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Fortieth Birthday Interruptus

March 15, 2011 Leave a comment

My 40th birthday is coming up and I have no plans.  I did have a plan but it fell through. I was really excited about it, too. Back in November, I made a goal: to be stronger, more flexible and have more stamina by my 4oth birthday. I was going to showcase the fruits of my labor by putting together and performing a pole routine. I pretty much put everything else in my life on hold and trained up to two times a day, six days a week. By February, not only was I totally on track to meet my goal, but I also had choreographed and executed two pole routines! (You can see practice video here, this is not  my birthday routine, it’s the other one.) I was definitely stronger, more flexible and had more stamina.

 

By mid-February, I knew I would be ready for my March 18 deadline.  Then I got injured. My fault. I got overzealous, overtired and, ultimately, overtrained.  I just recently got the ok to start swimming again, but it’s been a month since I’ve been on the pole. It breaks my heart to know I can’t spend my birthday with my beloved chrome stick.  No joke, my eyes are welling up right now as I write this.  But I’ve had a month to think–some of those thoughts weren’t so friendly, but some were really helpful.  My favorite thought is one I borrowed from the late, amazing John Wooden: Don’t let what you can’t do interfere with what you can do. It’s really easy to get hung up on the things I can’t do. I can’t swim, I can’t get on the pole, I can’t practice contortion, I can’t perform my routine on my birthday. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.

 

This is not helpful and, actually, it isn’t even true. Technically, I could do all of those things, but I would risk doing serious damage to my body and putting myself out of commission for a very long time.  I chose not to do those things.  That was the first thing I had to get right in my head.  Then I could focus on what I could do. Let me just say that I tend to be a very dichotomous thinker, an extreme all or nothing kind of person, so this piece does not come naturally to me at all. I really had to work for this one. Fortunately, I started reading a really good book by sport psychologist Terry Orlick called In Pursuit of Excellence even before I got injured and the book is all about focus and mental training.  I knew I could practice my routines in my head mentally and visualize cleaning up my tricks and transitions. So I did and continue to do so. This breeds other productive action:  I can get quality sleep, I can stay on top of my nutrition, I can get my endorphin fix by laughing with a friend. I can. I can. I can.

 

I also learned that I can choreograph a whole pole routine without getting physical using paper, music and my imagination. And I did. (If you’re keeping track, that makes 3 routines in all. Not too shabby!). I can also perform my birthday pole routine on a day other than on my actual birthdate. And I will. Maybe the training I really needed was more mental than physical. Maybe, instead of thinking about all the things I haven’t accomplished by the time I reach 40, I can think about all the things I have accomplished so far and focus on setting and achieving new goals that actually have meaning for me now. Maybe instead of making a big deal out of one day, I can make a bigger deal out of a whole decade. I can conquer a lot more in 10 years than I can in one day. I can do it while loving the actual getting it done part like crazy while not desperately clinging to the outcome, too. It turns out that I don’t get permission to do whatever I want just on my birthday, I can choose to do whatever I want on any given day.  I can and I will. So can you. Will you?

 

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Do You Want to be Fit or Happy? (Don’t Worry, They’re Not Mutually Exclusive)

January 5, 2011 Leave a comment

Playing on the pole provided on the Denver airport tram

I started working on my fitness goal for 2011 back in November 2010.  Actually, it’s a goal I set for my 40th birthday, which is in March (deadlines are extremely helpful for impulsive and easily distracted people like me!).  My goal is this: I want to pull together a pole routine where I’m actually flowing moves together, so it’s actually a pole dance instead of just a bunch of tricks done independently. I also want my current and new moves to have cleaner, prettier lines than they did when I made the video 39 pole tricks for my 39th birthday.  In order to achieve this I am working on even more specific goals: improving my flexibility, strength and stamina.  Even within those goals there are smaller goals and so on. But no matter what my physical/material goal is, the real reason I want to accomplish my goal is so that I can feel certain feelings. In this case, as I pole dance my way into my 40s, I want to feel accomplished, powerful, capable and confident. It just so happens that I feel those things when I’m pursuing my goal. Notice, I didn’t say I feel those feelings when I have achieved my goal, I feel those feelings while I’m in the process of achieving them.  In fact, pursuing my goals has landed me with people and in situations where I get to experience more feelings that I like including happiness, connection and motivation.  I am surrounded by athletes and coaches who inspire and support me and I get to work out a lot, training in various sports including swimming, contortion, strength training and, of course, pole. This is my version of nirvana.

