Motivational & performance enhancing tidbits

Motivational & performance enhancing tidbits

IN THIS ISSUE:  

“Out with the old and in with the new, here’s some holiday motivational and performance enhancing tidbits just for you.” Have a happy and healthy New Year. This year appreciate and celebrate what you have now and remember, the only thing that you can surely count on in this life is change! Don’t push the river! Go with it! You may be very pleasantly surprised to see where it takes you. All my best for a wonderfully successful and enjoyable peak performance “03.” Dr. G.


ATHLETE’S LOCKER - “Some holiday gifts for you!”

DR. G’S TEACHING TALES “A twisted nature tale about letting go.”  


ATHLETE’S LOCKER

“Some belated holiday ‘gifts’ for you”

YOU ARE YOUR DREAMS – BELIEVE IN YOU: “Anything that you can conceive of and believe in, you can achieve,” or so the motivational wise men say. Are they right? You bet your life they are! Limits exist only in your mind. You can do the impossible if you truly set your mind to it. You have no handicaps except for your beliefs. Trust yourself. Listen to your heart. Take risks and go for it. Don’t play it safe. Don’t play it careful. Don’t listen to all the “experts” out there who tell you that it’s impossible or that you just can’t do it. They have no idea what they are talking about. They do NOT know what’s inside your heart. They do not know about your drive and desire. Your belief is THE ONLY THING THAT COUNTS. Your belief in yourself is EVERYTHING! Dare to dream. Dare to step outside of your comfort zone. Dare to doubt your limiting beliefs! A blind man successfully scaled Mt Everest. A relative beginner swimmer with a lifelong fear of the water completed a 65 hour, 43 mile swim across Lake Michigan, and then in subsequent summers swam across two more Great Lakes. A one handed pitcher made it to the Big Leagues and had a successful career. What can you do? YOU ARE ONLY LIMITED BY WHAT YOU BELIEVE IS POSSIBLE! Negativity and self-doubts are the only real limits that you have. Learn to pay them no attention. Your doubts and negative thoughts are nothing more than the “doormen” at the door of success. As you approach a new task or go after a scary dream you can count on this dynamic duo of negativity to be there. See them for what they are. Your doubts and negative thoughts are letting you know that you are going in the right direction. They are beckoning you to keep going, DON’T STOP. Don’t ever take your doubts and negative thoughts at face value. They mark the path to success. Move towards them! Remember, the sky is the only limit you have! There is a POSSIBLE in every impossible. Stretch yourself. Dream BIG and GO FOR IT!
 
WORK YOUR WAY TO SUCCESS: There is one, very simple formula to athletic success. If you have what it takes, this formula can be your ticket to all your dreams, on and off the playing field. It’s so simple and so obvious that most athletes in the coming year will overlook it! They will ignore this success strategy because, in it’s simplicity, it is extremely difficult. While this secret is available to everyone, it is only consistently used by a select few. This strategy is a great equalizer and can help you overcome handicaps, limitations and great obstacles on your way to achieving your dreams. The secret is WORK, pure, unadulterated, BORING, HARD WORK. If you have a dream that is worth achieving, the fastest, most effective way to turn that dream into a reality is to work hard for it on a consistent basis. This is unbelievably easy and brutally difficult all at the same time. Too many athletes are not willing to consistently bust their butts on a daily basis for their dream. Some days they just don’t feel like it. Some days they might be tired. Some days they may have more enjoyable things to do instead of practicing. It takes a real champion to consistently “pay his/her physical dues” on a daily basis. That’s why there aren’t a lot of true champions out there. Many athletes will say they want to be a champion. Many will actually claim that they’ve already achieved this lofty status. However, real champions don’t use their mouth to get their message across. They talk with their actions! Only a select few athletes out there will actually do whatever it takes to be successful. Remember, winners work harder than everyone else. That’s why they’re ultimately successful. They want it more than everyone else. That’s why they’re willing to do whatever it takes. Separate yourself from the masses. Get off your butt, quit your whining and start busting. This is the ONLY way to become a champion! It’s the old fashioned way. You have to WORK for it!
         
