Practice what you preach and step outside your comfort zone

Dr. Olivia Hurley
By Dr. Olivia Hurley
Registered Psychologist with the Psychological Society of Ireland. She holds a BSc (Hons) in Psychology, an MSc, and a PhD in Sport Psychology from UCD. Olivia is a Lecturer of Psychology, and Sport Psychology, in IADT and UCD respectively. She is a member of the Irish Institute of Sport’s panel of Sport Psychology Consultants and works with many top performers to help them enhance their performances. Olivia has also published, and presented her work extensively.

The morning of September 30th was different from any other morning I have ever experienced. After a 3 hour drive from IADT in Dun Laoghaire, Dublin, I arrived at the entrance to ‘Departures’ at Cork Airport to take part in the A Lust for Life Runway 5K, to help celebrate the 1st birthday of A Lust for Life.

Having written before about the benefits of goal setting in everyday life, I had decided one of my 2016 goals would be to break away from my ‘track/sprinter and now gym’ persona and take that leap into the unknown 5K territory. I convinced one of my best friends to join me. She happens to live in Cork now and has been determined over the past few months to get me down to Cork for a visit with her and her family, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to achieve both goals.

As I walked through the doors of the airport I was met by a hive of activity. Music played as individuals from all walks of life moved around like busy bees. Most were taking part in the run, as was evident from their t-shirts, running gear and numbers displayed on their chests. Many others were helping out as stewards, making sure all participants knew what to do and where to go. Light hearted announcements were being made, reassuring all present that this was a fun event, with the intention of uniting all present in the spirit of health and wellness, a key message of the A Lust for Life movement.

When the time arrived around 1.30am to move outside the terminal building into the warm-up area the atmosphere was electric. We were led in a mass-warm-up which consisted of a mixture of jogging, dancing and lunging. Bressie spoke a few words and we all wished ALFL a very Happy 1st Birthday. The anticipated time had then arrived as we move to the start line area and took off running, with the more ‘elite’ athletes moving ahead of the rest of us runners/joggers/walkers.

There was nothing but a sense of awe and wonderment at this bizarre experience of running on the runway of Cork airport at 2am! As we ran along, it was obvious those running beside us were in the same state of excitement at taking part in this event. As a sport psychologist, I was fascinated to see the impact of the occasion on those around me. The unique nature of the event, the foggy night air, the darkness, all added to the atmosphere. Before we knew it and all too soon, we were at the turning point for halfway and proceeded to make our way back toward the finish line where we had also started.

The stewards who lined the way on both sides of the runway 5K ‘loop’ continued to shout words of encouragement and praise at this feat we were all completing. It gave us that little lift and put an extra spring in our last 1K strides. Suddenly the finish line appeared from out of the dark fog and we crossed the line, laughing and hugging at a task completed and a unique goal achieved. As a sport psychologist, I like to encourage my students to be ‘critical thinkers’, to question the research presented to them regarding topics we study in class. I also explain the importance of understanding the research findings in order to see how they apply to everyday life. On Saturday night, I was left with little doubt of the benefits of such fun exercise-focused events on participants’ health and wellbeing.

practice-what-you-preach-and-step-outside-your-comfort-zone1The physical benefits of exercise have been well documented on the pages of this website, as have the psychological benefits, even more so in many ways. These include the sense of achievement that comes from completing a challenging but realistic goal, the feelings of control that can arise from overcoming any fears of participating in such an event that may seem outside of our comfort zones, and most importantly perhaps the giddy joy experienced by doing such a physical task in the company of family and friends, old, or newly made at the event.

Being able to experience first-hand the feelings of all of the above is what makes the psychological research we academics and practitioners do in our areas of passionate interest within our jobs worthwhile and provides us with vital applied evidence of the arguments in favour of such activities. Some words of warning though, once you complete your first 5K, your chances of wishing to replicate the above feelings by completing more 5K runs goes up significantly too!