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Check Yourself: Accountability Check #1

21 Mar

I turn 31 this Sunday.  Bear with me, things are going to get a little personal.

I know that this is the blog where I give helpful advice on how best to achieve your goals, and how to keep your head about you in crazy derby space, and how to smash your training and nutrition.

I love doing those things.  But it is my birthday, and I’m going to be selfish and write a post almost entirely about me.  And goals.  And derby.  And training.  And accountability.

I had a list of things that I wanted to do by the time I turned 25.  And then when I turned 25, it was like, ‘I really wanted to do those things before I turn 30’.  Now, BAM, 31.   I made some pretty bold proclamations in a post shortly after I turned 30.

I said,

“Thirty is the year that I take that career into my own hands and try to make something of myself.  I am terrified, but thirty is the year that fear doesn’t stop me.  Thirty is the year that I have lots of new things to say to people I haven’t seen since high school. “

BIG PLANS.  Big words.  So, reality check:  How did I do?

Answer: Needs improvement.

I talk a lot about finding the bright spots and celebrating your successes. By and large, I think that’s the best way to keep yourself trying to get better each day. In the pursuit of a healthy lifestyle, keep moving forward. Don’t dwell on past failures.  Revel in the small wins.

I like to send positive messages.  I compliment people when they do things well.  I work to make my criticisms constructive and to deliver them in the most beneficial way for the receiver.  There is tons of social support in both fitness and derby.  It encourages people to try things they never thought possible.  I am convinced that a large percentage of the amazing things that happen in the gym, or on the track, happen because of a shared community ideal to push your limits and get better.

Positive self-talk and a strong community are great tools to use against your internal fear when it needs to shut up and get out of the way.

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If you’re up against a wall (of blockers, or a metaphoric wall), thinking about how strong the wall is, and how you’ll never get through, and how tired you are is NEVER going to help you get through.  Find your people, talk yourself up, and just keep pushing.

So, why then do I mark myself as Needs Improvement if I’m all about positive messaging and relying on the support of your community?

Positive thinking doesn’t get you a free pass.

When you get down to it, positive messaging is a tool.  Community strength is a tool.  Self-help books are a tool.  Education is a tool.  Coaches are a tool.

You still have to take your tools and build something. 

Deciding to do it doesn’t make it so.  Putting it on your to-do list doesn’t make it so.  Even blogging about it doesn’t make it so (sigh).  Only doing it gets it done.

A good friend of mine always tells me to feel the fear, do it anyway.

That’s where I stumble.  And then procrastinate, and then say I’m working on my business, and then find all sorts of little things I can do to feel productive so that I can ignore the really big, scary thing (quitting my day job, so that I can ACTUALLY focus on what I love doing).

Which leads me to refine my steps to goal success:

Celebrate the small wins, but don’t lose sight of the big picture.  If you want to be a first-string jammer, celebrating your awesome blocking accomplishments will help you to be in a good head-space, but you still have to jam some jams.

Have a plan to get where you want, but not a plan that’s so locked into place that you can’t see opportunity.  Being deeply mired in the way that you think something will turn out often closes you off to other potential outcomes which may be even more amazing than the one in your mind.  Just like on the track, have a game plan, but be flexible.

Tunnel

I’m currently reading Small is the New Big, by Seth Godin.  In it, he talks about “Zooming”, which he basically describes as embracing change without pain, so that you can be open to all the opportunities that surround you.  Pain is inherent in change – just don’t dwell on the pain.  Example; a new training program will introduce you to new training stresses and you will be sore.  Do you focus on the looming soreness so much that you never get around to starting the program?  Or do you imagine how awesome you’re going to look/feel/be once you have some mastery of the program?  If you’re a zoomer, likely the latter.

Lastly – be accountable.  Which brings me back to my Needs Improvement.  I can post all I want as a fitness and derby advisor on the internet.  I can train clients every night and weekend, and every single spare second I have.  I can take every course and certification out there.  I can do all of that, and be reasonably happy about where I’m at.

But, if I’m honest with myself – I have to decide if this is my full-time job, and how I want that to look.  I have to put my goals out there and be responsible for achieving them.

