The Lance Armstrong revelations, aptly referred to as the “seven deadly sins” in David Walsh’s book, has highlighted the fact that a goal to ‘win at all costs’ is not always desirable. Napoleon Hill, one of the great writers on success, defined success as being “the attainment of your definite chief aim without violating the rights of other people”.

In sport, both professional and amateur, winning is often seen as the ultimate aim. Although there is much merit in the phrase ‘it’s not the winning but the taking part’, competitive sports teams obviously do not enter a game situation with the intention of losing.

Arguably, the important question is what is a winning goal for you. This is a question that all of us would benefit from asking ourselves. Satisfaction comes with winning a race or with hitting a time target but in some situations this is not a practical or even an achievable goal. It can be very easy to deceive ourselves into believing that nothing else matters and this can lead to dissatisfaction. By doing this, we can often discount the experiences that matter the most – for example, making a commitment, putting in the hard work and savouring the experience of testing yourself often in the company of friends.

A recent experience illustrates what I mean. Last summer, nine of us drove to France to take on one of the most gruelling Alpine stages of the 2012 Tour de France, the Etape du Tour. This is a ‘race’ against the clock where riders can be ‘swept up’ by the Broom Wagon if they fall outside the time constraints. One of our party’s goals was to achieve a Silver Medal, a very tough aim, and it was clear that nothing else would do. When he was ‘swept up’, (as was I and 3 others in our group), this could have ruined his whole experience. Instead, he adapted his goal and three of us decided to keep riding until the organisers forced us to get off our bikes! A camaraderie was formed in that experience that went beyond the constraints of the race and I think the three of us look back on that afternoon in the sweltering heat with pride and immense satisfaction.

Two definitions of winning are ‘To achieve or attain by effort and to make (one’s way) with effort’. Sport is a tremendous outlet for finding out more about ourselves and others. So set the right goal, one that matters to you, make the commitment and immerse yourself in the experience.

This morning I received some extremely sobering news. Earlier this week, someone I know took their own life. My heart goes out to his family and closest friends. This tragic decision is made even more heart-wrenching by it being taken so close to Christmas – a time that is supposed to be about togetherness and celebration. The fact is that for this very reason, for many, this time of the year can also heighten feelings of loneliness and despair.

We live in a world of opposites. Where there is happiness there is also the possibility of sorrow. Thankfully, because the two are sides of the same coin we also know that the more positive emotion is always present if we seek it out.

No-one truly knows what another person is thinking and feeling and in the majority of cases we assume too much and understand too little. Therefore, if the news from earlier today can have a positive impact, let it cause all of us to be even more grateful for the relationships we have with our friends and family. Let it make us appreciate that all our lives, even the lives of people we have never even met, are connected. We do not live in isolation, even if at times it can seem that way. If we reach out we will find them.

And finally, let it cause us to value the blessing of being able to wake up to a new day. A day that brings new possibilities. A day that presents us with opportunities to shape another person’s experience. We might never know the impact of a kind word, a wave or a smile to a stranger.

Haul up the Anchor

Yesterday, I caught the end of an interview with a female playwright who had built a successful career from extremely humble beginnings. She said that as a child she always had this feeling of wanting to be ‘released’ into the world, that there was something she wanted to express but the conditions she was experiencing wouldn’t allow her to. She eventually found this through writing and her commitment to her craft resulted in success. What most upset her was seeing others with the same desire but not being able to find a way of expressing it.

Sometimes it is confusion that holds us back. Sometimes it is fear or a fusion of the two. What is true is that we rarely figure it out by spending hours thinking about it, clarity comes out of doing. For much of my life I have battled with the concept that something has to be ‘perfect’ before it can be shown. The irony is that the feedback from the people around us helps us to make something better. We need to know what the faults are before we can work on improvements.

When are you going to show your talents to the world?

Last night, on BBC Radio 5 Live, there was a discussion about ‘Pressure in Elite Sport’. The panel was talking about the psychological pressure that the Australian cricket side of the late 90s and early 2000s used to inflict on the opposition. Matthew Hayden, the former Australian left hander, said that much of that was possible because of the amazing team spirit and positive energy within the squad.

He then used a phrase, a mantra amongst the players, which immediately stuck in my mind.

“Is your attitude worth catching?”

Like many phrases from an Australian, it’s straight to the point!

So…is yours?

  1. Start day dreaming and think of a great idea…
  2. Get lost in the idea and start to imagine the wonderful things that it will bring you…
  3. Suddenly start to feel foolish…
  4. Begin thinking of all the reasons why it won’t work and why you are not the right person to make it happen…
  5. Start thinking of more ‘sensible’ and ‘realistic’ idea…
  6. Dismiss the idea.
  7. The idea dies…

Does this sound familiar?

Give the idea a chance. Give it some life. Give it the opportunity to grow into an even bigger and better idea. Let others work with you on the idea to create something like-changing.

Please don’t kill it. Please don’t do that to the idea and please don’t do it to yourself.

Over the weekend, I headed down to Cornwall for a couple of days of surfing with some friends. On the Saturday night we all met for dinner at the pub and replaced our expended energy stores whilst listening to a live band. Now, I am sure all of you have been to a music event where everybody is nodding their heads and tapping their feet but no-one is prepared to be the first on the dance floor. You know, like those early school discos with the boys on one side of the room and the girls on the other before one pioneer is brave enough to cross no man’s land. Well, this was just like that until one guy stepped out of the shadows and, in front of a packed pub, owned the dance floor!

He puffed his chest out, flailed his arms about like a threshing machine and played a variety of different ‘air guitars’ whilst gurning enthusiastically. Now, at first, he was a figure of fun with the majority of people pointing and laughing. When it became clear that he couldn’t give a toss for what we all thought, an interesting thing happened. Other blokes joined him. Not only did they join him, they tried to copy him as well as trying to invent even more outrageous moves themselves. Within the space of one “Jam” song, those on the dance floor were the ‘cool’ ones and the majority still sitting in their seats were the jerks.

Some of you may have seen the You Tube footage of the guy who single-handedly starts a group ‘dance off’ at a music festival (if you haven’t, here’s the link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GA8z7f7a2Pk). Watch the footage right to the end and listen out for the woman who exclaims “How did he do that?!”

Like the guy in this video, here was a man not afraid to express himself, not afraid to be the first. Other people saw his unabashed enthusiasm and wanted to be a part of it. When the rest of the group saw that it was ‘ok’ to join in, this started a chain reaction for others to follow.

How many times do we hold ourselves back, fearing people’s reactions to our ideas and actions? We have all done it but seeing the joy on the face of the guy in the Cornish pub and the music festival man and I bet nothing beats the feeling of being first on the dance floor.

This quote, from the Marketing expert Kevin Nations, encapsulates why so many people hold themselves back from achieving their ambitions. Does it resonate with you? It certainly does with me! We can focus so much time and effort on trying to make the ‘right’ decisions that we can fall into the trap of failing to take any actions at all. I tend to think that, if there is a cliché, there is probably some truth behind it. “There’s never a perfect time to have a baby”, this is another phrase commonly used that hits on the same issue. If we are ever going to move towards our goals, we need to grasp the nettle. In almost all cases, any decision is the right decision, and what we encounter after making that decision will give clarity on the next steps that need to be taken.