'I am not intelligent, only passionately curious.' Albert Einstein
When we try something new it hurts if we fail. People criticise, even mock.
Little wonder then that we are all physically hardwired to fear stepping into the unknown.
Two peanut size bodies in our brain, situated at the top of our brain stem, the Amygdalas, control our fight, flight or freeze reactions.
Try something new and the Amygdalas scream at you not to do it. They love the comfort zone and do everything in their capability, which is immense, to keep us there.
And why not? Their job is to keep us alive, their power is such that it overrides our rational side, almost every time, but only if we allow them to do so.
The fact is that the brain is like any other muscle in our body, it needs to be stretched to develop.
The only difference is that in order to strengthen our brain muscle, we experience a different category of pain, so much more acute than the physical.
It can be great fun smashing yourself in the gym, pushing yourself to the absolute limit.
It is so much harder, however, to exercise our brain muscle. It demands a journey into the unknown, an internal, mental battle often of monumental proportions. ‘Am I good enough? What if it is all a disaster? Can I do it?
The resistance the Amygdalas create needs to be met head on.
It is at this point that we confront a fundamental paradox; it is the moment when humility and arrogance converge to unlock the mental shackles that restrict the opportunity to excel.
It is when we break our self Imposed limitations through developing the soul deep confidence that we can excel, despite all the odds which might be stacked against us.
Do something new once, succeed and your brain muscle will tell you that you can do it again, with relative ease. We will have broken through, mapping the unchartered territory previously denied to us.
Let’s take an example; Roger Bannister ran the 4 minute mile for the first time in May 1954. John Landy, an Australian contemporary of Bannister, stated the month before that it was impossible, he had tried and failed. However, once Bannister had ran a mile in under 4 minutes, Landy went out and also broke the 4 minute barrier and he did it many times afterwards!
Realising someone else could do the seemingly impossible, motivated Landy to win his own mental battle. From the position of conceding defeat, seeing a contemporary competitor achieve, transformed his attitude into a winning mindset.
But what if Landy had stated ‘I am going to break the 4 minute mile.’ Was he afraid to say so? Would this have made a difference?
I believe so.
Dave Brailsford, head of Sky cycling stated ‘we will win the Tour de France.’ People scoffed! He did. Clive Woodward stated ‘we are going to win the rugby World Cup in 2003!’ He did.
The difference between Brailsford, Woodward and Landy is small but huge in terms of execution and outcome.
Brailsford and Woodward continually exercised their brain muscle, they were inspired by stepping into the unknown, not psychologically defeated by it.
They possessed the one key attribute that eluded Landy - an insatiable curiosity, to learn how to set a new target and then smash it. They were not afraid to try and fail, and try again, learning valuable lessons from each experience.
I don’t know how intelligent Brailsford and Woodward are, but intelligence means little unless you possess the passion to develop and grow your brain muscle, to ask a million questions, seek an understanding to give it a go and have the hunger to learn, so that you might in time achieve the exceptional.
So if you are a Personal Trainer, ask yourself three questions:
1. What are your Amygdalas preventing you from doing in your career?
2. What is the next step in fitness that you are afraid to make?
3. What career dream would you love to pursue but fear of failure holds you back?
If you don’t give it a go, you will never realise your true potential, you will never develop your brain muscle.
You will remain imprisoned in your comfort zone, and the Amygdalas will be content in their superiority, and they will have won.
Don’t let them!
Haydn is Service Leadership Director at HPT5
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