The Beginnings of Change

Change is a funny thing. There’s a whole industry built around implementing change, motivating people for change, getting people excited about it. But a lot of efforts at change fail. People go along to seminars, and get incredible emotional ‘highs’ for a weekend. They come to realisations about themselves, and they hear things about themselves they’ve never heard before. But the problem with a lot of the change books, seminars, conferences and training sessions, is that the effect often doesn’t last.

Change barely occurs. People return to their routines and everything is the same as when they left. While they have all this new knowledge, they get discouraged because the rest of the world  doesn’t seem to conform to their new vision of that world.

And so, the memory and the exhilaration fades and life settles down again and becomes as it was before. That’s why I was always cynical about ‘motivational’ techniques. ‘Quick fixes’ don’t work. I was searching for permanent change: the type of change that would not only win me a gold medal, but would allow me to seek and achieve excellence in every endeavour in life.

Don’t put people in boxes. Give them responsibility. Not goddamn rules! – Michael Conway

Kurek wasn’t the only one getting us to do outrageous things in practice. Like Kurek, our coach Steve also believes that low self- confidence is one of the biggest barriers to winning.

“I had the girls barking and crowing like roosters in the middle of Southbank, Brisbane, with people watching”, he laughs. “I had the experience myself, as a player, of getting out there and somehow being ashamed to give my all, in case I failed; as though it’s better to make half an effort, and say I’m not really fully committed to this’.

There’s something almost embarrassing about going all out. But champions don’t care. They respect themselves; they respect their work. And every time they get on the court, it’s everything to them – they’re passionate about what they do, and they don’t care who’s watching and what they think.

Champions express themselves through their sport and through doing what they do best, playing it. With the Southbank episode, my message to Nat was ‘Commit to what you do. No matter how embarrassing’. Getting past the embarrassment and committing to the task is the same as playing volleyball. You’re exposed anyway. You’re naked out on the court in front of a crowd. People see so much of your character. So why be out there and only make half an effort, holding something back? You better believe that the people beating you are not holding anything in reserve. They’re putting it all on the line.”

I saw Kurek four times a week. At first, I thought a lot of his stuff was hype. My mind was a little closed. I had my own beliefs, and I told myself that his methods simply were not going to work for me. Initially, we went through a lot of stuff about identity, celebrating mistakes, celebrating learning.

He actually wanted me to physically celebrate when I did something wrong! And I said “No. I can’t do that”. I understand now that it takes something as radical as that to break old mindsets, entrenched ways of thinking, and habits that cling like barnacles.

You have to prise them off!

Ego can be the greatest barrier to learning. After all, how can you celebrate mistakes when you don’t even like admitting you’re wrong, or when you see mistakes as failures? So, there was Kurek, standing on the side of the court trying to make me celebrate every time I made a stupid mistake, and I’d be yelling back at him. We’d be yelling at each other! Kurek just wanted us to play full out. His theory is that the harder you resist, the harder you fall.

I was beginning to see that myself. I certainly wasn’t improving by using my own methods. It was that mad-person behaviour again: doing the same thing over and over, yet expecting a different outcome!

I had chosen Kurek as a teacher. I was the one who approached him, so eventually I decided to do everything he asked, at first feeling like a clown. But after a short time I really started doing what he asked. Soon I started to see changes in the way I was playing. It was another one of those “aha!” moments. Sometimes change comes in small steps. Sometimes it comes in an instant.

Remember this:

Celebrating mistakes – even quietly – helps us to see that a mistake is only an opportunity for new learning.

We must open our minds if we’re to succeed; always try to have a childlike curiosity.

‘Quick fixes’ don’t work. Change requires new habits, and habits, bad or good, develop over time. Build and nurture the good ones!


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