When I was coaching college athletes at LSU in the early 2000s, I gave each athlete a strength and conditioning manual. This was just a glorified spiral-bound notebook that had the workouts and drills listed for them to follow, along with some exercise descriptions and motivational quotes and pictures of the previous season. It is safe to say that the world has changed a lot since then. Society is busier, we are constantly bombarded with distractions. Everyone gets notifications about all kinds of things. Social media wants your attention and is designed to keep you engaged with it. It doesn’t take much to reach information overload. I find myself constantly reminding myself what I used to tell my LSU athletes back in those simpler times.
“Focus on the task at hand!”
I have uttered this phrase more times over my career than I can count. As simple and important as it is, it is still one I have to remind myself, my athletes, and my friends.
What does it really mean?
Why do we all need to be constantly reminded to focus. It is a direct statement to be present and paying attention to precisely what you are doing. The world works by grabbing the attention of others. It doesn’t matter where you look in the animal kingdom, survival is goal. Everything is hardwired this way. Danger is everywhere and everything has evolved to be alerted to it. People are no different, we live in a world where these natural instincts get pulled in all directions and are constantly overstimulated. Shiny, flashy, loud, and colorful things are everywhere. Advertisers feed on this. The secret to success, whether it is in racing or in life is to remain grounded and being mindful. The task at hand, is the race, the conversation, the drill, or the puzzle you are trying to solve at this moment. Focus on that thing now. Stay the course, follow the process, and go!
Every pre-race pep talk I give is a reminder to stay focused.
When you are out there on the course it’s you versus the competition, and you versus the course, but most of all it is you versus you. The mind is powerful and when you let it wander it can become you worst enemy but when you stay in the present moment and focus on your execution it is your biggest ally. The evening after the most recent race an athlete called me to go over their performance and thank me for the pep talk. They told me the reminder to stay focused and execute the current mile was what got them through some low points and helped them achieve their goal and a new personal best.
Earlier today I was speaking with a personal training client who began to complain about a few recent hiccups and how it just must be an age thing. I had to remind them that slips, falls and bad judgements are more of an attention thing and that when you have too much on your mind, mistakes happen. Be present and focus on the task at hand. When you prepare properly, train smart, and recover well you set yourself up for success. You need to have a plan and execute that plan. When you do this the outcome usually takes care of itself. There will always be adversity, and there will always be variables outside of your control, but you are always in control of your response to any situation. By staying focused you can adapt, improvise and overcome.
Sometimes you win, but you should learn from every event regardless of the outcome. Not every workout or race will be better than the last one. This is a part of sport and performance just like peaking and recovery have their ups and downs. Understanding where you are and being present in that moment will keep your mind from playing tricks on you. Stay focused on the task at hand!