Making Sense of Work with Jean Balfour

Ep. #77 Persisting Through Challenges: Lessons from Netflix's Nyad's Swim

January 26, 2024 Jean Balfour Season 3 Episode 77
Making Sense of Work with Jean Balfour
Ep. #77 Persisting Through Challenges: Lessons from Netflix's Nyad's Swim
Show Notes Transcript

Welcome to  Season 3 on "Making Sense of Work" 

Today’s episode is drawing inspiration from the impactful Netflix film, "Nyad." The documentary encapsulates the awe-inspiring story of Diana Nyad, who, at the remarkable age of 64, achieved the extraordinary feat of swimming from Cuba to Florida.

Jean reflects on Nyad's resilience and tenacity, drawing parallels to personal challenges and contemplating the profound impact of persistence on individual aspirations.

Drawing from personal experiences, she shares insights into overcoming low confidence and the enduring efforts required to construct a foundation of self-belief.

Acknowledging the merits of persistence, Jean delves into its potential drawbacks, emphasizing the importance of self-care and recognizing when a goal, despite persistent efforts, may come at too high a cost. This sets the stage for a balanced perspective on the journey toward achievement.

There are key strategies for embracing persistence, from setting clear and ambitious goals to creating visual representations for motivation. Jean underscores the importance of a robust support system, resilience cultivation, and the fostering of a growth mindset. 