WHEN YOU COMPETE, LEAVE YOUR GOALS & EXPECTATIONS AT HOME: One of the biggest mental mistakes regularly committed by athletes is to go into a competition carrying your goals and expectations. This is a big game and you want to win. You want to pitch a shut-out, outrun this rival, score 15 points or qualify for Nationals. When you carry your goals into the competitive arena with you, chances are great that you will leave that performance with a ton of disappointment and heartache, and nothing more! Expectations will weigh you down. Expectations will distract you from the performance and get you physically uptight. Expectations will lead you to gag, big time! Want to perform to your potential when it counts the most? Then write your goals on a piece of paper before you leave for the game, match or race, and then leave that paper at home! Make a deal with yourself to let go of your goals. Expectations and goals should be your training partner, used to motivate you to work harder and take your game to the next level. However, I have a cardinal, mental toughness rule:  NEVER TAKE YOUR GOALS AND EXPECTATIONS WITH YOU INTO A COMPETITION. Go into your games/matches/races without any preconceived notions about the outcome. Forget the outcome! Instead, keep your focus on what you’re doing in the moment. Concentrate on the competition as it unfolds, moment by moment. When you do this you’ll remain loose and relaxed. When you stay loose, you’ll perform to your capabilities. Goals and expectations are critically important for your overall motivation, and critically destructive when you carry them into a performance.       


THE “NOW” IS YOUR TICKET TO MENTAL TOUGHNESS & PEAK PERFORMANCE: Concentration is the key to athletic excellence and keeping your focus in the “now” of the performance is the heart of winning concentration. One of the biggest mental mistakes made by athletes is a concentration one: “TIME TRAVELING” Time traveling is all about leaving the moment, the NOW and what you’re doing and, instead, mentally shuttling back and forth from the past to the future. A past focus on mistakes, last game, last year, last performance as you are getting ready to begin a new competition will get you into hot water performance-wise. The only value of going into the past is in practice when you want to learn something from a previous mistake or performance. The future is all about the “what if’s” and the outcome. You can’t perform to your potential when your mind is ahead of yourself. Athletes who spend too much mental time in the future often play tightly and tentatively. A future focus will most likely lead you down the road to choking. Instead you want to discipline yourself to stay in the NOW, focused on this play, this move, this skill, this point, one at a time. The NOW is the only mental time zone where you have access to all your skills. It’s the only time zone where you have access to all your hard work and training. It’s the only mental place that you’ll find available brain cells to perform smartly. Remember, THE PAST IS A CANCELLED CHECK. THE FUTURE IS A PROMISORY NOTE. THE NOW IS THE ONLY CASH YOU HAVE. SPEND IT WISELY!

WORK ON YOUR WEAKNESSES TO GET STRONGER: “A chain is only as strong as its’ weakest link,” and you are only as good as your weaknesses. Do you want to reach those athletic dreams of yours? Do you want to maximize your potential as an athlete? If so, then you have to get into the habit of moving towards, rather than away from your weaknesses. Most athletes avoid the things that they do poorly because they do them poorly. Unfortunately, by avoiding your weaknesses, they will always remain as your weak links and make you more and more vulnerable with time. Don’t worry about the fact that you may not be good with your off foot, that your backhand is lousy or that your breast stroke is terrible. Who cares if you have trouble hitting the curve ball, can’t shoot with your off hand or tense up in front of a large crowd. Take these problems as the great opportunity that they are. They all provide you with a chance to really get better! Understand that every one of your weak links is a bridge to your overall development and improvement as an athlete. Go out and find your weak links. If you’re not exactly sure what they are, then go ask your coaches. Then make a serious commitment to yourself to take the necessary time to turn your weaknesses into strengths. Make a commitment to consistently work on your “weak links.” The more you work on the things that you’re not good at, the better you will get at them and the better your overall performance will become. Be smart about your training. Weaknesses are NOT things to be embarrassed or ashamed about. Everyone has them. Seek yours out and then work hard on a daily basis to change them into strengths!           

