Tom Daley: “When I get panicked, I just focus on my breathing”
It’s not the first time Tom Daley has been the man of the moment, but it is the first time he’s been the man of the moment as both an Olympic gold medallist and the first ever British diver to win four Olympic medals. Not to mention his other, most unexpected accolade of becoming the UK’s most famous knitter. “My knitting has become a lot of my mindfulness, I actually only started because I’m terrible at sitting still. My coach is always like: ‘You need to rest.’ But if there is a cupboard that needs sorting out, I’m going to sort out the cupboard,” he said after the Tokyo Olympics, when his extra-curricular hobby got the world talking (Tom’s knitting Instagram page now has 1.4 million followers).
A lot has happened in Tom’s 27 years, and it’s not all been about medals (incidentally, did you see how cute the case he knitted himself for his gold medal in the men’s synchronised 10-metre platform was?) and podiums. He’s also, of course, become a daddy to three-year-old Robbie with his partner Dustin Lance Black. Which inevitably has changed him and the balance of his life. “Robbie is the most important thing in my life and when you have that kind of perspective, when you go to training, you can enjoy it for what it is. You know you’re going to go home and being a parent is number one. It shifted the way I thought about it,” he said. “And going into these Olympic Games, I knew even if I did really well or really terribly, I was going to go home and be loved regardless. And when you have that type of unconditional love, it took so much pressure off me.”
To celebrate Tom’s success and him becoming something of a new national treasure, we thought we would look back at the pearls of wisdom from a chat he had with BALANCE about mental health and mindfulness. Here’s Tom, in his own words:
Talk about your problems. Don’t be British about it! It’s about being able to say: “He doesn’t look like he’s okay, I’m gonna ask if he’s OK. How are you doing? How’s everything going? How are you feeling?” Being able to talk about our feelings and emotions, and being able to talk about when it’s not OK, and knowing that it’s OK to ask for some help, and it’s OK to ask for a support network around you if you need it.
When I first learned about meditation I just thought ‘yeah, right, whatever, this isn’t gonna work, let’s be real’. It wasn’t until I met Lance and thought, ‘you know what, let’s do it together’. We’ll sit down every morning, we’ll have our breakfast and afterwards, we’ll do ten minutes of meditation. And we just got into the habit of doing this every single day. For the first few days, I couldn’t count to ten, breathe and count my breaths without thinking about something else. But ten minutes isn’t actually that much time out of your day. When you wake up in the morning, most people roll over, look at their phone and spend ten minutes checking Instagram before they even get out of bed.
Now that I’m a parent, when I’m on a plane sometimes I can get a little bit panicked. That’s when I just focus on my breathing. Or if I’m running late for something, when I get there I just take a moment to compose myself. There’s so many things that you can use mindfulness and meditation for, to bring yourself back into the moment.
The idea of recovery is just completely underrated, people don’t focus on it enough. People do work out every day and they work so hard in the gym and they forget about the most important thing, which is recovering and replenishing your muscles so they can adapt and grow, to be able to see the benefits of the workouts that you’ve been doing.
At the back of the board in every competition before I go, you’ll see me closing my eyes and taking ten really big deep breaths – to be able to bring myself back to the present, slow my heart rate down and just feel comfortable calm and collected.
Standing on a diving board in very minimal clothing – it’s close to being naked. Every time I look in the mirror, I find myself saying: “Oh gosh, oh no, I shouldn’t have eaten that… Oh, I feel horrible.” You find yourself going into a downward spiral sometimes and you have to catch yourself and realise you’re doing the right thing, you’re eating the right things and you’re doing the right recovery.
Everybody’s different, and people really need to start seeing the value in people’s differences, rather than attacking people for their differences. People’s bodies change all the time, and not everyone’s body is the same, and not everyone is gonna look the same.
Read more on Tom and fatherhood here