In my year-end post, I listed some goals.  I didn’t give them deadlines or touchy-feely reasons, because putting information like that into the public sphere (instead of keeping it inside your head) adds pressure, both internal and external.  Now they get some:

  • Finish my Precision Nutrition certification – BAM.  DONE.
  • (new) Pass my Strongfirst Level 1 Certification – November 15-17, 2013.  I love kbs, I want to be the best teacher and practitioner that I can possibly be.  Strongfirst will help get me there.
  • Develop a solid business plan (which goes hand in hand with really having a clear idea of what I want my business to look like) – September 16, 2013.  This isn’t just a random date.  My day job has a big event every September – this date lets me be involved, not leave them hanging, but clarifies an exit plan.
  • Quit my day job – see above.  Also, maybe quitting isn’t quitting, maybe it’s going to part-time.  Or maybe it is quitting.  Either way, I’m going to take steps each day to clarify what I want, and grow in that direction.
  • Captain the Tramps to a winning season – ending Oct. 2013.  This is likely my last season as the Tramps captain, I want more than anything to totally smash it.
  • Solidify Plan B’s place in TCRG (and amongst other similar B-Teams) – ending Oct. 2013.  We’re a new team, with a new outlook, I want us to help the league grow and make a name for ourselves.
  • Jam a full game as a primary jammer – April 20, 2013 – I’ve never jammed a full game, I think it would be awesome to try.
  • Deadlift double bodyweight – KB training is my focus right now, and will be until after the SFG.  Deads are still a part of my training, but I’m pushing this one back to December 2013 – I’m currently at 195lbs, which is over 150% bodyweight, so I’m on the right track.
  • Find a mentor – ASAP.  Like, yesterday.  Since I’m not super clear on what I want my life in fitness to look like, I am sometimes too quick to look past opportunities.  You know what I’m saying – it’s often easier to know what you don’t want than what you do.  I want to be more open to internships, guidance, any experience that lets me learn and gets me closer to knowing where I might fit in.

Those are my goals.  With deadlines.  And reasons to accomplish them.  Out in the world.

Social support doesn’t just mean cheer-leading.  Sometimes it means asking your friends what they did to get a little closer to their goals each and every day.

So, friends, what progress did you make today?

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I Hate Mornings (or, How I Eat and Get Out the Door Without Becoming a Monster)

14 Mar

 

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Garfield and I have a couple of things in common. First off, we both hate mornings. Secondly, we both love lasagna. Unfortunately (fortunately), now that I am a grown-up and am committed to building my business, I need to free up some extra time. And when better to do that than first thing in the morning? Ugh.

In the past, my mornings generally went like this:

  • (starting the night before), I say to Slim as we’re going to bed, “I’ll totally get up with you at stupid early o’clock”.
  • Stupid early o’clock arrives, I roll over and tell Slim to have a good day, that I’ll see him in 10 minutes, and hit the snooze button. (This was actually progress, since initially, I would just reset the alarm for an hour or two later).
  • I hit the snooze again.
  • I hit the snooze again.
  • I hit the snooze again.
  • Slim leaves , I drag my sorry ass into the shower to wake up, get dressed, boil the kettle, drink tea, leave for work.

This type of morning did not leave me with the sort of energy and sense of accomplishment that I’d like to start my day with. To be clear, I have NEVER been a morning person. My parents used to have to drag me out of bed as a child, in University I scheduled classes in the morning so that I wouldn’t just sleep the entire day through.

To manage this paradigm shift, I had to do a few things. Let’s refer back to Switch – I had to direct the rider, motivate the elephant, and shape the path. To shape the path (or change my environment), I became accountable to more than my alarm. Nowadays, when Slim wakes up, he bugs me until I actually get out of bed. Another way to shape the path would be to move the alarm clock to Slim’s side of the bed. We haven’t done that yet, but it would work.

Next, to direct the rider (or appeal to my logical mind), I gave myself a morning task to accomplish. I don’t train optimally in the mornings, I’ve tried, I just get cranky, so that couldn’t be the thing I did every morning. Instead, each night, I make a list (surprising!) of the tasks I’d like to complete and have them ready for me tackle in the morning. If they’re there staring at me, the desire to get them done will override the desire to snuggle in bed.

Finally, I needed to motivate my elephant (engage my emotional self). Lists are all well and good, but having random tasks on them wasn’t enough, since I didn’t actually care about accomplishing them. Without emotional engagement in the task, the snooze button/crap morning TV began to look more and more attractive.