BUILD YOUR SUCCESSES ON YOUR FAILURES: The paradox of success is very simple: You can’t be successful unless you fail enough. Far too many athletes avoid failure like the plague. They mistakenly believe that losing is a terrible thing and something that must be avoided at all costs. They erroneously believe that losing is a cause for shame and an indication that you are not good enough! This is an unfortunate, tremendously limiting misconception. The fact of the matter is that you can’t reach your athletic dreams unless you’re willing to fail. Simply put you can’t have success without ample enough failures. Why? Getting better as an athlete is a product of learning. Failing provides you with the best opportunity to learn. When you fail, you get valuable information about what you did wrong, what you need to change and exactly what has to happen next time for you to be more successful. Failing stinks! It’s no fun! There’s no question about that. However, failure is a necessary step in the learning and success process. You should NEVER use your failures the way most athletes do: To them, failure is an indication that they are just not good enough and a reason to emotionally beat themselves up for falling short. Emotionally pounding on yourself for losing is a terrible waste of time and psychic energy, not to mention a terrible drain on your self-confidence. Failing is what you need to do a lot of in order to get stronger, faster, more talented and successful. FAILURE IS FEEDBACK, nothing more, nothing less! It is NOT a measure of your self-worth as a person or an athlete. Accept your failures, learn from them and then leave them in the past where they belong. Remember, FAILURE IS FEEDBACK AND FEEDBACK IS THE BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS!    

WANT TO PLAY WITH CONFIDENCE? THEN FOCUS ON YOU: If you’ve ever been psyched out or intimidated before, then you may be interested in knowing where those awful, confidence-sapping feelings come from. Psych-outs are NOT, as you might believe, a product of what your opponent does or says to you right before or during the competition. They are NOT a product of the little head games he or she might engage in. The fact of the matter is that it’s really not your opponent who intimidates you and makes you uptight! It is instead, YOU who makes YOU uptight. That’s right! You are the one who psyches yourself out! This is the good news because you can learn to develop some control over this. So how do you psych yourself out and kill your own self-confidence? One word: CONCENTRATION. We tend to undercut our confidence and bring our nervousness on ourselves by what we focus on before and during the competition. For example, when you focus on your opponent, (his size, strength, reputation, talent, record, comments or behaviors) you will begin to lose confidence in yourself and start to get physically and mentally uptight. To keep your confidence consistently high, you must get in the habit of staying focused on yourself, and no one else. It’s only when your focus drifts to the opponent that you will begin to feel shaky, confidence-wise. What this means is that you have to get out of the nasty habit of COMPARISON. Comparing yourself to a teammate or opponent is a losing game. You will LOSE your confidence. You will LOSE your ever so vital during-performance looseness. You will LOSE your composure, and then you will LOSE! Focus on YOU. Play your OWN game. Stay inside yourself. What your opponent does is totally irrelevant if you pay attention to the right things. The funny thing about beating another team or individual is that it’s more likely to happen over and over again if you focus on YOU, and NOT on them!      

YOUR OPPONENT IS YOUR MOST VALUABLE TRAINING PARTNER: If you’re smart you’ll take this in. There is one other person besides yourself that can really help give you a boost in reaching your athletic dreams. He’s probably the last person you’d ever think of when you assemble your “dream” team. (The group of support people that you’ll want to help you make your dreams come true). He may not seem like the most friendly of people. He may even take delight in your failures and suffering. However, if you truly want to take your athletic skills as far as possible, you’ll keep in mind that one of your greatest training assets is your opponent. You heard me right! Your OPPONENT! The so-called enemy who you’ve sworn to “hate, kill and destroy.” Now hear this: You will never get better and improve as an athlete in any real OR significant way until you learn to develop a healthy attitude towards the competition. Too many athletes are terrified of losing and therefore avoid playing against specific opponents. Perhaps they feel threatened if the opponent is much stronger. Perhaps they are intimidated by the opponent’s physical style of play. Maybe they just plain hate losing all the time to this opponent. Understand that the better, tougher, stronger your opponent is, the more of an opportunity you have to improve as an athlete. The same holds true for your teammates. If you are surrounded by much more talented teammates, those kids who make you sit the bench or bounce you off the relay are actually providing you with a tremendous opportunity to improve. When you surround yourself with tougher opponents, you invariably get tougher. When you have to continually deal with stronger teammates, you ultimately get stronger. Quit your whining and complaining about what such and such does to you in practice that ticks you off. If they’re beating your butt, then they are doing you a huge favor. Thank them for it and put your nose to the grindstone. The same holds true with the stronger arch-rival. They are there in your life not to torment you, but to give you the opportunity to get much better! Appreciate them! Respect them for what they bring out in you. Remember, there would be no Larry Bird without a Magic Johnson, no Barry Bonds without a Mark Maguire, no Andre Agassi without a Pete Sampras, no University of Connecticut women’s basketball dynasty without a Tennessee Lady Vols championship program

