We’ve all heard of the 10-second rule when it comes to dropping food onto the floor, right? But have you ever heard of the 20-second rule? Probably not, and it has nothing to do with food but everything to do with how we approach training, eliminate barriers and obstacles, and become more productive at the office. At the office? Yes…there’s actually a correlation between our approach to professional performance and our success in athletic performance. Bear with me for a few minutes, as the psychologist in me tries to explain…
I recently came across an article in Time Magazine that really intrigued me about success, creativity, and better performance, particularly in the work environment. Shawn Achor, a researcher and educator who studied at Harvard University, examined success and happiness from an interesting and alternative viewpoint.
I’m sure most of us want to do our very best when it comes to training and racing in whatever sport we are a part of, and in turn this is supposed to make us happy and fulfilled, right? Well, what if this is not the case and in fact the opposite is true? What if, as Achor suggests in his research, we have it all backwards. Is it the training and racing that is leading to our happiness, or does happiness contribute to better training and racing?
When I first started running and training for my first race, the Houston marathon, I had my eyes set on the prize. I believed that if I could train, work hard, and make it to that finish line, I would experience elation and happiness. Which I did, but after time that feeling wore off and it was onto the next goal, race, and finish line. Always chasing that feeling of euphoria that awaited me at each subsequent finish line. Because what better feeling is there?
However, after reading this article, I took a step back to reexamine the way I train and approach racing. Do I truly train and race and work toward the finish line so I can be happier, or vise versa? Because as Shawn suggests, if I am seeking happiness by performing better and crossing that finish line, I will always be chasing the longer race, the faster time, the need to be better.
Shawn suggests there are several things in the work environment that we can do to increase productivity, success, career advancement and promotion, etc. I thought it would be interesting to take a look at each of these ideas and apply them to running, triathlon, and racing!
1) Bring a smile and success will follow.
That’s right. Anchor actually found that those who simply display more positivity and happiness to begin with, are more likely to achieve more success in the long run.
You would think that completing a race, hard training cycle, or challenging task would increase happiness, but actuality this is true only momentarily. That feeling soon wears off and it becomes all about the next race, task, or goal. We may not forget that we have accomplished something insurmountable such as crossing the finish line of our first half marathon, or working hard to complete that first Ironman, but those emotions that were felt at that instant…gone.
It’s impossible to feel those emotions for a long period of time because they are so unique and tightly bound to that singular moment and experience. So yes, we may be happier for a moment, but it all balances out in the long run. Once that goal is met, it’s on to the next big challenge or journey that lies ahead. It’s as if we have grown accustomed to a “what’s next?” mentality.
However, when we are happier and more optimistic while working toward and completing the task, we are much more likely to succeed with greater performance and outcome. Why? Because if you can stay positive and optimistic, particularly in the face of adversity and challenge, you are much more likely to overcome stress, negative thoughts, and doubt during the event itself. It’s all about attitude. If you begin the race with a sour face, inner doubt, and a negative attitude, kiss it goodbye. You are doing something that you love to do, right? Show it!!!
2) Those problems you
might ARE GOING TO face – view them as challenges, not threats.
Training will generate obstacles and problems that most people will not expect. If you have had a perfect training cycle, please do share your secret. From my experience, it gets ugly at times. Moodiness. Fatigue. A workout that didn’t go your way. Schedule chaos. Bad weather. It happens. Good. It should. Rather than frown on adversity, embrace the opportunity it presents.
Who can be resilient? Honestly, it’s all about mindset. Do you fear failure or enjoy a good challenge? Achor has shown that those who act out of fear of failure might not succeed as well as those who embrace challenges with confidence and work hard to overcome those obstacles. For me, swimming is one of those challenges.
I’m sure we have all stressed out about some task that we are supposed to face. I know I am guilty of this at least 300+ times. But think about it… is it better to view that stress as an obstruction and hindrance to our goals, or as a way to learn and grow and enhance our overall performance?
3) The more work you have in front of you – the more friends you need.
I thought this was an interesting notion to apply to training, particularly in the context of an individual sport like running or triathlon, but if you really think about it, in life it’s all about support. In the education system, researchers have found that students who isolate themselves and spend hours alone in the library or at home studying do not show the most long-term success. The more work we have in front of us, the more people we need.
