The Rocky Road To Greatness: “Super Champions” Vs. “Almosts”

close finish super champions mental fitnessLearning to navigate a “rocky road” – often riddled with setbacks both inside and outside the competitive arena – is the essential element in becoming among the best in the world.

A new study headed by researcher Dave Collins highlights key characteristics that separate the best of the best (“Super Champions”), the good (“Champions”), and those who didn’t quite make it (“Almosts”).

Super Champions have developed the skills to cope with obstacles and disappointments without unraveling. The researchers, from the U.K., carried out extensive interviews with athletes from a variety of sports, including soccer, skiing, rowing and combat disciplines.

Athletes who reached the very highest level are never satisfied with their performance; they are always looking for improvements and setting tougher goals. They also have total commitment and relentless internal drives that their less successful peers lack.

When faced with injuries or failures, the almost great athletes often become despondent and lose enthusiasm. Super Champions, though, are determined to return stronger than ever.

According to the study: “Super Champions are characterized by an almost fanatical reaction to challenge, both proactively and in reaction to mishaps which typically occurred due to injury or sport related setbacks such as non-selection/being dropped.”

The most surprising finding was that the almost-great athletes suffered no more setbacks, on average than the Super Champions or Champions. In other words: the difference wasn’t down to bad luck, but a unique attitude. “It is more what performers bring to the challenges than what they experienced,” the researchers wrote.

Super Champions:
– They are proactive in rising to face setbacks such as injury and non-selection
– Have received from coaches positive facilitation and gentle encouragement
– Often have siblings who play a significant role in supporting and challenging
– Have meticulous, persistent attention to detail

The lesson for coaches who want to groom a Super Champion? Often less is more. Taking a hands-off approach appears to be considerably better than micromanaging or “helicoptering” a young athlete. In fact, coping with adversity on their own ultimately makes young athletes more self-reliant and resilient.

Super Champions learn to view setbacks as opportunities for growth, and not as roadblocks. They tend to be both proactive and looked for positive meaning in response to “bumps” in the road with a “bring it on!” mentality.

Developing skills to handle unexpected obstacles and setbacks with grace, self-reflection, and unwavering determination takes practice and real-world life experience.

In their ascent to greatness, the paths of Super Champions are often filled with more adversity and setbacks than their less-successful peers encounter. The young athletes who didn’t achieve greatness tended to have an “easy ride”; having a parent or coach constantly holding their hand throughout the process, making the journey more like a chaperoned field trip than a heroic adventure.

In fact, for the “Almost” category, parents and coaches often played a big (sometimes perceived as overbearing) role in young athlete’s pursuits. Unfortunately, having an adult figure constantly “driving the bus” resulted in floundering when the athletes had to eventually are on their own.

Most of the coddled athletes didn’t have the skills to be self-reliant by the time they reached university. For example, two “Almost” achievers in the study described this conundrum by saying, “My parents, Dad especially was always there… shouting instructions from the touchline, pushing me to practice at home. Really, I just wanted to be out with my mates, even though we would still be kicking a ball around. I felt like [sport] stole my childhood.”

Another ‘Almost’ said, “It was a real feeling of release to get away from my father and go to university. But once there, I seemed to lose my way. No-one telling me what to do… I just lost interest.”
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Keeping Your Head When All About You Are Losing Theirs and Blaming It On You

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;
rudyard_kiplingIf you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools;
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Is There Comfort In Knowing That Cruelty Is Nothing New?

A provocative view of how Stoical Philosophy might help us deal with current struggles, by John Sellars:

“Much has been written about the Stoic idea of premeditation on future evils: Pre-rehearse potential bad events so that if they come you are better prepared to deal with them and, if they don’t, be all the more grateful for your good fortune. But what about past evils? Is there anything to be gained from reflecting on evils that have already happened?

“…In the early 1600s, Justus Lipsius wrote that the public evils then afflicting people were, when put into an appropriate historical context, neither especially grievous nor unusual… He recounted the death tolls of ancient wars involving Jews: 20,000 died at Caesarea, 13,000 at Scythopolis, 2,500 at Ascalon, 2,000 at Ptolomais, 50,000 at Alexandria, 10,000 at Damascus…

“…Public evils are constant features of history and so we should not be surprised to find them in our own time. Indeed, it would be truly miraculous if our own time were exempt from such events.

Our natural sympathy is for those closest at hand but, according to David Hume, this is a distortion that we must overcome when making moral judgements.

“…Lipsius aimed to show that moral distance can distort our perception of public evils, making our own immediate troubles appear much more significant than they actually are. If we step back and consider those evils within a wider historical context we shall see that in fact they are neither especially grievous nor unusual.”

“…Among contemporary generations, “the Holocaust has come to be seen as the archetypal example of public evil, and for good reason. Reflecting on horrific events from the past such as the Holocaust is important for a number of obvious and well-known reasons: some things should never be forgotten. For Lipsius this sort of reflection on past evils can also be a chilling way to put our current troubles into stark perspective.

Link to John Sellars’ article:


A is for Awareness and Other Awesome Words

Structured Mindfulness

A is for Awareness because that’s the key to it all. Only by being aware of where we are, in this present moment, being Mindful, can we focus on what reality actually is and then what the full range of our options are. Skilful action starts with fully immersed awareness.