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I thought back to University, and even though I hated every second of the waking up early for class, once I was in the classroom I didn’t feel so bad. And by the time it was done, I felt like I’d accomplished more that day than my friends who were still tucked in their beds. So these days, I focus on my continuing education stuff every morning. First thing is when I watch videos, take online classes, study, and plan. I feel awesome when I can check things off my list before I’ve even finished my first cup of green tea.

Let’s recap: I wanted to make more time in the morning to get stuff done and feel good about myself. I am not a morning person. I changed my environment to help me along, I gave my logical mind a reason to get up and a task to accomplish, and I gave my emotional drive a reward (pride) to look forward to. Fantastic! I am most of the way to not hating mornings. Until the night that the dog barks for no reason for hours, or the time changes, or I was up late the night before.

I recently passed my Precision Nutrition Level 1 Coaching certification (for which I studied almost exclusively in the morning), and I learned a TON. One of the huge takeaways was the power of habit versus the power of intention. How many times have you decided that you were going to eat healthy/workout every day/start getting up earlier/etc. etc. only to be derailed when things get busy or you have a tough day?

I often have tough mornings.

Habits will carry you through (or drag you down) in the tough times. Don’t assume that your life will always operate under the best-case scenario; plan for things to get hairy once in a while. Take the time to ingrain healthy habits to replace less healthy ones, and you’ll be much better equipped to manage when things go pear-shaped.

To nail down my getting-shiz-done-in-the-morning habit, here are my actionable steps:

1) Wake up at roughly the same time every day (even if it’s a weekend). This helps more than you think it will. And you get TONS done on your days off, since you don’t spend half of it sleeping.

2) The Saturday Ritual (PN calls this the Sunday Ritual, but I have derby on Sundays) – Use whichever day you have the most time to commit to the task and give over a couple of hours to writing a menu, grocery shopping, and prepping your food for the week. You can chop veggies, cook proteins, make batch meals – like chili (or lasagna!), make dry mixes for shakes. Meal plans don’t have to be complicated, or detailed. For example, I have a shake for breakfast and a salad and a protein (usually eggs or cottage cheese) for lunch – I don’t really have to over-plan those, because they don’t change. Devote a couple of free hours that you would have spent on facebook, and you’ve got healthy meals for the week, and a WAY less stressful morning.

3) Eat Breakfast. I didn’t. For a very long time. I had myself convinced that breakfast made me feel sick and sluggish all day. So I just didn’t eat it. As I dug deeper into training and nutrition, I figured I should probably try a little harder to eat in the mornings, but it was so challenging to find the time that I’d end up just having instant oatmeal or a bagel. With no fruit or veggies. Or protein. So, not ideal. Enter the Super Shake. It’s an easy way to eat well in the morning that literally takes about 2 minutes. Here’s what you do:

In your blender, mix:

  • ice – 1-10 cubes depending on the consistency you want
  • a fruit – I like banana, it thickens up the shake
  • a veggie – kale, swiss chard, spinach, pumpkin, sweet potato, beets (roast first), celery/cucumber (make sure to use less liquid because of the water content in these), greens powder
  • a protein powder that you digest well – whey, rice, hemp, pea, or other
  • a nut or seed – walnut, flax, hemp, chia, cashew, almond, nut butter
  • a liquid – almond milk, soy milk, hemp milk, green tea, water
  • a topper – coconut, cacao nibs, dark chocolate, oats, granola, cinnamon

Yummy shakes, all the nutrients you need, no brain power required. My fave – 4 ice cubes, a banana, pumpkin puree, unflavoured (or vanilla) whey protein, almond butter (or crunchy peanut butter), almond milk, cinnamon. IT’S LIKE PIE FOR BREAKFAST.

4) The Power of Proximity. If you want to make healthy choices, make them the easiest choices to make. I know mornings are where I fall down, so my green tea is the foremost tea on my shelf, my blender is right out on the counter, and I don’t have bagels, or instant anything, in the house any more. This totally works if your issue is not breakfast, but rather post-work or late-night snacks too. Just have the healthy snacks in plain view. Don’t have questionable snacks in the house if you can manage it. If you’re actually hungry, you’ll go for the easy (healthy) choice.

I’m trying to be a little less Garfield-ish these days. I’m still a grumpus when I first get out of bed, but I’m getting out of that bed with a plan, some steps to take, and sound morning habits to support me.

