Before any big undertaking, any new project, business or artistic endeavor we start asking ourselves questions. Will I stay the course? Have I got enough stick-to-it-ness? Have I enough energy? Am I smart enough? Am I talented enough? Is it ‘my thing’? Can I learn fast enough?
The questions pile up and pretty soon they can overwhelm you. A safer option is to give up your ambitious plan. Carry on as normal, doing nothing very much.
What happens is you give up before you’ve even started, before you’ve faced even one REAL obstacle. People ask why aren’t you doing what you announced a few days ago so blithely in the pub? You feel a little foolish. You find it hard to explain because it looks like what it is: you gave up before you started because you got overwhelmed by self-doubt.
In fact self-doubt is a useful tool but a lethal weapon.
You use it as a tool when you want to come up with OBSTACLES to progress. Self-doubt is fear fuelled creativity. You try and think of every possible thing that can go wrong- the self-doubt tool will supply the answers. You make a list of all the OBSTACLES and next to them a list of all the WAYS you’ll overcome them, using normal creativity in this instance.
However, when self-doubt is given free reign, without control, it becomes a lethal weapon. It’ll kill any project stone dead. So self-doubt must be handled with extreme caution and used as a powerful directed beam to illuminate OBSTACLES in your way.
I keep capitalising OBSTACLES because when you walk your way to success, identifying and overcoming OBSTACLES is a key procedure.
We are brought up to believe that we need to add stuff to achieve our aims, and the more we add, kind of like video game merits, gold, or juice, the more chance we have of succeeding.
But the reality is the opposite. Having posited a goal we want to achieve we then start REMOVING things in our way. We start identifying obstacles and creatively finding a way round each one.
There are several reasons why this works better than the conventional ‘adding stuff’ method. First we harness self-doubt instead of being crippled by it or wasting psychic energy fighting it. Second we employ creativity to imagine OBSTACLES before they arise. We have a battleplan ready to hand, having visualised our path to success.
Performance coaches know that the more accurate the visualisation the more impact it has on improving skills. In a University of Chicago study, basketball players were divided into three groups for free throw training. The first group practised free throws an hour a day. The second group did no training and the third group simply visualised free throws an hour a day- with no real practise. After a month the people who really practised showed a 24% improvement. The people who didn’t practise showed no improvement. But the people who simply visualised making successful free throws showed a 23% improvement – without having visited a gym or touched a ball.
OBSTACLES are first overcome in our heads. Using controlled self-doubt we generate a realistic visualisation of the obstacle, then using creativity we visualise how to overcome it. Then, in the real world, we do just that.
Let’s get practical: before a long distance walk you’ll be assailed by self doubt. What if I get injured? What if I get blisters? How will I get water? Where will I camp? What if my gear is too heavy? What if I don’t do enough miles each day?
First you halt this process and turn it on its head. Gamify it by trying to come up with as many OBSTACLES to your ultimate success as you can. Even silly ones.
Then identify a way to overcome each obstacle. On my first big walk I had these obstacles: 1. Not enough money to complete walk by staying in manned mountain huts 2. Pack too heavy to make enough miles each day 3. Boots that worked in training but bit into my achilles in the mountains.
Any one of these could have been a show stopper. On previous attempts at long distance walks I'd been finished by much smaller obstacles even than these. Stuff as basic as big blisters, not being able to make a fire or running out of food. This time would be different. So I needed to think my round each obstacle in turn. Not enough money was solved by staying in unmanned huts or sleeping under a flysheet I carried. My heavy pack was reduced by chucking out an inner tent, cutting the top off my sleeping bag, ditching all clothes except shorts, thermals, two shirts, spare underwear, a fleece and shell gear. The boot problem was solved by biting the bullet and hitching into the nearest town and buying the cheapest pair of boots that fitted properly. Simple solutions when tackled one at a time, but overwhelming if faced all at once.
A long distance walk is a scale model of an attempt at anything a bit difficult, a bit out of your comfort zone. The obstacles on a long walk are easy to identify and fix. By long distance walking you build the skill of obstacle fixing. Use that skill to identify the harder problems of real life. If you find yourself - with your project, business or artistic endeavor- becoming overwhelmed, think of it like a long walk, one step at a time. Visualise a path that leads from NOW to success and identify each obstacle in turn.
You want to identify the obstacles (OK I think we’ve enough caps for now) before you start. You will then generate a path from start to finish. When you have a path in your mind, the path to success- you really will achieve it.
Before any project that seems daunting tell yourself it’s just a case of identifying what is in the way, what is stopping you, what is holding you back. When all obstacles have been identified and overcome in your mind the path is clear- you can safely assume you will succeed.
To achieve success- in a long distance walk- or anything else- you need to assume success – then act it out in real life.