Ever been told to be more realistic?

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Marie-Louis Stenild, the London based Danish woman who undertook to run 7 marathons in 7 contents in 7 days has now done it. On Saturday the 7th November she completed her last marathon over the official London Marathon course to complete her personal challenge, but also achieve a new Guinness Book record in the process. 295.365km in 35:30 hours in 7 continents in 7 days. Wow! Congratulations to her on achieving this amazing feat.

Marie-Louise had the idea of this some 5 years ago and has now finally made her dream a reality. While, in the end, its seems that the 7 marathons were actually completed without too many dramas, I’m sure the road to get to this point hasn’t been all smooth sailing. I’m sure her quest has included many difficult times with things such as physical problems and injuries, illnesses, as well loss of motivation and periods of self-doubt etc. I’m sure she has also received some criticism and non-supportive comments from doubters along the way too, like “Why is your run so special?” and the common “Maybe you should set a more realistic goal to achieve.” Despite any hardships she may had encountered, she has overcome them and achieved her goal in a relatively easy fashion. This, in fact, is often the case. The achievement of the final result itself seems relatively easy, but the road to get to that final moment probably wasn’t. This ability to overcome and achieve in relative ease is based around the simple concept of good preparation, which is clearly manifest in a famous quote by Sun Tzu, “The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war”. In other words, all the hard work is already done prior to the event itself and that is the real point of this type of exercise. Note, a more current version of this quote is the 6P’s one, which is ‘Proper preparation prevents piss poor performance‘!

What is interesting is that now, after the fact, there will still be some people who will find something to criticise, like ”your marathon times were so slow that many other people could’ve done it too”.  Interestingly, it is absolutely true to say that many people COULD’VE done it, but she was the one who actually DID it. The point of a challenge such as this is not to compare what you do with others. It’s more about proving something to yourself, as well as also hopefully inspiring others to do things they might not otherwise dare to do due to self-doubt, fear or having people tell them to be ‘less idealistic and more realistic’. Recently, in my teaching, I actually received exactly that feedback from a student. In their opinion I was being too idealistic and that I should be more realistic when talking about the profession of personal training. I ended up thinking about this for almost a week to analyse whether I actually was in fact being too idealistic, but then I realised that I was actually being 100% realistic. Why? Well, because I was speaking from experience, about the things that I had actually personally seen and done. My point was to try and inspire my students to believe that they can achieve amazing things in their professional and personal lives, but only if they dared to dream and were willing to actively pursue them. I guess to that one student, it was just too much. Then again, if someone had of asked me 20 years about whether I could achieve even some of the things that I have now actually achieved, I might have been very sceptical too, so I can understand it. I’m sure Marie-Louise herself would of thought the same about her marathon challenge at some point in the past, perhaps just before she run her first ever marathon.

In the end, the point is that we are all able to achieve so much more than we think is possible. Unfortunately, our dreams are often sabotaged either from within by convincing ourselves that our dreams are not possible and that we should stick to what we know, or then from the outside by listening to others who say we should be more realistic about our goals. Even worse still, those external saboteurs may even actively try to convince us that what we want to achieve is not even possible. In the Jethro Tull song ‘Thick as a brick’ there is a line that goes ‘We will be geared towards the average rather than the exceptional’. This seems to pretty well sum up the world we live in. Anything that is out of the ordinary is seen as idealistic or non-realistic. Also, as the average is based on the weight of a large mass of people, there seems to be a kind of gravitational pull to be average or, to put it much more bluntly, to be mediocre. However, it is important to realise that we wouldn’t have many of the things we take for granted in our everyday lives if it wasn’t for people who dared to have ‘unrealistic’ dreams. Amazing things are all around us and have be invented and developed by people who were originally criticised for being idealistic. Being able to buy movie tickets over the internet, getting to the Canaries in 8 hours for a holiday, and talking to relatives half way across the world for free with Skype are just a few examples of what can come from choosing to be exceptional rather than average, from being idealistic rather than realistic.

So, if anyone tells you to be more realistic about a goal you want to achieve, they are simply forming their opinions or judgements based on their own frame of reference, which is likely to be very average. Just remember that their reality IS NOT your reality. Simply don’t believe them! The best thing you can do is smile, nod and then go off and prove them wrong. If, in the process, you also inspire others to go after their own dreams, then you’ll have done the world a very great service.

Jyri Manninen
FAF Director of Education

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