Extreme athletes are known to have nerves made of steel. From daring movements between the rocks to 2 and 3 flips and rotations on rock-hard snow, professional skiers face seemingly insurmountable obstacles every day. You belong to a small group of elite people who are regularly exposed to danger and death. After interviewing 30+ professional skiers and their coaches over the past 3 years, I’ve found some similarities between their adaptations to danger and the strength of their minds.
Regardless of what success you are aiming for, mindset will be a crucial factor. Sometimes the normal “routine” mentality strategies don’t work for certain people. I’m not someone who gets into a regular meditation routine quickly, but for some people this is their little piece of heaven. I had to look at what success does for the “normal” people out there and adapt my own to it.
Here are 3 strategies, derived from interviewing over 30 professional athletes and their coaches, that will help you develop a mindset that works but is “different” from what most people would recommend.
1. Move meditation
Many mindset coaches initially steer towards observing the mind. Most of the time this is done by drawing attention to the breath. This is a proven method of targeted focus that helps the practitioner look at their thoughts from perspective. Often people report more peace and ease because they feel like they are not holding onto things that may have previously disturbed them.
As I said before, no matter how hard I try, meditation is a difficult habit for me. So I have to adapt and have found that a lot of these athletes are doing the same thing. Meditation is not just about sitting cross-legged trying to empty the mind. Meditation is about getting your focus on one thing and getting your focus back on that one thing as it drifts.
Our attention is focused on drifting and looking for stimulation when we are awake. Meditation of any kind helps us refine the ability to focus our attention on a place. Since attention is a flexible and directable range occupied by our days through relationships, daily routines, work … there are people competing for our attention so we need to refine our focus.
Most of these athletes describe themselves as meditation practitioners, but I often heard that they had difficulty sitting still while practicing meditation. They used moving meditation to channel their focus and calm their hyperactive bodies. We are designed to move, yet we sit in office chairs for more than 8 hours a day, getting into a car and sitting on the way home.
By combining exercise and meditation, these athletes can do two important things for the way they think.
- Build the muscle of focus
- Bring momentum to your routines
For many athletes and entrepreneurs, walking and yoga are becoming super-powerful forms of moving meditation that allow decompression, channeled focus, and allow them to tailor their routines to suit their personal needs. If you’re having trouble getting results with standard mindfulness and meditation strategies, try what extreme athletes do and combine them with exercise. Not everyone is created equal, allow yourself to adapt the standard strategies to make them work for you.
“If you can see it here and have the courage to speak it, it will happen. People believe in certain things, but they keep to themselves, they don’t put it out there. When you really believe in it, when you get loud about it, you create this law of attraction and it becomes a reality. “- – Conor McGregor
2. Directed Curiosity / Peripheral Logic
Sometimes we need peripheral thinking. Extreme athletes show an extraordinary form of peripheral logic and purposeful curiosity. What is “directed curiosity” you might ask? Directed Curiosity is an extensibility skill that is developed when you are passionate about topics. An example would be that skiers were obsessed with various ways of turning over obstacles in the air. This is an example of focused attention and curiosity about a single obstacle and has created a nearly limitless number of ways to perform tricks from within the obstacles.
When skiers fail, they get a lot of negative feedback in the form of pain and still let their focused curiosity lead them back to the obstacle to figure out how to succeed. This moment can be celebrated by anyone who works hard to achieve a great goal.
It is the act of resilience that is facilitated by curiosity. We don’t always see success immediately. Targeted curiosity can help you focus back on the topic and ask questions such as:
- What happened?
- Why did it go wrong?
- What could have made it go right?
These questions, which extreme athletes are consciously and unconsciously asked, should be a lesson for achieving success and resilience. Don’t give up, ask how it can be different and better.
Ok, now what about the peripheral logic? Peripheral logic is just an extension of directed curiosity. In terms of a skier’s experience, it is the answer to the question, “What do I have to do to make this successful?”
Often times the answer to this question is right next to what we are looking for. Sometimes we need to approach an obstacle from a completely different angle, but all too often a small change will change the trajectory and success rate significantly. Think of these as “mini-pivots,” the small changes in the orientation of your obstacle that give you a new and fresh perspective and trajectory.
“You have to expect great things of yourself before you can do them.” – – Michael Jordan
3. Focused separation
Mindfulness is a great way to create space for yourself, but what happens when you absolutely cannot overcome the feeling you have about it? For extreme athletes, this manifests itself in their willingness to take risks. How an extreme athlete deals with fear is different for every athlete, but everyone tends to have some form of focused detachment.
Her ability to bypass her autonomic nervous system and create a channel to focus on the task at hand is unmatched. It is the ultimate form of mindfulness and meditation, and it comes from this focused detachment.
I interviewed X Games medalist, Julian Carr, who is known for his 100+ foot front flips from massive cliffs. In this interview he talked about total surrender to the mountain and the armed forces. For him, he has to be completely relaxed, otherwise the impact could cause him much more damage. His purposeful detachment enables his security and ability to continue jumping as he does season after season without incident.
Focused solving comes about when you know you have done everything you can to prepare. For Julian, he’s watched the landing of every jump he sees. He makes sure that the snow conditions are exactly as they need to be. He will even look at the slope in summer to see where the rocks might lurk under the snow.
He worked his way up and built his confidence over time through repetitive systems. He’s been skiing all his life and he understands his limits. At the moment he can completely detach himself from the result and let it come to him.
It is difficult for most of us to trust even when we are fully prepared. Julian doesn’t land every jump, but he’s safe. When we try something big and have focused enough on preparation, we should be able to focus on the ultimate goal. We know what we want, we know what we want and we show ourselves to give it our all. Whatever happens after that is beyond our control. If you find peace in this moment, you will find your best accomplishments.
Success is achievable when we are ready to adapt to the world around us and the world around us to our needs and desires. Use these three strategies to create success for yourself by modeling what extreme athletes do. It is an extreme world out there and there is much to be learned from those who overcome it on a daily basis.