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Do you have the dedication, discipline and concentration to finish what you set out to do? To be a high performer?This book is not meant to come up with the typical ten point plan that you find in the plethora of books on “how to…” or “finding the shortcut to…”. It is simply not realistic to impose the one and only way to become a performance beast. We cannot be made immune to personal emotions and our brains work in a very unique way and therefore it seems illogical to accept the restrictions of such ten-point-plans. Dixie Dansercoer surely does not want to preach, generalise or standardise training methods to manipulate people into becoming high performers. Our brains may be trained just like muscles, but people cannot be as easily manipulated as flesh and bones.The goal is to provide the reader with inspirational insights with respect to high performance, provide him/her with practical guidelines and stories to be read and shared without drowning in all-too-academic theories. The red line of polar exploration allows the author to write from the heart with accounts of his direct experiences. When confronted with the monotony of infinite white, wide-open spaces, one cannot but study the mental and psychological impact of these ambitious expeditions.Throughout his book, the author offers a lived and original example of what is needed to be(come) a top performer.EXTRACTThere is nothing more exhilarating than the intensity of amazement. To be subjected to forces bigger than us, to be part of it, live it, touch it, smell it, feel it, love or hate it... only then can you be part of the real thing. In order to find that intensity, the only thing we need to do is put our mind to it, go out thereand do it. Does it come for free? No. Is pushing the limits an easy thing to do? No. To get the most out of our potential, we must commit. If we want or need to deliver, we must be ready to work hard and be resilient. To follow a dream, we must be ready to fail as well. Stop dreaming and you will have a hard time falling asleep.ABOUT THE AUTHORDixie Dansercoer is a lifelong adventurer who has placed his focus on Polar exploration during the last 26 years, running many record-breaking expeditions that raised the bar for what seemed impossible. Parallel scientific missions, educational projects and enthusing the public at large are tools he uses to objectively raise awareness regarding our individual and collective responsibilities vis-à-vis the pristine character of our precious Earth. Together with his wife Julie Brown, he runs Polar Circles, with which they present keynote speaking, corporate-supporting campaigns and productive retreats. As one of the very few International Polar Guides Association few Master guides, he provides guiding services with Polar Experience for which he has designed polar trips ranging from soft immersions in the Polar Regions to extreme ski-kiting expeditions to (Ant)Arctica.Dixie is the author of 24 expedition, photo, children’s and corporate books and does not hesitate to include in his publications that belief in a good world, positive attitude and much humour can save the world. He is a father of 4 and sharing his time between Belgium, Switzerland, Oregon and … wherever snow and ice are the icing on the cake !
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“Deep within humans dwell those slumbering powers, powers that would astonish them that they never dreamed of possessing, forces that would revolutionise their lives if aroused and put into action.”
- Orison Marden
“A high performer can deliver 400% more productivity than the average performer”
- Harvard Business review
As a sport and performance psychologist, I counsel athletes of all levels to improve their performance. Sometimes people think I just run around with a nice toolbox of mental techniques that focus on enhancing concentration, motivation, arousal regulation, imagery skills, team dynamics… to name but a few of the topics Dixie talks about in this book. However, I would argue more than just techniques are needed to create a real high performer. An athlete needs a vision of where he or she wants to be. He or she needs to be able to give meaning to the hours and hours of intense practice. And let’s not confuse goals with purpose here. While you can check off titles and medals on your to-do list, the type of athlete you want to be(come) is an ongoing action that is never finished. A forever work-in-progress. Without a personal vision or purpose, all those helpful, evidence-based, performance enhancing techniques are just attempts to make seed take root on very dry land.
Throughout his book Dixie offers a lived example of what is needed to be(come) a top performer. He complements the techniques he knows with a foundation of years and years of growing self-awareness through moments of reflection. Admirably, he does not only share his many successes, but also the darker moments of deep despair… and what he learned from it. Many athletes come to me with a list of their achievements stating they have reached a standstill. Many of them had the luck of building on innate talents. And suddenly, the progression and development is not automatic anymore. They believe it is time to work on that mental side that can give them the extra edge. However, when athletes feel stuck in their progression they often need to do more than just polish up on their mental techniques. Rather, it is worthwhile to take a moment to contemplate what it is that is feeding their insecurity and inner barriers. It is time to look beyond just those titles and records that can start to feel like a glass ceiling. As a sport psychologist, I try to aid in that reflective process of getting unstuck and help to develop a longer lasting drive based on purpose and meaning (and I can of course throw in some mental techniques to aid the growth process on this now fertile soil).
