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Carl Frampton and Rory McIlroy's pain could be for greater good, says top sports psychologist



All change: Barry McGuigan, Carl Frampton and Rory McIlroy after the Jackal’s victory over Leo Santa Cruz. Photo: William Cherry/Presseye

All change: Barry McGuigan, Carl Frampton and Rory McIlroy after the Jackal’s victory over Leo Santa Cruz. Photo: William Cherry/Presseye

©INPHO/Presseye/William Cherry

All change: Barry McGuigan, Carl Frampton and Rory McIlroy after the Jackal’s victory over Leo Santa Cruz. Photo: William Cherry/Presseye

Northern Ireland's two biggest sports stars Rory McIlroy and Carl Frampton are caught in the middle of life-changing decisions to let go of fruitful relationships.

The duo are now preparing to move on after cutting ties with, in Rory's case caddie JP Fitzgerald, and in Frampton's case manager Barry McGuigan. And with that transfer will come difficulties. Here, Dr Mark Elliott C.Psychol, a highly sought-after sports psychologist, author and speaker, explains their decisions:

As American medic and writer Havelock Ellis put it, 'All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on'. I would add to this truth, and of knowing when to do either one.

This, of course, applies to all aspects of life. It could be the letting go of a destructive habit, a cruel remark, a dead-end job or an unhealthy relationship.

It could instead be the preservation of hope in a relationship, job or project and persevering, with a new plan and accountability in place.

It may be the holding on to the familiar simply because it is so.

Yet its effect may be to destroy your life. How many people stay in unhappy relationships because the alternative of being on their own seems worse? Or remain in stale jobs because it is better than stepping outside of the comfort that familiarity brings?

You see, our brains do not quality control 'familiar' into constructive or destructive. If it's familiar, it is likely to be retained. The fine mingling is towards holding on, even if it is to one's detriment.

This is why our very own sporting heroes, Rory McIlroy and Carl Frampton, deserve credit for taking big decisions in their sporting lives that involve, ultimately, letting go.

Changing special relationships is extremely difficult and is painful to do. It is altering the familiar, and the brain doesn't like that, preferring instead to remind you of the mistake you're making: 'And what about all those good times?', it continues.

'How can you simply walk away from someone who helped you establish yourself on the world stage? Are you mad? Maybe you're just a bit tired; some rest will help you to see sense and maintain the status quo. Hey, remember too, you'll be on your own and having to start again...'

We are the masters of self-delusion, capable of fooling ourselves to keep things as they are, even though we are profoundly aware of the need to make a change. With Rory, it is to move on and to replace his caddie of several (hugely) successful years, JP Fitzgerald, and with Carl, it is letting go of Barry McGuigan after several (hugely) successful years together conquering the boxing world.

These are intimate relationships, steeped in success and emotional highs. They have been flourishing alliances, friendships indeed.

They have changed the lives of all concerned. But this should not mean that they remain intact. Those who make it big in any walk of life, but particularly so within the short career that is sport, always want to make progress. That's obvious. They know that the package deal they signed up to involves change.

After all, what is progress, but change. Nevertheless, what Rory and Carl have chosen to do is change we all dislike. They too will be suffering as they undergo the transformation from Rory/JP to Rory/? and from Carl/Barry to Carl/?, but the ambitious person proceeds. And these guys will proceed and progress.

They have clearly moved from being aware of the need to change to actively letting go. Rory is further along the change continuum to Carl, but they will both get there in the end and continue to make their indelible mark on their respective sporting landscapes. As they make this journey back to the comfortable, to the ready to perform at their best, free of distraction, they should expect to feel a range of uncomfortable emotions.

Letting go is a painful experience, so they need to be prepared to feel uneasy for a while. This is very likely as the former relationships were good, close, fun and profitable.

Moving on from special relationships is naturally harder than from a downright toxic partnership. There will be some relief and optimism, but these more positive feelings will likely be peppered with anxiety and uncertainty too.

Support is therefore important. It is useful to have someone to talk things over with.

It is important to have a plan to fill the void. This has a two-fold benefit. It occupies the mind and is an active approach to consolidating real change. Persistence is vital, and expect a few potholes along the way. Nothing worth achieving is ever smooth. If smooth is wanted, stay indoors! In addition, picture how your future will look once you have actioned your plan.

Rory and Carl, or any athlete in this position - or anyone anywhere - should rehearse the reasons why they have made the decision to change things around.

It is all too easy to become distracted by doubt, tricked by nostalgia, and fooled by a desire to go back. There are reasons, so keep them mentally accessible so that they can be 'looked at' instantly whenever uncertainty or guilt strikes.

Remember, it is often the case that people who make relationship changes will say, "I should have done this months before". Seldom do they reprimand themselves for not giving it more effort and energy.

As the brain does not like change, be prepared to be mentally resolute, reminding yourself that it is for all the right reasons, that this is life, and the old maxim that 'It is what it is' and it's time

Also, it is useful to credit yourself with making such a tough decision, for having formed great relationships that while tough to move on from, were at least warm and rewarding. A life without such relations - be that with JP or Barry McGuigan - is a monochrome life. Always remember to be grateful, respectful and positive. It does not have to be complicated.

Above all, retain a good relationship with yourself. Without this, there is nothing fruitful to be had in the future. It will be a depressing struggle. Life is short, embrace it with a good heart, a tough mind and a willingness to undergo pain for the greater good.

Belfast Telegraph