Discover your true self

Are you curious to try some strategies to improve your well-being during this period of uncertainty and isolation? Here, Dr Allan Johnston, a consultant psychiatrist who works with the English Institute of Sport, runs through some concepts and practical tools that could help you move forward in the new reality of your situation.  

  • The self-esteem foundations exercise can give you some new goals to work on while your sport is on hold. 
  • The lifeline exercise will help you draw strength and resilience from your past experiences. 
  • Try out mirror scheduling, which will help ease the adjustment from sport to isolation and back into sport. 

Selfesteem foundations 

Now, with the absence of competitive sport, if an individual lent too heavily on their athletic identity and didn’t have other aspects in their life, this could be more of a difficult time.   

You can think about this like the foundations of a house. I have an exercise I’ve developed called self-esteem foundations, where I would ask you to consider what your self-esteem is based upon, and what the first foundations on which you base your beliefs about yourself are. Athletic identity is allowed to be one of the four corners of this house, but what other roles do you play?   

If we take me as an example: I’m a sports psychiatrist, but I’m also a son, a dad, a husband, a brother and a neighbour, and so there are other aspects of my life that I would like to be good at. I’m asking you to consider what you base your self-esteem on, and how you measure that. If you can find measurable ways of assessing yourself as a son or daughter, as a brother or sisteror as a partner, then you can still work on aspects of yourselfeven while you’re away from competition 

Resilience 

I would define resilience simply as bounce back ability: the ability to bounce back from adversity.   

So now I’m asking you to do an exercise I’ve developed called lifeline, which is where I ask you to consider previous ups and downs in your life – the difficulties, the adversity you’ve had in the past, previous injuries, loss of form, non-selection, funding decisions – and ask how you recovered from that dip in the past, and what aspects you brought to that? What did you do to recover from that injury in 2015 or that selection decision in 2018?   

If we can learn lessons from those dips – things you did yourself and the people that supported you – then perhaps we can find the ingredients to how you would help yourself now in 2020, or further in the future.   

Check out Dr Jane Thornton’s advice on building a wall of strength  

Mirror scheduling 

We don’t want you to move too far away from your usual schedule through that process of adjustment, because when sport starts again you’ll have to readjust back. And secondly, there’ll be aspects of your previous schedule that were really important and were happening for a reasonso you want to try and capture those aspects. 

Mirror scheduling is a simple technique where I ask you to write down your usual activity for the seven days in a week, and then create a new schedule where you try to mirror aspects of your previous activity.  

For example, it might be that we need to be inventive about the way in which we have a one-to-one with our coach over FaceTime, or how we have social time or a meal with our teammates over Zoom. There might be aspects of sport that are intellectual, not just physical. How do you review your performance? Could you use video clips or video analysis?   

So mirror scheduling, in a nutshell, is to look at your previous activity and shine a mirror on it so that the important parts are not lost. The idea is that you will then be able to quickly readapt back into your sport when the time comes.  

So mirror scheduling, in a nutshell, is to look at your previous activity and shine a mirror on it so that the important parts are not lost. The idea is that you will then be able to quickly readapt back into your sport when the time comes.  

You are a role model 

Finally, I’d say that it’s really good for all of you to be able to help other people when you feel able to, and to contribute to your communities or your neighbourhoods. As an athlete, being able to be a role model and support people less fortunate than you is really good – not just for your communities, but for your own mental health.   

There are a whole range of things we should do to look after our physical and mental health at the moment – from nutrition to exercise – but helping others is maybe particularly important at this time, so that we can gain self-esteem and a positive feeling from our contributions. 

For more well-being tips from the IOC Mental Health Working Group, click here