For those readers trying to learn from Dixie’s accounts, my advice would be to not simply copy his strategies, but to analyse them and to prepare for your own challenges. Do not run away from them or try to control the inevitable. There will be injuries, titles lost, arguments with staff or loved ones, moments where you wonder if it is all worth it… Rather welcome these setbacks as a hard teacher. It will make you a stronger person and help you grow as an athlete in order to become a top performer.
Cedric Arijs, sport psychologist
I used to get quite confused every time people would ask me why anyone in this world would want to freeze their butt off for over 100 days. Why choose for monotony, loneliness and total deprivation of the good life? What normal warm-blooded human being can move his frozen moustache when his colleague cracks a joke at minus 20, 30 or 40°C? Why leave family and loved-ones behind for extended periods and accept the dangers of skiing on frozen oceans that constantly split open? Steer kites in the wild katabatic winds of Antarctica? Why stand in the way of polar bears that would pay for a warm bed and go to the casino…
Questions of that calibre asked to me today are probably the same ones as those asked a century ago of the pioneers who went out there to claim new land or went digging for more economic enrichment, while today’s extreme adventurers have other triggers on the menu. Maybe we do not want to be lived. Maybe we long to utterly feel alive. Whatever the draw, conditions are still the same out there. The same brutal cold that humbled Shackleton beleagers today’s polar explorers and we are still confronted with the mental turmoil caused by the alienation of society’s comforts. Clearly, we must admit that there are some clear differences between the Polar Pioneers and the new generation of expeditioners: the early explorers were unsure about coming back alive. Also, they were at a disadvantage because their equipment was not at all as performance-based and women were not part of the game. The pioneers of long-forgotten times had less knowledge, risked more. Their chances for survival were lower and they had no contact with the home front. On the other hand, humankind’s ambitious quest for longer, farther and better sees today’s polar expeditions produce non-motorised, kite-driven daily distances of over 500 km, something that would have seen Amundsen or Shackleton fall off their chairs with non-belief… All through polar literature, modern or old, we find timeless curiosity and ambition, a quest to pioneer a new route, to discover something new, push the limits, experience nature’s grandeur, or whatever intensity that is to be found at the frozen extremities of our Earth.
As a contemporary polar explorer, I do not seem to be able to come up with a one-liner that explains it all, stops any criticism or invites a good laugh. We all know the classic question ‘why do mountaineers climb mountains?’ and the simplistic answer: ‘Because they are there’. The same senseless question can be asked to the soccer player who tries to explain why it is so much fun to kick a ball, run after it and then kick it again. This question can also be asked to an impressionist painter who smears colours on a canvas. This kind of simplification does not leave space for a solid explanation of the finesse and depth of being passionate about what we do. It does not invite a look behind the scenes nor does it try to leave enough time to think beyond the easily understandable.
When we do things that we love, in a natural way, effortlessly even, it seems that with loving passion, it is a little easier to persevere and stick to far-fetched goals. When the pressures mount, risks are more inherent and our comfort zones disappear. We start to think twice about ‘why’ we should continue. The dangers of luxury and cocooning lure us back to the land of milk and honey. We simply do not like being confronted with hardship and quickly find ourselves with a lack of focus and revert to comfortable distractions.
This book is not meant to come up with the typical ten-point plan that you find in the plethora of books on “how to…” or “finding the shortcut to…” It is simply not realistic to impose the one and only way to become a performance beast. We cannot be made immune to personal emotions and our brains work in a very unique way and therefore it seems illogical to accept the restrictions of such ten-point-plans. This book surely does not want to preach, generalise or standardise training methods to manipulate people into becoming high performers. Our brains may be trained just like muscles, but people cannot be as easily manipulated as flesh and bones. This book aims to provide the reader with inspirational insights with respect to high performance, provide you with practical guidelines and contains stories to be read and shared without drowning in all-too- academic theories. The red line of polar exploration allows me to write from the heart with accounts of my direct experiences. When confronted with the monotony of infinite white, wide-open spaces, one cannot but study the mental and psychological impact of these ambitious expeditions.
