A more neglected topic of endurance sports: mentally managing adversities. Nothing impacts us more than the state of our mental health, physical performance abilities included. Athletes are humans at the end of the day, with challenges and daily struggles. Learning how to face and overcome obstacles in a healthy and sustainable way will make the difference between an athlete and a successful athlete.
1. Do Not Play the Blame Game
Everything is seasonal including your performances over the years. When disappointed by a result of our performance, we might feel inclined to wonder if the outcome might have been different “if” … if the weather would have been better, if we had a better coach, if we ate certain foods or if we had trained in a different way. Allow yourself to acknowledge the disappointment, and then move forward towards accepting the reality. Good or bad, we are exactly where we have to be, and denial will prevent you from learning lessons.
We are the result of our actions – no one wins a race without preparation. In the course of preparation there will be things that you can control (training, nutrition, resting, personal life etc.) and things you cannot control (weather, lack of fair play, crowds, unforeseen life events etc.).
Dwelling on the parts of life and preparation that you cannot control eventually becomes a waste of time and energy, and often leads to state of mind in which negativity and “the blame game” run the show. It is difficult to train with negative thoughts endlessly circulating.
If you need a mental exercise to break the cycle, try this: verbalize affirmations of who and what you are. “I am an athlete. I am capable of overcoming this challenge. I will overcome this challenge. I will adapt and continue pursuing my goals. I acknowledge the pain, but I am safe and I am strong and the pain will pass.”
2. Learn to Anticipate Problems
This is a true test of virtue for any athlete. Instead of being surprised by problems when they arrive, look for ways to anticipating them. This is not to encourage becoming consumed in worrying about the worst-case-scenario, or being a victim of discouragement, but rather, an encouragement to build awareness. In a non-judgmental way consider what could happen, and visualize your ideal reaction.
Some questions you may ask to being:
What might happen if I train this way for a month?
What could go wrong in the cycling stage of the race?
What impact would my personal life have on my career should anything go wrong?
What results am I expecting from this particular diet change?
Nothing will never be perfect. Your training, diet, rest and family time will never be in perfect balance, but they can find harmony in the ebb and flow – especially if you anticipate the inevitable conflict, and already have a plan of action visualized for overcoming the obstacles.
3. Pay It Forward and Give Back to Others
Athletes are humans and humans thrive on relationship with others. Some of the most inspiring and motivating experiences in our lives come from giving back. Have you ever tried being generous with your resources and skills?
Not sure what you have to give? Consider what you have received throughout your journey. Advice when you most needed it? Encouragement from your significant other? Financial help? Whatever it was, in that particular moment, the generosity of another made the difference for you.
Those words of encouragement shattered those negative thoughts you had in a second. That financial help was exactly what kept you afloat. That coach that went the extra mile opened a real passion within you. Take time to recall all the good things in your journey, then seek opportunities to pass those experiences on. Could you coach young talent? Speak at schools? Contribute financially? A simple idea -- buy some training gear for a young talent cannot afford it themselves. This act demonstrates so much to the next generation of sport beyond the practicality of quality training gear.
You may be surprised to discover that even seemingly small contributions may shift your perspective of your own adversities as you build awareness of those around you.
4. Believe You Are Capable and That Things Will Work Out
Having the right attitude towards your goals will give you the chance to reach your full potential. At the very least, your attitude will be the base on which you build during any attempt to achieve anything. If you believe good things are possible, that there’s a chance that things will work out, and that you have a shot at reaching that goal, then you will be able to find both the peace and the courage necessary to begin, prepare, continuing showing up and keep trying.
This is a way of life. Decide early in the morning that you can have a good day. Decide early in the week you can reach your training goals. Decide now that this will be a good year, a year of progress and real value. Positivity is both a decision and a skill that can be strengthened. Like in sport – success is not a result of meaningless or sporadic practice, but rather intentional and consistent preparation.