Long before I accomplish anything of significance – and by significant, I mean something that takes a protracted amount of time to achieve – I set about climbing the single most important “cliff,” the one in my head. I call those mental cliffs my “demons of doubt.” I met them early on in life when I was diagnosed with asthma and was told to lead a less active lifestyle…the doctor actually suggested I learn to play chess.
At the time (I was 12 years old), I didn’t know any better and was already grappling with my fate of how I was going to learn chess (I sucked at checkers) – a pity party with lots of tears – when my Mom interrupted it with her fingernails. I swear she kept them long for moments like these, when she could use them as weapons and dig them deep into my forearm. What came next was her commanding me to look at her as she said,
“Alden – listen to me – no one decides your limits but you.”
I grimaced as her nails stuck into the meat of my forearm and nodded willingly in hopes she would release her grip. Instead, she gripped harder as she continued,
“We’ll get you the asthma medicine, but it’s up to you to decide what you can or can’t do – do you hear me?”
Of course, at that moment, I would have said pretty much anything to get her velociraptor-like claws to release. I didn’t get her message at first. I found myself making excuses on the playground or the sports field for my lack of speed or endurance. I could hear them loud and clear in my head – “better slow down, you have asthma,” “you not supposed to be doing this, you have asthma,” “you won’t be good at this activity because have you asthma.” Those excuses and others like them played over and over again, except when they didn’t. And those times when they didn’t were because of my parents’ interrupting my excuse-making voice with “you can do this,” “try again,” “it’s up to you,” “try harder,” and “get up and try again.”
It didn’t happen overnight, but gradually, I beat back those asthmatic demons of doubt by fighting back with using another voice that is quieter in nature, but immensely stronger – my reason to believe.
No matter what cliff you’re trying to climb – from making a sports team to joining SEAL Team or creating start-up teams – you will be faced with climbing that cliff mentally before you take action to climb it physically. Winning the mental cliff climb starts with your reason to believe that you can take your first step.
Too many people focus on the whole climb, but climbs aren’t completed all at once – they are conquered one action at a time. You, like anyone else, cannot predict the future. You may think you know what the outcome of your climb will be, but the fact is you have no idea. So, no matter how many people tell you, “you’ll never make it” or “it cannot be done,” they have no clue – all they know is THEY CANNOT achieve what you’re trying, therefore they want to convince you not to try.
To achieve anything, you must believe you can achieve it. Surround yourself with people who believe in you and what you’re doing – everyone else is a waste of your time and even worse, they are weighing down your pack while you scale your cliff. As we say in SEAL Team, “Misery Loves Company” – isolate the miserables in your life and focus your thoughts and energies on those few who whisper, “You can do it.”
As Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.”
Climb your Cliff with the belief you can, and I promise you, you’ll conquer it.