Back to Basics: Nitty-Gritty Suggestions on Managing Emotional Content

After last week’s dense post on the psychology of body image and the media, it’s time to bring things down a notch and get back to some basics.  This week, I’m offering some practical suggestions to make positive change in your life—in your training and in your pursuits outside of sport.  These are not rocket science—I’m simply distilling various suggestions into different categories that might be helpful.  These lists are far from comprehensive and are presented in no particular order.  I chose the content randomly and will do these from time to time for different categories if the feedback is positive. Today’s post tackles burnout, optimizing performance when anxious, managing yourself when triggered, and dealing with body image issues.

*Combating boredom or burnout in your training:

1. Make two lists. One list of reasons you started training for your sport and why you like it.  One list of reasons you’re feeling burnout or tired. If the former is far shorter and less inspired than the latter, it may be time to take a break or switch things up.

2.  Cherry pick your workouts.  We sometimes get so caught up in a workout routine or specialized programming (CrossFit athletes in particular), that we force ourselves to endure, even when we have absolutely no desire to do so.  If you’re on the verge of burnout, it’s a great time to avoid movements you hate or combinations that make you feel incompetent.  If you’re doing your sport for professional purposes, of course this option may not be available to you, but if you’re doing it for enjoyment and to be more fit, I say do what is fun and feels good to you!

3.  Mix things up. Incorporate other activities into your routine so you don’t feel so regimented.

4. Get outside. There’s nothing like working out with fresh air and nature.

5.  Talk to a coach.

6.  Enlist a new friend or training partner for your training sessions.

7. Track your sleep patterns.  Sleep deprivation or simply inadequate rest can wreak havoc on our mental game as well as our physical capacities.

8. Check in with yourself about other aspects of your life to be sure you’re not depressed.  If you feel you might be, reach out to a therapist for help.

*Optimizing your performance when stakes are highest:

1. Practice regular deep breathing exercises so you have a way of calming yourself down when you are anxious. 2. Engage in progressive muscle relaxation daily.

3. Practice visualization at least once each day.  If you know you have a particularly important presentation or competition on the horizon, increase the frequency of your visualizing.  Read here (  about how to capitalize on the post-workout high to aid the effectiveness of your visualizing.

4. Practice in front of an audience.

5. Educate yourself about the effects of adrenaline in your system, so you have a cognitive understanding of this powerful physiological force.  This way, when you’re feeling these hormonal effects in the heat of the moment, you can talk to yourself about why your body is doing what its doing and how you can actually perform better because of it.

6. Create a soothing mantra for yourself to repeat over and over while you’re waiting to perform or compete.  As soon as you start feeling anxious, stop those thoughts by repeating your mantra (e.g., “I’ve got this. I’ve got this.”).  The content of the mantra is less critical than its function as a block to the freight train of negative self talk that so easily arrives when we are anxious.

7. Take a few minutes after the event to jot down what went well and what didn’t.  Note which strategies were most helpful to you so you know for next time.

8. If you are frequently anxious to the point of compromise in your work or sport pursuits, it may be time to consult a psychologist.

*Managing your psychological system to avoid responding to triggers.

As I wrote about in my recent article on triggers, we all have our emotional buttons.  The idea is to gain control over the extent to which their being pushed leads us to act in ways we’d rather not.

1. Make a list of the top ten things that bother you (we all have a few go-to things that irritate us in relationships with others or out in the world. E.g., being annoyed when someone cuts us off on the road or getting angry when our comments on our appearance).  Think about what the items on your list share in common (e.g., anger when you feel inadequate; irritability when you don’t get what you feel you deserve).

2. Consider the roots of your top ten items. (E.g., your dad was always late so you now you get triggered when your boss is late).  Sometimes acknowledging the underlying reasons for our triggers removes their power.

3. Commit to postponing your emotional response when triggered.  Take some deep breaths in the moment, jot down a word or two about what happened, and take some time to reflect on the interaction or scenario later that day.

4. Seek help via therapy if you are a walking, talking trigger waiting to be pushed.  There’s a good chance you have some powerful emotional content itching to be heard and understood.

*Dealing with an all-consuming hatred of your body or significant body image issues (first read this so you understand where I’m coming from).

1. Identify how long you’ve had this burning issue and when it started.  Discovering your history with it is important.

2. Make a list of things that tend to contribute to your negative thoughts about your body (e.g., going to a party, dressing for workouts, interactions with your mother, fights with your boyfriend, reading fashion magazines).

3. Create a routine that will serve as a strategy for when your body issues bubble up and you need to get out of the house.  For example, you might have three back-up, go-to outfits ready to go if your thing is having trouble finding something to wear.  If you have a favorite pair of black leggings, buy two more, so you know there will always be one ready.

4. Do some investigative journaling: For example, if your thing is eating a box of cereal when you feel fat, commit to writing down your thoughts as you eat.  It’s enlightening to determine what happens when you try to soothe yourself with food.  Also commit to writing down what triggers you to obsess about your body.  If you are constantly triggered by a certain scenario or relational pattern, it’s worth understanding more about why, so you can begin to move on without the effects on your body image.

5. Engage in the power of positive thinking:  every day for one month, write down one thing about your appearance that you LIKE.  (Thanks, Lisbeth Darsh).  Force yourself to come up with something different each day.  When you’re struggling, examine yourself with the same intensity you do when you’re finding faults: it may surprise you how detailed and critical you can be when examining yourself for faults if you try to use that same level of scrutiny to find the positives.  See my article on positive (or at least realistic and empathic) self-talk here.

6. Think about how you think your life would be different if you had a different body.  Be realistic here.

7.  Write down ten ways you’d be happier if you didn’t struggle with your body image.  Convince yourself how worthwhile it would be to free yourself from this struggle.

8. Consider the ways your history has led to your current struggles (e.g., the obvious critical parent scenario or the less obvious fear of putting your best foot forward that makes you stay heavier and feel invisible).

9. Seek help via therapy if you’ve struggled with your body image issues for over a year.  You’re worth it!

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