Trust: The Foundation for Excellence in Sports and Life

The thing about this little thing called life, it requires a hell of a lot of trust. I’ve been thinking about trust lately as I have been meeting a great number of wonderful new clients, fascinating new colleagues, and endearing new people in my life. That’s bound to happen, I suppose, when we open ourselves to being of service, as well as to new professional and personal experiences. We stretch ourselves along with our preconceived notions of who we think we are at any given time in our lives. We grow our knowledge, skills, and abilities, as well as expand our social world. Through travel, education, professional and personal experiences, we arguably even expand our sense of home, place, and belonging in this world at a geographical, cultural, and metaphysical level. In other words, as our individual notion of identity and stories of our Self intermingles and dances with the identities and stories of Others, we are invited time and time again to trust. 

Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens. 

Carl Jung

When looking at the definitions of trust, one quickly realizes that the numerous ways to define it scaffold onto two basic categories: Trust as a Noun and Trust as a Verb. While I sincerely value the strength, truth, and assurance of character one can find in Trust as a Noun, I find myself drawn to the flexible, adaptable, malleable, and empowering language of Trust as a Verb: to rely, to place, to expect, to extend, to permit, to hope. Viewing Trust as a Verb puts you and I respectively in the driver’s seat of the trusting interaction. Trusting as a Verb can metaphorically be seen as a muscle, that requires daily exercise. As Tamara Lechner from the Chopra Centre explains, “every time you flex your trust muscle, it strengthens”.

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That may be all well and good, but who hasn’t experienced the pain of betrayal, the anger of a breach of trust, and the stinging sorrow of loss from one whom we viewed as trustworthy? We have all experienced moments where trust was found to be lacking, or disappeared entirely. Yet, the reality is that trust issues make it difficult to grow let alone excel in sport and life. After all, how can we develop ourselves as athletes and/or coaches if we won’t trust our coaches and/or leaders and their feedback? How can we train, play, and compete in sport and push ourselves to the very edges of our abilities if we don’t trust our teammates? How can we stand with peace and confidence in a state of authentic readiness when it’s time to give it our all in sport and/or life, if we won’t trust ourselves? Trust is the foundation for excellence. Without it, sustaining excellence over the long term is a long shot. This to me is as applicable to athletes, coaches, IST members, high performance directors, and CEOs. Trust is the glue that allows us to grow and excel together. Though some might advise you to trust no one. I much prefer to rely on the wise words of Hemingway who said:

The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.

Ernest Hemingway

Practice Trusting Others

In my profession as a Mental Performance Consultant (MPC), I am constantly aware and sensitive to the great leap of faith my new clients bring into the room, to our shared conversations. Sometimes nervous, scared, defensive, or simply unsure what to expect, they determinedly walk through their own reservations, fears, questions, and uncertainty and choose to place their trust with me. I do not take this lightly. The most vital aspect of consulting is the therapeutic alliance between client and consultant. As Savva (2014) describes, trust “means developing a good rapport, gaining a sense of confidence and feeling that your counsellor is really able to listen and understand your needs”. Martin (2017) goes further explaining that it’s the consultant’s responsibility to “provide a safe, confidential environment, and to offer empathy, understanding and respect”. In my case, as a Mental Performance Consultant, not only am I bound by a Code of Ethics through my Professional Membership with the Canadian Sport Psychology Association whenever working with individual clients, but this also applies to work contracted via 3rd parties, such as National Sporting Organization, Provincial Sporting Organizations, multi-sport organizations (ex: Canadian Olympic Committee, Canadian Paralympic Committee, Own The Podium), local/regional sporting organization, military, government, and/or corporate organizations, as well as not-for-profit organizations. In others words, regardless of who pays for the services, the notion of confidentiality is sacred between client and practitioner. In my practice, I discuss in details the limits of confidentiality with each and every one of my new clients. Davis (2012) describes the importance of confidentiality in order for a client to benefit from the counselling process. The result is said to be authenticity, which can help the client in their journey towards self-growth. One of the most important constructs in Psychology, trust can explain interpersonal functioning and outcomes of interactions (Vossler & Fletcher-Tomenius, 2009) such as those found in mental performance consulting. As Swanson (2016) states, confidentiality is simply indisputable. Confidentiality is a fundamental building block to quality rapport building with my clients and the trust needed to do the work of mental performance excellence together.

It is an honor and a privilege to be of service and support; however, I realize people are not putting their confidence in me. Instead, they are actually learning to trust themselves. My job is to affirm and support them in the process and teach them to do what I do when I need strength: I begin within.

