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Traci L. Stanard, CPT-NSCA, CWC Headshot

'Balance Is for the Beam, Focus Is for Life'

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Have you ever been stuck in a rut, suffering from burnout or just plain blue? As we fall in and out of ruts throughout life we either attempt the irrational "man up" method or, worse, just wallow in self-pity. But what if there was a way for you to pull yourself out of your ruts, drug-free and with your life goals in mind? Writing your own personal mission statement is one way to rescue yourself from the deeper divots in life -- a process so powerful, yet often overlooked.

I am not an advocate of society's endless search for "balance." Instead, I emphasize "focus." In my 16 years as an elite gymnast, I evolved from trying to balance gymnastics and the rest of my life, to realizing that I should instead focus on my goal: the 1992 Olympics. I realized at a very young age that balance is for the beam and focus is for life.

At 14 years old, I was ready to retire from the sport. I was done with risking my body and attempting on a daily basis to squash my fear of injury. I spent 35 hours in a gym every week. But on the eve of my "I am going to quit" speech to my coach, my older brother came over for dinner. Eleven years my senior, he had very little involvement in my daily endeavors. But for some reason, catching wind of the "I'm quitting" conversation sparked a nerve.

"Quit? Really? Let me ask you something first." He reached over the table and flipped open the local newspaper to the sports section. "You can quit. You can join the local tennis team and get your name in the paper. Great. Or..." he said, as he walked over to my parent's cabinet and pulled out a Wheaties box, "you could have your picture on this."

I was pissed. How could he be so rude? I had put so much time and effort into the thought of quitting and... that was just it. I had put too much time, actually all my time, into preparing to quit. I had overlooked the fact that I had a chance to achieve something huge: national status, national team and maybe even the Olympics.

I slowly realized that I was talented and needed to go with my strength. Even though I longed for the "balance" of a social life and the freedom of every other teen at the mall, it wasn't really me. I had a focus, I had a dream -- and I had lost sight of it. Even at 14, I realized that society convinces you that "balance" is everything. The questions of, "Don't you want a normal life?" or, "Do you ever get sick of the gym?" Had caused me to lose sight of what made me whole -- moving my body through the air and entertaining others with my rhythm and poise. And I really loved the structure and routine of the sport.

Today I use the same process I used then to pull myself out of the "hole" idea of quitting. It's not about an endless search for balance -- balance is in the process, but it's not the goal. If I were to throw a skill on the balance beam, checking to see if I were on balance throughout, I am guaranteed to fall. On the contrary, if I throw the skill with all-out effort to nail it, then I just might succeed. Single-minded focus gets the job done.

This was the first stage of my mission strategy -- helping me clarify a path to Barcelona. Take the opportunity test the process and see for yourself the smooth path it creates.

1. State a long-term mission.

Mine was the 1992 US Olympic Gymnastics Team. Considering I was ranked 32nd in the country in 1991, this was a far cry from the "super six" chosen for Barcelona.

2. Write it down.

I not only wrote it down, I posted Barcelona paraphernalia everywhere. I lived and breathed the flame and the rings. I created visual images of my path to success: posters, books, encouraging notes, etc.

3. Decide the elements you need to accomplish it.

I didn't do this alone. I contacted an amazing sport psychologist, Diana Mcnab, and I had a mother that made herself available to chauffeur, make appointments and think outside the box. She researched cutting-edge strategies for athletes including diet, nutrition and massage. These
elements were an integral part of my success.

In summary, your personal mission statement is the basis of the Alchemist's Story and the secret of "The Secret." According to Akao's Hoshin Method, your life's purpose is to map such a vision. Certain religions believe self-expression brings you closer to God, and that spiritual guidance leads us along the path to fulfilling our mission. You are therefore synonymous with your mission, what you stand for and what you are working toward every minute of every day. And if we align with our mission and it remains clear in our mind, we will live free of confusion and stress. Everything we do will have a purpose and will result in a feeling of accomplishment. And if we veer from our mission, but remember what it is, our path will remain available for us to step back onto and pick up where we left off.

At this point you're thinking: Great, I will try it, but did she make the team?!

The answer is no. But I made it to the Olympic Trials and accomplished a short-term goal that
made it the trip of a lifetime: I hit every routine in the competition, eventually ranking as the 8th gymnast in the country for some time following the Games. Most importantly, I learned that whatever your struggle may be, society is going to put a label on it and give you the fast and/or popular cure -- medication, emphasizing balance and so forth. But none of that will work until you define your focus -- your mission -- and where you want it to take you. A mind in motion stays in motion if it has a goal to work toward.

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