Habits

Changing a personal habit is probably the most difficult task for any of us. Unfortunately, some of our most difficult habits to break, including smoking, overeating, and poor food choices, relate directly to our health. There are also habits which form our responses to situations and events that impact our ability to live, work and interact with society, colleagues, friends and partners. Habits enable us to get to work on time and "do the right thing" when required. Some habits are considered bad and others good. We relish habits and even take comfort in the fact that "somethings never change."

Habits give us comfort. They are known quantities, our friends. They allow us to act and respond without thinking. Early in life, most of us learn what is right and wrong; from those lessons, we develop good living habits. Habits can also give us excuses for our actions. We can say, "I'm sorry, it was just one of those old habits." Habits can lead us to both success and failure.

However, when it is perfectly clear that a habit is bad and changing it can only be an improvement, why are some of us unwilling or unable to change? Is it fear? Lack of self-respect? Has the habit become an addiction?

Fortunately, change is possible. We are able to adapt and learn new habits. However, this takes a lot of work and effort. This is where most people fail, because they are unwilling to do what is necessary to change or improve habits. Ironically, some people are even unwilling to change habits detrimental to their health and life.

Habits are internal and independent of the thoughts and actions of others. They require a personal decision to change. A personal decision by you. For example, an old friend and life-long smoker who loved to smoke, decided that he would quit smoking as soon as one of the athletes he was coaching won a World Cup Ski Race. All of us who worked with this man constantly pushed him to stop smoking. We were just as repeatedly frustrated in our efforts. Then one day in the early 90's, one of his downhill racers won a World Cup event in France. On that day, he kept his promise and smoked his last cigarette.

Those of us willing to change or reshape our bad habits will move forward in all aspects of life - personally, professionally and athletically. We are the ones who learn from our mistakes, a key element to success. With a little luck and hard work thrown into the mix, we can then reach our personal goals, achieve greatness and perhaps even a level of distinction in our lives.

Success & Internal Desire

A recent client of mine was relatively healthy (blood pressure controlled by medication) and physically strong and fit for someone over age 80. He came to me at the request of his daughter. His goal was to improve his general fitness and to fulfill a long-held dream to get back on his skis - a sport that he loved through much of his life.

As I soon discovered, the real challenge was not his physical fitness and strength, but his desire to live and to make the best of his remaining life. His wife had died, taking the wind out of his sails 6 months before our meeting. Prior to her death, he was quite active. Before he underwent hip surgery in his late 60's, he was an avid skier.

Initially, each of his workouts was a struggle. His caring and supportive daughter had to literally force him to exercise and move his body. Despite being physically strong and with working joints and good muscle mass throughout his body, he had gone from a walk to a combined walk/shuffle almost overnight. He was only a shell of his former self. His eyes were often distant; rarely was he fully present during a workout session. He came to his private sessions and attended some of our classes to appease his daughter's desire for him to experience as much time as possible with his kids and grandchildren. The problem was that it was not his desire to attend, nor to exercise.

His obvious joy for skiing and love for his daughter and grandchildren were still not enough motivation to get the best of his remaining years. I pushed him and did my best to cajole him into making an effort at his exercise and to improve his walking. During this time, I learned that organized exercise had never been part of his life. Furthermore, spending money on himself did not come easy, compounding his lack of enthusiasm.

During his workouts, I often wondered about his thoughts and feelings and where his memories were taking him, even though I just wanted him to exercise. Part of me yearned to shake him awake and back to the present; another part practically demanded that he desire and choose his current life. Even though I pushed and pushed, it was impossible for me to break him away from his thoughts for longer than a few moments. I could see that he was enjoying the past images of his life as he gazed out the window between sets.

Suddenly, I noticed a slight change in his approach. He was coming on his own two days per week, attending classes and genuinely seemed interested in improving. He made some progress in his balance and coordination and had stopped being so obstinate with his daughter. He was more engaged in the moment and with the others in class. 

So it seemed. Six weeks later, he did not come to the club as expected. His son-in-law found him lying peacefully on the floor. He'd left this world to join his wife.

