1: “Dan Jansen is considered by many to be the best speed skater to ever live,” Dan Sullivan and Benjamin Hardy write in The Gap and The Gain: The High Achiever’s Guide to Happiness, Confidence, and Success.
“But he seemed to be jinxed,” the authors note.
Dan competed in his first Olympics in 1984 when he was 16 and finished fourth, one spot off the medal podium.
“Over the following decade, it became clear to everyone who followed speed skating that Jansen was the most talented skater on the planet,” Dan and Ben write.
His talent, however, did not translate into Olympic victories. During the 1988 and 1992 Olympics, Dan would start each race at world-record-breaking speeds.
“But then something always seemed to happen that stopped him from winning,” the authors note.
“Little things. Fluke things.”
The 1994 Winter Olympic Games in Lillehammer would be Dan’s last shot at an Olympic medal.
“In his strongest event, the 500-meter, he finished eighth and was heartbroken,” Dan and Ben write. “It didn’t look like he was ever going to get his Olympic medal after all.”
His final race would be the 1,000-meter, which he considered his weakest event.
2: “Before the race, [Dan] decided to compete with a completely new mindset,” the authors write.
Rather than think about the medal he needed to feel successful or remember all the races he should have won but didn’t, Dan chose to focus on all the wonderful people and experiences in his life.
“He thought about the coaches who poured endless energy and care into him,” Dan and Ben write.
“His family who loved him.”
“His friends who supported him.”
“All of the amazing experiences and blessings he had. “The fact that he’d become one of the best speed skaters of all time.”
“He even thought about his love for skating itself, and how much skating had done for him as a person.”
“Before the race, reflecting on all of this, Dan was overwhelmed and deeply humbled. Tears formed in his eyes.
“He decided this final Olympic event would be an expression of gratitude,” Dan and Ben write, “a way of saying ‘thank you’ and ‘goodbye’ to the sport, the people, and the experiences he loved so much.”
This would be his motivation.
“Throughout the race, he was beaming a huge smile,” the authors write. “He later said it was the happiest he’d ever skated in his whole life.”
3: Dan Jansen won the gold medal in his final Olympic race.
His performance was off-the-charts good. World-record good.
It was “one of the most emotional wins in Olympic history,” Dan and Ben recall.
So what are we to make of this powerful story?
“Happiness is not something you pursue,” Dan and Ben write. “Happiness is not somewhere in the future.”
“Decades of scientific research is clear on this point: happiness is where you start, not where you finish.”
We think that once we’re successful, we will be happy.
The science says we’ve got it backward. When we are happy, we are much more likely to be successful.
According to the research of Dr. Barbara L. Fredrickson, “Positive emotions are the starting point of learning, growth, and high performance.”
Because positive emotions expand our thinking. “Research shows that people in high-stakes situations make the best choices when in a state of gratitude,” Dan and Ben write. “They can see more clearly the best option before them.”
Not only that, positive emotions are self-reinforcing.
“Positive emotions facilitate higher performance, which increases confidence and filters back more positive emotions,” the authors observe. “It’s a virtuous cycle.”
Negative emotions have the opposite effect.
“On the flip side, negative emotions narrow our options, leaving us with only a few rigid ways of handling a given situation.”
An expanded mindset allows us to create new resources we can use—” whether they be fresh perspectives, increased emotional flexibility, new strategies, or new relationships,” they write.
Other psychological research shows confidence is not what creates success. “Rather, prior success is actually what creates confidence,” the authors note.
When Dan Jansen focused on the races he should have won but didn’t, he unintentionally eroded his confidence. Which weakened his performance.
Instead, when he reflected on all he’d achieved, he elevated his confidence. “That confidence enabled him to believe even deeper that he could win,” Dan and Ben note, “and deepened his focus and drive during that gold medal victory.”
By focusing on all he had to be grateful for, Dan competed in a peak state and performed at his very best.
Reflection: Think about an upcoming event or experience where I want to show up at my best. What are all things I have to be grateful for?
Action: Journal my answers to the questions above.