Are you really surprised that Bode Miller has begun this Olympic season with such success? Three World Cup podiums to start off the season? In one way, I am really surprised, while in another way, I’m not at all surprised.
I’m surprised for several reasons. First, Miller is not—at least by ski racing standards—a young man. Sure, there have been some great results by guys over 35 in recent years. At the same time, more than 15 years of pounding takes its toll. Second, he is returning from a major injury that caused him to miss the entire 2013 race season. So, while Bode was, for all intents and purposes, stagnating, the other guys on the circuit were training hard both on- and off-snow and continuing to develop. Third, life on the “White Circus” takes its toll psychologically and emotionally. Travel, living out of a suitcase, now being away from his children, and the fact that he is probably quite well off financially could easily have taken the edge off of his passion and determination.
I’m not surprised for several other reasons. First, Bode is Bode; he lives to the beat of a different drummer. That “I chose the road less traveled” quality of Miller makes him unpredictable. Second, as this great video highlights, he is driven by inspiration, an emotion that enables him to harness his prodigious talent and overcome many challenges in his career. Third, Bode has tremendous pride and wants to end his career with a flourish. Finally, Miller has the remarkable ability to rise to the occasion and ski his best when little is expected of him. It certainly happened in 2010 in Vancouver. And it certainly is happening as he approaches Sochi.
With the Sochi Games upon us, I wanted to share what I believe are five essential lessons we can learn from Bode Miller that have made him, well, Bode.
If you do what everyone else does, you’ll end up like everyone else. Bode is different because he thinks differently and does things differently. As he has noted, “uncommon methods prepare you for unexpected reactions…and because my habits are not typical, neither are my results.” The lesson from Bode is to figure out who you are and pursue your goals in a way that works best for you.
Recognize Your Flaws
Young athletes don’t like to admit they have flaws. Instead, they prefer to focus on their strengths. The problem with this approach is that, because your strengths are already strong, you limit yourself in how much you can improve. Says Miller, “It is because I am flawed that I continue to chase excellence.” He is constantly looking at his imperfections and looking for ways to improve on them. This approach makes much more sense because, weaknesses being weaknesses, they have much more room for improvement. And that great improvement is what will raise the level of your skiing to new heights.
Challenge Your Limits
When you accept your perceived limitations, you limit your dreams. Rather than setting a ceiling on his limits, Miller has always opened up the sky to those limits. “What are my limits? How far can I push them?” he asks. He knows that the only way to find out what his limits are is to cross them; his amazing recoveries over the years are a testament to this philosophy. Rather than setting limits on what is possible, open yourself up to what is possible and find out what is out there for you.
Be Driven by Inspiration
Miller has never been motivated by medals, fame, or wealth. He is driven by inspiration to ski his fastest regardless of the results. Bode knows that if he allows his inspiration to guide him, he cannot fail, even if the results suggest otherwise. The one time he lost touch with this drive was at the 2006 Torino Olympics. He was the face of the Games with Herculean expectations placed on him—however unrealistic—to win five gold medals. As he put it, “I was struggling with the obligations…when you’re in the spotlight.” And the results were predictable. He regained that inspiration at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver where he won a complete set of Olympic medals. And there’s little doubt that this inspiration is driving him toward the Sochi Olympics.
Surrender Your Mind to Your Body
Prior to the 2010 Games, Miller had planned on retiring and had trained little compared to his competitors. There were also no expectations on him from the media. Yet, he won three medals. “It was absolutely above and beyond what my ability should have allowed me to do at that moment,” he reflected. How did he do it? As Miller noted, “I surrendered certain parts of my ego and I was allowing my body to be more of a conduit for the collective energy that was there…I was in harmony.” His comment may sound a little New Agey, but it is grounded in a simple reality: Bode allowed his mind to step aside at that pinnacle moment and gave his body permission to do what it knew how to do so well, which was to ski free and ski fast. This approach of getting your mind out of the way of your ski racing is fundamental to skiing your best in the biggest races of your life.
Get a Life
The pursuit of ski racing dreams can require a single-mindedness of purpose. At the same time, that narrow existence can actually prevent you from achieving your most deeply held goals. Why? Because you are putting what has become your entire life on the line when you get in the starting gate, and that can create immense pressure that can ultimately sabotage your efforts. What Miller has learned since becoming a husband and father is that having a life outside of ski racing can actually improve his skiing by taking away that threat of losing his “life” if he doesn’t ski well. Yes, you can still be hugely committed to ski racing, but, as Miller suggests, “The balance outside of ski racing is important to me, feeling totally at peace and comfortable is really critical.” Knowing that your life isn’t on the line can liberate you to ski your fastest with freedom, joy and abandon and without hesitation, doubt or worry.
Ski racing is such an unforgiving and serendipitous sport that making predictions is an exercise in futility. Sure things turn out to be not so sure. And long shots somehow can sometimes win the day. When an Olympic Games rolls around, it seems like the unpredictability increases dramatically.
I’m no psychic and, as we know from the predictions you read in The National Enquirer, prognosticating is neither exact nor a science. At the same time, predicting Miller’s future may not be quite as haphazard as it might appear. There’s a saying in psychology that “the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.” Following that old truism but without making any specific medal predictions for Sochi, I will say two things. First, good things are going to happen for him. That may come in the form of medals, courageous skiing, or simply a gracious swan song of a remarkable athlete. Second, regardless of his results, Bode Miller will end his ski racing career (assuming he retires after this season) the same way that he started it and has lived it for the last 20 years: on his own terms and in his own manner, inspiring many of us along the way.
Now, Bode Miller, experience the Sochi Olympics with the credo that you have lived by your entire career: “Go fast, be good, have fun!”
Jim Taylor, Ph.D., competed internationally while skiing for Burke Mountain Academy, Middlebury College, and the University of Colorado. Over the last 25 years, he has worked with the U.S. and Japanese Ski Teams, many World Cup and Olympic racers, and several of the leading junior race programs in the U.S. and Canada. Jim is the author of Prime Ski Racing: Triumph of the Racer’s Mind, he publishes bi-monthly newsletters on sport, business, and parenting, and also blogs for huffingtonpost.com and psychologytoday.com. To learn more or to contact Jim, visit his website.