24 April 2008

Advisers and Leaders



We open with a snappy photo of Alan Couzens – he’s photogenic if you don’t give him time to realize that you are taking his photo. It is a little blurry but I don’t have many in the archives that have the big guy grinning ear-to-ear. We’ve turned him loose a bit on the training at this camp so perhaps his grin is endorphin-enhanced.

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One of the nice things about having a Human Performance Lab in my basement is that I am able to do whatever test, whenever I want. Two weeks ago, Alan hooked me up to the Met Cart and we updated my bike fitness profile. I will leave it to AC to use my data as he sees fit (we end up in his blog whether we like it or not!).

We were discussing the implications of my test – near identical O2 uptake with lower lactate levels. Again, best if I leave the technical discussion to the experts (i.e. AC). One of Alan’s suggestions was to increase the fat content of my diet. He did this indirectly by suggesting that I reduce the glycemic load of my breakfast. Eating less isn’t an effective option for me so I decided to add more calories to my diet.

He offered his advice with a caveat that he was a bit nervous giving me nutritional advice. If you know the two of us then you may smile at the thought of AC giving me nutritional tips. At first I didn’t get it – I was left pondering why an expert would be nervous sharing his advice with me. Then it hit me… he may have been concerned because of our relative ease with the 'nutrition-thing'.

I haven’t had a chance to speak to the big guy about this point but it is something that I face a lot so why not cover it here – AC and I “talk” a lot via the internet anyhow... J

There is a difference between advice and leadership. As a coach/friend/adviser/consultant, it is important to consider what the situation requires, as well as, what the client desires. I don't need my advisers to follow their own advice -- I need advisers that give me their best advice and objective feedback.

In my consulting career, I have often made incorrect assumptions about what the client desires – generally a mistaken assumption will result in the relationship breaking down due to lack of communication. My advisory failures are most often a result of a mistaken assumption (on my part) about what the client desires.

To be successful at offering what (I think) someone needs, I need to build trust by sharing ideas in a format that keeps them engaged and open. If I seek influence in a situation then I must start by creating trust.

Things to consider when deciding to offer leadership, advice or compassionate listening:

***What does the situation require?

***What does the client desire?

***What am I equipped to offer?

Triathlon is a strange sport where many of the leading experts were outstanding participants in the game. Many consumers are HEAVILY biased on the actual race performance of their advisers. I think this happens because the deeper purchase decision isn’t based on a search for expert knowledge. A personal triathlon coach is most often an aspirational purchase, separate from a search of improvement.

In other walks of life (swimming, cycling, basketball) the coach’s prior ability as a performer falls far behind his current ability as a teacher/mentor/leader. Swimming is an example where some great coaches have been very average athletes. Knowledge, communication skills and experience are the key ingredients – athletic ability scores very low outside of the marketing arena.

While leadership potential is boosted by walking-the-walk, the fact that we are human, prone to mistakes and share similar struggles to our clients most often makes us better advisers. Some of the most powerful communication that we can give our friends, family and clients is an open discussion of the real challenges that we face.

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We have space left in Epic Italy (June 7-16, eight days of training). Drop us a line if you are interested. Please include details on your athletic history and current fitness.

We finish with a shot of a flowering cactus. Southern Arizona had quite a bit of rain through the winter so we have been treated to wildflowers (March Camp) and flowering cacti (April Camp).


I love it down here.

gordo

PS -- saw my first snake of the year today!

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23 March 2008

Teachers and Students


The Endurance Corner team is in Tucson, Arizona this week for our first of two spring training camps. I love the desert -- no bugs, cool at night and plenty of sunshine.

Coach KP and I were swapping ideas about learning and teaching this past week. We shared a few observations that came from thinking about how open (or closed) I have been to new ideas across my triathlon career.

Being open to new ideas, means being open to change. Change is uncomfortable. As an adviser, most of my clients come to me seeking reassurance that there is no need for change (a lot of time that motivates me as well). We are open to guidance, so long as it consists of digging deeper into our existing patterns.

How often do we say to a teacher, "I hope you are not trying to tell me there is a problem."

Most often we see the need to change as a problem when it is an opportunity for success.

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A few years back, I read that Tiger Woods decided to change his golf swing. At the time he was the best golfer on the circuit, yet he saw the need to change. I know very few experts that would be willing to completely learn a skill that is fundamental to their identity. The true master's commitment is to excellence, not the current way of doing things.

