The Power Of Realistic Thinking

by Ann Gaffigan, as originally posted for the Athlete Network

From a young age, I was fascinated with testing my body’s ability to endure pain. Maybe it was because my older brother always asked me to punch him in the stomach as hard as I could and always reacted proudly with, “Didn’t hurt!” Maybe it was because he reminded me every day that Gaffigans are tough, they’re not babies. Maybe it was watching my older sister run herself into the ground on the track, the cross country course and the soccer field. She was (is) the toughest person I knew, and I wanted (want) to be just like her.

I remember getting a really bad sore throat in third grade. Looking back, it was probably strep. But I didn’t tell anyone and tried to will my mind to ignore the pain as it got worse and worse every day. My mom noticed one day that I was wincing when I swallowed food, but I denied it.

We ran the mile every year in gym class for time. I became obsessed with how much pain I could push my body through. To me, that’s all running was – enduring as much pain as possible for four laps. I would envision the race, how I would build up more lactic acid in my legs each lap, and how this time I would push through and be faster than ever before.

When I was in high school, the movie G.I. Jane came out. My favorite line, to this day, was when Master Chief quoted Self-Pity by D.H. Lawrence:

“I never saw a wild thing feel sorry for itself. A bird will fall frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself.”

Running was a fight in my mind against self-pity. It was a challenge to conquer what no one else could in order to be victorious – self-pity, self-doubt and physical pain. I used to visualize until I could see myself crossing the finish line. Sometimes this took a dozen tries; I would get around to the final lap, envisioning how heavy my legs would feel and how tired I would be. I’d somehow get distracted and realized I didn’t visualize the last lap. I’d start over until I could finish it, thinking about every step and how it would feel until that finish line.

So you can imagine with an old school mentality like this, that I roll my eyes a bit at the “power of positive thinking” trend. It’s not that I think you should be negative or pessimistic – certainly, believing in yourself is extremely important. But it’s only part of the puzzle. You also have to be very honest with yourself about the barriers standing in your way – the possible scenarios that could arise that could be negative and how you will deal with them. You have to visualize those difficulties arising and how you will deal with them.

You can’t just visualize a happy field of roses. Life will smack you in the face, and you won’t be ready.

People often confuse “growth mindset,” another trendy topic, with positive thinking. Growth mindset isn’t just thinking positively – it includes the ACTION piece. It is the mindset of someone willing to take a positive and active approach to situations in their life. So when you bomb your presentation, the growth mindset approach would be to sit down and assess what went wrong and how you can be better prepared next time. Did you prep for tough questions? Were you well-versed enough to elaborate on specific aspects? Was your presentation tailored to the target audience? Positive thinking alone would mean you’d tell yourself there were good things about the presentation, that it’s going to be better next time and to give yourself a break. There is no action tied to that. And frankly, it’s supposed to bother you when you fail. You’re not supposed to be happy about it. The best athletes I know HATE losing. Can’t stand it. Throw fits about it. And they will do anything to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Positive thinking without action is just dreaming. And dreaming is not doing. Without action, dreams remain dreams. Without a plan that starts at your dream and works backward to the present time, you can think happy thoughts all you want and make zero progress to where you want to be. Dividing your goal into smaller pieces and steps will ensure that you face the hard truths about what it will take to get there. Sacrifices will need to be made. Personalities will need to be dealt with. Tough decisions will need to be made. Priorities will have to be set. Lots of work will need to be done. The dream may be a happy field of roses, but the path there isn’t.

And if it was, it wouldn’t be worth dreaming about, right? I am now the Chief Technology Officer of National Land Realty and speaker and continue to dream big!

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