We live in an era of unprecedented opportunity. Embracing global cross-cultural openness can give us that one step ahead to make the difference in our all-too-often restricted vision of our small little corner of the world. Worldliness and tolerance are your best tools to get ahead of the competition if that is what high performance means to you. Blessed with some degree of intellect we can choose what we want to do with our lives. With a modicum of entrepreneurship you can find a job that pays you more than enough to survive. Probably too much… It leaves driven consumers to struggle with questions about what colour they need to choose for a non-basic good or what extras they may need for their new car which replaces one that was still running fine. Few are the people who struggle with deeper questions like: should I be a consumer or producer? Should I work just hard enough to receive my pay-cheque or should I dig deeper and use my fullest potential? Surf on the wave of common knowledge or strive day and night to solve mysteries that serve humankind? Do we secretly want to know how far we can go, how much potential we have, how strong we are?
I can assure you, none of the relentless and sometimes inhuman difficulties of polar expeditions are fun. The intrinsic reasons why we push aside our comfortable lives and immerse ourselves in (self-) discovery, curiosity, amazement, awe and enlightenment are integrally part of that wonderful quest to live intensely. It is truly amazing to discover how it feels to be utterly elated. Understand that burning feeling to be ‘Alive!’. Sceptics will throw in that all of our Earth’s secrets have been depicted in atlases or have been documented in movies and there is nothing left to discover anymore. Surely, scientists have gone to great lengths to explain the wonders of the world in a very pragmatic way, so why go out there anymore? Well, there is a world of difference between having heard about discoveries on TV and actually being confronted face-to-face with the power of the world out there. There is nothing more exhilarating than the intensity of amazement. To be subjected to forces bigger than us, to be part of it, live it, touch it, smell it, feel it, love or hate it... only then can you be part of the real thing. In order to find that intensity, the only thing we need to do is put our mind to it, go out there and do it. Does it come for free? No. Is pushing the limits an easy thing to do? No. To get the most out of our potential, we must commit. If we want or need to deliver, we must be ready to work hard and be resilient. To follow a dream, we must be ready to fail as well. Stop dreaming and you will have a hard time falling asleep.
“My real self is my will”
- Bula Matari
In Buddhism, greed is considered not good. Greed is one of the ‘Three Poisons’ that lead to evil and that bind us to suffering. It also is one of the ’Five Hindrances’ to enlightenment. Calvinism teaches that freedom is “the ability to act according to your desires”. Furthermore, it teaches that the will “always chooses according to its greatest desire”. If you have no desire for something, you simply will not choose it. In Catholic circles, desire and need are widely discussed and quickly related to sexuality. Materialistic desire for example, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, denies the existence of both deities and ‘souls’. Materialism is therefore incompatible with most world religions including Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
The wide variety of people on this planet makes for a wide range of opinions. Sometimes based on culture and tradition, sometimes based on current values, the matter of ‘wanting’ or ‘desiring’ can be interpreted in many ways.
To ‘desire’ simply means wanting something very much. Our modern culture doesn’t attach moral judgment to ‘desire’. On the contrary, desire in the romantic sense is celebrated in music, art and literature. A desire for material possessions is encouraged, and not just through advertising. People who have earned wealth and the possessions that go with it are held up as role models. The old Calvinist notion that wealth accrues to people who are worthy of it still clanks about in our collective cultural psyche and conditions how we think about wealth. Desiring things isn’t ‘greedy’ if we feel we deserve those things. The problem comes when people get addicted to it.
The English word ‘greed’ is usually defined as attempting to possess more than we need or deserve, especially at the expense of others. We’re taught from childhood that we shouldn’t be greedy. Webster tells us the meaning of ‘desire’: “The natural longing to possess any seeming good; eager wish to obtain or enjoy, or in its abnormal or degenerate sense: “excessive or morbid longing; lust; appetite.”
Many use the word ‘desire’ in the sense of an unworthy longing or craving, instead of in the true sense of ‘aspiration’. There is no sense in endeavouring to escape the fact that desire is the natural and universal impulse toward action, regardless if the action is good or bad. Without desire our will does not spring into action, and nothing is accomplished.
