‘Control your Controllables’ (CYC) is a resilience program facilitated by the blind and experienced through the Paralympic game of Goalball. Earlier this week, my team conducted the program for a group of junior college students who did not manage to progress on to Year 2.
During the session, the students were asked to reflect on possible barriers that could stop them from putting in the necessary effort to pass their exams. Many of them alluded to some version of the same problem – the lack of motivation.
Does the problem really lie with the lack of motivation?
I asked the students if they were disappointed that they did not pass their exams, and why they wanted to progress on to Year 2. Indeed, these may seem like redundant questions but I was trying to get them to understand that they do not lack strong reasons nor motivation to strive for better results.
“The most pernicious aspect of procrastination is that it can become a habit. We don’t just put off our lives today; we put them off till our deathbed.” Steven Pressfield
The problem here isn’t about the lack of motivation. The problem lies with the ability to direct their motivation towards the goal of passing their exams. The problem has to do with procrastination, specifically, they were motivated to do something else rather than to study.
Like many of you, this is the time of the year where we would have a little more time to hang out with our friends and catch up on each other’s lives. This has by and large been enjoyable for me with the exception of a couple of instances with my friends who are coaches.
Why do coaches have so much to complain about?
This is not a loaded question to suggest that most coaches are whiners or that it is wrong to complain.
There are many aspects of the coaching landscape that could be improved, and it is fine to vent a little. However, some coaches rant non-stop about their circumstances and the number one source of unhappiness seems to be the lack of appreciation for their work from officials and athletes.
Control Your Controllables
Don’t get me wrong, I do feel the same at times BUT, I am adamant that we should not be such suckers for recognition especially since it’s not something that is within our direct control.
You can’t control the officials and coaches who choose to criticize and even make fun of you despite your best efforts.
You can’t control athletes who are ungrateful and self-entitled.
What happens when we keep focusing on what we cannot control?
Over time, it spirals down towards helplessness and even depression! We end up becoming chronic whiners desperate for validation. Not only is this bad for our mental health, it affects the mood of the people around us including the athletes that we coach. Coaching becomes a form of drudgery and as a human being, we become ineffective and unhappy.
Is it possible to NOT expect any form of recognition?
This may sound bleak, but it is as it is. One of our core emotional needs is to feel appreciated and it is almost impossible to be selfless and do good purely for the sake of others, i.e., pure altruism. You could have given up your cushy job to help the poor, are raising funds to build a sanctuary for stray animals, or even doing missionary work for some god or deity, it is still a means to your own satisfaction.
People act in these ways because doing so affirms who they are (self-concept) and the kind of world they want to exist, thus tying self-interest and altruism together.
Is it possible to be selfish, altruistic and happy all at once?
I believe it is possible, but it’s something that we have to be constantly mindful about rather than a constant state or something that we can master. I do have some suggestions that has helped me with this struggle, and it may work for you too…
1. Take care of yourself TOO
The common advice would be to take care of yourself FIRST, rather than TOO. I do not disagree, but I feel that it creates the perception that taking care of yourself or others has to be always ranked, or that they are dichotomies.
I’d rather ask myself how I could take care of myself and others at the same time. How can I align my business and self-interests with a purpose that extends beyond myself? And when push comes to shove and I need to choose between the two, I need not always prioritize my self-interest over altruism (which is in fact also tied in with self-interest).
Bottom-line, if you take care of yourself TOO, you are less likely to feel disgruntled or “victimized” and are more likely to be able to serve as an effective coach.
2. Letting go of Expectations
First, merely expecting something to happen will not make it happen (p.s. the “Law” of Attraction is BS). Yet many of us at some point have mistakenly believed that expecting other people to behave the way we want will actually make them behave that way!
Secondly, it is impossible to have no expectations, but we can learn how to let go of expectations and refocus on what matters and what’s within our control. Very often, this involves regaining control of our thoughts and recognizing that we can’t control what others think and do (or don’t do), but we can control how we respond to them.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Viktor Frankl
In my opinion, this is by far the most important and difficult psychological skill to learn, and it is something that we can never really master. However, it is a worthwhile pursuit since it holds the key to our mental health and happiness.
Practicing gratitude and reminding ourselves about our coaching philosophy also helps us to let go of irrational thinking and expectations. This brings me to the last point…
3. Remind yourself of your WHY
For coaches, this refers to your coaching philosophy or why you coach. Our coaching philosophy most often centers around a goal that extends beyond our self-interest (again tying in self-interest with altruism), unless of course your coaching philosophy is simply about seeking respect and recognition from others.
