3 Life Lessons from the Olympic Athletes

The Olympics are here! Have you been watching? I’ve watched some: snow boarding, a little of the sking, and my favorite, figure skating.

Life Lessons from Olympic Athletes

Image by PublicDomainPictures (2013) via Pixabay, CCO Public Domain

I am always amazed at the level of talent and effort put in by the Olympic athletes, and all serious athletes, really. There’s a reason St. Paul often used the analogy of athletes for the spiritual life. They are a great example of what we need to succeed in the spiritual life and in life in general. Here’s three of them:

Lesson One: Consistency

Serious athletes, like those participating in the Olympics, practice rigorously, on an ongoing basis. They set up a schedule and follow through. If they are serious about getting a medal, they are going to practice almost everyday without fail – often several hours a day. They don’t flip-flop, procrastinate or take days off because they feel like it.

If we are going to be successful in our spiritual life, personal life, or even our business life, we must be consistent. We must take steps going forward, no matter how little those steps are. And I have to admit, I struggle with that. I’ll go a week or month where I’ll pray everyday and make it to daily Mass and then I’ll have an “off” day and I won’t take the time to pray or make it to Mass. Then I miss the next day and the next day. Then before I realize it, I haven’t said my rosary in 4 days.

 Take time to reflect:  How consistent are you?

Lesson Two: Perseverance

One of my favorite things about watching the Olympics is hearing about the background stories of many of the athletes. So many of them have had difficulties and obstacles to overcome just to practice and succeed in their particular sports. Sometimes they fall and they fail but they pick themselves back up again. Whether it’s financial difficulties, injuries, failing, or opposition from other people, these athletes have gone against the odds and conquered.

If we are going to succeed in our spiritual lives, we will need to persevere. Times are hard. We all struggle. Some people struggle more than others but we all have our crosses to bear. Therefore it is important that you trust in God and persist so you can get through the hard times. And don’t forget, God will give us all the grace we need – but we have to Ask him more it!

Take time to reflect: How persistent are you?

Lesson Three: Focus

Most serious athletes focus all their attention and effort on one sport; and with good reason. By focusing on just one sport, the athlete can put all his or her time, resources, attention and physical abilities into being the best he or she can be. And it is easy to see that dedication and focus when you watch them perform. When I am watching the Olympic athletes, it seems as if nothing exists except them and their sport. The athlete blocks out everything that can potentially get between them and achieving their goals.

This is how it needs to be for us. In order for us to succeed in our spiritual life we need to focus on GOD. Does that mean we sit and pray all day? Of course not. But like the athletes who think about their sport or talk about their sport even when they are doing other things, we can train ourselves to think about God and talk to God no matter what we are doing. We can train ourselves to “never cease praying” (I Thessalonians 5:17), if we focus and practice.

Staying focused on Jesus isn’t easy. We are pulled in many directions and bombarded with distractions that do their best to keep us scattered. Therefore, we have to often take time apart to remind ourselves of what we are aiming for. That is why we have Advent and Lent and feast days to guide us and remind us of what we are aiming for: God and heaven. And that is why it is important to make a point of scheduling time for God in our life every day until it almost becomes a habit for us.

Take time to reflect: Are you focused?

Bonus Lesson: Accountability

There is one more lesson I want to mention because it ties all the other lessons together. All of the athletes, especially the most successful, don’t do it alone. They have coaches and cheerleaders and others who help them stay on track. They have people on their side to encourage them and support them and to guide them to victory.

It should be the same for us. In order to grow in our spiritual life, it would be very advantageous to have a spiritual director, life coach, or accountability partner to help us is setting our goals and achieving their goals. They can be there to help you stay consistent, to pick you up when you fail and help your persevere, and help keep you focused when distractions come. Getting a coach or accountability partner is definitely something worth thinking and praying about.

Take time to reflect: Do I have a spiritual director, life coach or accountability partner? Is it time to get one?

Now it’s your turn. What life lessons have you garnered (or are garnering) from watching the Olympics? Do share in the comments.

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Psst. If you are ready for accountability and support in growing your spiritual life, maybe I can help. Let’s chat and see if working together would make sense.

Use These 5 Strategies When Life Gets Overwhelming

Life isn’t easy. It just isn’t. It is stressful. It is messy. Relationships can be trying. We all have our cross to bear. However, there are days, weeks, and even months when it feels like so much “stuff” is being dumped on us we start to feel like we can’t take it anymore. There is an expression that came from somewhere that says that God doesn’t give us anymore than we can handle. Now, I don’t know about you, but to me, there have been times when it feels like He brings me pretty close!

When Life is Overwhelming

Image by talibabdulla (2014) via Pixabay, CCO Public domain

In the past, when  hardships  and struggles and “life” happened, I would get so overwhelmed – almost unfunctionable. Depression would set in and I would feel like I am stuck in the muck forever. Thankfully, this doesn’t happen any more. I still struggle but I am able to use these strategies to help me cope. Now, you may not get overwhelmed with life, but if you struggle or have to deal with long-term challenges, I encourage you to try out some of these pointers and see if they help.

1. Know You Are Not Alone

Everyone struggles and goes through rough patches. Again, everyone has her cross (or crosses) to bear. So, even if other people don’t “get” your situation completely, all of us can all relate to having to deal with difficult circumstances.

Now, knowing this doesn’t change your personal situation, of course. However, knowing you aren’t alone can be comforting. Growing up, and having mild cerebral palsy, I was bullied a lot. I still remember how alone and lost I felt. I didn’t think anyone would understand what I was going through and yet, I wasn’t alone. So many young people were bullied in my youth, and sadly, there are many people (young and old) who are still bullied today.

