Bite the Bullet

Coined by Rudyard Kipling, it's a phrase we all find easy to say but hard to put into action. As a coach, I find this conundrum fascinating. In fact, I would go as far to say that 90% of what I do revolves around teaching people how they can take themselves from their usual comfort zone to feeling empowered to make real progress towards their goal. This isn't to say I don't struggle sometimes when arriving at a crossroads. Every day, decisions need to be made. And we are all guilty of tackling the ones we feel best equipped to handle. It's just easier to keep things safe, in control and predictable.  
Learning something new; a language, skill or behaviour is a key part of living a fulfilled and happy life. We understand the importance of education for our children, but why should it stop when we leave school? How to learn, incidentally, is not something we are taught at school. It's assumed that you arrive at your school desk, wide-eyed, nervous and equipped to learn. The information we are required to 'know' is delivered and you're expected to remember it. But learning is a skill and not everyone has the tools to learn efficiently. Albert Einstein highlighted the importance of learning wonderfully, 'once you stop learning, you start dying'. 
So the question is, 'how do I learn how to learn?'. 7 years ago, I was rowing training in Nottingham. It was a cold winter's day and I had been learning to row a single scull, which is a boat for 1 person with 2 oars. These boats are difficult to balance and the risk of falling overboard is ever-present. Any discrepancies in technique are quickly exposed in the single scull, unlike the bigger more stable 8 oared boats. The morning training involved a long row around the lake, one boat behind the other, followed by some shorter racing side-by-side. When it comes to racing, I have always found I have a 6-the gear that is not available for training. It's like my body goes into a garage (like on the video game Need-for-Speed) on the way to the start-line and I get mental and physical 'upgrade'. It allows me to push myself to the limits. I found this paid dividends in sports when I knew the terrain or was familiar, but as a relative beginner in the single scull boat, it was risky. Going off, it was less than 3 strokes before I was in. My maximum effort had spilt overboard and instead of propelling my boat towards the finish line, had catapulted me into the choppy lake. After a short moment of panic when my feet failed to release from the boat (which was now upside down), I managed to swim with the boat to the side of the lake. One of the coaches looked down from the bank, "Would you like to get out or row to the finish?". I got back into the boat, shaking uncontrollably from the cold, I moved slowly towards the finish, knowing my finish time would probably not fit on the results sheet. After a couple of minutes, heat began to reach my hands again. With confidence growing with every stroke, I began to press harder, 4th, 5th gear. I was moving well, 'this feels good!' 6th gear. SPLASH. I couldn't resist. Technically, the race was lost, but my brain took over. I was in again. Now only 500m from the finish, with some 40 other rowers looking on in dismay, I managed once again to climb back in and gently row my boat across the finish line. It was a cold, embarrassing and wet experience. 
After dinner that evening, I bumped into the coach who had posed the question earlier beside the lake. I told him I was disappointed and I'd not seen anyone else fall in today. Perhaps I was doing some wrong technically? Was the boat set-up wrong? His words stuck with me; "Falling in shows that you are trying. If you were playing it safe, not taking any risks, then you wouldn't have fallen in. You learn far more from your failures than your successes". At the time I felt this was just philosophical nonsense and an attempt to make me feel better. It wasn't until a few years later that the Coach's words began to take effect. 
Fear of failure is dangerous. I'd failed at things before that day in Nottingham and, of course, will continue to make mistakes through life. Some of my failures have been far more impressive than the capsize(s) in Nottingham! I hope that over the years I have become better not at failing less often, but at learning more from my failures. Reflecting afterwards and asking those difficult questions. What happened there? If you are not prepared to learn from your mistakes, you will have a much slower path to success. Many people are afraid of failure. Embarrassed, awkward, ashamed are all adjectives that often come to mind when thinking about encountering a situation that removes you from your comfort zone. Paradoxically, the feeling you get in your stomach before encountering an important test or exam, butterflies, is actually a good thing. It shows you care. The ability to harness that feeling and recognise that the chemicals your body is releasing are preparing you for battle is crucial. 
Paralysis by analysis is another phrase that can be used to explain why that to-do list isn't getting finished. For many beginners, this couldn't be truer. Sometimes, we want everything to be perfect before we begin. Everything must correct and ready before taking action. Surgeons and Pilots exempt, I would say this is somewhat of a metaphorical anchor. If you are not ready now, what will have to change to get you ready? As the indomitable coxswain, Gary Herbert said to his rowing crew in the 92 Olympic Final, "If not now, when? If not you, who?". 
I believe the notion that we can all learn from our mistakes if we are prepared to make them in the first place. Every day I take people out of their comfort zone and show them what they are capable of. So bite the bullet and take action. What's the worse that could happen?