The Apiros Hero's Journey (Part 1)
The Apiros Hero’s Journey: The Sum of Vision, Philosophy, Goals, Intention, and Discipline.
Discipline. It’s asked for and expected throughout life. Sports are no exception. Get a job! Do your homework! Eat your vegetables! Do your exercises! I need to train every day! I should really spend less time on my phone. This year, I’m going to get in shape. Often times, the interdependence of discipline and actual progress is misunderstood and/or unknown. Discipline depends on purpose and direction to have increased value and quality.
Currently, discipline is masquerading as “the grind.” This is just leading people to work really hard with no direction and usually, immense amounts of pride. If you think you need to work hard for your progress, then you will, and your path will be hard.
The “grinders” and “no-days-off-ers” are flooring their cars in a roundabout, unaware they are doing so. Each time the driver completes a circle, he thinks he has completed some milestone and made progress, but he is just back where he started with a little less energy than before and more wear and tear. Nonetheless, he is proud that he worked and that it was hard. Frequently, this circular checkpoint is shared on social media, bragging about the energy expenditure and “dedication.” This is not discipline with direction. This is ego and insecurity. Discipline alone is just one piece of the puzzle. We can all be the heroes and authors of our own story, if we want to. For athletes at Apiros, I call it the Hero’s Journey. Discipline is just one of these guiding principles. The others are Vision, Philosophy, Goals, and Intention.
One of my favorite examples of the Hero’s Journey is the story of Frodo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings. This story has all aspects of the Hero’s Journey. In the story, discipline is demonstrated as him trudging along, every day, regardless of the circumstances. If you watch the extended edition movies, you will see nearly 12 hours of him just walking on a path. (I highly recommend the extended edition.) However, we know that’s not the entire story. That would be a very boring story to follow! Without clarity of where he is going, how he is getting there, and why he is doing it in the first place, his discipline means nothing. He would just be meandering along, going in circles, which he does in fact do at one point in the story.
A Vision is something that is created from a mindset of abundance. It gives meaning to the Journey, to the Goals, and the Intentions. It is the answer to the question, “if you had everything you could want, what would you do?” Frodo had an easy and comfortable life in The Shire. He had everything, except for some adversity and adventure. Perhaps he wanted an external test to prove to himself what he was capable of and to feel complete. Or maybe he felt that he needed to take this journey to earn a life of abundance with the Elves.
The truth is, we are not really sure what Frodo’s Vision is because this story is about a particular set of Intentions, Goals, and Discipline. A Vision spans far beyond the 13 months that Frodo wore the burden of The Ring. A Vision is something that is never ending, and you can change it throughout your life. “Here’s a test to find whether your mission on earth is finished: if you’re alive, it isn’t.” This quote from the book Illusions, by Richard Bach, is a damn good representation of what a Vision is.
Clearly, there are some commonalities amongst the Visions of everyone who wants to help destroy The Ring. Perhaps it is to spread peace in Middle-Earth. These commonalities, whatever they may be, give purpose to all the characters involved in helping Frodo destroy The Ring. The Vision helps fuel their Intentions, Goals, and Discipline. Even though The Ring is eventually destroyed, there will always be evil in the world. There must be evil to balance out the good. This presumed Vision of spreading peace allows their lives to continue to have purpose even after The Ring is destroyed. Since the author, J.R.R. Tolkein, experienced war throughout his life, it would make sense that he wanted to write stories about war, peace, and heroics.
For those involved with sports, a Vision might be something like these: to benevolently advance the sport of volleyball, or to use sports as an arena to continue improvement of my physiology and psychology, or to spread joy and entertainment to those who like watching this sport. These are never-ending, positive, and most of all, give unique meaning to the Journey.
Now, having this idea of a Vision gives us some direction. Next, we need something to help us make decisions along the way. That’s a Philosophy. A Philosophy is a unique statement and set of beliefs that helps shape exactly how you want to live your life along this Journey.
Frodo’s Philosophy, during this life-changing journey, is to minimize pain and suffering of those around him while on his path to destroy The Ring. In The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo decides it is best to leave The Fellowship and complete the journey alone. He sees that his presence brings suffering to those around him. The allure of The Ring corrupts those in its presence, and the Orcs bring death wherever they go.
