Monday, July 20, 2009

The Thing I Cannot Do

"You must do the thing you think you cannot do." - Eleanor Roosevelt

I saw this quote in a work-related email last week and liked it. I find that I copy/paste most things that Eleanor Roosevelt said, so I was not surprised that this stuck with me. And, I had an almost immediate application to my training.

As you know, or should know by this point, I am about 18 months into training for a fitness challenge, which will take place this coming November. (For new readers - I meant to do it last November but backed out, mostly because I messed up my knee running but also because I didn't think I could do it.) I went and practiced on the course back in March at the Al Rosen Tri-Fitness Camp, and found out exactly what God thinks of me. Which is not much judging from my performance. Unless God plans for me to be a reliable source of amusement for genetically blessed athletes, in which case I am a huge success.

So anyway, I guess you could say that I am taking Eleanor's words to heart because I am still on the road towards becoming America's Next Top Model. Ooops, sorry. I am still on the road towards doing what I (thought) I cannot do.

But there's a hitch: I don't have the course in my backyard, or anywhere near me, where I can practice on the actual equipment I will be tackling. Instead, I do a lot of functional training. I do pull-ups, jumping, sprinting, rope pulls, and other exercises to strengthen the muscles I will need to accomplish the tasks in the course, which include scaling a 10-foot wall, climbing a cargo net, jumping hurdles, running through a grid, and other things you might expect to see on your average Japanese game show.

So, to do what I cannot do, I have implemented a technique used by high-performers everywhere: visualization. I do a lot of visualization. I always have, to be honest. From the early days of setting a personal goal as a kid and then putting my head down and barreling through to the victory, visualization has been a key part of my plan. I visualize myself where I want to be in the most graphic and realistic way possible, down to the minute details of texture, sounds, breathing, peripheral vision, and emotion, and then save that data in my mind and replay it over and over and over. If I truly believe that the scene can replicate itself in reality, I will work to achieve it. I am very rarely unsuccessful when I use this technique; it is that simple.

At the beginning of this training schedule, I would visualize myself going over the hurdles and consistently see my trail leg catch the hurdle and bring it down behind me. Or, I would consistently see my leading leg crash into the front of the hurdle and trip me up. I had a huge disbelief in my ability to clear that hurdle and I knew I had to get over it. I watched videos and learned techniques for building the skills necessary. Each time I practice, I visualize. The combination of functional training and visualization has resulted in an adaptation to that scene - I now see myself clearing the hurdle by jumping higher at the approach and bringing my leg up higher and to the side on the trailing end. As a result, I've noticed my trailing foot cocking up when I do my in-real-life practice drills. Just as perception is reality, visualization can become reality.

And soon, I will try to recreate that scene in reality and see how my training has prepared me for a regulation-height hurdle. I fully expect to clear it.

But the course is more than just a hurdle. There are a series of obstacles to overcome in quick succession. So, I frequently watch this video to aid in my visualization. It is a video of a newly-found friend completing the actual course I will be competing on in three short months. She is flawless (and fearless). And, having met her in person, I can attest that she puts in not only the hard work required but the positive attitude necessary to accomplish the course time and time again. Go Berna!

There are a lot of things we cannot do. But, if you seriously and consistently apply visualization to your training, that list gets pretty short pretty fast. Take Eleanor's advice and do the thing you (think) you cannot do - do it in your mind. Visualize yourself doing the thing you (think) you cannot do, over and over and over and over and over and over until you have every detail memorized. That visualization will lead to you doing what it takes to accomplish it, and then to real success.

I know I can do it; I have already seen it. Now I just can't wait to bring that scene to life.


Aly & Andrea said...

YAY! A post on Visualization... something we have also always done, and like you, attribute much of our athletic, personal, and career success to it. You are SO gonna' smoke that goal. Failure doesn't stand a chance with you now:) Unless you hurt your knee...err, visualizing total health, perfect joints, no aches, all power. ahhhh....

Michael said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael said...

Caught this story on Good Morning America today, and thought of your post.

Tyler Bradt set a world record by going over the Palouse Falls in Washington. Bradt braved the 180-foot-plus plunge over the falls, reaching estimated speeds of nearly 100 miles per hour during the drop, and crashed into the foamy white water below.

A major part of his training – Viaualization. “Can’t go and train for it, can’t do half, so visualization is really important – focus, be calm and collected, run it over and over again in my head…”

Another great quote of his (from another interview): “I hope it encourages people not to run huge waterfalls but to understand that the only limits that exist are the ones you create, no matter what you are doing.”

Catch it here if so inclined: