A question of questions


If it's your first time here, welcome. The regular readers among you will know that I need little reason for introspection but recently, two different questions, in two different settings, have given me licence to roll my sleeves up and have a delve in my mind. 


The first one was specifically about the indoor rowing and wasn't just directed at me:
"What inspires you to row faster/longer/stronger/better?"
Then, more recently
"How do you do it? How do you do what you do, the way you do it and stay so in control?"
 The second struck me as amusing. I was being asked by a prominent extrovert, how I stay so reserved and buttoned down, all the time. I've never thought of being reserved and hard work as something to aspire to. But then, that sums me up. And, not just me, we all take too lightly the things that come easily. The familiar. 

But I owe the person who asked the opportunity for something more than the glib response I gave. I'll explore some of the parts around it on here and see where I land. The reason I lump the two together is because there will be a fair amount of overlap between them. 

What inspires you to...Think about it for a minute. My instant reaction to the question was "For shits and giggles. And because it is there" And you know what? I stand by that.

Here's the thing - I don't set goals like a lot of people. Indeed, I've had several managers in my work life who have been frustrated by that part of our relationship. I find the whole goal setting thing a ball ache. Mostly because I have a very low tolerance for doing things for the sake of doing them. While I have worked with managers and coaches who have been superb in many aspects, the goal-setting in its commonly accepted form has been little more than paying lip service to the dogma that goals are good and all the successful people set them. Spare me! That excites me not at all. You see, they might (although the oft-quoted Yale study turns out to be fictional, at least, according to Yale ) but they're them and I'm me. For all I know, those same people get their juices flowing every morning by slathering themselves in whale oil before performing naked calisthenics in front of a 60" TV showing manga porn. Whatever works for you. Me, I prefer coffee. Other people like running. I like deadlifts and bacon.

It's taken me many years to make any progress down this road (and I have a long way to go) but I am reconciled to the fact that I am me. It's not, as was suggested to me, that I don't care what others think. I do. Intensely, sometimes paralysingly so. But I am a little more able to plant my feet and square up than when I was younger. Not, you understand, to stand unflinching in the teeth of the gale but rather to remain rooted (stop giggling in Australia!) while I bend and flex before returning to the upright. Learning to take the collision on your terms so that you can get back up and in the game is vital in contact sports. Given how bruised and battered life can leave you, I very much include it in this category.

So, goals? Not in their commons sense. I've tried to develop a sense of what is important to me/my athletes/my employers and then keep moving forward in that general theme. It's not a great recipe for specific achievement but it helps keep the mind open to opportunities and alternative routes.

One of my issues with goals is the undue focus on the outcome, or destination. We need to be alive to the "how" as much as the "what". Indeed, without keeping in touch with that, we risk losing more than we ever gain by accomplishing the end. And more, for the big goals (whether that is a relative or objective marker) it is easier to maintain a sense of progress if you can see it in the process. How else do you maintain your commitment once the first gasp of passion is gone? Not only that, but how do you know when to yield? When to call time on the ambition? This quandary has contributed to many personal and corporate failures over time. The objectives might have been as SMART as hell but there is little room for contingency planning and so we run the risk of becoming ego-invested. 

It is difficult. I'm a fan of hauling the boats up on the shoreline and burning them as a statement of intent. I've half-arsed enough stuff to know the dissatisfaction that comes from not committing but also everything comes at a cost, even if it is only an opportunity cost. Are you keeping tally? Do you know if and when the cost is too high...for you?

And that last bit is important. This is not about giving yourself permission to give up because your "friends" find your goal alien to them; or too hard, or perhaps that your commitment to it just plain makes them feel uncomfortable or less. That's them, not you. (While I'm on the subject, don't complain about other people bringing cake into the office when you're on a diet. If they try to "force it"on you, tell them to piss off. You're an adult. Unless they're strapping you to a plank and cakeboarding you, just don't eat it. Take some responsibility!).

"There is a glory in all things;
But each must find his own,
Sufficient for his reckonings,
Which is to him alone."
-Kipling, "The Glories" - 

To return to the original questions then:
- What inspires you?
- How do you do what you do, the way you do?

I tell myself that I lack confidence. It's a story that I have woven for as long as I can remember (which thanks to my love of taking contact with my face and head is not quite as long as it might have been!). And in certain situations, it's true. But it's probably closer to the mark to say that I just don't too often feel the urge to be demonstrative. I do back myself, after a fashion, to get stuff done. Perhaps not the best, or fastest, or most quantity, but done nonetheless. So what inspires me? A periodic urge to test the hypothesis. Can I do a marathon? Yep, horrible to watch but yep. Can I add more on the bar? Let's find out! Can I...sometimes I'm just not interested in finding out. I still need to figure out why some things resonate more than others.

This approach does lead to some disappointment along the way. After all, I'm not superhuman. So, while it may be disappointing to find that I can't go faster on the erg today, it is important to catch that qualifier "today". Can I go faster? Of course, but not now. How interested am in following that path to find out?

How do I do it? I'm not as constantly calm as people think. I just don't like myself when frustration creeps out. From mild petulance to full anger, I get a sense of distaste. Mostly because it feels like a failure. Either a lack of control, or in the case of getting irate to move people, a failure to convey the importance any other way. And there's the thing, unlike doing things to see if I can; I know that I can lose my temper, drive things forward with wrath or break things (or people). But it's impulse control. Because you can is a good reason for doing many things - like helping people. Just because you can doesn't necessarily mean that you should though - like helping yourself to sweets. There is a time and a place but it should be one of your choosing. Consistent with what matters to you. 

In answer to either question, I guess because it feels right for where I am at that time. I try to use the outcome of each choice to help in the decision making next time (although I fail, a lot!). After all, there are hundreds of next times every day. Which means there are thousands of opportunities to change course each week. So you don't need to wait for a new year to make resolutions but you will, at some point, need to know what matters to you. 

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