Samwise Gamgee, Frodo’s dear friend and gardener, has a Philosophy of his own, and it opposes Frodo’s desire to be alone. His Philosophy is to be loyal and keep his word to Gandalf, so he insists he come along. A Philosophy is something you can use when times are toughest. It is a reminder of how you want to make choices throughout your life. It can help set aside your ego’s desire for survival, importance, pleasure, distraction, etc. and help you continue the path you know to be true at your very core.
We now have a Vision for general direction and a Philosophy to help make decisions. Next, we need some achievable checkpoints: Goals. A Goal is just a stepping stone along the way. It is a step that is completely within your control. There are only a few things one is in control of, including thoughts, focus, emotions, behavior, actions, speech, all components of yourself. You cannot control other people, certain outcomes, decisions made by others, the weather, etc. Making Goals that are out of your control is foolish since they are, well, out of your control.
Some of Frodo’s Goals are:
I’m going to wear the burden of The Ring and take steps every day in the direction of Mount Doom.
I will be courageous in not killing Gollum but trusting him the best I can, for guidance and direction.
I will be as present as possible in order to accept help along the way and be weary of potential foes. (His control over his presence, thoughts, behavior, and emotions dwindles over time as The Ring wears on him.)
Some may be thinking, “No! His goal is to reach Mount Doom and destroy The Ring!” And this brings us to Intention. That statement is his Intention, not his Goal. This is because it is out of his control, and he knows he might die before he gets there. Nonetheless, he will continue to set his philosophical compass toward Mordor and the fires of Mount Doom.
Now, some overzealous athletes might be thinking, “Ok, I’m going to workout every day to be the best athlete I can be! Just like Frodo!” Let’s pump the breaks there, buddy. That’s called overtraining and grinding yourself down to less than your potential. A better statement of Goals might be, “I’m going to meditate every day, train in such a way that my physiology has a balance of stress and recovery, and ensure I am prepared to play my sport. Oh, and I’m going to avoid speed ladders like the devil!” (Author’s note - Sorry, I couldn’t help it 😆)
Lastly, we will end where we began: Discipline. Discipline is the willpower to carry out these controllable Goals. It is the willingness to keep taking steps along the path no matter the conditions. If it is hailing, we keep going. Mudslide? Find another way. A flood? Learn to walk on water or swim. A wildebeest migration stopping my progress? I will patiently wait it out. If it is sunny and peaceful, enjoy the respite with gratitude. None of this willpower has any worth without clear directions. Frodo’s Journey would not have been so admirable if it weren’t for the nobility of his Vision and Intention.
At one point they are on an actual cliff edge of a mountain in a snowstorm conjured by an evil wizard. The mountain starts crumbling on top of them, yet they persist. They find another way. They end up going to The Mines of Moria, the place Gandalf fears the most. This is their fate. Gandalf needs to go here to have his own rebirth and evolve from Gandalf the Grey to Gandalf the White. For Frodo & the Fellowship to succeed, they need Gandalf to go along with this choice.
Something that is really useful to pair with Discipline is compassion for yourself. Did you miss a day of training due to conditions out of your control? Be nice to yourself. The conditions were out of your control. Did you miss a day of training due to conditions that are in your control? Be nice to yourself, the conditions are in your control, and you can change it next time. Ruthless scrutiny and criticism are sure-fire ways to slow down your progress or even start backtracking.
Maybe you want to win a gold medal. Well, everyone wants to win a gold medal. So what. What’s extraordinary about that? Everyone wants to be a professional athlete or Olympian. Those are all things that are out of your control. What might be more useful is a statement that is unique to you, that way it can power you uniquely. Something that is truly meaningful, for you. Those desires and Intentions can be special when your path is uniquely yours.
Imagine this story:
“There once was a boy who wanted to win a gold medal. He woke up at
6am every day to train, ate his vegetables, and found the best coaching he could. He eventually got to the Olympics and won a gold medal. The end.”
Not only is that story boring as hell, it is unrealistic. We are at a turning point in sports (and life) where hard work alone will no longer be enough to be the best. Being unique and doing things differently than everyone else will be one of many secret weapons of the future. Get clear on what you want out of your life and make it uniquely yours.
(Special thanks to all those who helped me learn these concepts, Adam you're one of the big ones there.)