“Only those who risk going too far can possible know how far one can go”
Have you ever taken on a challenge and wondered whether you’d bitten off more than you could chew? Have you reached a point where you’re not sure if you can go on, and then realise that you’re only a fraction of the way through? Have you thought that you were mad to embark on it in the first place?
It strikes me that most challenges are completely mental. Let me qualify that. In truth, most challenges are largely psychological. Even the challenges that appear physical, are essentially a mental challenge. Inevitably we will be presented with an array of situations, circumstances and events along the way. Those situations trigger conversations in our mind. Our mind often conjures doubts, and voices them as questions.
“Can I really do this?”
“Am I cut out for this?”
“Am I really strong enough?”
“What’ll happen if I fail?”
We find ourselves engaged in a conversation with ourselves. It is the mental tug of war; the battle between our doubts and our desires. So how do we change the conversation?
It may surprise you to know that even the most successful people have these doubts; even Olympic champions and world record holders, even the toughest of the tough. In fact, as double Olympic gold medallist Steve Williams testifies, knowing that other people also have these doubts is liberating. It means that the competition are in the same position as we are. We have a level playing field.
Steve Williams won his Olympic gold medals as a rower in the Great Britain coxless four crew. He rowed in squads with the great Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent. As Steve Williams said, even sporting legends have doubts.
“Steve [Redgrave] spoke very openly about his doubts, about tough races, about not knowing if he could do another 10 strokes. I thought, ‘He’s just like me. He gets nervous. He doubts. He wasn’t born different. He’s not immune to human responses. He’s a champion because he can deal with them. Everyone has to learn it and it can be learned’”.
It seems to me that doubting is a given. It’s a myth to believe that highly successful people have an absolutely cast-iron self-belief that allows them to be free from any self-doubt. In all of the world class performers that I’ve met, I have never come across it. It is not the presence of, or lack of, doubt that differentiates successful people, but the way they engage with those doubts. For some people, the appearance of a doubt will be the end of the conversation. For successful people, it is the start.
What does the conversation in your mind sound like…?
“I’m not sure if I can do this or not. I think I’ll stop”
“I’m not sure if I can do this or not. Well, let’s give it a try and see. I may not get it perfect first time, but if I keep learning, I’ll get better”
As the existential philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, said…
“I have the courage, I believe, to doubt everything; but I have not the courage to know everything”.
If we accept that doubts are normal, and even world champions have them, it becomes easier to engage with them. At the point that I stop judging doubts as ‘threatening’, or ‘wrong’ or as ‘a sign of weakness’, I can use them to help me. Once I engage with my doubts, I can start asking myself the questions openly and start searching for the answers.
“Okay, so what if it doesn’t work? What would I do? What are my options? What are my choices?”
Perhaps, the key to mastering our mental territory is to change the conversation.