Today (23 June) is Olympic Day. A day where in a world previous to COVID-19, equality in sport is celebrated across the globe. This year, with many sports currently on hold, athletes have gone from competing at the highest level, to staying at home without any competition or training. The abrupt shift in lives inspired the theme for this year’s Olympic Day which is overall health and wellbeing during the pandemic.
We spoke with Adam Kingsbury, who is a clinical psychologist based in Ottawa, Canada. One area of his focus is working with athletes in various sports, including curling and golf. He worked with 2017 world champions, Team Rachel Homan, for three seasons, including working as their head coach at the Olympic Winter Games 2018. The following season, he worked as the head coach for Team Brad Jacobs and is now committed to Team Matt Dunstone until the Olympic trials. He’s also a member of Curling Canada’s High Performance staff and a Chartered Professional Coach for curling in Canada.
Whether we are uncertain, afraid, or feeling restless, Adam provided five habits of mind that are worth practicing to help reduce any burden you may be experiencing.
A pandemic is something that the vast majority of us have never had to live through, and uncertainty is present everywhere. Times of crises induce an automatic state of unrest, urgency, fear, and a reminder of the fragility of life. However, we are also capable of overriding many of these responses by choosing to act in ways that are caring, compassionate, and courageous.
1. Acknowledge your emotional reality
Before we choose how to act, we need to understand where we currently are. Although fear, sadness, grief, and anger are unpleasant to experience, these emotions themselves aren’t harmful. Instead, our problematic patterns of copingwith these emotional states are often what lead to our suffering (usually denying their existence or trying to eliminate them in some way).
The challenge is in seeing how these states subtly play out in your own life in a non-judgmental, curious manner. For example, if you are someone who is prone to anger, frustration or annoyance, you can practice self-inquiry. What does anger feel like? How often does it appear? Do others around notice when you’re angry? Once there is an understanding of the pattern, go deeper and look for themes. Are these emotional states just in response to the current state of the world, or are these patterns that exist when adversity strikes? Often times, simple acknowledgment and labeling of our unpleasant emotions is often all that is needed.
2. Practice patience
Living in isolation has placed a premium on patience. While patience is something that all of us are capable of demonstrating, it’s a habit that is best practiced regularly with intention. No matter what is happening right now, take a moment to see if you can deliberately slow down. Even if things seem urgent, most meaningful decisions are best made with a clear mind and lack of urgency. No matter what you’re feeling, see if you can watch it at a speed slower than what you’re used to.
When we feel like we are losing control we naturally seek to regain it. A sense of control of one’s world is fundamental to well-being, while a perceived lack of control often undermines it. However, athletes are uniquely positioned to understand that no matter how hard one works there is always a level of unknown that can never be predicted. This unknown is what draws us into sport.
Acting patiently first requires us to notice that we are likely impatient. Secondly, we need to both desire and intend to act in a different way. Once you notice the gap between what you seek and what you are experiencing, make a point to deliberately slow down. Consciously induce an image of slowing time. Lower your voice. Look for tension or pain or discomfort and see if you can quickly let it go. Although there may be a sense of urgency that remains, chances are that most situations in life would be improved from a state of patience. What would a patient version of you look like?
3. Cultivate the areas of performance that need tending
Many athletes have been forced away from training and competition. It would be easy to fall into a state of unrest and feel frustrated about the loss of sport. The sense of urgency to return to pre-pandemic ways of living is also understandable – especially if the effects of the pandemic have impacted you and your loved ones indirectly.
In situations where no meaningful action would lead to change, a shift in focus is often beneficial. Take the intensity and passion within yourself and devote that energy to a neglected area associated with high-performance. Are there any nagging injuries that need attention? Is there something about the sport that you’d like to know more about but haven’t had the time? If competing isn’t possible, what is the next best thing you could be doing? If you never competed again, what would you do to fill that void? How could you recreate the sense of purpose you derive from your sport?
4. Examine the inner critic
A common theme among high-performers is a tendency to hold incredibly demanding standards for themselves, often in the form of a ‘critical voice’. Although this critic is beneficial in many ways, there are often far reaching effects of living under its command.
To help see how pervasive this voice may be, allow yourself to examine it in relation to others. You know that voice inside your head that may feel compelled to not only be certain about things but let others know that it is certain? Take a look at how many times that voice shows up with others. Do you engage in consumption of internet comment sections? Do you consume polarizing media, or other content that triggers intensity? How many conversations do you engage in (public or private) that are critical of others? What’s the tone of that voice? How angry is it? How sarcastic is it? Is it loud? Is it belittling others? Chances are that if you find yourself engaging in that type of interaction, the same tone and standards are what you hold yourself to.
5. Act with kindness
Once you’ve gotten a grasp on your inner critic, the way to combat it is through cultivating kindness. If you’re struggling with this, simply ask yourself – how can I be kinder? Kindness is a state of being that isn’t conditional. Maybe you’d describe yourself as kind to others, but silently beat yourself up and feel guilty about not living up. Maybe you’re not considered kind by others but treat yourself incredibly well. Either way, most of us would benefit from examining the emotional tone we use with both ourselves, and others.
Doing one’s taxes, working on calculus homework, creating schedules, remembering to take the garbage out on time – many of these skills can be easily trained through cold, non-emotional repetition. Helping a friend through grief, losing something important to us, or caring for another human being – these are not things that we can quantify. What tasks in your life need to be more methodical and what would benefit from slowing down and being guided by instinct?
Food for thought
A time of crisis provides an inherent opportunity to re-examine the responsibility athletes face when it comes to ambassadorship and being community leaders.
Disruptions in the sport world – although difficult when one’s livelihood and identity are intertwined – are not uncommon. Far too often we speak of time past as though those moments are disconnected from us, but our shared struggles and resilience can reunite us when it is needed most. Sport has a unique position in the world to be a much-needed source of distraction, and model of healthy living, social connectedness, and community.
It is not the first time we have gone through adversity as humanity, and it won’t be the last. We don’t know what the future will bring and contrary to certain perspectives on the “power of positive thinking” we cannot will it to be a certain way. When looking back at this time, how will you have wanted to act?