Slowing Down vs.Calming Down. What’s the difference?
Slowing down vs. calming down – this is the number one area that I see 90 per cent of athletes getting wrong. A simple, effective tool and mindset shift that can change an athlete’s life and performance is to understand and appreciate the difference between slowing down and calming down.
Endurance athletes are wired to go, go, go, and go, and go. It may be ingrained in their personality and habits, or it may be the involvement in endurance sport that has transformed them into this non-stop go-getter.
I still remember the day it finally clicked with me. I’ve been told most of my teen and adult life: “You need to slow down”. Slow down? I’m a hard-wired, A-type, high achieving, superhero wannabe, and you’re telling me to slow down? “Meh! Get stuffed,” would be my response. But they were completely right. Combining university, two jobs, triathlon training, parties and general life was a recipe for disaster – I survived, but only just. I sit here, eight years later, at 30-years-old, still feeling the effects of being a person who took on way too much, at a rapid speed. Not cool.
What my brain couldn’t compute at the time, but what has finally clicked, is this – there is a difference between calming down and slowing down. Can you see it? Of course, my wannabe superhero-self didn’t want to back off from all the great things I was doing – I loved them all. But down the track, my body gave me an ultimatum because I didn’t back off, slow down or calm down. And so, I experienced two years of horrible health issues that have taught me a hard lesson – calm down.
Personally, I would relate slowing down to being less productive, being less successful, and being slower at swim, bike and run. So, of course, I didn’t want to do it. Calming down, however, is a different story. What if you could still do all of your superhero activities each week, but in a mindful, present and happy nature? The result would be a body that feels calmer, happier, stronger, more resilient and healthy. All that is required is a shift in the way you go about your week and the thoughts you have along the way.
Is getting stuck in traffic inconvenient for most people? I would say yes. Is getting stuck in traffic stressful for most people? Not necessarily. It’s all a matter of perception and the pre-disposition to experience stress, both physically and mentally.
I conduct seminars on a number of performance and wellness topics, so the content varies. However, there is one slide that you will find in every seminar that I conduct –
“Your body does not know the difference between physical and mental stress.”
Your body processes physical, mental, perceived or actual stress in the same way. This is why even the most Zen endurance athlete can experience the effects of rampant stress hormones, namely cortisol. The result of this can be inflammation, poor recovery, increased heart rates, lack of adaptation, poor gut health and digestion, susceptibility to illness and poor weight management. Looking after your physical and mental well-being while training for endurance events is critical, but this is often overlooked in the pursuit of performance.
“The only time fitness comes before health is in the dictionary.” – Brett Jones
I’m not going to tell you to stop training – to stop achieving, or to stop being productive – because I wouldn’t listen to that advice either. However, what I will tell you is that you can still respect your superhero self by bringing in
more calm and presence into your life, while simultaneously kicking butt. Don’t worry – I’m not going to tell you to sit cross-legged for one hour while burning incense in a corner. There are simple and effective strategies that we can all implement seamlessly into our lives. The following are ways to bring more calm into your day, all while being your superhero self.
Waking and Morning Rituals
The way in which you wake your body into a new day will set the tone for the hours that proceed that first alarm or eyelid flutter. Do you have an alarm that is loud, harsh and abrupt to ensure you wake up? Is it so startling that it gives you no other option but to jump out of bed and start running from the boogieman? You may have relied on this crazy loud alarm up to this point – it’s time to switch your alarm tone to something more calming, to bring you out of a slumber with a sense of calm and peaceful energy (yes, this is possible even when training for an Ironman). Utilising light is a great way to naturally reset your melatonin levels if you need to rise before the sun does. Check out a great device called ‘the wake-up light’. Once you’re up and about, spend some time cuddling your loved ones, animals or giving back to yourself with a cup of tea and some stretching before hitting the pavement hard for training.
I know time management is a skill that doesn’t always come naturally, but it’s a skill that can be learnt – so, there are no excuses. If you want to train for an endurance event while balancing work, family, a social life and relaxation time, time management needs to be a priority. A well-planned day, week and month will ensure you minimise the tendency to rush and be stressed by lateness. It will provide you with the opportunity for consistent training, which is the key to performance.
What are the keys to good time management?
- Don’t over commit
- Always allow extra time for travel
- If you’re busy and the diary is stacked to the brim, schedule in relaxation and down time
- Communicate your life movements to your coach so they can adjust your program to suit life commitments.
Mindfulness is such a simple concept, and it’s life changing. I’ve worked with athletes where this was the only element in their life and training that we changed. But it resulted in a more positive outlook on life, performance and racing – I also saw changes in their aerobic efficiency and breathing.
You can include mindfulness habits throughout your day or even in training. It’s about drawing y
ourself into the present moment to focus on what is now. What do you feel? What can you sense? What do you smell? What do you notice? If mindfulness training is new to you, I recommend an App called ‘1Giant Mind’. It will help guide you through effective mindfulness practice.
Your breath is the key to aerobic and endurance performance. Again, such a simple tool but it often goes under the radar. Even more than endurance performance, your breath is also the key to unlocking a calm state of mind and body. In a str
essed state, your breathing will become restricted to your upper chest. This type of breathing keeps your body in an alarmed st
ate. All it takes to calm your entire system is some simple deep belly diaphragmatic breaths. This style of breathing during your training will also make you a more efficient endurance athlete. Win-win. Give it a shot by checking in with yourself throughout the day. In the car, at your desk, right now, relax your shoulders, let your belly ‘flop’ out and take a nice calming breath.
To integrate this into your training – start by practising deep breathing during your warm up and cool down when the intensity is lower.
Just like your morning rituals, your nighttime routines will dictate your quality or quantity of sleep, which in turn will affect how you wake up the next morning. Think grumpy athlete versus motivated athlete. Backlit devices such as TVs, iPads and phones will disturb your melatonin levels mainly due to the blue light, which will, in turn, impact your sleep. Switch your screens for books, a light walk or mindfulness activities, or you can even buy blue light blocking glasses to enjoy your favourite TV shows before bed. If it’s necessary to work or study on your computer before bed (try and minimise this with good time management), you can install an application called ‘f.lux’ to reduce the blue light exposure. You can even get light globes more suited for bedrooms to assist with quality sleep.
The simplest thing you can do right now is turn off you Apps, social media and email notifications on your phone and other devices. This constant stimulation is a contributing factor to the stress that our bodies and minds are being harmed by, in this modern world. If it’s truly important – you will check it yourself when it suits you. No excuses. Turn them off, now.
Stop the Rush
Rushing from one task to the next creates an environment for stress hormone production. Plan your time well, say no to things that will stretch you, stop procrastinating on social media, which then means you have to rush around to be on time. Simplify your life and watch your enjoyment and performance skyrocket.
Calming down may seem like a fluffy step to take in the driven and precise world of endurance performance. But time and time again, athletes have shown me that calming down can be the key to unlocking performance gains while achieving a level of life satisfaction and balance – something that is foreign to most people. If you’ve tried to ‘calm down’ I’d love to hear from you. How has ‘calming down’ benefited your performance?