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  • Zoey Zhang

Opinion Piece: A Sportswoman's Take on Resilience

Updated: Mar 15

After attending the Resilience Mindset workshop, I felt a mixed range of emotions. On one hand, I continued to learn new things: the context in which my fellow attendees think of resilience was intriguingly different from mine. On the other hand, I was excited to observe my familiarity with the scientific explanations behind various self-care activities, a reassuring sign that I have indeed grown to take care of myself in the past year. Therefore, I would like to take this opportunity and share with you some of the most useful tips I have first discovered in my athletic endeavours to become more resilient and anxiety-free. These tips have kept me calm particularly during this prolonged, nerve-wracking job-hunting process as a member of the Class of 2020 Pandemic.


The most important lesson I learned from my sport, boxing, is that replacing the perfectionist mindset with a growth mindset is key to becoming more resilient. Being a perfectionist did not get me very far with many of my long-term hobbies: playing musical instruments, writing lyrics, and even mastering the German language. Due to my obsession with being perfect or being the best in all of those that I get my hands on, I was inundated with stress and anxiety before I even played one note, wrote one line or spoke a sentence with a native. Naturally, I find myself spending less and less time on these activities, and more than 13 years of classical music education seemed to go to waste.


Funny enough, I am least competitive with myself when I am gloved up in the ring, and that is the exact reason why my passion for boxing has not dwindled, regardless of all the difficulties that came with the sport. During my first year, I constantly asked the coaches for sparring with different partners (even just jab-only sparring) so that I could gain experience, and I am not afraid of being hit in the face. I won Oxford's Most Improved Boxer of the Year 2017 because of my growth mindset, not my skills back then. As silly as it may sound, there were times when I started to care about how I look—mainly, if I looked like a winner—when I was sparring in my third year. Did I have any extraneous movement in my shoulder before I threw my right-hand punch? Did I look as bad-ass as Urma Thurman in Kill Bill or look like a real-life Mulan? Did I win and did the coaches and team think I am amazing? But I quickly learned that in these situations, it was much easier for me to become angry when being punched in the face and lose control of my composure. It is only when I am not thinking about winning that I am fearless, calm and likely to win in the ring.


But sometimes, even having a growth mindset is stressful—that is, if you are a perfectionist about growing like I did for a long time. I have been running for five years and the Nike Running app on my phone used to be my best friend. I was addicted to documenting one more run, one more mile, or 15 seconds faster. However, this compulsion to always make progress on every run started to burn me out. If I started to feel fatigued two miles sooner, I would frown yet keep pushing, ignoring my posture and signs of potential injuries. If I ran slower than the day before, I would get mad at myself, forgetting completely that my body needed longer rest. Injuries were the worst tests of my patience since I would try to run again without giving my knee the proper length of recovery it needed. As a result, it became harder and harder for me to be motivated to go on runs, to say nothing of enjoying them.


So I decided to change in Autumn 2020. After having physiotherapy for a prolonged knee injury (Now you know why!) for almost a year, I made up my mind to go back to running once again. My very first run after a year of sitting on my bum was excruciating—my chest was burning and I could barely last 4 miles. What's worse, I lost my speed and was struggling with a 10'30'' pace, more than a minute slower than before. Overwhelmed by all the self-criticising voices in my head, I stopped and threw my phone away into the field. This action felt weirdly liberating as I had to look around the field to look for my phone and saw the patch of green that stretched on and on. Wanting to be more attentive, I ditched my phone on my next run and averted my gaze from the cold numbers on the Nike training app to the autumn scenery: fallen leaves alongside the Oxford Canal, the pair of swans leaning their necks into a heart shape, a group of ducklings fluttering on the water behind their parents. The total mileage run might have stopped at 1, 617 miles, but running has become a much more enjoyable and thus lasting habit.

I am by no means an expert in sports or on the psychology behind resilience. But, I hope that by sharing my experience, you will find two of the many keys that unlock the myth of being resilient—replacing the perfectionist mindset with a growth mindset and being attentive to your wellbeing. If setting a goal becomes too much, then just simply enjoy the activities you do! Your future self will thank your present self for nurturing these interests.




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