Thursday, August 7, 2008

Sport Psychology and Not Sport Psychology

I don't claim to be wise in the ways of psychology (sport or otherwise.)  Nevertheless, as I am endowed with a brain, I do thrive or suffer depending on where my thoughts take me, so I do have experience in psychology (which separates me from exactly 0% of humans).  

By having something certifiably bad happen to me (getting hit by a cable car and losing my leg) I have improved my ability to realize the difference between real 'BAD' and 'NOT REALLY BAD.'  If you think about the days of your life and the goings on therein I would suggest that for most of us there is very little of the truly 'BAD' and a whole lot of 'NEITHER BAD NOR GOOD.' Of course there is the outright 'GOOD' but I won't spend much time analyzing it because we all tend to know how to process those moments.

My way of handling the 'BAD' has proven to be pretty successful:

I imagine an anthill with a thousand ants on it...  Then I picture a hiker walking along the path and accidentally stepping on the hill. What happens?  A few dozen ants die, a few get cut in half and die later, some get injured and some don't.  Life goes on.  We are all ants on this planet.
The world is not going to stop spinning because I lost my leg, or my mom died or any other 'BAD' thing happened to me.  

I have been informed that this is a bit of a cold outlook.  Stoic perhaps.  That's fine with me...  I don't mind the title.  This outlook has allowed me to avoid the initial "Why me?" sorrow.  "Well... because you are an ant like any other ant, and p.s. you could have been the one stuck between the hiker's boot treads for the next 3 miles." I tell myself.

If it works for you, that's a tool you can use for those few (hopefully very few) times you have something really 'BAD' happen in life.  It won't make it all better but it helps get the wheels moving in the right direction.

Now then, what about day to day life when little things pop-up that can be taken either way.  I am going to admit that strangely, for me, these are harder to handle.  When the @$!* hits the fan I am pretty solid, but often the little things can give me trouble.

For these situations the anthill metaphor breaks down a bit...  On a day to day basis it is our brain that determines whether we handle issues positively or negatively and I can't relate that to ants in any meaningful way.  I will say that it is unlikely that ants sabotage themselves with negative thought processes however.  "Goddamn Arthur keeps leaving the biggest grains of rice for me to carry.  That useless asshole!" - ants probably don't think that way.

There is one area where I have developed useful techniques for dealing with difficulties, or troublesome patches, and these days I am trying to transfer them to the rest of my life.  In my training and racing (triathlon, running, skiing) I have a far more resilient mentality than in day to day life.  I can experience something negative during a race and stay strong and fight through it most times.  I can feel like, or perform like crap during a workout and process it positively to help myself recover strength to pick-it-up then and there, or to return stronger the next time.

I use positive self-talk, some call it self-chatter.  It is explained quite nicely in this article if you are interested.  Most of us (I dare say all of us) have experienced the debilitating effects of negative self-talk at some point in our own realm of experience.  Some of mine:

When running:  It's ok if you are running slowly - after all, at one time you couldn't even walk!
LAME.  I can always tell that I am trying to 'cut myself a deal' if this sort of thing creeps into my head.

When riding:  It's ok if you are slower on the hills, you are 6'2" for goodness sake.  And don't forget the one leg thing...
LAME!  Same problem more excuses.

Running again:  I feel like shit.  Man, I really haven't been running enough lately - I am such a slacker.  
LAME!  This thinking does not help.  
Positive self-talk in the face of adversity in racing looks like this for me:

When it hurts:  You are a warrior!  It is supposed to hurt so this is perfect.  Good job!

When I want to quit:  You've dealt with far worse than this.  If you can take this step you can take the next step.  Suck it up.

When I am out of sorts and need to establish rhythm:  Smooth, smooth, strong, strong, fast, fast.

These methods work for me.  They keep me going when times are tough on the race course or in training.  I am not as adept with the positive self-talk in daily life...  it is as though I am not concentrating as hard as I do when I train or race - the negative can take hold before I am engaged.  

With knowledge of their effectiveness and practice in the implementation I think these techniques will transfer nicely to weathering daily ups and downs in work, relationships, finances etc.  It's interesting to me how the lessons that make us effective in one realm of life can be used to remedy almost any other realm that is suffering in comparison.

There is a famous quote to that effect, and I don't think the one below is 'the' original...  but it is essentially the same:

You have within you, right now, everything you need to deal with whatever the world can throw at you.
-- Brian Tracy

Thanks for reading.

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