And if you ever doubt why you would want to strive for something, it is good to know that being good at one carefully chosen path offers the greatest pleasure and fulfilment we can ever imagine.
Is it so that we get hooked on desire or is it a tool to get the energy out of our will? It all depends how well you can manage this drive to accomplish what we dream of or what we aim for. In itself, that is surely not a bad trait. We just need to know that there is a big difference between channelling a full flow of energy towards positive goal achievement and losing yourself in a wild outburst of a sudden midlife crisis (or man-o-pause as I once heard). If you are doubtful that fulfilling your desires will add to the happiness of you and your close relatives and friends, you must first find answers to that question. It is always a good idea to talk it over with the parties who will become part of the process. Discuss the intricate reasons why you have this urge to follow your passion. Maybe you are not a talker and find it hard to make it clear what you have in mind? Write it down and present it that way, but you will quickly understand that you may find extra support when the reasons for your actions are well lay out.
If you think that none of your secret desires is worth talking about because you fear rejection or you hear comments like “are you crazy?”, it is good to know that man cannot and should not be desire-less. It is ok to crave! It enriches our lives so that we can truly feel alive and burn with desire. Desire is the motivating power behind everything we do – it is a natural law of life. Desire is the motivating force that runs the world. Look around you and see the effects of desire in every human act. In order to achieve a mental state in which we consider all things as attainable we must admit that we ‘can’ because we want.
You may have heard of the ‘marshmallow test’, the legendary experiment on self-control that Mr Mischel invented nearly 50 years ago. He invited a multitude of 5-year-olds to sit at a table with cookies on it (the kids could pick their own treats). If they resisted eating anything for 15 minutes, they would get two cookies; otherwise they just get one.
Famously, preschoolers who waited the longest for the marshmallow went on to have better high school results than the ones who couldn’t wait. In later years they were thinner, earned more advanced degrees, used less cocaine, and coped better with stress.
When we, anxious parents would choose to time our kids in front of treats, we would be missing a key finding of willpower research: whether you eat the marshmallow at age 5 isn’t your destiny. Self-control can be taught and practised. Grown-ups can use it to tackle the burning issues of modern middle-class life: how to go to bed earlier, not check email obsessively, stop yelling at our children and spouses, and eat less bread. Poor kids need self-control skills if they’re going to catch up at school. The children who succeed to turn their backs on the cookie, push it away, pretend it’s something non-edible like a piece of wood, or invent a song. Instead of staring down the cookie, they transform it into something with less of a throbbing pull on them.
Adults can use similar methods of distraction and distancing. Don’t eye the basket of bread; just take it off the table. In moments of emotional distress, imagine that you’re viewing yourself from outside, or consider what someone else would do in your place. When a waiter offers chocolate mousse, imagine that a cockroach has just crawled across it.
“If you change how you think about it, its impact on what you feel and do changes,”
There are two warring parts of the brain: a hot part demanding immediate gratification (the limbic system), and a cool, goal- oriented part (the prefrontal cortex). The secret of self-control, Mischel explained, is to train the prefrontal cortex to kick in first.
Self-control alone doesn’t guarantee success. People also need a ‘burning goal’ that gives them a reason to activate these skills. Would it not be great to be like Walter Mischel? At 84, instead of slowing down, he’s preparing for his American book tour and fielding questions from Polish journalists. The secret seems to come straight from the marshmallow test: distraction. “It’s to keep living in a way one wants to live and work; to distract constructively; to distract in ways that are in themselves satisfying; to do things that are intrinsically gratifying,” Mr Mischel says.
Passion is a practical necessity. Nothing brings out hidden qualities like passion does. It is a driving force of heart and soul. It engages your excitement for activities that matter most to you and that lead to inner happiness. Passion is also easily recognisable by the sheer realisation that you lose track of time because whatever hard work you are doing, it does not feel like it; you have transcended the innate resistance to hard work.
Suddenly, you are walking around with the biggest grin on your face because you are making the most of your current capabilities while embracing something that is very close to your heart. Just thinking about that private bubble of energising interest puts a spring in your step, a sparkle in your eyes and gives you a point of focus like no other. Pursuing your passions – even in small doses – here and there each day, also encourages you to develop new ones and that keeps you feeling younger throughout life.
