The techniques that elite athletes use to overcome adversity can be harnessed
We're heading into the waist-deep snow of a pandemic winter. For many,
it is cold, dark, and dreary. By now, most of the earth's human population
has been affected by COVID-19 in ways large and small. Some have sacrificed
life. Some have experienced job-loss, relationship strains, and health
setbacks. Many have lost hope. As a sports neurologist who has the honor
of working with people to overcome disorders that can affect the brain's
functions, I am here to tell you that YOU have what you need to weather
this pandemic storm. I've personally witnessed some of the world's
most elite athletes overcome some of the most extreme adversity –
both mental and physical – to succeed. While some might measure
their success on a court or field, they aren't without a positive
example that I believe can be extrapolated to anyone, regardless of their
Controllable Control. Something many elite athletes can do is categorize their priorities so
that they can achieve an uber-focus on the task at hand. While this isn't
always possible in everyday life, it is a skill to hone. When so much
is obviously out of our control during this pandemic, we can lose sight
of what is. So, take some time to consider what you can control in your
own life. Your diet? Sleep schedule? Exercise regimen? Is there one thing
you can do each day that helps your body and mind and is entirely within
your control? Make it a priority and stick to it. Structure your day for
success by controlling what you can.
Tailored Time. For those athletes trying to hone their craft or shave fractions of a
second off their personal best time, for example, they must often break
down the concept of time into tiny chunks less than seconds in length.
As the months of the COVID-19 pandemic seem to grow longer with each one
that passes, the very concept of time can seem like your fiercest enemy.
However, as I suggested, by attempting to control what you can control,
you can use time to your advantage, right now. If trying to consider the
future leaves you with a sense of dread, scrap it. Instead, focus on what
you can do with this very second to make it better for yourself or others.
If even the concept of the day ahead is daunting – break it down
further. Live in the moment. Second by second, minute by minute by minute,
hour by hour, and you might be surprised at the mental clarity that can
be afforded by accomplishing tasks in smaller blocks of time.
Patient Perseverance. The word perseverance means to persist in doing something even though
it might be difficult, or its success may be delayed. This pandemic is
hard for many. But believing that you can persevere through it is a massive
leg of the race. Perseverance and adaptability to change are innate human
qualities – but some must dig deeper to find and harness them. Many
seasoned athletes do so by tapping into a second gear or zone. Just when
they think they can go no further or run any faster; they find a second
gear, a mental zone, that blocks out pain, outside distractions, and fear
to accomplish their goals. Some call this concept "mental toughness."
Whatever you want to call it, the ability to persevere and overcome adversity
is a life skill and can be a superpower that anyone can use.
Fastidious Fearlessness. The health, economic, and social crises brought on by COVID-19 can be downright
scary. Unfortunately, fear, in and of itself, isn't useful to us.
It robs us of peace, of sleep, of hope. In speaking with many athletes
over the years, they aren't necessarily "fearless" people
because they are careless of their circumstances or reckless in their
behaviors. Instead, they've found a way to embrace discomfort. They
become friends with the unknown. I know this can seem impossible for some
people because fear can be downright crippling. If this is a big challenge
for you, I encourage you to engage in the practice of mindfulness meditation
and positive self-talk. You might be surprised at how much mental strength
At this point in the pandemic, I'd say we're all endurance athletes.
Though some of us may be weathering it better than others, for a variety
of reasons, we each can make our lives better right now. Become a mini-goal-getter.
Parcel out one day at a time. One-half day at a time. Ten seconds at a
time. Breath by breath (as professional yogis do). Self-pity and pessimism
won't win us this COVID race. Whether you're an elite athlete
or not, you can find ways to make the most out of this extremely challenging
time in our history. Just be sure to make it scalable and doable FOR YOU.