Traumatic events generally lead to reflection in one’s life. And in the case of Toni Gaddie, who’s a ‘Champion Coach’, her son’s battle with encephalitis brought about a change in her thinking. Gaddie talks about the enormously competitive culture we find ourselves in, and how by focusing on this we tend to forget what’s really important: “I took his health and wellness quite for granted”. If you don’t have your physical and mental health, you have nothing. In the piece below Gaddie offers five tips to putting this above all other successes. – Stuart Lowman
By Toni Gaddie*
A few months ago my son was suffering from constant, excruciating headaches, nausea, dizziness and no energy to walk to the dinner table! A stark contrast from the high energy, high achieving sports fanatic I was familiar with. Watching your child in this state is nothing short of traumatic. In fact you could easily lose your mind from worry over what life-threatening illness it may be. After every test and x-ray in the medical profession, he was eventually diagnosed with viral Encephalitis.
Although with Encephalitis if you stay confined to a few rooms for several months it is not damaging, the length of time and consistency of the symptoms begin to feel relentless, almost infinite. You begin doubting his return back to his normal lively, fun, full of passion personality or if your family life will ever return to the harmony it once was. Fortunately, after missing almost two terms of school he is finally making significant progress back to his normal talkative, vibrant self. However, even when he is totally clear of the virus, for at least a few months we cannot expect the high achieving athlete and scholar he was, prior to contracting the Encephalitis. For a few months post-virus the focus will be on becoming normal life fit, like joining in at family dinners out, visiting friends, attending a full school day. This will be first priority before we can even begin to think about sports-fit.
So why am I sharing this so very personal, not very inspiring story for this month’s mental toughness tip.
Firstly, it has given me as a parent and as a high-performance coach an added dimension to see children and life in general. Secondly, from my experience the youngsters, parents, and coaches I see in my practice, it appears that the culture of life today is about achievement above all else. For me, the enormously competitive culture we are all immersed in currently, is largely contributed to by the technological age and how it has exposed us to the possibilities of success in any area of life. Also, with the internet, we are living in such a tightly interconnected world where, competition is not only local but easily international. The international demands of competition are brought into homes, schools and of course businesses. For people with strong desires and high expectations of success the exposure to international standards can be fantastic. The possibility of making your vision of becoming an international champion in whatever your endeavour, is much greater when you are exposed to leading edge thinkers. Their goals, strategies, training regimes, equipment, culture, environment etc. are freely open to be scrutinized and bettered.
So how is this cutting edge technological, competitive culture in South Africa today related to my son having encephalitis?
Well before he contracted it, I took his health and wellness quite for granted. Although, I have always had a balanced perspective around achievement with the understanding that a happy child can be a high achieving child if the focus is on love, discipline, and happiness first, and then on giving of his best at school and sport. However, post having a child who has a debilitating virus that can last a few months, I have a new found dimension that needs to be first and foremost the emphasis above all other successes you and your children may be striving for. If you or your child is not physically or mentally healthy it is not possible to be high achievers, let alone feel happy. In fact, it goes much deeper, if you have don’t have your physical and mental health, you have nothing! Many of you may becoming irritated with my obviousness of this fact, however, I am sure you like me, do not have physical and mental health at the top of your checklist before making your daily or weekly schedule. Also, you may as a parent be perfectly healthy, however if your child falls badly ill, as a parent, your visions and goals for success pale in comparison to your desire to have your child’s wellness return. In addition, it becomes very difficult to focus on sustaining your dally job never mind excelling it. A child who is ill for an extended period of time disturbs your life and progress as an adult as well as the equilibrium of the rest of the family and its members.
At The Champion Academy we often speak of “whole champions” opposed to less whole champions”. The main difference between the latter two categories is that “whole champions” have the courage to face their vulnerabilities, weaknesses, and they own their weaknesses. This gives them the freedom of growth and the ability to add more dimensions to their journey that can bring out their greatness. So in the spirit of “whole champions”, I have attempted to face the struggle of the last few months and honestly look at how I can learn and grow from it as a parent, as well as a performance psychologist/coach. I have distilled my learning into five points:
Five steps to putting physical and mental health above all other successes:
- TAKE THE PRESSURE OFF: Whether placed on yourself or your children, the desperate need to achieve in order to be” a somebody”, is immensely draining of your physical and mental energy. Negative pressure unduly focused on results crushes potential and causes low performance. You need to affirm: “Giving my best is enough no matter the result!”
- REST: When a human body is tired or sick it is biologically programmed to need a rest in order to recuperate and regenerate health again. Doing any strenuous activity (even a social activity, like a party) during this time compromises your cognitive capacity, joints, muscles and the immune system. It exhausts the reserves your body naturally uses to fight the illness or heal from the trauma. It becomes impossible to give of your best during this time. If you are able to give out very little energy this may be an option, but our pressurising environments don’t generally encourage tuning in to the self. You need to affirm: “Rest is essential for future high performance and the fulfilment of potential. My body and feelings are constantly guiding me.”
- ENJOYING THE MOMENT: When you have the capacity to be totally in the moment no matter where you are at or what you are doing, it is much easier to look for the positive and appreciate the moment for what it is. However, if you are worrying of where you have been or should have done, or stressing about what has to be done or where you should be going, it not only is very difficult to enjoy the moment, it is even more difficult to express your full potential in the moment.Your inability to be in the moment and attend to daily tasks/actions with a running commentary of anxiety about the past and the future, is the number one cause of the most common malady of present day, exhaustion. This philosophy of tuning in to the moment or not applies to your capacity for enjoyment, work, school, and sport. You need to affirm: “I am exactly where I need to be. I look for what I want to see and be in this moment.”
- FEEDING THE BODY: What you feed your body over time becomes what your body grows accustomed to and can determine your physical and psychological health. On a very basic level research demonstrates that lack of calcium can predispose one to bone fractures and lack of omega 3 oils can predispose one to concentration difficulties – both are essential bodily functions necessary for high performance. Generally, with the over exposure to junk foods today our children and ourselves all consume them in excess. The move toward healthier options has become a necessity for both our physical/physiological health and mental health and wellbeing. Affirm: “I feed my body what it needs to build health, strength and wellness.”
- CULTIVATING THE MIND: The seeds of health, peace, joy and success need to be constantly nurtured in order for them to grow into large established trees abundant with resources. One needs to reflect on the habitual seeds of thinking and language you plant in your mind and in those of your significant others every day. Regardless of whether the seed is a positive or negative one, when it is constantly attended to in the mind, with language, and by action, it will always grow. As in the very wise words of author, philosopher and psychologist Dr Joseph Murphy: “As you sow in your subconscious mind, so shall you reap in your body and environment.” Affirm: I feed my mind thought and words that make my-self and others feel good, worthy, and valued.”
As the year is nearing the end and we are all getting ready to rest, relax and celebrate life, I felt it was very appropriate for me to provoke some reflection (and holidays are the perfect time for this) on what is really important in life. I have had the unfortunate experience of having a son with a serious illness, in order to gain the added dimension of what truly is the first and foremost priority for any kind of high performing and successful life.
I am hoping that with a little of putting yourself in my shoes, you too are going to gain this added dimension and continue to place mental and physical wellness highest on your list of priorities, without having to experience personally this challenge, which I have finally come though!
Here’s to an indulgent break and New Year filled with perfect health, harmony, joy, and an abundance of high performance!
* Toni Gaddie is a Clinical and Sports Psychologist. She co-founded The Champion Academy with her sister Rikki Dworcan in 2012.