“What is the point of poison oak? What possible service does it have on this earth?” This is what I asked my husband a couple weeks ago when we were on a hike. His response was, “It has to serve some purpose; maybe something eats it.” So I made it my mission to find out what purpose poison oak has on this planet. Basically, poison oak (apparently known as poison ivy in other parts of the country) has an oil on its surface which can produce an allergic reaction causing unbearable itching and eventually leading to disgusting red blistering bumps. Gross. If you’ve ever had it, you’re probably saying to yourself there is no point to poison oak other than to make us miserable and afraid of going outside. I’m seriously itchy just writing this post.
So why am I writing about poison oak on a blog about mental skills training? Sometimes there is more than meets the eye. Oftentimes there is something beneficial that comes from something that at first glance, just seems poisonous.
After doing a little research, it turns out that my husband was right (ugh) and there are some animals that eat poison oak. There are varieties of birds that will eat poison oak berries and apparently both deer and horses will eat the foliage. So although it’s bad for humans, it’s good for other species. But I am determined to figure out how it can be good for us as well. What purpose does something with a result so awful, possibly serve? What can we learn from poison oak? Here’s what I came up with:
It helps us know what to avoid. If you ever get poison oak, you will quickly come to the conclusion that you don’t ever want it again. Moving forward, you will make the necessary changes to avoid that consequence. In sports, this is just like making a mistake during competition. When you make a mistake, your reaction is pretty much the same. “Well, I don’t want to do that again. What can I do to avoid that in the future?” Mistakes can be seen in a positive light if you take this viewpoint. After making an error, an athlete will often beat themselves up over it and then fear making another mistake in the future. Mistakes provide us with valuable feedback. When we discover what we don’t want, it can bring us closer to what we do want. Mistakes will make you a better athlete. I repeat; mistakes will make you a better athlete, but not if you fear making them or beat yourself up when you do.
When it comes to treating poison oak, Native Americans allegedly said that the Great Spirit put the remedy right next to the problem, (referring to a natural remedy from the jewelweed plant that grows near poison oak). So when you make an error, the answer to dealing with it is right there next to you. Your reaction to making a mistake will impact your focus, confidence, and motivation as you go forward into the next move or the next race. So the next time something doesn’t go so well for you, don’t be so quick to label it as “bad” until you’ve tried to figure out why it’s “good”.