Last Updated on December 30, 2021 by Jimson Lee
This post was written by Paul Hoffman.
There are very few careers where the margin between success and disappointment are as minuscule as they are in the world of elite sports. I am a psychotherapist, and even though poor outcomes are a possibility, it never comes down to one single precise moment determining the result. I have plenty of time to think about a prior session, make my adjustments, and perfect the process.
I don’t know anything about Cameron Burrell or Simone Biles beyond what I’ve read in the media. What I do know, is that there is no margin for error in a sprint or a balance beam performance. The self-expectations are off the charts, and the years of preparation boil down to what happens in a tiny window of time on a randomly assigned day.
That level of pressure is unthinkable to the average person.
If I’ve learned anything in my 50 year career, it’s that we are ALL fragile. Any one of us can be taken down by stress. The world asks a lot of some people, and some people ask a lot of themselves. Things don’t always go to plan.
What I do know, is that recovery is essential. Maybe the lesson we have all learned this summer is that recovery isn’t just for muscles and tendons and ligaments.
Our brains get tired too.
We don’t have an unlimited reservoir of emotional and mental energy, just like we don’t have an unlimited supply of muscular nutrients. That’s where sleep and walks in the woods and knitting (thank you Tom Daley) and silly tv shows and bubble baths and pyjama parties and plain ‘ol goofing off with friends and family come in. That’s how our minds recover. That’s where we hopefully gain some perspective and see the ‘forest for the trees’ in life. (It goes without saying that seeking professional help is essential if general wellness efforts don’t help.)
There isn’t a ‘one size fits all answer’. Some people need just to make the Olympic team to fulfil their dreams. Others, by running a 6 hour marathon following heart surgery (thanks brother David). And there are some who only find ultimate happiness and fulfilment if they win the Gold medal at the Olympics or First Prize at the Chopin Piano Competition. For them, anything else is disappointment.
But whether your goal is the pinnacle of elitism, or deeply personal, you still need to know when to rest your mind, and let it recover from the vicissitudes of that which you strive for.