos necessarily. It’s never really, truly comfortable, but what it is – consistent. They’ve been there before. Let’s take a musician for example. They play a hundred times at their local bar, but you move them to a larger venue, they’re going to have anxiety, stress, and adrenaline. Even though they’re excited, they’re going to feel it. Same with an athlete who’s played his/her entire career at a certain level, you put them in the biggest venue in sports – Yankee Stadium, Madison Square Garden, Dodger Stadium – they are going to feel those same feelings.
Oftentimes, our athletes are taught how to control nerves, right? The word control is such a powerful, powerful word that gets misapplied and misunderstood. Let me dive in a little bit deeper here to explain. If you ever watched the Olympics, there was a talented speed skater on the short track by the name of Apollo Anton Ohno. He was dynamic. He was fast. Before Ohno began each race he’d yawn. You would see him skating around the track just yawning (it’s probably going to make you yawn now!) gonna make you yawn now. It was his key. It was his trigger on how to bring some calm into the consistency of what he was doing. Other high-profile athletes do similar things:
Those are triggers for those particular athletes that allow them to be present, right here in this moment. You see fighters enter the cage, and they move around the ring or the cage that they’re in to refocus. So it makes me wonder when we talk about finding calm and peace of mind, are we actually telling our athletes the wrong thing?
A couple months ago, I did a podcast with bestselling author Ryan Holiday (Ryan Holiday Podcast – Stillness is the Key). His new book, Stillness is the Key speaks to a lot of what I’m talking about. How do you actually get to calm and stillness despite all the chaos we go through? I think this is a very important distinction, and I think Ryan talks about it in his book. What we’re actually not doing is quieting down the chaos. We’re not quieting down our mind. We’re not eliminating all the distractions and the threats that are going on around us. Instead, we’re doing the opposite. What we’re actually saying is, “I can handle it. I am confident in the moment right where I am.” That is true stillness.
We’re no longer fighting the threats, and we’re comfortable and accepting of where we are. To me, that is ultimate stillness. There are many, many mechanisms that we put in place in order to achieve that. For many people, it’s breathing. For many folks, it’s reflection, or it’s acceptance. Sometimes we have to amp ourselves up in order to do it. Every one of those factors of stillness is about acceptance and confidence in the moment. If we’re not confident in the moment – and I don’t mean you have to be 100% confident – but if you’re not confident in the moment, what you’re going to do is amplify and highlight all the threats going on around you and your environment is going to become more chaotic.
What we're actually not doing is quieting down the chaos. We're not quieting down our mind. We're not eliminating all the distractions and the threats that are going on around us. Instead, we're doing the opposite. What we're actually saying is that I can handle it. I am confident in the moment right where I am.
It’s just the nature of the way the human brain works under high threat environments. Now, we’re not talking about being in war states, at all, but you talk about anybody who’s been in elite combat, and they’ll tell you that the day slows down, the noise heightens, and the smells intensify. It’s the same way for an athlete in the Super Bowl. See, stillness is in those moments is not the fact that any of those factors change around you, but instead you are becoming more comfortable in the chaos and fighting against it.
I want you to consider stillness from a different perspective. I want you to look at stillness in a way that says you’re ready to take on anything that comes your way. That is stillness I don’t have to fight against, and I can accept what comes to me. It’s almost like you’re bringing in the power of all the threats around you, and you’re feeling that stress that’s coming to you. That is stillness. It doesn’t mean that I have to slow anything down in my mind. It doesn’t mean I have to quiet my mind, or that I’m going to get rid of the negative thoughts or the doubts.
I see stillness as, “I can work through these threats. I can work through this storm.” When we don’t do that, we look outside of us at all of the individual threats in our life, and we tell ourselves we’re not good enough to be able to manage it. That we’re not capable enough to handle it. We’re not strong enough to manage the threat and the opportunity that’s in front of us. Stillness says, “I got it. I know what I’m doing, and I can handle it.” As a result, everything drowns together to a silent background noise and it’s no longer a threatening noise with an alarm.
Stop trying to have a quiet mind. That’s all garbage advice. Don’t believe it. You’re never going to have a quiet mind in the heat of the moment by trying to have a quiet mind. You ever had a racing heart rate, and somebody tells you to calm down? What do you think it does? It makes you upset. The best thing to do when you have a racing heart rate and your adrenaline is pumping is acknowledge that and say, “Ooh, I feel it.” What happens is you become very aware of that heart rate, ,go right back into your breathing, and your heart rate will slow down. That is stillness. It’s acceptance and confidence. It’s awareness of where you are.
I want to challenge you to find stillness in your life. Stop trying to change your environment to make it easier on you. See, you’re stronger than you believe. You’re stronger than every threat that has ever come your way. You’re stronger than any storm that’s on the horizon. You can manage anything by being willing to face it and accept the fact that you will endure it. Over time, those storms will become relaxing because you are stronger than you know.