She Speaks with Sarah Huntley

When the world is going through so much change, uncertainty and loss all at the same time due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, we thought it would be poignant to speak to a Sports Psychologist and ask them for the tips and techniques that we can implement to survive or even thrive during this period.   

Our amazing Communications Manager Tina Sharma sat down with Sports Psychologist Sarah Huntley to chat on Instagram Live, and below is a transcript of the best bits of the very engaging and uplifting conversation.

To watch the whole interview, head over to our Facebook page or click here

During this time of “lockdown” during COVID-19, we haven’t seen as much online around mental health compared with physical health – what would you say to that?

Mental health is so key, because it’s really hard to do the physical side of things if you’re not feeling on form mentally, so I think that comes before anything else and comes as a bit of a foundation.

Previously, success might have meant five meetings, two presentations, kids here, go to the fitness class. Now it might mean something different and that’s okay.”

How can we still continue to set goals for ourselves when we don’t know when things might change?

It’s similar to what we do with athletes because we can’t predict what’s going to happen in terms of injury or fitness so you have to be quite flexible.

I’d say to break it down – it’s fine to have big goals that you might have set for next year or in six months’ time but just appreciate that they may have to change and that it’s ok to change.

With goal setting, when we’ve got so much uncertainty, it’s all about those process goals – so what are the things you can do on a day-to-day basis that will get you back to where you want to be?

So it could be time management – if you’re struggling to create a routine for yourself you could write down your schedule for the day as the first thing you do in the morning.

Your goal could be as simple of feeling in control of today.

I think it’s important to move the boundaries a little bit in terms of what success means.

Previously, success might have meant five meetings, two presentations, kids here, go to the fitness class. Now it might mean something different and that’s ok. But try to look for the benefits in that. What are the things you can do now that you couldn’t do before? 

“What are the things you can do now that you couldn’t do before?”

Sarah Huntley

Do you have advice to stay focused when working from home?

With focus – planning is absolutely key and creating your own structure.

For those of us who work for ourselves it’s probably an easier transition than those who are employed full time and are used to working in an office environment and being around people.

Think about your ideal day. Give yourself structure. It might be that you’d like to get out and exercise first thing and that actually helps you concentrate.

I know for me, I definitely need to get outside and get some sunlight in the morning and then the time between 10am and lunch time is my most productive. I switch my notifications off, I don’t take phone calls, I’m just zoned in on what I’m doing.

I also prioritise tasks. With all this uncertainty, it can be quite easy to get overwhelmed thinking you have to be Superwomen and do x, y, and z, but actually if I just get one thing done today, what’s the most important thing I can do? And if I can get that done, that’s ok.

Really stripping it back – what are the necessities in this situation, what do I actually need to do.

And being kind to ourselves as well. None of us have been in this situation before, and it’s going to be a struggle but it’s going to be ok. And if you can cope with this and just learn a few more skills around kind of how to cope with it, then that’s great.

One more thing is that it can be really tempting to think we need to sit down in our homes for six or eight hours a day and be working and productive all that time. But if we break our day down to 90 minute cycles, that’s a really good one.

So after 90 minutes the timer goes off and you get up and maybe have a snack or a drink just to break up your day a little bit.

If you’ve got a partner at home and you’ve got kids, maybe sit down with them and work out the best way to do it together so you guys have got your own time to look after yourself and to make sure you’re still getting what you need as well.

You’re going to be a much better partner or much better parent if you know you’ve got your half hour walk outside or whatever it is. Try not to put yourself at the bottom of the pile and create some time for yourself if you possibly can.

“Smooth seas never made a skilled sailor.”

How do we keep our chin up in the moments when everything feels hard and we want to throw in the towel!

Accepting that that is absolutely normal is key. Feeling that way is how most people have probably felt. Appreciate that it’s hard to have the highs without the lows too but knowing that it will pass.

Emotions are not us. We’re not our emotions. It’s just a feeling. And although you might feel very overwhelmed and stressed out, the next day you’re probably going to feel a bit better again.

There’s a great quote – smooth seas never made a skilled sailor.

So try and interpret this time, although it can feel like a threat, interpret it as a challenge. How can I get through this and get stronger as a result.

But it’s also important to know what works for you. Someone else online might be promoting you need to be up at 5am every morning to watch the sunrise and do some yoga but that might not work for everyone. Try some different things. It might be exercising in the morning, it might be getting out in the afternoon, it might be reading a book, mindfulness and meditation. Whatever it is, just notice what works for you and have those tools in your tool kit for when you are feeling like that.  And step away from it too. Don’t let it get too big. Step away and switch off the computer or whatever it might be and take some time out.

Sarah Huntley

“Performance equals potential minus interference.”

What can we borrow from sports performance psychology to improve work mindset, especially at this challenging time?

There is so much we can learn from sport for the work environment, in terms of performance it’s very similar, they go together really well.

There’s a really great formula I’ve been looking at and will use with my clients – Performance equals potential minus interference.

So what that means is your potential is your ability and your skills and interference is things that might get in the way of you reaching that potential.

So at this time interference could be all those distracting things like watching the news, worrying about weather everyone else is doing social distancing, wondering if there’s any loo roll left in your local supermarket or wondering when this is all going to end! All those things that we can’t control and they are not worth focusing on. It’s worth acknowledging for sure but not worth focusing on.

So that kind of formula can be put into practice if we think about what are the things that are interference for me, what is stopping me focusing? What are the reoccurring thoughts I’m having.

I thought that formula in terms of work mindset could be key. But it also comes down to structure and planning, and when you concentrate best.

“It’s really interesting – we’re all in such a desperate need or want to get back to normal but actually, let’s think about which parts of normal we want to get back to.”

Sarah Huntley

What’s your advice for athletes that we can also apply when we return to “normal”?

It’s really interesting – we’re all in such a desperate need or want to get back to normal but actually let’s think about which parts of normal we want to get back to.  

The time we’ve had is an opportunity to think, ‘what do I want to hang on to?’ So being quite intentional in what you want your life to look like. So perhaps it’s taking the lunch hour and that time outside is now a non-negotiable. Think about “how can I come back stronger, happier and more fulfilled when things get back to “normal”, and what can I do to get me there as well.”?

Is letting go giving up?

No. I think if you let go of something, you’re freeing yourself up for other things that come your way.

If you stick at something and you’re not enjoying it or you’re not getting out of it what you want, then perhaps you’re missing out on other opportunities.

That’s something I work with athletes a lot about in terms of getting to the end of their careers – when is the right time to retire. So is that giving up or is that letting go. And what’s that new thing that’s waiting for them. With young athletes who have trained so hard all the way through school and then suddenly they ask themselves – ‘do I want to do this anymore’? And that’s ok to feel like that and it’s just a process of working through it but knowing either way it’s going to be ok.

Is there a way we can build up our resilience?

First of all let’s all give ourselves a big pat on the back for getting this far.

Our lives have been turned upside down. Our businesses have been turned upside down, our work upside down. Whatever it is. Whether you’ve got kids or have not got kids, working from home or whatever it is, it’s been hard for everyone. But the fact that we’re still here and we are still staying positive is absolutely crucial.

For me, building resilience is all about getting out of my comfort zone. Making my comfort zone bigger and bigger. And trying to do it in small ways. It’s so possible during this time, even agreeing to doing an Instagram Live is something new for me but once you’ve done something it becomes part of your comfort zone.

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