A lot of the stresses in our lives are pretty routine. As athletes who also work, go to school, and live and interact with other people, we face, and often welcome, those elements of training and everyday life that are challenging and which require intense mental and physical attention. We thrive on the stuff that stretches us and allows us to grow and improve.
Though we strive and push ourselves on a daily basis, we do so mostly in a way that is planned and fairly predictable.
Our training schedule is usually laid out well in advance. We know when we’ll have our toughest workouts and we plan for the stress accordingly. We go to work and school generally knowing when we have to buckle down to get something done. We also know that we have basic responsibilities related to maintaining harmony with our friends and family, whether that’s keeping up our living space or attending dinners and outings…even when we don’t feel like it.
Within the predictable though, there are those unforeseen, beyond inconvenient, and often obnoxious things that pop up and threaten to throw us off course.
We’ve all faced them. Whether it’s that out-of-the-blue, urgent project at work that you have no choice but to fit in on top of your usual work, or the morning of your longest training ride when you wake up to pouring, chilling rain. Or maybe it’s that planned run test day when, after just feeling “off” all day you roll your ankle during warm up. Worse, it could even be that one rare day when, on top of everything else, you get into a car accident driving to work. These things suck!!
When unexpected, out of routine things like this happen, we react. We can be catapulted into a fury of emotion, that could span the range from frustration to flat out rage. The response itself isn’t inherently a bad thing—in fact, it’s quite natural—it’s what we let it do to us that can be detrimental. When we prolong or intensify our stress response our ability to think clearly and act reasonably decreases. We expend excess energy, and often become pretty difficult to interact with and be around.
So while it is part of being human to feel all manner of feelings, anger and annoyance included, lucky for us, because we are human, we also have the opportunity to hone our awareness of when these responses are arising in us. Even better, we can also develop skills to manage these responses as well as how they affect us and, the people around us.
As we learn to recognize when we are being thrown off track, and seemingly out of control, we start to see that we have choices around what happens next. We can choose what we do with the feelings we’re feeling. As the anger rises in our bodies and we acknowledge and accept it, we can opt to let it take over. Or not. We can choose instead to take a different path, letting the emotion pass through us without derailing us entirely, without wasting valuable energy, sometimes even with amusement.
How do you respond when the unpredictable happens in your already full life? Can you tell when an emotional response to an unplanned and inconvenient event takes over? What do you gain from your response? More importantly, what do you lose? How might training your awareness of these responses help you perform optimally at work, at home, or on the race course?