The Good Old Days
Although it’s winter, watching the Olympics took me on a trip down memory lane to my days as a gymnast.
While it was only four years of my life and I never had a shot at the Olympics, watching the drive, determination, sweat, blood and tears of the competing athletes made me reflect on the good old days.
My years gymnastics made a huge impression on me and has shaped the person I am today and the way I work my goals.
Some of my lessons came directly from Brink, as we called our coach, and the pearls of wisdom she used to drop on us as we cranked out routines.
The best lessons learned didn’t hit me until years later, when I had the distance from the pain to see how my days as an athlete prepared me for my challenges to come.
Here are a Ten of my Goal Getting Lessons from the Gymnastic Mat!
Fall down and get back up again. When you are moving your comfort zone or trying to learn a front tuck dismount off the 4-inch balance beam, you will fall—hard! You can’t stay down for long. No matter how hard the landing, take the lesson, figure out what you did wrong and climb back up. Don’t wait or you’ll turn into a head case (see the next lesson).
Don’t be a head case. If I had a dime, for every time Brink yelled at me “Niki-don’t be such a head case” I wouldn’t have needed the college scholarship. I didn’t know what she was talking about then, but now I’ve seen the light. If you’re familiar with the DISC behavioral assessment, I’m a High C-S. I can spend days, weeks even analyzing and planning. Thinking about all the contingencies, things that can go wrong and trying to come up with a solution. Analysis-Paralysis aka “being a head case” is deadly. When you spend so much time planning and considering the angles, it stops you from taking action and moving forward.
There will be pain. Oh will it hurt. I was an uneven parallel bar specialist. My hands to this day, easily form calluses at the base of my fingers from all those hours. There were days they were ripped and raw from working out. I learned to tape them up and get back up there. And it wasn’t just on bars. I was beat up and bruised from the balance beam, the vault and the floor exercise. I learned to work through the pain (and hide it from my mom). I knew I wasn’t heading for the Olympics, but I didn’t want to let my coach or my team down. I knew being successful would help me get a scholarship. I knew that if I didn’t push through the pain, I would end up quitting. When you want something badly enough, the pain is just a reminder of what’s on the line. So in business and in life, there will be hard times and pain, but if you push through, the payoff is on the other side.
Visualize your routine. Like many athletes, I spent hours visualizing my routines.I wish I could tell you that I nailed my routine every time and stuck every landing. Sometimes I did. On those days when I visualized me hitting every trick and sticking the landing—I would usually pull one of my highest scores. But on the days where I pictured myself falling off a piece of equipment—well my scores usually tanked. Visualization is a powerful technique to help prepare your brain and body for what is to come. So picture yourself successfully overcoming obstacles to reach your goals.
Be ready to put in the work. Even as a high school gymnast, when we were in season, we worked out 6 days a week, 3 hours a day. We took gymnastics as our PE requirement, and showed up promptly at 3 for practice. In the off season, you were expected to stay conditioned. I escaped the cross country team, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t putting in nearly 200 sit-ups and push-ups a day. If you want to be ready for your next big thing (and have killer abs) you have to commit and put in the work.
There’s no such thing as perfect. Our team once lost a huge meet against our arch rivals by .001 of a point. I can still feel the pain of defeat. On the ride home, we all wasted tons of time thinking about how if we had just pointed our toes/stuck the landing/kept our knees straight, we’d be champions. In gymnastics, details matter. It is one of the most enduring lessons for me. One of the hardest things that I’ve come to accept, is that while it makes sense to set high standards, perfection doesn’t exist. A past mentor taught me to recognize when chasing perfection is getting in the way of progress.
Don’t let the competition scare you during warm up. During warm up, gymnasts will throw their biggest tricks to psych the competition out. If you let them get to you, you become a head case. I remember my teammates and I picking out people on the the other team that we would “take on” while we were throwing our big trips. When we finally did our routines, those tricks were nowhere to be found. It was just for show. Early on in business, I learned that I couldn’t afford to get caught up worrying about what the “competition” was doing. In truth, I was my biggest competition and as long as I focused on what I was good at and stayed in my lane, the tricks didn’t matter.
Saying “Can’t” will cost you. Brink came up with a great way to get the word “can’t” out of our vocabulary. Anytime we said the word “can’t” it cost you 25 cents. You think we’d learn our lesson. We bought a lot of pizza with the money in that jar. Brink taught me the value of word choice. By my junior year, I became creative in expressing my doubt. My favorite was “It’ll be hard, but I’ll try.” Looking back, I can now see that when I shifted the way I spoke about trying something difficult, my success ratio and confidence improved. I’m passing the tradition on to my son, and now you.
Be the Anchor Person. When you are the last person to compete on an event, you’re considered the anchor. Each person going up had a special role to play. In competition, the first person up usually set the bottom range for the scores. The later you are in rotation, the more difficult the routine and therefore, the higher your scores. I worked hard to become the anchor on bars. And with that role came the responsibility of not letting my team down. Being the anchor meant I had to show up and deliver. When you accountable to others it helps you stay focused on your goal. Who are you accountable to?
Little things add up. I didn’t know it then, but learning to correct minor form breaks (bent knees, flexed feet, wobbles on the beam) taught me the value of kaizen. Kaizen is a key principle from the Japanese Lean Office model. Kaizen teaches that small, continuous improvement leads to big results. Now I apply that lesson by simply trying every day, to be a little bit better than I was the day before.
By the way, all these lessons paid off. I medaled in the New York City Championships my senior year. It was a nice way to end my gymnastics career!
I’d love to hear which of these lessons resonated the most with you. Please drop me a line and let me know. If you’re a fellow athlete, let’s trade war stories.
If you’re struggling, please consider joining my Goal Getter Masterclass kicking off on March 6th!
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