I have been fascinated watching the faces of Olympic athletes just before they compete in a race. Swimmer Michael Phelps has a quiet and intent look and is always connected to his iPod. Gymnast Raj Bhavsar has a look of calm and peaceful confidence.
I imagine that they have the following thoughts right before competing:
- I see gold.
- I am meant to do this.
- I am present. All that matters is now.
- Breathe in. Breathe out.
When the mind is calm, the body relaxes. And creativity flows.
What most (winning anyway) athletes would not be saying right before a race is:
- Why didn’t I train more last month?
- This is an impossible task.
- My competition is better.
- Why did I have donuts instead of granola this morning?
Top athletes know that great performance is really a mental game. All the physical preparation in the world means nothing if your thoughts don’t align with your desired outcomes.
So, in the wonderful coincidence that put the Olympics in my path just as I am finishing my book, I am going to channel Raj from this beautiful story on NBC (link here if you are reading from RSS):
With less than five weeks to go before my book is due (Sept. 15), I am going into my own miniature, suburban Olympic preparation zone. This means:
- I have copies of my book outline taped everywhere in the house. At the foot of the bathtub. In notebooks by the stove in case an insight comes while making spaghetti. In my purse if it hits while in the parking lot of my son’s school.
- I am playing the mental game. Although I could entertain hundreds of negative "I shoulda" thoughts as I complete the massive undertaking of excavating my heart, mind and soul for just the right information for the book, I am choosing to believe "I will finish. It will be the right information for the right people."
- I will write fewer blog posts. It may be a bit quiet on this part of the Southwestern front for the next month, so thanks for your patience! In a perfect world, I would have written 12 posts ahead of time and scheduled them to auto-publish, but let’s get real. As Anne Lamott said about a fellow writer in Bird by Bird: "Now, Muriel Spark is said to have felt that she was taking dictation from God every morning-sitting there, one supposes, plugged into a Dictaphone typing away, humming. But this is a very hostile and aggressive position. One might hope for bad things to rain down on a person like this."Quick links or questions or pre-recorded podcasts may appear at random, but don’t expect a lot of action. If I don’t cut back on blogging, I will never finish the book.
- I am letting go of the expectation that I will be responsive to regular emails. I set up a dreaded auto responder that annoys my regular clients, friends and family members, but will hopefully let prospective clients and new readers know that I am not ignoring them on purpose.
- I will delight in the fantastic stories and metaphors that come out of this process, such as the insight that there is a whole genre of writers focusing on "knitting humor" (thanks to Amy) and hearing precious examples of the insanity of corporate life like this from John:
"Our department was asked to do a process improvement project to improve
the delivery time of our projects. I hadn’t been with the group that
long and pointed out that a) we had no formal process that we could
improve and b) we had no baseline data (since we had no process). The
logical conclusion was to do it anyway and use our ‘best guess’ for
baseline data. Our next 3 projects showed a 900% improvement in
delivery time. We were embarrassed that our baseline was that far off.
Management, however, celebrated our success. We were asked to develop
a (3′ x 6′) poster and present at an internal process improvement
conference.Later a cross-department project was
initiated to define a software development process. 4.5 months later a
4-up (17"x22" at 12 pt font) flow diagram in PowerPoint appeared. It
had 8 stage gate review points and at least 120 individual boxes and
diamonds. One tiny box was labeled "write code". There was no
support for iterations or incremental development. No software
developers or development managers were consulted by the analysts that
created the flow."
I cannot explain why a ratio of 119:1 peripheral tasks to writing code is so funny, but it made me laugh till I hurt.
I also laughed last night as I thought of the common metaphor that "writing a book is like having a baby."
Having just gone through the birthing process, I can attest that parts of this are true: pain, agony, anticipation, fear, joy and overwhelm are emotions childbirth shares with writing a book.
But the key difference is that whether or not a Mom thinks positive or negative thoughts, or meditates, or eats right or exercises, in nine months or so, the baby will come out. The force of nature that makes this happen is so awe-inspiring that it cannot be measured by a Richter scale.
A book has no such luxury. It can languish between your ears for months, years, even decades. People die with great books in their hearts because they could never quite muster up the courage to push through to the end.
So with this post, thoughts of all of you dear readers gently pushing my back, the watchful eye of my publisher and my own personal challenge of tackling an Olympian task, I am going to finish on top.
As Raj says, whatever that looks like, I will already have won.
(photo credit, USA Today)