Committing myself to a goal that I enjoy pursuing not only gives me the long-term payoff of becoming a better pole athlete, but it also gives me short-term gratification. Just knowing that I put the time and energy into getting what I want makes me feel capable, powerful and accomplished and because I love physical activity so much I feel confident and happy during and after my workouts even though I am still in the process of achieving the end result.  This is not to say that I don’t feel challenged or frustrated during my workouts at times, it’s all part of the process I enjoy overall.

If you are having a hard time getting motivated or excited about your goals, it may be that they’re not the right goals for you. Start with the end in mind: how do you want to feel? Take an inventory of all the activities, situations, people and things past and present that make you feel that way. Those are the clues that will inform your true, concrete goals. Your goals should inspire and motivate you, not drain and depress you. The best strategy is to just start doing something NOW that feels good to you –I don’t mean indulging in anxious compulsive or addictive behavior which is escaping, I mean the opposite, doing something you love which is grounding. When you feel good you are motivated and make better decisions about what else will make you feel genuinely good. Don’t worry if what feels good now doesn’t seem logical, it only needs to make sense in your gut.  Trust that and the goals you come up with will be the ones you truly wish to pursue with passion, intensity and tenacity. Those are the qualities you will need to achieve your goals and get the feelings you want out of them.

Stretching Feels Good, Once You Get Past the Uncomfortable Part

December 14, 2010 Leave a comment

When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be. ~Lao Tzu

Last week while I was practicing a really intense stretch to improve my back flexibility, I got a cramp.  I quickly backed out of the stretch. My body wasn’t used to working in such extreme ranges of motion and my mind’s tendency is to resist against such new and unusual requests. Whatever the mind thinks, the body takes as direction.  Stretching shows me where my current limits are and reaching beyond those limits is always uncomfortable, extremely uncomfortable.

I needed to convince myself that I was okay, that nothing bad was going to happen to me and that my body was safe from harm.  I had to earn my own trust, physically as well as mentally. Even though it was totally counter-intuitive, unless I leaned in to the discomfort, relinquished some control and believed that I was doing the absolute 100% correct thing, not only would I miss out on achieving my goal of becoming bendier, but I would also risk injury. With that in mind, I performed the stretch again. Every time I thought the stretch was becoming too intense and I got uncomfortable, I instructed the muscle that was threatening to tighten up to relax and then I waited for it to release the tension.  Once that happened, I was able to move deeper into the stretch.  By acknowledging the discomfort of the stretch and letting go of the resistance to the discomfort and practicing a great deal of patience, I had earned my body’s trust and cooperation. We were on the same team, working toward the same goal and it felt amazing.

I can apply this lesson to other areas of my life as well and I need to. I sometimes hold on tightly to an outcome and muscle my way through the process, even when it’s clear I’m making things worse and more painful by doing so. I lose my patience when things aren’t happening quickly enough and that delays my progress. I let myself get distracted with minor annoyances and forget to focus on the greater goal. Admittedly, once I step outside of my body and into the real world, the scope of the challenges and skills I wish to master can feel overwhelming at times, but they don’t have to. Instead of backing out of the discomfort I feel when I’m challenged, I can move into it. I can find the one issue or area that is most uncomfortable and sticky and be committed to unsticking it without distracting myself with drama.  I can wait for that moment when patience and persistence subdues the resistance and then relax into the solution that has been waiting for me to discover all along.

Feedback: Separating the Useful From the Useless

November 8, 2010 Leave a comment

How can you tell when you are giving yourself constructive feedback or just maliciously abusing yourself verbally? Easy.  Constructive feedback may or may not sting when it is served up, but you do recognize the truth in it and it motivates you to make improvements.  Destructive criticism just makes you feel bad and you feel completely uninspired to make any improvements because the comment has no nutritional value—it was made for the sole purpose of making you feel like crap.

Here’s an example that I often come across when working with overweight and out of shape individuals who want to become healthy and fit:  they notice that they have excess body fat (fact), they get winded when they climb a flight of stairs (fact), their clothes are too tight (fact). So far just facts, but then they start dishing out comments like I can’t control what or how much I eat (fiction), I’m lazy and disgusting (fiction), food comforts me (fiction), I can’t lose weight (fiction). They are sliding into useless self trash-talk at this point.  It doesn’t help them and the verbal abuse is only a habit that they’ve practiced over and over and over again, but the great news is that they can create a new habit at any time. And so can you.

