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  • Michael Philp

Risk it to get the Biscuit

Many years ago, when all my dreams of what I wanted to be when I grew up was to be a professional athlete of some description, I was trying out for a tennis development team. As part of the tryouts, we would stand in a line and wait for our turn to hit a ball back into court from the coach. At that stage, I was fairly confident I could hit a forehand well, but not so confident on my backhand. In order to make sure I got the ball in the court, I decided to under-hit the ball and put slice on the ball - this was pretty much a sure thing to go in the court. After several turns, the coach eventually asked me to hit the ball flat and with power on my backhand. I remember being very nervous about going for that shot - in games my backhand was my weaker shot and I knew that I had missed many attempts at winning a point on my backhand. Thankfully, I was able to do so on this occasion and I progressed to next phase of the trials. And so begun my first (unknowingly) experience with "risking it to get the biscuit".

I was reminded of this experience last night in my role as a coach. I've noticed one of my players tends to favour the strengths in his game (soccer) and his ability to pass the ball, rather than his weakness, which is dribbling with the ball. I became aware that he was trying to avoid this aspect of his game in order to avoid making mistakes. The downside to this is that he doesn't develop his overall game as well as he could.

I've noticed this trend in clients during our therapy sessions. People often become stuck because they are playing it safe. They are playing to their strengths (not necessarily a bad thing) at the expense of their perceived weaknesses. What I tend to see in these situations are people who don't look for promotions even though they might make a really good candidate for a higher role; not expanding their social network despite wanting to, for fear that they might be judged or rejected; and avoidance of making changes in their lives that will take them in a positive direction, for fear that it might not work, or that it is too scary.

When we make a change in our life, it often comes with trepidation. It is scary at times. We do feel like a fake or fraud, because we haven't done it before. When we make changes in our life that come with uncertainty, then our "problem-solving machine" (our brain) kicks into gear, listing all the things that could possibly go wrong. This is normal - this is what our brain is designed to do in order to protect us from danger. Unfortunately, it means it often gets in the way, because our anxiety ramps up and we tend to avoid taking risks with uncertainty to escape from the uncomfortable feeling of anxiety.

"Risking it to get the biscuit" means that we are embracing the uncertainty and making room for the anxiety. If something is important to you or you are feeling stuck, can you make room for the anxiety that comes with uncertainty in order to make positive changes in your life? This is often easier said than done. A helpful way to cope is to "unhook" from the anxious thoughts by acknowledging your "problem-solving brain". Noticing what our brain is doing helps us to take one-step away from being caught up or "hooked" in our anxious thoughts. Another way of coping is to imagine yourself at 90 years old looking back on your life - would you be more content with having had a go, but it didn't work out as well as you hoped, or would you be more content with having avoided taking the risk?

For 12 year old me, I am pleased that I went for my shot. I didn't make it as a professional tennis player, but I gave it my best by taking a risk.

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