PERFORM LIKE A RIVER

Nature is a great teacher of peak performance. If we allow ourselves to stop, take a moment, and pay attention, there is beauty and balance all around us.

In nature, whether it is a specific species, plant, organism, or animal – performance is all about finding a niche and playing to a specific strength – which is essential for survival.

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Inspired by the great outdoors recently, I’ve been thinking about the power of a river (I drive over a bridge that covers a river every day). Rivers are one of the most important elements for our eco system - from fresh water to drink, to carrying fish to eat, and supplying us with energy through dams and other sources of power...we couldn’t survive without rivers.

Aside from being the drainage system for the mountain snow, rivers have the perfect blend of untamed power and peaceful calmness. Rivers allow greatness and purpose to shape itself naturally. Put simply, a river flows. Conversely, as performers, we often times try to force the issue and block ourselves from just letting go and being in a state of “total release,” meaning no judgement or stress, but peaceful energy.

While processing this concept of getting out of our own way, I was brought back to my junior year in football at WSU. Though I was starting as a wide-receiver and punt returner, I was not as involved in the offense as I envisioned at the beginning of the season (that’s me below my junior year, wearing #83 celebrating my best friend and roommate Mark Baldwin’s touchdown).

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To cope, I would stay after practice and take extra reps for at least an hour. I tried to force the issue. This extra work didn’t seem to payoff either. I began to wear my body down. Head Coach Mike Price even said to me, “Collin, you don’t seem as fresh. I think you should rest after practice instead of taking all those extra reps.”

My obsession with perfection and forcing things to happen did not pay off.

I took a different approach my senior year and did my best to trust the process and let things happen naturally. With this strategy, it only took me six games to doubled my catch total versus the year before. I learned to ride the current (like a river) instead of forcing it. 

The purpose of this post is to inspire you to perform like a river. So how do you do that? Here’s how: by balancing the beautiful combination of making it happen and letting it happen. Whether you are an athlete, salesman, student, entrepreneur, leader, or stay at home mom, we are all called to perform in one way or another. So for all you performers out there, below are four ways to perform like a river.

1. A RIVER ATTACKS

A river is very disciplined. How it is designed, a river doesn’t have very many options either. It has one main focus and that is to attack and flow at anything in it’s direction. A river isn’t passive. If there is a rock it it’s way, it attacks. If there is a person in it’s way, it doesn’t slow down. A river never quits or gives up. Nothing will stop a river from reaching it’s goal (reaching the ocean). It will bend, flow, move, and alter it’s approach until it reaches its final destination.

Are you giving yourself multiple options and sabotaging your decision making ability by giving yourself an out? Be like a river and attack life and your goals with an unwavering force and belief. 

2. RIDE THE CURRENT

As I mentioned earlier, a river has a natural current that is very powerful. It won’t stop until it reaches the ocean. Part of a river’s power though is that it is not forced, but it allows it’s purpose to play out. This is a juxtaposition, but the beauty of a river is the perfect balance of attacking, while allowing the flow to rush naturally.

For example, when did forcing the issue on that girl you like ever work? It didn’t. Calling and texting her a million times a day to no avail. I gurentee, if you take a step back and have the confidence and patience to let it happen (as much as you want to make it happen...let her come to you), the chances of you landing the girl will significantly increase. Desperation is not a good look. 

I’m all about persistence, but energy is a natural process. It’s a balance between conviction and a sense of calm. 

When riding a horse, if the rider holds the reins too tight, the horse loses trust and the cowboy loses control. A light and faithful grip is where there is a synergy and natural flow.  

In peak performance, this is the holy grail of execution. It is the perfect blend of passion and peace that creates an out of body experience that pulls us similar to a river’s current. This is called being in a flow state. Flow means being “in the zone,” having no judgement, no sense of time, and harnessing effortless energy. (Below is a pic of my favorite River, Cougar legend and 2nd all time in receptions, River Cracraft)

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Many times, we are our own road block to this current of power called flow (like my own football example earlier). Our mind often sabotages peak performance by judging, comparing, and worrying about opinions of others. Here’s a statement that sums this hinderence up:

STAY IN YOUR HEAD, YOU’LL BE DEAD.  

