In his book Elite Minds, Stan Beecham tells the story of a holiday visit by a family friend. To this visit this family friend brought her new boyfriend who it was learned later, was a longtime member of the Army. The boyfriend… after spending some time with the family began asking Mr. Beecham questions about his work as a psychologist and soon revealed that he was a member of Special Forces and was involved in the selecting of candidates for those Special Forces.
“One of the things we look for is a person who can turn it on and turn it off.” He told Mr. Beecham. To further illustrate his point he said this (found on page 159); “A lot of men go into the Army because they want to prove that they are tough and not afraid. They want to kick some ass and then go home and tell their family and friends about all the dangerous things they did. We don’t want those guys. we look for guys who don’t feel they need to prove their manhood by taking another life. The guys we choose are not overly proud of what they do or how well they do it. They don’t get tattoos or walk around with t-shirts that say what they do. That’s what I mean by ‘turn it off’. When not on an operation, they don’t think about it, nor do they want to talk about it either.”
Later on in the same theme Mr. Beecham elaborates… “I quickly shared how this is true with great athletes and great leaders as well. While they are at work, it is the most important thing in the world, but when they leave, they don’t think about it very much either. The ability to turn it on and turn it off as the Army Special Forces member defined it, is what allows one to perform at the highest of levels. Turning it off allows one to recover and prepare for the next mission. People who are stressed and unable to recover are the ones who think about their work or sport all the time. They worry, and in doing so deplete their energies and harm their performance. This is the essence of focus or concentration. Only one thing matters at the time, and that one thing is the most important thing in the world.”
Side note: whenever I learn something from the military I immediately feel inadequate. These are people who give their lives, families and even their own freedom to go fight terror and wars that we honestly don’t know much about. They dedicate their soul to fighting for what is right…. and we run around in our bathing suits posting workout selfies all over social media. In all honesty it feels downright trivial.
With that being said there are great lessons to learn from people like this Special Forces soldier and how Mr. Beecham uses that example to bring to the world we live in. This chapter really resonated with me. It challenged me, and make me think.
Turning it on….. and turning it off. It’s something I have been working hard on. As a nurse I have always been able to do it. I have seen so much horror that I have to. What I have seen and the experiences I have had as a nurse can be dramatic exciting stories for those who haven’t been in the trenches…… but they have shattered my heart into a million pieces. So I learned to turn it off. I learned to hold my colleagues tight and process it.
But what about sport? Can we do that in sport?
Do I walk around with my Ironman T shirt all the time? How many pieces of clothing do I own that don’t say Ironman, or triathlon, or hey look at me I am an athlete, I am special?
When you are in the middle of a run in the woods….. where does your focus lie? On getting the right photo of yourself? Or on the task at hand? can you completely turn off your day and completely turn on to being an athlete? Can you flip that switch or is a piece of you drifting between the two entities?
When you are not on the field, can you let it all go? Can you focus completely on the ‘off’ times in your life?
It’s an interesting thing, isn’t it?
What I am not saying is that there is a right and there is a wrong. What I am encouraging is that you think…. that I think….. that we think…… about what we are doing. How we are doing it. Why we are doing it. Are our performances hindered because of the inability to turn on and turn off? Are our performances hindered by our need to let everyone know “I am an Ironman”?
My new job involves a 40 minute commute. The commute I drive several times a week already to swim in the lake. It’s 100% country back roads and yields the most stunning scenery. I drive through farmland. Horse farms, dairy farms. Farmers markets. There are small mom and pop owned ice cream shops, outdoor shops, tractor places. Rolling green land. Trees. There is no traffic. It’s rolling hills and so absolutely beautiful. I have been doing this drive to the lake for ten years. I never get sick of it.
Once I pulled over to get a photo of one of my favorite views. It didn’t turn out. I tried ten different times. No matter what angle though I could not capture the beauty of it.
“Maybe the beauty is meant to be captured in your mind’s eye, not on an iPhone.” I thought to myself. I put the phone down and I stood there for a moment. I felt small in such a big beautiful world. To look at it in person and not through the screen of an iPhone was freedom. Exhilarating. I go to that mental photo often. It’s ingrained in my mind. It’s not on my facebook page, or on my blog, but deep in my mind and in my heart. I feel so peaceful when I think of that view.
Now I get to pass by it daily. In person.
I am a big news radio junkie, I love to hear what is going on. No matter the personality I love to hear talk radio and be provoked into thought. But lately I have been driving to the lake in silence. 40 minutes of silence has done me more good than I can explain. I don’t think about anything. But I don’t think about nothing. The phone is unavailable and it’s just time being there. Being present.
It’s helped me learn to turn on and turn off of my sport. It’s taught me to tune in.
What if just for a day….. we put the Ironman shirts away? We put down the iPhone and we captured moments in person instead? What if we devoted all of our attention to the task at hand? What if we took quiet pride in what we are aiming to achieve?
What would happen? I bet something extraordinary would. I bet something would click inside of you. I bet something amazing would happen.
I challenge you to find out.