Just as you need to be physically fit to power a PB, you have to work on your emotional fitness also. Here’s how to makeover your mindset.
Surely, if you’re aiming to execute peak performance you must simply exercise your body harder? Not necessarily. The secret of being able to perform at your best may lie in your emotional education. Emotional fitness is an increasingly popular term that’s being used to describe having positive mental health, and experts say it could help exercise fans get stronger, fitter and faster. ‘It’s about having the emotional skills to perform at your best despite the daily stresses and strains you may be under,’ says Dr Fran Longstaff, head of psychology at Fika, an emotional education app tool for students (fika.community). ‘If you think of stress as adding weight on a bridge, there’s only so much that you can take, so you must get in tune with yourself to work on doing better.’
While we often talk about how exercise can produce positive feelings, we rarely discuss how negative emotions impact peak performance. ‘The sports environment can be one in which it might not be acceptable to say you’re hurting or that you’re struggling, so taking the time to reflect on what is and isn’t good for you is important,’ adds Dr Longstaff, ‘And typically, the way in which we realise that emotions are out of sync is if performance drops.’ Indeed, that’s the trigger for noticing something is awry, but there may also be psychological hints that precede burnout. Dr Longstaff points to withdrawing effort when training, or experiencing apathy in relation to your chosen activity, as warning signs that your emotions might be out of whack.
Positive Mental Health
What can you do to avoid emotional burnout before it happens? The trick is to build emotional fitness. ‘Focus, confidence, positivity, motivation, meaning, stress management and an ability to develop connections are the seven skills that usually protect against mental health issues, and are also predicted for flourishing,’ says Dr Longstaff. Indeed, in a recent study, researchers asked students to use the Fika app (which provides regular five-minute emotional workouts designed to build resilience, focus, confidence, empathy and active listening skills among students three times a week for six weeks. Results show there was a rise in self-confidence, self-efficacy and life satisfaction, and a big drop in negative emotions.
‘If you look at those variables, they’re the things that might change before something big happens,’ explains Dr Longstaff. ‘So, if your life satisfaction is low, you might not be performing as well in other aspects of your life emotional fitness is hugely important for performance.’ And if it works for students, it might work for other areas in which we want to perform as well. ‘We work on the principle that if we get those seven skills in people repeatedly, they’ll be mentally healthier and more likely to perform better,’ says Dr Longstaff. ‘In terms of athleticism, it’s important to make sure you’ve got that emotional platform there, so you can go out and do your best.’
Your Emotional Fitness Plan
Though achieving good emotional fitness results from mastering the seven skills, there are a few key practices that you can put into place today. Follow this three-part plan to getting emotionally fit.
1 Practise Gratitude
Make space two to three times each week to focus on what you’re grateful for. As human beings, we tend to focus on things that aren’t going right that has always been key to our survival but noticing the good can produce positive emotions. What are you most grateful for?
2 Reflect On Success
Savour your achievements. Athletes can get so bogged down with what they want to achieve next they forget to look back on what they’ve already succeeded at. It’s important to reflect on your successes as this can provide a huge confidence boost for what you want to do next.
3 Build Connections
Do something kind for someone else each week. Emotions are contagious, so you can pass them on and feel good as a result. Studies show performing a kind act can make the giver feel great. This works for sports teams in which one member does a kind act for another it lays the foundations for a cohesive, confident team.