Excerpt from Elite Minds by Dr. Stan Beecham
CHAPTER 6: SETTING THE EXPECTATION:
I met Barbara Parker and her husband, Sean, in 2007 while working with Pete Rea and the Zap Elite team in Blowing Rock, North Carolina.
At the time, Barbara and Sean were two very good college runners who would later marry after graduating from Florida State University (FSU). Barbara is from England, and she had received a scholarship from FSU to run cross-country, the 1,500 meter, the 5,000 meter, and the steeplechase.
After a successful collegiate career, Barbara ran professionally with the goal of becoming an Olympian and representing the United King- dom. In 2008, she made the U.K. team and ran the steeplechase in Beijing, China. Unfortunately, she failed to advance past the preliminary round.
Though she did not run very well at her first Olympics, Barbara achieved her goal of making the Olympic team. Like most first-time Olympians, her primary goal was to make the team, not win a race or a medal.
Barbara knew she could run faster, and she continued to train with Sean as her coach. In the summer of 2011, she made the World Championship team that competed in Daegu, South Korea. is time, Barbara ran fast enough to get past the prelims and into the finals by placing in the top 15. However, once in the finals, she ran poorly.
Upon telling the story to me for the first time, I asked her what her goal was for the World Championships.
“Get to the finals,” she said.
At this point, I suggested to her that she always reaches her goal in these big events.
“No, I don’t,” she fired back.
“Well, think about it, Barbara,” I said. “Your goal in 2008 was to make the Olympic team. You did. Your goal at the Worlds was to make the finals. You did.”
“Yeah, I made the finals, but I ran terribly and got dropped early in the race,” she said.
“But you had no intention of doing anything in that race other than finishing it, and you did that—you finished.”
“What do you mean?” she questioned.
“You didn’t go into the finals with the intention of placing, and you certainly weren’t trying to win the damn thing, now were you? You did exactly what you intended to do, nothing more and nothing
At that, Barbara looked down, paused a moment, and said, “Yeah, I guess you’re right.”
“So, let me ask you this: What is your goal for the 2012 Olympics?”
Barbara thought for a moment. “I definitely want to make it to the finals. I know I can do it because I made the finals at the Worlds. I should make it—I’m one of the 15 best in the world.”
“Every morning, all 15 women who are going to make the finals in the women’s steeplechase get up, put on their running shoes, and head out to train—right?” I asked her.
Barbara nodded her head, yes.
“Probably all 15 of those women expect to make the finals. They all believe they are good enough to make the finals. Would you agree?”
“Sure,” she said.
“And how many of those 15 expect to medal? How many are running today with the intention of winning a medal at the 2012 Olympics in the women’s steeple?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” she said. “ There are several Africans who probably think they are going to medal, and the Russian.”
“So, is it fair to say that every day, some of the women train with the intention of making the team, some train with the expectation of making the finals, some train with the belief that they are going to medal, and a handful train with the goal of winning?”
Barbara said it was.
“So, here we are, eight months away from the Olympics. Let’s call it 240 days. You probably have around 200 days of training left, twice a day, for a total of 400 workouts before the Olympics. Who do you think will train hardest? Do you think the women who are training with the hope of making the team will train with the same focus, intensity, and purpose as those who are training to win the gold medal?”
I continued to explain that if she wakes up every day and her whole purpose for living, for existing, for running, is to be the best in the world and to win a gold medal, she has very little in common with someone who would just like to make the team. It’s not even close to the same thing.
The runner who expects to win a gold medal has a huge advantage over the rest of the field. Not just at the time of the race but every day and every training session—and there are 400 training sessions before the Olympics!
If Barbara doesn’t expect to win, she has already forfeited the race. And so have you. You have given up your chance to find out just how fast you can go. The best way to approach a race is to win! The only way to find out how good you can really be is to be willing to give everything you have in an attempt to win. The desire to win is the same as the desire to do your best, and only those who are trying to win are trying to do their best.
That’s why winning is important. It’s the path to finding your best.
Risking It All
As physically talented as Barbara is, she had to be willing to risk every- thing in order to reach her full potential. at risk included setting a big goal that she might fail to reach.
A few months later, we revisited her 2012 goals, and this time I asked her what it would take to get on the podium, to medal. “Is there any possible scenario in which you can imagine yourself medaling?” I asked.
She thought about it for a while and said, “I have good speed. My last 800 is as fast as anyone’s in the world. If I can stay with the lead pack during the first 2,000 meters, I could medal.”
“Great! That’s your new strategy and goal. So let me ask you, why are you running?”
“Because I want to get a medal,” she said. “No, you expect to get a medal!” Everyone wants a medal, but only those who truly believe they
will get a medal have a chance. Wanting a medal is a conscious desire.
Expecting to medal is an unconscious belief. There’s a big difference between the two. From that day on, we began each session with my asking Barbara again why she was still running. A few months in, we had the following discussion:
“Because I’m going to win a medal in London,” she would say.
