Entertaining Trouble

Mental Skills

Photo by Diane Picchiottino / Unsplash

What do our instincts really know? This is a profound question for me as a coach.

I mean, as athletes, we set scary goals. I’ve explored this quite a bit. Why do we do that? The paradox is that many athletes are type A personalities. Driven, anxious, suspicious, doubtful and yes, even fearful.

Many athletes, it seems, are counterphobic. We seek out what we fear.

I know this space well, not only among triathletes but within myself, I am one of them. I rub up against things that make me uncomfortable. The paradox is, while I’m rubbing up against the discomfort, my mind is on fire about why I don’t have what it takes to do what I’m doing.

I’m just being honest here.

So there’s a tug of war between what I’m doing and what my mind is saying about it. Now, I know for a fact that instinct is the loser here.

When my mind is on fire with doubt and the thoughts that I am not good enough, I am not present in my instincts. I’m a former triathlete and now a professional triathlon coach.

I’m up to my armpits in an endeavour I know pretty much bugger all about.

Yesterday, it got me into a world of trouble. An 18 foot standup paddle board I’d never paddled before, in the neck of a break wall you couldn’t swing a cat across, water moving in all directions and 4 foot sets cleaning me up right in front of it.

In the end, when my mind didn’t have an answer, my body came up with the instinctual action to get me out of that trouble. A change of board shorts later, let the heart rate settle and continue on, right?

Except two hours later, I had to do it all again at an even lower tide. Watching my mind's projections on the earlier drama was a trip.

Am I a man or a mouse? What the hell is going on here?

Here’s the key to this. I’m pretty sure my mind got me into this trouble in the first place, and because doubt and fear were running the show, I got exactly what I didn’t want.

As I drew closer to that break wall for the second time, it was blatantly obvious, dude, stay with what you are doing and let the nervous system do what it does.

Don’t add layers of thought to an already extremely complex physical situation.

So, this is my body’s response to danger and on that first trip through the wall I wasn’t able to stay with it. I went up into my head.

I have old childhood conditioning that puts me in the firing line for doubt, which always leads to fear. That doubt creates a disconnect to my intuition. What can we all learn from this?

Stay with the fear, allow the feeling, don’t let the energy rise into your head. Now this works both ways right, my mind goaded me into not being soft and running that wall, then it filled me with doubt.

Push/pull, the mind can’t be trusted.

Sometimes the courage is actually not to act. If I had listened to intuition I wouldn’t have run that wall on a board I hadn’t paddled before, or have been stupid enough to try to push an 18 foot standup paddle board over 4 foot sets that were slamming down right in front of a break wall.

Monkey Forest, Ubud, Bali
Photo by Paolo Nicolello / Unsplash

But once you pull that trigger, you are far better off staying with instincts than travelling into your head.

Now, the point of all this is that instincts are your primary form of intelligence.

There’s an inner battle that we all wage to some degree between instincts and thoughts.

It’s too late for me as an athlete. But it’s not too late for me as a coach.

You can learn from this.

My “intuition” screams at me something fundamental that we are missing in sport and in life.

Intuition is the only way to know the truth of your potential.