The Importance of Self-Awareness

One of the biggest things that I have learnt this year is the importance of having and acting on good self-awareness, both physical and mental. The mind and body gives us many signals both positive and negative and I have found that the more I listen to these the healthier I am and the better I perform. This is by no means a soft and fluffy approach to my health or training, but more a means to understand how my body is reacting to things; treatments, training, nutrition, etc. By having this understanding I can then make better decisions which result in better performances (diabetes, sport and just general well-being).

So what do I mean by self-awareness? It’s the sensations, feelings and thoughts you have many times a day about how you are feeling and performing. For me these are generally around fatigue and training performance (physical), blood glucose levels (diabetes), gut health (nutrition) and mindset (mental health). I’ll label myself a “competitive male” and as such I have generally taken the approach to push through with the mentality that the harder I push the better the result will be. This is certainly not the case and coincidently generally results in worse results for me. My most recent 70.3 race at Port Macquarie was a good example of this; a very good performance and leading into the race I made a concious effort to listen to what my body were telling me and adjust what I was doing accordingly (rest, recover, eat, etc.). I can attest from this that acting on this self awareness really helped my performance.

PMChart

I’ve found a good correlation between my self awareness, performance and what my Training Peaks data is telling me – best thing to do is listen.

How I apply this self awareness to my daily life is pretty simple, the difficult part is actually being aware of and interpreting what you mind and body are telling you. I have been calibrating how I am feeling with my data on Training Peaks and they align pretty well. When my body is telling me to rest and recovery, training peaks shows high fatigue and low form. It will be individual how you read your mind and body and it will take time for you to understand how best to react. Below I have listed some of the straight forward but very important signals and actions which I take.

Area

Signals

Actions

Fatigue

–    Tired during the day, falling asleep early at night

–    Feeling lethargic

–    Eyes hurting

–    Not alert or switched on during day

–    Allow body to rest, this can be for multiple days in a row to fully re-energise

–    Focus on diet and hydration (drink plenty of water)

–    Do nothing as oppose to active recovery

–    Get a minimum 8hrs sleep per night for several nights in a row (10hrs if possible is even better).

Performance –    Can’t hit session training targets (HR, Power, pace, etc.)

–    Feeling weak during training

–    Prolonged muscle soreness and not recovering as quickly as normal

–    Reduce training volume and stop intensity (try active recovery)

–    Takes a couple of days off completely

–    Get a massage and get on the foam roller/stretch every day

–    Ensure nutrition and hydration are adequate

Gut Health –    Uncomfortable stomach/pain

–    Bloated

–    Irregular trips to the toilet

–    Simplify diet and focus on foods which assist with digestion

–    Don’t over eat

–    Avoid foods which agitate your stomach including high fat, too higher protein, sugary and processed foods

–    Water, water and more water

BGLs –    Individual hypo or High symptoms –    Stay calm and go back to basics, count carbs and test your BGL regularly

–    I focus on being positive and doing things which assist BGL stability including walking, not stressing and eating sensible

Mental Health –    Lost motivation

–    No enjoyment

–    Procrastination

–    Negative mindset (can’t look at the positives)

–    Irritable and rude

–    Stop everything and speak to someone about how you are feeling

–    Assess what you may be stressing about

–    Work on things you can control and influence

–    Don’t worry about things which are not in your control

–    Do activities which energise you, for me this is exercising, relaxing with my girlfriend and walking the dog

–    Focus on single tasks, complete them and then move on

–    Review how you are going, continue to speak with someone and acknowledge when you achieve/do something well

Managing your mental condition is the most challenging of these for a number of reasons and it also may have the greatest performance implications. From recent personal experience this is an area which I have taken a special interest in and I will be writing a piece soon about how I have overcome the mental challenges and depression which I have faced.

It seems straight forward that we should listen to our bodies but it is surprising how difficult this actually is and how often we ignore the signals, ending up in a worse situation. The best performances comes when we are feeling at our best, both physically and mental. Feeling physically fit and strong, healthy and nourished and with a positive mindset shouldn’t be that hard to achieve. Use your mind and body as a guide and you will be able to achieve your goals.

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