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Aung La N Sang: Mental skills of athletes and what we can learn, with sports psychologist Edgar Tham

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With the novel SARS-Coronavirus-2 (COVID-19) pandemic disrupting many aspects of life for people around the world, it has major impacts on both physical and mental health of the population. For instance, COVID-19 measures may lead to unhealthy behaviours such as less physical activity, increased screen time and hence a more sedentary lifestyle.

Even elite athletes are not spared. With COVID-19 measures generally restricting operation of sports facilities, it has greatly affected athlete training and virtually halted all formal participation in competitive athletics for an extended duration of time. Research has shown that some elite athletes have the psychological resilience to instead adapt positively to these challenges, and thrive in their environment.

Can we apply the elite athlete’s way of thinking in our daily lives? Edgar Tham, Sports Psychologist from SportPsych Consulting fully agrees. “Sports is a microcosm of life…The mental skills used by elite athletes can also be used by the layperson.”

The power of routines

“The pandemic has caused us to lose control over a lot of things,” Edgar acknowledges, and that it is ideal to gain back this control to your life. 

Aung La N Sang “The Burmese Python”, Former 2-division MMA World Champion has similar advice for the general population when it comes to staying healthy in the current global pandemic situation. He extolled the idea of routines and schedules: “It’s good to have a good schedule…A good sleeping schedule…a good waking up schedule, good exercise schedule.” Providing a structure to busy lives allows you to plan your time around what you can control to fit in habits like exercise that are important to you.

Work with what you have

The gyms may be closed and the parks may be too crowded for comfort, but that does not mean you cannot exercise! You can always work with what you have to stay active and healthy. When it comes to exercise, something is always better than nothing.

“You can jump rope, you can do cardio…maybe a little weights, bodyweight workouts.” As suggested by Aung La, these require little to no equipment for you to get a good sweat in to stay fit.

Motivation and Discipline

When we first formulate a plan to stay healthy, there can be a lot of feelings of excitement and eagerness. However, we can all relate to the feeling when we lack motivation to push through with our plans. 

Aung La is no stranger to the same feelings. “After a hard training week, in those days, you don’t want to go and work out,” What sets him apart is his commitment to the plan and the goals he has set out for himself.

He adds, “I tell myself, you got to go in, you got to work…push myself to get up, get changed, and go to the gym”. While motivation is great to get you started, it truly takes discipline to conquer the inertia and put in consistent effort to lead healthy habits.

Rest and recovery

At the same time, discipline also means knowing when to slow down. “We live in a society where it’s competitive…a society that is stressful…where we have to set goals and accomplish goals.” Edgar acknowledges, “Sometimes as Asians we feel bad about a rest day.”

At the same time, you’re at the risk of running yourself down to the ground. Edgar sees the same for athletes. “You cannot train every day, your body needs rest.”  

You always need time to recharge and refocus in order to perform your best. Take it one day at a time and build sustainable ways to do what is important to you.

“So take the time when you don’t feel like it. Rest!” With a little caveat from Edgar: “Eat a little bit better maybe, but not overeat of course.”

Conclusion

In these unprecedented times, it’s even more important to stay close to our health and fitness goals. In the uncertainties, craft out a daily routine that you can control. Make time for activity in your daily lives, no matter how big or small. If you are feeling unmotivated, and fear or laziness sets in, rely on your discipline to drive you to put your plans to action. However, if you are feeling burnt out, don’t ignore the need to rest and recover. Learn to relax and enjoy a rest day with no guilt. You can always come back rejuvenated and ready for the next step.

At the end of the day, it is about having a realistic and sustainable routine you can stick to in the long run, so you can enjoy the long term health and fitness benefits.

Watch the full exclusive interview with Aung La N Sang and Edgar Tham in the video below:

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