It is the rare expert that is open to change -- not only did Tiger see the need to change but he had the self-awareness to figure this out on his own. Most of us require stress, failure or some other external input to indicate that change might be required.

The trap of expert knowledge. Of being smart enough, good enough, fast enough -- it can be useful (but painful) to get outside of the familiar from time to time.

Here at our Tucson camp, the group environment takes all of us outside of the familiar, it can be uncomfortable at times. At our first dinner KP spoke of his experience at being the strongest athlete at a camp, as well as, the weakest athlete at a camp. He says that it can be emotionally uncomfortable when we are out-gunned. However, in getting through those situations, we can emerge stronger.

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Early in my career, I remember thinking that simplicity was a sign of ignorance -- and -- having a strong desire to constantly demonstrate my complex knowledge to my teachers and the world at large. My coaches found my intensity entertaining -- I was fortunate for their patience!

The master teachers that I have worked with make the complex simple -- they help their students focus on the key elements. As the student becomes an expert, he sees more and more complexity. One of my drivers for simplification is to make sense of all the options that are available. Another is seeing that there are a few themes that underpin the wide range of protocols that are applied by successful people.

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History tells me that I know less than I think
We each need to live our own experience
Remain open so my students can remind me what I don't know
Remember that my goal is to help my students not live for them

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This blog is a few days late (we've been training) so that is enough for now.

Until next week,
gordo

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19 January 2008

Self Awareness and Facilitation

Our photo this week is Monica’s Buddy Andrea (MBA). MBA has an M.B.A. from Harvard. She came over to Australia to visit us and I have been receiving free personal consulting.

When we discussed my piece on Start-Ups, Andrea noted that hardly anyone takes the first step of creating self-awareness. At HBS, they had an entire course on the subject. Most of us can’t go to Harvard but we can review the article and consider its best points.

Here goes!

Drucker’s article notes that it is extremely tough for us to figure out ‘where we belong’. He suggests that we should start by noting where we don’t belong as well as the situations that don’t suit our strengths.

He counsels that we enhance our strengths while working to eliminate our bad habits (rather than our weaknesses). There is much greater return from supporting top performers than “fixing” mediocre players.

Focus on being polite, trim the bad habits and place ourselves in situations where we can use our strengths.

He points out that we all have intellectual arrogance that limits our success. I spent two hours thinking about the areas where I am intellectually arrogant. I really had to think. I am far from perfect but everyone else’s limiters came to me first!

Probably my #1 arrogance is advisers that have never “done it” – I place a huge emphasis on learning-by-doing. When I see a man promoting himself as “the world’s greatest” adviser on a subject that he has never personally experienced, I have to work (very hard) to give any credibility to his experience. That’s a shame because some of these advisers have spent countless years studying the best performers. They probably know a thing, or two!

To know, but not to do, is not to know.

I surround myself with do’ers. There is an important role for the academics – those of us that have “done” are biased by our experience – combine us with people that are biased by their textbooks and we might breakthrough together.

If you look closely at the Endurance Corner consulting team then you will see my efforts at diversity. Still, we are a bit young and too male. We are working on it.

In my youth, my greatest limiter was a core belief that tact was a sign of weakness. In my 20s, all that mattered was performance. Now, if you are a high performer then you can get away with that for a while. However, we pay a high price in terms of ultimate success and effectiveness. I was fortunate that my first boss was a lot like me and found my flaws entertaining.

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Values – we tend to think of values and ethics as being crystal clear – black/white or right/wrong. Drucker makes the point that, in life, we can find ourselves in a situation where conflicting values are both “right”. I will give you an example with a list of my business values.

This is what Gordo Incorporated stands for:

  • Low leverage
  • Full disclosure
  • Focused, specialized personal excellence
  • Clear instructions
  • Return on capital employed focus
  • Long term achievement trumps short term gains

Consider the opposite of the above points – Snazzy Company Limited values:

  • Maximum leverage
  • Necessary disclosure
  • General, personal excellence
  • Accepts that life is imperfect with changing information
  • Growth focus
  • Consistent short term gains

In one job, I would be happy – in the other… a disaster. It is important for me to remember that the other company isn’t a “bad” company, just different.

Armed with your strengths and personal values you can decide if an opportunity makes sense for you. Before signing on, use your self-awareness to lay out what is required for you to succeed.

