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One the most challenging aspects of avoiding failure, mistakes, and pain is that it’s not until we experience them that we actually learn how to avoid them.
We don’t know the stove is hot until we touch it, and we don’t know what losing a national championship feels like until the final point is scored. The actions that led to these results are ultimately where we went wrong, but in the moments beforehand we have trouble recognizing the signs.
Sure, we can listen to a nagging parent who tells us to keep our hands away from hot things and we can hear the words of other athletes who have lost big competitions. But to truly understand something we need to actually experience it.
Nothing else will ever be the same.
If you are looking to avoid pain, I do have one simple solution.
All you have to do is lock yourself in a bubble room, get someone to do all your shopping and cooking, and never ever leave your house.
But if that doesn’t sound too appealing, I have one other option.
Prepare for pain and act accordingly.
As athletes, pain can come in a number of varying forms. It can be the physical pain of an injury or it can be the emotional pain of losing a competition. In both instances, we are often left with one common emotion.
We can’t help but think “what if I just..” or “If only I had done..”
Deep down we know these statements can’t do anything to fix the situation, but I believe they serve a greater purpose.
The common problem for many people is that in these moments of pain and regret, they tell themselves all the things they wish they would have done differently and they toil over all the ways they will never let this happen again.
It’s an extremely tense moment, but often we have our greatest revelations in these trying times. Unfortunately, a month or two later, a lot of these ideas and plans fall flat. We forget about how we felt in the moments after our defeat and we cannot recall the true depths of our pain.
If you’ve ever spent an evening binging on fast food and sweets, you probably know the feeling that came afterward. You feel like you’re going to throw up, your mouth is raw from all the sugar and salt, and you feel like you just gained 20 pounds in 2 hours. As you go to sleep that night, you vow to never do that again.
Then 1 month later, you find yourselves going out for a late night McDonald’s run and buying 6 McDoubles with a side of apple pie and a strawberry sundae.
30 minutes later, regret sinks in once again.
Our brains simply aren’t wired to remember everything about an experience. Very often the moment that sticks with us is the peak moment. The highest point of enjoyment. Your brain hardly remembers the sugar crash, it only remembers those initial bites full of bliss. And the farther you get away from that experience, the less and less you will recall the pain your experienced.
Whether it’s a sugar crash or a painful loss, we are very quick to forget the hurtful lessons we experienced. We let them slip past us and in the end, we are doomed to repeat our past mistakes.
The 3 Versions of You
There are always three versions of ourselves:
The Past Self
The Present Self
The Future Self
These versions of ourselves can sometimes feel like different people. We often feel like the decisions made by the past version of ourselves were immature and naïve. And we choose to let the future versions of ourselves deal with problems when we choose to procrastinate in the present. However, since neither the past nor future versions of ourselves ever actually “exist” in real time, the only person that suffers is the present version.
Still with me?
What I am trying to say is simple.
We lack empathy for ourselves.
We forget what it feels like to be in the shoes of our past self. We fail to remember how painful it was to lose that big match or miss the game winning shot – and in the end, we don’t learn the lesson.
So how can we combat this?
First off, it’s difficult to relive an emotion, especially if we never take the time to notice it in the first place.
But with one simple practice, it’s possible to properly address this issue.
The next time you experience a painful moment, record how you were feeling afterward. The regrets you had, the wishes you were making and the promises you made to yourself.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- What are you feeling right now?
- Why are you feeling this way?
- How could you have handled the situation better?
- What will you do to never let this happen again?
A month later, go back and review on what you wrote down. Reflect and figure out if you are still on track. If you aren’t, refer to the answer you gave to question 4
A couple weeks ago I talked about the importance of empathy for others. I believe that as teammates and as humans in general, we all need to have a better understanding of the thoughts and feelings of other people. We need to recognize the possibility of how others may feel in a certain moment and consider their side of the story before we judge.
But before we can do that, we need to be able to properly judge ourselves. We have to take the time to listen to our inner dialogue and understand where it’s coming from. Our brains are wired to avoid things that cause us pain. We instinctively want to protect ourselves and we should do a better job of helping this voice be heard on a regular basis.
By implementing a practice like the one mentioned above, we give ourselves a fighting chance and we allow that inner voice to be heard more clearly.
In this present moment, listen to the Past Version of yourself so that the Future Version of yourself can live the life you really want to live.