Happy Athletes Make Successful Athletes

December 15, 2016

We train. We push. We suffer. As athletes, we typically believe that hard work and sacrifice will drive achievement, so we embrace the suffering. We tell ourselves that if we keep suffering long enough, hard enough, we’ll achieve what we set out to do. And THAT will be it. The thing. The thing more important than all that suffering. But achievement alone -whether its running that first mile, or finishing that first marathon - can’t sustain the kind of long-term effort or investment needed to be an athlete, particularly a happy or well-balanced one. To truly be content and accomplished as athletes, we must first be happy and shift our focus from our goals to ourselves as people (and typically, our goals will follow us anyway).

Do you remember Nicolaus Copernicus? The guy that proposed that the earth was in orbit around the sun, instead of the sun orbiting the earth? His “Copernican Shift” corrected a fundamental mistake about where we sit in the solar system, and it initiated a scientific revolution. Dr. Shawn Achor, a scientist who studies happiness, suggests that a similar shift in paradigm is needed to improve our understanding of success and the role happiness plays in it. His studies apply to our lives as athletes.

Most of us - in life and sport - believe that success will bring us happiness. Dr. Achor suggests that instead of our happiness revolving around our success, our success instead revolves around our happiness. If we're focused on success at the pinnacle of that achievement we can already see another pinnacle on the horizon and are consistently compelled to chase the next one. And the next, and the next... We get caught in never-ending pursuit, and, often without truly acknowledging where we’re at, we keep aiming forward. We endure endless suffering in pursuit of a mindset when we will no longer have to suffer…but that mindset never blossoms.

This pressure to perform manifests itself in a myriad of ways; we obsess about what to eat in a constant search for a “perfect diet” designed to help us achieve our goals. We adhere strictly to training goals laser-beam focused on our performance, and tuning-out those around us whom support and foster our success. If, instead, we were to shift our focus to being happy, more creative, more intelligent, energetic, productive, to live joyfully and to inspire others to do the same, it's possible that we’d reach our goals faster, more easily, and more naturally. And then, because we would already be content, fulfilled - HAPPY - those achievements would be icing on the cake (instead of the forbidden slice we’re not allowed to eat.)

Society won’t make such a shift on our behalf; we’ll continue to live in a culture personified by athletics, encouraged to push ourselves instead of just to accept ourselves. So, how to create your own “Copernican Shift?” We invite you to think about the little things; to find the simple joys in your sport and take solace in the community of friends with whom you share it. If you feel you need a day of rest, take one. If you want to ride to the coffee shop with friends instead of doing another interval session, do it. Choose to enjoy your food, to enjoy your company, to engage in the community that supports you, to embrace the love around and to pass it on to others.

Choose to pursue happiness, and your success -in sport and life - will follow. 

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