The self-esteem foundations exercise can give you some new goals to work on.
The lifeline exercise will help you draw strength and resilience from your past experiences.
Try out mirror scheduling, which can help ease the adjustment from sport to rest and back into sport.
As an athlete, if you lean too heavily on your athletic identity and don’t have other aspects in your life, this can cause difficulties for you.
You can think about this like the foundations of a house. I have an exercise I’ve developed called self-esteem foundations, where I would ask you to consider what your self-esteem is based upon, and what the first foundations on which you base your beliefs about yourself are. Athletic identity is allowed to be one of the four corners of this house, but what other roles do you play?
If we take me as an example: I’m a sports psychiatrist, but I’m also a son, a dad, a husband, a brother and a neighbour, and so there are other aspects of my life that I would like to be good at. I’m asking you to consider what you base your self-esteem on, and how you measure that. If you can find measurable ways of assessing yourself as a son or daughter, as a brother or sister, or as a partner, then you can still work on aspects of yourself even while you’re away from competition.
I would define resilience simply as “bounce back ability”: the ability to bounce back from adversity.
So now I’m asking you to do an exercise I’ve developed called lifeline, which is where I ask you to consider previous ups and downs in your life – the difficulties, the adversity you’ve had in the past, previous injuries, loss of form, non-selection, funding decisions – and ask how you recovered from that dip in the past, and what aspects you brought to that? What did you do to recover from that injury in 2015 or that selection decision in 2018?
If we can learn lessons from those dips – things you did yourself and the people that supported you – then perhaps we can find the ingredients to how you would help yourself now, or further in the future.
We don’t want you to move too far away from your usual schedule through processes of adjustment, because when you return to training or competition you’ll have to readjust back. And secondly, there’ll be aspects of your previous schedule that were really important and were happening for a reason, so you want to try and capture those aspects.
Mirror scheduling is a simple technique where I ask you to write down your usual activity for the seven days in a week, and then create a new schedule where you try to mirror aspects of your previous activity.
The goal is to look at your previous activity and shine a mirror on it so that the important parts are not lost. The idea is that you will then be able to quickly readapt back into your sport when the time comes.
You are a role model
Finally, I’d say that it’s really good for all of you to be able to help other people when you feel able to, and to contribute to your communities or your neighbourhoods. As an athlete, being able to be a role model and support people less fortunate than you is really good – not just for your communities, but for your own mental health.
There are a whole range of things we should do to look after our physical and mental health – from nutrition to exercise – but helping others is important too, so that we can gain self-esteem and a positive feeling from our contributions.
THE GOAL IS TO LOOK AT YOUR PREVIOUS ACTIVITY AND SHINE A MIRROR ON IT SO THAT THE IMPORTANT PARTS ARE NOT LOST. THE IDEA IS THAT YOU WILL THEN BE ABLE TO QUICKLY READAPT BACK INTO YOUR SPORT WHEN THE TIME COMES.
DR ALLAN JOHNSTON