“Speeds so fast, it felt like I was drunk”, a line from one of my favourite songs, Fast Car by Tracy Chapman, captures that feeling that we get when life is moving at speeds that makes us feel giddy, slightly out of control but excited by the adrenaline and the pace. It’s exhilarating but what happens when our car is forced to stop? Instead of revving up and hitting the road again, often stopping is the best thing we can do. High performance is optimised by professional sports people, so what can we learn from them?
We all know that feeling. Our body seems to thrive on the energy and excitement of the next thing, pushing harder or going further or trying something new. Our positive energy attracts other people who want to be part of our party and we enjoy the social buzz. It helps us to get through the tough moments too. If we’ve felt that speed and enjoyed the rush, then we dig deep to get back there.
Most of us won’t experience the intense highs and pressures of competing in a sport at a professional level, but sports metaphors and strategies are used in high performance of just about any career we could mention. That’s because every person enjoys an adrenaline-fuelled moments of ‘speed’ at some point and high performance in any arena demands many of the same skills. Just as sports people live the extremes whilst playing, they can then also live the extremes when they retire from playing competitively, so their experiences are a good teacher.
But what happens closer to home when we sober up? Or when the ride stops? Or when our career stops? In a similar vein to the ‘morning after’, we feel awful; lost, tired, unhealthy, alone with zero energy or enthusiasm. We can probably muster a smile if we try hard enough, but it doesn’t go beyond the corners of our mouth. Just like a professional sports-person, we need to step back from the game. We need a re-set.
Sobering up and re-setting
Sometimes we know that we are sobering up, we’re aware enough to realise that this part is coming to an end and so we enjoy those last heady moments. Other times, it side-swipes us. We wake up one morning wondering what on earth happened, mourning the ‘good times’ and totally confused about what could be next.
As tempting as it is to jump back into ‘full-speed mode’ either reverting back to what we did before or launching into something new, the best course of action here is to stop. Take it from someone who generally likes to do everything at 100 mph; stopping, reflecting and reassessing are the most powerful things we can do if we want to live a full life that is sustainable as well as successful.
Learn from the Pros
So let’s consider how the end of a professional sporting career forces a major stop and re-set.
There has been much study and commentary on how professional retirement can have devastating effects on athletes as they struggle to adjust to a life outside of the sporting bubble.
Dr Emma Vickers, ex-pro-table tennis player and researcher, summarises the impacts as:
- Loss of identity
- Tunnel Vision Syndrome
- Potential biological factors
High performance in any arena places similar demands on a person and if we look at these in a non-sporting context we can see how they are relatable.
Loss of identity
We define ourselves to such a great extent by our role, our job title, the company we work for and our daily activities, when they get taken away we are left with a hole. We feel embarrassed if someone asks us, ‘what do you do’ and we can’t give them a neat job title. If you took away the labels and the roles, who are you underneath?
Tunnel Vision Syndrome
Athletes are clearly very focused on their sporting goals. All their physical activity, food, rest, money and time are honed to extreme lengths to ensure they achieve. Work can become like that too. We all know someone who is always at work, either physically or mentally. Removing the one source of focus forces us to take the blinkers off and look around. What else is going on around you? What areas of your life are wilting?
As athletes stopping training and stop taking supplements and any other medication, their body can experience physical changes which impact their mood, self-confidence, energy levels… and many other areas.
As we get off our high adrenaline ride, our body experiences similar changes. Our ‘fight or flight’ response which is triggered when we are in stressful and intense situations, releases adrenaline and cortisol into our body, which helps our bodies to react quickly.
While this is perfect for jumping out of the way of an oncoming car, if we stay in this highly reactive and pressurised state for extended periods it takes a toll on the body, both mentally and physically.
We need to allow ourselves time to ‘decompress’ when we move away from a stressful and demanding job and give our body the chance to re-set.
When was the last time you ‘stopped’?
So if you’re used to life in the fast lane and are thinking about the next step, rather than accelerating full speed into the next challenge, consider what you could gain from a short pause. A stop will re-set your body and re-focus your mind.. and your next endeavour will reap the benefits.