Don't lose YOURSELF

Being excellent doesn't mean the same thing for everyone. It's a personal journey that reflects what's important to you, what you're passionate about, and what you dream of achieving.

Don't compare yourself to others or just chase outside approval. Decide what excellence means for you and pursue it with integrity and honesty.

You are striving to reach the highest levels as an athlete in an amazing way we haven't seen before. At the heart of your journey is the pursuit of greatness, pushing the boundaries of your athletic potential. But how can you have the passion, drive, and almost obsessive focus that the greats often have, without letting it completely consume you?

The absolute best athletes have an intense inner competitiveness. A fire that sometimes looks like an unhealthy obsession or anger-fueled motivation. This competitive drive manifests differently for each person. Some set incredibly demanding practice schedules, with a legendary work ethic. Others relentlessly drill the same skills over and over until perfected. Some can instantly flip a switch during competition, channeling intensity to raise their game.

There's no doubt you have that same inner fire burning. You can see it in your training and performances - an ability to elevate your level, a competitiveness that seems all-consuming. But that same powerful force that propels you forward can also start to work against you. It can become too much, shifting from focused motivation to an unhealthy obsession. Sometimes you get incredibly frustrated over a bad performance or failure to meet expectations.

In sports psychology, we like simple lessons - positive or negative motivation, competing for joy or anger, harmonious passion or obsessive passion. But reality is often messier.

Elite athletes are great at harnessing the motivational forces that make them skilled, without letting those same forces destroy them.

We're used to thinking competitiveness is something you either have or don't have. But research shows a more nuanced picture. It depends where that competitiveness originates. Hyper-competitiveness happens when athletes get caught up in trying to constantly validate their self-worth through winning and achievements. They seek fulfillment from outside sources of approval. True competitive motivation comes from within - it's about growth, discovering your potential, striving to improve. It's being "addicted to the process" itself.

The greats live on both sides of this continuum to differing degrees. They aren't enlightened beings who let go of external motivators entirely. But if they swing too far towards hyper-competitiveness without balance, problems arise.

When hyper-competitiveness takes over, it's never satisfying. Athletes keep chasing after accomplishments, never achieving real fulfillment because trophies and accolades alone can't satisfy self-worth. In extreme cases, it pushes people to cut ethical corners, because obtaining the goal becomes more important than anything. Or it causes burnout, injuries, and mental health issues. It's like an endless, insatiable addiction.

Research on prodigies found they were almost always obsessive, with an intense "rage to master." But what mattered most was the foundation of that obsessiveness. If it stemmed from an unhealthy craving for external validation, it inevitably stole away the internal joy that first fueled their journey.

The greats balance internal and external motivations. They harness the fiery drive to showcase their abilities, while ultimately competing for more self-actualizing reasons. Even infamous competitors acknowledged this duality - Jordan used perceived slights as fuel, while also chasing mastery. Kobe Bryant stated he played "to learn" and figure things out, not just to win rings.

What the transcendent athletes grasp is you have to care deeply while still letting go. They fiercely compete while staying present, not consumed by outcomes. Harnessing that emotional investment productively is the central tension of peak performance.

The greatest athletes find this equilibrium. As one mentor
told me, "You'd become trapped chasing an endless cycle, where achievements never provided real satisfaction. The awards are great, but not why you truly compete."

Embrace the striving, not just the arriving.
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