What You Say to Yourself in the Highs and Lows

In this blog I wanted to talk a bit more in depth about the relationship that we have with ourselves and how that impacts how we perceive success and failure throughout our lives. In the previous article I wrote ‘Are your relationships serving you?’ I looked at how the most important relationship we have is the one that we have with ourselves. Do we really treat ourselves with respect and trust ourselves? Or are we hypercritical and condemn ourselves for every little step we take out of line?

I remember when I used to do a lot more rock climbing than I do now. On one particular day around the peak of my rock climbing ability I went out climbing with a friend. We were doing a particular route where I would have to have a specific setup in order to belay the other climber up to me after I’d finished my section of the route. This setup is called a hanging belay, which is essentially where you hang your weight onto the gear that you’ve set up by putting said gear in constrictions that are on the crag so that they are jammed in. You then tie the rope that goes from your harness to the pieces of gear that you have just jammed in the wall so that you don’t fall off. There is one obvious drawback to this approach, which is that if your gear comes out of the wall and falls down the crag, you are going to go with it. It requires you to trust your gear, trust your placement of that gear and that the rock is solid. It’s fair to say that for my first time attempting this setup I was a bit nervous.

The climb was easy enough and ended at the top of an overhanging piece of rock where I needed to set my belay up. The art in climbing is to be able to predict what gear you will need to be able to protect you well as you make your way up the wall. If you are doing a route for the first time you will have the description in the guide book and a ‘map’ of the route. I say ‘map’ because these depictions of routes can be a great representation or look like a 5 year old’s doodle. With this, sometimes limited information, you select your gear and off you go. As I’d climbed the route I’d put more gear into the rock than anticipated and found myself in a position where my options of how to set up a belay were slim. This was slightly unnerving as I would be hanging off of whatever I managed to concoct with my limited supplies in a few minutes time.

climbing success failureI fumbled around for my gear of which I had 3 nuts (wires with lumps of metal on the end) to set up my belay, to add insult to injury I found they were the 3 smallest nuts I had (the lumps of metal on the end we’re no wider than a thumb nail) and only 2 of them fitted in the cracks I could find. After I managed to muffle the stream of profanity inside my head I went about setting up, trying various permutations and arrangements until I found the one I had most faith in. After I’d set up I was ready to weight my first ever hanging belay and precariously hang above a 30ft void. I remember thinking what would happen if it all just fell apart. Imagining my body like a Jackson Pollock painting spread amongst the rocks below me. Then I remember focusing on the infinitely preferable possibility that my success would mean I would survive this pig of a climb. I decided it would be best to continue focusing on that possibility as I leant back and weighed my harness.

How we view which way a scenario will go affects our ability to what degree we will follow through on it. Will we follow through with vigour or begrudgingly? Will we succeed or fail? I’d like to point out whilst I use the word failure, as it is one which I feel we are all too familiar hearing in our society. We never really do fail, rather we find a way not to do something. If you run your own business or are self-employed you will know exactly what I mean. As we progress and build our businesses it is about maximising our successes and learning how not to do things to be able to do it better next time. I’ve not met anyone yet where they have had everything go perfectly for their business. There has always been something that they have had to refine, tweak and improve upon. This same principle can easily be applied to other aspects of our own lives, personal and professional alike.

What is important is how we view ourselves when we find ourselves having to adjust when something doesn’t go as smoothly as we anticipated. Do we just write ourselves off straight away and say it’s not for us? Or do we see how we can make our approach better, faster and more efficient? The internal dialogue inside of us is the determining factor in which way we swing on this matter of success and failure.

This principle of how we view ourselves isn’t just for failure. It matters just as much when we think about how we deal with success. Does success drive us to build upon success and set bigger goals? Or do we lose motivation as soon as our goal comes close to us and fall over the line with one last half hearted push? What is it that’s the driver for you to want more and stay hungry for the next thing on the horizon? When we arrive at a goal there are one of two main dialogues that we have in our head, either a positive acceptance of achieving a goal or a critical, unfulfilled perspective. ‘Yes! Well done, we did it and it was down to our hard work and perseverance’ would be an example of the former and ‘we didn’t deserve to succeed, we can’t do it really, we were just lucky’, would illustrate the latter, critical dialogue. I find that the individuals who allow themselves to appreciate the times when they achieve goals and the checkpoints along the way, have a more consistent climb towards their main goal than the people who are overly critical of themselves. I’m not saying that you can’t be successful by having a critical attitude. Many highly successful individuals have a critical view of themselves and their businesses/work. I have just found the appreciative individuals to be more consistent and are more resilient to the negativity of their ‘failures’.

Next time you find yourself succeeding or failing I invite you to note what your internal voice is saying to you and whether you are aware of the ways in which you operate in these circumstances. Some of us will be very aware of how we treat ourselves and some of us might never have considered this. The main question to ask is, ‘am I happy with how I feel about the dialogue going on in my head?’ If you are happy with how you operate then it’s a good fit for you. If you’re not happy or you don’t know, it’s time to ask yourself some more questions about what you’re getting out of it and how it’s might be stopping you from doing what you want.

As you’ve probably guessed, due to me writing this blog, my hanging belay did hold and I was able to belay my climbing partner up to me and go on to complete the climb. It was one of those experiences where I had to trust myself. I couldn’t do any half measures, I couldn’t kind of trust myself, I couldn’t focus on what might go wrong if I messed it up. If I had thought differently then maybe that day would have ended very differently. This is one learning of many I have taken since then and applied to my life with no regrets.

Find your learnings, listen to them and focus on the horizon.

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