I’m not sure if you’ve ever heard of an American runner named Billy Mills. Mills was the surprise winner of the gold medal in the 10k at the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics. And guess what? When he speaks to groups about his victory and keys to success, Mills admits that (among his many thoughts during the gold-medal race) he actually thought about quitting every single lap. That’s twenty-five laps of negative thoughts during a race where he was at his best.
Impossible, many motivational or positive-thinking experts might say. Well, not if, like Mills, you understand stillpower.
Now, Mills didn’t call it stillpower back then, but clearly he knew better than to attempt to will himself through his low thinking. To Mills, his negative thoughts didn’t present a problem. He realized, however, that if he tried to fix these thoughts, he would be doomed to defeat.
So, how can you use stillpower as an asset in any competition?
First, understand that there is no connection between the quality of your thinking and the competition at hand. Sure, you will be prone to think about the event as it draws closer, yet whether your thoughts are negative or positive is 100 percent random. In fact, you will be prone to having both types of thinking about the very same competition.
Second, never try to control the thoughts that pop into your head. As Mills experienced, the human mind is like a roller coaster. The quality of your thinking is always in flux. If you try to force “good” thoughts in and “bad” thoughts out, you are working against your own innate functioning (preventing the roller coaster from ascending on its own). Instead, the key is to understand that wayward thoughts are normal and temporary. If you try to manage these thoughts — applying willpower — you will fortify them. If you leave them alone — applying stillpower — your level of consciousness will climb by itself.
The bottom line is that many performance experts believe that you must be in “the zone” to prevail; that you must think positive thoughts to find your best effort. The experience of Billy Mills shows this is not so.
All you really need is stillpower. Left alone, all thoughts prove to be powerless. You are free no matter when or where a negative, or even positive, thought invades your brain.
Garret Kramer is the author of Stillpower: Excellence with Ease in Sports and Life, is the founder and managing partner of Inner Sports, LLC. His revolutionary approach to performance has transformed the careers of professionals athletes and coaches, Olympians, and collegiate players across a multitude of sports. Kramer’s work has been featured on WFAN, ESPN, Fox, and CTV, as well as in Sports Illustrated, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal.