Christina came to Vilnius to speak at the public event of Business’ Awards in November, 2017. Ignas was in the audience and approached the speaker after the presentation. They met for the breakfast the next morning and talked in the hotel’s restaurant.
Good question. I believe that most humans are focused on our natural way of acting. And it depends more or less what we put into the word “focus.” Some people understand “focus” as drawing attention to a particular thing, target, or goal (forced to focus).
A focus could also be a more relaxed state, where you don’t think much at all. So, it depends on how we put the focus.
Just as darkness is an absence of light, the focus is the absence of distractions.
“Distractions” is a complex subject. People could understand that they are in their natural state of being. However, after industrialism took place, people got more and more disturbance, abilities, opportunities and communications. Most of it impacts us positively, but of course, all distractions take away the ability that we already have deep within ourselves.
I would say that most of it comes from heritage.
Yes, genetics. We shouldn’t lose that. We have it, but we need to put a light on it so that we can come back to it. We are bound to lose it a little bit.
You’re a former shooter. Let’s talk about the focus that is required in precision shooting. Did you feel you had a gift when you decided to pursue a career in precision shooting? Or was it a random choice because all other choices were unavailable?
[Laughs] It was more of a random choice.
I know it’s a strange story. I wanted to become the best at something. But to me, it didn’t matter what. I realized that I’m probably too old to become a sprinter, which I like even more. I was more passionate about physical sports, but I realized that I should have been thinking about that earlier.
Yeah, I did, but we didn’t have those facilities where I lived at that moment. Shooting was something we knew about and we had small shooting ranges for air rifle shooting. So, it came naturally, and I started to shoot.
[Laughs] I know. It’s .22 caliber sports shooting with a rifle.
Yes, and the distance was and always is 50 meters outdoors.
Yes. There’s one match where you’re in a prone position. So, lying down. Standing and kneeling, that’s another match. Just lying there for one and a half hours. I was good at both. But when I won the first world championship medal, I was in a prone position.
Yeah, yeah. [Laughs] To me, it was more or less a project. I meet athletes, and we can connect because we have been involved in sports. We know about winning and losing. Sometimes I do not feel connected in a sense they say, “Once an athlete, always an athlete.” And they live with it so profoundly. Their personality is so close to what they do. It’s hard to do something else for them.
Yes, exit that. Yes. I was an adult when I took this decision. Compared to others, I never did some sports, and then I finally became good at it. I made a decision, and it was more of a project [Laughs].
No, no, no, no.
No, it’s not. And I think that helped me because I could keep this distance on what I was doing when I was winning and losing. This is just a project. It was easier to not identify myself entirely with winning and losing because when you lose, you lose a little bit of yourself too.
Yeah. Who is she?
Yes, yes, yes.
Yeah, I know [Laughs].
Yeah. [Laughs] In Sweden, we have an excellent pistol shooter. His name is . He must be over 80 years old now. He won Olympic gold medals many years ago. He became a profile in Sweden for shooting. And I’ve met him quite a lot. He’s still a shooter. [Laughs]
He has explained how it was many years ago. They used alcohol to calm themselves down. That was natural. Almost everyone did that—nothing wrong with that. But they didn’t know that alcohol has an impact on their ability to react fast.
Yes. You can’t dope yourself with alcohol as it helps you to relax and to enjoy the moments more than being so nervous that you are almost about to shake. Perhaps one beer could help. But on the other hand, you lose precision and reaction time, which are enormously important.
I have this expression that in shooting, you can dope your physical, but you can’t dope your thoughts.
Thoughts often bring us out of focus.
I wanted just to finalize this topic about substances that could help or harm in focusing. Normally, people will understand that alcohol may help to relax. But it’s not associated with concentrating. Therefore it was a surprise for me when I found alcohol in a list of banned substances for athletes.
Yeah, that’s right, to be sharper. I’ve seen many shooters just take a coffee in the morning before they go out on a match. And in some cultures, people tend to eat less breakfast, and they only take a little cup of coffee. In Sweden, most people and especially athletes eat a lot of breakfast. I would say that caffeine doesn’t do any harm. But you shouldn’t drink more than one cup.
I was training early in the mornings, and I brought my own little Swedish bread, which is a bit harder than the normal bread.
Yeah, Knäckebröd. I feel good every time I eat that bread. So, I brought that to every competition. And then when I forgot to bring this, that was a problem. But what’s the real problem here? Is there a problem with the fact that I can’t eat before the match? Or is the problem that I got addicted to Knäckebröd?
