And The Lifetime Goal Award Goes To

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This month on Friday 13th April, athlete and Solution Focused Hypnotherapy client, Adam Kirk-Smith, will achieve a dream. Adam will be competing in the Commonwealth Games, donning the international colours of Northern Ireland, and taking centre stage for his five minutes of fame.

This month on Friday 13th April, athlete and Solution Focused Hypnotherapy client, Adam Kirk-Smith, will achieve a dream.

On a date which has long been fear fodder for superstitious types, this youthful yet sage steeplechaser will walk onto a 400 metre athletics track in Brisbane to go toe to toe over 28 barriers and 7 water jumps in the 28th Commonwealth Games.

Upon the mention of the unfortunate date to him, Adam doesn’t even register it's significance. His goal was to be there; to make the team; to wear the green vest of Northern Ireland.

Over the last year and a half, one thing which has remained constant in Adam’s many engaging sessions is his uncompromising dedication to progress; a level of effort no less in the therapist’s chair than he has applied to his chosen sport. Adam’s dream seamlessly transitioned from fantasy to attainable goal, even with the lack of competitive background on an international stage (his closest Commonwealth experience previously was in Glasgow in 2014 – as a regular spectator). His rise has been quiet, measured, publicly un-noticed, exercising levels of sole focus and determination with an insatiable drive to be the best he can be today.

Adam clearly has a killer combination of both talent (he humbly denies this), and a good, solid work ethic, and yes, there is a competitive lineage throughout the Kirk-Smith household (his dad represented Ireland in hockey), but it takes more than genes and a t-shirt to land oneself a position to compete on the global stage.
Putting in the required hours is not something that Adam shies away from (more often than not he would run to the practice, down a cup of water, perform the mental exercises asked of him with aplomb, and leave at the same speed with which he arrived), and he resolutely finds time for a variety of training events, from cross country running to track work, and from gym sessions to the local parkruns on Saturday mornings.

So, what could there possibly be to work on?

From the perspective of a therapist, there was clearly no need for any involvement with physical training as his abilities are there for all to see. Besides, ‘on-track’ training is certainly not this therapist’s forte. Not consciously anyway. So the approach would be to work on ‘marginal gains’. Marginal ‘brain’ gains, to be precise.

For Adam, dwelling on past issues would only keep him ruminating in a negative spin, and running around in circles was something best kept for outside the practice room. As a Solution Focused Hypnotherapist, the aim was to keep him moving forward, guiding him from where he was, to where he wanted to be. His goals had to come from him; his needs, and no-one else’s, and importantly, at his own pace. A square peg, after all, fits perfectly in a square hole.

Athletes often make great therapeutic clients for they arrive already aware of the benefits of incremental practice, and an understanding of the need for commitment, persistence, and patience. Additionally, sportspeople are no strangers to the fact that progress often comes with occasional discomfort, especially when coached to stretch beyond existing capabilities.

Adam, with his ups and downs over recent years both physically and psychologically, was very aware of this, and he accepted that he would be challenged with mental exercises that would be simple, but not necessarily easy. But easy isn’t what contenders want. What contenders want, are results.

Injury and illness are the archenemies of all athletes, and how effortlessly these podium pinchers enlist the parts of the mind that can very swiftly spin negative beliefs; an athlete carrying a distant thought - such as a previous loss of form or even a personal, emotional concern away from the track - can turn the opportunity of being amongst the leading pack, into being an ‘also ran’.

So, to those all important marginal gains…

Unseen, everyday stress can have a huge impact on the effectiveness of many aspects of the human body; the nervous system; the immune system; the endocrine system (hormones), to name a few. The smallest concern can have the mind and body enter a state of fight or flight, and a collection of worries can have a person’s autonomic system constantly switching on and off those all-important repair and restore modes, leaving the mind in a constant state of flux, and the body exhausted. And for an athlete, the requirements of both repair and restore are necessary, fundamental processes to compete at the highest level.

Stress levels aren’t easily quantifiable – yes, there are the big things in life that can send feelings boiling over with anger or worry, but it’s the steady, unseen build of unresolved emotional residue that can catch the mind unaware, creating confusion, and pulling thoughts whirling into a vortex of uncertainty, doubt and fear. There is, after all, no ‘anxiety gauge’; no physical knowledge of current levels; no real-time understanding of spare capacity in one’s abilities to handle whatever situations life has around the corner. There is an acute awareness however, when the brain’s finely balance system screams, “no more!” and the body follows suit. And by then, it’s just too late.
And for Adam, that is not a place to be. Not now. Not leading into the race of his life to date. Not ever.

And so progress continues. Working to keep Adam’s anxiety levels as low as possible. Keeping him calm, rested and confident. Working to keep his resolve as strong as it can be, and doing so by fighting old gnawing belief systems, managing the everyday onset of unwanted challenge, and keeping those goals beyond this stepping stone in mind.

Core work isn’t just for the body.

Adam Kirk-Smith competes in the 3000m steeplechase in the Commonwealth Games on Friday 13th April
Nick Bullock is a Solution-Focused Hypnotherapist working in Central London.

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