I have never liked the idea that I can’t do something. I get a bit persistent when I’m told, ‘no’. Initially, to get what I want, I keep doing what I did, only more of it. But banging your head against a brick wall will only get you so far and eventually, I consider doing things differently.
A few years ago, towards the end of the noughties, I was still nursing my disappointment at failing, to get to the start line of the London marathon for the second time, due to knee pain. My frustration had been on simmer for many months when I read a magazine review (and a discount offer) for a running clinic in southwest London, which footballers were using to improve their movement around the pitch. I thought they could help me with my marathon goal.
I made an appointment and turned up at an establishment that was far more professional on the inside than the location had indicated. After filling in a few forms, I was asked to climb aboard a treadmill surrounded by mirrors and cameras, and to begin a test run. I was a little self-conscious, and I was expecting some critique that I run like Mr Bean in need of a number two. I was totally unprepared for the first question that followed, “why are you limping?”
“I’m not!” My defensive and reactive response was completely irrational, and completely childish. Fortunately the coach was more mature than me, and he asked me to step off the treadmill and watch a video of myself. There it was; the limp.
Knee pain had kept me from the start of the marathon for two years in succession, but I’d had no knee pain for months. And yet here I was running in anticipation of a pain that was no longer there. Admitting the problem is always the first step to addressing it, but that admission didn’t come as easily as it should have.
The memory of my trip to the clinic came to mind recently when I realized I had been behaving, at work, in anticipation on a constraint that is no longer there. I began to think of other events and circumstances in my life that have shaped my decisions, or worse, my behaviour, long after they ceased to exist. I have decided that learned helplessness makes me angrier than finding that I can’t do something; this is not me being prevented but rather this is me choosing to avoid something; I have been hiding from shadows and jumping at ghosts.
That I’ve only just noticed this about myself makes me angrier still. The timing of this realization, at new year, is mere coincidence, because the right time to act is always now. We can either shape our world, or be shaped by it. Time to get shaping.