What performance psychology can tell us about COVID lockdowns

Our psychologist, Alan Hely, has extensive expertise in the area of performance psychology. Below he offers a performance psychology perspective on the challenges we face during COVID lockdowns, and another perspective from which to view these challenging times.

1. Finding motivation from those who did it tough before us

Many people, present and past, have faced immense challenge. Although it is important to acknowledge our own emotions and difficulties at present, it can also be useful to turn our mind to those who face all sorts of other challenges – soldiers in war, marathon runners, mountain climbers, survivors of catastrophes like the recent bushfires. How did your hero’s do it when they persevered though the toughest conditions? From this perspective, our challenge may seem less insurmountable. We may experience a shared sense of humanity, and sense that we are not alone. Challenging times have come before us, and they will come again in the future, but the human spirit is a pretty remarkable thing.

2. You are building new skills every day

Adversity requires our mind and body to adapt. Although we didn’t choose this situation, living in lockdown and facing daily restrictions requires us to become flexible and, in the process, to build a whole new set of skills which will help make us stronger into the future. In a lockdown, we are required to develop determination, frustration tolerance, self-discipline, self-motivation and emotion regulation strategies. Our relationships are also tested, and we learn new ways of relating to our partners, children, friends and work colleagues. It is trial and error, but our skill set is growing.

3. Practice resilience and rebound

Research shows that resilient people tend to develop a mindset that enables them to remain motivated and accepting of their reality.

Resilient people tend to create a mindset which includes a rational assessment of the situation without self-blame and an acceptance that although this is an unfair and distressing circumstance, they will get through it. They do this through consistent attempts to solve the problem and survive, so that over time they rebound much faster.

Resilient people accept that pain, heartache and distress accompany life’s setbacks and they continue to persevere.

A wonderful summary of this mindset is encapsulated in an old Japanese martial arts saying: “Fall down seven, stand up eight”.

4. You can harness the flow state by building your own performance zone

World class athletes practice their performance mindset so frequently they can switch on “Flow” when they compete. Flow is an altered state of consciousness with intense concentration and focus on only the most relevant activities in the sports task. Everything else is blocked out and they enter a zone of perfect performance.

Flow has also been shown to exist in work, art, and artistic performance. You too can develop a personal performance zone during lockdown by deliberately focusing on the most relevant aspects of the work or home activity you are engaging in. With deliberate practice of this activity you can develop a personal zone which is pleasant, productive and achieves goals.

5. Develop your Motivational Goals

Our Olympic athletes are competing at the world’s top level, but only after years of dedicated effort frequently requiring sacrifice, pain, setbacks and the anxiety of not knowing if they would even be selected for the Australian team.

Why did they do it? They all had a goal, an image, a desire and a purpose.

Develop your own goals for the person you wish to be at the end of lockdown.

6. Share the pain

Research shows that sharing pain in the same circumstances actually reduces the intensity of pain that each person feels. Is there someone you can assist in these difficult circumstances by contacting them and being available if they need a chat or moment to share some distress?

7. Finally, Accept what you can’t control

Focus on your own performance and accept you cannot control the government, other people, that pesky little virus or world events. Maybe watch less news and work towards the “New you” that is going to emerge after lockdown.

Take a photo – you’re living in an historical moment! 😊