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Dislodging Unhelpful Beliefs

There’s a great podcast called, This American Life, which showcases a theme every week, usually some seemingly mundane bit of human existence that the show manages to make super interesting. It’s a great listen if you like good storytelling - find out more about it here.

In one episode, the theme was “Good Guys.” You know, the thing every guy says or thinks he wants to be—a good guy—but as it turns out might mean something different from what we think.

In the first “good guy” story, it was about a guy who would actually get discounts from stores—in the USA, mind you, where bargaining down a price is so not a thing—by saying, at the time of payment: hey, I’m a good guy, is there any chance for a discount? The story becomes interesting at that point in that a fair few retailers would give the guy a once-over and actually discount the product. On the spot. Aside from the awe we might feel at this guy’s chutzpah, I reckon there’s a sense there that Yesss! Finally, being a good guy gets you something!

And for the record, I myself have tried a version of this at a pet store and got 20% knocked off the price of a kitty play station. Shocking!

There are things in life we want to believe to be true. Even when factually there’s no evidence one way or the other. That, for example, good guys should get rewarded for being good—or in this case, just by saying they are. But maybe that’s why the guy wins the discount more often than we would think - we all want to believe that there are such things as actual good guys.

Taking this from the cash register to the competitive sphere, here's something we'd also like to believe: our hard work [or other wonderful character trait] has earned us the right to win.We deserve it! Certainly more than that loser who beat us! Why is this unhelpful? The competition doesn’t care if you are a good guy (or girl), if you worked harder than everyone else, or if you volunteer at the homeless shelter every week. It’s not about what you deserve (or only “good people” would ever win and we know that’s not true) but how you perform on the day. At one level, we know this...but has a version of this idea ever gotten into your head? If yes, you are not alone.

Loyal reader Judy asks this related question: I am wondering about craving situations with athletes, particularly those who want to be better under pressure. I am thinking of when someone does all the hard training and then under pressure they perform less well. Their wanting to succeed under pressure increases. The more the craving to perform, the more pressure on the high-pressure performance. And presumably, the worse the performance.

This is an example of another unhelpful belief: I want it, therefore I should get it. Wanting is a great thing, don’t get me wrong. If we didn’t want to get better, why would we train at all? But as Judy suggests, it’s when we go from wanting something to happen to craving it. This is taking the want and making it a need. Going from a “sure nice to have” thing to a “have to have” thing.

Can you feel the difference?

Craving has a long and storied history, particularly in the Buddhist tradition. It underpins one of Buddha’s four Noble Truths. We all suffer, and our suffering is caused by either our craving or ignorance. Craving is a problem in that it can never be fully satisfied. That is, first, if we crave the ability to succeed under pressure, we are only as good as our last good performance. Second, craving is a problem because with it, we get too attached and so when we fail, we really suffer.

Judy’s athlete is, in effect, saying, “I’ve done all this hard work which proves I should win.” Never mind that hard work in training is NOT performing under pressure. It is raising the probability that you will perform better, assumably, but you still have to go out and, well, do the actual job of competing.

We can want. We can really want. But wanting, while sometimes a good motivator, still leaves a huge gap between me the performer, and the outcome. Worse, it can actually get in the way. This goes back to the corrosive power of expectations we unpacked a few months ago. The craving itself is the unhelpful thing - the more I want, the bigger the expectation that I should get what I want, the less room for the actual, even mundane, nuts and bolts of performance.

So what can we do to unburden ourselves from unhelpful thoughts such as, “I’m a good guy/girl and so deserve to win,” or “I really want it and really prepared for it, so I should win”?

1. Recognise the burden. See how the thought, the craving, even, is taking you away from the job at hand. It sounds good, even noble, but at its heart? Not helpful. You. Are. Suffering. Or if the Buddhist lingo is a turn-off: this thought is moving me farther away, not closer to, my best performer self.

2. Know Your Performer Self. How do you think, what emotional state are you in, and what are you doing when you are performing your best? By focusing on where you want to be, you are making it easier for your mind to unhook from the more burdensome, unhelpful thinking.

3. What’s Your Competition Job? Meaning, what are the things you DO that you have control over in any given performance? {Hint: as you do not control the outcome, it is therefore so NOT your job.]. These are the nuts and bolts. For a swimmer, it may about what you focus on and your position at the start, launching yourself like a rocket from the start, and what you do with your body once you enter the water.

4. Experiment with this different self-understanding and sense of your job. Things won’t go perfectly the first few times out, but these are habits we are developing, not miracles.

If you are aware of unhelpful thoughts that are standing between you and your best performances (never mind winning for now), let me know. I can help!


P.S. My book has been published!

When Grit is not Enough is about what you can do when your usual "go hard" mantra is no longer working. As the tagline says, this is a book about how to rework your mindset and purpose for easier effort in hard times.

Order your copy from Amazon or Booktopia. I'd love to hear how you found it!

P.P.S. In case you missed my main message :), I believe that high performance shouldn't hurt people. I provide individual and group coaching on achieving the performance goals you want without hurting yourself or your people in the process. In ways that are healthier, happier, and more sustainable. If you want more information or have questions, you can reach me at

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