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The other interesting part of the article is a description of the different ways that people communicate, learn and work. It probably won’t surprise you to learn that I work/learn by writing. At McGill, my class notes were the Gold Standard. The “listeners” used to photocopy them for subsequent review.

I have had two successful business relationships with extreme examples of listeners/talkers. Until I figured these guys out, I used to bang my head because they “never read what I write”. The way to crack the code is to call them on the telephone – I used to call these guys from 30 feet away!

If you are working with people with a different style then acknowledge it. We are paid to be effective, not right. Andrea's tip here is to remember that, more than changing your style, respect and adapt to the styles of our co-workers.

More in the article – with great examples.

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Feedback analysis – Drucker’s feedback tips are HIGHLY valuable. Each time you make a key decision – write down what you think is going to happen and revisit it 9-12 months later. I have eight years of personal business plans and learn a lot from them.

Some things that I noticed:

  • When I get nervous about a situation there is usually a reason
  • My goals are challenging, I (mostly) achieve them but rarely exceed by a large margin
  • Other people are better at judging character than me
  • I need people with excellent people skills around me
  • I would benefit from pausing after my greatest successes
  • Painful personal feedback from the people closest to me is normally correct – I listen but, typically, at least two years after I am told. This could indicate that I am stubborn…
  • I could be far more effective by taking a greater personal interest in the people around me.

There is much more in the article. It’s only ten pages. A small investment of time to get an edge on ourselves!

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Phew, running long again! I will be short on facilitation.

The best thing that Andrea pointed out to me was that in any situation there is the person acting and the person facilitating.

As an adviser, many clients come to me for the professional OK to continue with their bad habits. At one level they want success but, at another level, they want acceptance/love and the OK to keep rolling just as they are. So we start by acknowledging what is working and good in their lives.

Without a basis of trust, we can get fired when we refuse to facilitate. When we fail to surround these difficult conversations with manners and tact, they often fall on deaf ears. With my inner circle, I often have to wait a year, or more, for an opening to share feedback. As a bonus, waiting saves me when a rush-to-action is inappropriate.

My second thought was to consider the people, and firms, that I facilitate. Whether we like it or not, our actions have a multitude of direct/indirect impacts. Questions that I considered:

  • Do the companies that I support back the best people?
  • Do the websites that I visit share my values?
  • Would I be friends with a person that had a personality like my favorite sites?
  • Do the blogs that I read bring out my best emotions? Do they lift me up?
  • With the people/firms that don’t share my ethics, how are they linked to me? Am I facilitating them?
  • Would direct action strengthen, or weaken, my adversaries?

Andrea’s final tip was “Stay on message and stay positive” – with that in mind, I won’t share my answers. One of the things that I am working on is my need to “be right” all the time.

Until next week,

gordo

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28 November 2007

Responsibility & Legacy


Alternative Perspectives is back with Part One of a two part series on over training.

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France
The media forms an essential counterbalance to those in power, certainly those in government. However, judging from my inbox, the reporting on the riots in Paris is probably being over-done (globally). We have been enjoying the symphony, the Louvre Museum and the Eiffel Tower. The trouble is confined to the periphery.

That said... we did bump into a lawyer's strike yesterday at Place Vendome -- completely shut the neighborhood down! The French do appear to enjoy a good strike. Notwithstanding a little labour unrest, France is a fantastic place and we truly enjoyed ourselves.

As I hit the "publish" button on this piece, we're off to the airport to begin our journey to Hong Kong and onward to Australia. Next week I will be writing you from Noosa, Queensland.

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Responsibility
Two weeks ago, I sorted out my will. At its essence, I see a will as being about motivation. A reflection of how I motivate myself; how I seek to motivate those around me; and the impact that I will have on the motivation of future generations.

When I think back over my adult life, the person that I would have been most worried about inheriting capital is "myself". The shakiness of my personal motivation from 17 to 32, was hidden from everyone other than myself -- I have managed to get quite a bit done over the years but it easily could have gone far, far differently. A benevolent chunk of cash at just the 'right' time could have had seriously 'wrong' consequences.

Further, knowing that I wasn't solely reliant on my own resources would have reduced my desire, and need, to take care of myself.

Our ability to responsibly allocate capital is a direct result of our experience with learning how to accumulate it. It is challenging to teach prudent financial management to people that have never had to manage finances.

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A Valuable Legacy
I've been considering:
***What drives personal ethics?
***What drives self-worth?
***What drives the achievement of a life with meaning?