Reminding ourselves about our WHY helps to put challenges and irrational thoughts into perspective.
Finally, if you are caught in a situation where not only is there a lack of appreciation for the value that you bring, and your health and income suffers as a result, my suggestion would be to do yourself a favor and quit.
There is no such thing as a bad person or bad circumstance, everything’s perfect and advancing to becoming complete.
We can’t directly change someone or something (and we shouldn’t). Ultimately, we can only change our own perspective and approach, and through that process, MAYBE the person or circumstance might change…
How many curve balls can life throw at once?
It’s been a rough last couple of weeks and while curveballs are inevitable in life, I’m not certain if we can really get used to it.
What I’m certain though, is that the better we are at seeing the world as it is, the better we will be able to recognise what’s within our control and what’s not, and the better we will feel about ourselves and the world around us…
I recently shared an article about a controversial and outspoken local athlete on my Facebook. The responding comments were somewhat polarizing – some felt that he should be more respectful towards authority and his rivals, yet many felt that his arrogance was justified.
Even though I really wanted to join in the discussion, I hesitated because the thread seemed to be spinning out of control. Hence this post to share my thoughts about the underlying tension between arrogance and humility and also some suggestions on how to develop confidence without being outwardly arrogant.
Confident or Cocky?
One of my friends on Facebook commented…
“A truly competitive athlete usually display arrogance. In order to be the best, you have to believe you are the best…”
It’s a valid comment and confident athletes often envision themselves as a great athlete. These athletes will not hesitate to make use of positive self-labels to play up their own skills, and may at times play down or undermine their opponent’s abilities.
However, in a country like Singapore which has been described by Michele Gelfand -author of ‘Rule Makers and Rule Breakers’, as having a tight culture*, athletes who are overtly confident and outspoken are likely to run into trouble with the gatekeepers, since they are likely to be perceived as being disrespectful rather than confident.
Hence, if you are a coach or athlete, it would probably be in your best interest to learn how to develop a healthy self-concept that supports strong self-confidence without coming across as being arrogant.
I’ve recently started coaching a new group of athletes who are prepping for the Manila SEA Games, and one of the more “contentious” discussions we had relates to the Fear of Failure associated with Social Approval.
What’s the Fear of Failure associated with Social Approval?
Simply put, many athletes simply worry too much about what others think about them. I often refer to this as ‘Mind-Reading’.
Although they may not admit it readily, most athletes are driven by the respect and recognition associated with their sporting prowess, and their identity as an athlete. They might believe that they don’t care what others think about themselves or their performance but that’s seldom true.
Social Approval is part of human nature (The world works only when we care how people think! We are all social animals and a communal species that is interdependent) and all athletes are driven by it to a certain extent.
However, when taken to an extreme, it often turns into a source of fear. For example, athletes may be afraid of letting their teammates down or to disappoint their coaches and parents. They often feel tensed and anxious or are afraid to take risks when others are watching.
I’ve discussed this with some of my peers and most disagree that coaching’s about hustling and selling. In fact, one of them got really annoyed when I suggested that coaches should be put through sales training.
No surprises though, most of us do not perceive the selling profession favourably. I don’t reckon this perception is common only in Singapore. In his bestselling book, ‘To Sell Is Human’, author Dan Pink conducted a survey in the US where he asked people to state the first word that came to mind when they heard “sales” or “selling”, and this is the word cloud that came about…
Pink argues that the above is an extremely outdated perspective about sales. In reality, when we combine traditional selling with “non-sales selling”, all of us sell. Specifically, as part of our work and lives, we need to constantly influence, sway or persuade others to take action. Doesn’t that sound like coaching?
I was excited to visit the US on a sports diplomacy trip to learn and develop the content related to Inclusive Coaching for SG-Coach’s formal coach education. The trip was organized by the US Department of State, SportCares, SportSG and FHI 360.
Looking back on the trip, two things stood out. The first would be the new friendships forged. With those that I’ve known prior to the trip, we grew closer and renewed our commitment to make Singapore a more inclusive society.
Secondly, I am so thankful to be given the chance to learn from the many successful American sports teams, schools and non-profit organizations such as Cincinnati Football Club, US Paralympic Swimming, University of Texas Swimming and Dive Team, Starfire Council, Special Olympics Texas and The Play for All Abilities Park.
“What is their formula for their success?”
“What makes these organizations achieve the seemingly impossible?”
Success leaves clues and these were questions that I needed answers to. This post is a reflection about the fundamental commonalities that make these organizations successful.