At a recent conference on physical wellbeing I had the privilege of hearing Anthony Robles speak about his triumphs on the wrestling mat. For those of you who have not heard of Anthony, he is a young man who won the 2014 National Wrestling Championship, his road to this title was filled with challenges, but the biggest one being that Anthony was born with only one leg. Anthony’s entire story is a very inspiring one, so much so that it will soon be a major motion picture. But what had the biggest impact on me was a story he told about a particularly hard day in which he lost a key match, and was feeling the weight of his disability. He went home not to lick his wounds, or distract himself from his defeat, but to find the energy, stamina, and desire to continue his path. On that night, he thought hard about himself and what he wanted in the future. He wrote on a yellow post- it note: “Win Nationals. You can do it”. This simple act proved to be the flame the restarted his engine, and ultimately pulled him to his goal. When he speaks, he pulls the original post- it note out of his pocket (now laminated) and something so simple, and rather mundane, becomes incredibly powerful. This post- it note literally stuck. It stuck in his brain, in his body, in his confidence, and continues to serve as a symbol to this incredibly motivated man.
It got me to thinking about all the children in my life, my own two boys, my nieces and nephews, my friend’s children, my patients… what would they write on a post-it note? Could it be that something this simple could help to focus our children, calm them, and even motivate them towards lofty goals? I would argue that the most effective part about this post-it is that he wrote it himself. There are lots of post-it notes in my house, but they are all written by me… don’t forget your lunch, call the chimney sweep, feed the dog. Anthony wrote his own post-it note, and that meant that he couldn’t ignore it. This was not Mom nagging, or Dad pestering with tasks that are not important, this was his own order to himself, and that makes this mandate one that must be heeded.
The second thing that made this post-it note so powerful is that there was only one of them. Win Nationals. Period. Anthony chose a very big goal, a life changing one in fact. I do not think that is the important part about this goal, he chose the one thing that he wanted to do and he wrote it down. That allowed him to think about how to get to that goal, and to set his priorities. Now I suppose we all would love it if our children wrote “Get straight A’s”, “Become a Doctor” or “Win a gold medal” on their post it notes, but wouldn’t it be more valuable if they wrote down things that they knew deep inside were important to them? How about “write a song”, or “adopt a dog” “learn to dive”, wouldn’t those be just as important? A singular goal that when obstacles seem to be overtaking them, they can find motivation and focus, and take that next step. Yes, you could have more than one post-it note going at a time, that would certainly be true to our multi-tasking world, but I think it might dilute the benefits.
So, I propose we follow Anthony’s lead and start with our own post- it note. Be selfish in your goal because these kinds of things don’t work well if you are doing them for other people. After you have your own, ask your child to make theirs. Don’t pass judgement. Simply say, how can I help you get there?
I suspect Anthony has a new post-it note on his wall at home. The beauty of goals reached is that there is usually a new one right behind the old. As parents, teachers, and friends to the children of the world we have an obligation to support goals, to help where we can, and comfort when needed. I do not think we have an obligation to motivate however, that must come from within. So, Happy 2017, make your post-it, and encourage your children to make theirs. But never make it for them.
This essay first appeared in Lancaster Newspapers