How a Fraction of a Second Counts

In about six months, millions of folk on planet Earth will be tuned into the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Millions will be engaged in watching this gathering of the world’s top-notch athletes who demonstrate incredible skill, strength, and tenacity.

One thing I recall about watching the Olympics is how close the top winners’ times can often be in the areas of running, skiing, swimming, etc. The difference between a gold and a silver medal is often just a second, or a fraction of a second. How stunningly close! I bet that some of the more competitive athletes who lose by a fraction of a second leave wondering what they could have done to give them just a smidgen of an edge above their competitors.

One thing is certain: a second or two faster can translate into a “win”. That extra second didn’t happen by chance; that little fraction of time holds months and years of training behind it. It’s like a glacier: you can see the tip (the winning second), but you don’t see the months and years of training that led up to the win (the massive block of ice underneath the surface of the sea).

What this highlights is the need to be consistent and disciplined over long periods of time when pursuing a particular goal. First, this type of long-term training requires a vision or a goal, and secondly, a commitment to that goal. Third, it requires daily discipline and practice.

It requires sacrifice: saying “no” to other activities. Saying “no” could translate into giving up fun, free time, or even other worthy pursuits. By choosing one activity, you are making a choice to say “no” to something else. It’s the economics, or weighing the “opportunity cost”, of choosing one pursuit over another. We make these kinds of decisions on a daily basis.

If we are competing in a physical sport, the results will be more obvious, especially if the results are timed, and the winners are the fastest. But what if the sport isn’t a physical one, but an academic one, such as competitive debate? In competitive debate, the variables are more complex, more subjective, which is all the more reason to be prepared for all the “known” variables.

I coach team policy debate students, and one thing I regularly remind the students is to keep re-evaluating and adjusting their goals, and to continuously develop a roadmap to achieve those goals.  If a team has achieved some success, it is not the time to relax and wait, like the hare in the old fable of The Tortoise and the Hare. If you sit, you’ll soon find your competitors surpassing you. Likewise, if a team feels more like the tortoise, it is wise to remember that “slow and steady wins the race”, and to choose to “not lose heart”.

In either scenario, neither the tortoise nor the hare has justification to sit and rest. Achieving a goal requires daily commitment, and often regularly sacrificing other activities. For example, a group of young people may choose to go to the movies a few nights before a big tournament. But the student who knows he has extra work to accomplish may choose to not attend the movies, and opt to work instead, hoping to gain an edge.

I am not at all advocating letting go of fun and recreation; on the contrary, many articles could be written on the benefits of including fun and relaxation into our lives- especially if that person is prone to over-working. The mental, physical, and emotional benefits of rest and relaxation are the topic of another article. :)

But the point here is that achieving one’s goals is a long-term pursuit, and requires persistence, patience, and consistency. There may be a few people who can squeeze by occasionally without trying hard, but eventually even those people will face a situation where they will have to apply these lessons.

Seeing results takes hard work, time, effort, patience, persistence, consistency. It requires sacrifice. The best way to to really experience this is by trying it, in any area of life that needs an extra push.

Go for it. Add that extra work to gain an extra “second” to your particular area of pursuit… and see where it takes you!

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