It's moments like these that make us love watching the Olympics: Yesterday, 31-year-old Russian figure skater Evgeni Plushenko, a four-time Olympian who won gold in the first-ever team event earlier this week, tweaked his back doing a triple axel during the warm-up right before his scheduled short program performance. When he took to the ice for his turn, he gracefully bowed and waved to fans as he skated off the ice, withdrawing from the rest of the competition and, subsequently, announcing his retirement.
Shortly after, American skater Jeremy Abbott, 28, crashed into a rink wall (pictured) during his performance when he failed to land a quadruple toe loop. He lay on his back for 10 seconds, wincing in pain and catching his breath as the audience held theirs. Right when you thought he was about to bow out, he got to his feet and completed his routine like a world-class pro with true grit and admirable poise. [Tweet this inspiring story!] The arena couldn't be tamed, with the audience members cheering and clapping for Abbott as if they were proud parents. His scores were high enough to keep him in first place—for a little while anyway. He finished 15th out of 29 skaters.
The amazing juxtaposition of these two powerful stories, almost back-to-back, showcased an incredibly valuable life lesson about knowing when to gracefully say goodbye and when to keep calm and carry on. “Both of these athletes made the right decision for them. It was based on a combination of matters of the heart and being able to regulate their own anxiety,” says Leah Lagos, Psy.D., a Manhattan-based clinical and sport psychologist who has worked with Olympians. If you're on the fence about a tough decision yourself, follow Lagos' three tips to make the best call for you.
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1. Take 10. Breathe in through your nose for four seconds and out through your mouth for six seconds 10 times to clear your mind and calm your body before you make your next move. It should be effortless breathing. Be sure to count, especially if you're feeling very anxious. The part of your brain that you use to count is also where worrying takes place—so you can't do both at once.
2. Have a heart-to-heart with yourself. The real key is to listen to your heart. What does it want? If you are having trouble deciphering, then try imagining different situations and outcomes. Determine which situation makes your heart feel the most full and content. The act of visualization and setting intentions actually improves our brain's ability to perform under pressure.
3. Know the difference between anxiety and excitement. If your heart and mind are racing, it's not necessarily from fear. It could be your body's way of amping you up to do what needs to be done in the moment. Be careful not to misinterpret those physiological cues.