Slower. Lower. Weaker.

I was in an audience when Olympian John Naber said, “Olympians are not extraordinary people. They are ordinary people who do extraordinary things.”

These ordinary people, who attain Olympian status, are willing to endure a little more (or a lot more) practice than most of us. And the practice itself? I bet it’s ordinary too.

Faster. Higher. Stronger.

These three words set the stage for every outstanding feat you’ll see at the Summer Olympic Games, which gets underway in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil later this week. The founder of the modern Olympic movement, Pierre de Coubertin, introduced this motto in 1894 on the day the International Olympic Committee was created.

Faster, higher, and stronger are excellent attributes of just about any pursuit.

But are they effective?

Most Olympians train for multiple hours per day over a span of many years for a race that may last minutes… perhaps seconds. Conversely most of us race through our days, weeks and months with very little training, and even less intention.

Can faster-higher-stronger push you towards extraordinary?

Extraordinary in art, sport, profession arrives when practice is repeated over and over again — — but there must be the intention to retain knowledge and expand skills.

For me, faster-higher-stronger feels too “up there” and not enough “down here.”

So today, with the Opening Ceremonies just a few days away, let’s get “down here” and adjust the Olympic motto to refocus our training methods here in the non-Rio world.

Slower. Lower. Weaker.

Slower: It’s too easy to watch and get caught up in the moment of Olympic medals with no context of the slow, arduous, and often boring process that preceded the performance. What looks like warp-speed and Instafame are not as they appear.

One of my friends and mentors says, “Slow down to go fast.” When you slow down, you absorb more.

Lower: Put down the big shiny goals and bright finish lines for a moment. They will not vanish. They will not get lost. Instead lower the amperage and shift your focus to the small steps of the process. Embrace the unseen attributes you possess right now to move forward with small steps. What are your low-wattage attributes? What one small step can you focus on each day?

Weaker: I get it. This doesn’t look good. Stay with me on this. It’s exhausting to mentally hold tight to a perceived position of strength and power that doesn’t exist. Weaker means to embrace vulnerability and to mentally let go.

In Olympic sports the best performance comes at the moment of letting go. Think of the pole vaulter, the synchronized swimmer, the equestrian, sprint canoeist, the archer, the fencer, or the balance beam gymnast. As you watch each of these athletes at the Olympic Games this week, you will witness their years of practicing the art of letting go. They understand that the release of a strong mental grip allows for an unconscious alignment with stronger forces that exist around them. Strength does not attract strength. Weakness attracts strength. Ahhh, grasshopper.

So to all my friends who are competing and coaching this week in Rio, I send to you my best wishes. And for those of you who are not in Rio — watch as they put Faster, Higher, Stronger into play. Because that faster-higher-stronger is a direct result of years of Slower, Lower, Weaker.


As America’s first ever Olympic Gold Medalist in Whitewater Canoe Slalom, Joe promotes strategies and shares stories for living and performing at your best, doing the work that matters and engaging with purpose. His platforms include performance coaching and consulting, professional speaking, broadcasting and his weekly newsletter, “Sunday Morning Joe.”