During this week's #PrimaryRocks twitter chat, I became engaged in a conversation about success, achievement, and being your best, and how you are your best by not comparing yourself to others .... and it reminded me of something my swimming coach used to say to me -
Always swim in your own lane.
(I will clarify here, no I didn't have a habit of slipping under the lane ropes to start racing in the lane next to me - this would have got me disqualified!! But it's funny to imagine it happening!)
What my coach was talking about was to succeed in my swimming race I had to stop concentrating on what all the other swimmers were doing and just focus on what was happening within my own lane, my own race and my own achievements.
So instead of worrying about which swimmer was ahead of me, I would focus on my technique, whether my stroke rate was high enough, my turns were efficient and smooth, and my finishes were on the full stroke. The magic was that, as I turned my focus inwards, to see what I could do to produce the best results for me, my best results ever started to happen. All the panic and stress of worrying about where others were and what they were doing was gone; instead a calm, deeper approach to my swimming meant that I developed the focus and confidence to win 3 Paralympic medals.
"Always swim in your own lane" was probably one of the best pieces of life advice I have ever received, and it is a lesson that we should be teaching our children - stop comparing yourself to others, you are you, with all your uniqueness and personality, and you should focus on what you can do, what you can improve, and what you can achieve. This is very easy to say .... but when we live in a society saturated in media detailing "perfection", and with an economy based on a drive to compare and hence purchase to "keep up with the Jones's", it is really hard, even as adults, to "stay in your own lane."
So how can we teach children to understand themselves, accept their abilities as they are, and then focus on improving their own skills and their own achievements?
1. Emphasise their unique talents and skills and support them in working towards improving these skills - be aware of the language that you use, maintain a positive, growth mindset focus, and enable them to make decisions and take steps on their own to work on "being in their own lane."
2. Talk to them openly about expectations, especially when it comes to social expectations, i.e., peer pressure, social pressures, and media pressure. We can't hide our children from the world (wide web!), and we shouldn't, as there are so many wonderful things in the world, we wouldn't want them missing out on experiences. But, we have to ensure that they understand that just because Ava down the road can sing like Taylor Swift doesn't mean they have to as well .... perhaps they are fantastic at discus, or writing stories, or giving hugs.
3. Give them a notebook to keep a "Personal Achievement Log." In this log they can write down the amazing things they achieve every day, whether getting an A on their exam, or coming 2nd in their swimming race, or tidying their bedroom in record time. They can write down their achievements and keep track of just how amazing and fantastic they are. (I used to keep track of my race times, as it helped me to know what all my Personal Best times were, and it enabled me to focus on improving my own times, and not worrying about anyone else).
So let's get our children focusing on their own fantastic skills and abilities, ignore what the other children are doing, and make like Taylor Swift:
I'm dancing on my own (dancing on my own)
I make the moves up as I go (moves up as I go)
And that's what they don't know, mmm-mmm
That's what they don't know, mmm-mmm.
This article was originally posted on the RWS website on the 18th May, 2016