Monday, January 19, 2009

The Butterfly Called Discipline


Here's a great article written by Martin Rooney, a trainer of top athletes in a variety of sports. He speaks about how having discipline is a common theme among exceptional performers. It sounds like common sense, but it's worth examining on a deeper level:

The Butterfly Called Discipline

Over the last ten years, I have had the luxury of working with a multitude of top level athletes in almost every sport one can imagine. From fighting to football, from bobsled to basketball, I have found that there are many attributes that all athletes must share to enjoy success.

About a year ago, a World Cup soccer player I was training asked me what I believed to be the most important quality an athlete could possess. At first, a number of qualities came to mind, but when I really examined the question at length, I believe there is one quality that encompasses them all. This quality is discipline. Every other quality that an athlete can possess and nature must be done using the maximal amount of discipline. If the right amount of discipline is not present, every aspect of performance that it affects will eventually suffer. When I use the term discipline, I am defining the term as control over yourself. You are the only one that can really let yourself down. When you lose discipline, or self control, usually less than desirable results occur. During this article I will give you some memorable tools to ensure that breakdowns in your discipline will happen as little as possible.
When I was an athlete on the US Bobsled team, there were a number of times I did not demonstrate the right amount of discipline. From missing a workout to going out partying to being late for meetings, I will not say I was ever perfect. Around this time, my father saw that I was not focusing myself as well as I could. That is when he introduced me to what in science is called The Butterfly Effect. The Butterfly Effect can best be described as the fact that nothing is predictable, and that enormous positive or negative effects can often be produced by very tiny causes. The example that is often used is that science has shown that the tiny flapping of a butterfly’s wings in Japan could lead to a monstrous storm in Brazil. So always keep in mind that as small as you think something is, it can have a huge positive, or negative effect.

Now examine for a second the ways that you flap your wings each day when it comes to your training. Do you ever miss a workout? Do you always eat correctly? Do you push yourself as far as you need to go? The answers to all of these questions are most often no. Many athletes I have asked these questions usually say, “Who cares, I am only missing one workout” or “Don’t worry, I will eat well tomorrow.” But now let me illustrate the Butterfly Effect as it relates to discipline. Let’s say that over a training period of 12 weeks leading up to a competition you miss 6 workouts which is only one every two weeks. Let us also say that you didn’t eat well 20 of the 84 days of training. Then when the competition came, you were defeated because you narrowly lacked the strength and stamina needed for the win. Even though you felt you prepared, you now see how small breakdowns in discipline at the time lead to very big consequences. Understanding this, you must see that there are no small aspects to anything in training because tiny flaps of your wings can lead to a victory or defeat up to years from now. This knowledge should help you to sharpen your discipline so that you question the result of every decision you make about your training.

Another method to examine the Butterfly Effect and your discipline is a question I often ask my athletes, “How would you train if you knew this was your last competition?” Many answer that they would now attack every aspect of their training with a new overall zest for achievement. I am usually disappointed with this answer because it shows that none of the athletes believe that they are working as hard or as smart as they could. This further shows that there is a breakdown in their discipline along the way in their training. What you must realize, my friends, is that we only have a finite number of competitions and days to train, so you must treat each of those as if it were your last. If you are not living each workout to the fullest, you are not flapping your wings as hard as you could to cause great positive effects later.

An excellent way for an athlete to attempt to examine their current level of discipline is what I call the Discipline Curse. After working with athletes for so long, I have also noticed a trend among most of them once their career was over. Most believe that their lack of discipline or knowledge did not allow them to achieve the level that they wanted. They can also usually pinpoint the times in their careers when this discipline as missing. I always tell my athletes that the worst feeling an athlete can be cursed with the regret of looking back on their career and feeling empty because they could have done much more. If they knew their shortcomings then and regretted it, this means you can pinpoint your errors now to avoid the shortcomings that could haunt you later. No one is perfect, you are going to make mistakes and have breakdowns in your discipline. If you can minimize this as much as possible, great things are bound to happen. There will be good and bad days, just search for the lesson in each. Just make sure you are always looking to avoid the Curse.
The final example I will use to demonstrate the importance of discipline is with the Law of the Shark. A shark, as we all know, must forever keep moving forward, or he cannot breathe and dies. Imagine the discipline that the shark has to possess. Perhaps there are days he wants to stop and take a rest, but this is not an option. You must attack your athletic career with the same ideals. Just like the shark, you must constantly try to move forward. If you are not constantly bettering yourself, you are only staying the same or getting worse. You must become disciplined enough to never let yourself stay at one level for too long. We all know there are going to be tough days. There are going to be times that that voice in your head says “Don’t worry, you can quit right here.” Those are the days to utilize the examples I gave above to make sure that your discipline doesn’t falter. Before you ever quit, miss a workout, stay out too late, or eat what you know is wrong for you, ask yourself, “Am I flapping my wings to move forward like a shark, or am I placing a curse of regret on myself for years to come.”

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