I’m not going to stop loving lasagna though. Case in point, here’s a PN coach’s recipe for lasagna using zucchini strips for noodles (scroll to Anytime Lasagna) – genius!

garfield-lasagna

Burn, Baby, Burn: Managing February Burnout

28 Feb

I’m pretty glad that February is a short month that ends today.

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It’s no secret, February can be a challenging month to stay motivated.  Especially when it snows.  And when the snow is heavy and wet.  And it clings to the trees, making it look really pretty from your window, but not-so-pretty when you are chucking it from the end of your driveway into the slushy, ever-growing piles that line your street.  By February, your scheduled has normalized from the holidays, you are back in the daily grind, but still really, really far from the next batch of holidays.  It’s a great time to go away, if you can swing it, but if you can’t (or won’t), you might need some coping strategies.

For me, it’s not so much the February blahs – it’s the February overwhelm.  February is the month where I realize that I’m not quite so far along on those goals I set at the start of January.  February is when I have lists and lists of jobs that I’ve wanted to do since January 1, and have been avoiding for one reason or another.  By about this time of the year, they start to weigh on me.  February is the month that ALL the derby starts back up – captaining duties in full swing, having to make attendance again, needing schedules and planning for the upcoming season, FM intakes to organize, skaters to keep motivated.

I’ve been skating derby for four seasons now.  I don’t consider myself a hardened veteran, but I’m also not a newbie.  I’m somewhere in that weird, amorphous space between new and excited and jaded and done.  For me, February (and early March) is my derby kryptonite.

Ever wonder why you do your draft before the off-season, and then in February a whole bunch of people leave? I don’t think it’s only simple burn-out.  I think it’s timing.  February until November looks like a very, very long slog.  Even February until summer looks like a long haul.  Also note – you are not the only person who feels this way about February, most people do.  Therefore most people are cranky and terse.  This doesn’t mesh super-well with an activity (like the derbs) that relies on people communicating well and working together.

So, February, a month of sucky weather, tempting reclusiveness, upcoming deadlines, mounting responsibilities, gnawing self-doubt, short tempers, and no foreseeable end to the grind.

It’s easy for February to get you down.

Even my tiny dog is unimpressed.  She’ll walk three houses down from ours, look up at me like ‘are you kidding?’ and then turn around and walk back.  Even if you are a tiny dog, it can get tough to get out of bed in the morning, knowing how cold and bleak it’s going to be.

It’s important, when you’re feeling crappy, to evaluate how bad you really feel.  Check out this article to see if it might be time to consult with a mental health professional.  Track where you’re at, listen to your gut, don’t let negative feelings spiral to the point where you feel you’ve lost control.  Reach out, get help if you need it.

If you’ve self-evaluated and you’re just feeling maudlin, but not clinically so –  what do you do?  I’ve found a lot of “How To Beat the Blahs” articles and they all say the same thing: Go outside for fun, eat better, exercise, laugh with friends.

All of these are good ideas.

They are all things that can help you keep a handle on yourself through what can be a tough time of the year.  Here’s a list of what’s been helping me:

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DRINKING TEA:  First of all, tea makes you feel warm and snuggly.  This is a great way to feel after a long day out in the February.  Also, herbal teas, especially green, contain theanine – a natural mood enhancer. They are also full of antioxidants.

HAVING A VERY CLEAR TRAINING GOAL:  I am training for my Strongfirst Kettlebell certification in November.  That seems like a long time away, but it really isn’t.  I have a detailed training plan about where I need to be to accomplish this goal and when.  This helps me in two ways.  First, I know what I’m doing when I go down to my gym and don’t have to come up with ideas.  Because in February even coming up with a decent training session for yourself can be a challenge.  This way, it’s done for me.  Also, knowing my very clear goal and my process steps to get there makes me excited about almost every session.  I get to see progress.  I get to measure myself against where I want to be.  It helps, too, that my goal is kettlebell related.  Kettlebell practice is meditative to me.  It’s challenging, requires mental fortitude, can be extremely repetitive (but in a good, giving you feedback about your form sort of way), and is all-round a badass thing to do.  My love of kettlebells is no secret, and I have a post about why kettlebells are good for derby girls in the works.

