I am not sure how I am going to get through the next two weeks – I already seem to have had an overdose of our national obsession with medals. What happened to the thrill of participation?
Last Friday I visited my granddaughter’s school sports day, and immersed myself in the throng of happy participants whose only aim appeared to be having fun and having a go. Well, it seemed that way on the surface, but gradually I began to notice that among some children there already was an unhealthy fixation on winning. Instead of taking pleasure in doing their very best, there were tears and tantrums from the child and blame and censure from the parent.
Now I want to make it quite clear that neither of my granddaughters won their races – but the eldest improved her position from last year; and the youngest was just so happy to take part that she didn’t care what happened (It’s her first year at school and it’s all still an adventure). Neither of them felt ashamed of themselves – and both are still capable of understanding that sometimes it’s all about ‘progress not perfection’. (I would love to give a Hat Tip for that quote but I cannot remember where I heard it recently – so if it was yours please add a comment so I can thank you personally)
When I was in the army, we trained dozens if not hundreds of young people; and one of the biggest challenges for them was the physical fitness regime. It was relentless and the standards, though not excessive, were rigid. They were easily attained if the recruit was relatively fit, but fail to meet them and the outcome was dire!
For young recruits who were not all that fit on entry, the ongoing programme often brought them up to the standard required without them noticing the change – if they had the right attitude. But so often I noticed that in some recruits there was, from the beginning, an expectancy of failure. Their excuse was “I was never very good at sports in school” and further enquiry would often discover that they had not taken part in sport because “I never win, so what’s the point?”
The problem I saw with the young recruits is that their attitude to failure didn’t stop with the physical side of the training. Their whole attitude to achieving was skewed by this obsession with winning, and failure on the sport’s field seemed to equate with failure in other aspects of life. If we expect our children always to win, and make them feel that they have failed us if they don’t- how can we teach them the art of loosing? Because no matter how many participate in the race, there will always only be one winner; and by focussing only on that, we loose the pleasure of personal achievement.
It we see ‘not winning’ as personal failure we start a cycle which can lead to the four pillars of negativity:
1. What we think we will believe – so if we think we will fail, we are setting up the belief that failure is inevitable.
2. What we believe we become – by focussing on failure we maximise each failure and often ignore our achievements. This merely reinforces the belief “I always fail”
3. What we become we manifest – Believing that we are sure to fail we set up the very conditions that will guarantee it. We don’t try our hardest because what’s the use, “I never win” and so of course we don’t.. And if winning is the only thing that matters I am a failure if I don’t.
4. What we manifest we are – By setting up the conditions that will guarantee failure; we reinforce the idea that we are a failure. And once that has set into our psyche, we are a failure.
But if we set our focus on competing against ourselves, then we focus on personal growth, and instead of trying to beat everyone else, let’s try to better our last performance. That way we can measure achievement, and then we can congratulate the winner, (If not us) with genuine enthusiasm bolstered by the knowledge that this time I was much faster than last time, and the anticipation that I probably can do a little better next time.
But if you have developed a sense of inevitable failure – there is help. You can change your attitude to your personal achievement – you can learn to change those pillars of negativity into strong pillars of positivity; and learn that often success is an outcome of a strong sense of belief in the possibilities.
Now I am off to cheer on the underdogs, I think that they have achieved so much more by merely participating!
Michele @ Trischel