Since writing my last lockdown mental training blog post, my well-being has taken a substantial dip. Motivation has been very low because I keep feeling that everything I am doing is pointless. In turn, this means that I don't feel like being productive and producing any content, which makes me feel like everything is even more pointless. This cycle keeps continuing until I simply feel like doing nothing all, and it has really started to affect my feeling of self-worth and my confidence. However, I am also determined to not let this situation get the better of me, and thinking about my own situation made me realize the next topic in the lockdown mental training blog: identity. This feeling of worthlessness is not uncommon in situations like this, and we can look at the sport science concept of athletic identity to learn about our feelings during this period and how we can start to deal with them. However, before we get to that topic, let's do our weekly recap exercise of last week's topic: your inner critic.
If you haven't read the other blog posts in this series, you can find them here:
Last week I talked about your inner critic, and why it is understandable that it might sometimes be your enemy rather than your ally. "You are running on outdated hardware with push notifications that cannot be turned off", was the way I described that inner voice. However, by accepting the constraints of your inner voice, you are able to start working on creating a better relationship with it. In order to do so, you can use the stop-sign exercise. In essence, a thought replacement strategy. In order to reflect on your progress, the obvious and simple questions you should ask yourself are: have I been using this technique? Is the positive phrase working? Am I able to really stop the negative thought? Although these are very important questions, the bigger thing you should focus on is whether your relationship with your inner critic has changed. Good signs for this would be, a more accepting attitude towards negative thoughts or a better understanding of when, why and what your negative thoughts are. This reflection exercise is not as black and white as some of the previous one, but take a moment to really ask yourself those questions, and determine if you have been making progress.
Today, I want to look at the concept of identity and more specifically, what happens when someone cannot express a part of their identity. Identity is a word that is used in many different ways. A quick search for the definition of identity gives your this:
"The characteristics determining who or what a person or thing is"
Although this definition gives us a good idea of what identity is, I think it is missing one vital part, the subjective feeling. In my opinion, identity is not a set of characteristics, but rather a subjective experience about how much each individual part of their life contributes to the total person, expressed in a percentage of their total identity. This may be best described through an example. Let's look at 3 fictional basketball athletes. Each player is completely the same in every single way, they play 2 times a week, compete in the same league and even have the same goals and objectives when it comes to their games. However, each of these basketball players has a different 'basketball identity'. Before the lockdown, the three athletes were asked, what percentage of their total identity they would ascribe to basketball. Player A, Andrew, plays because it is a good way to stay active. He enjoys the act but doesn't miss it when he isn't able to play. He only enjoys playing outside and therefore does not participate in a winter indoor league. He decides that basketball is only 10% of his total identity. Player B, Bart, takes basketball way more seriously. If it was up to him, he would play every day. At night, he reads basketball magazines, he is part of a coaching group and shops online for new shoes and gear regularly. On top of that, he plans a trip to watch a major basketball game every year. When asked about his basketball identity, he answers that 75% of his identity is related to basketball. And finally Player C, Carl. Carl is Andrew's teammate during the summer, they always play together but he places way more value on basketball. His answer is 30%. Three players with similar characteristics, but completely different identities. The goal of this example is to show that identity is a subjective concept, no matter someones, level, time commitment or even financial gain. However, this subjective identity plays a vital role in someones reaction to the loss of that part of their life.
Now let's check in with our basketball athletes during the lockdown. Who do you think will be struggling most with the lack of basketball? I think it is pretty clear that it will be Bart. He is suddenly deprived of the activity that makes up 75% of his total identity. The result is that he looses all motivation, not only for basketball related activities, but for everything. He feels like it all doesn't matter because he can't play anymore. Carl is finding it hard but can cope with not playing and Andrew doesn't really mind at all. Even thought these players are the same in many ways, the influence of the lockdown is completely different for each on of them.
When reading this, you maybe started to recognize some of the points about identity. It is very likely that the lockdown has taken away a part of your identity, and whether it is a big amount like Bart or a small amount like Andrew, without recognizing that it has happened and finding an effective way to deal with that, you might end up feeling empty and demotivated to some extent. Therefore, the next part will give you two exercises to help you deal with the possible loss of identity due to the lockdown.
Percentage of identity exercise.
The first step is to figure out what part of your identity you might have lost. In order to do this, write down a list of things, these might be activities, groups you are a member of, or any other things, that a part of your identity. Take your time and really think about it, maybe revisit it once or twice after you made the first version. The more accurate this list, the better the exercise will work. For instance my list would look something like this.
My identity is comprised of:
Mental Performance Trainer
(Volleyball) competitive athlete
Partner to my partner
Once you have done that (again, take your time, preferably several days), you go to the next part of the exercise. For each of the characteristics you wrote down, determine what percentage of your total identity they are. For me that would like something like this.
My identity is comprised of:
30% Mental Performance Trainer
20% (Volleyball) competitive athlete
10% Partner to my partner
The final part of this exercise is to determine what part of your identity has been affected by the lockdown. So in my case, I am still Dutch and the partner to my partner. I am still able to do some things in my role as mental performance trainer but it is significantly limited. The same applies for my identity as a competitive athlete. Finally, currently my coaching identity is basically non existent. Overall, I think that about 60-65% of identity has been affected by the lockdown, a significant part.
Defining your lockdown identity exercise
By now, you should have a better idea of what your identity is and what part of that identity is affected by the lockdown. The next exercise, is to come up with a plan to define your lockdown identity. Unfortunately, you will have to accept that this new lockdown identity might be different from your normal identity and that it is not ideal, but we will make the best out of this situation. In order to define your lockdown identity, you can do three things:
1. Find ways to act on the affected parts of your identity
The first option is to look at the parts of your identity that are affected and ask: what can I do, to salvage a part of this characteristic. For instance, although I am not able to act on my identity as a competitive volleyball athlete, I can find other activities that allow me to be competitive such as cycling, running, home work-outs (my partner and I do challenges together) or E-sports. That way, I can replace a part of that characteristic with something similar.
2. Find a way to increase the size of the remaining parts.
The second strategy is to increase the importance of the not affected parts of your identity. For instance, I have started to create a lot more online content to try and increase that part of my mental performance trainer characteristic.
3. Find a new or old characteristics
The last strategy is to find something new (or old and forgotten) to pick up and replace the spot of a missing identity piece. Maybe you used to enjoy painting or you have always wanted to start being better at cooking. You can use those type of characteristics to fill your identity. For me, I think I might get back into music again, since it is something that was a major part of my life before, but has been shelved for quite some time now.
Writing this blog was quite difficult for me, since it highlighted the points that are missing from my life right now. This process might be uncomfortable while you are in it, but I strongly believe that it will help you in the long run. Remember that finding your identity will not only have an effect on that part of your life. Having a well defined identity helps finding motivation and determination for every part of your life and therefore it is really important that you do. If you feel like this is too difficult to do on your own, contact me and together we can work on defining your identity.