REFUSE TO GIVE IN! NEVER, EVER QUIT: There’s an interesting fact about success. It isn’t necessarily a product of oversized talent. It’s NOT really just about who’s stronger, faster or physically tougher, or who has the best training base. All these factors go into success, they are all important but not one of these guarantees it. The same holds true for coaching. A knowledgeable, effective coach is critically important to the success process, but good coaching alone doesn’t guarantee a positive outcome. As far as I’m concerned there is one internal factor that will ultimately determine whether an athlete will achieve success or not. All the most successful athletes at every level seem to have this “X” factor. It’s always missing in their less accomplished teammates and opponents. The “X” factor that I speak of can be found in even the physically smallest of competitors, but there is nothing small about the power that this “X” gives that tiny athlete. What is “X”? Perseverance, a refusal to quit regardless of the odds or what the “experts” may say, a stick-to-it-ness, a never-say-die attitude. I know of no other characteristic within the athlete that is more responsible for success than this mental tenacity. When you refuse to give up, you dramatically increase your chances of success. When you refuse to stay down after you’ve been knocked on your butt, you provide yourself with just one more opportunity to get what you want. Because you have given yourself this one more opportunity, you are that much closer to accomplishing that dream. Far too many gifted, hard working athletes fall short of their goals because they give up one or two failures too soon. By refusing to quit or give in, you will eventually wear down success until it’s yours. It’s all based on the understanding that you can always do far more than you think you can. The runner or endurance sport athlete gets tired mentally and quits long before her body is ready to give in. In the very same way, far too many athletes give up on the entire process because they “think” they can’t do it. Remember, when you quit, you have no more chances and when you have no more chances, then you’ve failed. Failure is never yours until you stop trying. I have a friend who “quit” trying to make the US National swim team over 8 times before she successfully carved out a spot for herself and won a gold medal in Atlanta. Of course every time my friend “quit,” she was back in the pool the very next morning gutting it out again. Remember, the old children’s cliché. If at first you don’t succeed, try and try and try and try and try (you get the picture) again.   

THERE’S NO “I” IN TEAM – BE A TEAM PLAYER: You live in an “I society,” a member of the “me generation.” All too often athletes are more concerned with their own welfare and well being than that of their teammates and team. Players are more concerned with their playing time, their stats and whether they are getting written up in the papers than if their team is working together and being successful. In today’s athletic world it’s almost old fashioned to be a team player. As far as I’m concerned, this is a real tragedy. The true winner in every sport is a team player. He is not selfish. He is not a showboat. He does not think himself to be a legend in his own mind. He does not pout nor sulk when he gets benched or things don’t go his way. He does not go off and whine! While deep down inside he may believe that he’s the very best on the team, he does NOT act that way in relation to his teammates on the outside. On the contrary! The real winner does everything in his power to make all those around him better. He sees it as his responsibility to the team to bring everyone up to his level. He puts the welfare of the team before his own. He sacrifices his needs for the betterment of the group. These kinds of athletes are becoming an endangered species. That is why you need to start acting like a winner. “I” athletes are losers. Their selfishness and shortsightedness hurts the team and everyone around them. Their sulking, whining behavior is obnoxious and immature. We need more “we” athletes in our sports. Coaches love “we” athletes. They know these kinds of athletes will win. They know these kinds of athletes are a pleasure to work with. If you play a team sport, then you owe it to yourself to mold yourself into this kind of winner. If you are in an individual sport and train with a team, the same holds true for you. Be a class act. Be a team player. Support your teammates. Build them up. Be a winner, NOT a whiner!       