I have to admit that for the majority of my training and racing I have been a lone wolf. I’d go out and run. Pat myself on the back. Race. Repeat. That was that. And, I got by just fine. I had a few people cheering me on and running by my side on occasion, but for the most part it was all about me.
Last year when I decided to do triathlon, my husband convinced me to hire a coach. Once I did, I felt a sense of social connection immediately. Aside from the obvious values of working with a coach which I wrote about HERE, I was introduced to new faces with similar aspirations and I started to build relationships with people who shared the same drive and determination as me. Speed, fitness, and knowledge of the sport didn’t matter as much. As long as they were willing to put in the work, laugh, enjoy, and connect, I was with them wholeheartedly. These past two years I have really branched out and connected more on a social level, and it has helped my training and performance tremendously.
Shawn also suggests that a big predictor of increased productivity and better work performance may actually lie in providing guidance and support to others. Instead of this “individual” sport being all about me, it becomes all about us. Helping those who may not be as knowledgeable, fit, or skilled can produce huge gains and rewards. It might even be the case that supporting others in their journey can be just as or even MORE rewarding than helping your own journey, and can benefit you more than you think.
Two years ago, under my old “lone wolf” mentality, this blog would have never existed. But today it is a great means for me to equally receive and provide encouragement and support to the friends I need in the blogosphere.
4) Show gratitude and thank those who deserve it.
There are a lot of people who both directly and indirectly support my growth and goals as an athlete. From my husband, to my coach, to my friends and family, to my favorite local running store, Footzone, who always welcome me by name and with a smile. Heck, even the volunteers and spectators who take time out of their schedules to hand out water, control traffic, and cheer for people they have never met and will never see again. These little things matter in big ways.
I’m a big believer in recognizing and showing gratitude toward those who make a difference in my training. One of the reasons I love blogging about my training and races is that is gives me the opportunity to recognize those people and those moments in which they left a permanent mark and helped me to succeed.
5) The brilliant 20-second rule.
Although very simple, this one is genius. Sometimes the hardest part of training or starting something new is actually getting started. This is why we all love January 1, right? Often times it can be difficult to wake up an hour earlier, put on our running shoes after work when all we want to do is lounge and watch our favorite Netflix show, or get into the cool and unwelcoming water when there is a 2,000 yard swim on the schedule. So how and where do we start?
It’s all about building habits. As we know, habits are easy to maintain once they are engraved in us and become part of the routine, but how do we get to that point?
Shawn has discovered the 20-second rule to making things a little easier to do and eventually become habit. In a sense, if we can shave 20 seconds off the start of a “tough” task, it becomes more plausible.
For example, I admit that I struggle when it comes to swimming. The entire process of putting on a bathing suit, driving to the pool, getting into the water, going through the motions without any entertainment, showering, and then feeling cold and hungry the rest of the day… I sure talk it up, don’t I?
But, I’ve got to do it or else I will never reach my precious bike in a race. Therefore, I have a strategy, or routine. If I am supposed to swim, I will pack my bag, get my bathing suit ready to throw on, and make everything as easy as possible ahead of time to avoid excuses. Because I prefer to swim between 8:00am and 9:00am each morning, I go during those hours, because I know I will secure my own lane. It makes everything a little easier.
I’ve done this with running too (even though I have no problem going out on a run). I’ll get my iPod all charged and loaded with a new playlist, have all of my accessories and clothes laid out, and make it almost effortless to get started. I love this idea of shaving off “critical” seconds and eliminating barriers in order to make tough tasks easier to start, maintain, and in time, become habit.
So I guess the moral of this story is threefold: 1) people from Harvard are smart; 2) athletic performance can create short-term episodes of happiness, but choosing happiness as a broader mindset can have an even bigger impact on athletic performance, and 3) it’s funny, though not surprising, how often we can draw parallels between different aspects of our life–in this case, between work and sport. So train smart, race hard, and when all else fails, be happy!
Do you use the 20-second rule? If so, how? If not, how could you make your life a little easier?
Which of these do you struggle with the most?