Okay, if you’ve been around me online or in person over the past two weeks, you have perhaps picked up that I am an Olympics junkie. And, I know, because someone in an online chat last night reminded me, that many people are feeling Olympic-saturated right now. So, if you’re in the over-saturated group, I apologize. I couldn’t help it. I won’t get a chance to respond with these metaphors for another two years. Other people have written about lessons that we can take from the Olympics (one of those was Dr. Ashley Soloman in a post I included in Wednesday’s MWB round-up). I have been struck by two big themes.
The first big theme for me is the power of our own internal critic. Consistently, over the past two weeks, I have watched individuals and teams perform athletic behaviors that are well out of reach for most of the world. And the reason they are able to reach those heights, beyond some natural talent, is hours and hours of dedication, sacrifice and training. The lists of things that are given up by elite athletes in pursuit of their dreams is astounding.
And consistently, over the past two weeks, I have watched individuals talk themselves out of their best performance. I have watched them crumble when they came up slightly short of their goal. And, because this is how I’m wired, I have been amazed at how the internal critic has the power to rob an experience of its joy, to sneak underneath years of effort and disrupt.
All of this reminded me that I want more people to gain the self-compassion and caring that it takes to rob an inner critic of its power. That’s one of my key goals as a psychologist. I noticed a huge difference between the Michael Phelps of four years ago and the Michael Phelps in the London Olympics–and I think that the reason for that was his own statement that, “I chose to look around and smile more,”–he chose to let his inner critic have less control. Have there been moments of possible joy that you have lost to your inner critic?
Like people all over the world, I was touched and inspired by South African runner Oscar Pistorius, a double amputee since childhood and paralympic world record holder in several track events. This year, he pursued a lifelong dream of competing with able-bodied athletes at an Olympic event. Not only did he qualify for the Olympics, but he made the semi-final round in the 400 meter sprint.
His story, and his joy in achieving his dream, reminded me that it is important to define our own dreams. So often, we allow ourselves to be limited by things that are external, or by the feedback of others. One of my happiest moments with a client is to hear from them that they have chosen to pursue a dream that they had been holding back in the past. What about you? What dream are you missing out on? Which one would you like to pursue?
Thanks for indulging me in my Olympic side-road. Next week, we’ll be back to regularly scheduled programming.
Image Credit: Olympic Rings on London Bridge by Craig Deakin via Flickr