What can the worlds most successful athletics coach, the Patrician brother Colm O’Connell, teach us about one of the three key pillars of wellbeing and the pursuit of happiness?
The great, the good, and the not so good beat a path to his door in St. Patrick’s high school in Kenya to find the secret. How has this man with no previous background in athletics churned out a conveyer belt of champions that spans the decades? That includes amongst countless others David Rudesha, world champion 800 meters, double Olympic champion, and world record holder?
I would like to divulge that secret in this article on one condition: That you tell everyone.
A word about Fear
We are born with two fears. The fear of loud noises and the fear of falling over. All other fears are picked up and learned along the way. The fear of missing out, the fear of not fitting in, the fear of failure. The fear of not being good enough.
When fear is writing the script of your life the working title is always “I’m not good enough”. Colm’s secret is as simple as it is profound.
You were, are, and always will be good enough.
Nothing outside of yourself will make you more enough than you already are. Looking outside of ourselves for ‘proof’ that we are enough is like looking for a shark in the desert. It’s simply not to be found there. We fool ourselves into thinking we will be enough when we get the approval of our family and friends, or when we get that name plate on the office door saying CEO, or those top grades in school.
When we fully let into seep into our consciousness, into our very bone marrow, that we are enough, we are free to change our emotional state from one of constant fear and anxiety, to one of effort and application. We are free to reframe the word FAIL as First Attempt In Learning. Mistakes become VILE. Very Interesting Learning Experiences.
We are liberated to do the best we can, with the ability that we have, in the time that we have got, and in the space that we are in. We are free to bring out the best in us rather than the stress in us.
Our ancient brain
Stress is a feeling we get when struggling to cope with the demands being placed upon us.
Short-term pressure can serve the purpose of fueling us. It is important to learn how to have stress, rather than stress having us. The key is not letting stress tip over into distress, activating what’s commonly called a ‘fight or flight’ response. When this happens on a brain level, we have difficulty moving the spotlight of our attention away from the thing stressing us out, so that it becomes amplified and looms ever larger in our mind, occupying all of our attention at the expense of perspective. Molehills can become mountains in the mind’s eye and the body reacts like our very life is on the line – literally.
This stress response was only intended for rare and life threatening moments. Three million years ago, there was a real danger of a saber-toothed tiger eating Fred Flintstone. There were two mistakes you could make on the Serengeti Plain.
What once saved us now keeps us on a perpetual treadmill of anxiety.
Think there was a tiger in the bushes when there wasn’t and be wrong, or think there wasn’t a tiger in the bushes when there was, and be wrong. The first error would lead to elevated blood pressure and panic in the moment that you would ultimately survive. The second meant curtains. Consequently, our brains evolved to make the first mistake thousands of time to ensure we didn’t make the second mistake once.
Life goes on
Fortunately, there are not too many tigers wandering the streets these days … but your brain did not get that memo. There’s a big difference between a saber-toothed tiger trying to eat you in your mind – and an actual tiger actually trying to eat you! The problem is that your brain doesn’t take chances.
No matter what happens – if exam results don’t go your way, or that conversation, or that relationship, or you fail to get that promotion – remember what Robert Frost said were the three words experience had taught him about life.
It goes on…
In other words very few episodes in life merit a full ‘flight or fight’ response. There can be a huge toll to pay for living our lives in this zone in terms of our health both mental and physical and in terms of our performance.
Learn to be compassionate
That gnawing feeling of not being enough nags away at us and never seems to stop eroding our self-confidence. A crucial mindset to adapt when we meet a setback is to be more compassionate and kinder to ourselves. Withholding self-criticism and engaging in a more positive and constructive relationship with ourselves can greatly enhance our chances of a successful outcome. Amp up the voice in your head that’s positive – your inner coach. Dial down the negative voice in your head that’s your inner critic.
That voice in your head is the only one you can be guaranteed will be with you all your life – ME FM, your internal radio station. Make it a good news channel. This is 100% in your control. Believe in yourself costs nothing, and everyone can afford it.
‘If I said the things to my friends that I say to myself – I would have no friends.’ – Princess Diana
Have you ever noticed that we tend to talk least about the things we think about the most? We can be very hard on ourselves, and each other. What if we entertain the possibility that we are enough? If we push through our fears, heap hope on the bouts of doubt and entertain the possibility that there is nothing wrong with us that what is right about us can’t fix.
What if happiness … is an inside job?
Please feel free to watch my Ted talk for the other two pillars, and remember … you are enough. Spread the secret about happiness.