Coincidentally there are six other words starting with “A” that can guide us in working through a challenge. Let’s call them the Seven Skillful Samurai:

1. Allow

2. Aware

3. Acknowledge

4. Accept

5. Abide
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Rosa Park’s Ability to Just Sit is Mindfulness in Action

Jack Kornfield: Sitting Meditation

Rosa_ParksThis day in 1955, Rosa Parks refused to obey a Montgomery Alabama bus driver’s order that she give up her seat in the colored section to a white passenger, after the white section was filled.

Jack Kornfield has charmingly observed that Rosa Park’s power came from here ability to just sit, albeit amid tremendous pressure to  move.

By extension, Jack challenges us to “just sit” in quiet fortitude, regardless of the forces that line up against us – distractions, competing desires, request and demands from colleagues, friends, relatives for our time. It often seems we are up against pressures that make it impossible to “just sit,” even for five minutes. But of course we’re not up against the kinds of pressures felt by Rosa Parks.

Some thoughts from Rosa:

“I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear.”

“I would like to be remembered as a person who wanted to be free… so other people would be also free.”

“Each person must live their life as a model for others.”


A Glorious Injection of Testosterone

sunrise_runCombatting Complacency

The video linked at the bottom is a bit on the macho side, I know. Or as a good female friend responded when I sent the link to her: “What a glorious injection of testosterone!” I think she meant it (mostly) in a good way.

This is where Mindful Your Own Business is a little bit different than many other meditation-oriented sites. Sure we believe in non-judgment, in going with the flow, in letting things happen at their own pace. Yes, sometimes the best approach to a difficult day, month or year is simply to “chop wood, carry water.”

And sometimes action is needed. Right Action. The Right Way. And the Right Way is often the most difficult way, the way the requires the most discipline, the most focus, the most delaying of gratification and with no guarantee of reward.

Here’s the full text:

Rise and shine.

6am and your hand can’t make it to the alarm clock before the voices in your head start telling you that it’s too early, too dark, and too cold to get out of a bed.
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Brace Yourself: This Makes You Sad Before It Makes You Glad

pablo_nerudaThe poet’s job is to make us reflect, challenge our assumptions, hold a mirror up to ourselves. Sometimes that’s not a pleasant feeling. It can be one of those “it has to get worse before it gets better” types of painful experiences.

The effect of “hormesis” in biology is that when a human being – and many other organisms – is exposed to small but significant toxins and stressors, the organism adapts and becomes stronger and more resilient.

Consider this poem from the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda (1904 to 1973) as a “hermetic stressor.” Like some vegetables that you don’t like at first. Maybe try a daily dose for a week or two.

If we were not so single-minded

about keeping our lives moving,

and for once could do nothing,
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USA Olympic Team’s Mindfulness in Sports Expert Peter Haberl

peter_haberl1This week we’re joined for a podcast interview by Peter Haberl, a senior sports psychologist for the United States Olympic Committee. Peter has worked with some of the most successful teams in recent history including medal winning squads in water polo and volleyball.

Based at the USOC headquarters in Colorado Springs, Peter has a particular interest in mindfulness based interventions and cognitive behavioral treatments. Peter grew up in Austria, played professional hockey in Europe for 10 years and represented his country in two world championships.

The interview originated at our sister site:


Olympian Mental Toughness: Stay Calm and Ski With Your Heart: Julia Mancuso

Julia_Mancuso_U.S._Ski_Team_Olympics_SochiThis is what Mental Toughness means in practice rather than in theory. It’s about talking to yourself in the best possible terms, pushing aside understandable doubts, even amid the most intense pressure.

Congratulations to U.S. skier Julia Mancuso, who won her fourth Olympic medal and in three Olympics in a row – this time a bronze in the “Super Combined” (downhill and slalom). That’s over 12 years of mental rigour and positive self-talk. She has attributed some of her admirable resilience to the tough times she went through early in life when her parents divorced and her father was imprisoned for drug trafficking.

Here’s how she explains her grace-under-pressure performance on the mean slopes of Sochi:

“I was just thinking, ‘Stay calm and ski with my heart,’ and I skied my heart out,” Mancuso said shortly after. “That was really tough. It was a really, really difficult slalom run. I knew I just had to give my best shot, and it sure didn’t feel good. I definitely had moments in my mind where I was thinking, ‘This is not going to be good enough, but keep fighting.’ I knew where to let it run on that last pitch and, surprise, looked up and got a medal.”

Mancuso had not finished better than seventh in any World Cup race this season, but her downhill run was exhilarating to watch, and her slalom was absolutely solid for a racer with so few slalom races entered this year.

“I was just kind of amazed,” Mancuso added. “It’s been a really tough season for me, and I’ve always had that real belief that I can do it. Putting out these dreams and beliefs that I can come in here and have a medal, and everyone being a little sceptical, and just knowing in my heart that I can do it, was kind of like crossing the finish line and saying, ‘See? It works. Believing in yourself really works. I got a medal today.’ “

Having the “real belief” that you can do it. That’s the trick. But it’s not a sleight-of-hand type of trick, it’s the result of several decades of disciplined training, both physically and mentally. Believing in yourself really works. Who would have thought it?

Here’s how her ultimate “boss” put it: “She has the ability to focus,” U.S. Ski Team Chief Executive Bill Marolt said. “She has the ability at the moment. She brings herself to her best possible level of preparation and puts it all out there. You think about what she did today to get this medal – she’s a gamer.”

Emotional management, mental toughness, focus and concentration