Fiction Versus Reality – An Important Athlete Lesson

by | Mar 7, 2024 | Mindset

I read a lot of fiction. A lot of it is very cheesy. And without getting too deep into it, one of my favorite authors not only owns a bookstore in a small town, she’s used that bookstore (and the couple other businesses she owns) as settings for a couple of her books. Books that I love so much that when I realized we’d be passing close by to this town on our recent trip from NC to NJ, I begged Peter to make a stop, so I could see it IRL. Great guy that he is, he agreed, and we stopped. I wish I could say that the bookshop was everything I wanted it to be, and more. But I was sorely disappointed when I walked into this bookshop with the fictional bookshop description playing in my head. The shop was… fine. But it definitely wasn’t amazing. It wasn’t a destination. I didn’t want to stay for hours. I didn’t have meaningful conversations with a charming shop clerk.

If I’m being honest, it was a huge letdown. I told Peter, as we got back in the car, “I almost wish it didn’t exist.” It’s the whole “if you’re not going to do something well, why do it at all?” thing. (Especially true when you know that the person who owns said bookstore has millions upon millions in book royalties to fund said business.

Now, this may not sound like it has anything to do with you, an athlete. Why would a description of a bookshop in a book not being the same as the IRL bookstore matter? But hear me out: As athletes, we have visions of who we think we should be, what we think we should look like, how we think we should train, how we think we should race, how we think post-race will feel… And so often, we don’t live up to our own hype. Even when a race goes well, we rarely have the magical finish line experience we dreamed of. (More often, you’re exhausted, soaked in sweat and sports drink, your gut is grumpy, your legs are cramped, and while your family is proud of you, they’re also ready to get the heck home.)

We talk all the time about Instagram being the highlight reel and blame it for our feelings of FOMO, but what about your own imagination? Yes, our athlete imagination can set us up for serious disappointment, even when we hit the result that we were hoping for. We’re so darn good at visualization—and to an extent, visualization is great!—that it can end up leaving us in a constant state of ‘well, what now?’

There’s a fine line between envisioning something great and using visualization, but then not being disappointed when reality sets in. I think the solution, from an athletic standpoint, is to visualize… But try for a bit more reality in those visions. This is different than the similar advice of ‘visualize everything that can go wrong and how you’d handle it.’ That’s also a good idea to practice, but I’m talking about the initial visualization where you picture yourself having the best race ever, or crushing a workout. Maybe throw a dirty sock or crying kid into that vision somewhere. Inject a little reality. That way, when the day comes, you’re not as disheartened by the all-too-real finish line scenario.

The same applies to day to day stuff. I talk about this with my morning yoga practice all the time. I used to have this vision of me waking up (effortlessly, looking fabulous) and doing my yoga outside in the sun, meditating as I practiced. That vision looks great in my head, but in reality? It’s way less appealing than what I actually do, which is roll out of bed, put on a cheesy show that I love (currently re-watching Frasier, as per usual) and enjoying 15 minutes of a sitcom while I do my yoga routine. Zen? Not really. Instagram-perfect? Hardly. But I rarely ever miss a day.

Reality is messy and not nearly as beautifully designed as the stories we can build in our minds. Imagination is great—but if you let it ruin the moment when you do hit a goal, or you let it keep you from getting your training done because your setup isn’t quite right, or you let it make you feel less-than… That’s when it becomes a problem and it’s time for a reality check. Life isn’t a cheesy novel—and your athletic life isn’t a training montage.



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