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Secrets of Success

What IF?

Last month I completed my third Ironman triathlon. One of the hardest aspects of training for a race of this magnitude is the mental preparation. In my normal life, for example, I am not concerned with occasional aches and pains.

Preparation for an Ironman is not normal. Every body quirk gets attention. In the last few weeks I found myself waking up every morning and doing a thorough body check. “How are my shoulders, knees, feet, calves ,etc. etc. etc. ?”

The closer to race day I got, the more concerned I became that I might suffer a freak injury. Sure enough two and one-half weeks before the race I tweaked my hamstring. Four days later, I tweaked it again. I went to my doctor, Marc Cesari, in a quasi-panic. “What if I’ve really injured myself?” I inquired. He assured me, having worked on my body for years, that I had great flexibility, was in top physical condition and a couple days rest would cure the problem.

“But, what if it comes back?” “What if I can’t race?” I said.

Marc just looked at me and responded, “And what if a tree limb falls on your head?”

That snapped me out of my obsessive state and kept me from falling into the black hole that is “what if?”

What about you? Do you suffer from the curse of “what if?”

What’s going on?

Asking “what if?” is simply one of many forms of worry. And worry is little more than an attempt to resolve something that hasn’t happened and doesn’t exist. In my case I worried I would not be able to compete in a race that had not yet occurred.

But wasn’t I just looking at contingency plans? No. What I was doing wasn’t planning. Planning was present in my workouts. Planning was contained in my pre-race strategies.

What I was doing was obsessing, creating scenarios that didn’t even exist and then attempting to resolve those scenarios to my satisfaction. Of course the thing I was most worried about (not being able to race) couldn’t be addressed because it hadn’t yet occurred. What could be addressed was maintaining my physical conditioning.

The situation was made worse by the way my brain (and your brain) functions. There is a part of the brain that has a hard time differentiating between something we vividly imagine and something that is real.

Initially, it can’t tell the difference.

Because of that, when I began to think about not being able to race, my thought process was so vivid and so intense that on one level my brain thought the race was present and real. I had recreated the moment with such clarity my brain began to believe it was actually happening.

What can we do?

Should you find yourself in the position where you are over thinking yourself into a stupor, try the following:

* Focus on what you can control starting with how you will decide to react. In any situation we can choose our reaction.

* Stay focused on the present.

* If you want to think about the future, organize your thinking into a plan of action.

* Create options.

There are few things as deadly as an intelligent person with too much time on their hands. Worry takes time–lots of time. It’s rarely helpful and seldom yields good results. Learn to use your worry to trigger your thinking into strategies rather than obsessing.

Doing so will go a long way to helping you deal with the chaos that comes from “What if…?”

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CTS Consulting, Inc

3126 Berkshire Road

Baltimore, Maryland 21214

phone 410-444-5857

cell 443-286-2488