Every four years when the Olympics rolls around (this year it was five), I subscribe to the available sports channels and try and watch my fill of my favourite Olympic events. I try not to miss the athletics and swimming events and usually avoid the team sports like basketball, football, rugby, hockey… But during every Olympics, I absolutely never miss the fencing. I watch the rounds of 32, 16, 8, quarter finals, semi finals and gold medal matches for pretty much every weapon and both men’s and women’s events.
You see, I used to be a fencer back when I was at University in Australia and the UK. I wasn’t world class; I wasn’t even a national class fencer. But I was good enough to represent both my Universities, competing in regional events, inter-varsity tournaments and even one international meet in France where to my gobsmacked surprise, I actually won something! It was probably the only sport I was ever good at. I never really continued with the sport when I finished University. However, I always dream about restarting my fencing career whenever the Olympics rolls back around.
A particular moment in my competition days stands out for me though, not because it was a massive triumph but because it was probably one of my worst days. I was competing in a local tournament in North Queensland. After the round of 16, I was rated as the top seed. I was naturally delighted but focused on getting through to the final where I’d meet my rival and friend and we’d then share the glory being first and second. I continued through to the quarter finals where I was fencing one of my former coaches. This was a ‘best of three bouts’ round. In the first bout I beat him easily. I was feeling incredibly confident. In the second bout, suddenly, an unwanted series of thoughts entered my head. “What if I lose?” “What if he beats me? What if I let myself down?” “Where the hell did that thought come from??”
I lost focus and lost the bout. Now we were even. There was one bout to go. I had to win this one. The insidious creature sitting on my shoulder whispering in my ear started to mock me. “How are you going to win now?” “He’s going to beat you!” “He’s going to make a fool of you!” I listened to that voice. And I lost the bout and the tournament. I was devastated. Why did I listen to that voice?
Fencing, like most sports is both a game of physical finesse as well as mental skill. If you’re not present, if you’re unfocused, distracted, listening to the voice of self-sabotage – it can cost you a game, a match, a tournament.
That inner voice that whispers words of judgement, blame and scorn is known as a Saboteur. That’s exactly what it is designed to. And it is a part of every one of us. If we let it, that Saboteur can wind up running our mind. They take different forms but essentially what they are, are a set of automatic and habitual mind patterns – each with its own voice, belief and assumptions which work against your best interests. The Saboteurs span cultures, gender, age groups – because they arise from the parts of our brain which are focused on survival. We tend to develop Saboteurs early in life in order to protect us from perceived threats to our lives – both physical and emotional. When we reach adulthood, we no longer need them but they haven’t left. In fact, they like it in our brains. Unchecked, they thrive in there. The worst damage they can do is to convince us that they are actually working for us rather than against us.
So how do we get rid of them? The bad news is that we’ll probably never banish them completely from our minds. But we can quiet them by awakening a different part of our brain that produces positive emotions like empathy, gratitude, self-confidence and joy. This is known as our Sage mind. The challenge then, is to build the muscles that strengthen our Sage and weaken the hold that the Saboteurs have on us. How do we do this? By building our Mental Fitness. Not an easy feat. Just as we build our physical bodies in the gym, so can we strengthen our Sage mind in a mental gym. In my short guide, ‘3 Steps to Becoming Mentally Fit’, I show you how to start yourself on the trail to mental fitness. The techniques detailed in the guide are based on the work of bestselling author Shirzad Chamine and are drawn from his book, Positive Intelligence. Simply click on the link to get the guide: https://bit.ly/3CgRQuv .
Quieting those saboteurs can go a long way to increasing our productivity and effectiveness as athletes, leaders, employees, parents, teachers...basically anyone who has human DNA. Awakening our Sage mind creates the conditions for us to be happier, more compassionate, creative human beings. Go ahead and get the guide and start on your path to mental fitness!
Meanwhile...I might just start my fencing career back up again!