“Where’s the Fire?” asked Christopher Sommer in the last moments of a podcast I was listening to last week.
Sommer is the Head Coach of the USA JR National Gymnastics Team and runs an online strength training program called Gymnastic Bodies (which is absolutely worth checking out). When I started listening, I anticipated hearing from him what you hear from many accomplished motivators. I expected Sommer would talk about the fire of passion: Where is that fire within you? Have you found it? How do you cultivate or get out of the stresses or lows of life — you know, the typical “you-should-be-kicking-ass-get-off-your-lazy-butt” kinda stuff. Yet what he meant and said next was in fact quite different, and quite refreshing.
As someone who is seen as accomplished in many areas, I think a lot about my power as both a motivator and a de-motivator for others. Accomplishment can be inspiring, but it can also distance others from their own potential for success. The successful people we see in the world can often seem super-human. They never succumb to procrastination, poor decisions, self-doubt, depression. They seem to be able to make the right decisions all the time. They start every day with a run, positive affirmations, a great workout, a fulfilling breakfast with their family (that’s right, this is all before 7am), then sit right down to their projects and kick butt in a super-organized fashion, eat a healthy lunch, pursue three hobbies they love, and finally sleep for only four hours.
This is an intimidating image of success to hold ourselves up to. And a completely false one. The way we view each other’s lives nowadays is very curated, and this is especially the case with public figures. We never see the realities of someone’s inner struggles. I personally contend with procrastination, depression, distraction, all the mundane stuff. I just feel that I manage to keep my habits balanced mostly in favour of healthy activities instead of unhealthy ones. I also do my best to not be too hard on myself.
I wrestle as well with not holding myself to unreasonable expectations based on these artificial views of the lives of others. I often feel a constant pressure to be doing everything better, faster, stronger, smarter. Right now.
This is where we come back to Coach Sommer. The fire he was talking about was not one of passion, after all. It was the unreasonable fire of urgency. He asked, “What’s the rush?” In his experience, Sommer found that building great gymnasts takes time. That in fact, many skills and physical attributes cannot be accelerated in acquisition because you’ll do damage to yourself if you attempt to. In this same interview, he talks about how often the first thing he needs to do with an elite athlete is get them to slow down and build a healthier rhythm for themselves.
If you want to be really good at something, it’s worth coming to terms with the fact that proficiency and mastery are truly part of a long-term journey. Then allow yourself to be liberated by that fact. Where’s the fire? It doesn’t matter if you suck at something today, you don’t need to be an expert at it tomorrow. Find the rhythm. Enjoy the process.
If you look at the Gymnastic Bodies Instagram or Youtube channel, you’ll see some truly spectacular feats, but perhaps the most interesting are the before and after videos and images that are literally 10 years apart — not 10 months. That’s a more practical timescale for excellence.
I think committing to a goal is noble, beautiful, and worthwhile. We must also face challenges and be honest with ourselves. However, in all of this, it’s important to ask, “Where’s the fire?” Your goal does not need to be accomplished tomorrow; you don’t even need to set a date for it. Alternately, your date could be a long way away, provided you’re being honest with yourself and slowly moving toward it. It is possible to be gently resolute.
Sometimes what you need to stay on target is to not worry about the target. It’s the consistent but gentle push that yields sustainable results.