It was a real shock when it happened. Totally unexpected. I wasn’t a terrorist. The last thing I expected was to be pinned to the harsh gravel pavement by someone kneeling on my spine, hard. My hands were handcuffed behind my back and my face was being ground into the rocky gravel. There were others standing over me pointing their weapons at me. They seemed nervous. Nervous people and guns are not a good mix – I was genuinely scared.
I tried not to notice the rain – it was the least of my worries at the time. After an hour I was thrown in the back of the police car that I’d been lying next to, driven to the police station and imprisoned in a solitary confinement cell.
There had been a mix up. That was clear to me. But the authorities would need to discover that for themselves and I had no idea how long that would take. I wasn’t out of the woods yet but at least the guns were no longer being nervously pointed in my direction.
Stripped of my watch I had no idea of time – it seemed like I was there for an age. I started to consider my life plans. Significant events, like being arrested as a terrorist (even if it is a mistake) and jailed in a solitary confinement cell, make you reflect on your past and consider your future.
I decided I needed to take a renewed focus on the direction I was taking. I needed to re-examine my life goals and the action I was taking. Here’s what I did:
I assessed what I had been doing with my life. There was no point in looking forward until I knew if what I had been doing with my life was the right thing for me and to learn from it. Had my life goals so far made me happy? Had I achieved the goals? Were they too small? Too big?
I would need to set new goals but before I did that I would need to target the right goals that work for me. What had worked in my past? What hadn’t? It made sense that I would need to find goals at the right scale.
3. Find and Define
I knew I needed to find the right goals for me and define them specifically. I’d spent time in my life doing things that I thought were for me but actually were influenced by other people, by society and what I thought they wanted me to do. This time I’d do things that were for me.
4. Fail and Experiment
In my journey so far I’d often avoided situations where I knew I might fail. I didn’t now want to just adopt goals that I knew I would fail at but I needed to take a new approach to failure. Sometimes you have to think what’s the worst that could happen if you fail. Being arrested as a terrorist and thrown in a solitary confinement cell might feature on that list but it actually wasn’t as bad as it sounded – I had somewhere to sleep and my own toilet after all! I accepted that I’d be making experiments along my journey and experiments don’t always go to plan – but that’s ok – we just need to find solutions to the new problems. This small mindset change actually made a huge difference in my life.
I had to do something while I was in that cell. So I paced (I’d read about it in Henri Charriere’s Papillon). I realized that, like Henri had done in the penal colony, I was forming a habit and that habits would be integral to ensuring success. My goals wouldn’t happen all on their own but I would need to plan them, break them down into smaller goals and create habits. More so, like pacing the nine foot length of a solitary confinement cell, I’d need to do that slowly and in small increments.
Perhaps I’ll write more about the incident another time. It was pretty harrowing but things worked out, eventually. Having this time to reflect and reorganize my life was actually something I really needed. But these techniques don’t just work for me – you can use them too.
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Main image by Nigel Viu.