Channelling Olympic focus to finish The Book

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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

    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)

15 Responses to “Channelling Olympic focus to finish The Book”

  1. […] from Cubicle Nation wastes no time heeding the inspiration and lessons from the Olympians as she is “Channelling Olympic focus to finish The Book”. Whether writing a book, sealing a business deal, or competing in the Olympics so much of life is a […]

  2. gail says:

    As a mom of four, writer and fellow Martha Beck coach, I just wanted you to know I’m behind you all the way, supporting you, commending you and in advance congratulating your guaranteed success. You’re baby analogy is so right! and speaks to why you are so good at what you do, seeing the details and connections in the big picture. I get the distinct feeling this baby wants to be born as much as you want to give birth to it, so spend no more time sweating the due date, and relax into the faith we all have in you and your book’s arrival. All the best,

  3. Michelle says:

    Your determination is impressive. Though trite, it is true that you can do anything you put your mind to, as long as you are passionate about it. With your very evident passion, you will certainly succeed. Best of luck!

  4. Jay Thompson says:

    The preparation, drive, commitment and motivation these Olympic athletes display is nothing short of astounding. If one could channel just a tenth of that, they’d be wildly successful in anything they pursue.

    Speaking of wildly successful, I’m sure that’s exactly what your book will be!

  5. DanGTD says:

    Great article. Good luck with your book.

    I don’t know how is to have a child, but I suspect releasing a book you worked for so long, and also having it bought and appreciated, might be a similar experience.

  6. John Redford says:

    What a fantastic blog!!
    I loved how detailed each of the entries were.
    They were well balanced – fun and informative – and the pictures were great too.

  7. Andy Pels says:

    Oh, can the mush and get back to work!



  8. Andy Pels says:

    Annoyed by the auto-responder? -far from it. When I saw it I cheered, “Good for her!”. It’s kinda like Rocky not fooling around with Adrian while he was in training. Mickey growled to him matter-of-factly, “Women weaken legs!” So every time you feel a desire to read emails, just think, “Women weaken legs!” and you’ll get the idea.

    By the way, I can really identify with Raj. I, as well, have a tough time with some yoga poses because of my freakishly huge muscles.


    I know you will get mad at me for responding to this comment instead of writing my book, but I wanted to say THANK YOU ANDY for being such a great support and always sharing a funny anecdote.

    To use another movie metaphor from Jerry Maguire, “you complete me.” In a “you and I are both happily married and purely platonic way.”


    OK Mickey, back to the book.


  9. Hi Pam – a quote I love:

    “Athletes teach you that behind any kind of confidence is conditioning. And behind any inspiration is hard work. They also teach you that creative decision making — clarity of thought, and composure — is directly related to your physical state.” –Sally Jenkins, Washington Post

  10. Kim says:


    Great post! I too have sat and watched the Olympic athletes as they mentally prepare just prior to competing and wonder how they deal internally with the pressures of the task ahead.

    The story of Raj is such a great inspiration.

    Your post was the right information for me today!


  11. Acsmo says:

    It’s funny that my coworkers and I were just talking about the calm before going for it. My coworker was explaining how the heart rates of professional boxers actually slow down in the ring. I wouldn’t know if that’s true, but it goes right alone with the concept of the calm before the storm (in your case, the positive storm). You and Ramit are in full-on book mode! I wonder what that’s like! As for writing fewer posts, maybe some of your fellow bloggers or audience members can help out with that.

  12. Tim says:


    Great post – I love the video that you attached and how it applies to your situation. I wish you luck on your book and look forward to reading more of your posts so that, eventually, I can escape my own cubicle.


  13. Bobby Saini says:

    @ the bullet that highlights how you place outlines everywhere around the home. I do something similar, paper and pen at my desk, next to my bed, where I work out, in my bag when biking, in the kitchen ( thank you george foreman grill), in my pocket…you never know when you may come up with a good idea it’s best to jott it down while it’s fresh in your mind. Rather than putting it off till later. It’s interesting how you can trick yourself into doing things.

  14. lilalia says:

    You certainly have, dear. All the best. May you strive greatly, but work within the boundaries of your heart and mind.