WANT A PEAK PERFORMANCE? THEN HAVE FUN!: Here’s the most basic, commonsensical, most obvious yet misunderstood secret to peak performance. HAVE FUN! If you want to perform to your potential when the heat of competition is turned up high, then you have to understand that a necessary prerequisite for this to happen is FUN. You MUST have fun in order to play out of your mind. Most athletes tell me, “let me win the game, pitch a shut-out, score two goals, hit a home run, score 25 points and then I’ll have fun.” Of course, it’s fun to play well. It’s GREAT fun! However, this is backwards in a big way! If you truly want to play well, if you truly want to win, if this is your one big chance and you want to make sure that you make the very most of it, then you had better have fun FIRST! Why? Because when you have fun, you are more relaxed. When you have fun you are more likely to let the performance flow. When you have fun it will be that much easier to focus on all the right things and block out all the garbage. When you have fun, you will stay loose. Without the relaxation, flow, proper focus and looseness you can never perform to your potential. Having fun is THE major organizing ingredient in peak performance. It’s THE key! It’s THE secret. So why, if this is so true, do so many athletes seem to have such a miserable time at it right before and during that big contest? Simple! They do everything in their power to squeeze the fun completely out of the performance. How do they do this? By focusing on outcome and pressuring themselves. The best and fastest way I know to drain fun out of your performances is to over focus on the game/match/or race’s outcome. Pressuring yourself to do well will distract you from the important task at hand, make you uptight and kill your enjoyment. Let’s change your goals here. The next time you have a really big performance, throw out the outcome goals. Forget about winning, the record, your points, playing well, etc,. Instead, make your goal simply to have fun before and during the performance. That’s the purpose of sport anyway. No game is that important that it’s worth you being uptight and miserable. Fun is your vehicle to all those big dreams of yours. Have fun FIRST and THEN you’ll play well!

TRAIN WITH A GOAL IN  MIND: if you would like to take your training to the next level, there is one simple strategy that you can use to help you dramatically improve the quality of your daily training: Keep your ultimate goal in mind while you train. All too often, athletes just go through the motions in their practices, not really having their heart into what they are doing, hoping the practice will be over soon, wishing that they were somewhere else. The problem with having your body into the training without your head and heart is that your practices will be far less productive. To get the very most out of your training, you must learn to practice with both your head and your heart engaged in the process. The best way to get both on board is to have a direction or purpose to your training. You get this direction from your goals. You get this direction from answering the questions, “why am I here today?”, “what’s my purpose?” and “How is what I’m doing today going to help me fulfill that purpose?” Simply put you must have an emotionally compelling reason to train. You must have what I call a “big enough why.” Your “why” can be the goal of winning a particular tournament, breaking a record, making a team, etc. It doesn’t really matter what your “why” is, it only matters that this goal is emotionally important to YOU. When you train with your larger goal in mind, it gives a personal direction to everything that you do on a daily basis. When you keep your larger purpose in mind, you won’t get distracted by others goofing around, a poorly organized practice, excessive fatigue or lousy training conditions. When you continue to ask yourself, “how is what I’m doing today, going to help me get to my goal?” you will always have more meaningful, productive practices. And when you consistently do this on a daily basis you will separate yourself from the competition. Remember, don’t just train physically, train mentally and emotionally. Put your head and your heart into your practices by keeping that larger goal in mind every day.

