We have precious little control over external circumstances. We do, however, have complete control over our internal response.
This idea is far from new.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
― Viktor E. Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning
The order across the finish line is visible, external, concrete. But what will ultimately get us there is not visible: the internal strengthening we experience through our response to challenge, to circumstances beyond our control.
“What is essential is invisible to the eye.” ― Antoine Saint Exupery, The Little Prince
We control this response. We can become stronger internally with every challenge, whether it appears externally as a setback or victory.
How I respond to external circumstances, to the ubiquitous factors beyond my control, reflects my character. It is my response – not my circumstances – over which I have complete control, and for which I must take complete responsibility.
If my ultimate goal as an athlete is to improve myself (which it is), and if doing so requires addressing internal improvement (which it does), then all external circumstances – good or bad – constitute opportunities for improvement (they do).
"Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom."
― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search For Meaning
I broke my pelvis year before last and was on bed rest for a long time. It was a huge setback in progressing toward my goals, but at the same time, constituted as much an opportunity to improve myself as would a race: both circumstances offer the opportunity to respond to challenge with strength and grace. I can use both circumstances to improve myself.
You have the freedom and ability to improve yourself regardless of what is happening around you.
Internal chaos also exists. There are plenty of times I respond to my circumstances less courageously than I’d care to admit. Nobody is perfect. So how can one build consistency and confidence when even internal growth isn’t linear?
I like to think of my internal responses to external circumstances as a scatter plot. Sometimes I respond well. Other times I don’t handle myself with as much grace as I’d like. It’s always my choice – and my responsibility – but if I were to get it right all of the time, there would be no learning, no progress, no growth.
A scatter plot is anything but perfect: there are points seemingly all over the place, reflecting the random nature of changing external circumstances (good luck and bad luck), as well as the variability in response to those circumstances (sometimes good, sometimes not so good).