All At Sea In Virus Season? Keep Calm, Let The Brain Breathe & Act On What You Can Control

Breathe - Photo Courtesy: Craig Lord

Commentary by guest author and leadership coach Jeff Raker

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

I sit today not far from The Golden Lamb in Lebanon, OH. It is the oldest inn in Ohio and in which Charles Dickens spent one night of his life.

Maybe he wrote those lines from his room. I know that he didn’t enjoy his stay, from what he said afterwards! [What?! No beer!? Not a drop of Brandy!?]

Everyone will be led by something: fear, pressure, anxiety, doubt, ego, others; or they will lead themselves. That’s the better choice, but how?

In today’s unprecedented world of “the virus,” we may feel like our choices have been taken away from us. We may feel unhinged and unhooked, like we are adrift without a paddle. Perhaps without a boat. But we do have choices.

I am a leadership coach who helps people learn to lead themselves, whether that’s behind the blocks, in the middle of a race; in navigating relationships, or dealing with adversity. The unexpected detours and delays in our lives are something we will always encounter, although never before to this extent.

What does it look like to lead yourself now? How do you stay out of your own way? How do you learn the lessons that may be hard to see so that this time in life becomes a catalyst for character and growth?

  1. Worry and then Stop

Often in these circumstances, when we don’t know what to do – whether it’s that plateau we hit or something more significant like cancelled seasons and uncertainties of what’s next – it’s in these times that I coach clients to feel everything they feel; to write down everything they are thinking; everything of which they are afraid. A neuro-Psychologist friend helped me understand this.

Our brain needs to do something and we need to do something right now:

a) it needs to really worry about stuff. It’s ok. Take 5 minutes and write down everything that ticks you off; everything that doesn’t make sense; everything that you can’t change. Really worry about it. It’s ok to get worked up over it.

Be disappointed. Be angry. Be lost. It’s ok. But then STOP.

b) now write STOP over the list. Turn the page and write a list of the things you control. Don’t resist this. Write it down. There is something that happens to us when we write stuff down.

When our eyes see the words we are thinking there is more power.

  1. Do the next right thing

This is a project I give to most clients at some point, whether in business or sports, whether athlete or coach. When we feel directionless, we need to take control of that which we control.

Choose to do the next right thing:

  • drive the speed limit
  • smile
  • hold a door
  • say “Hello”
  • say “Thank you”

Deliberately choose to do the next right thing.

Your brain will thank you. It’s almost like this action gets the brain out of neutral. Rather than spinning your wheels, you will begin to feel traction.

Doing one right thing leads to the thinking process that there are more right things to do. Winning at one thing, leads to a desire to win at other things.

  1. Win something each day.

Elite athletes – and successful leaders – know that winning feels better than losing. Gaining traction at this time in our world requires more small wins.

Working with athletes, I would give them homework of making a list of three to five things they could win in practice. These would be actions that will help them be faster: the push off the wall, the streamline, the breakout, the number of butterfly kicks, hip rotation,…..the list is endless. Then, choose one of those to win every day. Many of you know this already.

If you’re not in the pool, make a list of things to win and win one each day. Acknowledge it as a win. Congratulate yourself.

  • Win an ab workout
  • Win your diet
  • Win your visualization or relaxation breathing
  • Win your heart rate

There are always things to win. Winning begets winning. The brain loves to win and the more it wins the more it wants to win.

  1. Remember your WHY

An NCAA swimming qualifier and client said to me the week NCAAs were cancelled: “I swim because I love to race!” That’s what he values. Connecting everything back to values is the way to stay motivated. It’s your WHY.

Consider your top three to five values. Share your list with others.

It’s not unlike focusing on the journey more than the goal. This is how elite athletes rise above the crowd. It’s the personal values that provide the most motivation for what you do.

When I do this project with coaches, the list of values in coaching never includes “making fast swimmers”. It always includes themes similar to: character building, resilience, wise decision-making.

While a goal may be to be faster and win, the value isn’t the winning, it’s something else. Otherwise, every “non-win” is devastating.

There is always something you can do. There is always something you can control and it starts with controlling your response.

  • Jeff Raker is an Executive Leadership Coach with Level Up Sports Leadership and Level Up Leadership Coaching. A Pastor for 30-years, he now works full-time with leaders in business and in sports. He is a Master’s swimmer and presently the defending national champion in the 200 freestyle for YMCA Masters. He was one of the U.S. FINA starter’s from 2011-2018. 
  • His clients include or have included: Mason Manta Rays, University of South Carolina, Gardner-Webb University, SwimMAC, Club Wolverine, Xavier University, Denison University, Florida Gulf Coast University, Columbia International University, University of Cincinnati, Kenyon College, University of Toledo, Dayton Raiders, Cincinnati Marlins, Hudson HEAT, University of Missouri, Columbia Swim Club, Eastern Michigan University.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine, the International Swimming Hall of Fame, nor its staff.

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