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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.

Find Your Anchor And Don’t Let Go

December 22, 2010 Leave a comment

The last two mornings I have woken up at 5:30am to swim outdoors in the cold, wind and rain. I’m not complaining. In fact, I couldn’t be happier. I’m not what you call a morning person, so when I wake up even before my alarm goes off to do something, that’s love.

6am: our team is responsible for uncovering and covering the pool this week. The weather is icky, but I don't care, I'm excited for the workout to begin . . .

Physical activity grounds me. I spend lots of time strength training, pole dancing, stretching and doing cardio.  These things trigger my happy buttons: I know exactly who I am, what I want and where I’m supposed to be when I’m using my body. Everything makes sense in those moments and that’s important, especially when I can make little or no sense of what’s going on in other parts of my life. Everyone has something that keeps them grounded. My dad, who also likes to wake up AFTER the sun makes its appearance, will get up enthusiastically at 4am (or earlier) to catch a chartered boat to go deep sea fishing, the ocean anchors him.  My Ex routinely gets up when it’s still dark to design video games—he is anchored to his creativity.  My daughter is compelled to stop and ask if she may pet any dogs she sees out walking with their owners, animals anchor her.

Without an anchor, without something to ground us, we may get by and even thrive when circumstances and people around us are working in our favor.  But what happens when those circumstances and people we have come to depend on for our happiness are not working with us anymore or they disappear? Things can feel pretty out of control in those situations and we can feel completely lost.  We all face challenges, but even on the toughest days, as long as we stay connected to our anchor, it will pull us out of bed and remind us that there is something on fire within us, something we want to show up for no matter what.  In those moments when we feel the most lost, holding fast to our anchor will keep us on our path no matter how slow going and directionless it may feel at times.

What anchors you? If you have lost connection to your anchor, grabbing hold of it again is as simple as asking yourself what activities, places or things make you feel peaceful, powerful and/or capable. When do you feel most in your element? What are you doing? Who are you with? Where do you go? Your anchor is the thing that doesn’t necessarily make any practical sense to anyone else, it may not even make practical sense to you.  That’s okay. Don’t worry about it.  Practicality is not a requirement of an anchoring activity, but the function the anchoring activity serves–to keep you grounded in something solid and real, something that is truly yours–is extremely practical and necessary because it keeps you sane, satisfied and strong.

7:15am: Just finished my workout, it's still cold and rainy out, but I'm happy and content!

 

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.

Do You Choose Meaning or Happiness?

September 27, 2010 1 comment

If death meant just leaving the stage long enough to change costumes and come back as a new character. . .Would you slow down? Or speed up? ~ Chuck Palahniuk

This weekend I read part of an almost 2000 page suicide note.  It was fascinating, well researched, and even funny in parts. The author of the note, 35 year old Mitchell Heisman, killed himself in an attempt to test whether life has meaning or not and whether there is anything in life that can be judged as important. He was taking nihilism to the next level. I am impressed with this man’s drive and ambition, but I’m disappointed because I will never learn the conclusion to his hypothesis that life is meaningless because, well, he’s dead.

My guess is that if Heisman had survived the experiment he might have realized that there was at least one thing of meaning in his life: the 1,905 page polemic he wrote about how life is probably meaningless. This idea was important to him and he was compelled to leave behind an epic ebook for free distribution to let as many of us in on this concept as possible. Is this ironic? that a man is willing to take his own life to prove that life is meaningless? or concrete proof that life is meaningless? A man is willing to die for an idea he finds important. . .meh.  I’m not entirely sure.  What I suspect is that Heisman really wanted his life to have meaning, and that he believed meaning would somehow justify his existence and that would ultimately make him happy—otherwise, why hassle with proving or disproving his hypothesis? At some time or other we all wonder why we’re here and, perhaps, wait for something amazing to happen to us like receiving a calling, falling in love, getting our big break or winning the lottery. People can spend a whole lifetime just waiting for and feverishly expecting meaning to happen to them.

Right now you may feel your life has no meaning because you’ve lost a job, a spouse, a house, your pre-baby figure or your sense of self—maybe all of the above.  What if it didn’t matter if your life had meaning? What if for right now you just did the best you are capable of doing at something you enjoy doing? If seeking meaning is making you miserable, it may be a good time to reevaluate your goals, get focused on what it is you really want, commit to it, forget about the outcome and just do what feels right at this moment.  If you connect those moments and all you can say at the end of your life is that you only had a string of experiences that moved you and had contact with people who passed the time pleasurably with you, would that be so bad? Would you rather be happy or pursue meaning? I don’t believe there is a right answer, only a choice that you are left to make.

