The Secret to becoming A High Performance Individual.
It goes without saying that the JOURNEY of building a CAREER or building a BUSINESS is a Tour-De-France.
I make this comparison consciously because to stand a chance of being counted as one of the best in the world, you have to become a High Performance Individual (HPI). My obsession with excellence and being counted as one of the best in the world started when I knew what I could achieve if I put in the work to become an HPI. First up, I had to approach my entrepreneurial journey as an athlete and who better to get me in shape than a high performance coach who has worked with not just Olympic Athletes but with Astronauts.
The experience was beautiful, rich, and revealed how deeply damaged my psychology around performance had been up until that point.
Meeting Dr. Andy Walshe was in many ways a chance encounter. He is the Director of High Performance for Red Bull, where he works with international athletes and cultural opinion leaders; supervises a team of industry-leading scientists, engineers, physicians and technologists to develop and implement elite performance models.
I met him in 2014 at the inaugural Redbull Amaphiko Academy in Soweto and sat on the floor in a circle with other social entrepreneurs listening to a man with a distinctive Australian accent speaking as a master of sorts. If this were a Hollywood movie, as opposed to real life, this could've easily been a scene out of The Karate Kid. And Andy, would be our Mr. Miyagi—the karate master who taught Danny to fight with honor and discipline. But this was real-life and there sat Andy in the middle of our circle, in my mind a real-life sensei.
The essence of the wisdom that came with the "was on, wax off" teaching in the movie was this: one can learn valuable lessons from seemingly simple or mundane tasks. So when the first teaching Andy shared came in the form of him asking us to hold our breath, I knew I was in for a treat. A paradigm shift of sorts. So I held my breath and lasted 35 seconds. I was proud of myself because it was close to a minute. And then he shared with us that average human being is capable of voluntarily holding their breath for about 8 minutes but if trained one could hold their breath for a longer period of time. This line, delivered in an uninflected, unemphatic tone, was for me chilling as I could not imagine how I could hold my breath for longer without passing out. In fact, I was even more shocked to learn that in 2012, German free diver Tom Sietas held his breath underwater for 22 minutes and 22 seconds!
So could he train me to improve my measly 35 seconds and reach a more respectable feat? I genuinely didn't think it was possible. But what followed next was Andy sharing information that I've come to know as "psychological priming" that gave my mind certainty and built up my willpower to push through my body’s clear requests for oxygen. All in all I learned that the mind (if primed to get into a certain state) has the ability to veto your body's subconscious decisions and get the result you desire. In this instance veto the decision to breathe.
So in my second attempt I managed to get to 35 seconds, and went past that while surprisingly still feeling comfortable. I evidently held my breath for 3 whole minutes. Sure there was an instinct of panic from my body at 2 minutes, but my mind knew better and communicated with my body to calm down and do better.
Our psychological state whether we are aware or unaware of it plays a big role in what we achieve in life. We often hear about emotional intelligence, but what if we learned more about developing what I call our instinctive intelligence, which is knowing that all your desires are within reach if you tap into understanding your instincts and channeling them to work for you and not against you.
In an interview done in 2015, Andy was asked what is the most unique problem he has had to solve and this was his answer:
"With regards to “hacking talent” a profoundly difficult problem is to “measure what can’t be measured” as we say around the shop. One has to figure out ways to put some context (which hopefully leads to training outcomes) around all those important topics such as creativity, courage, resilience, humility, spirituality, integrity etc. These are equally as important in any conversation around an individual’s performance but they’re abstract by nature and so hard to frame up in a practical, developmental way."
In the moments that followed my 3 minute achievement, I went back to breathing normally again and had a deep sense of what could have been a tragic destiny of living in a permanent state of unfulfilled desire if I didn't learn this simple yet fundamental principle. I walked away from the encounter with Andy and realized a lesson and dare I say one of the secrets that led to me becoming a high performance individual:
Whatever happens, hold your breath. Which is to say, train yourself to become intentional about getting the results you desire not the results that come from being in a state of panic.