|Content series|||||By Charlie Unwin||May 2020|
This series of blogs from Charlie Unwin, an Olympic Performance Psychologist, is helping us bring you some practical tips on how we can build mental resilience while in lockdown. He's focussed on the following three pillars:
Part 2 showed us positive thinking, the art of practising optimism and maintaining your attention on small everyday goals. We're now on part 3, looking at achieving positive feeling, by limiting news and using visualisation.
There are three exercises, much like the other sections. They're manageable for all of us, and hopefully, will fill you with positive feelings.
We've put all of Charlie's thoughts and insight into an easy step-by-step infographic. A PDF one. One you can download and keep going back to. Not as much detail as the articles, but it'll get you thriving!
Click the link to download the PDF of The Thrive Project by Charlie Unwin.
The rate of digital innovation can be challenging to get your head around. We literally have a world of information at our fingertips. The benefits of this are overwhelming – just imagine if this was taken away from you now! The problem is that the human brain is struggling to cope with this deluge of information.
Every thought we have creates an emotional ripple in the brain - called resonance - which is designed to attribute meaning to that thought. Sometimes this is big, and we’re very aware of the feelings it creates. Sometimes it’s unimportant and passes by almost unnoticed. But these ripples are always there, like an emotional tune to every thought we have. With so many thoughts playing so many emotional tunes, it’s no wonder we often struggle to make sense of the noise. As a result, we’re more likely to think negatively and prioritise poorly – making the situation worse for ourselves!
The best way of alleviating this noise and maintaining a clear, positive head is by limiting the outside information we consume and when we consume it.
The attitude of professional athletes has changed markedly over the past 30 years. In a quest to run faster, jump higher, and throw further, they used to focus on training longer and harder than their opponents. If they were training on Christmas Day, that was one day more than many of their competitors. The problem was that by continuously increasing the load, they could only go so far before burning out and getting injured.
Soon, science started to show that the most effective athletes were the ones who planned their recovery as conscientiously as they planned their physical training. This started a movement that has continued to this day. It focusses on how to improve the rate and quality of recovery. Interestingly, 90% of performance-enhancing drugs are not designed to enhance strength or stamina directly, instead, they enhance recovery.
We can all learn from this because, in our quest to get things done and manage the emotional load of our day, we’ll only stay effective if we’re deliberate about switching off and allowing our mind and body to recover. If we limit the quality and quantity of recovery, we’ll only ever be at 70% effectiveness at best. In short, stress is okay, in fact, we need it to be effective. It’s a lack of quality recovery that causes so much damage.
Here are some top tips on making the most of your recovery:
Why should you visualise?
Visualisation is a mental process that enables us to feel more prepared and confident about specific activities or life events. It’s a skill I use extensively with athletes preparing for high-pressure performances, surgeons preparing for complex operations, Special Forces operatives about to practice or conduct a dangerous mission, and musicians about to go out on stage. Visualisation is for anyone who wants to increase the quality of what they do and the confidence they do it with.
These are extreme examples, but the reason we should all take time to practice visualisation is that it can help us to perform everyday activities with more confidence, more focus, more positivity, more patience and more connection.
How does visualisation work?
You imagine going through an experience as accurately as possible in your mind. It primes exactly the same neural pathways in the brain as if you were actually doing it. Done well it even evokes the same feelings you would get in the real situation, which allows you to practice these emotions.
Sounds funny, but to get better at regulating our emotional reactions to certain situations or activities, we need to learn how to either accept these emotions or regulate them. For example, by training yourself to breathe deeply and relax whilst being in that situation. You can literally re-train how your mind and body respond to that situation.
How do I visualise?
Take time out to do this at the beginning of every day:
Trust me when I say that doing this for 15 minutes can have a dramatic effect on how your day turns out, and the more you practice, the better you get.
If you want to get good at this, let the Calm app help you. As the most downloaded app in the world, Calm is brilliant for quietening your mind, but you’ll need to do the visualisation element on top of this.
Have a look around our coronavirus support hub and see what else inspires you. We've been (digitally) sitting down with experts across the board, creating resources in four vital categories: Inform, body, mind, and community.
Keep those positive feelings going!
Charlie Unwin is a specialist in human performance and psychology. His clients include multiple Olympic Champions, England Football, elite Special Forces and The Royal Household. A former Army officer and GB athlete, Charlie is passionate about transferring the tools and techniques used by athletes and elite performers into everyday life, allowing more people to live well and achieve their potential.
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