Iyanla Vanzant

In other areas of my professional life, such as in my new academic position (which includes teaching, supervising, and research endeavours), I am the one who is called to exercise trust in others. As I meet new superiors, colleagues, and students, it is necessary for me to give everyone I meet the benefit of the doubt, and assume they mean well in general, and certainly mean no harm to me specifically. In other words, it is important that we do not bring a fear-based perception of threat where none likely exists. Learning one another’s communication style, teaching and/or learning approaches, getting to understand what motivates the Other, and identifying together where and how each may be of collaborative assistance is part of building effective working relationships, and a healthy, thriving work culture. Trust is a vital ingredient to the optimal functioning of all parties within the system.

Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.

Stephen Covey

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Practice Trusting Yourself

Life is full of tough decisions, and nothing makes them easy. But the worst ones are really your personal koans, and tormenting ambivalence is just the sense of satori rising. Try, trust, try, and trust again, and eventually you’ll feel your mind change its focus to a new level of understanding.

Martha Beck

As we expand our social relations to include Others over our lifespan, we are again called to trust. No matter past hardships, heartbreaks, betrayals, breaches of trusts, or harm we experienced at the hand of an Other, in order to heal, we must move forward through Trust. But who are we in fact choosing to trust, may be the most important question to ask ourselves.

Whether it is new clients, new colleagues or students, or new people in our lives, who in fact trusts whom? I think it simply boils down to (re)learning time and time again, to trust ourselves.

self-trust

As Cynthia Wall, author of The Courage to Trust, explains, we need to begin viewing trust as both a teachable skill, emotion and a choice to be made in each moment. After all, when we chose a coach in sport, a mentor in academics, a job and new employer and colleagues, or befriend new people to enrich our lives, we are the ones with the power to choose. We are the ones we fundamentally need to trust most. To paraphrase Wall, being kind to ourselves we increase our self-confidence all the while lessening our need for others’ approval. In turn, this deepens our ability to connect with others. Sheryl Paul explains it this way: Healthy self-trust is like having an internal GPS system: you know where to go next, you trust your decisions both big and small, and you’re willing to take risks. You won’t fear failure or making mistakes because your sense of self isn’t externally derived. In the case of my new role in academia, I am aware that I may experience bouts of the “imposter syndrome“, an experience all too common within academia. Consciously, I am therefore practising to trust myself, my preparation leading to this opportunity, and my ability to continue to learn and grow in this new role in my professional life. While I won’t be perfect, I trust I can work with excellence in mind.

As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live

Von Goethe

In other words, when you trust yourself, you can be at peace with your choices, no matter the outcomes. You are betting on your self, and others, all in good faith.

How can you embrace Trust as a Verb and practice Trusting Others and Yourself over the next few days and/or weeks? I invite you to share below.

Author: Chantale Lussier, PhD

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References:

http://www.chopra.com/articles/how-to-cultivate-self-trust#sm.00000ed5xic46vf9pzm4gpxm6h718

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/creative-development/200901/shaping-self-trust

https://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2013/10/17/3-ways-to-develop-self-trust/

https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-15819/why-restoring-self-trust-will-transform-your-life.html

http://www.counselling-directory.org.uk/counsellor-articles/signs-of-a-good-relationship-trust-with-your-counsellor

http://www.thecounsellorsguide.co.uk/relationship-between-counsellor-client.html

http://oro.open.ac.uk/17204/

http://locktonmedicalliabilityinsurance.com/build-trusting-counselor-patient-relationship/

Additional Readings:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/resolution-not-conflict/201206/3-ways-therapist-establishes-trust-in-therapy

https://www.keele.ac.uk/media/keeleuniversity/facnatsci/schpsych/documents/counselling/conference/6thannual/Tim%20Bond.pdf

https://willowtreecounselling.ca/articles/truth-talking-the-role-of-honesty-in-counselling/

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Happy 4th Anniversary

This week marks the 4th anniversary of the day I parted ways with my left kidney. Let me say, one doesn’t realize how attached one is to their kidney until one has to bid it farewell! It’s bittersweet. I still admittedly get viscerally sad when I see my sick kidney on the MRI image, as if the space my kidney once inhabited now remains cavernously empty with grief.

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After months of un-wellness, an incidental finding via a belly ultrasound revealed a large mass on my left kidney. Bewildered, my family doctor called with the news. She informed me that the report described the size and dimensions of this mass from 2009 comparing it now with the ultrasound from 2012…

What? Unfathomable.

