If you were to ask Michael Phelps, the most decorated olympian in the history of humanity, what’s going on in his head before a competition, he would say he’s not really thinking about anything. He’s just following the routine. However, it is not the complete picture.
Let me present a peek ! Let me reveal the secret !
It’s more like, all his energies are focussed on executing what he has practiced. It’s more like, his habits have taken over. Since the morning he has been having small and tiny victories. When the race arrives, he’s a long way through his program. All the stretches he does 2 hours before his race, went like he planned. The warm-up laps that he takes to increase his heart rate, were just like he visualized. The music he is listening on his headphones are playing exactly what he wanted. The actual race is just another step in a pattern that started earlier that day and has been perfected with practices. Winning is a natural extension.
It was Beijing Olympics of 2008. It was 9:56 A.M.—four minutes before the race’s start. Phelps stood behind his starting block, bouncing slightly on his toes as he always did before the start of a race. When the announcer announced his name, Phelps stepped onto the block, as he always did before a race, and then stepped down, as he always did. He swung his arms three times, as he had before every race since he was twelve years old. He stepped up on the blocks again, got into his stance, and, when the gun sounded, leapt.
Phelps knew that something was wrong as soon as he hit the water. There was moisture inside his goggles. As he broke the water’s surface, he began swimming.
By the second turn, however, everything was blurry. As he approached the third turn and final lap, the cups of his goggles were completely filled with water. Phelps couldn’t see anything. Not the line along the pool’s bottom aligned to his lanes, nor the black T marking the approaching wall. For most swimmers, losing sight in the middle of an Olympic final would be a cause for panic. There was no time to yank off the googles for these races were won and lost in milliseconds. Reading this, has your heart rate gone up yet?
Phelps was calm.
Everything else that day were victories and as per plan. The leaking goggles were a minor deviation. Phelps was mentally prepared for this one. Bowman, his coach, had made him swim in a Michigan pool in the dark, believing that he needed to be ready for any surprise.
Some of the practice session videotapes, seen and stored in Phelps’s mind, had featured this possibility. He had mentally rehearsed response to a goggle failure.
As he started his last lap, Phelps knew how many strokes the final lap would require – twenty-one. He started counting. He felt totally relaxed as he swam at full strength. At eighteen strokes, he started anticipating the wall. He could hear the crowd roaring, but since he was blind, he had no idea if they were cheering for him or someone else. Nineteen strokes, then twenty. He knew he needed one more. That’s what the videotape in his head said. He made a twenty-first, huge stroke, glided with his arm outstretched, and touched the wall. He had timed it perfectly.
When he ripped off his goggles and looked up at the scoreboard, it said “WR”—world record—next to his name. He’d won another gold.
After the race, a reporter asked what it had felt like to swim blind. “It felt like I imagined it would,” Phelps said.
It was another victory in a lifetime full of small wins that led to the big wins.
When I read this part of Phelps life from a brilliant book ‘How habits are formed’, I was stunned. I had never realised how strong was the power of habits in excelling in life. It made me realise, winners, people who care for excellence, always cultivate winning habits.
I asked myself, ‘Do I have habits I am proud of?’ Do I have winning habits? Do I have habits that makes me feel like a winner? Or worse still, do I have habits that makes me feel like a loser?
While I could find a few that were good, like reading everyday for at least 30 minutes, like meditating at least 360 days in a year for a minimum of 60 minutes, like writing a thank you note to at least one person every day, like calling at least one person every day who was not expecting my call and thrilling them, like being before time in 99.9% appointments in the last fifteen years of my life, like writing this ‘Life School Message’ (LSM) every week for the last 145 weeks without a single miss, I realised they are habits of a good human being.
I cannot say, these are habits I am proud of! They were not habits of a winner. They are all good. However, they are NOT great.
I know I must be more efficient. I am thinking of habits that will make me one. I know I must be more effective. I am searching for habits that will make me one. I know I must be more empowering. I am planning of habits that will make me one.
While I was thinking, I thought, this journey of mine, must be shared with my darling readers. Hence, this mail…
Do you have any winning habits that you would like to share with us? We would love to know and love to learn. In the mean time as I develop my ‘great’ habits, I will certainly share it with all of you, my darling readers…Thanks…
With loads of love, prayers and best wishes,
As I Live…I Learn