With such a caring family, this man was still unable to muster one last stand at life. I realized yet again that success begins with an internal desire. It seems that even with every support system in place, the true power to live life still comes from within. It is an internal decision that must be accepted and relentlessly pursued; otherwise, we are destined to go through the motions and perhaps dying while we should still have some time on the clock

Developing Your Skill - Lessons From a Violinist

During a sporting event, have you ever let your mind wander beyond the competition to observe the pure skill being displayed on the playing field?

Have you ever wondered how many practice hours that an athlete completes before taking his or her first run down the Olympic downhill course? The hours build up over many years. Each succeeding hour layers atop the preceding hour; when combined, they result in the seemingly effortless performances, we watch every weekend.

Recently, I experienced the same wondrous feeling at a different venue. My friend, Bob Childs, makes violins. Every year, he puts on a series of concerts in which the musicians perform on his instruments. At the particular concert I attended, there were ten violinists and a squad of other musicians playing various instruments to fill in the symphony of beautiful and mesmerizing sounds.

I sat in the front row and watched each musician intently. I watched the violinists' fingers move up and down the neck of their instruments, hitting every note. I wondered how they could return their fingers back to the exact same place on the neck to repeat the same note over and over again, without looking. And while moving their bows in rhythmic progressions over the strings - slow to fast, titillating to exquisitely tender.

There are no frets on a violin or cello to guide the fingers into position, as there are on a guitar. A violinist or cellist learns to produce such beautiful sounds and notes through thousands of hours and many years of practice. He or she learns, refines and masters a piece, or a series of pieces, much like an athlete trains and prepares for a sporting contest.

At this particular concert, it was not just an individual playing, but a group, much like a team of athletes. The musicians worked both individually and together. One would start out and the others would fill in with rhythms, much like a well organized team supporting and working with each other all the way to the goal - a complete team effort. A symphony of moving skills and dynamic performances on the playing field.

Of the many thoughts I entertained during the night, I came to the realization that in my life time, I would never be able to learn how to play the violin or cello at the concert level. Yet, I am thankful that some people chose to develop a skill to such a level that it can entertain, move and inspire everyone who comes to see them perform.

ATP Rankings are for the fans

Can Federer return to the top of the tennis world? For those interested in tennis or competitive sport, this is the debate. Given that Federer has a proven track record of dominating the men's circuit, his skill and ability to win cannot be questioned. Thus, where might Federer look to regain his advantage and return to the number 1 spot?

In my soon to be published book, The Champion's Way, I identify a variety of factors that separate the champions from the winners and the winners from the rest of the field. Federer certainly qualifies for the champion category and even at the number 2 level in the ATP rankings Federer is still effectively at the top of the tennis world.

An athlete of Federer's caliber is not interested in the rankings. Winning is what matters to the champion and if winning puts a competitor atop the world rankings, then being number 1 in the rankings is a result not a goal. Thus, the first step in Federer's return to the number 1 position, in the ATP rankings is to ignore the rankings and focus on winning tennis matches.

Next, because winning at the level of Federer takes such an enormous amount of energy and effort, reassessing the structure that makes it possible for the champion to win is necessary. For example, it could be as simple as changing the conditioning and practice routines or something more complicated such as assessing the desire to win and the requirements behind that desire. Does Federer still have the desire to put out the effort it takes to continue winning?

Every athlete wants to win, but only a select few are able and willing to put in the necessary effort that makes it possible to win and especially to win regularly at the highest levels of sport. Federer remains a threat in every tennis match he enters. Barring physical injury or retirement, his days of winning the tennis majors and other tournaments have not ended. Whether or not he retakes the number 1 spot in the ATP rankings is irrelevant to his career.

What drives your life energy?

In my previous blog relating to diet and exercise, I ended with a handful of questions that I will start to address in this blog. The first question is a rhetorical question that really is asking what drives us every day to get out of bed and live life?

To answer this question, there are two sets of factors one external and the other internal. Externally, there is your job, relationships and the basic need for food. Internally, there are your personal goals and aspirations. Satisfying either of these two factors takes a conscious effort. For example, you must get up and buy food if you want food or you must call your friends if you want to have friends. If you have a personal goal, you must do the work to reach that goal. If these are the things that drive your life energy, then what are you doing to improve your chances of success?

I will suggest that the basis for your life energy goes one step deeper and that is your health. It is not just the things that you must do or that you would like to do that drives you through life, but it is your daily approach to your physical fitness. What are you doing on a daily basis to ensure that you have the energy to live your life and pursue your goals? If you are like most Americans, you are not doing enough for your health, yet you push your body to the limits to satisfy your daily needs and to reach your personal goals.

