What’s in the Way is the Way

Growth mindset Resilience Respect


Key Point: The great Stoic, Marcus Aurelius, wrote: “The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

The ability to overcome obstacles to our progress is a vital part of our growth and development. Dr. Peter Jensen, Canada’s great sports psychologist, tells an engaging story of a highly touted Canadian speed skater who failed miserably in her first Olympic Games. Peter was talking to this skater’s coach after the unexpectedly poor performance. At the same time, the skater was alone off in the corner, spinning on a stationary bike as part of her post race recovery and quietly sobbing in deep disappointment. A young sports psychologist working with the skater was going over to console her, but was deftly intercepted by the wise coach who asked the well-intended psychologist: “Why would you rob her of this moment?” The skater was then thoughtfully left in her own “white space” to fully absorb the entire experience of what happened. There was plenty of time for coaching/counseling intervention later. Of course the beautiful lesson in this story is that the best thing that can happen from our failures is to take the time to embrace the struggle, a critical component of self-awareness and understanding of what got in the way… Surely, as the ancients have advised, “that is the way.”

Dr. Jensen points out that success and winning comes from climbing the confidence/competence staircase. You add competence and it builds a little more confidence. When you get more confident, you put yourself out there and build a little more competence, and so it goes. And you need the struggles and disappointments as experienced by the speed skater noted above. Those moments create energy to go forward and if you think about it that way, it is about having a continuous growth mindset. (And by the way that skater went on to remarkable performances, including future Olympic gold medals).

Finding a way also requires the ability to imagine. Imagery is a language that the body, mind and spirit understand. Our bodies do not distinguish between what’s imagined or real. Imagery, whether we realize it or not, proceeds everything we do. Positive images support success, while negative images undermine. And powerful imagery is more than visual. Ideally, it involves creating a very specific and vivid picture of what’s possible, engaging ALL the senses. This mental image translates to the body and mind, pumping out positive emotion that leads the way with positive energy most often resulting in improved performance.

Character Moves:

1. Embrace challenges, obstacles, blockages and failure as part of what we need to find the way. Coaches can help us, however we most often advance more successfully when we struggle and take the lead in finding our own way. That energy of disappointment when channeled to progress becomes a tailwind to achieving a higher level. Do not rob yourself of the moments that ultimately shine a light on the path forward.

2. Learn the power of imagery. Is there anywhere in your work/life where imagery could play a bigger role in enhancing performance? If so, mentally practice using imagery. Become more aware of your own imagery and increase the vividness by developing all the senses. The greatest athletes in the world put imagery to work… Why not you?

Picture the way in the Triangle,


One Millennial View: When I first read about the coach interfering with the psychologist, asking, “Why would you rob her of this moment?” Part of me wanted to use my “imagery” to punch that coach in the face. “Uh, what moment? Her total misery? Cause she’s upset, you jerk… Why make her dwell on it?” As I read on, I now understand the importance. I happen to be an immediate fixer… The faster things can be fine, the better. But, sometimes when you don’t have that “psychologist,” or “simple fix it,” there are those moments where you devise your own plan of change/action/future success, and once that’s accomplished there’s no better feeling. So I guess, why you want to rob yourself of that personal achievement? Let’s just hope it doesn’t always take until the next darn Olympics!!

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis