An Athlete’s Method for Navigating Tough Times


By Chris Carmichael,
CEO and Head Coach of CTS

The past few weeks have been surreal, and anyone who professes to know exactly what will happen over the next few weeks is either a fool or a liar. As a coach, I have spent my career preparing athletes to find a way to win in situations where the odds were against them and many things were out of their control. In endurance sports there are almost always more factors working against you than in your favor. Putting yourself in a position to win is always an uphill battle, throughout training and competition, and I have found that the tougher the circumstances, the more important it is for an athlete to seek and recognize a high point for each day. With the tough public health and economic challenges ahead, it’s time to apply the “daily high point” strategy to everyday life.

Positivity goes against our nature

Humans are wired to emphasize the negative. Four of Paul Ekman’s Six Basic Emotions (anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, surprise) are negative (potentially five, depending on how you interpret ‘surprise’). We are very good at seeing downsides and threats and not as quick to see upsides and opportunities. They are likely the consequences of surviving for millennia in a threatening environment, and in many ways they are traits that have served us well. They also mean a positive outlook has to be cultivated and nurtured; it’s an active process.

When things are going your way it’s easy to sustain a positive outlook, but it’s most important to nurture positivity when the going gets tough. I frequently remind my coaches that their most important work is done when athletes are at their lowest points. It’s fun to be there for the wins and the tailwinds, but it more important to be there during the dark times to guide athletes toward the light.

In a time when you are potentially facing existential crises, personally and professionally, your outlook can get dark pretty quick. That’s why it is essential to proactively nurture positivity on a daily basis.

Invest in Authentic Positivity

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am not a ‘rah rah’ cheerleader. I work to inspire and motivate people to achieve their best performances, and empty affirmations don’t cut it. The visualizations, mantras, and routines you turn to need to be specific to you and have a personal impact for you.

Over the years I have learned that to nurture positivity I can’t just repeat a positive phrase, I need to find and acknowledge one good thing every day. Of course, I don’t limit it to one good thing and it’s better if there are many good things to acknowledge – but then again, that’s would definition of “the good times”.

During the toughest of times, when it is so easy to dwell on the negative, finding one good thing can sometimes be a challenge. But it’s the act of turning toward the positive that’s important, not the magnitude of the thing itself.

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I remember when I started CTS and there was so much to do and so many barriers and challenges to overcome. And as an entrepreneur, I’ve now stared down the barrel of two recessions and overcome additional obstacles to reach our 20th Anniversary. During the toughest periods, finding at least one positive thing in my day – my daily high point – gave me perspective and prevented me from allowing negativity to determine my path.

Let positivity lead the way

With all the negative news and ominous predictions right now, it is important you’re relying on the positive aspects of your life for navigation. When negativity determines your route, the destination is nowhere you want to go. Look to those daily high points as beacons you can use to find your bearings and keep moving forward instead of getting lost in the dark.

To show you that when you look for them, daily high points are easy to find and don’t necessarily need to be profound, one of mine this week was running across a super cute pony pulling a lady in her cart. I was on a gravel ride south of Colorado Springs, but despite being on my bike on a warm sunny day, my brain was still spinning about all the challenges ahead. The pony-drawn cart was different enough to snap me out of it and make me smile, which then helped me pause to notice and appreciate how beautiful the day was and how fortunate I was to be able to enjoy it. The problems didn’t disappear, but they were no longer all I could see and they were no longer leading the way.

What was your high point for yesterday? And what will your high point be for today?

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Comments 4

  1. High point yesterday was getting all of my items on my to do list completed and getting in a surprise ride on zwift that I did not plan on doing. Came in 13th out of 48 with an average wattage of 186 which is high for me. the race was short and sweet.

  2. Thank you Chris

    I just had a friend ask me where to get your Max Power DVD so your timing is incredible. I resurrected your DVDs this winter (I own about 7), and opted out of the virtual workouts I have been doing for the past 3 winters. Thanks for all you do. Thanks for your advice. Now I gotta watch the Sienfeld Pony episode.

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