My complete passion (and commitment) to working differently with athlete’s mental health-a departure from old-school “mental toughness” models to a biologically based nervous system approach stems from one simple reason: IT WORKS! Really.
I’ve never been one to jump on bandwagons or trends, easily spotting the charlatans in the bunch, so when I first started getting trained up and educated in this very different model of mental health, I have to fully disclose: I was a skeptic. It seemed too simple. Distilling most mental health and sports psychological issues down to a relatively simple model or concept: nervous system regulation-again, felt like a cheap shot.
I admit fully my errors back then-my skepticism was not accurate. I’ve now witnessed athlete after athlete, client after client-feel and get better by gently working biology (nervous system) regulation. So in a nutshell, how does this stuff work? (I won’t be giving away all my secrets). And of course the question-how does this stuff work for athletes that strive for excellence?
The best metaphor I’ve been able to come up with to help clients understand what the heck we are doing…is to relate our ANS (autonomic nervous systems) to a computer’s operating system. As a Mac user-let’s call it Mojave. Mojave is always running in the background and allows for me to be writing this blog using my Firefox app. When Mojave is running smoothly, I can seamlessly move from one application to another….to translate to life: my life runs smoothly. Sometimes small delays, glitches (issues/anxieties) but nothing that feels too overwhelming. No, rainbow pinwheel of death. In traditional models of mental health and sports psych (like the concept of “mental toughness”)-the emphasis is on application that’s not working well without regard to the operating system. It works…sort of. But it’s a lot of effort for little gain. And grinding away on one application does NOT lend itself to other applications that also might be chugging along. When we work with regulating our operating systems (nervous systems) ALL areas of our life tend to improve:
We experience more emotional control (the good kind of control), we relate to others better and ourselves, we feel clarity and purpose, we know how to take care of ourselves. As athletes, we tend to find more enjoyment in our sports, more flow…and here’s the biggie: we don’t NEED our sport to feel good-our sports simply enhance our lives. Inadequacy, anxiety, compulsion, fade away.
Running (formerly cycling) feels exciting, energizing, invigorating…and ya, even winning races or knocking out killer interval sets feel awesome, BUT…it’s not everything. A happy life does not depend on performance outcomes.
It’s darn nice.
And it was a big shift for me personally.
So, I’ll continue my stoke (passion) for working to regulate nervous systems in my quest for better mental health with athletes.
Tips, science and practical stuff coming…