When the going gets tough, what really happens?

Put the record on the turn table, cue the start, and drop the needle to begin the classic 80’s pop hit by Billy Ocean ‘When the going gets tough, the tough get going’. I’m sure you recognize those lyrics that Billy sings and there might even be some toe tapping action as the drumbeat in the background starts off. The words in this iconic song sit well in sport. There are countless examples in sport where athletes face impossible situations which they seem to only overcome by searching deep within themselves to find the character to conquer the challenge. When the going got tough, these tough people got going. 

While we can identify many examples of this in sport I think there is another title to this song that could be used as the anthem for a lot of people when they experience challenging times, it is: When the going gets tough, we neglect ourselves. Ok, I know those words don’t fit in with Billy’s hit but let me share my thoughts. 

All of us at some time in our lives feel under the pump, that pressure is coming at us from all angles and no matter which way you turn there seems to be yet another important task coming at you. These tasks and deadlines require all of your energy and focus and can come from all areas of your life - work, home, family, and often all at once. My question for you is: When you are in this high pressure place, where you are being pulled in several directions what is the first strategy that you use to be successful?  

For a lot of people it will be neglecting the good behaviors in their lives, let me give you an example.  You have a big project deadline looming at work which requires you to work late for over 2 weeks to ensure you get the job done and meet the deadline. This means you don’t have time to exercise, you eat poorly because you have no time to prepare healthy food, the relationships with the people who support you suffer because they only get the high stressed version of you, and you can’t sleep because you have too much on your mind which means you walk around feeling like a zombie. This behavior makes sense, we are time poor when we have a lot of demands on us which means we don’t have time to fit everything in -  something has to go.  Unfortunately often the things that we neglect or sacrifice are ‘our own things’ and there is a huge cost of doing this. 

When you aren’t eating well, neglecting exercise, damaging your relationship due to not having quality time for your partner, and always feeling tired you are going down a dangerous path, a path where you feel higher levels of stress because there is no healthy outlet. The scary thing is that this may lead you down a path where this becomes your life, where you wake up 15 years from now and not like or even know who you are. 

I have a friend who was living this life recently. He has a family, is a manager of a bank, and is involved in a lot of community work. He found that he was always in that high pressure place and the way he dealt with it was to neglect what was good for him. After some self reflection he decided that things had to change. He prioritized ‘his own things’, like exercise and quality time with family, and decided that they would come first. He dropped his workload from 60 plus hours a week to 40, he got out of the office every lunch time and went for a run, and he left his work at work so when he got home he could totally focus on his family. As a result of this change his branch became the most successful in the country, by doing what was good for him his quality of work increased. 

What’s really scary about people neglecting themselves when they get busy is that they often will use alcohol, high levels of caffeine, smoking, or unhealthy foods to get through. While these things may help you through ‘today’ there will be a huge cost in the long term. 

I know we all experience high stress times, it’s the way of the world for a lot of people these days.  A question to explore around this is: What are my base level healthy behaviours? The behaviours that I won’t give up no matter how busy I get or how high the demands on me become? If you can prioritize these during your tough moments you’ll lead a healthier life and you’ll probably perform better in the stressful situations as well. But most importantly, you won’t lose yourself.  


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Bevan Eyles