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How often do you have a will to prepare to win?


Today is September 5 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you have a will to prepare to win?” Fielding H. Yost was the head football coach at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor for 25 seasons at the beginning of the twentieth century. His remarkably successful squads dominated opponents and won several national championships.


During the 1929-30 academic year Yost delivered a speech to teachers in the Public Schools Athletic League of New York City. His “Wingate Memorial Lecture” included this statement: “The will to win. We hear a lot about that. The will and the wish to win, but there isn’t a chance for either one of them to be gratified or to have any value unless there has been a will to prepare to win: the will to prepare for service, to do the things that build and develop our capacity, physical, mental, and moral.” Yost reiterated this notion during several speeches over time as this ‘will to prepare to win’ was adopted by coaches, athletes, and others. Do you have a will to win or a will to prepare to win?


If you visualize your desire to lose weight, write a book, or any other goal, what good is that if all you do is think about it? Research illustrates having the will to win without putting in the daily grind over years often results is disappointment, unfilled dreams, and lost goals. Researchers Heather Kappes and Gabriele Oettingen, publishing in the July 2011 edition of Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, found that not only is positive visualization ineffective, but it is also counterproductive. In their article “Positive fantasies about idealized futures sap energy,” the researchers discuss how their experiments helped them understand how conjuring positive fantasies of success drains the energy out of ambition. This is critical to understand for anyone trying to navigate the chaos and translate dreams into reality.


When people visualize having reached a goal the research by Kappes and Oettingen found that brains routinely fall for the trick. Instead of mustering more energy to get "there," people inadvertently trigger a relaxation response that mimics how they would feel if they had reached the goal. Physiologically, the researchers discovered people fell back into their comfort zone and came under the illusion that all is well in their world. Falling prey to this ‘energy sap’ separates those who navigate the chaos from those who lack the ability to do so.


Another study out of UCLA looked at the differences between when people visualize the desired outcome versus when they visualize the outcome and the required process for achieving it. College freshmen were asked to either visualize receiving a good grade on a midterm exam or to visualize the good grade as well as the study habits they would use to achieve a good grade on the exam. The results echoed the findings of the work by Kappes and Oettingen. This study found that students who visualized only the good grade (and not the process by which they would achieve it) scored lower than the other students.

Visualization is an important tool successful people use but do understand simply visualizing some sought after goal without putting in the daily grind over the long-term required to translate a dream into reality is a likely a detour to an unfulfilled life. Author Roy T. Bennett noted “Dreams don't work unless you take action. The surest way to make your dreams come true is to live them.” Like so many Navigate the Chaos posts, today’s question has an interesting nuance to consider. One can be preparing for something and not quiet know it until life presents an opportunity. The story of Cliff Young provides such an example. Born the eldest son and the third of seven children of Mary and Albert Ernest Young on 8 February 1922, Young grew up on a farm in Beech Forest in southwestern Victoria where his family lived on a farm close to 2,000 acres in size with approximately 2,000 sheep. As a child he was forced to round up the stock on foot as the family were very poor during the depression and could not afford horses.


At 61 years of age, Young decided to pursue his dream of competing in the Sydney to Melbourne Ultra Marathon, a 544-mile race in 1983. The race organizers, worried about his health, asked if he'd ever run a long-distance race before. He said no. They asked him what made him think he could run this race and he said, "I'm a farmer. Once I spent three days running non-stop with no sleep, rounding up my sheep before a major storm came in, so I think I can do this." The race organizers still thought he should stay out of the competition. With some more coaxing they finally acquiesced, and when everyone took running fast, Cliff ran slowly.


Young didn't know he was supposed to run for 16 hours and sleep for 8, and repeat that process to the end, so when everyone went to sleep he was so far behind no one was awake to tell him to go to bed, and they were up and gone before he got there. This went on for two days, but on the third day, while everyone was sleeping, Cliff ran by them again, with no one telling him to sleep. He claimed afterwards that during the race, he imagined he was running after sheep and trying to outrun a storm. The Westfield run took him five days, 15 hours, and four minutes, almost two days faster than the previous record for any run between Sydney and Melbourne.

  • How often do you have a will to prepare to win?

  • What have you done today to develop your physical, mental, or moral capacity to win?

  • What lessons can you take away from the story of Cliff Young and apply them to your life?