Change

polling station sign

With the EU referendum outcome, periods of uncertainty for many people around their jobs as a result and entering in a period where there is no prime minister, no substantive plan and no facts on what the future holds I’ve been reflecting on change.

Change is probably one of the hardest things we have to deal with. Maybe because often the journey to getting it can be so full of uncertainty.  We tend to be so much more comfortable with black and white answers. I remember interviewing an exceptional athlete a few years ago about a serious injury he had. I expected him to say that if the injury meant no more running he would have been distraught but he said if the doctors told him he can never run again he’d have been fine. He would have accepted it and found a new sport.  But they didn’t say that as they didn’t know the answer. They told him he ‘might be able to run again’. This made him feel far worse, putting him in a weird type of limbo.

When we enter a period of change and uncertainty we are looking for pillars to hold onto, usually dates of announcements when we will get more information, or facts or figures on which we can make decisions. What I have noticed from working in communications in many organisations that have gone through cost cutting, mergers, redundancies or office moves, is that those pillars, those facts and figures rarely arrive when we want them to and even if they do rarely give you the reassurance you are looking for. This is incredibly frustrating but there are often good (but hidden) reasons for this. Most of the time I have discovered that people higher up (HR, CEO, Board) simply don’t know the answers yet but sometimes they have to be seen to be following the letter of the law so closely they just can’t risk give you the reassuring information you need. Sometimes they don’t correct the rumours because they just don’t know the rumours may turn out to be true.

So, when entering a period of change and uncertainty the most important thing to remember is that “you cannot control the environment you are in. You can only control how you respond to that environment.” Panicking, stressing and imagining the worst damages no-one except yourself. It makes you anxious. It makes you take rash, poorly thought through decisions.

You can research lots. You can find ways to give yourself the most options. But you can only make a decision on what you feel in your heart and the facts you have at that moment. And sometimes you just have to ride out the change, pour your heart and emotions into something else for a while, and wait until the storm has passed when you will have the information you need and can make your decision from a positive place.

Five things to keep in mind when dealing with change

  • Expect the unexpected.
  • Don’t imagine that you will get a black and white answer – you rarely do.
  • Think about and explore all your options in advance so negative news or directions don’t take you by surprise and cause panic.
  • Realise there will be reasons you are not getting all the information you need.
  • Find a mentor, someone you trust, to help you through the process and to give you guidance and a sounding board to vent your frustrations on.

Turning the pedals, or pages….

Cycling books

In that little bit of dead time between the Giro and the Tour de France there is time for reading! So to get you into the mood for Le Tour starting on July 2nd here are some books to help you swot up on your Tour knowledge and understand just what those 189 riders are going through.

Tour de France – Graeme Fife: If you love the history and mystery of the tour then this book will guide you all the way through from 1903 to 2005. If there is ever a pub quiz round on Le Tour this book will be your bible. It beautifully captures the infamous climbs and the even more infamous riders and contrasts the early years brilliantly to the slick machine which rolls alongside the tour now.

Riding through the storm – Geoff Thomas: This is the former football player who whilst recovering from cancer wanted to fundraise for Leukaemia research – so decided to spend six months training and then riding the Tour de France route. The book chapters, mirror the route he rode but succinctly tell his story of recovery, training and riding.

French Revolutions – Tim Moore: If you need something more lighthearted this book is fantastic. An admitted non cyclist, Moore decides to do the tour – but following the ways of the past, allowing for a little bit of cheating, a little bit of doping (mainly ProPlus!) and a lot of realising he probably should have taken the training a lot more seriously. A great book to give you a reality check when you watch a race and think ‘I could do that!’

Bad Blood – Jeremy Whittle: Of course there had to be a doping book in this list. And this is one of the best I’ve read. The book came out way before Lance confessed but has great insight into those being caught and punished before him and how it is not just the dopers who are affected, but the entire machine.

Racing through the dark – David Millar: Yes, another doping book, but also a great insider’s view on how doping can become an option for regular riders and how it impacts them. It clearly makes the case for redemption (as any autobiography of a caught doper would) but is well written and worth a read to understand the slope that riders can slide down.

Domestique – Charly Wegelius: And finally another autobiography. This one is fab. If you have ever watched the domestiques suffering for their leader, lugging 20 water bottles up a mountain for their team mates or flogging themselves to get someone else the glory it is great to read a book from the domestiques perspective. Wegelius helps you understand just why they put in all that effort when they will rarely, if ever, actually win a race themselves.

Give your brain a break

Brain hurtsHave you ever spent a week before a big race tapering from training but using the extra time as an opportunity to catch up on work or study? And have you ever wondered why, even with a fully rested body, you were not able to compete in the way you thought you should have been able to?

Working primarily with student and age group athletes I see this so much, especially for those who are required to be switched on mentally, all day, every day. They value training as a way of escaping the confines of their desk. They love their body becoming their tool instead of their mind. But when they are fitting training in on top of a number of other demands; family, volunteering, jobs or school it isn’t just your body that gets tired. Your brain gets shattered too.

And the mental fatigue we have residing in our bodies can be just as damaging to our performances as physical fatigue.

The psychobiologist Professor Samuele Marcora at the University of Kent has been researching this area. He has run experiments in the military and found that when soldiers were given mentally tiring tasks to do in the build up to a cycling TT they performed far worse than when their build up has been mentally relaxing. Other researchers have looked at the impact of suppressing natural responses (which causes the brain to work really hard and thus fatigue) to see how that impacts performance and finds that again, those with mental fatigue perform worse.

And while mental fatigue can impact any athlete, it can have more of an impact the longer you are racing. So for endurance athletes who have many hours out racing, and are often training long hours on top of a busy work or studying life, the more you can resist using your taper week to catch up on work, the better your performance can be.

5 tips to prevent mental fatigue impacting on your race

  1. Learn to sometimes train with mental fatigue so that you get used to pushing yourself harder, but make sure you recover fully before you compete.
  2. Take the day off work or homework (if a student) before an important race.
  3. If you are in control of your own work or study load save some more of the more admin type tasks for close to race day so you do not drain your mental energy.
  4. Organise your race packing, transport and logistics as long as you can before your race. Frantically packing the night before a very early start will not only see you sleep deprived but mentally tired. Write your list of everything you need to take early on in the week. Pack a day or two early.
  5. If you are staying in a hotel or campsite the night before, pre-book somewhere for dinner, learn your route to the race and then spend as much of the day as relaxed as possible.