The summer Olympics of 2012 have launched and we watched in amazement as Michael Phelps lost his signature event and his rival and compatriot, Ryan Lochte won the gold. And then we watched as Michale came back to win, over all, 21 medals, 17 of those Gold. How does this happen? Well, I’m certain we will hear a multitude of reasons and we won’t know which is correct. But this thing of excellence, what is it really all about?
We’ve talked a lot in this blog about authenticity, what it is and what it isn’t, but I find that many people don’t really understand it. We tend to think that it has to do with rebelling against the norm or the status quo. Or that it only shows itself through some kind of specialness—that only the special people can really be authentic. But neither of those things are true.
Authenticity is the bottom-line essence of who we are. It is not the sum total of all of our behaviors, thoughts, feelings and beliefs, for those can come from all kinds of things other than authenticity. We can internalize others’ beliefs, for example. We can pick up behaviors by imitating others. We can decide on our opinions based on what seems most popular. And we can even pick up other people’s feelings and think that they are ours. Further, our feelings often come from our many unoriginal thoughts.
So, sorting out the fine distinctions between what is real within us and what has been absorbed or identified with from the external world is one of the most important aspects of becoming authentic. And that is a process which involves learning to walk the inner terrain noticing the ferns and fauna, the rocks, berries and fruits along the way. We will learn to distinguish a desire from a should, an authentic desire from one which is related to fear, an intuition from a fear, a feeling from a thought, a thought from a belief, an original thought from an unoriginal one, and more. And this is work that requires that we spend time really doing the work of it. It doesn’t just happen. If we lived in a society that supported our authenticity, perhaps it would just happen as we grew up. But we do not, and what is supported is the donning and wearing of a mask and costume and the living out of its role—as we’ve seen from earlier blogs.
But we see some examples of authenticity in the excellence of performance at the Olympics. Some people call it “being in the zone.” It’s a state of real congruence in which the body, mind, heart, soul are all working together. So, if an Olympic athlete wins the gold—it is quite often because she’s moved into this zone in which all of her essential components are working in the same direction.
Most of us would think that all of our components are always working in the same direction, but that is far from true. Have you ever seen someone ball up his fists, grit his teeth and raise his voice in order to tell you that he’s not angry? That’s a good working image of a person whose components are split off from each other.
Or, if that Olympian were to run a race while thinking of a fight he had with his wife the night before, his mind is going one way and his legs are going another. Or, if his right arm is studying what to do about velocity, while his left arm is in league with his legs, then he is not congruent and it is likely to show.
When we are authentic, we are congruent. The mind, heart, body, soul are all working together and going in the same direction. And the recipient of any communication from this authentic person is going to feel that congruence. She might not know what to call it, but she knows it and she probably likes it. It feels to both the sender and receiver a little like coming home.
Though there are many experts out there today telling us that we attain excellence by living morally, working hard, and developing healthy habits, it is actually congruence that creates excellence—because when we are congruent, we are living into our truest and most capable selves—if only for a few moments.
We can learn to practice such congruence if we are willing and excellence will become our way of living.