I learned at my 1st Olympic length triathlon that expected performance may not look the way you think it’s going to. I trained hard to improve my swim times for my race and I swam a little slower than I had hoped, but not too much slower. I swam at a 1:53 per 100yd pace. Which is faster then what I can swim at the pool (my wetsuit helps improve my time.) But even though I swam at a good pace for me (and I am aware that it is a slow pace for Tri swims) I was near the end of the pack in swimming. Coming out of the water I was in 50th place.
I remember during my tri looking around at the swim exit and thinking man I am really slow. How could I have been that slow? But when I looked at my time after the race I realized I swam just as fast as I could have. I realized that my internal dynamics said ‘you are performing at your peak,’ but the comparison said ‘you are under performing.’
This is an easy trap to get caught in whether it be a single race or the overall ‘fitness race’. In our society where we are inundated with media images of fitness, it can seem like there is a fitness race we are always losing. Even among people we know we may admire or envy someone who is more fit than us. I have heard again and again you must race your race. The illusion of comparison is that it gives us a good view of what the field is really like. In reality it only gives us a good view of our own mind.
A month before my tri I did a 350m swim and couldn’t even do freestyle the entire time. From that place maintaining a 1:53 pace for 1000+ meters was amazing. The mind that arose during the race was the mind of I can’t do it, I’m not prepared, look how much better everyone else is doing. But that moment was a snippet in time, not just from my life but from all of theirs. I don’t know how many races they’ve done, or how many years they have trained, I don’t know what kind of karma in their lives motivates them. If I showed you a few frames out of a movie and asked you to tell me how good the movie was what would you say? Likely you would say I just don’t have enough information. But we do this with our lives all the time. We take a few frames out of a movie and BAM! make a judgement on how we are doing.
I walked out of the grocery store a few weeks ago and saw 3 couples holding hands. I though to myself man everyone I know is in a relationship except for me. What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I get a girlfriend? and on and on. I watched my mind spin this whole story from one little scene. It’s important to reflect on the whole of our lives and challenges. When I reflect on my swimming in this way I see I improved so much. I went from someone who couldn’t swim with his head totally in the water 5 months back, to someone who couldn’t swim 350meters without switching to breast stroke, to swimming 1000+ meters at a 1:53 pace. THAT’S A HUGE IMPROVEMENT. I doubt many of my competitors could say they improved that much over the last few months. As we get better improvement slows, yet we are often hardest on ourselves at the beginning because we still feel so far behind.
Take some time to reflect on the film of your life. Think of scenes of defeat and reflect what did you or can you learn from them. (Here’s a hint if the lesson is I can’t do this or I’m such a failure something like it that’s not a lesson. That’s criticism. The real lesson is more like wow I noticed when I hit a road block I got depressed and fell off track. I wonder what would happen if the next time I hit a road block I tried my best to keep going) Then reflect on scenes of victory: what made then so enjoyable? where did the strength come from to do it? what did those moments move you towards? For example: After my 350m swim I realized I wasn’t ready for my big tri swim. So went to the pool as much as possible and starting working harder to get in shape. I learned that when I realized I wasn’t where I wanted to be the only thing to do was redouble my efforts. To be patient with myself yes, but also to match my effort to the achievement of my long term goals.
Reflecting on virtue is one of the things that leads us to more peace and acceptance of ourselves and others. Don’t just take snippet from your life, appreciate the richness that the whole picture has to offer. Use it as place to encourage you to step forward with confidence. Everything you do today is a gift to your future self.