Posted On:
Tuesday, June 21, 2022
Updated On:
Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Coach Tip Tuesday: How to Handle It When Something Doesn’t Go as You Want or Expect It To

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Photo Description: A golden lion door handle in China. (Handle. Get it? Get it?)

Over the years, I’ve talked a lot about managing expectations. And while managing expectations is a very important piece of the conversation that I have with almost every single athlete I’ve ever worked with, there’s something equally as important:

How to handle it when something does not go as you want or expect it to.

This is important because it is inevitable that at least something will not go the way you want or expect it to.  In all reality, there will likely be many things that do not go the way you want or expect them to.  (For the record, this is applicable to both sport and life. ;) )  

When you read the title of this post and/or the sentence above, how many of you interpreted it to mean that I would be talking about things going negatively with respect to how you wanted or expected them to?

While it is true that I’m talking about things not going our way in a negative way in this post, it is so very important to remember that things may not go the way we want or expect them to because what happens surpasses our expectations and/or desires.  Things not going our way is not inherently negative, but how interesting is it that almost all of us are programmed to perceive it that way? ;)

It’s really challenging - not to mention disappointing - when things turn out less or worse than we planned or envisioned.  The feelings that envelop us in this situation can become all-consuming and make us feel like we’re circling the drain.  However, it doesn’t have to be this way. 

You are More Than Your Workouts and Races

It is especially challenging to handle a situation that doesn’t go how we want or expect if our identity or sense of self-worth is wrapped up in whatever we’re doing.  Many of the athletes I have worked with over the years have experienced this; if things are not going well or as they want/expect in their endurance sports life, they really struggle with it.

There are a few reasons for this.  One is that endurance athletes tend to be “all-in”, meaning that sport is one of the biggest (if not the only) high-quality leisure activities that they participate in outside of work and family.  It ticks a lot of boxes; health and wellness, social, stress-relief are just a few of those.  So it makes sense that endurance sports become one of the few - if not the only - ways age-group athletes spend their leisure time.

However, even though endurance athletes (especially age-group endurance athletes) tend to have this “all-in” aspect to their personalities, the reality is that they do have more to their lives than just sport.  This is really important to remember when things don’t go the way we wanted them to.  Our value as a human is not linked to the time on a finish clock, how a particular workout went, or even how a series of workouts goes.  There are so many elements that make us who we are.  When things go poorly in sport, it’s important to reflect on all of the other aspects of our lives that make us, well, us. :)

Choose Curiosity; It Trumps Fear.

Not only is it okay to have things happen differently than we planned, but it’s an opportunity. I’ve mentioned several times about how viewing happenings in our lives through the lens of curiosity has a higher reward value than fear. This means that if we have a tough workout, race (or even a “failed” workout or race) we can seize this opportunity to practice a curiosity mindset.

Yes, our instinct may be to fear the thing that we’re struggling with or that appears to be insurmountably difficult.  After all, who likes struggling with something, feeling like they can’t do something, or even failing at something?  However, if we choose to view what we’re struggling with through that lens of curiosity, we can actually program our brains to override that fear pathway and have curiosity become our “default mode.”

When something doesn’t go your way and you find yourself fearing or dreading your next attempt at it, ask yourself the question “What if?” What if you succeed? What if you learn something new? What if it goes better than you expect? What if you choose to seize the opportunity that is being presented to you to challenge yourself and grow?

Sit With Your Feelings

One of the most important things that we can do is actually allow ourselves to feel what we are feeling.  How we feel is how we feel.  It’s not inherently “good” or “bad” - it just is.  And feelings are not inherently “good” or “bad”.  They just are.  Many people try to suppress what they’re feeling, especially if it’s an emotion that they are not proud of or that others may perceive to be negative.  Believe me, I know…I see it all the time, even if people don’t (want to) realize that they're doing this.  However, the first step to handling a situation is acknowledging how we actually feel about it.  

Do you feel disappointed?  Scared?  Upset?  Sit with that feeling.  What I mean by “sit with that feeling” is to exist with that feeling.  It’s okay to feel it.  

Once you’ve allowed yourself to feel this, remember the following two truths:

  1. If what happened is in the past, you cannot do anything about it.
  2. All you can do something about is in the present and future.

It’s only heavy if you pick it up. You can leave what happened in the past, or you can pick it up so it becomes heavy in your present. I suggest that you make the intentional choice to shelve what happened (versus picking it up), and focus on how you will modify as-needed in the present and future, versus lamenting what happened in the past.

Each of you has an Athlete’s Toolbelt at your disposal.  This Athlete’s Toolbelt contains all of the tips, tricks, and truths that you have learned over your time in endurance sports.  Like an actual toolbelt, if you find that you are “missing” a tool, you can seek it out and acquire it.  Unfortunately, there isn’t a “one-stop shop” such as Lowe’s or Home Depot for endurance sports, but there are coaches, mentors, and other resources out there who can help you gain new tools and new experiences for you to draw from that can help you modify what you’re doing in the present and future to help you meet or exceed your expectations moving forward.

Sir Isaac Newton said “We build too many walls and not enough bridges.”  When things don’t go the way we want, we often see walls.  When you catch yourself seeing walls, aim to seek out the bridges that can come from things not going the way we expect.  You may be surprised to see that they can lead to places, experiences, and opportunities that exceed your original expectations. :)

About

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.

She can be reached at laura@fullcircleendurance.com.

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