I’ve always marveled at Olympic athletes. Beyond the amazing talent, drive, discipline, and dedication that impress us all, what has always had me most mystified is the fact that many of them train for their entire lives and have only seconds to execute their craft. The Olympic record for the women’s 50-meter freestyle swim? 24.05 seconds. The amount of time it takes for a vault in gymnastics? In the neighborhood of six seconds. Sure, marathons take a relative while, but still it comes down to a single performance on a single day after literally hundreds or thousands of days spent preparing. I’ve always wondered how these athletes deal with chance in this setup–the chance they get sick, the chance they get hurt, the chance they could simply have a bad day when it matters most.

One might argue that the best athletes and performers are defined by simply not having bad days. Or maybe it’s not that they don’t have bad days; rather it’s their capacity to manage themselves despite having a bad day, their ability to dig down and perform when their bodies aren’t quite right, that makes them special. But I think this is old news.

My focus here is not on what elite athletes–whose lives have been devoted to training and performance when it matters–do to rise above a bad day, but what the rest of us do–not so much during a bad day, but in its aftermath. I’m interested here in how we handle the disappointments of a competition, a workout, a race, an event when things don’t go our way. How do we process our failures? Where do our thoughts go, why do they go there, and how does this affect our functioning in the future?….

…Invest yourself in your training and your goals, for sure, but don’t over-indulge in the process. Bad days happen, but so do good ones. You may even have an awesome day (or ten) if you don’t get bogged down in the bad ones. Read more…