Coach Tip Tuesday: Change Obstacles Into Opportunities
Another seven spins of the Earth means it’s time for Coach Tip Tuesday again!
How many of you out there have encountered an obstacle in your training? I think it’s safe to say that most athletes have. If you train for endurance sports for more than a day or two, it’s a matter of when you will encounter an obstacle, not if.
Those obstacles will be as unique as each athlete is; it’s rare to encounter the exact same obstacle as another athlete. That’s because each of us has a different perception of what an obstacle actually is. This week, I want to talk about that perception of obstacles and how we can shift both our perception and the obstacle itself to work for us, instead of against us.
For some athletes, various weather conditions are obstacles. One day, it’s too cool. On a different day, it’s too rainy. Another day, it’s too humid. On still another day, it’s too sunny. For other athletes, where they’re training might be an obstacle. The terrain, the indoor space, etc. Other obstacles might be things outside of training, such as an athlete’s work schedule or family commitments. Injuries or limitations within a particular discipline might present yet a different obstacle to an athlete. Our own mind might be an obstacle, both because it’s what controls what we think about all of the aforementioned external circumstances, but also because it’s what controls the narrative in our head or the story we’re telling ourselves about our training and goals.
I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea. Each and every one of us encounters obstacles in training and racing. It’s inevitable, but even though it is inevitable, we cannot always predict how these obstacles will actually manifest. What we can do for ourselves is arm ourselves with a tactic to manage the obstacles that we do encounter.
I want to encourage you to change obstacles into opportunities.
I encourage you to explore obstacles with curiosity rather than fear. Try to see what they can teach you or what they could be, rather than what you perceive they are. Truly, until you experience something first-hand, you don’t know how it is. So, give yourself the opportunity to see what actually happens. While anecdotally I’ve seen this work so well for so many people, there’s actual science that backs what I’m saying. According to Dr. Judson A. Brewer’s research, curiosity has a higher reward value than fear. This means that substituting mindful curiosity for fear or worry can actually reprogram our brains to seek out curiosity as a “default mode” the more we practice it.
Try as we might, we cannot orchestrate every element of our lives. We will get sick. We will get injured. We will have stressful days at work. Our family may test our patience. Rainy days will come. What I’m trying to help you do this week is to have an umbrella at the ready - in the form of a mindset tool - that you can deploy when obstacles inevitably do appear on your path.
Was your last workout not quite what you wanted? See your next one as a chance to improve upon it and to deploy lessons learned from that experience. Don’t feel that you’ve done something often enough to be proficient? See the opportunity to practice more so you can proceed toward proficiency. Don’t like the looks of the rain? Get outside to experience it and see if it feels as bad as you thought it looked. Not used to training on hills? Start climbing, and show yourself that you are capable of making it to the top. Dealing with a frustrating, nagging injury? Focus on what you are able to do, rather than lamenting or prolonging the mourning of what you cannot do.
Each and every day, we are given a chance to choose what we want to do. We often tell ourselves that we “have” to do so many things, but the truth of the matter is this: In the developed world, we truly are choosing to do the things we do. We are not victims that are being controlled; we are actually in control of our own lives, which means that the things we do are ultimately the net result of our choices. This is a hard truth for many of us to admit because it means that we are to blame for our trials. The good news is that it also means that we are to blame for our successes. The other good news is that we are the solution to many of the problems that we perceive that we face.
This week, I encourage you to choose curiosity so you can change your obstacles into opportunities. Choose to see (or at least look for) a path, not a wall. It’s true that this isn’t something that will become an automatic response the first time you think about it. But by making a mindful, deliberate choice to engage this curiosity attitude each and every time you encounter an obstacle, you will eventually not have to think quite so hard about doing it. Over time, you will start to see less obstacles, and you will start to see the opportunities first and with more ease. You might just be surprised at how many opportunities present themselves to you each and every day. :)
Coach Laura Henry
Laura Henry is a Syracuse, NY-based coach who is a USA Triathlon Level II Long Course and Level II Paratriathlon Certified Coach, USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach, VFS Certified Bike Fitter, and has successfully completed NASM's Certified Personal Trainer course. Coach Laura is passionate about helping athletes of all ability levels reach their goals and has coached many athletes to success.