What Mikaela Shiffrin Can Teach Us About Love
The world’s most famous skier (and perhaps the best?) DNF’d (Did Not Finish) three of five events at the Beijing Olympics. Simone Biles, perhaps the greatest gymnast in the world, had her own DNF at the Tokyo 2021 Olympics. So how can one perform with billions of people watching (and judging), with so much out of their control? In 2003 I left for the desert and spent five years in full-time writing and research to answer this very question.
When the pressure is the highest, three things are key:
1. A clear mind.
2. An unburdened heart.
3. Beliefs in line with your goals and dreams.
When you have those three things, the world opens up and your gifts become something wonderful to share. All three have at least one thing in common: love.
“You know, it’s not necessarily the medalists who get the most out of the Olympics. It’s those who are willing to strip down to nothing and bear their soul for their love of the game. That is so much greater than Gold, Silver, or Bronze. We all want a medal, but not everyone will get one. Some are going to leave here feeling like heroes, some will leave heartbroken, and some will have had moments when the felt both- because we care. That is real. That is life. It’s amazing and terrifying and wonderful and brutal and exciting and nerve racking and beautiful. And honestly, I’m just so grateful to be part of that. ?
– Mikaela Shiffrin, Olympic Champion, February 2018
In a picture shared around the world, 4 years after she shared that quote above, the most famous skier in the world sat on the side of the hill in complete despair following another DNF at the Beijing Olympics.
“I feel like a joke… I don”t know if anyone’s failed that hard, with so many opportunities, maybe in the history of the olympics.”
– Mikaela Shiffrin, Olympic Champion, February 2022
The central question I asked sport psychologists and coaches around the world researching and writing Inner Excellence was this: How can an Olympic athlete train for four years for an event that may last less than a minute, and have peace and confidence with so much out of their control?
The central thing I learned in those years of study was this: the heart is the key to your life. Your heart/spirit is the control center of your life. It’s where your deepest fears and greatest passions lie. Training it is the most important thing you’ll ever do.
What are you training it to do or be?
You’re training it to love. Sacrificially. Unconditionally. Because when you do that, you can live fearlessly… and have more joy than you ever thought possible. Because joy, that deep sense of well-being, freedom and gratitude, comes from love.
Let’s look at the three things in common with performing with freedom and confidence under immense pressure: A clear mind, an unburdened heart, and belief.
1. A clear mind
Perhaps the most obvious difference between extraordinary performance under pressure and every other performance is that great performances have way less thoughts than the others. And it’s not even close. When we’re stressed and anxious, our thoughts multiply greatly (double or triple the amount of thoughts). When we perform our best, whether it’s Mikaela, Simone or yourself, there’s way less thoughts, much more trust, and especially, a lot more peace.
2. An unburdened heart
Your heart is where your greatest passions and greatest fears reside, side by side. When the fears outweigh the passions, the heart becomes heavy… and burdened. But when the passions override the fears, there is freedom.
Beliefs are the control panel of your life, your subconscious thermostat, keeping your life in line with your comfort levels. To improve performance (and your life) in a consistent, powerful way, you must change your beliefs about who you are and what’s possible. – from the book Inner Excellence, pg. XXI (Presuppositions)
So how do we get a clear mind, unburdened heart and firm beliefs of achieving our dreams?
Well, we set our sights at the very highest level, not settling for lower level pursuits. We pursue the best possible life, the one filled with amazing experiences, deep, meaningful relationships, and a purpose far beyond self. It’s a life lived fully alive, wholehearted.
When you realize that perfect love (the unconditional kind) is absolutely fearless, and that it’s the foundation for clarity, freedom and belief (as well as love, joy and peace), then you’ll seek that path. So what does that path look like?
It looks like the path of self-mastery, to become the person who’s grateful just for the opportunity to grow, knowing that we see the most, experience the most, and have the most joy when we love the most. That is, when we love God, self, others and your work unconditionally, not for what you can get out of it… knowing that you don’t know what’s best for you, win or lose… It means loving your opponent as much as yourself. It feels like joy.
Just to be clear, a clear mind, unburdened heart and solid beliefs don’t mean you won’t be nervous. In fact you might be extremely nervous. This is a good thing. The best performances in history are almost always accompanied by nervousness. Edwin Moses, Olympic gold medalist (400m hurdles) who won every race for ten years straight (122), said he felt like he was being dragged to his death before his races.
You can have a clear mind, an unburdened heart and sold belief, and still be super nervous. The thing about nervousness is that it’s an energy that’s generally feels largely the same, whether you’re nervous- excited or nervous-afraid, or both. Either way, learning to love unconditionally, is where unconditional power awaits.
Let me know how it’s going for you!
Mikaela Shiffrin gave a great lesson on embracing failure at the Olympics after missing out on a medal in her best event. Businessinsider.com. Feb. 17, 2018. Gaines, Cork.
Shiffrin: “I feel like a joke” after 3rd Olympic DNF. NBCOlympics.com. Video interview.
Mikaela Shiffrin crashes out for third time at 2022 Olympics. NBCOlympics.com. Video.
The Man Who Never Loses. Vault.SI.com. Kirkpatrick, Curry. July 30, 1984.
The Exacting Science of Edwin Moses. WashingtonPost.com. Leavy, Jane. June 10, 1984.