The Performance Paradox: Letting Go
There are some pretty basic qualities that most would agree are needed for great athletic performance.
They are things like having top fitness and steely focus. What about having an unbending commitment to a goal? But even more important than having these makings of fulfilling a sports dream is when you have them. And here comes the performance paradox: to have them at the time when it counts, we’ll need to let them all go in the times when it doesn’t.
For many of you, that time is right now in the off-season. This is not always an easy task though! You would think it is, but a lot of people find it difficult to shut down their athletic engine. It’s tough for them to let their focus, their fitness and the energy it takes to keep up a commitment all relax for a bit. The nervousness is usually that they worked hard to gain their razor sharp athletic peak and that if they let it go they won’t be able to get it back. But I guarantee you this is exactly what is needed. In fact, trying to hold it too long will force you to let it go!
I’ve mentioned this in all my blogs about off-season training. The body needs a rest and a break from top-level training. Letting fitness drop down is what will enable you to go up to the next level in the future. It’s like trying to jump a foot higher when you are already at your peak way up in the air. There’s nothing underneath you to push up and off of. We all have to come down to the ground and then give it the next launch.
This is not a call to get completely out of shape though. No one should just sit on the couch for two months and binge watch your favorite shows. We all need some exercise. But “exercise” and “serious training” are two different worlds. Choosing the exercise mode for a month or two in the fall and winter regenerates all the hidden reserves in your body so that you will be able to draw upon them next season. Yes, it is a performance paradox: let go of fitness so that you can get more fit!
Being focused can be like holding a line tight. It takes energy. Letting focus go is like letting that same line go slack. You can let go of your grip and relax. Letting go of focus is often harder to do for many athletes than it is for them to cut back on their training.
They just take the focus they normally put into training and transfer it into planning and preparing for what will be next. That’s not a break! It’s still lazar and linear and, well, focused. Here is how you can think of letting go of that in-season focus.
The parallel to “exercise” and “training” in this realm would be the difference between “reflecting” and “focusing”. Focus has a plan and a purpose behind it. It shuts out anything that distracts from having it drive you onward and upward toward your goal. Reflecting has no plan. There is no direction it’s meant to go or an outcome it’s searching for. It’s simply taking time to let the days that have past and the days that will come merge together so that the multilayered shape of your life and all of its parts can be seen from a new perspective, with new insight, with new understanding.
Your racing, your work, everything can be present as you reflect. And out of it, if given enough time, you’ll end up with a clear and effective idea of what “focus” will be in the next round of your life and your athletics. It takes everything into consideration rather than how focus shuts out all but a few items. This too is a performance paradox: let go of focus so that you focus even better.
This is the action part that comes from having focus. It’s the never giving up or stopping even when things are impossible piece of peak performance. It’s doing all the things both big and small to prepare. Having commitment can put a strain on life, though. A human only has so much energy for commitment. If it all gets used up in an athletic quest, the rest of life can suffer.
But even if it doesn’t cause some waves in your life, now is the time to let go of the action part of your commitment. Doing tons of hard training right after that last big race of your season isn’t commitment. It’s just hard training.
The quest for letting go of being “committed” is to have a quest to “rebalance”. That means take time now to look and see what holes were dug that need filling in your life. What must be done to let the pendulum swing back the other direction? What were the “costs” of racing this past year? How can that balance be put back so that there’s more to draw from next season?
Where has life been stretched to the limit? What can you do now to rebalance that and ease the tension on those strings that have been pulled tight? Letting go of commitment means taking less action in your sport and taking more action to solidify and fortify all the areas of your life that enable you to do your sport.
Just like Focus and Fitness, this is also a performance paradox: let go of your commitment to your sport so that you can have an even better base to relaunch that commitment from next year.