I decided not to have any needs before a match from that time one. I think that’s what you need. Especially if you travel to different countries—you may have jet lag. Usually, you may have met different kinds of people. You may have slept a lot or too little. And that affects you. You may have been out dancing, or you may have been sleeping.
There are many different things. If you get addicted to some things or foods, and it has to be in a certain order, then it doesn’t help. To be structured before a match is one thing, but a need for eating certain things would be wrong.
Later, I elaborated a little bit more. It was interesting to see if I can perform being hungry etc. So, I did some strange things.
Well, for instance, when I stayed at one of the airbases, I trained in the morning and evening. Few times, I slept in the shooting range, and I woke myself up in the middle of the night to practice for 30 minutes and then go back to sleep again and just to train the body. A little bit of military thinking.
Yes, exactly. Yeah. I think that was good. It strengthened me. I don’t know if it helped my technique, but it helped on my mental level.
How are you able to control your thoughts? You said yesterday this is critical for the final step in competition and the last millimeter of advantage between 9 and 10 — after you have already trained to control your breath, movements, posture, the rifle. You know how to aim, how to keep, how to have enough endurance. But the last element and the most difficult one is to control your thoughts.
[Laughs] If there was a straightforward answer. We wouldn’t even have sports at all, because everyone would hit the targets all the time. It’s complicated and I don’t have a clear answer. People have the ability to be focused, and when we’re not focused anymore our own thoughts come and disturb our primary natural state. Instead of saying controlling our thoughts, I would say the key is to ignore distractions.
Ignore to focus is a new good expression. But then again, how do you do that? I can give an example. It may sound a little bit silly and simple, but it’s just for us to understand.
When I shot my last shot in the final in the world championship, I focused on a leaf.
No, no. No, it was a true leaf.
Yeah, it was autumn, and there was a leaf on the range.
Yes. So, I…
I was getting more and more shaky, nervous. I looked at the leaf for a few seconds. It probably helped me to breathe.
No, it was whipping in the wind.
Very nice. [Laughs] Staring at the leaf, staring back at the target, staring at the leaf, staring back — I did that for quite a long time. And those who saw me they didn't know what I did. I stared on the target for too many seconds, I was going to lose because these thoughts came back.
You need to focus on something else to stop those thoughts. The key thing here is that in broad terms, the mind can only focus on one thing every moment. It can shift very fast. We focus on one thing at a time. If I look at A, it’s A, and there are not so many other thoughts.
We can use one thought or one action or one mental idea to knock out the other thoughts. We practiced this a lot with a shooting friend. This friend was so much better technologically advanced — he could shoot almost world records all the time. He looked like a robot when he was competing in a shooting range.
He was helping me with the technique, and I helped him on a mental level. We had different qualities. But he lost every time, and I did too, but for him, it was more extreme. He was selected to the Olympic Games four times in a row, I think. But he never won anything [Laughs]. He has no international medal.
Yeah, and it’s really interesting. So, I took him into one of those ordinary military shooting ranges where I was. We stayed there for some days, and then I told him to shoot his match and pretend that we are in the World Cup again. When he reached the level of 55 tens in a row, the thoughts came back. And I could almost see it on him how suddenly everything gets a little bit more complicated.
I told him to take a break, and stop forcing himself now, stop trying to be focused. Then I put some small papers on which I had written completely neutral words on the backside, like lamp, banana, pillow, door, ordinary neutral words. Toaster, I remember that was one of the words.
And then when he takes down the weapon nervously having all these thoughts, he reads the toaster and then goes back again and shoots another shot and sees what happens.
After a while, the brain learns what kind of a game this is. The toaster, firstly, it was a little bit fun, strange, a little bit crazy. Then you win because that feeling takes away all these growing thoughts directly.
When you think of a toaster, you get a picture of the toaster. And then you can be more focused for a brief moment. At least you can focus on getting rid of all these bad thoughts.
Do you understand what I mean?
So, that’s a kind of tip.
I have heard about this from . They practice two types of meditation. One is concentration meditation called , and another is analytic meditation called or something like that. They do concentration meditation competitions. I don’t know how they measure each other. But it’s the same method they use. They visualize Buddha typically.
Yeah, that’s right.
Yeah, alright. Yeah.
And after that, you can analyze all theories, all religious dogmas or hypotheses or whatever. The world is much sharper and better. And you learn how to focus, how to concentrate on one object. It’s quite similar to what you found out.
