Markus Rogan is an Olympic swimmer turned sports psychologist who specialises in dealing with anxiety.
Acknowledging your situation and rationalising your thoughts can help you to focus on what is important, says Markus.
WHAT’S IMPORTANT RIGHT NOW IS TO THINK OF GROWTH. WE, AS ATHLETES ARE ALWAYS DRIVEN TOWARDS GROWTH, AND WE SOMETIMES FORGET THAT THERE IS MORE THAN ONE WAY OF GROWING.
Use anxiety to grow
What’s important is to think of growth. We, as athletes, are always driven towards growth, and we sometimes forget that there is more than one way of growing.
First, the one we’re used to: achieving something. You can get better at something, break a world record or win a national title, for instance. But the other ways of growing are important, too: one is in relationships with others, be it with your coach, a loved one or your family. I was often guilty of neglecting this during my career – we think those relationships are unimportant, that they’re really just peripheral characters and we are the main show.
Of course, everyone’s going to be there for you when you’re amazing. It’s easy to surround yourself with people when you’re amazing, but maybe you can explore relationships with those who are there with you when you’re down, or when you can’t have the glory of the Olympic Games.
Ask yourself difficult questions
“What’s next,” is a really good question to ask yourself, because most of our lives as athletes we’re trained to do one thing and to do that thing really well.
So it’s very scary when, all of a sudden, the one thing we’ve focused on is taken away. You will ask yourself questions like: “Do I have enough money? Do I have enough brainpower? Do I have enough ‘anything’ that will help me for the rest of my life?”
Those are very normal, and I suggest you don’t run away from those questions but, instead, ask yourself: “Why am I asking myself this? Are these questions founded or am I making them up?”
Bring in an outside perspective
If you want to grow in ways that are not just athletic, but growing as a person, then the way to start is always the same. You figure out the areas in your life that you’ve neglected, and you do that with an honest person and you sit down and say: “What do you know about me that I don’t know?”
That’s your blind spot, and that’s the magic of psychology – that people see in us what we don’t see or don’t want to see at all times. No one ever tells us because we’re always polite to each other, but if you sit down with someone and say, “Tell me something about me that you might feel like I’m afraid to hear”, then that’s your starting point.
And then, there are a myriad of different things. The simple ones are motivation, there is focus, there is resilience, there’s dealing with failure, there’s dealing with anxiety… There’s a lot of different things that you could work on.
Rationalise your thoughts
It’s not easy, but you need to have the courage to realise when you are feeling anxious, and then you can start working on it. Ignoring symptoms makes you unwell and facing them helps you to come alive. Anxiety about illness, your career or your training is a vital guidepost. If you’re anxious it means that your body and mind is telling you something important.
The key thing is realising that your thoughts are just neurochemical signals and not truth. Consider it like observing a text message; when most of us get a text message we don’t assume that it is the ultimate truth coming through our phone. Don’t forget that even the most profound thought is still just a thought.
What are the benefits of thinking like that? You take yourself less seriously and it positively affects the way you deal with perceived bad news. In an athletic competition, because you are in a focused mindset, you are less of a victim to your own thoughts, and your body can move more freely because of it.
ANXIETY ABOUT ILLNESS, YOUR CAREER OR YOUR TRAINING IS A VITAL GUIDEPOST. IF YOU’RE ANXIOUS IT MEANS THAT YOUR BODY AND MIND IS TELLING YOU SOMETHING IMPORTANT.