July 30, 2021

Simone Biles and High Performance

You’d have to be living under a rock to miss the conversation around the Olympian Simone Biles.

I feel pain because of all her hard work and how what’s happening is beyond her control. But there are so many powerful lessons I don’t want us to miss out on learning.

Learning happens best in the limbo moments.

Here are 9 lessons on high performance from Simone Biles: 

1. Don’t simmer at the six.

Josh Waitzkin, the chess champion who is profiled in the movie “Searching For Bobby Fischer", has a powerful way of framing life through the lens of competition and performance, through describing the danger of the simmering six. And Josh is a credible voice. World class chess is mentally and physically brutal. I went through a time period years ago where I studied every book I could get my hands on about the dark side of grueling competition. I was shocked at the brutality and the madness it often created in the world-class champions. 

What is the simmering six?

When you want to grow or advance anything, you want to make sure to learn how to switch from fully on to fully off. You want to be able to turn the dial to 10 and be immersed at the edge of your abilities with your eyes wide open while you’re learning.
You also want to be able to learn to relax when you set it all down and feel the serene joy of simple unburdened existence at a 1 or 2. 

The simmering six is where you fade into a dull existence of unrealized potential.

Simone goes all out.

2. Being fully on has a cost.

The mental and physical fatigue from being fully on is the payment due from all the stress on your body’s systems. I’m no Olympic athlete but I’ve had weeks where, as a speaker, I was presenting up to 20 times and while I love it, my body knows something big has happened. 

Over time, even just the lower grade, continual stress of academic performance at school, job performance, and life demands will cause you stress. Years of buried stress will come out swinging in the form of you shutting down. As a protection to you, your mind and/or body will sabotage you. 

In Simone’s field, it’s the “twisties”. You lose where you are in time and space. You start to get in your head too much. You overthink. Some in sports call it the “yips”. No doubt Larry Nassar affected the performance of many athletes, but also the continual toil of high performance exacts a payment due. 

Most of the diseases that kill us prematurely are the impact of burying stress responses for decades. Whenever you get the twisties, it’s a sign to make a change. That’s why Simone’s action to step out was so smart. It would only get worse without attention. This is true for all of us. Where might you be experiencing your version of the twisties right now?

3. The gift of the twisties is to learn you are more than your performance. 

In one tweet Simone said it all, “the outpouring love & support I’ve received has made me realize I’m more than my accomplishments and gymnastics, which I never truly believed before.”

This is the greatest gift you can receive in life. Even in hardship. This is the greatest transformation a parent can help a child see, feel, and hear. This is the aim of all transformative leadership development in the workplace...to re-humanize the individual to experientially know they are more than any role or performance. They are a human being worthy just because they exist. 

4. No one is going to come rescue you. 

Simone had to ask for what she needed. And yes, she like you may be surrounded by incredible care and support but ultimately, she had to ask for it herself. 

So will you. 

Asking for what you need isn't just about mindfulness and getting a break. That’s a start. You need the mindfulness to facilitate a mindset upgrade. That mindset upgrade is learning you have an identity apart from and more than your performance or roles.

Whether you gained it early in life or late in life, just don’t be a “never gained it” person.

5. Give yourself safety in the pressure. 

Getting what you need might be as simple a day off or as complex as re-imagining your life. At this point shame rears its ugly head in the form of judgment. You worry what others will think. You start concerning yourself with the should and should nots of their desires for you. Your own shame crowds out your wisdom. 

There’s internal and external safety. 

All of those in leadership have a responsibility whether homes, schools, athletics, or workplaces to create environments of safety. Safety means I can express ideas, thoughts, and ways of being that are a part of my growth and learning. 

Even if you don’t have an externally safe environment you can learn to cultivate an internally safe environment. You can build a reality within your own mindset and psychology where you don’t judge yourself but empower yourself. 

6. Give safety to others. 

Unless you’re living in your parent’s basement armchair quarterbacking Simone’s decision because your five beers deep and on twitter...wait a second. I’m part of the problem when I say that. Stress affects all of us. Give safety to others to grow and advance. Do you know the internal shame someone must be driven by to critique Simone’s decision? And what’s the shame in me to shame the person shaming? This is the endless cycle. 

We can judge poor behavior. But the person behind that behavior needs safety too. We give it to Simone. We give it ourselves. We give it to others, even those that irritate us. We make sure to give it to those who we have leadership responsibility for. 

7. After safety help them not simmer in the six but learn to be fully engaged and rest deeply. 

I’ve spent 25 years developing myself through meditation and contemplation. (I define these differently. We’ll save those for another post.) I’ve spent the last 13 years specifically practicing one skill that helps me value, upgrade, and hone my intuition. When your intuition has direction you are motivated. Productivity is often times a stupid conversation. Simone Biles isn’t stressed about being more productive. Her passion fuels her discipline. If you don’t care about what you're doing whether in work or life you won’t be great at it. 

I love the work we do with leaders and I love the 2 tools we use to help them get in a spot that unblocks their passion and take the ceiling off their growth. 

8. We underplay and overplay reasoning. 

When we’re children we learn to not be reactive but instead reason. At first our reasoning helps us. We are not as driven by our emotions. We stop being childish. Over time our reasoning hurts us. We lose our childlikeness. We overthink. We are cut off as we twirl in the air from our intuition. We get the twisties. 

It’s not bad to get the twisties. It’s a part of growth and advancement. The twisties are a sign that the stress has taken its toll. Good job being tough to get to this point. Like Simone, you've done some hard things. Now you’ll be in a limbo moment. You’ll be in-between. But the way forward won’t be linear or logical reasoning. It won’t be thinking. It will be your intuition and your vision that will be supported by your reasoning not driven by your reasoning. 

9. Spotlight moments matter.

I wish Simone could have had this happen months or a year ago and then put measures in place to possibly get her groove back. Groove is a fickle thing. I’ve lost my groove in very public leadership roles with too much pressure. Sometimes I've been able to regain it. Sometimes I haven't regained it. Motivations pass and fade. I’ve coached enough high performers from surgeons to business leaders that eat a year’s stress for breakfast every day to know that some moments matter more than others. They just do. That’s why learning to move from full relaxation to full engagement is critical. And over time learn to mix the two so even when you have to be fully on you do it with a “relaxed intensity”. (Thanks Bret for the killer phrase.)

The best time to work on yourself is before the spotlight. Whether it's ChampionShift.com for athletes and coaches or SightShift.com for businesses and leaders we're ready to help.

What are you learning right now?

If you want video for the above it's on youtube HERE.

If you want audio for the above search your favorite podcast provider for SightShift or go HERE.

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