Let me begin with a question: What does the COVID-19 crisis have in common with a ski race? At first blush, you would probably say, “Absolutely nothing!” I mean, really, the current pandemic has created crises of health and financial markets that are disrupting the lives of almost everyone on our planet. People the world over are getting sick and dying, global economies are facing a recession, and the financial futures of many people are at risk.
Now, compare the COVID-19 crisis that ski racing. It’s just a sport. More than half of our country—and most of the world—couldn’t care less about it. Though ski racing has its share of injuries, deaths are rare. And, yes, our sport is expensive, but it probably hasn’t caused anyone financial ruin.
So, how can I say that the COVID-19 crisis can be used to ski faster next season? Let me explain.
Ski racing does have its challenges (as I noted in a previous blog post, ski racing is one brutal sport). It tests your motivation, confidence, focus, and emotions. Other challenges include being unfamiliar (a new race hill), unpredictable (S&%# happens in ski racing), uncertain (no guarantees), ambiguous (no clear path to success), uncomfortable (cold weather, pressure of big races), and uncontrollable (snow conditions, weather, terrain, course). Ski racing elicits a wide range of unpleasant emotions including disappointment, frustration, fear, and anger. You add all of these above challenges up and you get one very stressful activity.
Now, let’s swap out “ski racing” with “COVID-19” in the above paragraph and it all fits in nicely with one exception. Whatever ski racers experience, the COVID-19 crisis is many multiples more severe and challenging. But, at the heart of both is significant adversity and therein lies an incredible opportunity for every ski racer (as well as every coach and parent) to use the current crisis to become mentally stronger in their ski racing.
Another thing that these two experiences have in common is that the challenges that they present are mostly the same for everyone. Yes, in ski racing, racers with high start numbers will face more significant challenges and, with the COVID-19 crisis, the elderly and the immune compromised are confronted with more grave consequences than those who are young and healthy.
Given that the conditions of ski racing and the COVID-19 crisis are similar for most everyone, it’s not the objective reality of the adversity that matters. Instead, what matters is how we interpret and respond to the challenges. And it is your attitude toward and response to the COVID-19 crisis that can either make or break your experience of it. Gosh, if you can respond positively to this current emergency, something as relatively minor as a ski race should be a walk in the park come next winter.
So, what lessons can you learn from the COVID-19 crisis that will serve you well when you race again next winter?
Embrace the adversity
Whether we like it or not, the COVID-19 crisis here for a while. However much we may “rage against the machine,” we have no control over it and it’s not going away anytime soon. So, what matters is how we choose to respond to it.
We have three options. We can love it. But, let’s be realistic, there’s nothing to love about our current situation. We can hate it. But that will simply add salt to the wound, making our experience of what is already a real hassle even more unpleasant.
The final, and most realistic, option is simply to embrace the COVID-19 crisis as something that we can turn into a positive (at least to some degree) experience. By accepting and embracing the COVID-19 crisis, you choose to take the “fork in the road” that will feel much better and also create some benefit out of this decidedly unsettling situation; in other words, turn lemons into lemonade.
See the COVID-19 crisis as a challenge
One of the most difficult aspects of the current crisis is that, because it is truly a danger to us both in terms of our health and our wealth, it triggers our primitive survival instinct and its related fight-or-flight reaction. In other words, we go into threat mode in which the aforementioned primordial instincts cause us to protect ourselves. This real threat to our survival hopefully motivates us to take steps to mitigate the risks to our lives, for example, self-quarantining or maintaining social distancing. At the same time, our survival instinct can also prevent us from gaining the benefits that COVID-19 is offering.
So, in addition to responding appropriately to the threat of COVID-19, I encourage you to also see it as a challenge to be faced head-on and in the most positive way possible. Along with accepting and embracing adversity, viewing COVID-19 as a challenge reorients your thinking, emotions, and actions in a more constructive direction which will make your journey through the crisis a bit more palatable.
Have a positive attitude
When bad things, such as the COVID-19 crisis, happen, it’s easy to have a pity party (“Woe is me!”) and dwell on everything that is now missing in our lives or that we have lost (in some cases, for good). But getting pulled to the “dark side” (get the Star Wars reference) simply adds insult (you feel terrible) to the injury that has already been caused (e.g., disruption of life, diminishing investment portfolio).
By accepting and embracing the adversity that is presented to you by the COVID-19 crisis and seeing it as a challenge to overcome, it lays the foundation for a positive attitude and approach to it that will help you weather the storm that there is little protection from.
