The Weekly Routine: Discoverer

Sorry for the late post! The majority of my Monday was spent somewhere in the middle of Texas on my way back from the Miami OCR.  Fortunately this gave me plenty of time to reflect on the regatta, and our final breakthrough of the week.  This week's Monday Routine focuses on one of the key aspects of performance, which ties together all other components: mindset.  Enjoy.

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I am a Discoverer.  I am intrigued by systems, and routines that produce consistent outcomes – especially in situations where systems are not initially obvious.  When I face a challenge, I retreat into my mind to dissect the systems at play, to figure out how to modify individual system components, and then to rebuild them better than before. My skill set pays dividends in a coaching role, building systems for improvement, and planning for success, but in the heat of battle – behind the sheets myself – as Dwight Eisenhower famously said, “Plans are nothing; planning is everything.”

“Plans are nothing; planning is everything.” - Dwight D. Eisenhower

In high school, I was meticulous and methodical in learning how to boat handle and race FJs.  I quickly mastered the maneuvers, and learned the theory behind strategy and tactics of short course, high school sailing, but when it came to racing, I struggled to execute consistently.  My starts were inconsistent, and when I did get off of the line, I wasn’t always confident in my tactical decisions. In short, all of my planning and practice, went out the window in the chaos of competition. 

A change came during my sophomore year, when I started focusing on 29ers.  In the 29er, every second is critical.  While I was learning the boat, it seemed like the tiniest lapses in focus made for a soggy afternoon, and as I improved, I realized that even the slightest hesitation in a reaction could throw the whole groove of the boat off, giving away boat lengths in a hurry. Staying upright and keeping the boat moving fast required a kind of hyper-vigilance and awareness that I had never brought to my sailing before. Moreover, even when I wasn’t racing, the high speeds of the 29er eliminated my ability to think through problems before reacting – in the do-or-die situations, either instinct took over and the boat stayed upright, or you went swimming; there was no middle ground. 

I brought this new found mindset to my racing, and the results were shocking

When I came back to high school racing, I brought this new found mindset to my racing, and the results were shocking.  All of a sudden, the flurry of activity on the start line faded; I trusted the instincts that I had built in practice – trusted my decisions in tight situations – and let the commotion around me fade into the background.  I began reacting to tactical situations without hesitation, focusing all of my mental resources on executing my maneuvers rather than trying to figure out what the best path was; somewhere in the back of my mind, I already knew what the correct move was, I just needed to pull it off.  My results took a sharp turn towards the top of the fleet.

This new method of thinking – the Adventurer mindset – is an important weapon on the race course. While the goal of practice is to internalize good decision making and good body control, on the race course the ability to engage in the Discoverer process by fully thinking things through, disappears. Quick reactions and confidence in your intuition are the most important tools available.

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Next time you go racing make a conscious effort to switch out of practice mode. Focus on constructing a positive dialogue with your teammate (or in your head if you are alone) to keep you focused on the “now” – wind ahead, pressure in the sails and on the helm, and boat positioning are all good topics to ensure that your mind stays present, and ready to respond to whatever racing throws your way.  If you notice your thoughts circling back to something that already happened, refocus by calling the next puff, or letting your teammate know how long the lull will last. Trust yourself to make good decisions. When mistakes happen, rather than dwelling on them, label each one in your head as “mistake”, and move on until you get off of the water, and can afford to dig into the big picture and the systems at play.