We love the Olympic Games at our house – I find the athletes so inspiring. It is wonderful to see enthusiastic, confident people who are working harder than they ever have in their life, and are willing to make a Herculean effort to see their dreams come true, put everything on the line to achieve their goals. In addition to being a student of literature I also have a very sporty family; we are very accepting of the mind and body, integration and focus concept. This year the Olympics inspired me to add a little more exercise into my daily routine with the goal that it will give me an academic edge. After all, the equation should work both ways; if a disciplined mind is essential to peak physical performance then improved physical conditioning should sharpen the intellect, or at least improve concentration. Keeping this insight in mind, and duly noting the relationship between literature and the Olympic Games since ancient times, I decided on a plan.
Planning some additional exercise to my daily routine is easy enough. Thinking it over, it seemed like things I can easily do from home, and even in the middle of study time, were the wisest choices. Some extra yoga sets to break up study hours, a little more weight training, and some sprint exercises I used to enjoy have been refreshing additions. Sure enough, my concentration during study time is already more focused and sustained, and I feel so much better. Adding more exercise was a great idea after a stressful year in 2011 and with high professional and academic goals for the next two yeas to come. Part of the fun of athletic competition is having everything come together when you need it too. When I first started formal training in a gym many, many years ago my coach told me that plenty of world records are broken in practice sessions every day, but they don’t matter at all. You need one particular performance when it matters most. Discipline for the mind is just as important as the discipline of physical training.
The best, or most productive, definition of discipline I can find is ‘a systemic set of instructions given to teach a craft, trade, or any area where one wants to acquire specialized knowledge.’ That is a very positive definition. It shows that discipline is something different from ‘willpower’ – maybe it is an enhancer of willpower and determination. Discipline is identifying and taking the steps needed to succeed. Many of the athletes and coaches who have spoken about their Olympic experience this week focus on the psychological training they undertake in order to excel at these elite levels. In two notable interviews the athletes said they don’t view the events as pressure at all, but as opportunities and excitement. That is a handy bit of framing and visualization advice for exam time.
Exam time might be our equivalent of an Olympic moment, or at least the qualifying event for the professional and creative goals I want to achieve beyond my degree. I started wondering if my study routine had equivalents to physical training. For example, can strength and flexibility training be the equivalent of reading primary texts and criticism? Is endurance training like outlining multiple responses to exam questions? Will looking at study from this perspective, and building a purposeful study program based on specific training components help me be more productive with my time and improve my results in our 2013 ‘Exam Olympics?’ I think it will, especially considering the traditional links between my program, English and Comparative Literature, and the Olympic Games ancient and modern.
In addition to the athletes of the XXX Olympiad, I took great inspiration from Poetry and the Olympics, hosted by Goldsmiths’ College, the lead college of my degree with the University of London International Programme. If you look about there is a great deal of poetry associated with these Olympic games. It is rather inspirational for us students of English and Comparative Literature to see poetry ( including Danny Boyle’s dramatically staged opening event) play such a central role in the celebration of athletic excellence, and to recognize the role of intellect in physical achievement. Then again, the ancient Greeks have always known you simply cannot have Olympic Games without good poetry. Just ask Dionysius.