This is a regular series of blogs focusing on creating balance through mindful activities. Please read my first blog: Bringing Depression to the table, to provide more context.
In a previous blog in this series – Goodbye and thanks for EVERYTHING – I talked about how important gratitude is to the foundations of our stable table.
It may not seem like it, but finding a little gratitude in our everyday lives is the easy bit. The real challenge is finding gratitude in things that, at first, we wish had never happened.
Last year I was in Tenerife with a friend, and we got set upon by around ten disgruntled locals. The term ‘We took a kicking’ isn’t over-egging it. In my younger days, I’d had a few of these moments (hard to believe, I know), albeit not with quite such unfavourable odds. Either way, I’d built up a bit of a tolerance to losing a fight.
In my (probably too vast) experience the actual indignity of a beating is bad enough, but the repercussions often come much later. Sometimes, of course, these can be fatal. Other times they might manifest as severe anxiety, self-deprecation – where you beat yourself up mentally, much more than you were physically hurt – or of course, short-to-long-term injuries.
I survived with several bumps on my head and a severe sprain in my right ankle. While it could have been much worse, the injury forced me out of the gym for half a year. For me, more time away from the gym was a huge dilemma. I’d injured myself sparring before I went to Tenerife and hadn’t even started training again yet. So, I’d already had six months of minimal exercise, before this second set back.
My TUE colleague Tim goes into detail about dealing with injuries in his blog, which you can find here. All I’ll say for now is that I’m lucky that going to the gym wasn’t my only table leg. If it were, everything would have come crashing down.
What I needed was an exercise in reframing. I could sit and feel sorry for myself for the rest of the year, or I could transform the incident in my mind and take my power back. Sometimes, by its very nature, you can’t do this straight away. You might not see what you’ve gained at first, but when you become experienced in this process you can tell yourself with unshakable faith: I might never know why this happened to me, but I know there is a positive reason for it.
Here’s how I look at that experience now:
I’m grateful I got the shit beaten out of me in Tenerife and spent six months trying to recover from the subsequent injuries.
– That I wasn’t killed.
– For the insight it gave me into people living with a disability. Every lift on the underground seems to take you to a flight of stairs. It wasn’t until I was on crutches that I honestly considered how difficult this must be for some people.
– It hammered home how much I love training; how much I miss it when I can’t and the importance of staying healthy.
In my last blog – The Purpose of Identity – I said ‘How you identify shapes your reality’. This next example takes what was a negative attitude towards my childhood and reframes it as a reason for being.
I was in every sports team at school. I was good, but never the best. I’m quite a competitive person (I have three brothers), and so that used to frustrate the hell out of me. Why can’t I just be amazing at something, anything?
It’s in my nature to get obsessed with something for a few months, try it on for size, buy all the gear, and then pivot when something else comes along. I may be obsessed with bouldering for three months, then tennis, then snooker, then golf, then card tricks, then back to bouldering.
I’m an okay standard at all these things. At least enough to forge new friendships in their pursuit. But I don’t spend nearly enough time on any to progress as much as I’d like, and it can be super frustrating. However, as I’ve matured, I’ve learned that this is actually one of the biggest positives in my life.
I’ve realised there is one thing I do excel at: bringing people together. I’ve always been good at connecting with people and, without even focusing on it, linking them together. Quite often they’d go on to become firm friends and end up going on holiday together, often without even inviting me. It would drive me crazy.
But now, years later, after all the work I’ve put into myself, I realise the beauty in that. I have a gift for linking souls. If they then become even better friends without me, deep down in my very core, I’m happy. I’m over the moon.
So how does all this connect?
I used to think that not being ‘great’ at anything meant I was less than other people; I wasn’t good enough. When actually, being ‘okay’ at lots of different things has enabled me to make friends with many types of people. I’m comfortable socialising in the pub, at a gig, in the office, on a golf course, playing tennis, playing snooker, shooting pool, on a poker table, almost anywhere. I’m not the best, but I can just about feel my way around whatever it is not to annoy anyone I’m playing with, or against.
It’s because I’m not the world’s greatest pianist that I have had the opportunity to connect with so many different wonderful people, not just those obsessed with piano, for instance. This has fed back into my greatest strength, connecting people who otherwise may never have met.
What I thought was my biggest weakness is, in fact, my biggest strength.
That, in a nutshell, is an exercise in reframing!
(All hail the power of mediocrity).