Last Sunday, along with my amazing ‘Born To Run’ comrades, I completed my first half marathon in Anglesey! In the days that followed I heard “I knew you could do it” and “You should never doubt yourself” more times than I could count… The funny thing is, in the run up to the race – pun intended – not once did I doubt that I would finish, better still, I knew I would finish in good time (which I did). I realised that at some point my belief in my abilities and even my view of running had changed.
Maslow theorised that every human is capable of self-actualisation (to realise one’s potential and find meaning). The theory reasoned that in order to reach the highest level of person-hood, you first need to satisfy physiological, safety, love and esteem needs. However, many people give up these ‘needs’ for the purpose of succeeding and finding meaning. One awesome example of this is Sean Conway, who, in 2012 sold his business for £1 and neglected his physiological, safety and love needs – all at once – to cycle around the world; he even cycled the last 12,000 miles with a fractured spine after being hit by a car, all the while knowing he had already lost the record!
I’m obviously not comparing my own journey with that of Conway’s, if i get hit by a car during training, I’m taking up swimming… His story is just an extreme example of what happens what you achieve congruence. Carl Rogers argued that in order to self-actualise, one’s “self-concept” must be congruent with the “ideal-self.” Simply put, your actions and the way you envision yourself must be in-line with the version of yourself that you had hoped to be; Sean Conway pictured himself as someone who would cycle the globe and so he did.
In this way, your self-concept is vital for influencing or even determining the outcomes of the goals you set yourself. Positive psychologists maintain that you are what you believe; our beliefs determine our attitudes, which in-turn dictate how we feel about and respond to experiences and thus directs behaviour. In other words, if you consider yourself to be high achieving, you are more likely to approach tasks and activities in general with confidence and thus more likely to put your full effort forward. Conversely, the opposite would hold true if you viewed yourself as a low achieving individual. Luckily, our self-concept isn’t written in stone, it is susceptible to change through honest evaluation of your strengths and perseverance.
At the beginning of my training I did not see myself as a runner. I had tried to run frequently in the past and had failed again and again to enjoy it and I assumed this lack of enjoyment to be my downfall. Even as I continued to meet my goals in training, set-backs would feed my negativity and weaken my enjoyment of it. I think for me, the turning point was on completion of the Ruthin 10k – I had experienced a number of set-backs the week before (a persistent cough being my main enemy) which affected my confidence and yet I powered through it! My “self-concept” became less in-congruent with my “ideal-self” (I felt more like the runner I wanted to be), I realised that determination counts for a lot and you don’t have to enjoy something consistently to be good at it.
Interestingly, research has shown that happiness without direction does to the same to the body as adversity and so it is more beneficial to be someone who has meaning or purpose in mind (with or without happiness). In my case, the direction is obviously the Liverpool marathon in May!
Direction and set-backs also (ironically) seem to work as a team to contribute towards success! Each failure is lesson and these lessons teach us to adapt and improve strategies. I recall one training session with my running group where I forgot to turn on my fitbit and thus could not track my pace (first mistake), I then preceded to run with with someone I knew to be faster than myself (second mistake). Once I had realised that I was exhausting faster than I usually would, instead of slowing down, I continued to try to run with my friend (the killer mistake). Long-story-short, I was the last runner back and I turned up with swollen hands and a sore ego. I was able to apply my lessons learned to the Anglesey half marathon… I had my fitbit ready and ran at a pace I was comfortable with – even it meant running alone for most of it. The initial failure turned to achievement when I realised it was once of the best runs I’d ever done!
Failures are also thought to form the basis of resilience. If you achieve after responding to a failure as a learning opportunity, it teaches you that failure it not something to fear but rather an opportunity for mastery. Recent research has shown that when a task is framed as a challenge, rather than a threat, failures increase performance.
To sum up:
- If you direct your behaviour towards becoming your “ideal-self,” you do in fact come closer to being that person!
- In this way, you are what you believe yourself to be
- You can change how you see yourself through perseversence and acknowledging your successes
- Achievement of your goals will follow!
- Your skill may develop before your passion, and thats ok…
- Acceptance: allow your failures to teach you lessons and to build you into a stronger and more confident human
See you at the finish line!