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Performance based success VS Outcome based success written by Kyle Shewfelt

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The other night I was laying in bed and I had one of those panicked reality check moments. I often get them when I think about the fact that I will actually die one day, but in this instance it was about my Olympic experience in 2004 and how a different outcome could have drastically changed where my life and career are today.

At those Games, I delivered the BEST routine of my life and it just so happened to coincide with the moment where it mattered the most. As I stepped off the floor at the conclusion of my routine, I felt an overwhelming sense of satisfaction…and I didn’t even need to know my score or the final result.

I’ve heard many other athletes talk about the rush they got when their performance was finished and they knew that they had left it all on the floor/hill/pool/mat, etc. It’s a very raw sense of emotion that comes from deep within. If you can feel content when you do that gut check before you see your time/your score/your placing, then you know you’ve achieved success.

The truth is, we have absolutely no control over the outcomes in our lives. I think the realization of this is why I had my panic moment the other night. As much as we try to be in charge of how things turn out, we can only be responsible for ensuring we deliver our best performance. The reality is that a best performance doesn’t necessarily guarantee the outcome or result we seek. 

In my particular instance at the 2004 Games, I could have done the exact same routine on that day in Athens and ended up in fifth place. Another athlete could have been better or the judges could have seen someone as better on that day. The outcome was completely out of my hands. I did have complete control over the performance though - both the way I prepared for it and the way I showed up both physically and mentally on the day.

As an athlete, I always tried to set performance based goals. I would break down my routines to the subtlest of movements and create some really specific cues and expectations for each. I narrowed my focus to the simplest of measurable such as the way I landed, the way I pointed my toes or the way my leg form would be impeccable on my splits. It was the possible outcome, chasing the title of best in the world that drove me to get up in the morning, but it was the focus on preparing and perfecting the details of that ‘best performance’ that kept me feeling in control.

I can remember being at the 2002 World Championships in Debrecen, Hungary and being laser focused on the fact that I might be able to call myself a ‘World Champion’ at the end of my routine. Obsessing about that outcome in the moments before my routine completely took my focus away from actual performance I needed to deliver in order to get there. I eventually ended up mistiming the third skill in my routine and staring at the audience from my arse in the middle of the floor. I was shocked and embarrassed, but also very humbled. As I walked off the floor with my head hanging low, my coach asked me what I was thinking about before the routine. I told him, “I was thinking about becoming Canada’s first World Champion”. He looked at me and said, “Perhaps you should have been thinking about the timing of your first pass and where your arms needed to be right before the take off on your third skill.” Touché. 

As you approach your personal and fitness goals, I encourage you to avoid being obsessed with the outcome or result. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you have no control over it. You do, however, have complete say in the way you prepare and the way you deliver your personal performance. Focus on what that might feel like if it were at its peak. How would the routine or race unfold? If you were to produce it in a way that you could walk away and know you couldn’t have done anything more, would you leave satisfied? What if the outcome didn’t match what you had imagined? Would it still have been worth it?

Success can be defined in so many different ways. I’ve found that the best way to walk through life feeling a sense of control and contentment is to base ones happiness on the performance and not the outcome.  

After my initial sense of panic about where my life would be if I had not won Gold that evening in Athens, I quickly settled in to the fact that I would be exactly where I was meant to be. I left everything I had out on the floor and at the end of the routine, I had no regrets. Looking back, the purest sense of emotion I felt that day was as I embraced my coach. We both knew that I couldn’t have done a better routine. That moment felt more satisfying than standing on the podium. And it was because it came from within.  
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About this Expert

Kyle Shewfelt is a Canadian gymnast who was competing on an international stage when he was only 16.  His Gold Medal in the men's floor exercise competition at the 2004 Games in Athens was the first medal ever won by a Canadian in an artistic gymnastics event, and was the first Canadian gold of the 2004 Olympics.  He even has a gymnastic vault named after him.

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