We all have an innate desire to be the best we can be. We want to discover our limits and push, maximize these limits. But for some, this ambition remains in the waiting chamber and the older we get, the more we file that desire in a place where dreams are labelled as ‘non-reality’. Maybe some of us romanticise the goals we seek, seeing only the end and not the whole process. We must honestly ask ourselves if we have the practical commodities of time, financial means and intellectual expertise, desire and unwavering commitment. We must create our most powerful ally: will.
Everytime I am out on a polar expedition and after a solid night’s rest, I look at the thermometer to see temperatures of minus 30°C or lower, I know what’s ahead. The inside of the tent is laden with frozen moisture that will fall on you with the slightest movement of the canvas, the shock of coming out of the relative warmth of your down cocoon is horrendous and the assault of deep cold stops any desire to perform. How do I get out my sleeping bag, knowing that I will be attacked by immense cold? I have only two options: stay within the safety of the warmth of the sleeping bag, or get out. What makes me manifest my will? Clearly I must choose for the second choice. But again, there are two choices: HOW, IN WHAT STATE OF MIND do I get up? I can internally moan and groan and pity myself while opening the zipper of the sleeping bag and even get a little aggressive with the zipper that is frozen shut with the crystallised moisture of my breath, or … I can look forward to the privilege of seeing the wonders of the frozen parts of our planet. I can let myself be torn between the two choices contemplating pros and cons, let indecision play ping pong with my mind… Eventually, I know that I will be forced to get up because there simply is no option. What a waste of time it is to let temptation to fight off the inevitable! I know why I have to get up and pride myself for being stronger than the elements that would keep me in bed or would lure me in the tug-of-war of yes/no.
In the beginning of my polar career, I still had to find out how I could find a solution to not give in to the easy way, giving in to my weaknesses. Soon enough, though, I would learn to anticipate these situations and I developed my pump-me-up-monologues. It progressed from calling myself a weakling to patting myself on the back for graciously crawling out of my sleeping bag to finally not even thinking about it anymore and being amazed that it had become such a routine. When the time had come to wake up and get out of my sleeping bag, I knew that I would be attacked by immense cold. I actually only had two options: stay within the safety of the warmth of the sleeping bag, or get out. In the beginning, I let myself be torn like a yo-yo between the two choices but there was clearly just one option if I wanted to progress that day. What also helped me being firm in ‘just doing it’, was the realisation of letting myself waste time and energy in my inability or unwillingness to even consider not getting out the sleeping bag. The short moment of ‘let’s go’ is so much easier than ‘let’s wait a little longer’. Transforming desire into will can be trained by choosing the difficult route and not just accepting the easy way out. This is something we can all do personally as we do not all feel difficulty in the same manner. The more we practise dealing with our normal reaction of rejecting difficulty, the easier we will go into autopilot and acceptance of difficulty. This way, we will develop a talent to go beyond pain, discomfort or even boredom.
When we learn of extraordinary achievements or performances by young children who have been guided by ambitious and success-hungry adults, all we see is the result of a childhood packed with practice schedules and pretty much deprived of careless and innocent play. Is that a crime and should we go out on the street to protest this hidden form of child labour? The only thing we see bubbling to the surface is the glamour of shiny Olympic medals hung round the necks of tiny gymnasts. For every champion, however, there are thousands of others who did not make it to the top but they also needed to endure the endless and gruelling early morning training or refuse the doughnut on the very rare occasion that they get to go out with their illusive friends. The incredible performances by these young gymnasts, however, are not just the result of being the son or daughter of mum or dad who were gymnasts themselves. They were not born with specific genes allowing them to do double or triple somersaults on tiny ledges. DNA research on the matter has so far to come up with any proof that there might be the slightest influence of whatever flesh and bones you inherit from your parents.
Jeff Colvin writes in his book ‘Talent is overrated’ that “there is a crucial role of environmental influences such as motivational climate, parental influence, upbringing, and exposure to tough environments (competitive) in the development of mental toughness.”
Many of the top performers were ‘helped’ by their parents from a very early age, either by the simple nature of being in the parents’ inspirational environment, or by the desire of the parents to see their child excel.
Let’s even imagine that you are born with a talent and that you can perform just a little easier than your peers, it surely does not mean that you will become a high achiever. Even with a head start, without going through the daily grind, there is no way that your joker will pay your way to the top.
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