Those of you who have ever taken a winter skiing holiday will know that it’s common to spend as much time travelling uphill as skiing downhill.
Last month during a beautiful sunny day, I found myself again propelled upwards courtesy of a button lift and enjoying some beautiful alpine scenery. During these quiet moments, I reflected on how my downhill and uphill experiences have changed over the years.
Steep learning curve
I have been lucky enough to have had the opportunity to ski since I was a teenager, having family living in the shadows of the Alps and a skiing enthusiast as a father. To clarify, I am not, nor have I ever been sporty, nor am I an outdoors type of person and was more comfortable inside with a good book and my mixtapes. Skiing holidays were as a result the perfect mix of terror, frustration and fun.
Preferring to teach us himself, we learned from following my dad down the baby slopes. Looking back, I admire his persistence and patience! My memories from this time include a lot of frustration, tears, arguments and at one point actually throwing my ski at my him! However, I also have a lot of fond memories; picnics under the trees, snow in the sunshine and most importantly time with my dad sharing something we (eventually) both enjoyed.
All will, no ways!
As with everything, with skiing I worked hard, was emotional, yet risk averse and I much preferred my comfort zone over new challenge, speed and excitement. I was afraid to be out of my depth as I thought I just wasn’t capable of finding ways around difficulties on my own and it would end up in disaster.
This view of myself was supported by an overprotective upbringing and strict rules about behaviour. I was an academic overachiever but, as such I didn’t really have the opportunity to ‘handle things’ in life more broadly when the going got rough. So, I never proved myself wrong by carrying on regardless when things didn’t come naturally. More likely I panicked until I was rescued or someone else solved the problem for me.
Falling, falling and getting back up
What struck me as I glided upwards that morning, was that the fear I used to have about falling off the ski lift had gone! So too had my fear of finding myself on too steep a slope, and of falling downhill. Interestingly rather than a gradual lessening of anxiety, something seemed to have clicked and this had been fairly recent. I now just knew that falling (or failing) was a possibility, but that if happened – I could handle it.
Positive psychology provided me with some insight as it often does in solitary moments. A year previously, learning about Snyder’s (1994) cognitive [BO1] theory of Hope had a profound effect on me. I finally had the language to understand how I thought of life’s uncertainties and my view of my capacity to face them.
Hope in theory
Although Snyder ties his theory firmly to specific goals, my interpretation of it is relative to daily life and world view:
the level of hope we hold that our actions will get us to our desired destination is a combination of two things –
- how we perceive our motivation, (known as agency thinking or willpower
- our confidence that we can generate ways to handle challenges along the way, (known as pathways thinking or way-power).
Another important component is our ability to self-regulate, how we amend our behaviour to adaptively cope with our thoughts and emotions which in turn affect our willpower and way-power abilities. I like to think of the theory like this:
Hope = Willpower + Way-power + Self-Regulation Strategies (my interpretation of Snyder’s (1994) Hope Theory)
Certainly, in my experience, just because there is a will, it doesn’t mean there is automatically a way. It became clear to me that having a negative perception of myself had affected my real ability to handle things and that you only get so far when just trying hard not to fail.
Finding my own path(ways)
My views about failure are now simple – if I fall, I will work out how to get up. Learning strategies like identifying problem thinking, mindfulness and the benefits of self-expression seem to have given me the psychological space to finally develop the way-power element of hope, the sense that I can find the resources to cope and that I have choices about how to respond to achieve my aims.
I’ve been able to lucky enough to gain insight into my strengths as well as my weaknesses, develop some self-compassion and internalise a growth mindset and my journey on the slopes seemed to reflect this back to me as I savoured my surroundings. Knowing that I can handle things, and that it’s up to me to decide how, in turn means that I now enjoy testing myself with new adventures both on and off the pistes.
About the author: Lena Britnell
‘We Are The Positive Psychology People’
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