It was probably in 1996 or so that I was first asked to coach an athlete.
"You don't study the science. You weren't raised to be an athlete. And you act like everything is a joke," someone observed. "So you must know something else to get your results. What is it? Tell me."
But all I could say was: "You probably won't be expecting what I can share with you, and may even like less what I could suggest."
My own work boiled down not to a knowledge=base or a rote practice, but rather a spiritual concept: gratitude. Simply figuring out how to feel thankful and appreciate whatever I had been given was what created remarkable results then, and continues to motivate my work today. Above all information and more than any program, being grateful has produced more "results" towards betterment than any other tool I have yet experienced.
Yet how is this even practical? You really can't just tell an athlete to "Go say thanks a lot" and expect their pecs to grow, their presses to double in weight and their energy to increase beyond their expectations.
Or can you?
Telling that first athlete to "practice saying thank you as many times a day as you can" was actually one of the first coaching efforts I ever put in. I told him to write lists of gratitude down. I told him to say thank you after every encounter with other people. And most importantly, to say thanks even when he was all by himself. Thanks for this lettuce. Thanks for the strength to move this weight. Thanks for the failure under the bar. Thanks for the sleep i just got. Thanks, thank and thanks.
The practice of gratitude is more important than the practice of exercise or diet. A mind that is always thinking "thanks" is often embodied in a person who will push a little further, adhere better to discipline and be more open to information. Being grateful is to be welcoming; and if you can welcome the hard stuff imagine how much easier your work will be.
Too often we get hung up on what we didn't get done, what we dislike and what needs improvement. All these observations do is keep our minds focused on problems, and that sort of mind is closed off to the endless possibilities out here. Yet if we start being a "thank-you machine," we find our ability to learn and observe becomes far sharper. The openness of a grateful mind is so vast that all the ideas and information can easily enter and emerge as practical, useful programs of disciplined work.
Likewise, gratitude diminishes resentments. Gratitude prevents the sensation that work is a chore because we have taught ourselves to be pleased with it. And those things we can not accomplish do not become frustrations as easily; the little defeats roll off our back, and the big defeats become exciting learning opportunities – simply because we found ourselves automatically saying "thanks for that."
Training your ability to be grateful will be the most profound and long-lasting tool in your armada. It produces a mind that is able to understand more and a body that is willing to handle more. Yes it seems oversimplified in a way, but aren't the simple solutions often the most profoundly useful? Not to mention, simpler is easier to remember, and easier to resume if one falls off.
Make it practical. As I told those early athletes, take time each day – gratefully – to write down a list of 5 or so things you are grateful for. Keep them simple when you get stumped: I'm grateful for just having a bed in a world which does not guarantee a home; thanks for the ability to write this list even though my mood is low; I'm grateful for this challenging day being over. There will be other days where so much cool shit goes down that your list will be remarkable, and days that are so forgettable that you are bumbling for simple thanks. But keep it up; your mind will slowly get trained with the attitude.
One unique practical thing I have often done is quietly say thank-you under my breath in the gym after each set. Even if I screw up a lift, I silently breathe "thank you" before cussing and frowning. Even in the midst of a very challenging act I find my brain on an auto-loop screaming inside my head: "THANK YOU! THIS SUCKS! BUT THANK YOU FOR THE WILLINGNESS TO TRY!"
There are dozens of other practical ways to train your thanks, I'm sure. But the practice ought be taken rather seriously. Discipline with gratitude is what will bring discipline towards other work.
So, thanks for reading.