Ethics, self-worth and a life with meaning -- if I had to choose three things to wish for my kids then those are a good starting point. None of these points require a trust fund.

The most powerful success factors in my life have come from education, social networks and life experiences. A legacy with meaning is one that shares the lessons of my life.

What does this have to do with motivation?

***Achievement is linked to maximizing our capacity to work, then working.

***Self-worth is linked to favorable outcomes from work done ethically.

***Wealth is linked to favorable financial outcomes from capital invested wisely. True wealth is a function of personal freedom, not merely financial assets.

***Happiness correlates reasonably well to personal freedom -- especially, when that freedom is used for ethical work.

I haven't seen a direct correlation between wealth and personal ethics. Going further -- unearned wealth severely challenges both personal ethics and our sense of self-worth. I often ask myself what I did to deserve such a wonderful life and have tendencies to make my life more difficult (for no appreciable reason).

In our society, wealth provides a shield from being confronted by the effects of weak personal ethics. The frequency that we make poor choices is linked to our ability to tolerate poor outcomes. An example relevant to my early career, getting drunk and being unproductive at the office fails to be an option if our lack of productivity gets us fired. Inherent ability masks a lot of counterproductive behavior -- as Scott Molina notes... "you can justify an awful lot when you are winning".

Most of us will do the minimum to achieve our personal goals -- it is for this reason that challenging goals prove so useful for many of us.

My legacy?

Here's what I'm working towards:
***A clear example of the benefits of consistent ethical work over time;
***a useful library; and
***the authorship of one very useful book.

Off to the Southern Hemisphere,
gordo

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15 October 2007

Network Effects



Here's a shot of the Coffees of Hawaii sailing canoe in Kona. We were dealing out hot/cold espresso as well as water/sports drink during Ironman Hawaii race week. I'll be sharing more thoughts on Kona in the next few weeks.

Before this week's letter. A few bits and pieces...


A.R. Asked...
Sorry to bother you – a while ago (2 weeks?) – you interjected a short comment about what to look for in an ideal woman ( you mentioned something about high self esteem and a few other things? ). I am going through some decision making currently with regards to the opposite sex and I was hoping to find that bit of wisdom you imparted but I can’t seem to find it – do you remember what the few important things that you listed as important were?
Get yourself a copy of "Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart" -- there is a chapter on this exact subject. Gordon explains it much better than me.

For the cyclists that are looking for more information on training with power -- I recently read the Allen/Coggan book on Training with Power. There was a lot of interesting information and tips in there. If you apply their tips then remember that the physiologically optimal plan is the one that you can consistently apply across a number of seasons. Most athletes have a bias towards overwork and there is no better way to fatigue yourself (mentally/physically) than chasing watts in your training.

I've been giving some thoughts to my presentations for the November 2nd/3rd clinic on the Business of Coaching. We are going to be sharing the tools that I use to help coaches increase their revenues, and satisfaction, from coaching.

Finally...the City of Boulder is soliciting input for Valmont Park facilities. Please fill out the on-line comment form. In question 3 you might consider casting your vote for a 50M x 25M pool with separate dive tank and spectator seating. You can access the form HERE.

In the spirit of Aloha, Alternative Perspectives is a piece by Kevin Purcell -- Kona Blue. Only Kevin knows what it truly took to follow his vision of Hawaii.

Alan's blog has a piece on VO2 Max testing for Ironman athletes -- I expect that we'll learn a tremendous amount over the next few years. I used to be highly skeptical on the benefits. Now I am lining up -- Alan should have my 2008 benchmark results written up by the end of November. I need a few weeks to get moving again -- right now, I sense that the testing would be poor idea.

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Network Effects

A friend was recently talking me through the cascade of impacts that occurred following the rape of a young lady. The disruptions to her family, the cost of starting the wheels of our justice system as well as the support that it will take the lady to heal from the experience. Overall, a huge level of disruption, pain and expense resulting from a single action.

It got me thinking...
...about the compound effects of a series of kind actions over an extended period of time
...about my own participation in the transmission of negative, and positive, acts
...about my personal responsibility for how I choose to think and act

Small actions of kindness -- opportunities for bold strokes of greatness in my life are rare. However, hook all of us up to an internet connection, support each other and, perhaps, one of us could do something truly special. Even more powerful would be getting thousands of people to undertake a series of small acts.

One of my habits is to pick up five pieces of trash every day. I don't hit it every day and I probably average 20 pieces of trash per week. Now 20 pieces of trash doesn't seem like much but last week Monica started picking up trash too. Strange hobby to share with your wife, eh?

So my 20 pieces could be up to 30, or 40, by the end of the year. If even five people reading this note decide to pick-up as well then we'd be well on our way to making a material impact on things.

This isn't about litter -- it is about accessing our collective power to shape the world around us.

Our role as a transmitters. In my inner circle, I tend to be the most adverse to traditional media. As part of my Personal Review this past September, I decided to chop some more media sources from my list of approved outlets (good-bye CNN.com).

We are impacted by every person, thought, action, image, sound and mood that comes into contact with us. It is tough enough for me to keep my head straight without all the consumption; faux-righteousness; violence; false imagery; etc... pumped out by the bulk of the media.

I can't always see the damage that is being done to me (and you) by the media. Our continued participation is what sustains these vehicles -- your eyes (and therefore your mind) is what they are seeking. Inactive participation isn't possible -- your anonymity isn't a factor for a force that, ultimately, seeks to control the masses.

What I can clearly see is that nearly all print, television and internet content fails to move me towards my goals. The "dead time" insight is easier to sell to myself then facing the reality that a website is poisoning my character (though listening to many of you talk about how certain forums make you feel it should be pretty obvious -- to your spouse, if not to you personally).

To achieve our goals we need to limit our time spent on achieving nothing. I've found that it is far better to "do nothing" than spend my time on junk food for the mind. I achieve a lot more insights when unplugged.

Once I have an insight that I may be holding myself back, it becomes increasingly difficult for me to sustain my current path. It's the main reason behind my incremental progress with my nutrition. I see the true impact of "treats" in my life. Binging loses (most of) its fun when I deeply understand its impact. There is no true satisfaction in being slack.

Those of you that read Mat's blog will see his take on this shortly. He gave me a preview and asked me if it made sense. I told him that he came pretty close to describing every September of mine from 2001 to 2006 -- and probably -- a few bonus months in between.

Small actions count,
gordo

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12 May 2007

Success, Discipline, Bad Deals and Bodhisattvas


The photo this week relates to my final topic of bodhisattvas. The other topics that I'll share ideas on are success/results; discipline/compromise; and bad deals.

Before we kick off a public service announcement on helmets and seat belts... the good weather has a number of my pals riding naked!

It is worth remembering that we never choose when we will have a life threatening accident. Helmets have saved me from two very serious head injuries. If you don't want to wear a helmet for yourself then wear it for your friends/family -- we are the ones that will be left to pick up the pieces when you sustain a serious injury.

If you insist on riding without a helmet then please, at a minimum, carry an organ donor card.

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Success vs Results
A friend recently remarked that while he 'lived' better than anyone that he knew, he believed that I enjoyed the way that I lived far more than him. There wasn't any envy in his statement -- just an observation on the difference between consumption and satisfaction.

There is, I believe, a related topic in athletics -- the difference between achieving success and achieving results. There are a lot of different aspects of this topic and I will limit myself to a couple of sub-topics this evening.

There are several training techniques that produce results while rarely leading to success. I'll share a few:

***Starvation training, exercise anorexia, depletion training -- whatever you'd like to call it. Over the short term, self-starvation can be performance enhancing. There are several successful trainers that actively push their athletes down this path -- results are achieved and others (including the athlete) are left to pick up the pieces.

***Overtraining -- a really interesting topic for me. Within my own training, I was successful, with a high quality of life during all of my overtraining phases. When I look around my friends and read case studies of world class athletes, I see that there are positive physical and mental adaptations that occur as a result of the lessons leading into an overtrained state. Pretty much everybody at the top of their sport has blown themselves up at some stage.

Having come out the other side of both these topics, I find it difficult to participate (in any way) in an athlete's desire to impair themselves. However, I do have empathy for the athlete that argues for his right to nuke himself. You'll certainly miss your health when it is gone, so it is best to ensure that you have a very good reason for venturing to the limit.

These topics present interesting ethical dilemmas that (I expect) healthcare professionals must balance on a daily basis. The balance between respecting a person's right for self-determination and my desire to surround myself with individuals that embody the life that I want to live.

At many levels, athletes look to their coaches/trainers/advisors/mentors for affirmation that their strategies are "what it takes". I'd caution you to consider if a solitary focus on results will, ultimately, lead you along the path of a successful life.

