First off, I’d like to thank those of you who reached out with positive comments regarding my previous blog post. As it turns out, I’m not alone in feeling this way from time to time. Simply writing the post alleviated some of the negativity I was concealing, but the support from friends, family, and readers really put the situation into perspective.
All Or Nothing Approach
Finding a balance between training, resting, and competing can be difficult, and I often find myself taking an “all or nothing” approach, both mentally and physically. I tend to push myself hard mentally and physically when my motivation and energy is high, and then slowly crash. The slow crash is tough. Sometimes my body feels good, but I’m mentally drained, and other times it’s the opposite, where I really want to work hard, but my body has had enough. Usually on Sundays (my rest day), both my mind and my body need a break.
A Brief Training History
In years past, I would be forced to take a break, usually due to mass amounts of school work which not only distracted me, but also required my full attention. During my high school years, I would eagerly look forward to 3:20 pm, when I could rush off to practice for a couple of hours. Sometimes I would even go play squash during lunch hour, if it coincided with a spare period!
In university, I would hop on the bike for a moderate 30 minute ride either before class, or before practice to warm up my mind and my body for the day. It felt good to accomplish something right off the bat. If I biked before class, I almost always had a more productive day and was more attentive in lectures. Similarly, a 20-30 minute warm up on the bike, or a solo-hit before practice helped me start practice with a positive mindset (and warm muscles!). In other words, bouts of physical activity benefited both my mind and body.
Throughout my high school and college years, I always aimed to do more. More sprints, more spin classes, more hours on court. I really felt that “more” always meant I would get better. Part of me sometimes wished I was a rower, because they had training twice a day! However, at meal times, rowers and swimmers would often complain of their massive volume of training. In fact, apparently most collegiate swimmers burn out due to the extremely high volume of training. (I never really wished I was a swimmer, because I don’t think I could stare at the bottom of the pool for hours on end). Looking back, I can imagine that these athletes had lost their appreciation for the sport, and lost some perspective. Given the academic workload and social scenes in college, I suppose this is why burnout eventually occurs in many college athletes of various disciplines.
Alright, I’m deviating a bit here, but bear with me.
Complacency and Training
Fast forward to current times, and my whole life revolves around health, fitness, and squash. Do I wish I had a desk job? Not at all. Are there times I wish I could sit down and blog for two hours instead of being on my feet? Sure. And I have learned that when I feel that way, I need to take a break. It’s not always possible, since I have practice hits scheduled and lessons planned, and moreover, I feel badly saying “no”, both to others, and to myself.
I suppose this fear of saying “no” stems from a deep-rooted habit of always doing more training, for better or for worse. Since high school, I have been fearful of becoming complacent, despite being told by my coaches and family that this should not be a concern of mine. After all, to the outside, an overtrained athlete is someone who always wants to train, no matter their mental or physical state. This is not true. While there are times I have overtrained because I love working out and playing squash, there are also numerous occasions where I dragged myself onto the bike or pavement because of the fear of saying “no” or missing out.
I would be lying if I said I had overcome this. It is a balancing act, trying to figure out how much training to plan. If I’ve planned too much training, I feel badly if I don’t accomplish it all. If I plan too little, I fear it won’t be enough and that I’ll be missing out.
Learning to Not Think (Kind of)
While I continue to physically create a balance between training and resting (mostly through trial and error), my main area of focus is on the mind. Since last summer, I have been trying to grasp this notion of “a clear mind”. Have you ever tried not thinking? It’s very difficult, if not almost impossible. However, my focus is not to eradicate thinking, but rather to not let the thoughts have any power over me. My squash coach, John Musto, first introduced this concept to me at the end of last season. He lent me a book, The Path of No Resistance, which, to be honest, I’ve had a very difficult time reading. While the content is very good, it is complicated to read, and I found it even more difficult to explain to others, which just confused me further.
A few weeks after I opened the book, my nutritionist, Richard, introduced me to Headspace, a meditation app. I began to follow the 10-minute guided meditations every day, and finally, began to start to understand what John was trying to help me with.
During this time, I wasn’t playing squash at all (it was the off-season), so I was able to let go any sorts of worries (aka THOUGHTS), that I had pertaining to the sport. Using Headspace helped me reset my mind and my body, and allowed me to live my day to day life with more awareness and clarity. Sure, thoughts would still pass through my mind, but I felt better equipped to let them pass and not dwell on them. This not only altered my perception of training, but also my relationships with friends and coworkers. I felt more in control of my own life, rather than having my mood be subject to the actions and words of others, or random situations.
When I lost to Hollie last week, John pulled me into his office to talk. We didn’t discuss a single thing that was tactical, technical, or physical. For 20 minutes, we discussed my mental approach to not only the game, but life in general. In the moment, I had lots of thoughts going through my mind, both positive and negative: I’m hitting the ball really well! Why are my arches cramping? Am I doing too much running? At least I seem fast. Maybe I should have tied my headband tighter. Uh oh, I’m down 9-3! That’s not very respectable. Yikes, I can’t catch my breath, and it’s 0-3 in the first game. I hope my friends aren’t disappointed they came all this way to watch me.
No wonder I was an anxious mess- it was exhausting just writing all of that out!
Since then, I have made a plan to regain my appreciation for competing and training, while not spending copious amounts of time and mental energy analyzing and dissecting thoughts.
The plan, or approach, is simple enough:
Meditate using Headspace every day. The sessions can be anywhere from 1 minute to 10 minutes, but I do my best to accomplish a 10-minute session. Lately, instead of listening to music on Spotify, I have found myself wanting to listen to a guided meditation while commuting or walking around the city. I consider it “active rejuvenation”. How’s that for an oxymoron!?
My physical “goals” are to do each of the activities for 10-30 minutes a week.
- Spin (can be by myself)
- Solo hitting
The physical aspect of the process-oriented approach is as much mental as it is physical. As I mentioned earlier, accomplishing something physical not only gives you physical energy, but also provides you with a mental boost. Furthermore, it’s going to keep me accountable!
If you’re still reading this- wow! You made it through a lot. I know that this post was kind of all over the map, but I just had to dive in. I’ll definitely be referring to the themes discussed in this post throughout the next little while, but look for more content regarding workouts and recipes too!