Lockdown: So much space to think …

By Toni Gaddie | Champion Academy

Toni Gaddie is as a clinical and sports psychologist, and co-founder of the Champion Academy. She assists national and international sports champions and business leaders in becoming and maintaining their “whole champion” status. In this article, she discusses the mental toughness required to handle lockdown and beyond.

Lockdown is a radical experience for most of us. For someone who is not usually anxious or fearful, I began to realise what a profound effect COVID-19 was beginning to have on my state of mind. The stream of information – from symptoms to prevention to death rates and everything in between – began to have an impact on my anxiety levels. Imagine what this constant stream of disease information is doing to our psyches, our anxiety levels, and how it is therefore influencing the possibility of achieving our dreams and goals.

I noticed the effect that ruminating on the negatives was doing to my energy levels and the clarity of my purpose as a psychologist serving my patients and clients, as well as my relationships. I had to become more aware of the information I was taking in and what I was doing – which was bringing out the parts of me that are anxious, afraid, doubting and demotivated. We all have these parts of us (champions in sport are included here), and COVID-19 and the lockdown can play a role in bringing out these negative feelings and emotions and it is so important to be able to identify them. We can only figure out how to deal with uncomfortable feelings when we can acknowledge them. At The Champion Academy, we use the term our “little me” part of self to represent these negative but very crucial feelings which can play an impactful role in success. My “little me” was beginning to dominate and I therefore needed to re-evaluate this period and make some important decisions in order to come back to my larger, greater part of self which I refer to as my “GREAT ME”.

In my work with top athletes, I often speak of a “GREAT ME” and a “little me” – both are normal and important parts of self. For over 20 years, I have been studying “whole champions”, legends in sport who are fulfilled in many aspects of life. It is especially these champions who understand both their “little me” and “GREAT ME” very well. When it comes to peak performance the “little me” is the part which experiences negative feelings under intense pressure and uncertainty. It may provide the right amount of anxiety to raise our arousal levels to psyche us up but, when our “little me” dominates, it can be destructive to our mindset before and during performance. Athletes who are mentally tough become aware of their “little me” feelings before it is too late. For example, “I am feeling so demotivated” or “My anger is getting the better of me” or even “It feels as if I am not doing enough” (acknowledging the negative thought and feeling).

By acknowledging these uncomfortable feelings over time, they have learned mental and physical tools on how to release, deal or soothe their frustration and negative emotion. Some examples of these tools include supportive self-talk, breathing, meditation, music, specific movements depending on the sport, positive affirmations, as well as powerful images in the mind’s eye. Many legends also access their memory treasure chests to reignite their mental toughness by rewinding their mind to when their “GREAT ME” harnessed the pressure and uncomfortable circumstances, leading to rewarding outcomes.

As I mentioned earlier, as COVID-19 and its potential impact on so many of us became more real, I was experiencing a myriad of negative feelings – my “little me”. I acknowledged this wave of despondency and discouragement as a normal response to this period. I gave myself some space and time to adapt to the new normal. I then decided to view this crisis as a time to look more honestly at myself as a means to become even more mentally tough. I chose to view the journey into lockdown as a time to be curious at how my “little me” (negative part) was going to emerge, and trust that my “GREAT ME” was going to harness and refine more tools to navigate the uncertainty and enjoy the challenge!