Updated: Jan 26, 2020
Mental toughness can be a vital asset in order to reach your goals but incredibly self-destructive when you don't. If you're an athlete quietly beating yourself up over a poor performance, low motivation, bad results, or an injury, it’s time to turn your silent suffering into resilient strength! These four tips will help you get something out of what you're going through.
Down and Out: Even though the road to the 2004 Olympic finish line ended in injury for British marathon champion Paula Radcliffe, she came back at the 2008 Olympics and won the NYC marathon.
1. Credit your effort: Although results DO provide useful data, the effort to reach them is a big part of the picture. You might have performed the best you could under the circumstances, but maybe a competitor or team was better, and that is less under your control. By patting yourself on the back for your hard work and strategies--and not just the endgame--you actually set the stage to gain deeper awareness and resilience from the experience. "What did go well,""What can I do differently," and "Who can help me," are great questions to answer when reflecting and planning for that next time.
2. You can only do what you can do on any given day. Do you beat yourself up after a less than stellar performance? This criticism often comes from comparing ourselves to others or trying to meet someone else’s expectations (whether they were childhood expectations or current ones). Although people like to think of the ups and downs of life, I tell my clients to consider life as a series of cycles or spirals that bring you back around as you make your way up. Your cycles and rhythms are not like anyone else's, and, with self-awareness, you learn to honor them. Be patient with your physical and emotional process and listen to what it is teaching you.
3. Set stretch goals, not strain goals: Don't sabotage your success by setting goals out of reach or that break you down. A healthy goal is one grounded in good data from your training and makes sense in the big picture of your career and life. If you find yourself lacking motivation or getting hurt, maybe the goal is not right, or not right for right now. Use the pencil rule--write your goals in pencil so you can erase, adapt, and modify according to how you are responding.
4. Fail Forward, Fail Fast: Getting things right is not the only way we learn; we also learn from screwing up. Accept that nugget of wisdom, and you'll also be able to maintain focus faster instead of wasting time dwelling on mistakes. Even setbacks become gains when we embrace ALL of the lessons of sport. When appropriate, I suggest the 24-hour rule. Give yourself 24 hours to feel all of the feels about the disappointment. After that, you can begin to make more clear-headed assessments and take action steps that are just right for you.
Check out these other strategies when you need emotional first-aid.