When you are young, it is easy to get away with less focus on your health and more focus on your life needs and pursuits. What happens if you reach your goals and you no longer have your health? The answer is simple, you have nothing, unless health does not matter and the satisfaction of reaching your goals is your only pursuit. The irony is that you could have had both and you could have perhaps even achieved higher goals, if you had balanced your health along with the desire to achieve.

Taking care of your health will drive your life energy. The results are both immediate and long term. It will make it possible for you to strive for all of your life goals and ambitions and then enjoy that for which you worked so hard to achieve.

Exercise & Weight Loss

In 1979, my exercise physiology professor told me that, under normal circumstances, weight loss was a matter of calories in versus calories out. Fast forward 31 years; things have not changed.

This basic equation still governs weight gain and loss in otherwise healthy individuals. What has changed or evolved over these years are the many books touting special diets and exercise techniques along with different sorts of things to ingest including the latest pills that influence what your body absorbs.

The common thread with the many specialized weight loss techniques is the commitment to some kind of program. With such programs you commit your wallet and time to the latest fad or pill. Purchase the literature. Purchase the goods and take your chances that someday longitudinal scientific studies will not come out and say that those special pills and the diet du jour are the causes of an awful disease or condition.

You could also commit yourself to a simple program of regular exercise and eating less. This straight forward approach requires a physical commitment and mental commitment. Physically, one must make the time to start exercising and stop lifting copious amounts of healthy or unhealthy food into their mouths. Mentally, one must decide that living and striving for a healthy and comfortable life is worth the effort. If one were truly committed to their personal well being, it should be relatively easy to wake up one morning and change eating habits and start doing regular exercise.

Regular exercise and diet is an interactive system. On the surface a very simple system. It may or may not cost extra money. It requires a basic knowledge of how to exercise and what to eat. You could start with the simple mantra: Eat less - Move more! You could write this phrase on the back of your hand or on your kitchen table for a reminder. You are in control of bringing your hand to your mouth. You are in control of standing up and putting one foot in front of the other and moving. So why not take charge?

As far as what to eat, many books have been written on the amounts of proteins versus fats and carbohydrates that you should eat. Books have been written on the content of different foods, from natural to man made. All of this information is helpful as we do need a balanced and safe diet. However, in the end you could eat 3000 calories of meals containing the proper balance and types of carbohydrates, fats and proteins along with free range everything, hormone free, certified organic and healthy and do nothing for exercise and still gain weight because you did not use more calories than you ate.

Nevertheless, given everything we know about simple exercise and diet, fad diets, pills and special programs the statistics still suggest many people are failing in their attempts to lose weight. Healthy, highly intelligent and driven individuals capable of performing super human feats of hard work and effort to build successful companies are failing along with those individuals with less drive and motivation. Why are so many people failing in their attempts to lose weight?

Is it the industry? Everyday the industry is coming up with new fitness routines and fun programs to get people motivated. We tell you that strength and endurance training along with a healthy and balanced diet and 8 hours of sleep will help you to live longer and have more productive lives. We translate this into things like more time with your kids and loved ones. We tell you things like greater mobility and perhaps no need for assistance as you age. We tell you that the science says you are less likely to get the diseases that no one wants to get at any time in life. Yet all of this is still not enough.

Is it the fact that as a society we are getting soft....not just around the mid-section, but in our life energy? Have we all fallen into the trap of being so over worked and coddled and catered to, that we really just do not want to or cannot put out the effort. Is it that we would rather entertain ourselves and listen to our ipods? Is it the expectation that everything in life is supposed to be easy and when it is hard we give up? Why does everything have to be fun? Why does everything have to feel good in order for us to take part in an activity or to achieve a goal? Are there no longer things that we do just because we should? Perhaps this is the disease that needs to be cured.

Champions

In order to start writing about champions and winning, it is necessary to have an understanding of the terms that I will use throughout these blogs. I have found and observed that words associated with sport, like other words and such in our society have taken on shades of gray.

With this muting and nuancing of words and their meanings comes confusion. Borders and parameters go away and virtually any meaning for a particular word becomes acceptable. With respect to sport, this hinders individual progress, dulls the outcomes and perhaps robs us of future great champions.

