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Athlete personalities and implementing successful systems

Updated: Jan 3, 2023

trisutto triathlon athlete personalities Dan MacIntosh

It's the start of the new year, and many people have made resolutions for 2023. While it's true that most resolutions fail, the point of this article isn't to discourage those who have made them. In fact, making a resolution can increase the chances of achieving the desired change. However, it's common for people to struggle with their goals, with a third giving up after three months and only a minority still working towards them after six months [1] . These statistics are from before the COVID-19 pandemic, but early studies suggest that the uncertainty caused by the pandemic may have made it even harder for people to make changes in their lives.

In a past article, Robbie Haywood discussed the difference between goals and systems. He advised athletes to pursue simple actions that encourage sustainable effort over time, rather than trying to make huge efforts all at once. This "systems" approach can help anyone with their resolutions. Individualization, or tailoring the approach to the specific needs and circumstances of the athlete, can also help athletes overcome previous obstacles.

The following is a short guide to identifying various athlete personalities and associating appropriate systems with them. There is a system for everyone, whether they are an "Octopus" who tries to do everything at once, a "Chameleon" who constantly changes their goals or an "Eagle" who is overly focused.

If you are currently reading this while doing two or 10 other things, you might be an Octopus. They try to do everything at once and often have multiple goals, which they often manage to achieve because of their intelligence and talent but they also hold themselves back from their full potential due to a lack of focus. They are naturally drawn to triathlon for the variety it offers yet still can’t resist the temptation to integrate various training methods, and diets, putting a hand on everything but never long enough to fully grasp it. Although successful most of the time, without a full grasp, they often set unrealistic goals, leading to disappointment when they can't achieve them. To be successful, a good system for Octopuses is one that encourages them to narrow their focus and learn to commit to fewer items.

If you’ve set goals this year based on posts your saw on social media or registered for races immediately after your friends did, you might be a chameleon. This athlete constantly changes their goals, making it difficult to make progress. They may start with one goal, then switch to a new one before fully achieving the first. They also may be influenced by other people's goals and priorities, rather than focusing on what they truly want. Chameleons and octopuses have a lot in common except chameleons are often blind to their failures. A chameleon will have shifted to a new goal too soon to count the previous one as a miss whereas an octopus will hold onto all the goals and witness the failures as they happen. To be successful, a good system for Chameleons is one that develops their personal identity and fosters it through a commitment to a consistent objective.

If you’ve read this far because you’re constantly searching for clues and trying to analyze everything, this is you. Eagles are obsessed with tracking their progress, reporting on their diet, weight, mood, and all their pace, power, and heart rate metrics. Because of their sharp focus on every measurable data point, they often chalk up early wins but are just as susceptible to quick failures. They struggle to maintain motivation because they can’t sustain the burden of constantly trying to analyze. The best system for eagles encourages them to discard the devices and tracking tools and learn to appreciate the value in simply doing the work each day, every day, for a year.

We know from experience, setting new goals each year is not a guarantee of success. Identifying which group an athlete is in can help direct a change of approach.

  • Octopuses thrive once they narrow their focus and commit to one goal at a time.

  • Chameleons will learn they are far more powerful when they develop themselves instead of trying to follow others.

  • Eagles need environments that bring them into the moment and out of the habit of tracking and analyzing everything.

By taking an individualized systems approach, the odds of achieving success will increase and in 6 months when others have lost their way, you’ll be well on your own.


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