Acknowledging and understanding our frame of mind is fundamental in any situation. But can emotional energy be channelled to fuel and motivate our training and provide an edge when we need it most?
One person who spend a great deal of time supporting and coaching athletes to help them control their emotions is Valentina. We wanted to find out how we can harness this power to create a positive impact on our performance.
Over to you Valentina...
Happiness, anger, pride, fear, anxiety, and sadness are just a few of the basic human emotions that are triggered by meaningful situations and events in our lives. They have clear behavioural, expressive and physiological responses : happiness creates smiles and joy, anger can develop into verbal and physical violence, fear progresses into panic attacks, anxiety increases our heart rate and so on…we all know how these emotions work and we all know the power they have.
In life and in sports, emotions can influence performance positively or negatively and may interfere with it through disruptive behaviours during “extreme” conditions. An extreme condition can be anything: it doesn’t have to be a endurance trail run at 2300m with -15 C degrees. The concept of extremity is very personal and varies with every individual; what is extreme to me might be nothing for you and vice versa. We are not here to judge the situation itself, but instead we are here to reason on the emotional reaction that we have during these situations.
In this society we are pushed to think that emotional control is the crucial part of excellence in life and in sports, but we are not machines, therefore I would suggest instead, that emotional embracement is the crucial part in life and in sport: knowing how to deal with certain emotions without silencing them and without letting them overcome our behaviour, in other words how do you find your own individual balance whilst accepting the emotional rollercoaster you are going through, that’s the big deal.
Triathlon training and racing push the body to the limit; long exhausting sessions in three disciplines really test the body...
...but sometimes we tend to forget about our minds, it is not just a matter of physical TSS, the mind has its own training stress score and we need to respect it. How many times have you done a session to suppress anger or anxiety? How did it go?
How many times have you cried during training because it was unbearable, but you didn’t want to stop and feel ashamed in front of yourself or your mates/partner/coach/social media? How did it go, did you get injured?
How many times have you been happy at the end of a workout? Probably 95% of the times? How many times have you started a workout during an incredibly sad moment of your life and you simply could not do it?
The answers to the above is personal, we are unique individuals and we respond to emotions in a different way, someone can react well to a stressful situation and make the most out of a session and someone else can’t cope with it and needs to swap the workout with a good nap to avoid an increase in cortisol levels and there’s nothing wrong with it. We are all different and we cannot judge and compare against each other: comparison leads to frustration and negativity. Our weaknesses don’t define us and can only lead to improvement if we accept them and we work on them.
Self-positive talk, music, talking with people we love, facing our fears are little tricks that help to develop a positive and stronger mindset when everything else seems to fall apart.
For example, I started triathlon years ago with the big fear of open water swimming, especially sea swimming, I haven’t solved that problem yet and it is a constant irrational battle in my mind but opening up about this mental issue, meditation, self-positive talk and most importantly facing this fear head-on are helping me a lot.
The emotional rollercoaster I go through when I swim in the sea is so real that it forces me to stop and freeze for just a few seconds that seem way longer in my mind, this is how powerful our mind is, a simple thought can influence a physical reaction.
This physical reaction can be good or bad based on the thought we experience and that is why we need to talk positively with ourselves and then talk with the people we love to avoid making terrible irreversible actions that sometimes we are incapable to control, because they are not dictated by rationality. Being part of a community helps so much, society tells us that the only person we need to rely on is ourselves, but the reality is that we must rely on our people, our community, our team and support network. Triathletes know this well, no one can beat the support of a triathlon club mate we don’t even know that much, but knows enough of us because we experience the same fears, anxiety and excitement, the same emotions, good or bad.
On one hand, a negative situation might lead to the inability to manage specific emotions and as a reaction this can cause a person, an athlete to attack him/herself, the people they love and so on. We have seen this scenario many times in our personal life and on tv, how many famous athletes or famous people lost their control during stressful moments, games, or races?
On the other hand though, a positive emotion can help performance under specific conditions and enhance success: it has been shown that love, happiness, a positive attitude, positive supporters, a smile can create endorphins just like chocolate and boost your stamina. Sport is a tool that facilitates positive emotions because it releases good chemicals in our brain, it creates a fitter body and helps the mind to develop a healthy mental toughness in life. Therefore, your diet, the people you surround yourself with, the weather, the books you read, the outfits you love, they all affect your attitude, mindset, and your thoughts…so be mindful of everything you surround yourself with as it can either elevate you or push you down.
How to deal with all these thoughts? Well, start with small steps, remember that we are all in this together and try to embrace emotions, talk about them with your community, understand your feelings, live them deeply and then let them go and get ready to feel them over and over again.
Valentina is a RSPH level 4 nutrition coach and health and wellness mentor, specialising in women's health. She can be followed here @fuellingendurance.
Huge thanks to Valentina for contributing.