Change and uncertainty is a constant and (ironically) expected part of the human experience. Whether you are an athlete, coach, physical therapist, strength trainer, equipment manager, or athletic director, you will experience periods of uncertainty that have the ability to knock you off your game – if you let it.
In times of uncertainty, change, or high stress, people have a tendency to ruminate on past experiences that they cannot change and/or on future scenarios that have not yet happened. This act of dwelling on uncontrollable factors raises red flag emotions such as feelings of anxiety, fear, worry, self-loathing, that put us in an unresourceful state and ultimately leave us feeling stuck and unable to move forward in our experience.
The Brain’s Response
One of the brain’s primary responsibilities is to keep us safe and alive. The amygdala is responsible for the regulation of autonomic and endocrine functions, decision making and adaptations of behavior to changes in our environment, and activation of the fight-or-flight response. Unfortunately, the brain has not yet evolved to decipher between a lion and big game that you didn’t get enough sleep for.
So what happens in moments of uncertainty and great stress?
The amygdala sounds like an alarm in the brain, releasing a cocktail of stress hormones and sending us into fight-or-flight mode, causing an increase in heart rate and shallow breathing. The amygdala also “shuts down the neural pathway to our prefrontal cortex…Complex decision-making disappears, as does our access to multiple perspectives. As our attention narrows, we find ourselves trapped in the one perspective that makes us feel the most safe: “I’m right and you’re wrong,” even though we ordinarily see more perspectives.” (Diane Musho Hamilton, Harvard Business Review).
Learn How to Thrive
We may not be able to change how the brain has evolved and functions, we can learn to thrive in uncertainty by consistently engaging in neurological training – aka training our mental muscles.
Being mindful has become a cliche in recent years and for many it evokes images of a monk sitting on a mountain top in lotus pose (or at least it does for me). But being mindful is simply learning to become aware of your thoughts, feelings and actions. Before we can fix a problem, we have to first know that a problem exists. The practice of self-awareness is simply taking your attention and focusing it inward.
Breathe In, Breathe Out
Focusing on your breathing is an effective way to drag your attention away from your ruminating thoughts and bring you back into the present moment. Scientifically, breathwork calms the mind and the body by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which sends a signal to the amygdala that it is safe.
Try a box breathing technique if you are new to breathwork. Breathe in for 5, hold for 5, breathe out for 5, hold for 5.
Focus on the Controllables
There are only so many factors that we are able to control on a daily basis. When we start to get caught up in the things that we have no control over, we are causing more stress for ourselves than necessary.
Whenever you feel yourself beginning to ruminate, ask yourself:
Is this in my control?
If not, then why am I choosing to focus on it?
How would my time be better spent?
Take Your Performance to the Next Level
If you are an athlete, coach, or someone that wants to take their performance to the next level, feel free to book a complimentary consultation to learn more.
If you are an athlete ready to take your performance to the next level, check out our Brain Training for Athletes program or our 1:1 coaching options.
Taylor Cook | High Performance Coach