The next time you find that you are berating yourself, back way up to the facts and if they are facts that you would like to change, put your time and energy into finding a solution. You have the power to change anything in your life and the quality of feedback you give yourself is key to making the adjustments needed to get what you want. Remember that the point of constructive feedback is to help you see where you can exploit your potential and make the necessary improvements to help you express it.

From Procrastination to Productive in 15 Minutes

October 25, 2010 4 comments

Mondays can be tough.  We’ve  just come off of a fun and/or relaxing weekend and, for many of us, Mondays mean ramping up and getting enough momentum to get stuff done.  It’s the gaining momentum part that tends to be a challenge.  My to do list for today is not pretty, there’s a bunch of stuff cluttering it up that is normally not on there and it’s bumming me out.  This means if I want to do the other things I normally do, I need to be more efficient with my time today.  This is bad news for someone like me who is impulsive and organizationally challenged. Thankfully, I have learned some strategies that help me function like a productive, pulled together person.  One of my favorite methods for getting stuff done when I start to feel overwhelmed by my to do list is to commit to 15 minutes of doing one thing I need to do.

This may not seem like a mind-blowingly genius idea, but I assure you, it is.  The first time I understood how powerful the first 15 minutes are of any activity or project I was in a spin class. I was tired, un-motivated and very close to ignoring my alarm clock that morning and rolling over to go back to sleep. Somehow I made it to class but I felt crappy for the first few minutes on the bike.  I phoned it in, doing the bare minimum the workout required but then after 15 minutes, something happened: I started getting into my workout. It could have been the combination of good music, my body getting warm and loose and the instructor’s enthusiasm, but those things (except for getting warmed up) were in place at the start of class.  I strongly suspect it just took about 15 minutes to shift my focus (and my body) to what I was doing in the moment. I finished the entire workout and, as is usually the case, I felt about 1000 times better after my workout than I did before I started. It just took a 15-minute period to transition into an activity that I really did want to do.

I find this happens when I’m working on any project.  I’m writing a book right now and if I told myself I had to write so many pages by such and such date, I would probably find a way to freak myself out about it and watch funny clips on Youtube all day instead (this has actually happened to me). However, if I just focus on the bare minimum, those first 15 minutes, I often find I get into a flow and I actually want to continue doing what I’m doing.  I will often write for at least an hour when I intend to devote only 15 minutes of my time to writing. Sometimes I don’t get into groove at all and that’s okay, too.  At least I gave it a go and I feel better about leaving that project and doing something else for a while before coming back to it—and sometimes that means getting back to it the next day.

If you’re having trouble getting a project going this morning, just give it 15 minutes of your time and attention. See how you feel after that, it may be the jumpstart you need to get on a productive streak. If you’re struggling with procrastination, check out my post How To Procrastinate.

Inspired Action

October 19, 2010 Leave a comment

Last week I picked up Laird Hamilton’s book Force of Nature. I’ve surfed exactly 3 times in my life, but it was enough to develop an appreciation for the sport.  I appreciate the athletes who enjoy the sport even more and Laird has become one of my biggest inspirations when it comes to going after what I really want. I am moved by this man’s sense of adventure, courage and dedication to do something he is completely passionate about. I also admire his complete honesty as he reveals the journey he took (and continues to take) to reach greatness in his sport. I mean, this guy dominates —he is THE big-wave surfer.  One of my favorite parts of the book is his list of injuries he’s sustained while learning how to master his sport, I like it because it reminds me that there is a cost to every pursuit, not just physical, but mental, too. Not only is there a cost to pursuing what you want, but there is also a cost to not pursuing what you want and that cost can be exorbitantly high. Laird has sustained some pretty gnarly injuries, and still, he gets up all happy on his surfboard ready for more. That is partially what makes him great: not everyone is willing to get back up after getting beaten down, let alone get up and be crazy enthusiastic about getting back up and out there again.  That’s a weed-out process. If, for example, I took a surfboard through my cheek and it rearranged the inside of my mouth, I might be inclined to discontinue surfing.  That is to say, I’m not that passionate about surfing. However, there are other things I would take the equivalent of getting a surfboard through my face and keep going, and that’s a good thing. There is something out there you would take a hard blow for and get up and say thank you sir, may I have another and actually look forward to the challenge just so you can be in it, close to it and mastering it. If you don’t believe me, you just haven’t discovered it yet, or you don’t realize you’ve discovered it yet.  I chatted with a woman who said she didn’t have anything in her life that she was that worked up about, but then we started talking about her children.  That woman would definitely take a surfboard to the head for her kids and keep going. No doubt.

