‘Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth’
We have all just been metaphorically punched in the mouth big time and our athletic plans and life plans have been torn up overnight.
Time for a re-write. No one is saying this is easy.
For some it helps to make sense of things by using models. This article looks at what has happened in some different ways.
The Kubler-Ross grief curve was originally formulated by Elizabeth Kubler in 1969 and described the five stages of grief people typically pass through when mourning a death. These are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. This has since been applied to our reactions to change and is commonly adopted as a ‘change model’.
The current changes will engender emotions such as these. Like all models it is only a fluid tool and people may pass through all of these in this order, spend much time in one or two of these stages, oscillate between stages or visit them in a different sequence. So if you are currently feeling angry or depressed, for instance, this is normal. Some people are suggesting allowing yourself a short ‘mourning window’ where you give space to all your negative emotions – without hurting anyone. Once this period is up force yourself to switch to a positive mindset, even if it’s an act. It’s nearly impossible to smile, even pretending, without feeling slightly better so magnify this trigger. Find and write down three things you are grateful for every day for a while, remember to smile.
Our athlete plans tend to be First world problems and I think many of us have got this level of understanding now. The seriousness of the situation is unfolding fast.
‘I’m very, very disappointed but it’s not a tragedy, it’s only a tennis match.’ Rafa Nadal, losing Wimbledon final 2012
If he can think that we can do the same over ‘it’s only a race, or a sportive’.
If we use the ‘Badness Barometer’ it helps put things into perspective. Create a barometer which has numbering from one to a hundred and put your athletic crisis into this with 0 being not bad at all and 100 being catastrophic. I may have been working towards my A race, the Vitoria ironman in Spain, for eighteen months but when I place it on this scale it only really comes in the lowest third.
Many of us are losing jobs and incomes and many will lose family in the coming months. These issues place far further up the Badness Barometer. Although they do the reverse on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. We have shot from aspiring to be near the top of the pyramid, ‘Achieving one’s full potential’ to the bottom where we are now trying to manage our basic needs for food, security and safety. No wonder so many of us feel shocked and disorientated.
‘It is not the strongest of the species that survives, (physically and psychologically) nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.’ Charles Darwin
We need to adapt and re-frame. For many of us doing exercise is a vital component for our mental health so it is important to include this in our new way of being. Many of us are goal orientated and this helps motivation. Our goals generally have just been removed. However plan A’s usually still survive in some form, although initially people tend to focus on the broken bit – hence the allowable period of mourning. The B plan needs to come into play right now and this means putting in place the steps to lead to a successful A plan when possible. As a triathlete I can focus on skills and efficiency, such as drinking from my water bottle with either hand without changing cadence or losing power, or riding rollers one-legged. I can focus on strength and mobility so that I come back with a body better adapted for hard training. We can create SMART targets for ourselves – Specific, measureable, attainable, realistic and time bound. If we can make ourselves accountable to a coach or a friend this strengthens the motivation. Eg achieve three consecutive press-ups after a month of practice, accountable to Sarah Jones, PT. This enables us to be motivated by seeing progress and achievement. Although this focuses on a sports context needless to say most of us need to apply it to all areas of our lives right now.
We can only control the controllable. Fretting about the things we cannot influence wastes our valuable resources of energy and resilience. Adapt to change. Ask yourself if you have done all you can in a situation, considering the risks and rewards. Then move on. If necessary write the situation down, including all actions and the issues which are still bothering you. Check that you have done what you can realistically do, remembering you need to stay physically and psychologically safe, then deal with the paper. This could be in a number of ways – burn it, scrunch it up and chuck it away or put it on the wall with a great big tick through it to remind yourself it’s done.
Control your day by having a tick list of small, regular achievements if it helps you. For some that frustrates and encourages them to see failure, for others it’s a great structure for sanity and moving forward. Find tools that work for you.
There are of course many other aspects which could go into articles like this such as the benefits of helping others, learning new skills, practicing mindfulness. But perhaps enough for now.
So to sum up. Take one day at a time, find things to be grateful for, focus on setting and achieving small, short term goals, control the controllable to the best of your ability…and stay as well as possible.
Simon Ward, Tri coach podcast
The Brave Athlete, Calm the f*ck down Marshall, S and Patterson P
Tipping the Balance The Mental Skills Handbook for Athletes Turner M & Barker J
The Smiling Tri coach, Kate Ollford
The Motivational Sports Coach, Rob Griffiths, Psychologist