My doctor never received the 2009 report. Cancer had been growing in me for three years without our knowledge. But while we didn’t know, I can assure you that my body knew. This explained a lot!

I can say cancer in hindsight, but at the time, all we knew was that I had a mass, it had grown significantly in three years and it looked solid. I learned that solid masses have a higher risk of malignancy whereas liquid masses tend to be benign and cystic in nature. This was worrisome, to say the least. What happened next still boggles my mind. My family doctor tried to get me to see an oncological urologist ASAP in the Ottawa region. As a Gatineau resident with a Quebec health card, seven Ottawa specialists rejected my doctor’s referrals.

What happened to human ethics and the medical oath, I wondered.

The Gatineau river now seemed the size of an ocean standing between direly needed medical care and me. I felt angry, disgusted, enraged when I had the energy, but mostly I felt sick, and frankly, scared to death.

Healing is a Verb

For six months, I had no one helping me medically speaking, no treatments, interventions, or medicine. After three years of growing dis-ease, I had to endure an additional six months knowing I was sick, and that no one was doing anything about it. It is difficult to put into words the psychological tsunami this unleashed in my life. I learned I had to own my experience, be my own health advocate, and CEO of my health. Critically, I also learned I had to participate in my own healing, something rarely if ever talked about when it comes to cancer. Having studied sport psychology, I knew one thing: I had to control the controllables. With this, I turned to my own mental skills toolbox. This included;

  • Goal setting for healing
  • Visualizing for healing
  • Positive self-talk
  • Mindfulness meditation
  • Breathe work
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • And many other daily healing routines

i love each cell of my body

Walking my dog (when I was able to) became an embodied meditation. I read about fears and the connections between organs and emotions. I read seeking solutions, but also to gain an understanding of my embodied, mental, and spiritual experience under extreme duress. Cancer has a way of forcing one deep into existential crisis.

3am. When the dreaded fears you’ve managed to keep at bay all day come to haunt your night, you better learn ways to soothe your mind, body, and spirit back to the peaceful harbour of the present moment. When uninvited Fear shows up like a giant elephant sitting on your chest, suffocating the breathe right out of you, it takes a lot of practice to regulate yourself back into Being. And so practice, I did, daily. Eventually, my doctor and I were forced to change tactics and reached out to specialists in Montreal. There, we found my medical angel, an oncological urologist finally agreed to take me on.

Gratitude is Good Medicine

June 6th 2013. A full radical nephrectomy was performed. I remember the surgical team wheeling me into the prep area, going through all their checks. With every cell in my body, I tried to remain present. I had spoken with my body, preparing it for the trauma and pain of surgery and the healing journey we were embarking on. I thanked my left kidney, often while crying, for all the hard work it had done for me for so many years, and for containing so well these toxic cells in my body. What amazing work it had done to protect me, filtering what would otherwise have harmed me further. The last thing the medical team did before bringing me into the operative theatre was to stand together in a caring circle around my bed. While I lay in the gurney, my surgeon asked me if I had any questions. I surprised them all, including myself by saying:

“No questions. I just want to say thank you for what you are all doing for me today.” 

In what was arguably a terrifying moment, fear didn’t speak, spontaneous Gratitude did! With that, I knew in my heart I had done everything in my power to participate in my healing. I had done the mental, emotional, and spiritual work to prepare myself for surgery, the way an athlete prepares for the biggest game of their life. I knew I had done the work: Preparation, Gratitude, and Trust. Now, it was time to Let Go, and let my (medical) teammates take this next shift.

Four years later, here I am. Nothing in my life has remained the same since. I now have only so many “spoons” in a day, and must use them wisely. And while there are days where I still struggle in one way or another, there are also days brimming with incredible beauty, insight, creativity, joy, laughter, connection, and love. So while the struggle is real, I couldn’t be more grateful for my healing journey and my loving Tribe; family, friends, colleagues, and clients.

“Through Love all pain will turn to Medicine” (Rumi)

There are so many more beautiful, meaningful, heartbreaking, and transformative stories and lessons worth sharing from my kidney adventure… But for now, as I celebrate my 4th anniversary being NED (no evidence of disease), I rejoice in second chances and take none of it for granted. Walking out my front door this week, I was greeted by a chalk drawing on my driveway. Instantly, I knew the neighbourhood artists responsible for this priceless gift: A reminder that I do not walk alone.

In truth, none of us ever do.

Author: Chantale Lussier, PhD 

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