If you are not a competitive athlete you may not be familiar with the term DNF. Well, I got one this last weekend. If you don’t know what it is, let me give you a little hint. It’s not a medal!
Most of my regular readers know that I’m an Ironman triathlete and I’m passionate about the sport for many reasons. I’ve researched and interviewed many Ironman athletes to find out what makes them tick…and what makes them successful. I’ve boiled this winning formula down to ten key elements and I’m going to discuss a few of those as it relates to my DNF.
Let me first start by giving you the definition of DNF. It means Did Not Finish. For many people, that would be the end of their world. I’ve seen some really sad displays of emotion when this happens. Many people train for months or even years to be able to compete in an event of this type. When things don’t go the way they plan, it can be very emotional. Some might even characterize it as emotionally devastating.
Reframing the Situation
I’m of a different mindset. Sure I’m disappointed and I would have preferred to finish. But this was the call that I voluntarily made. I think every experience in life is valuable and I can say with complete honesty that I’m glad I had the one that I did.
Why? Because I made this call, I got to learn something about myself, I got to encourage other people that experienced the same disappointment as me, and I got to watch my two friends cross the finish line. In retrospect, what I gained from the DNF was of far greater value to me personally than if I had another medal to display in my office.
Allow me to give you a little background. I’m in my heavy busy season and there is a lot of air travel involved. I had just spent a week away seeing customers and before returning home, I got on a plane and flew 2000 miles to do this race. I arrived in San Diego, which by the way is a really beautiful city, and checked in for the race.
Following race check-in, I proceeded to drive almost five hours round trip to meet with a business associate. When I returned to my hotel, I was able to squeeze in four hours of sleep before race day. It would be foolish of me if I did not admit that I was physically and mentally exhausted. And, in my perfect 20/20 hindsight, I probably never should have signed up for the race to begin with as I knew I had a lot on my plate.
That my friends is the first lesson. I bit off more than I could chew. From a training perspective, my coach did a stellar job getting me ready. Her plan was sound and all the training leading up to the race was perfectly tailored for me to have a successful and enjoyable race day. And then I screwed it all up!
Here’s what happened. I had a great swim in very rough water and a fast bike start for the first 34 miles. But I quickly hit the wall and I realized that even though I could probably finish the race, I might pay a heavy price. So, I analyzed the current situation and I made a decision.
In my decision-making process, I had to take into account the fact I was going to fly home to sleep in my bed for a few hours and then leave the next morning for two weeks on another business trip. I made a call, and that was to “pack it in.”
This decision was based on what I know about my body. Though I do not get sick often, when I do, I usually experience some serious respiratory issue. I felt I was possibly at risk and I couldn’t afford to compromise my upcoming business meetings as well as my first college parent’s weekend for my freshman daughter.
Again, I admit that I was disappointed. But I think of a famous line from one of the 1980’s Dirty Harry movies.
“A man has to know his limitations.”
Wow! I found mine in this instance.
Knowing Your Limitations
If you have ever made this mistake of thinking that you could accomplish more than was reasonable you’ll understand what happened. First, let me state that there is nothing shameful about knowing your limitations. We all have them. And, the person that recognizes them and can use that knowledge to create success in their lives, instead of self-doubt, will enjoy greater happiness and more positive outcomes.
I don’t just think this. I know this first hand and anyone can apply this simple process of experiencing, learning, adjusting, and growing to their lives. If you understand positive framing of life’s experiences, your non-successes can be used as building blocks for greater accomplishments in life. In fact, I’d argue that it is these experiences, though sometimes unpleasant, are of the greatest value.
I am extremely fortunate to be able to share my study into human potential as well as my experiences as a businessman and Ironman competitor with other like-minded people. My research into the success elements of an Ironman has enabled me to identify ten critical elements (10 IronMan Mind Elements) that are shared not only by Ironman athletes but also by the most successful individuals in their fields.
Elements of Success
It is important for me to note that these elements are not mutually exclusive. One element could have bearing on another and it is up to the individual to interpret how to best apply them to their lives. I’m going to share with you my perspective on a few of those elements as it relates to my DNF race experience.
The very first element is determined.
A person with an IronMan Mindset is determined. They never give up. They would rather die than quit. They believe that the sacrifice of preparation always pays off and the reward is always within reach.
Hmmm…so by that definition, the most logical first question is how could I have the IronMan Mindset if I voluntarily DNF’d? My answer is that it all depends on how you interpret this precept. First, there is the issue of the individual intent. They would “rather” die than quit.
Depending on the situation, taken literally, some people might actually choose to die! I’ve seen people push themselves in these races to the point of hospitalization. I guess it is all a matter of perspective of the breadth of your life and what is important to you. I can’t make a judgment on an individual’s choice to push themselves to this point. But, I can’t see anything in my life that would put it as a #1 priority.
