The Spirit of the Free-Runner

In this post, I want to encourage you to become something of a free-runner. That does not mean that I am suggesting that you start leaping from building to building, like some version of Spiderman, but rather that you should consider joining the movement in spirit. By developing the spirit of the free-runner, you can learn how to meet life’s obstacles with the right attitude that will ensure you will emerge triumphant and make progress toward your major goal. By the way, you do have a major goal don’t you? If not, it doesn’t make you a bad person, but remember the old saying, ‘a man going nowhere, usually gets there’.

Free-running is a kind of combination of art and gymnastics that has recently caught my attention. It was brought to wide public attention by movies such as Casino Royale and it is something I have seen being used in TV advertising. But I have never really fully understood what it is all about. It turns out that, far more than other art or sport, free-runners actually see their chosen event as something of a philosophy. Free-running reflects an overall approach to life, they say, because it is all about overcoming obstacles.

Listening to the former world champion free-runner, Ryan Doyle, recently speaking about it, I was struck by how much of what he said was couched in the language of goal-achievement. He was speaking about deciding you wanted to get to a particular place and then seeing the route ahead as consisting of a series of obstacles. He spoke about the importance of having the right attitude of mind to tackle those obstacles. The actual choosing and running of the route then is the physical activity, the effort, required to get to the goal.

It is much more than a simple analogy for goal-setting and achievement. It really does illustrate the process in action in a visual, physical and completely engaging manner. In a sense, we need to become free-runners if we are to achieve our really big goals because we too must face similar challenges along the way. There are times when we will look ahead to our major goal and feel completely daunted by the prospect, for example, and there will even be times when we stand before a particular obstacle and feel that we are simply not able to overcome it.

Free-runners are able to actually see that the start and end points of a particular ‘run’ are interconnected by, not one or two, but an abundance of possible routes, and that is what makes the philosophy of this speciality particularly interesting to me. If one route is just too difficult, it seems that there will always be another one that we could take to get to our goal. By changing the route, of course, we are not changing the goal. This represents a very important lesson in goal-achievement: we can always change the route.

The same is true at the level of the obstacle. If an individual obstacle really is too difficult, there may be a series of smaller obstacles that could be more easily navigated. Obstacles are not simply crawled over or met in any kind of half-hearted manner by free-runners, instead they met with enthusiasm and then vaulted with grace and exuberance, and when they are overcome the free-runner feels great pleasure or delight in making the leap. That is the attitude we need to take to the overcoming of obstacles.

Free-running is, of course, very high-risk in that, if you miss a particular leap, you have to pay in terms of pain. As a consequence, free-runners need to develop a completely committed attitude to their performance. They need to be completely focussed both mentally and physically in order to succeed, so they need to keep themselves in peak mental and physical condition. This is probably an aspect of goal-achievement that few people fully understand. The fact is that we too must keep ourselves in good mental and physical shape if we are to achieve our big goals.

All of the time, free-runners have the end goal in mind and they are constantly problem-solving their way forward. Again, this is a great lesson for us: we need to keep that end goal in mind as a guide to the specific choices we are making when we face difficulty. Other people around us may not understand our changes of direction, but that is simply because they do not understand the big picture, the major goal to which we are working.

Perhaps, one final lesson we might take from free-running is the understanding that as we overcome each obstacle, so we are simultaneously improving our ability to overcome obstacles. In other words, during our progress toward our major goal we should be grateful for the learning that overcoming each obstacle represents because they are making us better, sharper and more able to make progress. When we get to those obstacles that we could not have overcome at the start, we have developed to the stage where we can meet them with confidence.

So, will you commit to getting yourself physically fit and mentally focussed upon your major goal? Will you stay fluid in your choices of route by committing yourself to the goal, rather than the route? Will you adopt the attitude that meets life’s obstacles with enthusiasm, as wonderful learning opportunities that will help you to grow and meet ever greater obstacles in the future? If you will commit to developing this attitude and doing these things, you will become one of life’s free-runners in spirit, and you will begin to see your major goal in a completely new light. I hope you too will determine to become a free-runner.

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