Breaking down our invisible barriers

Showing yourself what you can do

— By Andrew Russell

When I speak publicly, one of the things I often get asked about is mindset and how it translates into performance.

I choose to reference my own personal experiences as anecdotal evidence of a pattern I have seen in sport (and life) time and time again. It has to do with breaking down our invisible barriers, and reimagining our capacity to achieve.

Andrew Russell

Andrew Russell

I distinctly remember my first year returning to training on the national canoe-kayak team. I had previously taken nearly four years away from high performance sport to complete an undergraduate degree and rehabilitate an injured shoulder. The mental break during this period was also likely a very positive factor in allowing me to make the decision to get back in shape and compete again following the time off.

“In order to be the best, I have to emulate the best,” I told myself. The sentiment was naturally easier said than done.

I joined a training group with some of the best athletes in the world, and one of the most renowned coaches. The workload and effort required to finish workouts, let alone try to keep up, was daunting at first. However, over time, I made incremental changes, and was slowly but surely finding ways to stay “in touch” for longer and longer stretches of each practice.

Each week the mindset was to achieve the little wins each day; try and keep up a little longer, make small technical changes, or feel stronger in the weight room. The overall goal was that the cumulative week-long effort and small victories would add up to a slightly larger holistic win in my development as an athlete.

The little wins continued, but in addition I began to eye specific breakthrough opportunities to prove to myself I was capable of more, and to reassess that capacity to grow as an athlete. Often these opportunities were coupled with a mental hurdle, or an internal voice that doubted my ability to complete the chosen “breakthrough feat.”

See Also: Embracing the uncomfortable

One of the big hurdles I had was a 24-kilometre race called the “Richard Dalton Classic.” This race involved four large loops of 6 kilometres in Waverley, Nova Scotia. I was entering the race with a goal of simply finishing the entire race.

For someone in my position, (working their way back into shape alongside such great athletes), the goal of a confidence boosting experience was challenged by the nature of the race course. On every loop, you would turn directly in front of the start line and canoe club, where the temptation to quit increased with each lap. Halfway into the race I was completely alone and I knew I would be paddling the next two laps on my own. The third lap was difficult, and the fourth lap took all the mental fortitude I had to keep going, but sure enough I finished.

When I finally crossed the line, my body hated me, but there was an exhausted smile on my face. I had proven to myself I could accomplish a goal I was uncertain about prior. As I drove home, (with sore legs that had trouble clutching to shift gears), I realized my scope of opportunity had grown. The horizon of what I was capable of was now broader, and this gave me a sense of confidence and purpose going forward.

More: 'Play free' and we all succeed

This story is only one example of how taking on new challenges and accomplishing milestone goals allows us to embed a new sense of confidence in our outlook. I carried this attitude forward into school and beyond, and believe it still rings true.

I hope you’ll take the opportunity to challenge your own barriers, and that you surprise yourself with what you are capable of.

Yours in sport and a positive outlook,


Andrew Russell is the founder of FANFIT Challenge and a former national team canoeist who competed in the 2008 Olympics.