Have you ever been in a difficult situation at work or home when you just wanted to shut your eyes and go to your happy place? In my previous job I used to joke with my colleagues about needing to go to the locker room to shut my eyes and go to my happy place.
I wasn’t really joking, in fact going to my happy place has been a practice of mine for many years.
Eyelids, earphones and imagination provide a fast track to a happy place, an imaginary space that you create in your mind in order to keep calm and relatively sane.
My Grandmother, who lived to be almost 100 years old, taught me a lot about mind space. Existing almost entirely on a diet of coffee, chocolates, ice cream and imagination, a conversation with Nan would be a journey into our shared past or her imaginings of where she may have been in the time since she had last seen me.
Physically she had never left the nursing home but in her mind she had taken off on an adventure, where sometimes she would tell me that I had gone with her and what a wonderful time we usually had.
In between dozing off to sleep and sitting around looking at other people dozing off Nan had somehow found a space where she was free to think and do what she wanted even if her body could no longer accompany her. She had gone to her happy place and chose to take with her whomever she wanted.
Like my grandmother, I too have always been an avid daydreamer. Long before my cycling career had begun I could often be found sitting quietly somewhere in the house or backyard dreaming up adventures.
This practice served me well for when my cycling career started to take off and I began the process of daydreaming about perfect performance with the view that if I could imagine it, then it could be done.
Skiers most notably practice perfect performance visualisations immediately before they hurtle down the mountain. With their eyes closed they do a mental run through of the course to warm the mind and then they open their eyes and do the real thing.
I have always been fascinated by both the ability to create this illusionary space and what we choose to do with it once it is created. When I first started training hard it soon became apparent that it was not only my body that needed to be trained but also my mind. I needed to quieten down that chatterbox that told me to just sleep in or slow down or perhaps eat that chocolate bar.
As most athletes will tell you, convincing yourself that you can do something is half of the battle and so in the early hours of the morning before going out for a training session I would spend a few moments lying in bed thinking about the session ahead.
The lazy chatterbox in my subconscious would then try to convince me to stay in bed and most mornings I would outsmart it by imagining that I had already been out training for the day and that it was now night and time for sleep. I spent a few moments enjoying that feeling of relief that the pain of the training session was over and then I would plan how I would improve on my next training session, which of course was imminent. The imagined knowledge that I had completed a brutal training session and the physical truth of feeling physically fresh combined to convince me that I was capable of training even harder. In effect I truly began to believe that whatever the session threw at me I could handle it and just like a self-fulfilling prophecy when all was said and done, I could handle it, just as long as I first believed that I could.
Mind games and discipline are just part of the normal taking care of business of being an athlete where finding new ways to get the best out of your body is the focus. When you stop racing there’s a period of relief from the rigid schedule of training and racing. However as you allow yourself to do all of the things that you denied yourself during your athletic career eventually the mind starts to soften in accordance with the body and you wake up one day and realise that a bit of focus and discipline may just be what you need.
After one such extended period of inactivity and non-focus, lately I’ve rediscovered my happy place. This imagining, of course, does not entirely substitute for the doing, and spending time dreaming of greatness and then leaving those dreams un-actioned is as if the dream never existed. The imagining is the precursor for doing and together they can transform an imagined happy place into a new happy reality.
Don’t worry about the danger Will Robinson, being Lost in Space is sometimes the most productive place to be.
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