Choosing my mindset led to Rio gold

Paralympic canoe champion Emma Wiggs explains the changes she has made in her approach to life and sport, and the benefits she has reaped

emma-wiggs-paracanoeist3It is morning again and I lie under my duvet wondering how today will turn out. What will I achieve today? How will I feel about today? Shall I just roll over and switch the alarm to snooze? So far no different to most other people first thing in the morning. But over the last eighteen months I have learnt a valuable lesson about attitude and setting my mindset before the day proper starts. The positive result is that I have a shiny gold medal from the Paralympics sitting on my bedside table beside the alarm clock that is just about to go off.

Let us start at the beginning of the Road to Rio. My sport of paracanoe is fast, frantic and competitive. The GB squad contains some of the most talented athletes in the world and competition for places is fierce. It is an odd environment to be in as we train side by side as team-mates for months and years and then we turn around and fight like mad for a place in the team. We train full-time. We all do the same gym work, have the same coaches, the same opportunities, we all paddle the same boats and we all have to accomplish the same task of completing the 200-metre course as quickly as possible. So what sets apart those who went to Rio and those who didn’t?

I knew all along that only one place was up for grabs in the KL2 category, and if that athlete was to be me I needed to address every area of my life and leave no stone unturned in my quest for selection. So I set about changing my approach to every day, deciding to choose my attitude to challenging situations I may face at training and recognising the fact that I was in control of how I behaved, what I focused on, how I reacted to certain situations and how I performed on any given day.

With the help of a sports psychologist I stumbled across this gem of ‘choosing my attitude’. The first step was recognising that, of course, I could feel hard done by, like I wanted to stay in bed, that, yes, things were unfair and sometimes the behaviour of others was not conducive to being part of a successful team. But the key was that I was ‘choosing’ to feel like that. Something had to change and that something was the one thing I was in total control of: myself and my attitude.

This eureka moment led to me starting to use a Performance Log, and taking time each morning to actually write my attitude for the day and plan for any situation which might arise and which might prevent me achieving that day’s goal. It worked. I felt in control and I saw the benefits almost immediately.

As we moved from a hard winter of training to the competition season my mind could have been filled with questions and doubts. Have I used the time well? Have I done the correct training? Have I made progress? Not to mention the dreaded ‘What ifs?’ Instead, I felt a rational calmness. A calmness born of knowing no stone had been left unturned in our efforts to make the boat go faster. That by working hard on the attitude I chose to approach every day I had made the most of every opportunity presented to me. I trained harder than I thought possible. I worried less about things outside my control. I was diligent and focused on my goals every day and every session.

emma-wiggs-paracanoeist2Although I feel this calmness today, I am definitely not the finished article and at times when fatigue overwhelms me and pressure mounts, those familiar doubts can creep in again. But that is the time when I use my newly acquired skills and ‘manage myself’ and ‘choose my mindset’. Even making simple changes to the language I use, such as ‘could’ instead of ‘should’, seem to have enhanced my feelings of being in control.

The result of my experience is that I am a happy, more content, more profitable and more successful person. I am able to ‘rest easy’ and know I am in control of what I do and how I perform. I can crawl back into bed at the end of the day and feel that I have accomplished something.

So that is my secret weapon, the weapon that means there is a shiny gold medal beaming down at me from beside the alarm clock that I will definitely not be switching to snooze. It really is all in the mindset.


This article was written by Emma Wiggs. Emma’s latest articles.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.