• Mental Man Talking

I was inspired by sport psychology in my hour of need; and it helped reshape my thinking.

Updated: Sep 5, 2018

An approach to achieving your life goals, or helping move you forward through the toughest times, used by sports coaches and psychologists alike, can be as simple as 1-2-3-4.

There are few things more powerful than believing that your future self can be the person you want to be. Ultimately the person you are right now. The only thing that separates these two people is time. Knowing the person you want to be, or the goals you want to achieve, is already a major part of the journey. When I was at one of my lowest moments earlier this year, I used to go out walking the dog on my own.


I am fortunate to live by a river; and the combination of the fresh air and walking was tonic for my aching brain. When I was out walking I would while away the time listening to audio books, pod casts, etc that fed my brain; in my desire to understand what, and why, this 'thing' was happening to me.


On this day I had been listening to a recording of an interview with a sports psychologist. It was about how sports people, and their coaches, get through tough times and how their coaches are absolutely key to helping them with the psychology of it.


Personally, I was worried that my depressed feelings, thoughts and emotions were permanent. That I wouldn’t be able to get beyond them. This thought process was contributing to the spiral and making the problem worse. When, in fact, I now know, it was a dip. A pretty bloody deep dip, but a dip nonetheless.


I have said previously, mindfulness was (and still is) key for me in recognising that my thoughts, feelings and emotions are not me; i.e. we are not one, they don’t define me.


Whilst listening to this interview, and learning about the experiences in sport, l learned that sports coaches are highly adept at dealing with similar sorts of periods with their athlete’s performance. Perhaps in a similar way to when a therapist is when working with a patient.


In the same as a therapist working with their patient, sports coaches are 100% focused on getting their athlete to optimal performance. Because they have seen it numerous times before. They have seen their athlete experience dips in their performance, then the feelings, the self doubt and how it manifests itself in a repetitive way.... until they are able to break the cycle. Because, and this is important, they also know they have seen the improvement after the dip. They know it is a process. A process that most, if not all, people experience at some point in their life.


The main part of the interview shared a four-stage process. A process we can all adopt. I know I have. Thus I am paying it forward and hope you find it useful:


1. Reflection: Perhaps the most difficult step for most of us; the need to recognise and accept where you are, what you're feeling, what you're thinking. This is crucial. You can't move forward until you recognise your starting point. Then, and only then, is it possible to move forward.


2. Direction: Where would you like your future self to be. Sometimes it is helpful to write (I mean really write) a letter to your future self (say, 1 - 2 years out, maybe even 5 - 10 years) about where, and who, you would like to be in your life. In the case of sports people, this is linked to performance goals. Outside of sport these can be life goals or just living your values.


3. Action: Then, breaking this future destination down into small (sometimes really small) bite size chunks, what actions do you feel you can commit to, to take you there? Incremental steps. Remember, when you climb a mountain you need to do it one step at a time.


4. Impact Once you have these bite size chunk actions, what will the impact of each action look like? Again, these could be really small impacts that ladder up into something much bigger over time.


Starting small is the way. Then before you know it, you are that future self. In the case of a sports person, you would be back to optimal performance. In normal life you have, quite simply, moved forward... towards being that person you want to be. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi "Be the change you want to see."

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