Thomas Edison, sports people and your next Presentation

Posted by on February 17, 2010 in Uncategorized | 1 comment

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Throughout their careers, sportsmen and women will take part in thousands of races.  Business people will make thousands of presentations – most of which will fall on (kinda) deaf ears. Unless they fall in the rare 0,5% who chose their parents correctly, like Steve Jobs, Bruce Fordyce, Mark Allen and Lance Armstrong, they will achieve winning or exceptional results in only a hand-full of the events they start.  Mentally speaking, the biggest challenge in every event is to replicate your best performance time and time again.  Champions become what they are through consistent performance. 

The secret of consistent peak performance lies in successfully replicating as many of the aspects of previous performances as possible.  When Thomas Edison was experimenting with the incandescent light-bulb, he reportedly failed over 2000 times, trying something different every time.  When he eventually found the magic formula that lead not to explosions but to sustainable, bright light, he replicated this method.  When asked why he doesn’t consider himself a failure he replied that he hadn’t failed – he just got 2000 results he didn’t want.  All of us have “stumbled upon” the recipe that really works for us while racing and training only to never, or seldom, replicate them again.  This month we’ll look at how you can get into “the zone” more often and on demand.


Anchors are ideas, phrases and images that you develop to take you into “the zone” of peak performance.  These images or phrases should be emotive, vivid and address both your physical and mental performance aspects.  One of the best examples, where an athlete’s phrase and image combination became a mantra, is the case of boxer Muhammed Ali.  His famous “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” conjures a vivid image coupled with powerful purpose.  To his opponents it was clear that behind is agile mobility lay a powerful punch.  The mantra was more important to the boxer himself though. 


Close your eyes and then read the following… better still, close your eyes and get someone else to read you the following:  Close your eyes and relax.  In your mind’s eye you see yourself arriving home after a long, hot training ride.  You’re thirsty and your water ran out 10km ago.  You leave your bike at the front door, and walk carefully on your cleats down the passage to the kitchen.  You walk over to the fridge.  Open the fridge door feeling the cool air on your face.  On the third shelf you see three bright green, ripe lemons.  Take one.  Close the fridge door and go over to the counter.  Put the lemon down on the counter.  Now you reach over to the cutlery drawer, open it, and take out the sharpest knife you have.  See it’s blade shine.  Take the lemon and, while steadying it, cut it half.  You can see the two halves fall on the counter and a small drop of lemon juice forming beneath the two halves.  Now pick up the one half with your right hand, bring your hand to your mouth and squeeze the ice cold lemon juice onto your tongue.  What happened?  How did your body react?


It is a fundamental rule that your mind cannot distinguish between what is real and what is imaginary.  Your mouth, tongue and taste-buds reacted to the above exercise as though you really did squeeze lemon juice onto your tongue.  This was made more powerful by the use of emotive words and clear, powerful verbs in the passage.  Ever happened that you’ve woken up in the morning for your training ride, looked out the window and thought, “It’s cloudy, cold and too windy to ride.  Besides, it’ll probably rain later”, and then turned over to go back to sleep?  When you speak to your training buddies later they tell what great riding weather you missed!!  You see, for whatever reason, you imagined the weather to be bad – and in your mind it was – and you believed it!  In the same way we can use emotive language, thoughts, visualization and movements to create anchors to keep us in peak performance mode during events.  An effective and quick way to bring your heart rate down would be to visualize yourself (without closing your eyes) enveloped in light blue.  This colour has soothing properties and will also help you relax in tense race situations. 


As with any skill though you will have to practice and experiment with anchor words during training.  Ideally, you’ll need to define 2 anchor words that you can use during your racing to remind you and your body to perform.  On a piece of paper, draw a column for your Physical Feelings and one for your Psychological Feelings.  For each of these two parts of your performance, find words to describe how you feel when you’re performing well (in “the zone”) and when you’re performing badly (choking).  Naturally your choking words will be the opposite to your “zone” words eg:  loose (zone) vs tight (choking); rhythmic (zone) vs erratic (choking).  Once you’ve identified these words, begin to use them (the zone words) when training.  This will cause your body to associate your physical and psychological anchor words with your ideal performance.


The next time you’re struggling up an eternal climb, at the back of the pack, rather than panic and think that you are “heavy and overloaded”, think that you are “light and focused.”


For a detailed list of anchor words, send a blank e-mail with the subject “Anchor Words” to and I’ll send you the list.


About the author:  Erik Vermeulen aims to be “fluid and powerful” when racing and training but drops his anchor in Parkhurst, Jo’burg from where he consults on personal and team performance to corporates and sportspeople.


1 Comment

  1. I need to to thank you for this fantastic read!! I absolutely enjoyed
    every bit of it. I have got you book-marked to look at new things you post…

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