Yes, it is. [Laughs]
Yeah, I did a lot of .
Yes. I still do, but I did that quite a lot. I can see it helps. It’s good, and I think it’s important. I salute when someone tells me they do mindfulness meditation or yoga. It’s good. Sometimes I feel that there cannot only be one solution.
You have to find a sustainable way of handling competitions and losses and diversity and — also not diversity. You still need your own authentic method in those critical moments. You’re getting a longer perspective then.
After ten years, I left that life in a bubble [Laughs]. It was a unique way of living when I was in the military. A little bit like a monk, spending thousands of hours staring on a target, on a little tiny thing. I realized that when I came out, I felt normal—nothing special to me.
I saw people around me and what’s going on with the world outside this bubble that I’ve been in. I got fascinated, and a little bit scared — people became less focused after those ten years.
I realized the importance of what I have learned. I want to keep it up. The world needs focus, and I need that too.
There is much more than people doing meditation to stay focused. People have too many opportunities. They need help to choose the right opportunities. I can compare it to nutrition.
It’s complicated and interesting. You know that sugar addiction is very bad. And if we look back in the industrial times, that is where this kind of problem started. At that time, people still needed to search for food and needed to search for sugar. And people have done that for thousands of years.
Nowadays, when we have sugar everywhere suddenly, we can’t say “no” to it. We think we need sugar. That’s why we overeat sugar because the brain is still in the survival situation. Do you understand what I’m trying to say?
Absolutely, yes. I met one Ayurvedic doctor a month ago. I also interviewed him, and he told me a simple thing. Approximately 10,000 years ago, a human being had an amount of sugar during the year, which is exceeded by 20 times now. Sugar is the primary product restricted in the Ayurvedic diet.
I’ve read in some popular historical books that the population of humans and the economy increased during the last several centuries. You can measure the economy, its actions, and so on. But the consumption of calories increased the most.
Increase in consumption of calories is not in proportion to the increase in population. Not in proportion to the economy’s growth. People eat a lot in comparison to what was several hundred years ago.
Yeah, I can see those exponential curves in front of me. We can compare it to focus concepts. We were not exposed to so much information a thousand years ago.
Information is a natural way of also surviving. People search for information, to see what’s happening, what’s going on, where it’s dangerous to go, and where it’s safe to go.
Information was important for our survival, just like food. Our brains are used to search for information. And now, just as in comparison, information is directly in front of our eyes on smartphones. And it’s everywhere. [Laughs]
We are having difficulties saying “no”. Not that long ago, the brain did everything it could to get all the information possible. Our brain is not trained to understand when it’s enough.
Do you understand what I mean?
What could you suggest as a method for an average person to stay more focused in a broader sense? Did you discover any authentic method to stay away from distractions in normal life after you ended the shooter’s career?
This is where my interest is now. The toaster is a one little tip to make people understand how it works and how they can elaborate and train their brains. That’s one thing.
The other thing is that we tend to think too much ahead in time and worry about what’s going to happen. Perhaps women tend to think more often than men. [Laughs]
But again, thinking further ahead in time is very good for the human being. Still, it makes it complicated in the sense that people lose focus on their actual abilities and things they already know, have and can. We lose a deep sense of ourselves because our minds are always in the future.
And I think this becomes a problem, in the sight of today. We are impacted by so many ideals — the way we should look, how much we should earn, and what we should plant in the garden. I mean, with everything. [Laughs] Ideals are directly when people open up Facebook and so on.
It’s challenging to keep the focus on ourselves on our deeper inner beings — that’s where we have the capacity. Many people are never present. They are always in the future and always compare themselves with their wished future. That’s a problem. They need to practice to get rid of these future thoughts, and sometimes I say to get rid of the goals.
There was a lady who asked, should we have visions or not? And I said, “Goals are important. Visions are very important.”
Yes, yes. And that’s another part.
But what about the future? You have a son. You have your own life, and you were goal-oriented in the past. How do you deal with that today? Most people hope to live in the future. They are not living today. They wish to live after they achieve something — and then there is life waiting. Today, there’s no life. What about you? How do you achieve optimal performance?
I often get the question from journalists or people because they think that once upon a time, I decided to become a world champion, and then I became a world champion. And, now, they automatically think, “What are you going to be the best in the world now?”