So, believe me: No matter what you are going through you are NOT alone.

2. Step Away From The Situation

It is extremely difficult to be objective when you are so close to a situation. If you can, even for five minutes, walk away. If you can’t walk way, take a minute or two to close your eyes, say a prayer and/or count to 10. BREATHE. BREATHE. BREATHE. BREATHE.

Even better, if at all possible, get away for a couple of days. Everyone needs time to recharge and re-center themselves. It is a great way to get a new perspective on the situation.

Realistically, though, that’s probably not going to happen, especially if you are a caregiver to someone. Still, there are other ways to “get away.” Can you get up earlier for some quiet time or steal some quiet time in the evenings? Can you use some downtime to journal or pray?

For me, as an introvert, I need a certain amount of quiet and alone time. When I am going through a difficult time or when life gets extra busy and noisy. It is critical for me to take some time to sit in silence and process everything that is going on. This is particularly true when I am going through stressful times.

3. Beware of the Comparison Trap

Comparing ourselves is not only a waste of time, it is a waste of our emotional and mental space. It is also very misleading. When we compare ourselves to other people, it is tempting to think that someone’s life is better than ours. We read what people post online and assume that they have such a great life. Or, we talk to acquaintances and hear all about the good things they are doing and we fantasize about having their life.

Well, guess what? What we don’t see is the “behind the scenes” of their lives. Or the reality of their lives. People are selective of what they post online and will not normally post the ugly. Even when they do, it is usually “packaged” in a way that makes them look good. No one wants to look bad in front of people, online or otherwise.

The same is true about our “in real life” friends and acquaintances. We can’t see what is behind closed doors of their lives. We don’t see the arguments or the craziness that may go on.  Unless they share their ugly with us, we don’t know about it.

Here is the deal with comparison: It only adds to your problems. It causes discontent in your mind and in your heart. It can cause bitterness and jealously. It robs us of our peace. Comparing ourselves to others sows the seeds of discord. Believe me, it is not worth the time and effort to compare ourselves with other people.

Going back to my younger days, it was so easy to fall into the comparison mode. My parents, and my family, did not treat me any different than anyone else because of my cerebral palsy. But, there were still some things I couldn’t do because of it and there were things that I had to do because of it (such as special exercises). I would so easily fall into comparison mode and feeling like life wasn’t fair! In my eyes, everyone else was smarter, prettier, or better than I was. How silly of me! It wasn’t true, of course, but because I was too busy comparing myself, I didn’t realize that. So, with some tough (but much) love, I say to you: STOP IT. 🙂

4. Talk to Someone

Whatever you are going through, talk to someone you can trust. It can be your spouse, a priest or nun, a friend, or even a life coach. If the situation is serious, or long-term, consider getting some professional counseling. If it is appropriate, get involved in a support group. There is no shame in taking steps to change your life or to find healing. Getting the help you need is brave and courageous.

I am not going to lie. This is a difficult step for me. Like my mother always told me, I have a tendency to hold things in. Sometimes it is because I don’t want to be a “bother” or sometimes it is because I’m afraid of being misunderstood or rejected. It is scary and hard to be vulnerable. BUT, there is also power and grace in opening up and talking to someone. When you talk to someone, that ‘thing” that guilt or fear or shame or whatever it is, loses its power over you. When you open up to the right person, it is freeing!

Anxiety is something that I have dealt with most of my life. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to get some anxiety counseling. I wish I had gone sooner! I got some greater understanding about myself and the disorder and I got some practical tools to help me face the anxiety when it comes.

Word of caution: Be specific and honest about what you need and are looking for. If you are just looking for someone to listen and let you unload, tell her. If you are looking for advice and/or a solution to your problem, tell her. Let your confidant know ahead of time what you want and need from her. it will save time and help avoid misunderstanding. You will get the most out of your time together if your mutual expectations are clear.

5. Get Some Practical Help

If you can afford it, consider hiring someone to handle the many little things that crop up so you can focus on the important stuff.  You can pay someone to clean your house, to run errands or to babysit your kids. Seemingly small things can build and build until they become overwhelming big things; therefore, if you have someone do some of those tasks for you, it can bring some margin and breathing room into your life.

What can you do if you can’t afford to hire someone? Do a swap with a friend or neighbor. Barter. My son has to do a certain amount of hours of community service for his Confirmation prep. Maybe there is a preteen  in your area who also needs do some community service and would be willing to rake your leaves or mow the lawn or do little jobs for you for free. Get creative.

Oh, and if you have kids, don’t forget to put them to work!. Remember: It may be your responsibility to get things done but that doesn’t mean it’s your responsibility to actually do the work. Kids of all ages can, and should, be doing some amount of chores. And most of them will do extra in exchange for a little cash or treat. Again, be creative in coming up with ideas.

Now, I realize this suggestion seems a little silly or out of place. HOWEVER, when you are going through a difficult time – be it physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, or any combination of those – anything else adding to your stress or compromised mental state can feel insurmountable or overwhelming. Therefore, if you are going through a stressful situation or you are burdened in any way, please give this suggestion a fair consideration. It may make a huge difference for you as it has for me.

In fact, all of these strategies have made a difference for me. They still make a difference for me. It doesn’t matter if I am going through a big difficulty, like the death of my cousin, or something small, like my son being uncooperative during his school time, I always fall back on these strategies to get me through. And my prayer is that you, too, will use these pointers and that they make a difference in your life.

Know that you are in my prayers! God bless.