The process might not always be pretty, but man it sure is necessary.
Friday afternoon December 2016. I had just finished up at the gym and thought I would head down to Coogee for a quick swim before pizza night with my then girlfriend (now wife), Angie. I had been swimming for about 2 hours when I thought I’d head out for one last dip.
So began the longest process of my life.
As my head hit the sandbank I heard this huge crack, kind of like a crack of lightning, it was just this intensely crisp sound that echoed through the water. As soon as I hit I knew that I couldn’t move anything below my neck. I was kind of just floating there, face down in the shoulder deep water in front of the sandbar I had just hit. It seemed like a few hours passed before Angie got to me and lifted me above the water. It was probably only about 20 seconds. A lot of thoughts can run through your head in 20 seconds when you’re paralysed and drowning. I can promise you that I didn’t think I’d be sitting in front of the computer writing a blog to help athletes appreciate the process of their long-term development.
Over the next 9 months in rehab I learned a lot of hard lessons about self-expectation, motivation and commitment, but there was one major lesson that incorporated all of these.
If your entire focus and motivation hinges on the accomplishment of your finest and greatest goal, it gets easy for the process to bury you.
Here’s my example. When I left the acute spinal ward and transferred into the rehab ward, I was surrounded by people who were already where I wanted to be – INDEPENDENT. They had less significant injuries and they had been in the ward for months, sometimes years already (your teammates). I got introduced to wheelchair Rugby where all of the team were already kicking ass. 5, 10, 15 years down the track some of these guys (your sporting idols). The social media accounts of others in my situation all showed the refined highlight reel of what was years of constant, grinding effort (the Instagram accounts that flood your feed). I was crushed by the sheer gradient of the mountain in front of me that I had to climb. That didn’t stop me trying though, I was going to be one of those guys, no matter what. That was the plan anyway, I’d never been one to shy away from a challenge and I was normally okay at most things I tried.
The first few weeks of rehab I hit every activity and every exercise with the intent (and more importantly, the expectation) to succeed, be awesome at it and continue on with my eyes firmly focused on the end prize of total independence. A pretty harsh shock when that neat little progression didn’t happen. I wasn’t physically good enough yet to achieve even 1/100th of what I wanted to. I tried to push through with what I thought was the strongest mindset of all – success at all costs. It literally took me a few months of constantly beating myself up, negative self- talk and running myself into the ground physically before I thought a different approach might be necessary. This is when I learned to shift my laser focus to the process rather than the end goal.
Make the process the goal.
Here is the blueprint that I used. First, Sit down with your “team”. This might be your coach, family, friends or your close teammates. Identify your end goal, your summit, your dream – whatever you want to call it, and work your way back to where you are now. What steps do you need to take along the path to that goal? Identify them, list them and be descriptive. These many goals and steps along the way a lot will make up your day-to-day routine – This is now your process. This will allow you to shift your focus from that seemingly impossible end goal to the smaller, much more manageable tasks, while all the while closing in on the summit.
It’s been about 18 months now and I’m still not close to my end goal. I still have so far to go and have so many doubts and questions of whether I will ever make it – but they don’t make any difference to what I do. All I do is keep focused on the process, tick every box that I need to through the day and trust that the grind will pay off. It’s not yet as flashy as the highlight reel of those that I look up to, but I’ve been chipping away long enough now to know that it’s just a matter of time – the same will happen for you.