Write Like an Athlete

In athletics, the idea of possibility is presumed. It’s not ‘if;’ it’s how.

-Aimee Mullins

As anyone who has been at least a semi-competitive athlete knows, there is nothing like a major competition or event that motivates an individual to become singularly focused. I was in athlete mode for more than a year while powerlifting; my studies and part time job were far and away secondary focuses. The intense focus and motivation that defined me was something that I had rarely experienced in the past. I started going to bed early, waking up early, spending more time on mobility work, watching lifting YouTube videos, and watching videos of my own lifting to refine technique. There is certainly a power to athlete mode, but it can have a negative impact on your relationships with those outside your sport. A healthy athlete will be able to turn off the mode for brief periods of time to just enjoy life.

Despite potential drawbacks, the intoxicating feelings of power and self-control can supercharge your progress in your given sport. I felt it with powerlifting, all I wanted to do was lift as frequently as possible and relax. Recently, I have started to feel the same itch with table tennis. I want to practice every day, despite the conflicts with my current schedule. I long for another tournament date that will get me even more focused on the sport I love.

All this got me to thinking, is there a way to apply this focus and personal power to other areas of life (in my case, writing)? Unlike writing, sports are inherently competitive and have deadlines in the form of meets, competitions, and tournaments. In addition, is there a way to be a serious “two-sport” athlete? There are potential synergies between optimal writing and optimal sports performance. Both would require going to bed early and waking early, so you have time to practice when you are most fresh. There is also evidence that we are most creative in the morning along with many other reasons to write early on in our day. Both would require mentally and physically recuperative tasks for high performance such as long, relaxing walks and stretching. There may also be some small synergies or other opportunities for multitasking between the two activities. I am generally against even attempting multitasking, but listening to an audio-book while stretching doesn’t seem like a bad idea to make a small improvement towards your writing and your sports performance.

To the first question, I would say: yes, you can apply the focus that comes from a looming competition to a non-competitive field, such as writing. The key to unlock this focus is to set artificial deadlines for yourself. Start with a short, but not too short-term goal such as a number of words written in an eight week period or a certain number of publications. This may not produce the same ferocity as an athlete, but it can get you close. Another idea is to interact regularly with other writers and/or start a writers book club. This interaction with people who love the same thing you do may inspire some healthy competition (if such a thing is possible in writing) and will imbue your life with writing and ideas. That is, you will be exposed to more ideas, receive more feedback, give more feedback and see more examples of writing. Developing a tribe or community can help your mental state if your focus begins to detract from some of your other relationships.

To the second question, I do think it is possible to succeed in two “sports” at the same time, but I believe you are more likely to be successful in one if you have priorities in your life. Synergies exist between many activities, but, in most cases, I don’t believe they are strong enough to justify having two all-consuming purpose’s at one time. As I have mentioned before, setting and regularly reviewing your priorities can give you immense personal power, as it gives you permission to forgo things that really aren’t that beneficial to your life’s purpose or task. Personally, I need to do a better job of prioritizing writing, as it is the most important and urgent thing I do on a day to day basis.

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