The second key issue is your definition of reward. Again, this will differ by individual. Many people are geared towards instant gratification and they are inflexible and sometimes inpatient as to the rewards they seek. For me personally, I used the IronMan Mind element of “insightful” (which I’ll talk about next) to balance the element of “determined.”
My choice to DNF was not based on any injury or any pain I was feeling. In fact, I would have probably pushed through those issues. This wasn’t my first race and I’ve experienced significant physical challenges during full Ironman races and used mental fortitude to overcome them. In this particular instance, I was taking into account the bigger picture in my life.
When it comes to rewards, the experience I had was a much greater reward than a piece of metal attached to a ribbon. And, I’ve committed to returning next year (under less stressful conditions) to participate again and get that medal! The particular reward of finishing a race and getting that recognition medal will come for me, but it will just be delayed.
For me, that’s what not quitting is about. If I never went back to do the race again, that would be quitting in my mind. Again, this precept will have a different meaning for different people. I don’t believe that there a right or wrong except for not to use it in your life as it suits you best.
The second IronMan Mind success element that I want to explore is insightful.
A person with an IronMan Mind is able to see the big picture and realize that failure, pain, and disappointment are all part of the process. They relish struggle. They know that life contains all elements of emotion and one must experience them all in order to fully appreciate their meaning. They realize that life is greater than anyone particular moment in time and are able to step back from a situation and make an assessment of where it fits in the grander scheme of life.
Being able to put this particular instance into a perspective of my larger life was a key factor in my decision to terminate my participation in the race. Again, my decision was a weighting of what I felt was most important in my life and where my priorities were. I had to look at my current condition and make a decision as to what the best course of action was. My decision was not one of emotion as I had plenty of time over eight miles of my final bike ride to consider the consequences.
I always analyze my decisions after the fact. But I never regret them. To do that would be a waste of time. We can only learn from our experiences and use that knowledge to shape the direction of decisions we might make in similar future circumstances.
Whenever you are faced with a change in plans because of an unexpected occurrence, take the time to consider your next steps. Don’t make a rash decision and once it has been made, don’t regret it. Move forward with a positive attitude and make the best that you can from it.
The final IronMan Mind element I’d like to share is benevolence.
A person with an Ironman Mindset has a high level of awareness of their surrounding environment and are helpful, kind, and encouraging to others in need.
After I turned in my race timing chip to the Ironman officials, I walked the run course to find my friends who were participating and also watch the other competitors. I saw a woman sitting on the curb quietly sobbing. I also saw that she had a participant wristband on and figured she had also DNF’d. As I walked over to her she looked up and saw my wristband and knew I was in a similar situation. I sat down next to her and it wasn’t more than minute before she really broke down and just let it out. I guess she was just waiting for someone to share how she felt.
This wasn’t her first race either. She told me it was her tenth Ironman and nothing like this had ever happened to her before. I think because I had also just experienced the disappointment I could be truly empathetic to her situation.
We talked about IronMan Mind principals and she vowed to return next year and conquer the thing that held her back. Honestly, I feel blessed to have been able to have my experience help to comfort another and act as a catalyst for us to talk how to reframe success, learn, and spend the rest of the day with an optimistic viewpoint. I’ll never forget how this made me feel and it was truly one of the rewards that I can take with me wherever I go in life.
Did Not Fail
I think DNF really stands for Did Not Fail. Because you never fail if you don’t give up. Sure, I gave up my chance to finish this particular race and get a cool medal for something I felt was more important. I chose self-preservation over doing something that I believed could possibly be detrimental to myself. And now, I stay mentally and physically healthy to continue this race called life.
There will be some that will agree with my actions and some that will not. The most important thing for you to consider when you are faced with temporarily deviating from your goals is that this is your race; no one else’s. You alone earn the right to determine your future and how you decide to frame your life. Is it Did Not Finish or Did Not Fail? Let me know what you think in the comments section below.
“Create Unstoppable Success!”
Dr. Richard B. Greene, DBA, SSBB, CMPE
Speaker, Author, IronMan Mind Business Coach
© Copyright 2017 Amplifier, LLC.
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Dr. Richard B. Greene is an International Speaker, Best-Selling Author, and Executive Business Coach who helps business executives get to the next level in business, their careers, and their personal lives. Through his IronMan Mind acceleration program, he offers one-on-one coaching, group coaching, live seminars and do-it-yourself development products to significantly increase levels of personal and business success. He’s been featured on radio shows and various new sites including KVCG Radio, The Miami-Herald, The Denver Post, Wall Street Select, Financial News Today, Fox, and ABC. Go online now to get free access to his acclaimed book, www.PeakPerformerBook.com.Read More