She wasn’t the strongest or the biggest, but she still brought home Olympic gold medals. Rebecca Soni may not be considered your typical Olympic swimmer. She has extreme talent, but it’s not the physical talent you usually associate with an athlete. Rebecca excels in the psychological side of competition.
I might fail…I can’t…I have to stop…I’m not good enough - these are all things we tell ourselves to psych ourselves out of achievement. They are especially prevalent in a sports competition setting. When Rebecca retired from her swimming career, she, like many other semi-professional or professional athletes, felt like she was starting from the beginning again. She began analyzing her career as a swimmer and how that might translate into a career outside of swimming. After a little soul searching she realized a unique strength she possessed that was barely addressed in any sports training program. She had a knack for understanding the mind.
The mind is an interesting thing. It can be our biggest ally or our biggest enemy. While most elite athletes have managed to use their mind in a beneficial way, many might not may not be able to articulate what that looks like and how to teach it to someone else. So Rebecca spent some time understanding what she knew about the mind based on her own experience. She began formulating ways to convey what controlling the mind looked like and how to use it to one’s benefit. Shortly thereafter, she started mentoring young athletes on building and understanding mental muscle and processes.
In 2014 fellow Olympian, Caroline Burckle, had retired from swimming and gone back to school twice to rediscover what she wanted to do as a career. She met with Rebecca that Fall and immediately found an alignment with her own passions and talents with Rebecca’s. She joined Rebecca and they created what is now known as RISE, a mentorship program for the mind.
As I listened to Rebecca and Caroline explain their program I couldn’t help but compare it to the mindfulness development most yoga practices work toward. I always tell people that I got into yoga for the physical workout, and I kept going back for all the side benefits, including mindfulness and self-discovery, that I wasn’t anticipating. No one could’ve convinced me that I would receive these benefits because I didn’t even realize it was an area where I could find growth. I didn’t see myself as having any emotional or mental “problems” to fix. I didn’t fully appreciate the proactive approach yoga takes in working toward a more fulfilling life.
Likewise, Rebecca and Caroline sometimes struggle with convincing people of the positive and proactive approach they take. Usually when we seek out professional help we have a problem we feel we cannot fix on our own. RISE wasn’t created to suggest that anyone has a problem with their minds. The former Olympians teach that learning to use our mind in an optimal way is a process. Instead of waiting for a problem to show up, they suggest becoming aware of what your mind is doing now.
I did some digging into myself after the interview with Rebecca and Caroline. I pinpointed one of my beliefs that I’ve had for a very long time- that I cannot excel in anything. I have a tendency to be good at many things, but not great at anything. And right there it seems I’ve discovered one of my own mental patterns. It’s not real. It’s a pattern that I expect of myself and therefore eventually becomes true. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts and now that I have a better understanding of that, I can figure out how to get out of my own way.
We all have unique mental patterns. Some are good and some stunt our growth. Without knowing what these patterns are, we have little control of how they will manifest themselves in a given situation. But if you’re about to push off the blocks at a high-stakes competition, you want to know where your mind’s at and what it is going to do in the time that you’re moving through the water. And of course it doesn’t stop there. Our lives are constantly changing and so are the challenges our minds face.
Whether you’re in a mentorship program or getting on your yoga mat, mindfulness is a process that doesn’t stop. Find the tools you need to optimize your mind. You want it as your ally as often as possible. Rebecca attributes her Olympic gold medals to her mental capabilities, not her physical. If she can win a gold medal utilizing her mind, imagine what you could do if you learned to work with your mind and not against it. Your mind is the limit. Find your path to push it further.
Find out more about Rebecca, Caroline, and their company RISE on their website.