I have spoken a fair bit about attitude and race psychology (without any official letters behind my name in this regard; I don’t claim to be a sports psychologist just a coach with a keen interest in humans so take everything I write with a grain or two of salt), about how toughness and resilience is a key factor in race success.
Speaking to a few friends and associates who are familiar with my writing (both on this blog and freelance work for print and online media), a common comment about it is that it’s brave and honest. It’s funny but I really hadn’t considered it to be either. Sure, at times I feel completely at the mercy of the gods when I send an editor a piece that is more narrative; even something that isn’t particularly personal can have me feeling quite naked and uncomfortable. After all they’re judging my work, my inner workings; they’re judging what has spilled from my head into a word document and that may subsequently be in a national publication. It would be terrible to not be ‘good enough’, wouldn’t it?
But writing for the blog? Not so much. Writing about stuff that could potentially help others through my own learning as a coach and athlete doesn’t—to me—feel particularly vulnerable. Coaching and bikes are all very safe topics of conversation for me, even if it involves what’s in your head.
In fact, the older I get, the more life experience I have, the more comfortable I am being honest with others.
It’s true; the truth will set you free. Whether it be about cycling, work, relationships, your past or even the pitfalls of your own character. I have a policy called the truthful answer policy, which is as it sounds; if someone honestly wants to ask me something regardless of how hard the question is, I will answer it truthfully.
Individual results/responses (on the immediate level) are varied, but in the long term I think people appreciate honesty even if they don’t always get the desired answer.
A TED talk popped up on my news feed, The Power of Vulnerability which can be found here and it couldn’t articulate the soupy quagmire of thoughts circling around in my brain about this better.
Feeling worthy enough to be open about your vulnerbility allows a greater capacity for human connection. It’s certainly a consistency I have found in my life. Furthermore, allowing yourself to be vulnerable and being okay with it allows you to accept yourself and situations much better.
I guess a real-life physical example is putting a DEXA scan, skittled with jiggly yellow bits (meaning fat) up on social media. It’s not a flattering picture. When you lie down on the flat, hard bench to get DEXA’d, your butt wants to lie down too. Invariably people tend to look blobby and weird. But what did I have to lose? I am not ‘fat’ in real life, au contraire at the time of the scan I was fit and healthy, relatively lean at 18% body fat, but still I looked a bit like a blob on the scan. That’s real life. Embracing the metaphorical DEXA scans of our life is pretty freeing; whether it be a skill on the bike you’re bit ashamed about not knowing or a prickly history. The first step to improvement is acknowledgement.
I suppose after my post on challenging yourself I had some misgivings. I was worried it may send the message that for peak performance, hardness and toughness is required at all costs, despite the other parts of our psychology having an input into performance. I worried that it would send the message to people that I had never struggled with anything I wrote in the post and that athletes should ‘just get on with it’.
Instead what I think I needed to emphasise is that having some of the reactions and thoughts (even if the athlete is not aware why they’re acting in a certain way as the triggers to behaviours my be found behind ancient cobwebs, buried away deep in the Id) is actually perfectly normal, and growth from this can happen….if you allow yourself to be vulnerable about it. I think that toughness is developed from self-compassion, which is a bit of a thing to get the head around. Especially for blokes. Socially it’s all a bit taboo to be anything but ‘she’ll be right’.
If you have worth and can assess that you’re ‘okay’ then you can accept whatever comes. Acknowledging how you’re feeling, and what has triggered it can be hugely beneficial and can allow you to figure out how to change it, or at least think about things in a more constructive manner.