Suffering = Pain x Resistance

I find the idea illustrated in the above equation really useful to remember at times. We were on training camp in Windhoek, Namibia, in January. The outside temperature was 36 degrees, the humidity in the room was almost 75% and we were 1,600m above sea level. I was part of the way through a long ergo session, and it was already the third session of the day. I was finding the going tough; every stroke I had to resist the urge to rest the ergo handle on my knees, there was a lake of sweat under my ergo, and I had already finished my water. But, there was no way I was going to stop, no one stops, never. The hardest part, though, was mentally knowing tomorrow we would be going again, another full day of cycling, erging and weights, and the same the following day, and so on, till the end of camp.

There are times when you wish the coaches would say you can take it easy, the sessions are cancelled for the rest of the week, and we’re all going on an all expenses paid holiday to Ibiza!  But, deep down, you know however hard it is, you wouldn’t rather be anywhere else. That for me is what is encapsulated in the above equation; suffering is part and parcel of trying to better yourself, but the pain you feel is only amplified and multiplied by the resistance you put in the way of the process you have committed yourself to.

Right now we are in the middle of Olympic Selection. It is a long and very tough process. There are only a set number of Olympic seats for the Great Britain 2020 Olympic team and we have an immensely talented, strong and gifted team – I dare say more talent than can represent our country at the Games this summer. The process has to be thorough and reflective of the aim to build the best rowing team in the world. We go through a formal trials process, but in reality, selection is happening all the time; the coaches observing our performances on key dates, but also from day to day, session by session. I don’t know what the right ingredient is that the coaches are looking for. I have no idea of how this season will pan out, or whether I will be in a boat or not, no one in the team does. But I do know that remembering the equation helps me to keep in check what I can and what I can’t control.

I’ve read that the key trait in understanding mental toughness is how you process an event; do you see it as either a challenge or a threat. Indeed, there is some research to suggest that this is more than just a “mental state”, but corresponds to different physiological profiles. The more you internalise something as a threat, the more you add resistance, and the more profound the ultimate suffering. Ultimately, what can you control?: The process and the delivery. The more you can take ownership over the process and your delivery, the less resistance you put in the way of performance, the less you suffer, and the more you internalise an event as an opportunity, and ultimately, as a challenge.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstances.” – Victor Frankl