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For Optimal Performance, Find Inspiring Mentors And An Engaging Learning Community

About a year ago, two athletes from our local triathlon club and I were discussing The Ironman Muskoka 70.3 triathlon as a target race for our mentoring program. It’s a popular race that takes place about an hour north of where I live in Central Ontario. One of the athletes, a late-30’s super-fit guy, said he was thinking of signing up. I commented that someday I’d like to maybe try that race but not just yet. (Notice all the qualifiers and hesitancy.) He immediately encouraged me to sign up. The other athlete, a woman closer in age to me (I was 56 at the time) piped up right away and agreed that I should sign up. However, she had completed multiple 140.6 full distance races already and was a fabulous cyclist. Easy for her to say. My cycling experience was marginal, only having cycled for about 4 years and my longest ride so far was about 60k. The race required a 94km ride after a 2k swim and followed by a 21.1km run. Not easy and not likely in my mind. At least that’s what I told myself.

What surprised me then and still moves me is how both of these athletes looked at me and unequivocally stated “of course you can do it.” They absolutely believed in my ability to train and have a good race. In fact, the younger super-fit guy put out the challenge that he’d sign up if I signed up. Wow. It was amazing that these people had such confidence in me. If they believed in me this much then perhaps I could muster up the courage to believe in me too. I signed up for the race a few days later.

Inspirational vs. Supportive Mentors

Having access to an inspirational mentor takes opportunity to the next level. Dr. Elisha Goldstein, a Mindfulness psychologist and author believes that “one of the secrets to success that people don’t talk about enough is the real need for on-going mentorship and community…people and our environment are so powerful.” I agree. He makes an interesting distinction between people who support us and those who inspire us. While supportive people – those that want the best for us – are valuable, he suggests we cultivate an inspirational community around us – those people who are doing that thing we aspire to do. Or being the kind of person we want to be.

People who inspire us will ignite the spark to take action and go after what we want. ~ Laurie Hunt

Inspirational people have a can-do positive attitude that is motivating. I am fortunate to have a number of inspirational mentors. People both older and younger who are more experienced than me and willing to share their knowledge and experience. Lucky for me as I took on the task of training for this big race.

Find A Learning Community

Our triathlon mentoring program is now in its 5th year. In addition to matching less experienced mentees with more experienced mentor athletes, we also hold regular panel discussions on topics such as triathlon basics, long course strategy and resiliency. These events provide opportunity for athletes to learn from each other through conversation and sharing experiences. Club members also create training groups targeting specific races or distances. These groups are as much about motivation as they are getting the training done.

In Steven Kotler’s book The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance he discusses how performance soars when people come together to learn and share the experience of performing an activity, even if the activity is a solitary one. He cites a research study that showed the more social an activity, the higher the experience of joy and ultimately better performance. “Higher enjoyment correlates to higher motivation, of course, but these same chemicals also enhance performance and improve social bonding.” Flow is the state of ultimate performance where just the right amount of effort and challenge meet. Social bonding neurochemicals are at the heart of individual flow and group flow. All the ultimate athletes in Kotler’s research travelled in packs, leveraging powerful neurobiology, as Kotler put it, to build connected communities, share experiences and together learn how to perform even better.

A few nights ago, we held a panel discussion celebrating last year’s first time finishers of a full distance 140.6 race. (4km swim, 180km bike, 42.2km run) They shared heart-warming stories of excitement and fear, accomplishment and anxiety, each person having her/his own unique approach to training with many similar experiences along the way. These seven athletes were inspirational to both the experienced full distance athletes listening in as well as those of us still in the dreaming stage.

Two Paths To Finding A Mentor – Formal Programs and Casual Connections

Formal mentoring programs exist to provide the opportunity for people to connect with those more experienced. If a new endeavor, the person may not know anyone in that field or with the desired knowledge. Our triathlon mentoring program has been instrumental in enticing people into the sport of triathlon by providing the comfort of having someone to help them learn as well as getting to know others in the community, new to participating in the sport.

Once people have some experience in triathlon, or similarly in any industry or organization, they get to know others and more casual relationships begin to form along with spontaneous training and learning groups. Formal programs are an entrée into what may seem like a daunting endeavor from the outside. It was certainly daunting to me when I first considered triathlon even though I had twenty years of distance running behind me at the time.

Going The Distance

Completing the Ironman Muskoka 70.3, from the moment of sign-up, throughout the training to the finish was an extraordinary experience. I had a fantastic race day. While my time was slow, I was well within the cutoff times and mighty proud of myself for taking on the challenge and achieving it.

I didn’t get to the finish line alone however. What stands out for me the most about this accomplishment is the community that surrounded me. The encouragement and inspiration of many friends and fellow athletes who went swimming with me, rode the race course in advance with me, gave me regular pep talks and most of all, believed in me. Crossing the finish line was a grand experience. I still giggle inside when I think about it.

What I can say for sure is be careful who you hang out with. They’ll inspire you to find more in you than you ever dreamed possible. In every aspect of your life whether sports, work, family, education or in your community. Look for people who have done or are doing what you want to do. Find a community of people who share your passion or dream. They’ll bolster your energy and get you past limiting beliefs so that you can discover new possibilities and make them happen.

What’s next for me? I’m still dreaming of the possibilities. What’s next for you?

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We’ll move into possibility together!

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