I started this blog with the intent of talking about performance and social identity, especially as it relates to Tourette’s Syndrome. Instead I have found myself bouncing around from mental illness to youth sport and from suicide to hope. Last week I questioned my intent and asked myself some questions about what it is I want to achieve here, as recently I have found that a lot has been about hope. I started to think about this as typically I start out each article thinking about the direction my writing will go and often find myself veering off as my thoughts take a new direction. Now, after some reflection, finally I think I have the answer. No matter what happens in life, hopelessness will destroy it. While this is true across humanity, the most instantly observable environment is sport.
If willpower were so easy as “Today I will start/stop *insert goal here*” we’d all be a blazing and unstoppable success in all we tried to achieve. Ideal weight? Easy, all you have to do is willpower it. Want to run 10 miles? Yeah, willpower it, no problem (that said, watch this space for the rat article). What’s that, you want to be the best in your field (whatever that may be)? You can willpower it into existence, easy peasy lemon squeezy. Nope – I’m calling shenanigans! Difficult, difficult, lemon difficult, as Toby Wright would say.
One of the (many) things I really like about my son’s coach is that there is always a take away. There are always positives, and always something to work on. Always. Even if they win every game 10-0 there is still something to improve on. This is every bit as important as working to improve when you are losing. Failing to identify ways to grow because of continual success can result in complacency and a decline in a growth mindset. The coach practices the right things to inspire confidence (high self-efficacy), and a belief that external factors are mere obstacles that can be overcome (high locus of control).
And there you are, January 15th, half way through a pack of cigarettes you bought last night and feeling down on yourself. But, but… the mountain – and the little train. I thought I could. And suddenly your whole identity as a mentally strong, focused and goal-oriented individual dissipates into the air, and instead of exercising you get out the ice cream and prepare for a Netflix binge session. I think I can make it though six hours of Netflix and a tub of ice cream before bedtime. Yeah, I am 100% certain of this. And I’m right – hit that one right out of the park and didn’t even have a SMART goal.
NLP is on paper the cheesiest and flakiest kind of psychology you can imagine. Really. It’s completely without scientific merit (at least as we understand science today), and in truth, on first look I would even say it is risky putting it in the realm of psychology. However… it gets results.
I have found one thing to be common in every single person who has made it through a tough time or had a rough start in life and came good. One person. Every person I have ever met who has fought through adversity has had one person who believed in them, supported them, and encouraged them. One person helped them run that first mile, lift their first weights, and achieve the first step. Then they found others.
Mental toughness is practicing in the pouring rain when the opponent isn’t. It is running that extra 100m when your legs gave up a mile ago. It is getting back on the beam when you fell for the third time. It is picking the ball out of the net for the fourth time and still giving everything for the full 90 minutes. It is leaving it all on the field, because anything else is less than you owe yourself and your team for all the work you put into being there to start with.
Well meaning motivational types will tell you to “Go big or go home!” My take? Sometimes going home means you went big and made it out the other side – which shows a lot more mental preparedness than simply going big.
Competitors are often defeated before they even enter the fray. Their opponent is bigger, stronger, faster, has more experience, is the world record holder, or any other number of factors that can sow a seed of doubt. When the doubt is watered, when the game plan is altered, when accommodation is made for the opponent, and when the opponent dictates the rules of play, the game is lost.