On a bike ride with my daughter at the weekend, I was riding my bike up a very steep hill.
A jogger coming towards me called out, “You’re doing well! Keep going!” I replied that I wasn’t going to make it to the halfway point, never mind the top.
It then immediately struck me that I was letting my mind limit what I could achieve. I reminded myself of that morning in 1954 that Sir Roger Bannister made sporting history by running a mile in under a minute. He believed he could do it so he did. I believed I couldn’t so I wouldn’t.
I talked myself into trying harder and did at least make it past the halfway point.
If we don’t believe that we have a purpose and a value it can be difficult to succeed and difficult to take risks, “knowing” as some of us do that we "are not up to the task".
The way circus elephants are trained demonstrates this dynamic well.
In his excellent book The Gift of Fear, Gavin De Becker considers the mighty elephant when its spirit has been broken:
"When young, they are attached by heavy chains to large stakes driven deep into the ground. They pull and yank and strain and struggle, but the chain is too strong, the stake too rooted. One day they give up, having learned they cannot pull free, and from that day forward they can be “chained” with a slender rope. When this enormous animal feels any resistance, though it has the strength to pull the whole circus tent over, it stops trying. Because it believes it cannot, it cannot.”
“I can’t do it,” “I’ll never make it,” “I’m going to fail,” are words in our heads that we possibly learned as children from our parents, or from past failures.
Top golfer Jason Day doesn’t believe in negative self-talk. He says: “If you don't believe in yourself, somewhere or another, you sabotage yourself.”
Day adds “If you're going to have a bad attitude, you may as well not even tee it up that week because you probably won't play good anyways.”
We have bigger brains and more advanced intellect than other animals yet as Albert Camus puts it, “Man is the only creature who refuses to be what he is.”
Could you imagine our cave-based ancestors saying, “I can’t catch that deer, it runs too fast.” They would have starved to death. A lion doesn't lament "It's too hard, I'll never catch it!" Maybe our lives have become too easy now that we don't have to run for our dinner, even though we know that being active will extend our time on this earth.
“I'm not saying it's going to be easy. Nothing in life is easy. But that's no reason to give up. You'll be surprised what you can accomplish if you set your mind to it. After all, you only have one life, so you should try to make the most of it.” Louis Sachar.
In Seneca’s essay on tranquillity, he uses the Greek word euthymia, which he defines as “believing in yourself and trusting that you are on the right path, and not being in doubt by following the myriad footpaths of those wandering in every direction.”
The Stoics know where they are going. They trust themselves and their sense of the path. And so should we.
“Anyone can give up; it is the easiest thing in the world to do. But to hold it together when everyone would expect you to fall apart, now that is true strength.” Chris Bradford,