Speed, money, body fat percentage, net worth -- these may enhance our perceived quality of life but they do not represent quality of life. The more fixated we become on them, the more we'll miss them when they're gone.

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Discipline vs Compromise
Another buddy of mine shared an observation that taking care of his financial obligations was forcing him into a position of compromise with his training. He noted that he struggled with compromise -- the underlying sentiment being that he was results focused on his training and didn't want to back down from achieving in that field.

If you've been reading this blog for a while then you'll know that financial prudence is a fundamental belief of mine. When I am out of financial balance, I can't really think about much else. This presents challenges as I broaden my consulting practice to help people with their financial situation. In fact, I have a little sign beside my desk now... "assist without ownership". The sign is part of my drive to free myself from the illusion of controlling anything outside of myself.

I thought about my friend's comment and my first response (internally) was a quick retort that there is a massive difference between compromise and discipline. However, given a week to mull it over... I think that my buddy had it absolutely correct.

Changing our patterns is difficult
Changing our patterns takes time and effort
Meaningful change requires new methods of thinking
Without the catalyst of a crisis, most are unable to make meaningful changes

I think that my strong initial reaction was generated by my own pattern of thinking. Here is how I see it...

"I never compromise, I make positive decisions that support my desired goals. I'm doing what it takes to achieve success."

You can easily change this to...

"I am constantly compromising, all I do is say 'no' to myself. I try so hard to escape my failed patterns. Poor me."

Same thing...
Different mind set...
Different probability of success.

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Bad Deals
Whether it is a poor investment, a weak hiring decision or a failed relationship, we are all going to make a few bad deals in our lives. Due to space constraints and to protect the guilty (i.e. me!)... I'll skip the specific examples.

Here are the key things that have helped me deal with my most serious personal challenges:

Forgiveness -- not your spouse, not your business partner, not your employee -- forgive yourself for having made such a poor decision to start with. When I'm in a bad deal, nearly all of the angst that I feel comes from a mixture of fear and embarrasment for a self-generated failure. I made a poor choice -- I blew it -- things didn't work out as planned. To think clearly, to move forward in a positive manner, my first step is to forgive myself.

Effective -- you'll have a lot more success in your exit strategy if you focus on being effective, rather than being right. Seeing as you've (hopefully) managed to forgive yourself for entering into the deal -- there is no need to get the other party/company/boss/employee to admit that they screwed up as well. You don't need to be "right" -- you do need an exit that protects your position while preserving your ethics. If you are in settlement negotiations remember that your self-respect is the only asset that you truly own.

Tests -- while you are working towards a successful exit strategy, expect to be challenged emotionally with 'unreasonable' requests. I used quotes because it is important to remember that the other party is likely fighting for their own financial/emotional survival. In these situations, people can do some strange things.

Sunk costs -- in a bad deal, the time/money/emotions of the past are gone. What matters is having the mental clarity to make effective decisions about where you will invest your current (and future) time/money/emotions.

As a professional investor of 17 years, I can tell you that (as a rule) you will make the greatest return by never, ever, ever, ever following your money when a company is off plan. I watched us burn millions of pounds learning that lesson in the early 90s. A simple rule that is far from easy to implement.

As a human being of 38 years, I can say that the strength of my relationship with Monica stems from the self-knowledge and self-commitments that flowed from the errors that I made in previous relationships. To get a different outcome, I had to change my approach, rather than my partner.

Finally, for what it's worth, my most valuable life lessons have come as a result of bad deals. The financial and emotional costs that I've paid have returned huge dividends through improved decision making and perspective about my life situation.

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Bodhisattvas
If you click the link then you'll get a proper definition of a bodhisattva -- I like Jack Kerouac's, "a brave wise being or a great wise angel". I think that I had one of these mythical creatures in my house the other day.

Allow me to explain...

The photo that leads the blog this week is my father-in-law as a young man. As you can see, he was a military man and worked on a carrier flight deck.

A few months after that photo was taken, Robert was involved in an accident where he was sucked into a jet intake. His buddies pulled him out of the engine and he was dead on the scene. The engine blades sliced his shoulder quite badly and he lost enough blood for his heart to stop. Fortunately, the crew managed to revive him.

He's never really explained to me what dying was like -- I doubt that he'd be able to find the words and, even if he did, how could I understand. Anyhow, after they managed to get him stable from the first accident, his shoulder became infected and it wasn't looking too good for him. Interestingly, when he describes this period of his life he focuses on his friend in the hospital, playing checkers and laughing daily. Dying was quite beneficial for his mental outlook!