A sporting contest, implies a competition between individuals or teams where the performance is measured and scored. This means at the end of any single, completed contest there are only three possible results, a tie(no decision), a win or a loss. The individual or team who has the best score or time is the winner. Unless otherwise noted in a particular blog, winning is defined as first place.

The word champion has various meanings in sport. In the Olympics, there is the Olympic champion also known as the gold medal winner. This well earned title lasts a life time, but after 4 years there is a new Olympic champion replacing the victor from the previous Olympiad. For some, Olympic victory is the single biggest victory and potentially the only big victory in their careers and for others it is one of many victories. Similarly, for example, golf and tennis have their US Open Champions and defending champions and multiple champions.

There are end of season champions at virtually every level of team or individual sports. These champions are given such titles as club champions, league champions, city champions or NCAA champions. In general, the title champion is conferred on the winner of an end of season event or a single contest deemed worthy of producing a champion versus a winner. For the purpose of these blogs and unless otherwise noted, the definition of a champion goes one step further than the winner of a single event or season ending event as described above.

Champions are those individuals who win and win and win. They win throughout the season, they win the playoffs, season ending titles, Olympic gold medals, world championship gold medals and any major event that defines their sport. Further, they seem to do this on a regular basis, more than once. The champions are regularly on the top of their sport. They are on the top because they win. They are the athletes to beat.

The research for this book was based on individual sports versus team sports as individual actions were easier to measure. For example, we can look at the Los Angeles Lakers or the Chicago Bulls over certain periods and call them champions. When we start to pull those teams apart individually, we find Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan. These are and were the individuals on their respective teams who represent the champion mentality that I found in my research. Yet, Kobe had Shaq and Jordan had Scottie Pippen. These two great champions were surrounded by teammates whose presence and skills made winning championships possible. In the case of Kobe, some have argued that it was Shaq and not Kobe who led the Lakers to victory. With team sports the one caveat is that winning and losing is dependent on an entire team.

Losing is a term that defines the other side of winning. Losing has nothing to do with one’s humanity. It is a result of a contest on any given day that presumably could even change after the next competition. After losing a competition, an individual or team then become the losers. Any reference to losing or loser is simply a definition of the other side of winning. With every winner there is a loser.

We can say that time just ran out for the losing team. We can say that it was a hard fought competition in which there are no losers. There are a variety of ways to describe the results of a competition, but for the purposes of these blogs the definitions will be kept simple.

Winners are the individuals who win a specific competition. Losers are the individuals on the other side of that victory. Champions are the athletes who win and win and win. They win at every level and they do so consistently over a period of time.

The Champion's Way

The Champion's Way is a book that was written based on my doctoral dissertation. The idea for this research came after leaving a coaching job with the US Ski Team to pursue a doctoral degree at Boston University. I went back to school for personal interests and to have an impact on how athletes are coached and developed.

At the time of my research, there was a dearth of information about winning in the educational, scientific and general literature data bases. In fact, at that time most sport psychology books rarely even used the word winning let alone defined winning as first place. Thus, I decided to focus directly on the concept of winning. I wanted to learn how and why some people win, while other seemingly very talented athletes never win.< /p>

Through this research much was revealed about athletes who win. In fact, I was able to differentiate between champion athletes and athletes who win occasionally or athletes who never win. Champions are defined as the multiple - expected winners. They are the athletes who win regularly at every level, including the highest levels of their sport.  There are differences between career champions and champions for a day. 

Understanding winning and defining winning are critical to discovering and staying on the path one must take in order to become a champion.  After reading The Champion's Way coaches of youth sport, beginners, elite and professional athletes will be able to better serve the individuals and teams that they are coaching. Parents of young and aspiring athletes may also benefit from this knowledge. Athletes themselves will have a better understanding of what it takes to win and to become a champion in their particular sport.

Lastly, understanding the path to becoming a champion can also help those in search of general fitness and potentially those who have high aspirations completely outside of the sports and/or fitness worlds. In the following blogs you will learn about champion athletes and the path one must take in order to become a champion. These blogs will be based on my original dissertation research and my continued research and interest in human potential. These blogs will give you a glimpse of The Champion's Way

Steve