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Hi, and welcome to season three of Making Sense of Work. Have you watched the film Nyad on Netflix yet? This is the story of Diana Nyad who swam from Cuba to Florida when she was 64. This is a distance. of 110 miles and this is an extraordinary story of persistence, grit, resilience and determination. She attempted the swim five times over 35 years and finally achieved her goal in 2013. As I watched her story, I was thinking about my own challenges and how persistence or lack of persistence sometimes had impacted them. So in this episode, I'm going to talk about my thoughts on persistence. determination and grit and how we can work with it to our advantage. Perhaps we're not planning to swim 110 miles, but certainly to achieving things in our lives that we really desire. Let me start with a bit more about Diana. She swam competitively as a child. And when Cuba was cut off from the world, she stood with her mother and her mother sewed the idea of the swim. They were standing together on a Florida beach. And her mother apparently said, Diana, it's so close that you, you little swimmer. could swim there. Diana did go on to become a renowned open water swimmer, including swimming around Manhattan in her early twenties. And her first attempt of the Cuba to Florida swim was when she was 28. And on that attempt, she gave up after 41 hours of swimming. Incredible. It's nearly two days. So in itself, unbelievable. She then let go of the dream and It really didn't rekindle in her until she turned 60 and then she had three more attempts before she finally reached her goal. This is some level of persistence. There's a little bit of controversy about whether it's actually a record swim, but let's just assume that swimming 110 miles over a 53 hour period. Under the rules of no exit from the water, no flotation aid, no forward propulsion aid is simply incredible. It's, it's just even being in the water for 53 hours on its own is incredible. And so this is a story of persistence and a story of not giving up on our aspirations, on our dreams and on our goals. It's a story of hope. and determination. It's also a story of courage. Now, I love to swim. I love to swim for leisure and being in water, as long as the water's warm, is a very, very happy place for me. But long distance swimming in open water isn't for me. Sharks and jellyfish and storms, not for me. But after watching the film, I reflected. on a few of my goals, my non swimming related goals. And I came away with a really renewed persistence to achieve them. I was really inspired by her story. And I guess more so because I watched the film a couple of weeks after turning 60 myself. So her dream was reignited at 60. Nothing stopped her doing that amazing. physical feet, what was stopping me? So how can we believe in our own persistence and hope? And can we set seemingly impossible goals and then set out to achieve them? I'd like to share with you a story of one area of my life that I have persistently worked on and continue to work on. And I can see how this has paid off for so much of my life. I really struggled with low confidence, really disempowered, feeling like I wasn't good enough. And it transpired in so many ways. You know, I would leave an evening with close friends, wondering if I'd said the wrong thing. I mean, these are people who love me, but I would walk away struggling with myself. I would angst over pieces of work and things I And I wasted so much energy ruminating. It held me back from enormous things, from going outside of my comfort zone, and probably held me back from being my best self. In my mid 30s, I made a decision to do some work on this. I decided that I couldn't live with it anymore, that I needed to go on a journey of working on my confidence and I started reading everything I could and trying everything I could and actually this was a while ago and there wasn't so much written, there wasn't so much self help or easy access psychology written about how we work on things like confidence but I went and found them and I read them and I persisted. So a few things changed and yet it didn't feel like there was a lot of significant change. And then I began to feel that change because I was persistent. I was determined not to give up on this place. I didn't think I needed to be lacking in confidence. all the time. So I learned and the first major turning point was when I got much better at catching the thoughts, the kind of self deprecating, self critical thoughts, and I learned to reframe them or let them go. The other big turning point came really 10 years after that, when I started working on my mindfulness practice and that ability to become much more calm and still within myself. And then over time, my confidence has shifted. Now, it has not been a straight line. Sometimes I feel like I've gone around in circles. Sometimes I've gone backwards. Sometimes I've been really knocked over by a real sort of terrible lack of confidence or low confidence feeling and sometimes I even felt like I was right back at the beginning. But then there would be a breakthrough and I would move forward and slowly but surely, The work I did and I've done and I'm doing on rebuilding my self belief on changing my thinking patterns on seeking positive rather than negative images of myself began to work. I also had a couple of moments where there was a really big shift. And then other moments where it's being gradual. So, it hasn't been a straight line, not even a winding road. It's been more like a spiral. Sometimes moving forward and sometimes going backwards. But, the thing is, I am changed because of this work. Because of this persistence. Even doing this podcast is evidence of this change. And it comes from that persistence. From keeping going. Being determined, having a vision and an idea that I did not need to be disempowered by this low confidence. There of course have been other goals for me related to persistence. There's always a goal around my business and there's currently a new goal around writing, which is really testing my persistence and my ability to get going and to dig into my grit. Um, but I'm determined and I've learnt through the journey of my confidence that persistence works, that we can try and fail and try again. I guess for Diana Nyad, even if she hadn't reached her goal, she would have been changed forever. She was already breaking records. And so a lot of this persistence and determination and moving towards a big goal actually is bringing us learning and personal growth anyway, whether or not we get there. Now there is a dark side to persistence. feel that we've committed to something and that we're not going to give up, even when it looks like it's really no longer the best thing to do. Or we keep going when we're exhausted or when we're overwhelmed. And that isn't a healthy version of persistence. And we need to be careful of that, take care of ourselves. Allow ourselves a pause in achieving goals or stretching the deadline or sometimes just even letting it go if it's costing us too much. So how can we embrace persistence and move? I've come up with a few things that I think have really helped me in this and I guess things that I could see emerging from the film. The first is we need a really clear goal, preferably something that will stretch us and require us to dig deep, to learn about ourselves, to learn about life and work. There's something so energizing about setting something that will require us to grow and change. For me it's about being confident. More recently it's about my writing and I'm at a point now where I need. start sharing some of my writing more and I can feel some growth points in that. Setting a goal that ignites some passion or some hope in us, something that will help us keep going even when it feels we're a long way off. And with that goal, it's also about creating a very clear vision of what we're aiming for. And knowing that we're willing to try things outside of our comfort zone to achieve it. Maybe you have a goal that you want to achieve a certain role in an organization, or you want to build a business, or you want to become more confident at public speaking. Diana's goal, of course, was