How badly do you want to win?
Do you want to win as badly as Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps wanted to won?
How far are you willing to go to get ahead?
Most people, when asking these questions, will think about whether they would lie, cheat, and steal in order to get ahead.
We all imagine that someone who lies, cheats and steals wants to win. I believe that he is more interested in seeing what he can get away with than in becoming a fierce competitor.
People who cheat are afraid of losing. They want to look like they are winning. They do not want to win.
For other people wanting to win involves a grand histrionic display. You see it on American Idol and America’s Next Top Model.
A contestant is about to be relegated to the shadows, so he falls to his knees and begs, pleads, and cajoles the judges for just one more chance. He believes that the judges would look more kindly on his efforts if they know how badly he wants to win.
He might exclaim that he wants to win because victory will rescue him from abject misery and allow him to find his true self.
People who still believe in therapy might tell you that if you really want to win you need to do some serious introspection in order to get in touch with your ferocious desire to win.
Olympic champion Michael Phelps had a better idea. CharlesDuhigg, author of a recent book about The Power of Habit, reports in Lifehacker that the Phelps technique for winning involves a rigorous training regimen.
This regimen does not involve introspection or getting in touch with anyone’s feelings or becoming more self-aware.
In our therapy culture the Phelps training regimen will appear to be inhuman and inhumane. The better you understand it the more you will appreciate how radical the habit-based approach is.
Phelps’ coach did not just want to make him the strongest swimmer, he wanted to make him the strongest “mental swimmer” in the pool.
He began by teaching Phelps what are called “small wins.”
Small wins might involve successfully completing a stretching routine or a workout in the pool. When small successes accumulate the individual builds on them to achieve greater successes.
Success is built on success. You do not get to success by pondering why you have failed.
It might help to make an inventory of prior successes, but small successes involve successfully following everyday routines… habitually. And that means, Duhigg notes, that you perform them on a daily basis without thinking about them.
Similarly, with pre-race routines. Phelps can perform all of his pre-race routines without thinking about them, and most especially, without thinking about the upcoming race.
Mastering the habit of everyday routines leads to mastery of the habit of race-day routines.
His coach explained:
"If you were to ask Michael what's going on in his head before competition, he would say he's not really thinking about anything. He's just following the program. But that's not right. It's more like his habits have taken over. When the race arrives, he's more than halfway through his plan and he's been victorious at every step. All the stretches went like he planned. The warm-up laps were just like he visualized. His headphones are playing exactly what he expected. The actual race is just another step in a pattern that started earlier that day and has been nothing but victories. Winning is a natural extension."
The second point is: visualize yourself succeeding. Keep running pictures through your mind in which you are getting it right.
Interestingly, this is the exact opposite of critical thinking.
If you learn critical thinking you will start thinking about what you got wrong. You will start thinking about your errors and mistakes.
Those who teach critical thinking will discourage you from watching yourself winning the race. They will tell you that the Phelps inner moving pictures are unrealistic wish-fulfillments.
Phelps did the opposite. Twice a day, when he was falling asleep and when he was waking up he ran a tape through his mind in which he was getting it all right and was winning.
Each night before falling asleep and each morning after waking up, Phelps would imagine himself jumping off the blocks and, in slow motion, swimming flawlessly. He would visualize his strokes, the walls of the pool, his turns, and the finish. He would imagine the wake behind his body, the water dripping off his lips as his mouth cleared the surface, what it would feel like to rip off his cap at the end. He would lie in bed with his eyes shut and watch the entire competition, the smallest details, again and again, until he knew each second by heart.
Having a plan and visualizing success are much more important than thinking critically about failures.
But, obstacles exist and the best laid plans do not always go according to plan.
Duhigg explains that the third habit involves unwavering and unthinking confidence. A great athlete does not think about whether or not he can win the race. A great athlete has never thought that he could lose the race. When obstacles occur, he will fight through them, not give in to them.
In brief, the Phelps technique produced Olympic success by doing exactly what the therapy culture would not prescribe.