Process Versus Prize | Apolo Ohno on The Knowledge Project

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Key Takeaways

  • Apolo Ohno’s father came to the US from Japan and didn’t have much capital so he relied on his work ethic to survive:
    • “That work ethic and that consistency of work ethic remained a constant theme in my life” – Apolo Ohno
  • Apolo’s dad also taught him to never quit, no matter how many times you failed:
    • “Your job is to continuously get back up and keep attacking and learn from those mistakes” 
  • “My father pushed upon me this belief system that you are unlimited in your potential. Over time, you believe that.” Apolo Ohno 
  • Self-sabotage is real. Apolo would constantly put himself at the end of the race until the race was almost over and then go all out to try to finish in the first place:
    • “My self-sabotage to try to see how low I could get against all these odds and still come out of this thing winning a race” Apolo Ohno
      • “It’s a very dangerous way to race”
  • Another key change Apolo made was he stopped hanging out with his old friends who didn’t have many aspirations in life:
    • “None of them were actually doing anything that was that productive and I believe that because I cut them off, it allowed me to become super obsessive about the sport…that’s where my growth began”Apolo Ohno
  • “I went all in to where I cared about nothing. I really truly cared about nothing except for what I was doing at that moment, which is very powerful. It’s also not very balanced, but that’s the approach that I took.”Apolo Ohno
  • Learning from a sports psychologist changed Apolo’s life forever:
    • “That began my process into the world of meditation, visualization and self-talk and the world of sports psychology. It was from that moment that not only my career changed, but I would say that my life had really changed.” Apolo Ohno

Intro

  • Apolo Ohno (@ApoloOhno) is an American retired short track speed skating competitor and an eight-time medalist in the Winter Olympics. Ohno is the most decorated American Olympian at the Winter Olympics and was inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in 2019.
  • Host: Shane Parrish (@ShaneAParrish)

Books Mentioned

  • Report to Greco by Nikos Kazantzakis 
    • An important lessons Apolo learned from this book: You can’t control the outcome but you can control the amount of effort you put in

Lessons From His Father

  • Apolo’s father came to the US from Japan and didn’t have much capital he relied on his work ethic to survive:
    • “That work ethic and that consistency of work ethic remained a constant theme in my life” – Apolo Ohno
      • Apolo’s dad also taught him to never quit, no matter how many times you failed:
        • “Your job is to continuously get back up and keep attacking and learn from those mistakes” 
  • “My father pushed upon me this belief system that you are unlimited in your potential. Over time, you believe that.” Apolo Ohno

Getting Into Speed Skating

  • Apolo started speed skating when he was 12, he saw the sport on TV during the Winter Olympics
    • To him, the athletes look like superheroes wearing aerodynamic outfits and skating at high speeds
      • “I actually learned how to speed skate from my father driving me from Seattle to Vancouver and to Burnaby and to Calgary. That’s really how I learned. I learned by watching and mimicking and copying what I saw, and then applying that in a way that I felt like was natural to my body.” – Apolo Ohno
        • At 14, Apolo became the youngest US national champion
          • “I was just going purely on raw talent”
  • Apolo went on to become the most decorated athlete at the Winter Olympics 

Battling Self-Sabotage

  • Self-sabotage is real. Apolo would constantly put himself at the end of the race until the race was almost over and then go all out to try to finish in first place:
    • “I’ve had my bouts with self-sabotage almost my entire career as an athlete, and even I think post-career as a human. These are probably deeper psychological kind of traits and micro traumas that I think we all deal with on a day-to-day basis as we grow as humans, and the way that they expose themselves in my life as an Olympic athlete was I started to thrive and desire being at rock bottom and then coming back from that.” – Apolo Ohno
  • “I would place myself consistently at the back of the pack until the last possible moment…it would somehow trigger this hyper-focused response which would allow me to get into this very deep flow state” Apolo Ohno
    • “It’s a very dangerous way to race”
      • Being in front for the whole race and winning first place wasn’t fulfilling for Apolo. He enjoyed being near the last place in the race and then winning first place. 
        • “My self-sabotage to try to see how low I could get against all these odds and still come out of this thing winning a race” Apolo Ohno
  •  When Apolo was 14, he was invited to a special training camp. His father dropped him off at the airport but Apolo decided to not go and instead went to stay at a friend’s house:
    • “I call a friend, inform my friend that I am longer going to go to New York for this training program, and instead I’m going to hang out at friends’ houses from house to house, week to week until I figured this thing out.”
      • Eventually, Apollo’s father found out where he was staying and the two of them went to the training camp together

