Samuel Johnson said: “The fountain of content must spring up in the mind, and he who hath so little knowledge of human nature as to seek happiness by changing anything but his own disposition, will waste his life in fruitless efforts and multiply the grief he proposes to remove.”
I have recently been spending a few minutes each day reading the classic book on leadership and personal change by Steven Covey “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. I am only a few chapters in, but I already see significant applications to the pursuit of successful rowing…
I should wait until I read deeper into the book or sit down and organize my thoughts a bit more, but, conveniently, a blog is allowed to be a little more “shoot from the hip”. One of the very cool images that Mr. Covey draws in the book is what he calls the circle of concern and the circle of influence.
In this sport, we have large circles of concern that include the boat we race in, the speed of the boat we are in, the placement of that boat at the regatta, the friends we have on the team, the coaches we have on the team, the regattas we attend, etc… But while those are in our circle of concern, they are not all within our circle of influence. The wise athlete will step back from the situation and take stock of the items within their circle of influence. It is when we start working within our circle of influence that that circle grows. The time spent outside the circle of influence and inside the circle of concern is, as Mr. Johnson said, a “fruitless effort” and often causes frustration and continued grief with the areas we wish to mend.
So, in our sport, what is included in our circle of influence? Is it within your circle of influence to be a first boat rower? NO. Certainly that is a point in the circle of concern, but it is not wholly within our circle of influence. There is only room for at most 9 people in the first boat. They are the fastest 9 people on the team. We have no control over the other people on our team. You may be a high school girl 6’2” 180 pulling 7:00 on a 2K… If there are 8 girls who are 6’3” pulling 6:55 on the team, you may still not be in the first boat. Another example would be our 2V girls eight this fall at the Head of the Fish. They were the 4th fastest crew at the Head of the Fish in the varsity category. That is 2 spots faster than the first boat finished last year. Were it not for the other 9 members of the SRA varsity girls, that 2V would have been an improvement on last year’s finish… In fact, if those other 9 girls were not in the race, SRA would have finished 3rd. The point I am making is that one cannot say your placement in a boat is within your circle of influence. That 2V was VERY fast - faster than last year’s 1V. That there were 9 other girls on the team who were faster than them was not in their control (unless they pulled a Tonya Harding… which I hate to bring up, but I have often seen people try to do this same thing but through social means instead of physical ones).
Another example of something not within our circle of influence is the genes with which we were born. There is a whole lot that we can do to improve our physical capabilities and skills, but we all know that there will, eventually, come a point where we reach the max that our genes will allow. (I have rarely seen that point attained by a high school rower)
Where does that leave us? What is within our circle of influence? Well, really just 2 things.
1) We have the ability to choose our disposition (see Mr. Johnson’s quote). This leads me to another term I learned from Steven Covey – Response-ability. We rarely have full control over the situations in which we find ourselves, but we ALWAYS have the ability to control our response. It is when we forget this ability that we lose the opportunity for happiness. We do not lose the opportunity for happiness when we find ourselves in unpleasant situations, we lose it when we do not take the opportunity to choose our response to that situation.
2) The other thing within our circle of influence is the work that we do each day. We can make sure that we are a little faster (stronger, fitter, more skilled, smarter) than we were yesterday. We can focus on making the boat in which we are rowing fast. That is it.
The good news is that though there are only two things within our circle of influence. Our circle of influence will expand as we invest our energies there. If we want to win states, we firmly root ourselves inside our circle of influence, and eventually we end up satisfied and in a fast boat, and we have a good chance. If we hang out outside our circle of influence, than we remain disappointed because even if we did “get into” the first boat that does not necessarily mean that the boat is fast. I am always wary of people who “really want to make the first boat” it is almost as if they are admitting that they want to go for a ride in a fast boat. I have the most respect for people who really want to make their boat fast… In this case, regardless of who else is on the team, even if they end up in the second boat, it will still be a fast boat (even faster than if they were in the first boat last year).
Wanting to get in a better boat = spending time in the circle of concern
Wanting to make the boat you are in fast = spending time in the circle of influence
Where are you spending your time?