I recently worked with Paralympians whom I prepared for the Paralympics, which took place immediately after the Olympics in Rio. At the Champion Academy, both my partner Rikki Dworcan and I have played professionally, coached professionals and we are now mentally coaching amateur and professional athletes in many sports. However, we have both never seen a desire so great, so intense like that of the Paralympian. In their sports psychology sessions they presented with such eagerness. They consumed the information provided to them like sponges, they did their tasks with diligence, and they listened as if their lives depended on it. The essence of this article is about desire, the source of it, the intensity of it, and the importance of it! I know that I am generalising, and I know that there are many exceptions, but it is the Paralympic athlete that appears, from my point of view, to have a desire so great that significantly supersedes their able-bodied counterparts. In many of their cases they are living examples of DESIRE TRUMPING BELIEFS!
Before I move onto why I believe their desire trumps beliefs, I want to share with you a little snippet about what the disabled athlete has to deal with on a daily basis. Just like any able-bodied athlete, they have intense preparation schedules, which include time with their sports psychologist, physio therapist, physical trainer, specialist coach, eye – specialist, nutritionist etc. In addition to this tight schedule they have to prioritise the most important of all, and that is time for prosthetics and/wheelchairs. These have to be fitted and mechanically prepared perfectly for each particular athlete’s needs. In some cases, it is very painful with a new or adjusted prosthetic as their bodies and level of sports increase. If they need wheelchairs, when they have them tightened or upgraded they need quite some time to adjust to them until their game feels as if it did with their old wheel-chairs. Much longer than what it takes to wear in new shoes or a new bat.
Some Paralympians were born with a disability and others experienced a traumatic event that brought about their new status of a dis-abled person. In the former, they have had to deal with rejection, bullying and the struggle of having to fit in to a society that perceives them as the exception to the rule and often deals with their status accordingly. In other cases, the enormous trauma of the event is either worked through with the help of mental health specialists or not. In either case, there will be a reminder of the trauma that has to be carried with them wherever they go and whatever they do. As you can hear these athletes have to work on conquering many personal, social, psychological and physical challenges together with the extremely pressurising mental challenges that accompany professional or Olympic sport. In this moment as I am writing this, I am feeling a wave of tremendous relief, appreciation and gratefulness for my abled and healthy body that I can move around automatically with ease and energy. This is where we have the advantage in the sense that we do not have to deal with any physical limitations besides those that just differentiate strength, shape, size, talent and a few mostly non-serious injuries. How lucky are any able-bodied human beings who are able to use their bodies so freely to focus on their particular sport and stretch their bodies to the limit in order to fulfil their sports potential. This point even makes me feel a little guilty for all the excuses I’ve made for not going to gym when I’ve felt cold, demotivated or just lazy! Furthermore, the understanding of the Paralympian’s physical challenges is also reminder to treat my remarkable body with respect emotionally, physically and nutritionally and revere it as the sacred temple it was made to be!
However, the twist comes in when we look at our relationship with desire and belief compared to the disabled athletes’ relationship with desire and belief. Not only in sport, but in many aspects of life there are so many cases where both the disabled athletes’ beliefs and societies’ beliefs in their capabilities is to categorically deny their ability in achieving specific goals perceived to be difficult to accomplish for everyone able-bodied or not! However, it is in these incidences that documented cases demonstrate how the disabled person’s desire proves to be so great that despite all perceived beliefs about their inability, they prove others and even themselves wrong! It is here when DESIRE CAN TRUMP BELIEF.
So, in the case of the disabled, why do you think this often, exception to the rule statement, “DESIRE TRUMPS BELIEF” becomes a reality?
In my opinion, the disabled athlete often experiences the feeling of deprivation compared to the able-bodied people they are immersed among on a daily basis. Their feeling of deprivation provokes a hunger to achieve and massive exercise in SELF-CONTROL in order for them to focus on a long journey of hard work and often sacrificing pleasure in order to accomplish what their able-bodied counterparts can have at times with ease and at times with difficulty. None the less, they want to prove their ability, worth and perhaps equality so badly that their desire to accomplish or have what they want becomes their potent driving force to make it happen –having the ability or not – and therefore, they make it happen!
In our work of bringing out the full potential of amateur and professional athletes, as well as leaders and employees, the disabled athletes’ story makes me think twice about how important it is to cultivate a context of desire when your intention is to develop anyone’s full potential. More especially in today’s society,it is becoming apparent that much of the struggle that parents, coaches, and leaders experience with the people they are guiding, is around the need for immediate gratification and the lack of self-control in the cultivation of discipline and focus in the accomplishment of current and future goals.
In the book “Focus” by Daniel Goleman, he refers to decades of research results that have demonstrated the singular importance of WILLPOWER on determining the course of one’s life. For me the source of willpower comes from deprivation or order to fulfil a desire later.
A real life test of self-control was conducted in New-Zealand. This study was probably one of the most significant in the realms of life success due to the enormous sample of over 1000 children. All these children were studied intensively in childhood and then tracked decades later by a team of varying disciplines in different countries, testing for levels of SELF-CONTROL. During childhood the markers studied were levels of frustration tolerance, concentration, and persistence. Two decades later 4 percent of the entire group were tracked and tested. The results demonstrated that the better their scores were on the areas of self-control in childhood, the sounder their health and financial success in adulthood. In fact, SELF-CONTROL in childhood proved a stronger predictor of financial success then IQ or social class.
The above study and many others demonstrate the permeating effects that self-control can have on a person’s current and future success. In the case of the Paralympians in certain aspects of life, being deprived physically is not a choice it is a given. This given has the strong probability of growing a high propensity for SELF-CONTROL. They are deprived of some of the bodily privileges that we as able-bodied people take for granted. They are reminded of their deprivation daily, and their disability requires large quantities of self-control to continue the journey of an Olympic level athlete. In turn the energy invested in the latter evokes an intense desire to achieve that which they may dream about but may not even believe in achieving.
We need to keep the Paralympian’s in the back of our minds, whilst creating contexts for bringing out the full potential of human beings in whatever area of life. If we hypothesize that a contributory factor to self-control is temporary deprivation or the delaying of gratification, then we need to be conscious of whether we are creating this kind of context for the people we are growing. We need to be teaching the mind-set that paradoxically finds fulfilment in the journey toward fulfilling a desire or goal, rather than the expectation of wanting that desire to be fulfilled in the here and now. The mind-set that is able to focus on what is happening in the present builds up a much for satisfying feeling for arriving at that which we even more strongly desire for in the future. A context that serves to stimulate and motivate old and new desires, maintains the hunger in the present and an unbelievably gratifying fulfilment of these desires in the future.
As leaders, coaches, and parents, saying no to those you are growing can therefore do more than just instilling self-control. It may even mean inspiring a desire so great that evokes a potential much bigger than they or you ever believed, making the exception more the rule of DESIRE TRUMPING BELIEF!