Mental Toughness Digest for Sport & Performance.
When Life Gets In The Way
By Chris Pomfret (PSY0000966671)
Welcome to 2016!
This isn’t a blog about New Year’s resolutions – it goes without saying that Mental Toughness Digest readers are eager to make their dreams come true this year. Instead it’s to get you thinking about some of the hurdles that may get thrown up in the months ahead “when life gets in the way.” Some barriers are predictable (e.g. juggling work and training commitments) whilst some will spring up unexpectedly (e.g. illness or financial stress). We’ve all had times when “performance” has taken a back seat to other demands; however this thing we call “life” need not derail our progress or compromise our sense of pleasure.
Let’s pause for a moment and recall a core Metuf principle of performance enhancement: enjoyment is essential in developing mental toughness. When life gets in the way we need to remember why we took up our chosen sport (or performance area) in the first place; what we love about it; and why it is enjoyable for us personally. In other words, it’s important to quantify the ‘fun factor’ and what it is that we gain from participating in our chosen sport, so as to provide a buffer from the non-sporting challenges that life inevitably throws our way. ‘Quantifying’ means putting a name / value / description to something so that we can better understand it and therefore improve it. If you can specify what you love about your sport (e.g. working on a common goal with team mates vs. beating the clock vs. learning new skills vs. simply running around under lights on a Friday night) then you can start incorporating this as a ‘non-negotiable’ in your sporting life. By maintaining the fun factor we give ourselves an outlet or refuge from life stressors, as well as enhancing our sporting performance in the face of adversity.
Following on from this idea of quantifying enjoyment, it’s extremely useful to define what matters to us outside of the sporting arena. Below are a range of categories which our clients have identified as being important in their lives:
Family Friendship / social relationships Physical health Emotional and personal wellbeing Non-sporting leisure activities Education Personal development Spirituality / religion Employment / career Community life The environment
I daresay most readers would agree that the above categories are important – to varying degrees – with some categories more important than others. If we explore an area such as ‘employment’ it soon becomes clear that this matters to individuals for very different reasons. For some people, employment is simply a means to an end, i.e. a way to put food on the table. For others, it’s more than merely having a job: what matters is building a career. For some people their work helps to define their identity, whilst for some their employment is a gateway to making a difference in the world. When life throws up work-related stress, for example, it helps to know what matters most to you in this category so that you can define your own targets for improvement and develop strategies for meaningful gains. This has the benefit of contributing to positive changes in your job situation and also of knowing that you’re actively doing something to make things better for yourself.
Let’s again pause to recall another core Metuf principle of performance enhancement: that improvement is best achieved through a focus on effort. Effort is controllable; involves a combination of quality and quantity into the areas you are targeting for improvement; and is measured in minutes spent improving each week. You might recognise this principle from the mental method called Wanting It which addresses motivation and desire in sport.Wanting It involves athletes (and coaches) identifying a season goal which they hope to achieve within the next year, along with monthly checks to gauge progress towards that goal. Most importantly, it involves setting clearly defined weekly blocks of effort to drive continual improvement towards attaining goals.
Wanting It techniques can be applied to any of the categories identified above to prepare for or to respond to life and its unwelcome challenges. In essence, you can take goal setting and goal getting skills from sport and use them to better your life in general. Let’s take ‘education’ as an example, with academic issues such as low grades having a negative impact on an athlete’s performance:
Firstly, it may help to quantify what it is about those particular studies that matters to the athlete – why are you doing that course and why is it important to do well? If there are elements of fun in those studies, it can help to specify what exactly is enjoyable about studying and incorporate these as ‘non-negotiables’ to help stay on track. Secondly, it’s important to set clearly defined goals over the course of an academic year / semester – what grade or other outcome are you hoping to achieve in the not-too-distant future? Thirdly, the use of monthly checks allows you to keep tabs on your progress – what measures will serve as evidence of improvement and confirm whether you are on the right track? Finally and most importantly, what does your academic effort look like? That is, what are you doing each week that is within your control to improve as a student? By allocating dedicated blocks of time each week to high quality learning improvement activities an athlete gives themselves the best chance of addressing educational challenges.
Life has a tendency to get in the way of our sporting ambitions, either by disrupting our routines unexpectedly or casting a shadow over the simple pleasures of training and competing. Crises in areas such as family, work, study, health and finances can seem overwhelming; however the same strategies which allow you to quantify, understand and then enhance athletic performance can be used outside of the sporting arena to benefit you in “the game of life”.
If you’d like to contact me directly either to find our more about our services or simply to comment on something from this edition of Mental Toughness Digest then you can email me at email@example.com – Happy New Year.