The problem of always winning

Growing up, I remember spending every Saturday without fail at my grandparents. We would all go out, with my Mum and Nan consulting on clothing and the like, and when we got back, we would play all manner of games, draughts, buckaroo, Sorry, Snakes and Ladders.. and many more I have likely long since forgotten. It provided me with a host of good memories and a life time love for board games. There was only one problem with this, they always let me win.

At the time, this was amazing, I was quite clearly the luckiest girl on earth, every game, I am a winner! This instilled an amazing sense of optimism, but at the same time created an expectation. When I played board games with other people, this became a contention. I was no longer naturally winning, this created uproar and confusion. I had to start dealing with losing too.

What probably kept me going through this transition was likely two things. First was my utter love for games and second was my Uncle Dave. Uncle Dave suddenly brought a host of new games into my life – Monopoly, Risk and one of my utter devotions, Scrabble. So the process of learning these infinitely more complex games counterbalanced me losing more often. And this helped. A bit.

I mean I knew that people both won and lost and that this was okay. Intellectually I understood this variable, but emotionally, not so much. I remember congratulating opponents on their win then excusing myself to go hide and cry. I felt terrible, I had lost the game, I had failed. This sense of failure I really closely identified with. I likened what should have been an entertaining diversion with a catastrophic event. Losing at a game and linking that to self-worth was not healthy.

And then I became older and suddenly losing at games became okay. I had learnt to distance myself from my unrealistic expectation of always winning, to enjoying games for the sheer sake of playing them. I enjoyed the process without being dependent on the outcome.

I still play board games now (when I can find willing participants!), and now my loves have extended to cards, mancala, Trivial Pursuit and very much still Scrabble. However, it is the playing I love, the social interaction, the tactile appreciation and the intellectual reasoning that accompanies strategy and knowledge-based games. It is nice to win sometimes, but I don’t hold onto those feelings as something that endorses my self-worth. For me losing was an excellent skill to acquire, it increased my strength to take risks. When losing felt terrible, it mirrored how terrible I felt about any loss, any misadventure could spell danger. Now I am less afraid.

Map Point. Where does my self-worth come from?

My brother’s lonely walk

When I was younger, I had various phobias, more ordinary ones like heights and spiders, which am sure many of us go through. As an adult, these can be rationalised and lessened into mild dislikes. Sometimes. My brother in the presence of a flying, buzzing insect is truly a sight to behold. I recall him once walking for about three miles without money, keys or phone as he could not return into the house because a lone bee had taken temporary residence. And another time where we had to sellotape a glass to a mop to extract a bee from our front room, and our mum asking when she got home why one of her glasses was in the shrubbery. Fear can be infectious.

So what can assist us to overcome fear? Could it be an increased sense of trust in our environments? Now some fears are logical, practical, designed to keep us alive (we don’t go looking for hippos to enjoy a casual stroll with them), but other fears seem to immobilise us to the state of inaction.

Anxiety is something that I have experienced, especially as a teenager. I would have full blown panic attacks, hyperventilating until I became dizzy. It was fear manifested. I had no trust in the stability of my world. And often as a child, we are at the mercy of the adults who make decisions for us, rarely are we the decision makers.

For much of my life, I have been scared to make big decisions, needing the validation of those around me. And this is fear. Not having the confidence that my own thoughts were good enough, worthy enough. As a result of this, bits of progress were made, but never enough, never really breaking through with anything, despite any passions or aspirations that I had. I simply didn’t believe that I could.

In my life now, that has changed. I know what I want to do, and despite the occasional hiccup, I do what I intend. Self-validation is empowering. I sometimes wonder what it would be like to be a person who has always had confidence in their beliefs, and even with doubt, they still can bear the risk and proceed. What would be the mindset of a person like that?

Map Point. What have I always wanted to do?

How I (begrudgingly) started running

It was the Fitbit (which I have since abandoned). Miles spotted it at work. I was making myself a cup of tea at the time. ┬áHadn’t really spoken to him a good deal before other than mostly pleasantries. And he asked if I ran. This seemed likely, as the wrist tracking activity devices generally indicate that you are involved in activity worth tracking. I was not however, I liked the idea of starting running, but I had actually purchased this marvellous device to track just how horrendous my sleep had become. It was bought purely with masochistic intent to prove to myself how bad my insomnia had become. So I said that I was thinking of starting, to which Miles told me that he could give me the names of some local groups that went out running in the evenings. This was mostly impractical, what with being a single mother and all, but I thanked him. He then seemed to pause a bit, and said that if I wanted to, he would go out running with me. Now this was a more exciting offer. Someone was willing to invest their actual time in helping me to start running. I was nervous, apprehensive, but ultimately I had clearly set the intention by buying the flashy wrist gear that I was ready to run. So I agreed.

What I actually agreed to was a six-week program involving a twice weekly run. So I found my running clothes (proper activity wear.. it sort of makes me giggle how prepped I was to run, without ever having done so before) and met up with Miles. Miles looks like a hardcore long distance runner, the sort of man who could run for a week and still be able to hold a sensible conversation. We stretched, this seemed okay, this bit I could definitely do! I felt so accomplished. Then he said we would walk for a bit, then run for a minute. In this first minute of running, several ages passed. Polar icecaps melted and reformed, however, am something of a stubborn beast on occasion, so I powered through. My legs had no idea what they were doing, my breathing was laboured, and my posture felt peculiar. We continued in this vein, walking a bit, running a bit. And I improved. The first time I ran for five minutes straight was a massive achievement. Hills were the same. I then started running with other friends too, Kate and Robert. Running gave me activity based social time. And it felt good.

A minor knee injury took me out for a while, but am back out running again now. This morning I complete my first 5k in an age, with a knee support, in forty-five minutes (which is very slow for me) and it felt amazing, around the 3k mark, I found my zone again. This is where I lose myself and everything feels amazing.

Running for me started as something of mass trepidation, actual fear (likely a hangover from the hideous words in school ‘cross country’), but actually breaking through that, with the help of someone else, empowered me so massively, and I am grateful.

Map Point. What is fear preventing me from doing?