We all remember the scenes from 4 years ago when Michael Phelps broke just about every Olympic swimming record there was. He won 8 gold medals in Beijing in dramatic fashion.
But the race that I found the most impressive was the 200-meter butterfly. In this race, Phelps was going for the 10th gold medal of his career, making him the winningest Olympian of all time.
Phelps already held the world record in this event and was looking to improve on his previous time. All indications were that he would win by a comfortable margin.
Then disaster struck.
As soon as he dove in, his goggles slowly started filling with water. By the time he reached the last length, he couldn’t see anything at all. But he continued on. If you watch the video, you can’t even tell there is a problem. He looks comfortable as he swings his arms in perfect motion. With a few meters to go he makes one last stroke and then stretches out for the wall at the perfect distance, not being able to see if it was even there. When he looked up at the clock he had not only won the gold medal, but broken the world record.
“I dove in and they filled up with water, and it got worse and worse during the race,” Phelps told reporters. “From the 150-meter wall to the finish, I couldn’t see the wall. I was just hoping I was winning.”
I find this whole situation fascinating. At the most elite level of competition, Michael Phelps overcame an obstacle that would ruin the chances of many others. How did he do it?
The answer partly resides in a habit that Phelps performs before every race. Shortly before the race begins, Phelps has the habit of closing his eyes and envisioning the entire race, stroke by stroke, from start to finish. He pictures himself making the perfect stroke every time. He sees exactly how many strokes he will need to get from one wall to the next. He plays a mental video of the “perfect race.”
So when the time came to perform, he good do it with his eyes closed because he had already worked through how the perfect race would feel. And when an obstacle came up, he could deal with it because he knew he could perform even without seeing the wall in front of him. He knew how many strokes it would take, when to take breaths, and when to stretch for the finish. He couldn’t see, but he still had vision.
This is a great analogy for our lives and how we can overcome our personal obstacles on the road to our “gold medals.” One of the most common practices among highly successful people is a simple vision exercise. Here is how you do it:
1. Set aside anywhere from 5-30 minutes.
2. Close your eyes and picture the ideal life. How you live, how you work, what you’ve accomplished. The more detail the better.
3. Focus on how it feels to have accomplished these things.
4. Repeat the same exercise every day.
Within a matter of days you will feel more confident and focused than you ever have. This is the equivalent of what Michael Phelps does before a race. It is a practice to develop your vision of where you are going in life. When we don’t have a clear picture of what we want to accomplish, its almost guaranteed that we won’t. The proverb says, “Without a vision the people perish.” Helen Keller once said “The only thing worse than being blind is to have sight but no vision.”
When you have a clear vision of where you want to go and you have taken the time internalize it, you will be able to see past the small obstacles that are sure to come up on a weekly, if not daily, basis. Your big problems will seem to shrink into smaller obstacles. You won’t be swayed into different diversions because you will be more focused on your goal.
Take the time to develop and strengthen your vision and you too will be able to meet your own goals, break your own records, and win your personal gold medal.
See you in the pool!
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