Breaking through the very real 'Imagined Wall'
Close to 30 years ago, I discovered this fun, little psychological test I could do with my friends that helped reveal a bit about their character and how they viewed life with the obstacles they’d faced along the way. Of course, somebody did it with me first, and after I was thrilled with the insight it gave me, I used the same formatted questions performing the same ‘psychoanalysis’ on others.
After the initial, what are your three favorite animals, and describe why they are your three favorite question, I asked, “You are walking along a path in the forest and you come to a very big and wide wall that has no access to getting through: what do you do?”
One guy’s answer stood out among all the others, and it is the only answer that I remember to this day. He said, “I’ll stand there for a moment, take a leak on the wall and then turn back the way I came.”
Yes, I received all the stock-standard, inspired answers such as: I’ll find a way around or I’ll start digging under, I’ll climb over, I’ll bang through the wall… but this cheeky, ‘taking a leak on the wall’ answer is the only one that sits in my memory, and it just may have more reality to it than the rest.
We face many walls in life, many barriers, many obstacles; many blocks basically saying to us we are not going to get any further, and this is as far as we are going to go. You know what I’m talking about here.
Some walls are real, most are imaginary; the real walls may exist for a very good reason and the imaginary walls may seem too real to deal with.
The Great Wall of China, which you can't see from the moon, was built to keep people out, and walls like the Berlin Wall were built to keep people in.
The walls I want to discuss are the imaginary ones. The physical wall is a metaphor for something very real going on in our minds and hearts that represent not only our own limitations and the hidden fears we rarely reveal, but also the limiting beliefs and fears we instill on our children and each other.
It took me until I was 40-years-old to work out that I had built a wall of fear for myself from getting hurt in physical sports. I played football, or soccer as it is known in some countries, all my life, and the fear of getting injured made me reluctant to go into heavy conflicts on the field. At times I got into conflict, but it wasn’t easy, and I know I held back. I admired and envied others who could brashly go into a tackle without seemingly fearing the possible outcome.
My fear held me back.
What was this fear? Why did I have it and why did it seem to consume me? Where did this fear come from? I am always on a personal mission, trying to figure out who I am and what makes me tick. I am an observer of life, and I start by observing myself. Therefore, I track back to my earliest memories consciously and subconsciously to see where these fears possibly began. I want to see where these imaginary walls began being built, brick by brick.
My earliest recollections are of my father warning me and trying to stop me from playing ‘rough’ sports. It was alright to play soccer but to play rugby was thuggish and stupid. I wanted and did play the thuggish sports with my friends from a young age, but I was always afraid I was going to get hurt. My father’s Irish voice settled nicely into my conscious and subconscious mind: “You’re going to get hurt, Mark, playing those sports. You’re not like those bigger boys; you’re going to get hurt.” (If you say it with an Irish accent it sounds amusing). And one day when I went out and broke my arm falling off a skateboard, the first words that came out of my Dad’s mouth were, “I told you, you were going to get hurt.”
This wall began being built by outside forces, and I believed it. My dad is not to blame. He wanted to protect me. Still, every time I did get hurt or was going into a rough and tumble situation, I imagined the wall.
I’ll tell you in a moment how I finally overcame and smashed through this wall, the same wall that I always came across in the forest, took a leak on and turned back. The solution was, and is, astonishingly simple.
I watched a sports program and it had a highlight on a certain goalkeeper who was currently playing for England. One comment from a former coach that stood out to me about this goalkeeper was that even at the age of 8, he showed no fear of getting hurt as he went one-on-one with any opposition who was trying to score a goal. He never flinched, he never retreated, he threw his whole body on the line with no regard for it.
This made sense to me. For anyone who wants a chance of playing at the highest level of any sport, if you flinch, if you fear for your body, if you think you’re going to get hurt, if any of those walls have been built in your mind then, despite your aspirations and vision of what you want to become, it will be extremely difficult to get there.
As parents, we do want the best for our child athletes. I believe that.
But as my past influences and my wife’s past influences affect the way we raise our children, we either carry on the belief system handed down to us or we attempt to make improvements on them.
I think I lean towards the opposite of my upbringing with what I instill into my son and daughter. When my children were young and stood high on the lounge I wanted them to come down because I didn’t want the distraction. It wasn’t a great concern to me if they got hurt or if they fell because that, in my belief, was the only way they would learn. My wife took a more precautionary stand that prevention is better than cure, and that’s why she didn’t want them to be on the lounge and fall in the first place. Both arguments have their pros and cons.
I started to break through my wall around the age of 40. Right before a game in the over 35 team I played for, as my usual fear of hoping not to get hurt lingered towards the front of my mind, it dawned on me: so what if I get hurt, so what? And that ‘SO WHAT’ attitude redefined my outlook on the game. It redefined me mentally, and I was able to give more of myself in the game.
If you find this solution too simple it probably is. We like our problems to have complex solutions, but as it is often the case, the answer is the simple solution.
I always believed the imaginary wall of fear was real. I continued to build it, brick by brick. It held me back, along with many other things (that can be discussed another time) from fully enjoying the game and playing it with all of my heart. I believed what others thought of me and thought would happen to me. It’s not my fault. It’s not your fault. But we can alter those words and beliefs and start living the example we want to set for our own child athletes.
This is the first of a three-part series of ‘Run Through Walls’. Our walls in front of us are imaginary. The walls we either help build or tear down for our children are also imaginary. The next piece will focus on ‘We are all born to run through walls but at some point, we imagine the wall is too high or the wall is too hard’.