Time lapse of night sky

3. Dealing with the doubts (Part 2)

In the last blog we looked at about how easy it was to come up with reasons for NOT taking on a tough challenge. Time to take a break and use these techniques to get your mojo back!

When you take on a tough challenge it’s really easy to come up with a list of very reasonable reasons for why it’s a bad idea.

Here’s my list for trying to decide if I should take part in the trans-Atlantic rowing race.

“I could die.” Over the years 12 rowers have been lost rowing the Atlantic – so that’s definitely a possibility.

“I’m not into pain.” Taking on this challenge means months of having salt water give you ulcers and boils.

“I don’t want to get out of bed six times a day”. You row 2 hours on 2 hours off, you can do the maths! And oh yeah …

“I don’t know how to row.”

 It’s a pretty comprehensive list. So naturally I quit.

When you are first considering take on a tough challenge the cynical and critical part of your brain can always come up a long list of objections. You naturally start to feel overwhelmed and … you move on to something else.

When I was thinking of taking part in the trans-Atlantic rowing race that’s just where I was headed. But then I was very lucky to have a couple of things happen to me that really changed my attitude to this race, and not just this race, every big challenge that I’ve taken on. It’s a technique that you can use right now to get your head around your own challenge.

It comes down to this – Get yourself more excited and engaged and then use the power of your enthusiasm to see if you can flip your concerns.

So how to get more excited and engaged? There’s at least 4 ways.

The first is getting an image of success.

1. Get an image of success

 A few days after quitting on the race I went out to the letterbox and there was a large envelope inside. I took it upstairs and it turned out to be the application pack for the race. But I had quit on the race so I didn’t really care, but I was flicking over the pages … and then I turned a page and saw a photo that was so powerful, that moved me so much, that the first thing I did was to cut it out and to put it on the wall. Here it is here.

 Look at these two guys, look how bronzed and buffed they are! Look at the guns that guy has got on him! It was like getting a postcard from the future! It really breathed life into what I was trying to achieve and I’ve found that having an image, as corny as it sounds, is a great way to keep your subconscious mind focused on your challenge.

 It doesn’t matter if the image is cut out of a magazine, or the screensaver of your laptop, or just something that you think about each day. Because, more important than the image, it’s how you feel when you think about the image. About letting yourself feel for a moment how good it would feel to achieve your goal.

 You don’t have to sit cross legged, you don’t need to have whale songs playing. You don’t need to do this for 20 minutes. You will get benefit if you can do this for just a few seconds. Whenever I find myself lacking enthusiasm to do something I just spend a few seconds thinking about how good it would be if it were finished.

And there must be something to this, because highly trained people in high stakes situations do it all the time. It’s not unusual, before taking a penalty kick or conversion, for rugby players to take 25 seconds standing motionless next to the ball just visualising it going over.

The next technique is to find a role model.

2. Find a role model

This is Roger Banister in 6 May 1954, doing what some people thought was impossible and that was running under 4 minutes for the mile (breaking a record that had stood for 9 years). It was an amazing feat. Perhaps the most amazing thing of all though is that the following 2 years (to the end of 1956) 9 other runners also broke the 4 minute mile.

Either that was a fluke, or more likely, it was because his example showed other people what could be done. There was something about having a role model.

 Which is why when I was thinking of taking part in the trans-Atlantic rowing race, I made a point of meeting up with Rob Hamill, who you might know won the race the first time it was held.

 The most striking thing about Rob is that he seemed very normal. If normal people are doing this race then maybe I could too.

 The same thing happened when I was planning the South Pole trek, as I got to meet Sir Edmund Hillary, who back in 1958, was just the third person to lead a team to the south pole!

It was really confronting spending time with him. Because he’s achieved so much and yet seems so normal. You expect him to have done what he’s done because he’s some way special, because he had a third lung or the heart the size of Phar Lap. But when you meet him and he seems really normal, then you realise that the only difference between him and you is his attitude and how he’s applied himself.

What I’m saying is this – are their people who are achieving doing what you want to do? Are they different from you? Or could they be role models for you?

When I was thinking of taking part in the trans-Atlantic rowing race I looked very hard at what the background of the people who had successfully taken part in the race. You might think that it was only for hard core extreme adventurers, ex-military and so on. Nope.