clear. She had a A journey she was going to swim from Cuba to Florida house might take a bit more work to clarify and to help to clarify it creating a vision of your destination can be really impactful if you've decided that you want to achieve something so for example you want to be the CTO. You want to be an executive committee, then build a visual picture of yourself in that role. Visualization and sport is the norm. Sports people are encouraged to visualize themselves as they run or hit the ball. I imagine that Diana visualized herself walking out of the water in Florida, keeping that eye on her goal. For me, the visual was. and still is based on small steps. I imagine myself getting to the end of the day feeling confident about myself and all I've done. I visualized my published book, which will take all of my courage and self belief to deliver. Writing that is my current ultimate act in overcoming my inner critic and persistence. You could imagine yourself as the CEO, create an idea in your mind of sitting in the board meetings, think about what you'll be wearing, what type of leader will you be, how will you conduct yourself during the day, what impact will you make on the organization, create a clear vision and keep it close to you, so that when it feels hard and you feel like you're going to give up, you look at your vision and you believe what's possible. We also need a support team. Diana Nyad had a big support team and according to the film and what's written about her, one of her early decisions was to ask for the support of Bonnie Stroll. Diana knew she needed help and support and she took the steps to reach out for it. For me, it's involved coaches and therapists, friends, family, my partner, colleagues, healers. It's taken a village to help me believe in myself. So who could be your partners in your journey? Who do you trust who you could share your goal with and who will support you along the way? It helps if you ask them to also feed back to you, to let you know when you're off track or doing things that won't help you. Who could be your accountability partner as you go on the journey? We also need to learn resilience skills. Going for a big goal or making a big personal change asks a lot of us and it will require I am not a naturally resilient person. This may surprise some people who I think see me as this. Because of my struggles with confidence over the years, I could easily, and I still can a bit, be knocked off course. And it can take me time to get back up. I've really struggled. Less so now, but with energy and tiredness, and I think that's been linked to my inner battles. So I've learned over the years how to be more resilient. I've practiced psychological techniques, like working on my mindset. I've worked on taking breaks. I've learned that as we become more psychologically flexible, we become more resilient. So that's things like learning to take feedback without being hurt, to see failure as an opportunity for learning. Openness to mistakes and failure is really key. Resilience is about our spiritual, mental, and physical wellbeing, and it can be built. So I think I'm living proof of that along this process. I believe I've become more resilience part of building our resilience is also working on our growth mindset, believing in ourselves and believing that change and growth is possible, believing that we can grow. towards our destination that we can learn and that we can change. We also need to plan for setbacks, all big goals and dreams, hit challenges, roadblocks, difficulty along the way. And I think we can actually make a decision upfront. About what we're going to do when this happens, we can make decisions that will see setbacks as as my partner says, it's just a little tap on the wing. It's an opportunity to regroup to work out what wasn't working and to move back to visualizing our goal and identifying the actions that we can take when we hit setbacks, great opportunity to bring in our team to bring in our partners to get them to help us to think about. Wow, you know, I didn't get that promotion. I was expecting, what do I do now? How do I regroup? We can also work with our self compassion when we're persisting, and I think this is connected also to overcoming failure. In episode 35 of the podcast, I share ideas on how to manage failure, but with us in this situation of persistence, we can see that We won't probably reach our destination first time. We need to be kind to ourselves. We need to see ourselves as human and acknowledge our struggles. And we can remember that Diana did the swim four times before she did her final successful swim. We can see our struggles as human. Persistence also requires us to set small steps in the direction of our goal. Once you've created your vision of change, you want to make it. You want to make the goal something that you can achieve, work out what those daily steps might be. For me, like in my writing, I have a daily word count and I keep a close track of that. I have a system, a tool that does that for me. And we can choose as we're moving forward about what that looks like. With my confidence, it was learning to be aware, first of all, about the moments. Where I wasn't worried about who I was, looking for the good moments of the day, noting a day that had gone by without holding me back. We can look for small wins and we can celebrate these. I love the idea of us setting big goals that we can work towards, that we can find the inner strength to keep going towards. And so when we feel like we're not getting nearer, we can tap into something within ourselves. So what happens if you get to that point where you're struggling and you feel like you're giving up? Well, one thing that you can do is, is connect that goal to a personal story or a mission. Connect it to the reason that matters to you enormously. So, for example, if your goal is to get a certain role in an organization and You've tried and been unsuccessful, or you've been applying for jobs outside the organization and not been getting them. Come back to what really matters. Think about how that goal fits with your own life and work desires. How does it fit with your values? How is it aligned to what creates meaning for you at work? How will being in that role make a difference to others? Reconnect with your personal mission, with your personal place and meaning in your life. Sometimes we do need to just dig in and be determined to move with through the challenging parts. We need to double down and get on with it. For me, that with my writing project means blocking time in my diary and come what may, I have to sit in the chair. I noticed too for me that when things aren't going the way I've hoped, I do have two choices about how I approach it. So when we hit those roadblocks, I can feel defeated. And down, or I can ask myself about the learning in that moment, I can say, okay, so what am I learning here is, am I learning something about resilience or persistence? Am I learning something about being a leader? What am I learning? And how can I keep moving in the direction of my dreams? There's so much learning for us in persistence. Now, it's also okay to give up. Sometimes we keep going, and we keep going, and maybe we should stop. Maybe we've lost our passion for the thing we were persisting in, or maybe in reality it isn't going to happen. And so when that happens, again with self compassion, we let it go. Maybe we hold a ceremony to say, I'm no longer working towards this. I release you. Persistence requires us to keep going, to keep swimming, but we have to believe that we're doing the right thing. Check in with your intuition, ask trusted friends and advisors. When persistence is hard, just check in. Should I keep going? Should I stop? And then if it's keep going, take good care of ourselves and keep going. And if it's not, and kindly let it go. I really encourage you to watch the film. Um, Annette Banning and Jodie Foster have both been nominated for Oscars for their role in the film. It's not always an easy watch, but for me, it certainly inspired me to really think about. the areas of my life that I wanted to persist in and to get back to them and to keep working on it. So I hope it also inspires you too.