I attended Robert's 70th birthday party and he explained a few things to us. He didn't really give a speach, rather he shared a few ideas that had been helpful to him. It was a bit like being handed thirty zen koans. I only remember a few things from his talk but he's been threatening to publish his memoirs.

The observation that stuck with me was his statement that he is constantly surrounded by mirrors.

When I am at my most "clear", I don't seek to overcome, or fix, myself. Rather, I use self-acceptance to create empathy by seeing myself reflected in others. Some traditions talk about being "one" with the world -- so far the best that I can manage is a little empathy. It's a start.

Another of the things that he shared is that the accident super-charged his ability to "feel", specifically, to experience love. A person that is supercharged on love has some interesting characteristics -- Robert's emotional circuit breakers can get overloaded and he's prone to crying when he's really happy -- which means that he cries at just about anything because he sees beauty in most things (other than the Bush administration but he's working on that).

Like a lot of my best teachers, simply being with him leaves me feeling better. He's got quite a bit to teach me but I know it all already. My head likes to file everything in sequential or opposing terms. Some knowledge doesn't quite fit that way.

Back next week,
gordo

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07 April 2007

Personal Excellence & Pain


This week I'm going to run through some thoughts on recent emails, personal excellence and race pain. I'll then pull it all together with some thoughts on the Bottom Line.

But first, our photo this week is Dr. John Hellemans. This shot is going up on the "wall of fame" in our yoga room. Hopefully, John will come by for a visit some day and sign the shot. Of course, he has doctor's handwriting so it could be tough to read what he actually writes!

John is one of those people that, by merely knowing, causes us to lift our game. I don't know the date of the photo but John is in his 50s now (with at least seven world AG triathlon titles) and, if anything, his legs are slightly _more_ muscular today.

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Mail Bag

My last piece generated a fair amount of email and I'll respond over the next month. I'm quite backed up on email and that can be tough for me. However, clearing my in-box fails to make my personal Top Ten list so I'm having to make some emotional adjustments.

Do I "need" folks to "believe" me to achieve my goals? No I don't. What I am doing here is sharing ideas that have helped me in my personal journey. Passing along little things that I've learned about achieving what I want in my life. They might help you, they might not, but they have been fundamental in a huge personal transformation.

The purpose of my writing here is:

>>>to affirm within myself the tools, techinques and patterns that I am using to achieve personal excellence

>>>to share ideas for you to achieve personal excellence (be it athletic, financial or in some other sphere)

My mail bag on my endurance protocol tips was fascinating. The various writers noted that the tips didn't apply to them because:

...they were too slow
...they were too fast
...they did not have enough endurance experience
...they had too much endurance experience
...their friend had different heart rate data than them
...there was a small piece of "the plan" that didn't make sense
...they have a different training history to me

One point that I will address -- that Mark and I were in similar positions when we started the protocol -- and -- that this position is different to where you may find yourself.

If you listen to Mark talk about his approach then you'll find that he was at the opposite end of the endurance spectrum from me. Specifically, his top end numbers greatly dominated his low end numbers.

Even if you don't think that you are "fast" nearly everyone that comes to endurance sport is in this relative position. You are in the same boat as Mark.

My story is a little different. I came to triathlon with low end numbers that dominated my top end. This is probably because of my pre-triathlon endurance background (strength training, hiking, mountaineering, ultrarunning) -- I logged many low intensity hours of endurance training. I spent five years primarily training under my aerobic cap -- before I knew that any such "cap" existed.

This is what's fascinating for me -- my VO2-Max speed is the highest that it has ever been using a protocol that well-meaning folks tell me is only designed to benefit my "low end".

I encourage you to try the protocol that YOU believe is best. Don't take my word for it. I have tried many different approaches and, ultimately, we answer to ourselves. Make sure that you can hold yourself accountable to your program and remember that you are using YOUR protocol, not Mark Allen's, not your coach's, not Joe Friel's, not mine.

Every day, you create your own protocol. The people around us are merely guides, they don't do the work on our behalf.

Of course, if you postpone "training smart" until you are "fast" then you might be waiting a long, long time.

The only workout that you truly control is your next one.

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Personal Excellence

K.M. asked me about my thoughts on striving for our highest potential. I've been thinking for the last week and here's what I managed to come up with.

The concept of achieving our highest potential seems to approach the "problem" backwards because "achievement" is a perceived result, not a path to follow. Achievement will never offer satisfaction because it is merely a fleeting moment in time -- a life committed to excellence could be what we are seeking.

One of my greatest lessons of athletics is that we have no idea of our highest potential. Specifically, we have NO clue what we can achieve over a five, ten or twenty year time horizon. Some personal examples...

Eighteen months after I started training for triathlons, I qualified for Hawaii at the Half Vineman (July 2000). That FAR exceeded my 1998 perception of my highest athletic potential.

Three years after qualifying at Vineman, I ran 2:49 off the bike at IMC, posting the fastest run split on the day, finishing third and passing a future World Champion in the last 10K. That FAR exceeded my 2000 perception of my highest athletic potential.

In 2004, I ran 2:46 off the bike and finished in 8:29 -- the guy that won that day posted one of the fastest winning times in the history of the event -- I was 107 seconds behind him on a day where I had a flat tire. That FAR exceed my wildest perceiption of my highest athletic potential.

So, my experience is that aiming for our highest potential will ALWAYS sell ourselves short, because we sell ourselves short.

Our limited perception of what we can achieve is our single greatest obstacle.

What to do?

Rather than trying to "achieve" -- what I do is focus on personal excellence in areas of my life that provide me with satisfaction, support and meaning.

Personal excellence is about how I handle the little things. Some examples:

Monica -- experience love, hold hands, kindness
Winning an Ironman -- live sober, train regularly, limit travel, wake up early
Swimming -- breathe second stroke off the wall, three stroke breathing, push straight back, hip over
Cycling -- smooth circles, hold position, commit to cadence
Running -- ribs down, toe through, thumbs up, spine long
Nutrition -- real food, slower eating, frequent meals, internal healing
Personal Finance -- cover overheads, always save
Personal Investing -- preserve capital, trustworthy partners

Now all that sounds pretty simple but, I assure you that it is FAR from easy. In fact, to achieve success requires the support of many people and these people will very quickly see through hoax-commitment to excellence.

When I feel pain, it is most often due to knowing that I am not measuring up in terms of the simple things required for personal excellence. Real pain comes from knowing that we are not measuring up to our highest potential.

...and that explains a lot of angst in the world.

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Race Pain

A good friend shared some ideas that he gave a mutual buddy on coping with "race pain". They were excellent and centred around:

>>>Enduring to share, and honour, the pain of a loved one
>>>Enduring to achieve an important goal
>>>Enduring due to fear of failure
>>>Enduring because the emotional pain of "cracking" would be greater
>>>Enduring to uphold a personal honour code

All of the above are excellent short term techniques for dealing with the sensations and emotions that we experience within a race situation.

My long term solution for race pain is a bit more simple.

There is no pain, only performance.


"Pain" is our mind's classification of feedback that we experience in training and racing. Appropriate training/racing intensities are going to feel a certain way. If we choose to classify, and constantly affirm, that we will experience pain then... pain is what we receive. You will get what you desire.

However, if we accept that there will be certain sensations associated with taking actions that are deeply important to us (training, racing) then our breaking point will increase dramatically.

At the early to moderate stages of discomfort, "pain" is too strong a word (for me) and gives an unnecesary emotional content to how things are going to feel.

At a clinic a few years back, Josh Davis (multiple Olympic medalist) shared his views on the essense of swimming. He summed it up along the lines of... moving through self-imposed pain barriers.

Many great athletes equate performance with reseting their own concepts of an acceptable level of personal discomfort. In Penticton one year, Dave Scott described Ironman racing as "managed discomfort". He refused to accept that Ironman racing was painful.

Focus on performance, leave the pain for the athletes behind you.

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The Bottom Line

The reason that someone may be faster than "you" mostly has to do with the fact that they have absorbed more work than you. So if it all comes down to work (Landis, Lydiard, Molina) then why bother with protocol at all?

An effective protocol is what enables us to improve relative to ourselves. My true "protocol" is one of learning, sharing, experimenting and applying. I'm constantly looking for techniques, motivation, situations and people that will help me complete more work.

It is a fascinating subject because excellence at every given moment is a tough companion -- however -- to achieve a level of "greatness" we merely have to keep moving forward striving for those simple elements of personal excellence.

Moving forward with consistent application of principle based performance.

Happy Easter,
gordo

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