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Seize this opportunity for growth

By Mark Turner | April 21, 2020, 3:58 p.m. (ET)

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"A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty" — Winston Churchill

Clearly, we all (globally) live in an age of great uncertainty. So many things seem beyond our control — even including where we can go, how we can go, and when we can go!

Many of us find ourselves in a “new normal” of close contact in confined spaces. Others were thrown into sustained isolation-like conditions (which is especially difficult for people who tend toward being extroverted).

Our new normal of homeschooling children for the first time, dads and moms working remotely, and, as sometimes the case, extended family now living in close quarters, can create pressures that are new and challenging. Even those of us that are used to working from home face new challenges during this time.

Social media is a constant stream of reminders of what is canceled, postponed, and rescheduled. We’re subjected to a barrage of reminders of what seems out of reach; of opportunities denied and lost.

We also see so many messages of hope and resilience that help stem the flood of pessimism, defeat, and uncertainty. As a (slowly) recovering pessimist, I understand both sides of the equation of uncertainty. In this season, I have chosen to focus my energies toward areas where there is less uncertainty. I encourage you to do the same.

Endurance athletes have a unique gift to offer in this time of uncertainty

Finding a life/work/training balance can be a huge challenge for an endurance athlete. Here’s the good news: endurance athletes are excellent at bringing focus and a positive outlook to challenging times. We’ve been training for such a time as this!

Right now, we have a great opportunity to continue our commitment to physical fitness, health, and well-being. We can take this time to improve our own self-care and the care and compassion we have for others.

This certainly is a tough time, but it is also an opportunity to strengthen the most important element of endurance racing: our mental toughness and focus. Let’s engage our current circumstances as both the challenge and the opportunity that it is.

Addressing Distractions, Attractions, and Dissatisfactions

There are three main categories in the struggle to find a new, meaningful work/life/training balance in this season: distractions, attractions, and dissatisfactions.

Distractions:

When we are working from home we face many potential distractions that can impact both work and our training schedule. The laundry basket needs tending, another algebra problem someone needs help with, that box of papers you have been meaning to deal with, and, of course, the looming hover of a teenager standing just in your peripheral vision until you finally break under the pressure.

Distractions lurk everywhere, vying for your attention and threatening to derail your training goals.

Attractions:

There is also the dangerous attraction of diving headlong into your training, that work project, or all the spring-cleaning tasks you ever thought about tackling. Adopting this attitude often leads you to recklessly push through a training session or to-do list instead of planning a steady and sustainable level of energy output.

We usually start with great gusto and energy, then get discouraged and bogged down, leading to fatigue and feelings of failure. Our initial attraction wears off. 

Dissatisfactions:

When distractions and attractions get in the way, it can lead to Dissatisfaction. Dissatisfaction can be the most damaging because it inevitably bleeds into other areas of life and leads to dissatisfaction with yourself, which breeds negative self-talk.

Negative self-talk is a powerfully-negative force that can impact performance. It’s important to avoid negative self-talk and address it quickly when it starts to rise up.

Instead, let’s face--and even embrace-- the challenges of training in our current situations! Let go of what you can’t control and focus on the areas of life and training where we do have control.

If we see this as the opportunity to develop new workout strategies and disciplines, we will be better equipped to overcome the obstacle and make gains in mental strength. We can enjoy new levels of mental and physical strength as our reward for resisting distractions, attractions, and dissatisfaction.

This is an excellent opportunity to recognize and embrace the benefit of mental strength training. The human brain, like our muscles, benefits from its own version of strength training. In the morning, before the “deep dive” into your full day of training, working, family, and everything else, hit pause. Take a few minutes to outline a plan for the day, focus your energies, and avoid the impact of unavoidable distractions.

Be intentional in developing and implementing a plan to keep up with your physical fitness. Then, periodically throughout your day, hit pause to reevaluate your surroundings and your mental focus. Make sure you are engaging your training, life, and work tasks list from a place of self-confidence and mental strength.

Take a few extra minutes on a regular basis to find a quiet space and think about your own personal value to yourself, your family, and your coworkers. Creating space to pause, pay attention to yourself, and reevaluate helps you become more self-aware.

Shifting our focus away from the “uncontrollables” and toward what we can accomplish in our current circumstances helps us focus our energy on the opportunities we have at hand. We will have better control of our mental state, a better outlook on circumstances, and more control of our energy output. So, let’s face the challenges, look for the positives and then take control of the opportunities.

Mark Turner is a Team MPI Senior Coach and Strengths Performance Coach; USAT Level II Endurance Coach; USAT Paratriathlon Certified Coach. 

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.