Some claim to remember learning, but I don’t. And definitely not the angst and frustration or the great satisfaction when achieving each milestone.
But the fact we can do these things is absolutely amazing. And so taken for granted because we forgot how hard it was.
As of June 2014, a tally of 93 sprinters have achieved this record (as recorded on Wikipaedia).
Now because I am a dag, I have charted the number of sprinters who have broken the 10 second barrier each year from 1960. What is interesting to see is the increasing number of sprinters who break the record over time, but also the increasing frequency that it occurs as time passes. In the 60s and 70s, there would be one every decade, which is now every 6 months or less.
While not an easy feat, it is now taken for granted that running 100m under 10 seconds is possible by the elite. As a collective, you can see us gathering momentum.
Another example is in gymnastics. When I was a 'gymnastic freak' teenager in the 90s, achieving the double somersault as a dismount off the uneven bars was an amazing feat to watch and only for the elite of the elites. Now, the triple full somersault takes its place in the Olympics. When my dad was a young 'gymnastic freak' in the 40s, it was the single somersault off the bars.
In the last couple of years, I have started learning Capoeira which has a high amount of acrobatics. With the little gymnastics I had learnt as a teen, it helped me to catch onto the basics, but all the others moves had to be learnt from scratch.
My journey was filled with frustrations, falls, fear, awkwardness and sometimes surprise. At some points, it felt impossible. The time and persistence taken over 6 months was purely to get my body to adjust to moving as one. More importantly, it was also to stop psychologically hindering myself by pulling back unconsciously.
But how did I do this? Sure, my Capoeira teacher taught me the steps broken down and we practiced on sand for safety. I persisted. But what were the real components that made it possible?
Here is my formula (the dag in me comes out again...):
Achieving the seemingly impossible =
'Imagination' + 'Guts' + 'Persistent application' + 'Rest'
MINUS 'Micromanaging/overthinking the process' MINUS 'Self-delusions'
This is probably the same factors that the elite sprinters achieved breaking the 10 second barrier while running the 100m or the elite gymnasts achieve the triple full somersault off the uneven bars. I’ve been talking about body memory, but this applies to almost any dream. Sometimes, it’s seems easier with the physical goals since it's more about practicing the same steps over and over again, but this is not really the case. Physical and non-physical goals are hard in different ways.
Let’s look at the vital ingredients:
Imagination – the ability to connect with your goal or vision. It doesn’t matter how big or small, you need to know where you’re headed. On top of that, an ability to imagine yourself in that vision is extremely powerful – this incites a feeling of wonder and possibility in your heart. It is a powerful motivator.
Guts – let’s face it, you need to have guts to take a risk and achieve the seeming impossible. Nobody creates a transformation, whether on the outside or within, without courage.
With the Au Sem Mao (no handed cartwheel), the start of the move requires basically throwing your body towards the ground without the protection of your hands to stop you – that requires guts as a beginner since you have no guarantee that your body will know what to do. It’s even harder when you’ve experienced a fall and hurt yourself, and you need to have guts to try again and possibly fall on your face all over again.
Persistent application – this is basically pouring all the energy you’ve got into your imagined vision. Nothing happens without action – you can vision all you like, but only action (whether you’ve done it consciously or unconsciously) changes anything. Whether you feel you are having a good or a bad day, you need to keep applying.
Rest – to the mind, this step makes no sense. But it is vitally important. It took me a long time to understand how important, and I’m still learning. You need to give yourself a break and allow things to assimilate. This is most evident in the body – sleeping allows it to switch from short-term memory to long-term memory. But it is important in any endeavour, physical or otherwise.
MINUS Micromanaging/overthinking the process – this is actually part of the rest factor. But I felt it needed to be clarified. People often think that to achieve a goal, you need to be highly focused and obsessively dedicated to make it happen. But this is just being a control freak who is unable to let go because deep down you don’t trust that it will happen. Magic and wonder can only occur when you are not in control of every step of the way. I have watched so many people sabotage their projects this way, including myself in hindsight. Watching the process like a hawk doesn't guarantee an outcome.
The less you think, the more it allows your body or your creation to naturally undergo metamorphosis. It is important to know when to let go.
MINUS Self delusions – possibly the most important of all. The hardest for people to face. This separates the wanna-bes from the elite. It requires being able to see the vision and realise when you have created your dream yet. It also requires facing the tension that comes up when you are putting all your blood, sweat and tears towards it and you still feel like you haven’t got any closer. It is being able to still admit to yourself that you want it, even when it seems hard and the world seems against you. It is having the guts to keep going or even to start. And letting go of the self-delusions of getting it straight away or wanting to stay in your 'happy place' all the time.
Not everyone wants to break the 10 second barrier in the 100m sprint or do a triple somersault off the uneven bars, but everyone has a special dream that, right now, seems impossible. I have many.
The formula above may not be THE way to achieve your dreams, but I think it contains the key ingredients. With the right amount and application of these ingredients, then one day your dream can become a reality.
But one last aspect that is also important. Timing and gathering momentum.
If you recall the chart of the collective 100m sprinters breaking the 10 second barrier over the past 5 decades, you will notice that there is an essence of gradually increasing momentum and success over time. The same applies when you are learning a new skill. At the beginning, achievements seem few and far between, but having an understanding of timing and gathering momentum will allow you to be more gentle with yourself.
Maybe even forgive yourself for not being perfect.
Things take time to gather momentum, so rather than expecting your dreams to be fulfilled tomorrow, why not enjoy the process and celebrate each little surprise along the way?