In life, we are vulnerable to a butterfly bias. We unconsciously fixate on the final product – whether that’s a winning performance or a beautiful masterpiece. Our eyes are shielded from the process leading to the final product and we miss what happens behind the scenes. We don’t live through the hours and hours of practice of another, nor do we fully grasp their trials and tribulations. The point is not that we should, the point is simply we must factor it in, so that we can keep our personal dreams and desires alive.
The crumpled up rough drafts, the repetitious falls (fails), the rejection letters, the bad rehearsals, the sore muscles, the messy meltdowns, the yawn-I-wanna-stay-in-bed episodes, the sleepless nights, and the quintessential at-the-brink-of-throwing-in-the-towel scenes — all the great “butterflies” have stories from their “cocoon uglies”.
Dancing appears glamorous, easy, delightful. But the path to the paradise of that achievement is not easier than any other. There is fatigue so great that the body cries even in its sleep. There are times of complete frustration. There are daily small deaths.” ~Martha Graham
At four weeks out from my contest, I am experiencing the “daily small deaths” of a fitness competitor — or, what I prefer to light-heartedly call “the cocoon uglies”. Dragging legs, a shorter fuse, fuzzy brain, hunger, fatigue, constant soreness are the telltale signs of leaning out. 99% of me dislikes this stage, but 1% of me loves and bows to it with both acceptance and anticipation…and reminds the other 99% of our uglies past…
Medford, Massachusetts 1996
In college, I declared an International Relations (IR) major based on a lingering interest in Japan from touring with Disney on Ice. As part of the IR curriculum, I had to fulfill several credits in the Economics Department. Having done well in the Introductory courses freshman year, I opted for the more challenging Intermediate Quantitative Macroeconomics Theory in the fall of my sophomore year. On the first day of class, I was singled out as the only non-Econ major in the class. As I sheepishly raised my hand, my professor and classmates glanced my way with a skeptical nod of “good luck”.
I didn’t doubt they were right. I believed they were.
After the results of the first test, though, things changed… the solitary non-econ major had somehow earned the top score in the class.
I wasn’t uniquely gifted in economics or hell bent on proving my intellectual worth, I simply didn’t mind busting my ass to learn the material. While my roommate would skip class on occasion and cram for exams like most other college students, I never missed a lecture, scrupulously rewrote my notes and studied the material every day. The cocoon uglies of studying Quantitative Economics (QE) worked well for me as I ended up declaring a second major in QE, graduating Summa cum laude, and receiving a Fulbright to Japan to study… of all things, Economics!
Bringing us to this week’s first secret and a recent breakfast conversation…
#1 Recognize your competitive advantages.
Are you eating chicken and cereal…for breakfast?!” ~my husband
Yup…it’s cream of rice.”
Wow, that’s hard core.”
Your competitive advantages are the aspects of your pursuit that come naturally or seem more tolerable to you than to others. They are a strong signal from the Universe that you have stumbled upon something meaningful and likely a calling of sorts.
At Tufts, I had discovered that I had the discipline and tolerance to study economics more than most. With contest prep, I have that discipline and tolerance toward dieting. Just as I don’t find it “hard core” to study Quantitative Macro for hours on end, I don’t find it (terribly) hard core to eat chicken and cream of rice for breakfast.
#2 Emphasize your desire to improve.
A desire to improve surpasses the desire to win over the long-haul. The desire to improve will survive setbacks of all sorts and carry you forward. Approaching your daily practice this way, too, helps ensure you come from the healthier, happier place of self-love and sufficiency, not self-hatred and deficiency.
#3 Practice purposefully.
Marching orders are easier to abide by when you are “on a mission”and have the ability to funnel and focus. When I am in contest mode, I am supremely convinced and confident that everything I am doing (and placing on my fork…) is working for the greater good of my stage physique. Most people trying to transform their bodies lack this kind of confidence and conviction. Yet, when you do have it, you are much less likely to skip cardio, diverge from your meal plan, or shy away from a tough workout.
Put simply, you have to practice deliberately to improve and see results. Incremental improvement will, in turn, strengthen your commitment and willpower. In contrast, dabbling in this or that without strong rhyme or reason will lead to stagnation, frustration, and a higher chance of throwing in the towel.
Deliberate practice predicted advancing to further rounds in final competition far better than any other kind of preparation.” ~Angela Duckworth
#4 Lean into the camaraderie.
By feeling part of the class, club or… er cult, you tap into the collective power, shared wisdom and… laughter! Take the opportunity to bond with your teammates, colleagues, and fellow competitors. You can also do this through historic and autobiographical accounts — in-person or via the pages of an inspirational book (or fitness blog!)
#5 Understand the carryover value of completion (and costs of incompletion).
Completing any type of project is inherently rewarding. There’s a sense of achievement that strengthens you in every area of your life. Make it a point of personal pride that you see this through — every step of the way, knowing every step matters. Conversely, stopping unfinished, doing things half-assed, and failing to complete will create patterns of mediocrity, bad habits, regrets, and a state of inner/outer bitterness.
#6 Enter the competition of You vs. You.
Even though our work is typically judged against others’, realize all you can control, construct, and create is from within yourself. To the best of your ability. Have a “science experiment” mentality. I choose curiosity to see how the tweaks I am making for a given contest prep will turn out. I encourage the same in my clients doing Star Transformation. There’s no way of isolating or proving anything unless you stay the course day-in and day-out for weeks (and weeks…) on end!
#7 Identify side benefits and positive externalities.
What are your natural interests that lend itself to the endeavor? Or, what is a nice side benefit resulting from the endeavor? One of mine is reading. I couldn’t imagine getting through the hours and hours of cardio without it. Scrolling through social media or watching TV is just not as stimulating…whereas, with a good book, I am progressing on multiple fronts. The time passes by more quickly (hallelujah!), I kick up the feel-good mechanisms in my body and soul, and I gain the strength and presence of mind to be successful:
…success follows a predictable course. It is not the brightest who succeed… nor is success simply the sum of the decisions and efforts we make on our own behalf. It is, rather, a gift. Outliers are those who have been given opportunities—and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.” ~Malcolm Gladwell