Four Tips for Sanity on the Long Road

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It’s March 1st, which in this kitchen means it’s time to hit send on the annual repost of the Long Road. As usual it comes with an updated intro, and as usual, March 1 snuck up on me; so, the 2024 bonus is that this edition will be especially brief.

This year I’m working off a quote that I recently heard, and that has stuck with me. It feels especially relevant and useful this time of year, as all the “big” races roll around. The quote, which I heard from Rich Roll in the context of stress management, is this:

“Psychology is just physiology that hasn’t been proven.”

In other words, the mind/body connection is more than a woo-woo aspirational concept. It is the somewhat controllable thing that explains the seemingly mystical element of performance.

Just after hearing that quote I happened on an in-depth discussion of “Polyvagal Theory” which some expert googling describes thusly:

Polyvagal Theory emphasizes the role the autonomic nervous system – especially the vagus nerve – plays in regulating our health and behavior.

The takeaway for athletes here is that controlling the vagus nerve is the key to keeping your body calm, and primed for peak performance.

Why is this good news right now? Because it’s March, baby, and if you and your people are headed to any level of the Finals, the Champs, the Nationals, or the Intergalactics, you’re going to want to bring out your very best.

For most people, when the stakes are highest, performance seems the least controllable. And yet, most of us in sport have also seen or experienced that the most inspired results come when the burden of expectation has been released. That whole “have fun and don’t think about results” approach sounds warm and fuzzy, but how can you have high aspirations, without tanking performance?

This is where the concept of Polyvagal theory can help, even for those who can’t pronounce it or have never heard of it. This is because coaches and parents can help foster peak performance by creating an environment that feels safe, even and especially at big events. A safe environment is one where everyone can be goofy or curious or quiet or gregarious or solitary—whatever state lets them feel like, well, them. Bonus points for encouraging and modeling things (keep reading—it’s coming) that calm the vagus nerve and let the body and mind work together to do what they know how to do.

Want a podcast on it and detail on why and how it works? Go right here to this episode with the Performance Doctors on the Way of Champions.

Want the Cliff notes on how to do it? I’ve got you covered.  Here are four activities anyone can do at the start of a race course to wrestle that vagus nerve into submission:

  • Singing
  • Dancing
  • Laughing
  • Mindful Breathing

The full list includes things like gargling, cold water immersion, massage, connecting with people and unifying activities, but we’ll leave that to another day. Today, let’s just be happy we’ve got all of March ahead of us and try to embrace and enjoy the rollercoaster.

Good luck to all!

For a look at past Long Road editions, check these out:










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