Mountain biking through a forest recently, my partner Vanessa and I climbed higher and higher and eventually came around a corner to face a scene of utter devastation. Hundreds of massive trees had been blown over in a storm. They were strewn everywhere. What a mess.
But thousands more trees were still standing.
Those lying on the ground all shared one specific quality. You could now see that every fallen tree had shallow roots. Their roots just weren’t deep or strong enough to provide the fallen trees with what they needed in order to survive the storm.
Young saplings are often planted with a wooden stake alongside to provide support as they grow. As humans, we call those stakes parents and teachers. While we were young those stakes supported us for so many years.
The fallen trees in the forest looked strong. Maybe they even thought they were strong. But they weren’t.
Watch trees in a violent storm. Even though they are so tall and strong, they have the sense to be flexible in those difficult times. They know when to be flexible.
If, in those storms they remained rigid and inflexible, they would break. People are the same. Flexibility, coupled with a deep and broad root system will allow you to weather whatever life throws at you.
So, what are your roots like? Do you have deep roots? Or are they shallow? How can you know? It usually takes a life-storm to find out for sure.
Life-storms affect almost everyone; not getting a job you really wanted, losing a job, having a break up, may be one day a divorce, being involved in an accident, being attacked, burgled, getting really sick, losing loved ones. Some can destroy us. Those are like being cut down with a chainsaw.
Developing deep and broader roots will help you be safer, more stable and resilient. Resilience (or “grit” as its sometimes called) will allow you to cope more effectively with setbacks, disappointments and disasters.
True strength and stability in life comes from developing deep roots that spread out widely beneath us.
For example, being up to our necks in debt guarantees a shallow financial root system. While individuals who decide from an early age to save 15-20% of everything they ever earn, grow a deep financial root that provides enormous longer-term security.
But in many ways, it’s a healthy self-esteem that becomes the main tap root for a happy and successful life. Yet low self-esteem, especially among young adults has reached epidemic proportions. Few are taught how to develop this critically important root.
Were you? Probably not.
Having worked with countless high-achievers in business, sport and the entertainment world, not only do they have supreme talent in their chosen field, the difference that makes the difference is their ability to control that little, inner-critical voice we all have in our heads. Olympic athletes train their bodies of course, but mental preparation is key to their success. They refuse to allow their inner critic to run their lives.
Winners in life never tell themselves “You’re not going to win”. “You’re too fat”. “You’re stupid”. “You’ll never amount to anything.” “There’s no point applying for that great job because you won’t get it.” People with under-developed self-esteem root allow this to happen practically every day of their lives.
Happy and successful people have trained themselves to recognise the early onset of this “stinking sinking thinking” – those inner thoughts that we allow to gather momentum and drag us down a plughole to despair. How often do you find yourself giving those types of thought far more attention than they deserve?
To grow that self-esteem tap-root you can learn to switch to what I call “thermal thinking”. Like a soaring eagle that catches uplifting thermals in the sky, more thermal thoughts can transform your self-esteem.
In Avatar, the movie, the entire story revolves around protecting the tree of life. We are all trees of our own lives. Think of your tree trunk, branches and leaves as what you are. While your roots represent who you can become.