Sport is a wonderful place to equip ourselves with skills we can use in our daily lives. I’m going to take another swing at sharing some ideas about anxiety.
First up, the feelings most of us label “anxiety” are useful. They are not a problem to be removed and anxious people aren’t flawed. In my life, these feelings provide little nudges towards better.
When might my emotional state become an issue? When I make quick decisions based on unlikely fears.
I was chatting about this with one of my kids and they stated flatly, “I’m never anxious.” I smiled because this kid has some of the highest baseline anxiety I’ve seen. However, like many of us, they do an excellent job of living with it.
We were on a chair lift. About four towers out they started to get twitchy about raising the bar. This rapidly progressed to mild hysteria, “we are going to get caught and hurt!!!” After we got off, safely, it gave me a chance to introduce the concept of being worried about a future that might never materialize.
The feared future can be adaptive => better behavior nudged by a fear of getting caught.
It can make us miserable => fear of loss, resulting in never taking a chance on improving one’s life.
It can cost us money => fear-based selling in the face of price-volatility
Body composition, friendships, portfolios, marriage, business relationships… all are damaged when we train rapid action based on our fears.
How might we use sport to build useful emotional skills?
Don’t train the startle reflex => endurance sport is filled with opportunities to notice, rather than act on, our instincts. ALL our deepest habits come to the surface in the face of competition and fatigue.
With my athletes, we’d start with bike pacing, and using their powermeter to give them visual feedback (when they had lost their minds!).
We’d progress to getting bumped while swimming, holding personal pace in groups and, finally, letting other people make mistakes.
Letting other people make mistakes => letting others deal with the consequences of their actions…
…this habit leads naturally towards “let it go.”
On the bike, in a race, on a zoom call, at the meal table… notice when the startle reflex is triggered and pause.
As a father and husband, my victories are invisible.
Conflicts not triggered, confidence not damaged, relationships strengthened by not-acting on my fears.
Notice, then let it go.