False Summits


“I like mountains, always have done. Big obstinate bits of rock sticking up where they’re not wanted and getting in folk’s way. Great. Climbing them is a different matter altogether though. I hate that.”
 — Mark Lawrence

One of the things that is so difficult about the coronavirus situation in the US is the uncertainty around how and when the quarantine will end.  None of us can know that answer right now, although we’re all speculating all the time!  I think everyone has an idea around when we’ll be allowed to go back to work, and when the kids will be back in school, and when we’ll be allowed back in the gym.  And these ideas are all based on things that we have heard on the news, on speaking with our friends and family, and on our own personality (if we are optimistic, we lean toward believing that this will end soon).  If we all have slightly different ideas about the timing and the rollout plan, and what our life will look like in the next couple months (or weeks?), that means that 99% of us are WRONG.  We’ve believed the wrong politician, or our personal bias is flawed in this situation, or we just don’t have all the facts!  How could we?

So let’s assume that the vast majority of us are wrong about how and when this will end.  Let’s assume that means I AM WRONG.  What makes this doubly difficult, compounding the mental leap to overcome it, is if I dig in to that position.  If I put all my eggs in that basket of “we’re going to reopen the gym at the end of May,” and put my blinders on and plan for that to happen, and inevitably it doesn’t, I will be devastated!

What I’ve done is created a “false summit” for myself.  If you’ve ever climbed a mountain, or even run a very hilly race, you know that feeling of looking up to the top of the hill and thinking to yourself, “There it is!  That’s the top – the summit!  It’s all downhill from there, guys!”  WRONG.  You get to the top of that hill and realize it was hiding an even bigger one.  It was a false summit.

Now, the effort to get to the top of the hill was great.  You made it that far, and so you should know that you can keep going.  It’s a little win!  But if you’ve committed yourself emotionally to KNOWING that this was the end, you will experience a huge relative spike downward from the elation of being so close to the end, to knowing that there is a lot more hard work and a lot more time to soldier on.

In times of uncertainty (which, let’s agree, is all times!) it’s important not to dig in to your belief that “things are all going to be better when X,” where X marks your view to the top of the mountain.  Be wary of preparing yourself for the best case scenario.  Instead, visualize your best response to all possible scenarios.  It’s a cliché like so many things that are undeniably true, but there are so many aspects of this situation that we cannot control.  Politics, other people’s actions, even the virus itself.  All we can control is our own response, and to do that we need to practice thinking about what that response would be if…
The possible scenarios are different for all of us, but the exercise is the same.  Sit down in a quiet place, and practice breathing for 5 minutes.  Choose a scenario that you want to be prepared for.  Imagine getting the news, your initial reaction.  How did that go?  Anything to improve on there?  Visualize yourself now responding with confidence, clarity and resolve.  Visualize yourself leading others through this scenario.  They will be counting on you.

We already know how we would respond if our best case scenario actually played out.  We got to the top of the peak that was in sight the whole time, and… THAT’S IT!  Absolutely time for a celebration.  But don’t raid the store for all the party hats just yet.  What if our worst case scenario happened?  What if the real climb hadn’t even started yet?  Others around you will be struggling.  You may be struggling.  Be real about it.  But you’ve visualized what success looks like in your mind.  You’re prepared to step into the fray and lead.  You’re looking up, pushing for that next summit.  And you’re staying mentally strong, knowing that it won’t be the last.

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