Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Another brick in the wall ...

I went in to my first high school wrestling practice with a little bit of a swagger. I had already wrestled for three years, gone to camps and placed well in the equivalent of a junior high state meet.

Wrestling for the mighty Tigers of Roseville
in 1992 or 1993.
My friend Jeremiah had never wrestled before his freshman year. He showed up to the first day of practice in jeans.

I went on and had pretty successful first year. As a freshman I wrestled varsity. Not bad for a middleweight. I won some and lost some, finished just above .500 – the expected growing pains. Jeremiah was 0-1 as a freshman and never made the JV team.

At the end of our freshman seasons, both of us said we were going to be state champions.

My senior year, I placed 7th in California. I was disappointed. Jeremiah pinned his opponent in the finals of the state meet, won a championship and was named the top wrestler in the state.

We have talked often about the disparity of where we both started and where we both finished. He is not naturally a much better athlete. He worked hard but I think you’d be hard pressed to find someone who outdid me. I would venture to say that if you put us both side by side, there would not have been many measurable differences between us in skill, strength or work ethic.

Few differences except our expectations.

My combatives/self-defense coach, Tony Blauer, created a fear management process called the Cycle of Behavior ™.  He initially created the process based on a quote he heard from social scientist Howard Gardner. Gardner explained that 80 percent of our motivation comes from our expectations. Blauer realized that without proper motivation, we will struggle to accomplish our goals. His study and analysis of great athletes, leaders, warriors helped him create a “motivational performance mind-map” for how we all can make decisions under duress. The Cycle of Behavior identifies a simple path towards our goals that shows how motivation is affected by our expectations, our visualizations, our beliefs and certain neuro-associations (symbols) we see in our path. Every time we visualize failure or a negative outcome it affects our expectations of the outcome and, in turn, our motivation. Blauer calls this the “fear loop.”

It is this fear that we use to build walls around ourselves. Walls that prevent us from accomplishing what we want. I have done a lot of things – had lots of experiences. While some of those experiences have smashed parts of the wall, others have added bricks to it. With experience comes accomplishment and failures. Accomplishments can tear down that wall. Failures too, can tear it down, but they also can add bricks to it. It depends how you view that failure. Each failure gives us another brick to build up the wall – a little taller, a little stronger, and a little more insurmountable.

Subconsciously, we think those walls protect us from the pain of future failure. The reality is that they actually prevent us from seeing what we are capable of.   

See, while I told people I wanted to be the state champion -- and this is tough to admit even now – I am not sure I ever really expected I would. Jeremiah, as a 0-1 freshman practicing in blue jeans, never thought he wouldn’t. I had placed bricks in my wall from past losses, past experiences. He hadn’t even visualized a wall, let alone built a foundation of expectations.

I had heard Coach Blauer talk through the Cycle of Behavior several times and thought I understood it. One morning, I was headed to a local CrossFit competition. The first workout was grueling and I was trying to work out a strategy in my head.  As I thought about it I kept mulling over that concept, “80 percent of our motivation, comes from our expectations.”

For some reason, it clicked. If I didn’t expect that I could do something – truly believe it, I couldn't possibly be motivated to do it, especially when it gets tough. When it gets hard and we meet resistance, it will be too easy to give in if we don’t really deep down expect to be successful. Where is the motivation to push through when it is hard if we don’t really, in our hearts and minds expect to be successful? And when I say really expect too, I mean deep down, in those places we don’t talk about publicly.

I read somewhere once (I don’t recall the source, but I wish I could cite it), that there is really “three selves.” There is the self we see, the self that others see and the true self – the one not tainted by ours or other’s perceptions. The expectations of the true self are the ones I am talking about, not what others want or the ones we want others to believe.  

I looked at all the things I had done. As an athlete there had been great accomplishments and failures, yet I had a tendency to focus more on the failures. I added bricks. Even the victories, I added bricks. When I won an MMA fight, I figured my opponent must not be very good. When I won wrestling tournaments, I figured it was because the competition was weak, not because of my abilities. Brick by brick the wall got bigger. People around me thought I was fearless and confident because of all the things I had done. Others assumed the experiences were liberating. I saw them as constricting. More experiences just equaled more evidence of what I could or couldn’t do. Bricks stacked on top of bricks.

The bottom line is, in order to do anything, we have to truly believe we can. We are only going to perform at as high of a level as we really believe we will. This is the tough part. I can say whatever I want to anyone who will listen: I am going to be a world champion, I am going to be a better husband/father, I am going to start eating healthy.  But in order to really do it, I have to expect myself to ... not just want, wish or hope to. Even hard work, without expectation won’t do it.

And if each failure adds a brick to our wall, provides new evidence of what we can’t do, we become less apt to expect we can. It is easy to recognize that we learn more from failures than successes, it is how our true self applies that lesson that will make the change.

It is easy to say we are going to do something. Our public voice and face has an ego to maintain. It says what we want it to say and more importantly, what we want others to hear. But it is our personal voice, the one that talks to us when no one else can hear, that is the voice we have to convince. That is the voice we are going to hear in the hardest parts of a workout, the middle of an attack or mugging or when we are feeling the least confident or sure of our decisions or abilities. When we are alone, if truly, deep down we expect to fail, it is difficult to be motivated to do anything else.

Instead of allowing successes or failures to add bricks to our walls, I am trying to visualize each win or loss as an emotional sledgehammer, smashing those walls to smithereens. Jeremiah is a leadership coach these days. His company, Forging Leaders, has a quote he uses to remind us: “The walls you've built to protect yourself are keeping out the things you need the most..” He was able to say in 16 words what I have taken hundreds to explain. Damn him, he got me again.

But through training (mental, emotional and physical), meditation, contemplation and exploration we can raise our understanding and confidence and elevate our expectations of ourselves.  The bottom line is simple: you will get what you expect to get.

Expect greatness.

Besides, all those walls block the view.