“Do you really believe that, or are you just telling me what I want to hear?”
“You know, it’s really interesting,” she said. “At first I had to fake it, but now I am coming to believe that it is true.”
In just a few short months, we had gone from trying to get into the finals to expecting to win a medal. Barbara noticed that the intensity and outcome of her training sessions had improved, and she would regularly text me with updates.
In order to gauge her progress, Sean would have Barbara repeat certain workouts every few weeks to determine where she needed to improve. Across the board, her attitude toward difficult workouts had changed.
We discussed that if you truly want to get better, then you have to want your workouts to be hard, to be painful. It makes no sense to wish away the difficult once you realize that it is essential to your improvement. In order to run a personal best, one must be willing to hurt. If you are wishing away the pain, you are also wishing away the thing that’s going to make you better.
One has to learn that pain is the desired state and to not wish it away when it comes.
In my work with corporate clients, I see the same challenges. Most of us have strong beliefs regarding what we believe is possible at work, and what is impossible. As a general rule, a majority of us underestimate ourselves and thus underestimate what we are capable of doing. In my work with sales teams, it is important that a sales representative realizes that before she goes into a sales meeting, she must have an expectation of what is about to happen. In other words, she must believe that there are possible and impossible outcomes in a meeting.
Research suggests that about half of sales reps will not make a second call after being told “No” on the first attempt. After a second “No,” 75 percent of sales reps view the possibility of doing business with this client as nonexistent and never call again. If the sales rep gets a third “No,” then only about 12 percent of the initial population will still be willing to engage the client. Interestingly enough, studies show that most clients say “Yes” after the fourth engagement.
If you are under the impression that once someone tells you “No” once or twice, it means it’s impossible to ever do business, than you are going to be at a terrible disadvantage.
Let’s look at an example of this in action.
I have a good friend, Greg Fisher, who has been extremely successful in the financial services industry. One day we were talking about a customer whom I had previously worked with, but I had lost the account after they hired a new VP of human resources. Greg knew I was going back to New York City where the client was based and suggested I stop in and visit the CEO. I couldn’t understand why he thought that was a good idea, given the fact that the company had not continued my contract. Greg simply said, “Some of my best clients are ones who had fired me in the past but who came to respect the fact that I don’t give up easily.”
Winning is never impossible—just look at the sports page of the news- paper. Every day, in every city in America, you can pick up a sports page and read about something that happened the day before that was not supposed to happen.
The best team doesn’t always win, even the all-star has a bad night, and the “nobody” can become “somebody.” Everyone has a story about the very first time they did something they were never supposed to accomplish. That’s the wonder of life—doing the impossible for the first time.
The impossible happens every day in business as well. We just have to understand that these kinds of things don’t just happen to other people—they can happen to us as well! But first we must believe that this big crazy miracle called “life” includes each and every one of us.
Remember: Fear is your opponent. No one is better or faster than you—only less afraid.
In June 2012, after five months of training with a winning attitude, Barbara ran the steeplechase in the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Oregon. Five of the top seven women in the world were at the starting line.
Prior to this race, we had been working on Barbara’s taking the risk of going out with the lead runners and establishing herself as one of the runners who expect to medal. During our last session before the race, I suggested she think of herself as a candle. At the beginning of the race, you light the candle. Your goal is to burn the candle all the way down until it begins to flicker.
Then, just as you cross the finish line, take the risk of letting the candle burn out.
It’s true—most runners don’t want to die during a race. But winning a race is about being willing to die during the race. The idea is to preserve nothing and sacrifice everything. That is what “flying” is all about. You have to leave the safety of the ground and take the risk of crashing.
Several weeks before this conversation, Barbara had run in China, but she was unable to take the ultimate risk and assert herself at the beginning of the race. It was her first steeplechase race of the season, and her confidence was not yet high enough.
Today was different.
It was a strange race from the beginning. For one, the starter’s gun wasn’t working properly. The women took their places at the line, and the gun misfired—false start. They backed up and waited to take their places at the line again. They lined up.
Another false start.
After the second false start, the television cameras panned from the in field, showing the women—all of whom had stepped back, waiting for the third attempt at a start. That is, everyone except for Barbara, who stood an entire foot in front of the other women.
Though she was not conscious of it, she was already asserting herself. She felt that she deserved to be in front, deserved to be on the track with the world’s best runners. Before the race even began, she was standing out in front of everyone else.
Barbara went out with the leaders and stayed in the lead pack of the race for its entirety. The result was a fourth-place finish and a new U.K. record by five seconds, as well as a personal best.
In the weeks following, we met and reviewed the tape of the race. I showed her where she was standing in front of the other women prior to the start. Barbara had no idea that she had been asserting herself before the race had even begun.
That’s the power of the unconscious mind: expectation.
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