One of the biggest challenges of quarantines and isolation is that many of us have had our routines flipped upside down. Whether it’s having to run alone and without training partners, not having access to your favorite trails, or lacking direction due to canceled races, there’s not much that feels normal these days. This is an undeniably difficult situation to be in, but it also presents the opportunity to challenge and diversify your mental approach.
Most of the time, routines are great. They encourage consistency and efficient time management. A structured day tends to be a productive day. The downside is that when we adhere to a set routine, we take a lot of our conscious decision making out of the equation. Behaviors become more habitual and don’t require much mental energy. When that organized approach is taken away from us, we are forced to be more intentional with how we are going to spend our time. Constantly having to make decisions about the when, what and how of training – or, showering, eating and putting on real clothes can be mentally exhausting, especially if you aren’t used to it. That’s one of the reasons that demotivation is a common symptom that many athletes are currently experiencing. However, adversity and disruption can be used for good, and with the right approach, you can use this challenging time to come back mentally and emotionally stronger.
Now is the perfect time to try new things. If you were to do the same physical routine every single day, at some point adaptations and progress would slow and then plateau. Your body needs different kinds of stress and stimulus in order to keep adapting and getting stronger, faster, and more efficient. The same thing is true for the mind. The more we engage in an activity, the less cognitive effort it requires. Think about a time you’ve returned to running after an injury that put you out for a while. On your first run back, you probably felt like a baby deer and had to spend a lot of mental energy trying to convince your wobbly legs that they have done this before. Fast forward to a few weeks or months down the road and you can easily cruise through a 10-mile run engaged in a deep conversation with a friend without even thinking twice about how to move your feet. Your mind wants to be engaged and it likes to learn new things. Change up your training and add variety to the mix.
Adaptability is something that you can practice and strengthen. It’s also a crucial trait when it comes to being successful in trail running – a sport guaranteed to bring adversity and throw you curveballs at every race. Without access to your typical and familiar training routines, it’s tempting to lose motivation to train all-together. Instead, use it as a chance to adapt and find new ways of doing things. Keep an open mind and get creative. Not only will you benefit from a different training stimulus, but you’ll also be strengthening your adaptability muscles. When we live a patterned life, the constraints of our circumstances are familiar. Training in exactly the same way means that barriers and obstacles are relatively predictable. Trying new things and pushing yourself in different ways will bring new categories of challenges and give your mind the chance to develop new skills to adapt to the stressors.
Positivity and enthusiasm are powerful emotions. Not only do they make your circumstances more enjoyable and tolerable, but they equip you to be much more productive in how you handle adversity. Negative emotions are very effective at encouraging you to fixate on the bad stuff. They also narrow your focus, making it difficult to step back and identify possible solutions because you’re too consumed with what’s wrong. On the flip side, positive emotions broaden your perspective so that you can see the bigger picture and find different ways of doing things. We usually respond to negative emotions with avoidance, which doesn’t do much for improving our situation. However, when we confront challenges with positivity, we face the issue head-on and look for new solutions. Not to mention that being positive will also make you a more pleasant quarantine partner.
In such confusing and uncertain times, it’s normal to miss the predictability and comfort of former routines. But, the best way to make sure that such a difficult time isn’t spent in vain is to decide to use it for good. Take advantage of current adversity to develop the mental skills so you’ll be even better at handling any kind of challenge that comes your way in the future.
Addie is a professional ultra trail runner, coach, and sport psychology consultant helping athletes of all ages and abilities to prepare for the mental demands of competing through her practice, Strive Mental Performance.