A couple of weeks ago some friends and I drove up north of the city to play paintball. We met at a large property with a lot of tress and natural obstacles and got started. I had only played paintball once before and honestly I wasn’t that good. I started with a lot of confidence – gained from playing so many military video games – but when it came to actually playing, I would get scared. I would feel my heartbeat in my head as I looked around; I panicked and started to wonder where the enemy would show up.
After getting out in a few games, I realized that my inexperience had led me to form a bad habit. Because my team was regularly on the losing end, it was normal for me to be faced with two or more opponents shooting at me. I would begin to feel stressed and do something which I felt was natural: fall on my back. I would try to keep firing, but as soon as I was in this position, I would be done for.
When I had done this a few times, I started to think how I could be smarter. Falling on my back made me look weak, restricted me from moving, presented a larger target, and made me more inaccurate. Earlier in the day, however, I was faced with an opponent who – after being shot at – laid on his stomach and proceeded to get me out. All at once my military-video-game-training came back to me and I knew what I had to do.
When I would feel overwhelmed, I needed to fall forward and go prone.
In the military, going “prone” is simply a position where you lay on your stomach and continue to fire your weapon. This is a good position tactically because it not only makes you a smaller target, you become more accurate because you get stability from the ground.
I began to practice this new method and by the last game, going prone was the new natural reaction – and best of it all it allowed me to shoot one of my friends. It left a huge welt!
Later on when I got home, I started to think about the parallels between paintball and real life.
Like paintball, I’m often in situations where I’m feeling overwhelmed. It feels like life is teaming up on me and I worry that I’m about to get out. In these times, it feels perfectly normal to do the equivalent of falling on my back. I think I’m still in the game, but in reality I’m allowing negativity and pessimism to creep in. Even though I’m not in the best position possible, it feels like I’m being realistic.
Like in paintball, I now believe that there’s another way to approach hard times.
Here are 4 practical ways which I have found help me fall forward in life:
1) Understand that whenever I fall on my back, I’m making a choice.
Beating myself up after a bad choice or just being negative or being negative feels like the natural thing to do. Everyone around me is doing it. But it’s not the only choice. There’s no reason I need to face my circumstances from a position of weakness instead of strength. This isn’t in the rule book! When I feel stressed, I can choose to double-down by becoming wiser and more strategic.
2) Assume victory, not defeat.
When I was growing up, I often prided myself on not being optimistic or pessimistic. I transcended those states because I was a realist! In reality, I was often a pessimist who just made really good arguments about why life was bad.
I now believe that both pessimism aren’t that helpful. To me, they assume the worst. Bert Jacobs, one of the founders of the Life is Good brand, said this:
“Optimism doesn’t ignore that bad things happen. It says the best way to overcome obstacles is to focus on opportunity.”
3) Hit the pause button
I’ve been listening to a history podcast about the first World War (Link). One of the interesting aspects that the narrator explored was difference between new recruits and experienced fighters. Up until that point, most countries would typically have smaller, professional armies composed of career soldiers. But because this war started so quickly, the majority of the soldiers were actually farmers, shopkeepers, teachers, etc.. When artillery was first introduced, the shelling was so disturbing that new recruits simply ran off, unable to cope with their panic. This was at a time when simply putting a finger out of your trench would have 12 enemy guns shooting at you. Running off ended many soldiers lives.
While most of our stresses will not involve life or death and won’t be as dramatic, there’s still a lesson to be learned. Panic is dangerous. It not only leads you to make foolish decisions, it has a way of spreading to those around you. When I’m faced with a hard circumstance, I typically just need to slow down and hit the pause button. I typically don’t need to act at that very moment and pausing can often bring good perspective. There’s no need to make a rookie mistake that can threaten to reverse my progress.
In battle, soldiers will avoid facing their opponents head on. Instead, they’ll try to get better positioning – hitting the enemy from higher ground or from the sides.When I’m stressed, it’s often because I’m trying to fight a circumstance head on. What I really need to do is to find a different position. I need to try something new.
Don’t expect to get different results by doing the same things you’ve always done.
Finding a new position also gives me more opportunities. Staying where I am is often perceived as better because I’m comfortable. But opportunities don’t just fall in my lap. I have to go after them. Occasionally something good might cross my path, but in general, I will miss out on the best that life has to offer if I just wait around scared.
Training yourself to fall forward in adverse circumstances will be difficult at first, but the more you do it, the more natural it will feel, and the more growth you’ll see.