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The first article in a new series by multiple World Champion Dan BC, on training for peak performance, extracted from his much-loved book, Above All Else.
NATURAL ATHLETE – An athlete that instinctively performs to the best of his abilities without obvious thought or effort.
In many ways this is the ultimate goal of every athlete. We have all marveled at how some athletes can “read the play” and intuitively handle rapidly changing conditions on the playing field. They instinctively do whatever the situation calls for while staying calm and making it look easy in the process. These athletes have trained their athletic skills to the point that they have become instinctive, muscle memory. But in addition to having developed their instincts, they have trained the SKILL of TRUSTING THEIR INSTINCTS.
This is certainly not limited to sports. It is true for individuals striving to reach their peak performance in any field. Dancers, musicians, writers, artists, pilots, actors and public speakers will tell you the same thing. They perform at their best when they just relax, trust that their training will work for them, and “let it happen”.
They perform at their best when they just relax, trust that their training will work for them, and “let it happen”.
On the other hand, there are also many people with amazing technical skills, but who aren’t able to consistently perform to the full potential of those skills. Their minds are too busy with exterior thoughts that don’t concern the task of the moment. They don’t have the confidence to relax and trust that their instincts will lead them to victory if they just let them.
We are all born with the innate inclination to trust our instincts. As babies and even toddlers we had little other than our instincts to operate from when determining a course of action. A gut feeling would tell us to do something and we would follow it. As we grow up we have many new experiences and gain lots of new information. We start to pay less attention to our gut feelings, intuition and instincts, and instead are led by fears of making mistakes, worrying about other people’s perceptions of us and concern for the final outcome rather than the task at hand. All of these are contrary to operating on instinct.
We operate on instinct when our minds are calm, undistracted and purely focused in the moment. It is an incredible, yet very natural experience. Our senses pick up, and make us aware of, everything that is happening on the “playing field”. We see, hear and feel what we are confronted with and instinctively respond to it without analysis, or at times without even conscious thought.
We operate on instinct when our minds are calm, undistracted and purely focused in the moment.
The ability to trust our instincts exists deep within each one of us. But because of all the exterior distractions we allow to cloud our minds, our instincts are sometimes buried so deeply that it takes a shock to our system to bring them out. Many of us have experienced unique moments in sports (or other activities) when we stopped thinking and were just going on automatic. These moments often happen when something suddenly forces us to operate on instinct without giving us a chance to think or do otherwise. The result is a level of performance we didn’t even know we were capable of.
Nearly everyone who drives a car has had an experience like this. There you were, calm as could be, cruising down the road, enjoying a good song when another driver suddenly pulled out in front of you and slammed on the brakes. In the fraction of a second that you had to respond you looked in your mirrors, looked to the sides, hit the brakes, hit the gas, turned to avoid the collision while not causing another one and instantly took evasive action. It all happened in seconds. You didn’t plan for it or have any warning that it was coming. But the situation demanded that you respond without hesitation. You handled it and didn’t even realize how terrified you were until it was over. You never trained for, or practiced the particular maneuver that was required of you. You don’t even know how you did it. You just did it. You were forced to trust your instincts because you didn’t have time to do anything else. Your instincts came through for you and they always will. Our instincts are only as good as we have trained them to be. If you had came across the same situation during your first time behind the wheel of a car you would have been less likely to respond as well. An experienced taxi driver would have handled it better. A Nascar driver, better still.
You were forced to trust your instincts because you didn’t have time to do anything else. Your instincts came through for you and they always will.
We will perform at our best, whatever level that best is, when we trust our instincts to take us there. New driver’s skills are not yet well trained. If they relax and allow their instincts to guide them, their instincts will tell them to stay aware, slow down, watch carefully and not get too close to the car in front of them. The NASCAR driver’s instincts are very well trained. When they relax and allow their instincts to guide them their instincts will tell them that they can race down the road at any speed they choose, because they know they will be able to handle any situation that may arise.
In athletic competition we are constantly training our skills and developing our instincts with the goal of becoming a “natural athlete”. To do this we must start practicing the “skill” of trusting our instincts while our athletic abilities and are still early in their development.
Next Article (2): Training Your Instincts
Third Article: Flying on the LIne