YOUR SPORT BELONGS TO YOU, NOT YOUR PARENTS: All too often athletes get into feeling very guilty because of all the things that their parents do for them regarding their sport. They buy them good equipment, get them great coaching, pay for them to go on team trips, accompany them to faraway competitions, spend oodles of money in the process, get an extra job to help pay for all these expenses, and in general, give up their life so that you, the athlete can have all the opportunities in the world to excel. And what do you give them in return for all this pain and sacrifice? BUBBKIS!!!! You choke under pressure, go 0 for 5 in the big game, hit the post in overtime instead of scoring and you let that pesky rival beat you again? Boy, are you ever ungrateful! TIME OUT!!!! You owe mom and dad NOTHING for all that they do for you other than being a loving, caring son/daughter and being appreciative of all their efforts. You do NOT have to pay them back in your performance. You do NOT have to produce a certain results so that they can feel like they’re getting a decent enough return on their investment of time, energy and dollars. If they are making you feel this way, then they are flat out WRONG!!! YOU CAN EVEN TELL THEM THAT I SAID SO! Your sport belongs to YOU and NO one else!. Your sport is FOR you. You do not have to perform to justify their time and energy. They are doing it, and should only be doing it because this is what good, loving, caring and appropriate parents do, NO STRINGS ATTACHED! If your parents continually make you feel guilty for what they do for you, if they make you feel badly when you don’t perform to their expectations, if they continually threaten to pull the plug on their funds and pull you out of YOUR sport unless you do better, then around this issue they are making a BIG mistake and doing you a world of damage. Their job is to give freely of their time, love, energy and efforts. Your job is to be extremely loving and appreciative of them around this, but NOT to feel like you have to “pay them back” or make them happy through your performances. This is a mental trap that you don’t want to fall into. You should do your sport because YOU like it, because of YOUR goals and dreams, because it brings YOU much happiness, and NOT for mom and dad. Appropriate, loving parents understand this and would NEVER try to impose their hopes, dreams and desires on you their child and his/her sport. So starting today, NO MORE GUILT! Let it go. Stop trying to make your parents happy by producing a certain result. Instead, focus on making YOU happy by playing your sport FOR YOU.

LET THE REFS DO THEIR JOB: How many times have you heard, “That was such a bad call, the refs sucked today and that’s why we lost”? Do yourself and everyone around you a BIG favor: LEAVE THE REFS ALONE! Parents, athletes and coaches who get caught up focusing on the officiating are wasting their psychic energy, distracting themselves from the game and killing their enjoyment of the sport. You can NOT perform to your potential if you spend the game whining about or focusing on a missed or bad call. Athletes who tend to concentrate on the refs during the run of the game mentally take themselves out of the competition and play terribly as a result. Guess who’s fault that is? NO, it’s NOT the refs, even if their calls are awful. It’s the athlete’s fault. Refs are human and like you they will have good games and bad ones. Sometimes they’ll be right on and never make a mistake and other times, all they’ll do is screw up. Your job as an athlete is not to spend the game evaluating the officiating. When you do that you only distract your concentration from the game. Your job is to perform to the very best of your ability and in order to do that you must focus on what’s important. As far as you’re concerned, the refs are NOT important. Stop whining about the blown calls. Tell your parents to stop whining about the bad calls. If anyone needs to complain, let your coach do it. You need to make sure that you and everyone on your team immediately refocuses after what you think is a bad call. Like any mistake, you should not take anything from the past into the next play. A bad call, once it’s happened is NOW in the past. Let it go. Forget about it. Ignore the refs. Refocus on your job in the moment. When you whine about bad calls, not only are you acting like a loser, but you’ll also play like a loser!

YOU ARE NOT YOUR PERFORMANCE:  Losing does not make you a loser. Winning does not make you larger than life. You are NOT your performance. How you play the game tonight does NOT and should NOT define how you feel about yourself! You are so much more than how you play. These are lessons that most serious athletes have trouble understanding. They spend so much time and energy training and invest so much of who they are, that it’s easy for them to fall prey to the myth that they are defined by how well they perform. Don’t do this to yourself. It’s wrong and flat out unhealthy. Let’s keep this whole “game” thing in perspective. Your sport is NOT an earth shattering event. While it may feel like it’s the most important thing in your life at that moment, its’ NOT! This is a sport your “playing” here. Sometimes you’ll play it well and other times you’ll stink the place out. That’s just the nature of playing the game called competitive sports. Your job, through the roller coaster ride that your athletic career will be, is to try to not completely define yourself by what you do on the field or court. You may feel like a loser after a very painful loss, but if you continue to hang onto that feeling days and weeks later, then you’ve completely lost your perspective and are overdoing things. Try to keep the bigger picture in mind. What you do outside of the athletic arena, in your life is ultimately far more important than whatever goes on inside of it during competition. Who you are as a person is far more important than who you are as an athlete. The relationships that you develop with those around you, your family, school, career are all critically important parts of who you are that ultimately have much more meaning than what happens in any game, match or race. Here’s the funny part of all of this. When you can keep the bigger picture in mind, when you don’t tie up who you are as a person and your self-worth with your athletic performance, you will be that much more successful when you perform. If you only see yourself as an athlete and value yourself based on the outcome of your performance, then you will always play like you have too much to lose. When your ego and self-worth are on the line when you step to the line, your play will be tight and tentative.  