Mostly, what we fear isn’t physical–it’s mental. Even what we fear will happen to us physically is all bound up in our heads. The initial blow sucks, but the body heals, it’s the mind that has the power to make us suffer. Clearly, I am moved by Laird’s example.  Recently, he inspired me to try something I’ve never done before: pole dancing.  I’ve been practicing pole tricks for about 3 years now, but I’ve never really attempted to put them all together in a way that flows. I know it may sound crazy, but I just didn’t think I was that kind of pole athlete (even though I love practicing pole tricks and I love dancing!).  It kinda scared me.  What if I was clumsy and I couldn’t flow the movements together in a pretty way? What if I didn’t have the stamina to string one move together right after another? What if I couldn’t think of any moves to put together in the first place?! I know better than to let fear stop me, too, but that doesn’t mean I always remember that.  That’s when inspiration and a mentor (even one I’ve never met before) make all the difference.  After reading a quote from Laird’s book, I put on some music, said screw it and got my groove on. You can see what happened next here.  And you know what? It wasn’t technically brilliant, it wasn’t polished, but it was a start and it was a ridiculously good time. This is the quote that got me to show up for it:

If you think about it, the flip side to fear is commitment.  You can spend your life fence-sitting because you’re frightened of something bad that might happen—or you can launch yourself into it with all your conviction and all your intelligence.  Here’s my advice: Meet up with your fears . . .what you’ll find isn’t terror—it’s exhilaration and the moments you never forget.

Amen.

Is Getting What You Want Worth Risking What You Have?

October 4, 2010 1 comment

What I love about risk taking is that it is how great work comes about—greatness doesn’t come from playing it safe. ~Tim Gunn

I sometimes find myself thinking how clean and convenient it would be to get what I want, while not losing what I have. I know this usually cannot be the case, however, because most times getting what I want involves letting go of something else.  In order to reach my current state of health and fitness, for example, I had to let go of some habits that I really wanted to hold on to . . .initially.  Like most people with eating disorders, I did not want to give up using food as a way to cope with problems or challenges in my life.  However, I was also so sick of feeling that I lacked control over my body and life and I wanted more than anything to feel in control of me.  I had to risk the former in order to get the latter, and that’s exactly what I did.  I no longer use food for anything other than for fuel. I have learned that challenges require solutions, not cake, and most of the time I am able to find the solution.  Even when I don’t resolve a challenge to my 100% complete satisfaction, food never factors into the equation for me anymore. In this case, achieving my goal was well worth the risk of losing a poor coping mechanism that I had used for many years.

When you imagine yourself having the thing or situation you really want—you imagine that you’ve already taken all the risks and put in the leg work of getting it—how much better off do you believe you will be?  Do you feel good, neutral or bad thinking about the outcome?  If you’re not completely excited about the outcome, abort the mission—you don’t really want it.   Put the time and energy you would have wasted pursuing that dead end goal into finding out what you do truly want, the goal that is worth taking a risk for. If you feel good about the outcome, the risk of losing what you have is beyond worth it, because you are ready to trade up—you can do better and deep down in your guts, you know this. It’s a no brainer, really.

Taking risks can be exciting when you are going after what you truly want, but it can also be scary. One of the first things I did when I decided to conquer my eating disorder was to sit, for fifteen seconds, with all my anxiety and stress without raiding my pantry or fridge.  It was one of the hardest and longest fifteen seconds of my life, but it was also one of my proudest moments—it was the first time that I realized how much power I actually possessed over my choices. It was the beginning of the end of my eating disorder.  When you get scared pursuing what you want, just remember that you are being given an opportunity to practice bravery.  Without fear there could be no courageous acts. Without courageous acts very little would get accomplished (especially the most amazing accomplishments). Find out what you want and use your courage to go after it.  Do one risky thing, no matter how small, that will move you closer to your goal. I promise it is worth it.