Turns out that husbands and wives, mothers and sons had successfully completed. People who were really unprepared, who had built their boats in the bottom of their garden, and had spent next to no time in them had managed to get themselves across. Do you think that finding out that normal people had achieved this feat, people with the same athletic ability as me – was motivating? Of course it was!

Ideally you would meet these people and spend time with them – but you don’t even have to meet them to get a lot of the benefit – because it’s really helpful just to find out how many people are being successful at what you’re trying to do. What are the chances of your success? And do you have, or can you get, the skills that these successful people have?

3. Understanding ALL the benefits and when you’re going to get them

The third way to get emotionally engaged with your challenge is to fully understand the reasons WHY you might want to take it on. To think hard about ALL the benefits you could get. The type of person that you will become, the skills you will learn. The opportunities that you might have. What doors might open, what people you will meet, the networks that you might build.

And not just you. Could your success mean benefits for others? That would be great because we’ll do much more for others then we’ll do for ourselves.

This is Andre Agassi. Who after years of training and slogging his way up the rankings, winning grand slams, suddenly started losing. He had been pressured into tennis as a child by his very controlling father, and only realised, after he had become successful, that he really didn’t like playing. He fell into a desperate slump. His rank dropped from #1 to # 141.

 His turnaround began when he found a purpose larger than himself – helping disadvantaged kids get an education. He’s really taken on that cause, and been able to raise millions for schools. Two years after realising the more he won matches the more he could help he was back to #1 in the world!

 Recruits in the US Marines are taught that – whenever things get really miserable, when they’re digging fox holes in the rain, when they are crawling through the mud under barbed wire, when they really feel like quitting – they should ask each other WHY they are doing this. For many of them the answer is to build a better life for their family. And by reminding themselves of that, they see that their temporary struggle is worthwhile.

4. Motivational interviewing

 The final technique is about making the challenge less painful. It’s really simple.

  1. Ask yourself – how excited are you about taking on your challenge? Out of 10, with 0 being no pulse and 10 being super enthusiastic.

  2. Then ask – Why didn’t you choose a lower number? (That gets you thinking about the benefits.)

  3. What could you do to increase your level of enthusiasm just one point?

 For example you’re not looking forward to getting up at 6am to go for a run. You rate your enthusiasm at about a 3. It’s not 2, because let’s say you do feel quite good when you’re finished. You know it sets you up for the day. So how could you make getting up and getting out of the house just a little bit less painful? Well, maybe have your clothes all ready by the door? Maybe run with a friend? Maybe run listening to podcasts? There will be something you can do.

Pros and Cons 2.0

Ok, so now you’re a little bit more enthusiastic you can go back to your list of concerns and see if you can deal with them. Here’s what happened to me when I was thinking of taking part in the trans-Atlantic rowing race.

 “I could die.” Yes, I could die out there, but you know what, the boats are always found again afterwards. All I have to do is to stay tied onto the boat.

 “I’m not into pain”. That’s true, but I’ve got two years before the next race. Why don’t I just build the most comfortable boat in the fleet? I could bolt a La-z-y boy on if I wanted to!

“I don’t want to get out of bed 6x a day.” Well that’s just changing my focus, because in that same race, I get to go to bed 6x a day.

“I don’t know how to row.” That’s true, but whenever you take on a big challenge you’re not going to know all the steps from the start to the end, you have to back yourself that you can learn or work with people who have the skills you don’t have. I figured it didn’t matter how bad I was at rowing when I started this adventure, I was going to be an expert by the time I got to the end!

Now it’s your turn. Try using one or more of these methods to get enthusiastic about the possibilities of taking on your challenge, and then go back to your list of concerns and see how you can either avoid them, or mitigate them. It’s not going to turn you into a raving fan, it doesn’t need to, nor should it – some challenges aren’t worthwhile! What it should do is help you give your challenge a second look, to asses it in a more balanced and clear-eyed way.

But there’s one thing that we DO need to address, one of your biggest concerns that you might have, and that’s “What if I fail!?”. It’s a fascinating issue that we need to deal with head on. And that’s just what we’ll be doing in the upcoming vlogs!


If you want to find out more about the technique of motivational interviewing check out ‘Instant Influence – How to get anyone to do anything fast’. Which is not nearly as cheesy as the title suggests!


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