For the ultimate power move, look to Simone and Naomi

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It makes me wonder: might Biles and Osaka inspire a new generation of high achievers and multi-taskers, going forward? Make them realise the benefits of taking a step back before one reaches the point of fantasising about shared quarters with a murderer named Snitch?

Professor Caroline Hunt, president of the Australian Clinical Psychology Association, hopes so.

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“It’s inspiring because it shows a certain level of courage [to] be able to say, ‘Hang on, that’s not the be all and end all, there’s actually more important things in life. That might be myself, my wellbeing, and my relationships’,” she says.

And it’s a particularly important message now, given how increasingly common burnout is, and how debilitating it can be, if it’s repeatedly pushed through.

“It can lead to an inability for the person to continue their normal lives,” says Hunt, referring to the anxiety and depression that can result.

But halting the bad habit of continually battling through burnout can be a tough nut to crack. Especially given that our society typically hails those who triumph over adversity, and often punishes those who quit. One only has to remember Australian rower Sally Robbins, who dropped her oar in the final metres of a race in the Athens Olympics in 2004 because she was physically depleted. She was consequently dubbed “Lay-down Sally” in the Australian press and ridiculed for mental weakness, with one paper saying her behaviour was “the greatest crime there is in honest sport: she quit”.

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(This culture is, in part, why it took me 20 years of trying to fix the habit with my own ingenious plan – by ignoring that I had it – before therapy finally did the trick.)

So, what can others do, short of stalking Biles’ people for tips about how she managed to walk away on such a world stage with about 18 million or so people watching?

Stop, and take a moment to reflect when you’re reaching emotional exhaustion, and consider it an opportunity to challenge the problematic core beliefs that may be driving your inclination to push past the point of burnout in the first place, says Melbourne-based clinical psychologist Stephanie Tan-Kristanto.

“It might be the need to please others, or rigid thoughts about what equals success or failure, or that your worth is only related to how much approval or recognition you can get,” says Tan-Kristanto. “We as humans are really flexible, so we can adapt those core beliefs into ways that are more helpful for us. But if we don’t reflect … we’re at risk of repeating the same patterns.”

Meanwhile, I will teach my children to do not as I once did, but what 24-year-old Simone Biles had the courage to do:

“So, it’s OK sometimes to sit out the big competitions to focus on yourself,” she said in a press conference, addressing other young athletes after dropping out on Tuesday. “It shows how strong a person and competitor you really are, rather than just battle through it.”

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