The Mental Trick That Made Me A Better Athlete

I'm frequently referred to as a pioneer in the snowboarding world. I have an Olympic silver medal and have won four X-Games gold medals — though I'll be the first to tell you it hasn't been an easy journey. After I won the silver medal at the Olympics, I faced a lot of distractions. There were so many other opportunities and responsibilities surrounding snowboarding, I lost my excitement for the sport.

I was no longer riding every day because I allowed the business opportunities — such as media requests, photo shoots, and appearances — to take precedence. I believed I needed to make the most of this small window of opportunity to earn money and build my business and my brand.

Snowboarding had gone from being about pursuing a dream and a passion to now solely capitalizing on the achievement of that dream and passion.

So when I did finally get to snowboard it was either for a photo or film shoot or, on the rare occasion that I was able to snowboard without a project at the center, then I had the mentality that I needed to “train” for competition, and I put more pressure on myself to be productive and efficient rather than doing it for the love of it.

Without realizing it, a switch had been flipped. Snowboarding had gone from being about pursuing a dream and a passion to now solely capitalizing on the achievement of that dream and passion. Snowboarding had become draining and overwhelming. It was no longer what brought out the best in me; it was beginning to bring out my worst.

When I focused on making my meditation practice a priority, I found that it actually helped improve my snowboarding.

After some time and contemplation, I came to realize that I needed to make my meditation practice the foundation of my life. Meditation is the practice of sitting quietly with yourself in order to experience the peace, tranquillity, and happiness that is within you. The only thing we can count on to remain the same and never change in this life is our own inner nature. That is what we reconnect with when we practice meditation.

When I focused on making my meditation practice a priority, I found that it actually helped improve my snowboarding. Prior to learning about and practicing meditation, snowboarding had become unconscious for me. I no longer had awareness of what I was really doing; I was on autopilot. Meditation helped bring awareness back into my snowboarding. And just like meditation itself, regaining this awareness took practice. It took time for me to become re-aware of what I was doing when I was on the snow.

This all clicked for me at the 2009 Grand Prix in Killington, Vermont. For the first time in a long time, I became aware once more around what edge I was on as I ollied into the halfpipe, and how much weight was on my back leg versus my front leg, and what angle I took as I rode up the wall before throwing my Crippler. And while these might seem like very basic and foundational steps of awareness to someone who rides the halfpipe every day, it was actually overwhelming and almost scary because I just wasn’t used to being aware of it all anymore so it took a lot of energy!

I had to shed the security blanket of my being on autopilot and reengage if I was going to break through to another level of skill on my snowboard. I stumbled a bit in this. It was like taking off my earmuffs and listening to my intuition again. And it was my intuition that knew the tiniest of tweaks and adjustments that would serve my body in pulling off these things that I was asking it to do. I was also more aware of what external factors could help or hurt my snowboarding by listening to my newly aware intuition.

All too often, athletes, when they feel they’ve hit a plateau, will just try to force themselves through the rut they are in. Other athletes, when stuck at a plateau, will turn to a new coach or a new diet or a new trainer. I would say, “Stop!” First simply return to your own intuition and awareness by introducing a meditation practice. This will help you become re-aware of your sport and your progression. Meditation can help you see the ruts you’re in without having to find an external or unsafe source to help you break through to your full potential.

This isn’t to say bringing meditation into your life will be easy or a quick fix. There is no such thing as a quick fix! To be honest, meditation takes the passion, discipline, and commitment of an Olympic athlete. And when it comes to meditation, it’s hard to see the benefits unless we have put in the practice.

There’s always room to grow on your journey for inner fulfillment, peace, and happiness, and the more you explore it, the more fully you will experience it, and that’s something no one can measure or define for you. Additionally, there will be twists and turns along your journey. You’ll have to release expectations and judgments. You’ll have to let go of wanting to control the outcome of what the journey will look like and how it will feel. But you will continue to practice for no other reason than to practice, and the journey along the way will be the point.

Photo courtesy of K2 Snowboarding

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