The Olympians competing in Sochi have a lot to teach us about dealing with distractions. From the lead up to the games to the moment of competition, these athletes are constantly having to decide what they need to pay attention to what they need to let go of. There have been numerous external distractions – just to name a few:
- Uniforms (think speed skating and curling)
- Ahem … “social” distractions
- Snow conditions
- The cut of the half pipe
- The color of the water
- Getting locked in the bathroom
- Getting stuck in an elevator (same athlete!)
- Team decisions
The list could go on and on.
And then there are the internal distractions. The thoughts and worries that can occupy their minds. The pressure that they put on themselves. Thinking about the sacrifices their families have made. What it means for them to be there competing for their country. Holding onto concerns about how they performed (or didn’t) in the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. For some, knowing that this might be their last Olympic Games. Not to mention that any athlete that has had any hardship or trauma will be hearing about it in the media over and over again leading up to their event (think Lolo Jones, Bode Miller, Emily Scott, Lindsey Jacobellis … just to name a few.) The potential distractions are endless.
This is a tremendous thing to ask of these athletes – to have to hold onto all of this as they approach the moment that they’ve been training for the past four years. The ability to focus on the things that are relevant to your performance and let go of the things that are irrelevant is one of the most essential mental skills an athlete can have.
Even if you’re not an Olympian, there are still numerous distractions that you must navigate. There will be times when you are going to need to compartmentalize. Yes – you could think about all of these things and still compete, but I can guarantee you won’t perform to your potential. You have to figure out how to hold onto and focus on the aspects of competition that are in your control and let go of the ones that aren’t. Especially when they add no value and only take away from your performance. It’s not an easy choice, but it is a choice. Give yourself permission to stay in the moment and on what’s relevant to your performance.