NATALIE BURTON OLY
Amongst all of this change and uncertainty, I have been finding small pockets of joy in such seemingly simple things. Like the joy of having left over birthday cake to eat for a week (does 3 days count as a week?), or the freedom I feel when I escape from the house down to the beach for a quick dip. And most of all, the happiness, calmness, and fulfilment I get from my daily morning ritual.
A couple of years ago, when I was first exposed to the idea of morning rituals, I had a picture in my head of a top-level CEO business guru who gets up at 4am, does a yoga session followed by a 12km run, then sits down with their bulletproof coffee and writes the next best-selling novel, invents a new gadget, starts a new business, conducts all their board meetings, and writes their memoir, all followed by reading a couple of self-help books.
Anyone could be forgiven for not attempting to implement their own morning routine with this picture in mind.
But a morning ritual is not about accomplishing all of your tasks or getting all your jobs done before the sun rises. Rather, it’s about giving yourself this time in your day to look after your own mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing first. This devoted time sets you up to be able to handle the days’ ups and downs with resilience, and maintain your focus to help you complete your various work, tasks, and goals.
My current morning ritual is as follows:
Let’s go over the most important areas of a morning ritual:
1. Incorporating some form of mental stillness practice such as meditation, mindfulness, or even journaling.
With the current upheaval to life as we know it, the temptation to binge on social media and fall down the deep dark spiral of fear inducing doomsday scenarios is all too easy. And you will do it, I did it yesterday myself, and I couldn’t seem to pull myself out of the darkness. I was full of anxiety and I did not achieve the end results I had set for my day.
It took my team sport psychologist to give me a dose of my own medicine and remind me of the importance of staying in the present moment rather than running away into a future full of ‘what ifs’.
Which is exactly the premise behind mindfulness; when we practice mindfulness, we become aware of our thoughts in the present moment rather than replaying the past or imagining and stressing about the future.
Whether you practice your mental stillness in the morning through a guided mindfulness session or by going for a walk to clear your thoughts, not only will your mind get a reprieve from any anxiety you’re experiencing, but it will help you maintain your focus in each present moment throughout your day, instead of being distracted by your emotions and stresses.
2. Another piece of gold I have in my morning ritual is reminding myself of my chosen end results and vision, and setting my desired outcomes for the day. This helps give me a clear guide as to what actions I can take today to get me closer to achieving them.
Some people will have a clear vision, and some won’t. If you would like some help finding yours, please send me a message and I can take you through some exercises and worksheets. The direction this exercise gives you is incredibly powerful and meaningful.
3. I use my morning ritual to start moving early and get a workout in first thing in the morning. It really gives me a buzz when it’s completed, and knowing that my exercise is (mostly) done for the day feels amazing. I say mostly because I used to play this game called basketball and we would have team trainings in the evenings and games on the weekends…except isolation equals no more basketball, or team sport, or just sport in general. Sad face.
4. If you’re really into your food, like me, then take great delight in eating something nutritious and delicious as part of your morning ritual.
When I think about my morning ritual and the breakfast that accompanies that, I get excited for it the night before. But then again I get excited about most things when food is involved. I won’t go into the details of the importance of a nutritious breakfast, I’m not a nutritionist. This routine is about looking after yourself and using the time to do things that bring you joy. If you’re a person who doesn’t care much about what they eat for breakfast, then don’t give it too much thought, and devote your time and decisions to another area of your morning instead. Research suggests our brains are really bad at making decisions in the mornings, so don’t use them all up on something that doesn’t serve you!
A few things to remember:
What not to do:
So much is changing in the world, and it will continue to do so for many months to come. Use this opportunity to try out new things, like a morning ritual, or mindfulness, or journaling. Our lives before were so busy and full of distractions that we used as excuses for not doing the things that we knew would probably help us.
Make the most of this down time, practice self-care, implement some changes, and if they help you then carry them through when things start to pick back up, which they will. This is how you can look after yourself and create the changes that will serve you, and therefore others and our communities in the long run.
The past few weeks have seen the abrupt end to almost all competitive seasons for athletes (apart from you, AFL), for at least the next month. Our dreams, goals, hopes, and even livelihood have all been put on hold as the world navigates unknown pandemic territory. With this postponement comes high levels of uncertainty about when and if we can return to our sport. And for a group of people who are used to working towards clear goals and feeling in control in our daily rigid routines, this period of uncertainty will most likely challenge us mentally and physically.
It is more important than ever that we stay on top of our wellbeing during this time. With the absence of our normal routine, setting up a new one will help you adjust and perform healthy daily habits.
The temptation to sit and watch Netflix all day every day is going to be real, especially in the first few days. But I can guarantee from personal experience of living in a foreign, non-English speaking country, this will get old incredibly fast. And it also feels crappy. Wake up at the same time every day and loosely plan out your workout times, meal times, relaxation times, and productive times.
Don’t have any current studies to keep you occupied? Allow yourself to pursue whatever your intuition guides you to pursue. You don’t have to write the next best-selling book or paint a masterpiece during this abundance of free time. Just embrace your inner child and allow yourself to explore, play and create as you wish.
Here are some recommendations of potential explorations:
If this time has highlighted the fact that you have no plan set up for life after sport, and you’re looking for some direction in your own career development path, please let me know. I am currently completing my Cert IV in Career Counselling and am happy to offer my services to you so that I can get some practice while at the same time helping you out.
Now if I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard someone recommend mindfulness practices to athletes…you know where I’m heading with this. But seriously, if you want to stay on top of your mental health right now, you have to be implementing some form of daily relaxation practice. Mindfulness can be as easy as 10 minutes a day and there are hundreds of apps out there. I will put some recommendations up on my Resources page.
I also encourage you to keep a daily gratitude journal to highlight the good amongst the change.
Motivation to workout may be challenged while separated from your S&C coach and teammates. My teammates actually took the initiative with team spirit at heart and have organised weekly workout sessions over Facetime. One of us will lead the workouts and everyone else will follow in their own back yards, with everyone wearing our team jerseys just to increase the camaraderie a little.
Obviously, it is not only athletes who are experiencing upheaval and change during this time; everyone will be challenged. This is a perfect opportunity for athletes to give back to their communities. Use your social media platform and status to remain a constant presence amongst your network. Promote connection with each other to combat the side-effects of social-isolation and reach your followers through messages of support and inspiration. This is what the internet was made for; connection without proximity. Let’s use it and engage with each other.
I will be using my extra free time to serve my community in any way possible. I’m making myself available to anyone who needs a chat, for whatever reason. Whether you’d like advice on careers, mental wellbeing, hobbies, or just to say hi and listen to my funny jokes, just send me a message and let’s sort something out.
I will also be writing more posts with ideas to stay on top of your mental wellbeing during this period of uncertainty. If you would like more information on something in particular please let me know.
We don’t know what the next few months will hold for us, but we do know things will change. And that’s ok. Use this opportunity to do things you wouldn’t usually do, explore new interests, and think about how we can change our way of life in the future for the betterment of our society and the environment. We need to use our unique skill set which has been naturally sharpened throughout our journeys as athletes. Your leadership skills and knowledge of how to work cohesively in a team will be of great use, along with your hard work ethic and ability to adapt to change. Your resilience will be tested, but your ability to bounce forward will be needed.