Falling Off The Top of The Mountain

  • It wasn’t until Apolo started to compete internationally that he realized he could depend on raw talent alone to be successful in speed skating
    • The following year, at age 15, Apolo moved from the Junior National Team to the National Team where he was training and competing against full-grown adults
      • Apolo ended up finishing dead last at the Olympic trails
        • “Within one year I went from first place which was being at the top of the mountain to finishing dead last at those Olympic trials” – Apolo Ohno
          • “I did not make that team and it was not because I didn’t have the ability or the potential, it’s because I threw it away” 
  • Apolo decided to give speed skating another shot before giving up on it
    • “I wanted to give this Olympic pursuit another try but really give myself to that cause” – Apolo Ohno
      • Apolo wrote down a list of promises and things he wanted to accomplish and spent the following year just training and studying:
        • “I spent all of my time…training in the morning and then training in the evening” 
        • He also read books about nutrition, the mind, the body, and more
  • Another key change Apolo made was he stopped hanging out with his old friends who didn’t have many aspirations in life:
    • “None of them were actually doing anything that was that productive and I believe that because I cut them off, it allowed me to become super obsessive about the sport…that’s where my growth began”Apolo Ohno

Traits of A Top Performer

  • If you want to be the best at something, you have to sacrifice a well-balanced life. You need to dedicate practically all of your time to your craft.
    • “I went all in to where I cared about nothing. I really truly cared about nothing except for what I was doing at that moment, which is very powerful. It’s also not very balanced, but that’s the approach that I took.” Apolo Ohno
  • “I would have rather cut my own hand off than it would be to lose” Apolo Ohno
  • When Apolo went to train, it was no longer about having fun and playing games. He was there to push himself and become better than anyone else:
    • “When I showed up, the level of intensity and training was at a different level” Apolo Ohno
  • Apolo would push himself to the point where he would physically collapse during training and try to pass that point the next time around:
    • “I would fall on the treadmill, I would break down, fall over, I would physically collapse”Apolo Ohno

The Psychology of Sports

  • Learning from a sports psychologist changed Apolo’s life forever:
    • “That began my process into the world of meditation, visualization and self-talk and the world of sports psychology. It was from that moment that not only my career changed, but I would say that my life had really changed.” Apolo Ohno
  • “The mind is very powerful, that’s the most powerful tool of all’ – Apolo Ohno
  • Even to this day, when Apolo needs to gain an edge while training, he’ll do some self-talk either verbally or internally
  • A lot of top performers, such as Apolo and Usain Bolt, are actually super relaxed right before their race:
    • “I recognized that when I performed my best, I was the most relaxed, I was the most calm” – Apolo Ohno
  • If you want to be one of the best, you need to believe in yourself:
    • “I just believed I had an unlimited potential within myself…I believed that I wanted to win more than anyone else” – Apolo Ohno
  • Both external and internal rewards played a role in Apolo’s focus and dedication to becoming a better performer. Sometimes he would win a race but be sad after because he felt he could have done even better. 
  • “I derived confidence from my training immensely and my preparation. That’s what gave me a lot of confidence and satisfaction because in the world of short track speed skating, just because you’re the best or the most well-prepared doesn’t mean you’re going to win.” Apolo Ohno
  • In sports, and in life, you want to give it your all or else you will be haunted by regret for the rest of your life:
    • “You want to be able to say that you know you gave your all” – Apolo Ohno
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Notes By Alex Wiec

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