‘We all have the ability to come from nothing to something,’
David Goggins, ultra marathon runner, retired navy SEAL, author
We all have a story.
It’s the story we tell ourselves when we sense we don’t measure up. When we want to give up. When we blame others for what is happening to us.
Our inner critic loves our story. Perfect ammunition for keeping us in the comfort zone of mediocrity. No one thinks they want to be mediocre, do they? But I see a lot of people on social media clearly invested in their victim status, which suggests that’s exactly where they’ll stay.
And I do understand that. Stepping away from what’s comfortable and leaving it behind is not the easy choice.
Risk of failure can be daunting. Imagining others’ judgement can be paralysing. Putting energy into swimming up stream needs focused, constant determination. The Story becomes a way to rationalise clinging to the comfort zone.
Our story’s roots usually drill right into our childhood. ‘I’ve always been the world’s worst speller.’ ‘I was a fat kid.’ ‘I was useless at running.’ And we use that story to explain why we are like we are now. Under-achieving on detail jobs at work. Overweight. Not getting any exercise beyond pushing the remote buttons.
So how do we take our story and make it work for us?
You flip it. You look for the positives and you move forward. I’ll tell you two stories from my teenage years which may help you see this concept more clearly.
I fell on this ‘bad can be good’ idea quite by accident. And then, of course, as I grew older I discovered I hadn’t invented anything and Nietzsche was far more articulate on this subject than I was. But I understood ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ very well.
When I was in fourth year, about 14 years old, I was a geek swot who loved learning. I was plump, shy and my parents weren’t getting on. Basically, I had ‘bully me’ tattooed in invisible ink on my forehead. Bullies have vulnerability radar and mine showed up to claim me pretty quickly. We’ll call my bully Julie.
Julie had a great technique for hurting; she walked behind me and step on the back of my heels. That is painful, as anyone knows who’s been caught by a supermarket trolley in the back of the ankle. And so she did this every day, as often as she could. She walked behind me , stepping on my heels and taunting me, trying to inflict physical and mental pain. And I took it, until I couldn’t. I was heavily invested in achieving at school; I endured this for weeks. But everyone has their limit.
Julie’s first lesson – do your homework. Don’t mess with a girl whose dad wanted a boy. When I was about seven had Dad taught me to box. He’d kneel down and she me how to jab and defend. The results were I could punch. Effectively.
I knocked Julie off her feet with the first punch to the nose. She went down and she left me alone from then on.
So that was that. I realised standing up for myself was a good thing and I went on with being a geek and did my A-levels.
Just before I was due to go to move away to college I was sexually assaulted.
He stopped me on a quiet country lane and asked me the time. Then, while I was distracted looking at my wristwatch, he lunged at me. I know. Subtle.
Almost on autopilot now, I took aim and punched him right on the nose, and then stood, side on, guard up and ready to fight. He got up and fled.
I looked down at my dress, which was a mess, stomped off to the police station and only when I got there did the tears start.
What I took from being bullied had made me stronger.
Yes, I could have nipped that school bullying episode in the bud earlier, but I stopped it in the end. I didn’t see failure, I saw strength. And what I learned served me later. Ok, as would-be sex attackers go he was no Ted Bundy, just a mixed up kid with half a plan and no sense. The police picked him up a few days later on the same stretch of road, looking for his next ‘victim’. Thankfully he pleaded guilty and got a two-year supervision order. I really do hope he learned his lesson and got the help he needed.
Fight, flight or freeze
When we’re confronted with danger, it’s the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ part of the brain that kicks in and takes over to remove us from danger. Back in our ancient past, when we were hunted by predators that came with fur and big teeth, this part of our brain developed. Running wasn’t wise, couldn’t outrun these predators. Fighting was the last resort solution. Freezing was your best tactic, it’s very hard to spot a target that keeps very still or plays dead. This is why people freeze when they’re attacked and then question why they didn’t run or fight back; a part of their brain that’s purpose is to protect has taken over and is in charge.
Now you might think I was foolish to fight back, but for me it was the natural reaction. I didn’t make a conscious choice. And of course it gave me an element of surprise and I had that confidence in my physical power. I’ve worked to maintain that.
3 tips for developing your power
Yes, fighting is rarely the solution, but if you move with confidence and walk with power in your step, a potential attacker will sense that. They’re looking for weakness in your presence, not strength.
1. Learn how to defend yourself
If you don’t feel confident in your physical power, go learn how to feel more powerful. Take some basic self defence classes. Learn a martial art (amazing for making friends and learning the power of team support, by the way), but take control. Using these skills is not the goal. You’re not looking for a fight on Saturday night, but moving with confidence is a great deterrent.
2. Practice communication skills
If you regularly get into arguments (verbal fighting) learn techniques to communicate effectively without being emotionally triggered. You’re an adult now, you’ll have much more powerful, lasting relationships if you’re not treating every disagreement as a playground confrontation or a shouting match with your siblings.
3. Work on your body language
Predators are looking for easy victims, not difficult ones. Walk with confidence. If you’re lost, go into a cafe and check where you are, don’t wander around looking at your smart phone for directions. Most people are walking like they know where they’re going. Anyone who’s loitering and then starts moving towards you is likely to be after something, either your loose change or something else. Be aware.
What’s your story?
Bad things happen to good people all the time. Life is unfair. Being prepared makes sense. Using the bad times as reasons to achieve your goals makes sense, but using them to keep you from achieving your potential is not.
We all have stories. I have heard far worse than these two, I have far worse myself. I’m sure you do too. But you can use them as an excuse, or as your catalyst for change and growth – if you really want it.
Think about the stories you tell yourself. The incidents that you bring up as your reason for not moving forward when you know you want to or need to. In that story are positives that can spur you on. If you look for them.
If you want help with that, get in touch.
The choice is yours.
In Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl argues we cannot avoid suffering, but we can endure it and find meaning within it, which gives us a stronger power to endure and more purpose as we move on. In this book he talks about his time in concentration camps, where he lost members of his family, including his pregnant wife.
In David Goggins’ Can’t Hurt Me you’ll discover how he pulled himself back from poverty, depression and a no-hope existence to become the first man to complete elite training as a Navy SEAL, Army Ranger and Air Force Tactical Air Controller. This one comes with a language warning though; he swears like a sailor denied shore leave.