Get out of your head and operate more in your heart. I’m encouraging you to spend as much time letting it happen as trying to make it happen. I’ll say this again to reiterate my point:

Peak performance is a balance between making it happen and letting it happen.  

This leads me to point number three...

3. SEEK PROGRESS NOT PERFECTION.

This concept has changed my life. I used to be so obsessed with outcomes and perfection that I often times would get in my own way. Listen, do you think a river gives a s#@% what others think? Heck no. Trust your training, instincts, abilities and ride the current of the moment. 

A huge hinderence of accessing the power of flow is worrying about failure. If you follow any river, there is always twist and turns; rough and smooth waters. A river is never a straight line...nor is success.

Instead of worrying about the past or future (or failure), try to be fully present in the moment. Don’t fight the current, ride the current. Saturate yourself with the sights, sounds, feelings, and energy of the moment. Allow yourself a brief minute or two to close your eyes, focus on your breath and feel the energy. If you take this approach of being completely in the now, I believe you’ll harness your own power of flow, and you’ll enjoy the beautiful ride of imperfection...which will in turn help you execute at a higher level. 

4. WHAT YOU DO IN THE DARK, SHINES BRIGHT IN THE LIGHT

Rivers are formed high above civilization in the lofty altitude of snowy mountains. No one is up there. A river’s origin often times goes unnoticed – similar to peak performance. The more snow that is created where no one is watching, the more powerful the flow will be. The more work, effort, and time you put into your craft (when no one is watching) the greater the chance of accessing this power of flow.

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This concept of planning, practicing with a purpose, and treating training with the same intensity as gameday (or giving a speech, taking a test, hosting a dinner, or creating a report), you’ll generate a more powerful current that you can simply enjoy, instead of fight.

We don’t rise to the occasion, we rise to our training.  

Build your current today. Put in the work behind the scenes, so you can ride the power of flow when it’s time to perform. This sense of release reminds me of the first time I caught a wave boogie boarding in Hawaii. I paddled like mad out from the beach and when the wave approached, I kicked as hard as I could to get in sync with the flow. When I caught it, I was able just just relax and carry it all the way to shore. That moment of riding the wave was so peaceful and exhilarating. Give this concept a try for your next big performance: prepare like crazy when no one is watching, so you can be calm when the lights are on.

In summary, feel the flow, and give this concept a try...just like a river:

  1. Attack life
  2. Let it happen as much as trying to make it happen
  3. Think progress not perfection  
  4. Develop a strong current through determined practice  

To help illustrate my point of trusting and letting it happen, watch this quick video of Obi Wan teaching Luke Skywalker on letting the power of the Force to run through him, without letting his conscience mind get in the way (fast forward to 2:20) 

Always remember to be present in the moment and ask yourself this question, How can I use the metephorical current of a river to be a vessel for something bigger then myself and to perform at my best?

In competition and in life, sometimes you just need to board the vessel and let it ride. 

I’ll close with a few lines with one of my favorite Garth Brook songs (The River) on the  beauty and power of a river.

Too many times we stand aside

And let the waters slip away

'Til what we put off 'til tomorrow

Has now become today

 So don't you sit upon the shoreline

And say you're satisfied

Choose to chance the rapids

And dare to dance the tide

I will sail my vessel, until the river runs dry.  

Like the bird upon the wind, these waters are my sky.  

I’ll never reach my destination, if I never try.  

So, I will sail my vessel, ‘till the river runs dry. 

 ———

For more lessons on peak performance and becoming your best self, click here to purchase Collin Henderson’s book Project Rise.

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Collin Henderson