There are many hurdles in our pursuit of happiness, good health, and peak productivity, but there is one obstacle that stands out more than the others when I think about the clients I have worked with these last 25 years. More specifically, I am referring to denial and how it serves as a resistance to our future success.
Denial is a common defense mechanism, but it is also an unhealthy one. When we experience denial, we also experience stress, and if we are unable to properly cope with stress our problems become even bigger. Denial in sports is witnessed in many different ways, including:
- Being unwilling to acknowledge that you haven’t put in the work
- Fighting back good, sound feedback and instead immediately dismissing the help as unnecessary or, worse yet, just “politics.”
- Believing your are more talented than what the facts show.
While denial seems to work in the sense that it temporarily protects the human ego, it actually leads to bigger problems down the road. Of course, nobody wants to hear valid feedback that prompts us to look at our shortcomings, but it is in these very moments where we have great opportunity to grow, develop, and ultimately reach new levels we never thought possible.
There are many unhealthy things that can occur when we camp out in denial — below are three examples to consider:
- Directs focus in the wrong direction. For example, if a coach provides an athlete legitimate advice on how to improve and the athlete rejects the advice, it’s likely that focus will shift to other less relevant factors related to future success. For example, if a coach suggests that conditioning is a problem but the athlete refuses to accept the feedback, she might instead simply “practice more” when in fact her skills are actually fine.
- Zaps energy. Often when we are provided valid feedback and we ignore it, the feedback still hangs around in the background and keeps our attention — similar to having an annoying pebble in your sneaker. This “drip-drip-drip” way of never truly acknowledging the feedback actually expends more energy compared to if we would have simply accepted the feedback initially and looked for ways to integrate the new information.
- Prevents positive future growth. Denial keeps us in a resistant, closed-minded position when we could instead take the feedback being offered and actually use it to our advantage. While the initial advice offered might sting at first, the long-term gains could prove to be the missing piece to future success.
We are all capable of achieving great things in life, but denial is a major roadblock that stands in our way. Being honest with ourselves, while difficult in the moment, almost always pays long-term dividends that off-set the early sting. Face your fears, acknowledge your shortcomings, and develop future goals to improve in those areas.