DR. G’S TEACHING TALES

“A twisted nature tale about letting go”

He was in unbelievable shape. You have to be if you’re really serious about being successful. Of course, his conditioning certainly didn’t come easily. He had started out looking like a close cousin to the Pillsbury Dough Boy, soft and pudgy. Climbing up a lousy set of stairs use to leave him sweating and winded. His idea of sports had been to lay himself out on the couch all day Saturday and Sunday, watching ESPN and lifting nachos. All that had changed.

He had been religiously training for months to get himself in better shape, pushing through the pain, fatigue and boredom and fighting the strong urges to quit and go back to the couch. What kept him going was his goal. He kept it with him constantly. He understood full well that the biggest secret to success lies in how much you really want something and how much you’re willing to pay for success. No question that right now he wanted it badly and was more than willing to put in all the work that was necessary to get there.

It wasn’t like he was out to conquer the world or anything. It was just a solo hike up one of the ridges along the Appalachian Trail and than a week-long trek to prove himself for once and for all. His friends didn’t think he had it in him. They laughed at him and even told him so. In fact, they were willing to put up a sizeable wager to prove their point that once a couch potato, always a couch potato. The potential to shut them up and prove them wrong was a powerful source of motivation for him. So he began his training. He started lifting weights and running. He cut out the nachos. He avoided the couch. His body slowly changed. His endurance increased. He started feeling healthier, stronger and more confident. The day came and he knew he was ready. His “friends” gave him a bag of Doritos as a good luck present. He deposited it in the trash on the way home.

The day was brilliant with a slight chill in the air when he started out at the base of the trail, looking upwards at a 8,000 foot climb. Things went fine for the first hour or two and he was starting to brim with confidence when suddenly he stepped on a loose rock and went crashing down hard on his butt. He had twisted his ankle slightly but was more upset about having fallen than anything else. He kept calling himself stupid and clumsy as he picked himself up and gathered some of his supplies that had come out of his pack. In fact he was so upset about the fall that he grabbed the loose rock that he had slipped on and put it into his pack. He reasoned to himself that he never wanted to forget how stupid he was for tripping and how much he had hurt himself. The rock would be a reminder.

As the day grew warmer his spirits improved. He had forgotten all about that first spill when, BANG! It happened again. His foot tripped over another larger rock, wedged into the trail and he went down hard face first, Skinning his chin and knocking the wind out of him. As he lay there gasping for air, he cursed out loud and began to rail at himself for being so damn clumsy. He was so angry that when he got himself up, he kicked the rock that he had tripped over, bruising his foot. Then he took a multi-purpose knife from his pack and began digging up the rock. After about 25 minutes he finally got it loose. It was a good 10-15 lbs. He stuffed it in his pack because he wanted to remind himself of this fall to insure that it didn’t happen again.

As the day wore on and the sun rose higher in the sky he began to fatigue a little. The falls and the extra weight in his pack had taken a bit out of him. However, he was in great shape and still felt quite strong. He decided that he’d climb for another hour and then take a break. As he climbed steadily upwards he looked to his left to take in a breathtakingly beautiful scene across the range he was climbing. As he looked up he missed seeing another rather large rock protruding from the path. His left foot, however, did not miss it and his forward momentum sent him tumbling downward again. Now he was fit to be tied. Once again he had sustained some minor cuts and scrapes but what he couldn’t let go of was what a total idiot he was that he couldn’t walk straight. He cursed at himself so loudly that his scream echoed across the slope and adjacent mountain. His anger getting the best of him, he began furiously digging to uncover the latest obstacle that had tripped him up. This rock was even bigger than the last one and wouldn’t surrender itself so easily. Sweating and swearing profusely he dug and dug until finally, one hour later, it began to loosen it’s hold of the earth around it.

He hoisted this rock up and tried to stuff it into his pack. It was nearly 25 pounds and wouldn’t fit. However, he was so convinced that he had to remember this fall and the symbol of his clumsiness that he began emptying his pack of some of his much-needed supplies. It was obvious that he wasn’t thinking too clearly, but he didn’t care. All he could think about was taking this rock with him.
             
