I am currently training for my 10th Ironman competition this summer (a 3.8 km swim, a 180-km bike and a 42.2 km run.) Whenever I start to fixate on the outcome, I always go back to some great advice from my family doctor before my very first Ironman race in 2003.
During my annual medical exam, Dr. Rob commented that I looked a little stressed. I confessed that I wasn’t sleeping well at night and then I started to vent. I was worried about colliding with the 2000 other swimmers during the Lake Placid even. And when I got out of the lake, I was concerned about the hilly bike course and whether I could complete the bike course before the time cut-off. And what about leg-cramps on the run course? Would I take the right nutrition? Would I disappoint my family and friends? I was also concerned about rain, or wind or too much sun.
Dr. Rob smiled and said, “on the morning of the race, you will be standing with thousands of people waiting for the cannon to go off. Take a deep breath and say ‘I’m not nervous, I’m grateful.”
“Grateful? Grateful for what!? I asked.”
He said, “say to yourself that I’m grateful to have two arms to swim when many people do not, I’m grateful that I have the use of two legs to bike, when many people do not. I am grateful to have the time and money to train for an event like this, when many people do not. I am grateful to have the support of family and friends, when many people do not. Say to yourself, I’m grateful to live in a society where I can compete in competitions like this in safety, because in many parts of the world, it is a daily struggle to find food and to avoid being hurt. When the gun goes off, stay in the moment. Smile. Thank a volunteer when you go by. And savor each moment of the race. It will be over before you know it and so…don’t be nervous, be grateful!”
How can we apply this to everyday life? Scientific studies have shown that expressing gratitude improves both our physical and psychological health. And if our goal is to aspire towards 3rd gear behavior, grateful people are more likely to act with 3rd gear empathy, even when people around them may retaliate in 2nd gear.
I had a great race that day. Yes, I was a little sore afterwards, but part of that was from grinning.