Yeah. People ask me, why didn’t you continue? I was quite good, and I could have continued. Well, I didn’t need any more medals. I was satisfied. And I think it’s essential to realize and to be honest with yourself. I dared to say to myself, “This is a new feeling, and I am satisfied. Wow, that’s amazing. I am satisfied.”
I realized quite early that life is so much bigger than standing on the podium.
I told myself and people around me that I’ve made the decision, I must become the best in the world. At the very first beginning — I didn’t know what “the best” is. What is “the best” in comparison with others? “The best” in the sense of standing on a podium as number one or perhaps number two sometimes? What is that? I didn’t know. This is the way I can explain my goal, “I need to become the best in something.”
Honestly, I had no clue about what “the best” means. Per definition, I stood on the podium. Especially that very first time I stood on the podium as a world champion, it came to me very clearly, and I looked out on the audience there. They applaud, and I felt that almost like it sounds a little bit cosmic or so. I almost looked at the crowd, and I felt, “This whole sport thing is kind of strange. Why do we do this?” I looked at other people, and I saw that some of them are jealous because I’m on the podium, and they are not. Some of them are truly happy for me, and some of them are just waiting for my next time so they can sponsor me or something.
And most of them are entirely forced to do the same thing. Everyone wants to be on the podium. And that’s the highest you can get in that sports world, in the shooting world. And when I saw that and when I felt that standing on the podium and I felt, well, this is an achievement, but as I knew this is just a little, little part of life. Life is so much broader and bigger. This feeling helped me to both win and handle failures.
This helps not to force myself and to tell myself again “Okay, next project—you must become the best author in the world.”
Yeah, yes. I don’t need to. But I think this feeling may help me to get there.
The feeling of that I don’t need to.
To approach my goals in a very relaxed way.
Spending thousands of boring hours on a shooting range to hit a target — I mean, it’s very interesting — but it’s a forced journey. It develops you a lot, and you find deeper knowledge about yourself, you find obstacles and very interesting things. However I have no need to do it again.
People want me to be in different places to speak as a motivational speaker.
Yeah. It feels good. Yeah?
But you are good. I’ve got a feeling that especially when you were talking now, that sport is somewhat similar to show business. It’s a lot of the same laws, sponsorship and sometimes cheating and politics and glory and losing, money, etc. There are some similarities.
And what you are doing now is also one may say it sounds like show business because you are on a stage and you are very good at the presentation. You’re singing, and you are dancing, you are moving on the stage. It’s very easy to focus on you when you are talking.
Yeah, that’s good to hear. And I can sense that. Yeah.
Yeah, but at the same time, maybe it’s more challenging to focus on what you tell because you are a good looking lady and also not just a good looking lady, but also you’re performing well on a stage. So, this is kind of a show. This is a show element. I don’t know what you think about that and how you feel about that.
[Laughs] Yeah. Well, I enjoy the word “show.” I think I am kind of an artist. I’ve always been like that. I know, I am, as we say, in brackets, “good on stage,” but I’m not that experienced as people may think. I’ve realized, and I’ve heard which is very lovely to hear that people think that I have done this for ten years.
The first time walking out on a big stage was two years ago. I spoke about my book. I was extremely nervous. I thought I was going to die. I thought I was going to fall off the stage. Because that was new to me, and it was only 15 minutes.
Yes. I did some small things, but the book helped me to come out. And that was kind of strategy too that I want to have something to say before I expose myself to the public. But then that time, when I stood on the stage, and I managed. I was extremely well prepared.
So, from a much broader perspective, I need to find motivation and passion. And I find that when I look at people, and I see when they struggle with focus or without focus or whatever we call it.
And then I feel if I have the credibility with my background to speak of this subject because it could be focusing on sports or it can be peak performance, or like I said long-term focus. It could be a focus on business or yoga. Or it could be a focus on a political level. I can twist it quite easily.
And if I have the credibility to speak on that, then I can also develop the subject much more. I can write a second book, which could be about handling digitalization etc.
That’s where I find my passion and my power. And I enjoy being on stage.
That’s great. So, it sounds like we’re wrapping up this. I must say I truly enjoyed this conversation. Some time ago, maybe in the medieval centuries, one person used to meet a maximum of 500 other human beings in life. That’s the limit. Today we have 500 Facebook friends quickly, and meet a lot of people, get to interact with thousands and millions of people.
Thank you very much. I enjoyed it a lot. And I guess it’s going to be a good source for other readers to find out about you and about what you do.