Because there is so much bad news these days related to COVID-19, it’s easy to forget that, in the big picture, there is much to appreciate in our lives. First, hopefully, you and your family and friends have been spared the Coronavirus or, if you have contracted it, the symptoms are relatively minor. Second, all this time at home has provided the opportunity get closer as a family. Third, the “Shelter in Place” that has been formally mandated by your city, county, or state or voluntarily embraced for the social good has given you the opportunity to step away from the “rat race,” slow down a bit, create more time for yourself, and just simplify your life and that of your family.
A practice that we have instituted in our family is that, at dinner time, we each share one person, thing, or experience that we are grateful for and one good thing that has happened each day. Surprisingly, both myself, my wife, and my two daughters find plenty to feel gratitude for in the midst of this major disruption in our lives.
Reignite your motivation
A natural reaction to threat mode and its mobilization of our defenses is to want to withdraw from the world, curl up in bed, watch movies, and eat ice cream all day. This response also adds insult to injury because not only are you suffering the effects of the COVID-19 crisis, but you also feel like a lazy schlub for doing nothing.
One of the best “medicines” for dealing with a crisis is to take action, any action. It can be related to school, work, hobbies, or, in our case, ski racing. Instead of hanging around feeling sorry for yourself, make and then take action on a plan to make yourself a better ski racer. Recommit to an intensive physical conditioning program, learn new ways to tune your skis, read up on how you can eat better, or anything else that will help you prepare for next season.
Master your stress
The COVID-19 crisis is stressful for everyone because of the huge disruption that it has produced in our lives. The stress is caused by the change in our daily routines, concern about the risks to our health, worry about the financial impact on our lives, and much more What makes the stress worse is that there are fewer outlets for relieving the stress such as going out to dinner, seeing a movie, attending a concert, or even getting outside as much as we would like.
Yet, especially during these difficult times, it is essential for your physical and mental health and well-being to actively manage your daily stress. Here are a few suggestions for how you can relieve your stress:
- Do yoga
- Play games
- Watch TV or movies (but not too much)
- Read a book
- Reach out to family and friends through Skype, FaceTime, etc.
- Eat well
- Get enough sleep
- Do anything that is fun
Focus on what you can control
The COVID-19 crisis has shown us how something that is almost entirely out of our control can cause such disruption and distress in our lives. This loss of control is a major source of stress because we feel helpless to do anything about it. At the same time, one of the most potent antidotes to feeling out of control is to regain control as much as possible with the virus itself and in our lives in general.
There is actually quite a bit we can do to take control of exposure to COVID-19. We can follow the guidelines offered by the government and medical community including self-quarantining, social distancing, washing our hands regularly, and not touching our face with our hands. In doing so, we directly reduce the chances of contracting the virus.
Separate from COVID-19, we can claim control of our lives by doing our schoolwork and job well, exercising, taking care of ourselves, helping others through the crisis, and many other things within our control.
Generate positive emotions
One of the most unpleasant aspects of the COVID-19 crisis is the plethora of negative emotions it elicits in us. Sadness, fear, frustration, anger, discouragement, disappointment, annoyance, loneliness, and despair are just some of the objectionable emotions that you likely experience every day to varying degrees.
One of the best protections against being overwhelmed by such negativity is to actively generate positive emotions in your life. Let’s be honest. It’s difficult to find positive emotions in the miasma of pessimism that the COVID-19 crisis can produce in us. Yet, there are many to be had if you just look closely enough. In your family, with your friends, in your commitment to your schoolwork, and continuing efforts to be the best ski racer you can, despite this substantial interruption, all are ripe for harvesting good feelings that you can use to counteract the bad feelings that we are vulnerable to every day of this crisis.
I encourage you to seek out love, caring, and empathy from your family and friends. Find fun, joy, excitement, and contentment in your daily activities. And, finally, experience inspiration as in your efforts and pride in your progress and accomplishments as you continue to strive toward your ski racing and life goals.
By taking full advantage of my advice, you are, almost without realizing it, becoming more capable of handling the challenges that any form of adversity presents to you. In becoming more adept in your responses to crises, both big and small, you are better preparing yourself to not only manage, but, even more so, master the much smaller and less significant challenges you will face as you slide into the starting gate of races next season. In fact, when you race next winter, you’ll say to yourself, “A ski race is nothing compared to COVID-19. If I can handle that crisis, I can handle anything. So bring it on because I’m ready to rock it!”
Want to learn more about how to respond to the COVID-19 crisis in healthy and constructive ways? Read Dr. Jim Taylor’s new book, How to Survive and Thrive When Bad Things Happen: 9 Steps to Cultivating an Opportunity Mindset in a Crisis, or listen to his podcast, Crisis to Opportunity (or find it on Stitcher, Spotify, iTunes, or Google).