When he finally started out again the sun had reached its apex in the sky and the day had gotten much warmer. He began to peel layers of clothing off and when he looked at his watch, he realized that he was way behind schedule. He hadn’t planned for the falls nor the distraction of digging up those rocks along the way. So he pressed on and increased his speed. However, as he did so the increased weight of his pack began to take its’ toll. His balance was thrown off and between this and his attempt to make up for lost time, he again tripped on another loose rock and went down hard.

This latest fall seem to push him over the edge. His self-directed anger seemed to be completely out of control. He swore like a trooper at himself and cursed his idiocy for thinking that he could successfully make this climb and hike. It took all the energy he had to pull himself back to a standing position. He looked down for the offending rock, grabbed it and forced it into his now overstuffed pack. Once again, he had to empty some of his food supplies to make room. There was no way he was going to forget this fall and he took the latest rock as a reminder.

As the afternoon wore on his pace diminished. Fatigue set in and his back started to really bother him from the extra load that he was carrying. He didn’t really care about the pain and kept thinking that his burden was ample enough punishment for being so clumsy to have fallen so many times. However, having these reminders of his clumsiness did not prevent him from falling again. By the time he was nearly at the top of the Appalachian Trail, he had gone down three more times. As he neared the Trail’s beginning he probably had 70 pounds of rock stuffed into his pack and two rather large stones that he couldn’t fit in the pack, balanced in each hand. He did not want to forget what an idiot he had been for tripping.

At the very beginning of the Trail, however, he had completely run out of steam. He was exhausted, bruised and cut up from his efforts just to make it to the top. What should have taken him 4 hours had taken him a little over 8. He had nothing left physically and was still very upset with himself for falling so much. In fact, as he felt the heavy weight on his back and the weights in each hand, he kept reviewing his falls, demeaning himself in the process.  And there he sat, on the Trail, not moving, weighed down by all those rocks, feeling angry and disgusted with himself.

It was at that point that another hiker seemed to materialize out of the forest. Perhaps he was hallucinating from the fatigue and exhaustion. But there, standing in front of him was a kindly old man with a long pointy hat and a very long beard. If our hero didn’t know any better, he might have thought that he had suddenly dropped into Middle Earth and the Lord Of The Rings saga because the old guy looked just like Gandalph, the friendly wizard.
                          
The old man looked down at the hiker with a mix of curious amusement. “What seems to be the problem my good man?” he asked smiling. “Can I help you with anything?” The hiker looked back and replied, “I’m fine, I guess. Just a little tired!” The old man looked at the back pack with the rocks bulging out and the two large rocks in each of the hiker’s hands and started to chuckle. He said, “Well, sonny, I’d certainly be tired too if I was carrying all that extra baggage along with me. Are you in training for something serious that you’re hiking with all those weights?” The hiker explained to the strange old man why he was carrying them, that he was trying to teach himself a lesson and to also remind himself of his clumsiness, and to insure that he didn’t fall again.  The old man’s eyes began to twinkle and he started to laugh. “Well my friend,” he replied, “that is certainly one of the strangest ways that I can think of to insure that you don’t fall again. By carrying your burden and reminding yourself of your mishaps it seems that you just have more and more. With all those rocks that you’re carrying, it doesn’t seem like it’s helped you very much at all!”   
“Well it hasn’t! I just feel exhausted and defeated!” the hiker responded.

“A suggestion if I might,” the old man said. “You might just want to let your falls go and leave them behind you instead of trying to carry them with you along this trail. It just might make your going a wee bit easier.” And then as if to no one in particular he said, “Now why would anyone want to carry around their failures with them? That’s just a sure way to collect more! Just let them go!” With that he left the hiker where he was sitting and disappeared into the early evening mist.

The hiker did a double take as if he had just come out of some trance. He was trying to figure out whether he had just had that encounter or completely imagined it. He got up, let go of the rocks in each hand and then started to empty his backpack. He kept hearing the old man’s words in his head, “Why would anyone want to carry their failures around with them. That’s just a sure way to collect more! Let them go!” And as he started off down the Trail, he noticed that he suddenly felt lighter and stronger.

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