We often hear about how athletes “bounce back” from challenges, failures and setbacks that threatened to derail their careers and limit their performance.
However, in recent times sport psychologists have begun talking about whether or not it is possible for athletes to not only recover what they lost from a setback but to also grow, become stronger and improve from setbacks, challenges and failures, or, in other words, “bounce forward”.
The “bounce forward” principle is not a new concept. Research on traumatic events indicates that some people experience post-traumatic growth in response to trauma, whilst others experience post-traumatic stress in response to the same trauma. In strength training, the greatest muscle growth happens when you train to failure, also indicating that seemingly unhelpful and damaging situations and events can actually result in positive outcomes.
So how do you “bounce forward” in response to challenges, failures and setbacks?
1. Be optimistic
Most challenges, failures and setbacks are not welcome or situations that you planned to end up in, however, optimism allows you to look for an opportunity or opportunities to use the unwelcome situation to your advantage. For example, if you are injured, there is an opportunity to practice your mental skills such as visualisation or to have focused practice on areas that are normally neglected due to time pressure associated with general practice, (e.g., core work and flexibility). This strategy does not mean that you give up or ignore reality and pretend that you are not experiencing negative emotions (which are normal and allowed in difficult circumstances!), however, it does mean that despite the difficult emotions you change your perspective and choose to act in a way that will improve your performance in the long-term. Expecting a positive outcome or growth from the situation increases your feeling of control in an otherwise uncontrollable situation, increasing confidence and belief in your ability to handle the situation, thereby allowing for the “bounce forward” effect.
2. Be proactive. Instead of letting your circumstances dictate what happens next, take proactive steps to make sure that you can keep going. Make it easy for yourself to be proactive by focusing on one step at a time and not trying to turn everything around in one day. Focus on what is in front of you rather than focusing on “what ifs” and what might happen as a result of your situation, which will simply increase anxiety and stress. The next two steps are an important part of this process.
3. Keep going
Don’t give up. Set new goals and continue to challenge yourself in different ways to maintain your motivation and continually improve. Whilst it is important to allow yourself to experience negative feelings during challenges, failures and setbacks, it is important that you do not get stuck on these feelings and let them affect your behaviour in a negative way.
4. Ask for help
No person is an island and we can get great strength, support and information from others, including sport psychologists. Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness, and is often harder to do than to keep a problem to yourself. It also provides access to knowledge and perspectives that you may not currently have, thereby increasing your ability to learn in that situation.
5. Be kind
Do not expect perfection from yourself. In fact, it is in our failures, mistakes and weaknesses that we have the best opportunity to learn and grow. Giving yourself permission to fail will increase your confidence and the likelihood of trying challenging tasks rather than giving up.
For more information on how to bounce forward from setbacks, failures and challenges, contact Rachel at Mental Notes Consulting at Rachel@mentalnotesconsulting.com.au or visit the website or Facebook page.