Focus On The Must Haves

July 1, 2010 1 comment

I got so many thoughtful and supportive emails about last week’s post (thank you!) that I just wanted to follow up and let you know that after I fell apart, I got to work on pulling myself back together and I’m happy to say that I am back in the game again. Part of my recovery involved taking inventory of how I was using my resources of time and energy and how I could be more efficient and focused with those resources to get what I wanted.  I have a weakness for fun of all kinds and I tend to say yes to every opportunity, activity, event and invite to to get my fun fix.  This definitely has its benefits, but unchecked, it can really dilute my focus from what I truly want by spreading my resources too thin over things it would be nice to have.  The net result is that I end up doing mediocre work and I’m exhausted.  I knew that if I were going to pull myself together, I needed to be way smarter about how I spend my time and energy.  I knew this was huge and that I needed to get on it right away, so, naturally, I rented the first season of Sex and the City and watched all the episodes back-to-back.  I really wanted to grab the second season, too, but the project of focusing in on what I truly want wasn’t going to happen without my involvement, so I did what I had to do. . .

I pulled out three clean sheets of notebook paper and titled them, respectively: what I want, what I must have and what I can live without.  I started unloading my wants, I have a lot of those, it was actually kind of fun seeing all the things I’d like to have, do and be.  Then I picked out what I absolutely must have from that list, those things people supposedly think they wish they had accomplished or acquired while they’re lying on their deathbeds and I came up with five things that I absolutely must have before I expire. Finally, I went back over my want list and picked out the things that, when it really came right down to it, I would be okay with letting go.  I won’t lie, it was rough–I felt a little bit like Meryl Streep’s character in Sophie’s Choice. I looked at my must have list, it truly represented my immediate deepest wants and I knew in order to get those things, I would have to funnel my resources to those five things.  Only, I got even more real and I knew that five things was still too many, I might be mediocre or just good enough, at best, by spreading my resources out over those five things and so I made some more Sophie’s Choices and narrowed my list down to my very top three priorities, the things that I knew I wanted to be nothing short of great at. These are my true must haves.

There is one caveat that takes any oppressive heaviness out of all of this though: I can change my mind at any time about what it is I must have. This is a major relief to me, because I don’t like the idea of being tied down to anything.  The truth is I’m free to do whatever I like, and what I like is getting what I must have.  One thing I know for sure is that unless I am clear and focused on what I must have and I consciously channel my time and energy toward it, I won’t get it. Nothing worth having happens by accident, we make it happen by actively planning, preparing and working toward it.  There’s little room in our lives for things it would be nice to have and no room for the things we can let go of when we are pursuing the things we must have.  The resources of time and energy are there, we simply need to decide how we spend them.

Surviving Is Not Thriving

February 24, 2010 Leave a comment

Photo of Laird Hamilton, taken by Tim McKenna

If you wait until all of the fear is gone, you’ll be dead in a box. ~Terry DeMeo

What scares you?  Are you afraid of: not being good enough, not having enough, not being able to accomplish a goal, being ridiculed, getting rejected or being lonely? Maybe you’re afraid of death. That makes sense, since the sole purpose of fear is protection and self-preservation.  All the other little worries like being afraid you won’t find the right job, have enough money or hook up with the right mate are all streams flowing into the big river Fear of Death. If your sole purpose on this planet was just to survive, I’d say you’re doing a fine job, survive away.  However, I believe you know that you are here to do way more than just take up oxygen. You came here to fill a void that only you can fill, you came here to develop and deliver your gifts and talents–you came here to thrive.  The problem is you may be stuck in survival mode anxiously wondering what if? and stressing yourself out with I shoulds all day long, it’s an easy trap to fall into—but you need to climb out of it, because it really sucks in there.

Here’s a sobering fact that may help put things into perspective: you will not make it out of this life alive. None of us will.  Take that in for a moment.  All this trying to avoid danger and all things scary won’t buy you your life–in fact, it will end up robbing you of it.  I don’t completely reject fear as something useful.  It’s super handy if when you’re crossing the street, you notice a semi-truck careening out of control and heading right toward you.  You will appreciate the rush of adrenaline and your impulse to get out of the way in a hurry.  In this scenario, fear bought you some more time on this planet.  Well done.  Most of the time, however, we don’t find ourselves in many truly life-threatening situations, but we constantly psyche ourselves out with worry and a preoccupation to not look dumb.   When we operate from fear, not only are we exhausted from the stress and anxiety caused by living on high alert,  but we also cut ourselves off from our abilities to create, innovate, solve and even celebrate. Thriving takes all kinds of resources we can’t afford to use because, according to Fear, we are in mortal danger and we must abandon all non-protective activity so we can save ourselves from the super scary consequences that may result from, say, a less than stellar public speaking attempt.

So don’t bother asking that hottie out for a date, or starting your own business or pursuing your dream of being a rock star.  You may get rejected, you may fail and people may ridicule you. Oh no, anything but that! Just go back to surviving.  Until you die. Or, you could take risks (as calculated as you like), stop listening to everyone around you (believe me, they don’t have a clue on how to live your life) and start listening to and obeying your urge to thrive.  Let your white-hot passions and dreams (your authentic wishes, informed by your gut) and your insatiable desire to express them be your guide to living. You come fully equipped with all the information and instructions on how to live a fully fabulous life, but you have to get out of survival mode to follow through with it. You cannot be in survival mode and thriving mode at the same time:  you have to choose to occupy one place or the other.

Are you content with surviving or do you want to blow it out, do it big and go out knowing you accomplished what you came here to do?  Just for fun, do something today that you’ve always wanted to do, but scares you a little (or a lot).  Who would you be without the fear?