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Subjective, objective

Chris Harrison

June 12, 2024

Steven Covey tells a story of when he was on train and a father climbed on with three kids who were misbehaving.  The other passengers were getting more and more irritated, so finally he went over to the man and said, “Your kids are irritating the other passengers. Can you do something to calm them down?”

The man looked up, in a daze, and said, “Sorry, I didn't realise, we’ve just come from the hospital. Their mother has just died.”

Suddenly, in that moment, Covey saw things differently.

Whatever exists in our subconscious mind acts like a filter on how we see life. The way we see the problem is the problem. But the good news is that the more you develop your Emotional Intelligence, the more control you have over how much you allow perceptions to run your life.

Subjectivity can also work in your favour. There once was a famous race in Australia: the Westfield Sydney to Melbourne Ultramarathon. Covering 875 kilometres in 8 days and attracting professional runners who planned their races in detail. Down to the minutes sleep they could afford and the calories they consumed.

One year Cliff Young, a 63-year-old potato farmer, arrived at the race. He had old running shoes, holes cut in his shorts for “ventilation” and one friend as support crew. The officials couldn’t refuse his entry but everyone regarded him as a laughing stock. When the race started, his strange shuffling kind of run left him hours behind at the end of the first day.

But next morning he had caught up with the field. By the fourth day it was clear that no one could catch him and he completed the race in 5 Days, 15 hours, and 4 minutes.  Almost two days faster than the record.

No one had told Cliff about the objective reality of optimal pace, rest and food. There was no benchmark that he was comparing himself to. But the professional athletes, locked into their own ideas about winning, created self-fulfilling prophecies for themselves.

So, Cliff’s subjective view changed the objective reality. Just as Eliud Kipchoge did by breaking the 2-hour marathon in 2019, empowering later runners to go even faster.

Expectations placed on us, by ourselves and others, create a reality that we try to live up to. Psychologists call this the Pygmalion effect.

Think about an area of your life that you wish could be different: relationships, work, spirituality or health. How much of what you believe about yourself comes from what the world has told you is possible?

What would you do, if the world hadn’t told you that you couldn’t?