It’s been a tough couple of weeks for me as I’ve been hit by a heavy cold and fever. I haven’t been able to train for several days which has left me feeling frustrated and disappointed. Ironically, these very emotions – and others like them – turn out to be exactly what I need awareness of if I’m to improve my performance. It would seem serendipitous then that our week three class was on values and emotions.
We started the class with an activity where we had to imagine a teammate giving a retirement speech for us, then we had to write it down. It’s an activity that asks us to reflect deeply on what we want our legacy to be. I felt a little awkward at first, writing about myself in this way, but the more I wrote the easier it became. When we’d completed this, Michael Inglis asked us to identify five values from it. I was amazed how readily my values jumped out at me from the page. I wrote down creativity, curiosity, gratitude, collaboration and compassion. It was like looking a list of words that describe the person I aspire to be. But why are these values so important to my own personal performance?
Values, Inglis tells us, are who we are as a person, what we stand for and what we want our life to be about. They tell us what truly matters to us. Essentially, they are what guides our ongoing journey. Goals on the other hand are the destination. In a sports context, values ask athletes what they really want out of their performance. They ask, ‘how do you want to be remembered?’ and ‘what journey do you want to experience on the way to the goals you desire so much?’
There are a number of benefits of values. Inglis explains that they can help athletes train harder and more consistently; to persevere with gruelling, daily training routines. They enable athletes to make choices that can facilitate – rather than hinder – peak performance. They can assist athletes in countering emotion-driven behaviour. In essence they underpin mental toughness. Inglis isn’t suggesting that we eliminate or control emotions, but he does tell us that high performers understand their emotions and how they can direct our behaviour. He tells us that instead of emotion-directed behaviour, high performers chose value-directed behaviour.
In order to coach us to attain the level of self-awareness that high performers have, Inglis played us a mindful meditation on emotions. It asked us to focus on a single emotion; I chose the frustration I’ve been feeling towards my recent illness. We have to locate it in our body and imagine tracing around the edge of it to see what shape it makes. My frustration felt like an axe head wedged in my chest. The meditation guided us to explore the emotion without trying to fight it or change it, so my frustration sat there, steadfastly axe-like. I wondered if this is in part what Inglis means when he says we need to learn to be comfortable with the discomfort.
In the days since our class, I have been practicing the meditation using high-activation emotions such as joy and low-activation emotions such as apathy. I started to reflect, too, on how the emotion of frustration had driven my behaviour. It had led me to push myself and not rest properly; not allowing me to recover. When I compared this to my values I questioned which would I choose to drive my behaviour instead. Compassion seemed the most obvious. Now is a time I need to be kind to myself and allow myself to rest; to be self-compassionate. It’s time to stop judging myself for having thoughts that I am not doing enough.
I’ve adopted this new approach and as a result I’ve allowed myself to slow down today for the first time in weeks. By choosing to be guided by compassion rather than frustration I am looking forward to going back to training when I’m well. I envisage that I will return fresh and with renewed vigour for achieving my goals. I am enjoying applying what I’ve learnt over the past three weeks to my life. We are now half way through the course and I am appreciating greater self-awareness about my thoughts and emotions. I am intrigued as to what the second part of the course has to offer.
The Peak Performance: Mental Conditioning Program runs once a week on Wednesday evenings for six weeks and is held at The Mind Room in Collingwood.