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By: Dr Afiniki Akanet, author of Fortitude and Life Without Coffee (Choosing Happiness Over Stress)
Posted on: Jul 31, 2020

3 Lessons We Can All Learn From Olympic Athletes

After the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games were cancelled in March, featured guest blogger Dr. Afiniki Akanet gave thought to the life lessons we could all learn from our sporting heroes.

The Olympics have had to be postponed this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and we can only imagine how difficult this has been for the athletes who were hoping to compete this summer. Yes, the rest of us may have had to postpone holidays, events, meetings and parties, but imagine for a minute what it would feel like to have prepared for years for a competition, only to have your big day postponed?

People who have had weddings or important examinations cancelled or postponed this year will have more of an idea what this feels like. I recently heard young people on the radio talking about their regret for not working hard before their A-level mock exams - the results of which will now be used to provide predicted grades that will affect their chances of going to university. Many professional exams have also been postponed with personal, financial and other implications for the families of these professionals.

After months of methodical preparation for an exam or competition, it can be hard to start again for a new date; but as they say, the only constant in life is change.

Just when people have gotten used to staying at home in lockdown, getting into routines for homeschooling and remote working with offices etc closed, we are now slowly opening things up again while staying alert, and trying to get used to different routines. We could allow ourselves to be crippled by fear or anxiety and stay home forever, or we can face up to the challenges and roll with the punches.

In the last few weeks, my children have had to get used to new routines with school resumption (but not in the way they were used to) and new work patterns for me. There will be seasons of change like this in life as they grow older, so resilience is important to develop.

No one is particularly keen on the discomfort that change brings, but here are a few lessons we can learn from Olympians to help us through these uncertain times.

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Delay is not denial

You might have had to cancel, postpone or give up on certain plans or desires for this year, but it is important to stay hopeful. Just think about the young gymnast who has been preparing for years, and finally qualified to compete for the first time in the Olympics this year. A lifelong dream, which is finally within reach, and then this happens!

For some gold medallists, it was an injury or family crisis months before the Olympics that meant they could no longer compete that year and had to wait another 4 years. If they gave up completely, and never returned, they would not have the medals we celebrate today.

Most big dreams will usually come with challenges which take time to overcome, but I have found that when we think less of the end date, and focus more on actually achieving the goal with integrity - whenever it happens - we are less stressed on the journey and end up achieving more than we imagined.

Keep believing, and do something worthwhile in the meantime.

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Mind over matter

Most of us will be surprised when we hear how much time Olympic athletes put into training to be the best at their sport. Surely, they will have days when they do not feel like getting up at 5am, or practising the same skill for the 100th time in a day, but they do it! If people only did things when they felt like it, most of the NHS staff we celebrate would be off work for half the year.

We all have days when we push ourselves, in spite of how we feel, in order to get the job done. This also applies in lockdown, when people have lost a lot of the motivation they normally have to do things like exercise, reading or work. Missing long periods of exercise or work can lead to obesity and depression, which could lead to low self esteem, painful joints and poverty, causing even more stress and wider issues.

Sometimes, we need to make our bodies listen to our minds tell us what is best for us, and do it - even when we do not initially feel like it. I have found that our ‘feelings’ eventually line up with good sense and we end up being glad we did the right thing, especially after seeing the good results.

It is true that some things are best done when the inspiration or motivation kicks in, but sometimes, we just have to start first. Failing does not make you a loser, but seeing yourself as a failure does. Doing your best everyday, will keep you in good stead for eventualities. I am sure the students who did well for their mock exams last year because of consistent hard work, have less to worry about with cancelled exams this year.

Athletes sometimes have no idea when a potential employer is watching them play, so try to do your best whatever the weather.

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One for all

An admirable quality of Olympians is the fact that they work hard not just for themselves, but for their country, their coach and all the people that believe in them. Every athlete has a team of people cheering him/her on. When they do well, their whole country gets the glory, so they cannot afford to do less than their best.

Even though most of us will never be Olympic athletes, we can still have that mindset that our success is not just for ourselves. Think of what your success will mean for your family, friends and city. There could be one less unemployed graduate, one more business investor, one more doctor, one less addict, one less broken home or one more world-changing invention if you do not give up. You do not have to succeed on your own - it is okay to ask for help if struggling. Just do not be satisfied being the weakest link or contributing nothing to society.

Your success will inspire others, so life is not just about you. Even my six year old daughter has been inspiring several little children to start learning music because of her admirable focus with playing the violin. You never know who is looking up to you, or how your giving up or staying strong might affect others.

You may not hear crowds cheering you on, but know that you doing well, in spite of this pandemic, is a victory for us all.