All of this being said, there are days when it’s tough to get your train on.  Here’s an awesome article from Dean Somerset about what to do on those days (it includes more mobility drills than you can even imagine).

DERBY MENTORING:  It can be tough to get motivated to come to derby practice when your games are still months away.  For travel team members, this is less of an issue, but if you’ve already started bouting, burnout can become a concern too.  I’ve found that instead of thinking of the new fresh meat coming in as yet another thing you have to deal with, feed off their energy.  Like a vampire.  Okay, maybe not like an energy vampire, but let their derby enthusiasm infect you.  At practice, work with newer skaters.  You’ll feel good about helping them, they’ll feel good because they are getting better, and it’s far more productive than just looking at the clock waiting for the practice to end.

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GET NATURAL VITAMIN C – Yes, citrus is not particularly in season, however lemons, grapefruits and oranges at this time of year help to a) boost your immunity, and b) make you feel like it’s the summer.  Also, you can pretend that you’re a pirate that needs fresh fruit so that you don’t get scurvy (not that I do that).  While we’re on the subject of nutrition, I’ve also increased the number of salads and raw vegetables that I’m eating this month.  Helps my body function, tricks me because they feel like warm weather food.  It’s just like eating soup in the summer to cool down, which I used to do all the time when I worked at an outdoor festival (it was a Renaissance Festival, but that’s a story for another time).  I promise you, fresh fruits and veggies will make you feel much better than loading up on the starchy carbs.

RANDOM ACTS OF KINDNESS: Being nice for no reason is its own reward.  Open doors, help people shovel, let people merge in traffic.  Bit by bit the kindness you put out in the world will come back to you.  And even if it doesn’t you’ll feel good about helping people, which will give you an instant mood-boost.

CELEBRATING SMALL DAILY ACCOMPLISHMENTS:
This is part of why I make lists – so I can cross things off of them.  I make a ridiculously big deal of minor accomplishments to celebrate my progress.  Make myself a smoothie for breakfast? – I am totally looking after myself, great work!  Shave my legs? – That means I might leave the house, awesome!  Write this blog post? – Look at all the commitments I am keeping with myself!  I am the most winning-est winner ever!  Am I going overboard?  Maybe a little, but celebrating the wins keeps me winning.  If I dwell on all the things I’m not doing, I will start to drown in them.  Focusing on the small things that I can accomplish keeps me moving forward and helps me stay motivated to keep on going when things are tough.

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That’s how I’m dealing with February.  That, and resting assured that things will even out in time if I keep putting one snow-booted foot in front of the other.  What about you?  How are you weathering the winter?

I Can See Clearly Now

18 Feb

I did something that I didn’t expect to do.

It’s a little bit airy- fairy for my normal modus operandi.

I made a vision board.

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It’s one of those things that “self-actualized” people tell you to do to clarify what’s important to you. When I first thought about making one, I was like, “sure, arts and crafts will totally help me get my mind right”. Side bar: I totally love arts and crafts, but normally they’re just one more job, so I’ve been scaling back of late.

You know what though, I think I’m going to need to eat my snark about hippie crafts not being useful. As soon as I glue-sticked the pictures to the paper, I actually felt somewhat inspired. And clearer. And like I had a bit more direction than before I made it.

So, the lesson is: don’t dismiss a tool just because it doesn’t look like a tool you would ever use. Maybe those tools are the best one to try when you’re hitting a wall. Maybe doing something you normally wouldn’t will help you see yourself and your situation with new eyes.

Here’s my masterpiece. It won’t mean anything to you, but (somewhat surprisingly) it means something to me. I might even frame it.

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Try something new today. Try something you think might be ridiculous. It might be totally worth it.

What I’m Grateful For in 2012

31 Dec

2012 was a big, challenging year for me.

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I made some choices about where and who I want to be in the world.  Yes, I started giving my future some real thought in the summer of 2011, but I really got rolling by the end of that year and the start of this one, so I’m giving myself some leeway.

This year I completed my first PT cert, learned to love kettlebells, attended my first conferences, helped run the most wildly successful fresh meat intake our league has yet seen, started getting paid for training people, and started my own business.

I also turned thirty.

It’s been a pretty terrifying process, and I’m just getting started.  There are a number of things that I wanted to accomplish this year; some I did (as I’ve mentioned above), some I haven’t yet.

Off the top of my head, in 2013 I’d like to:

  • Finish my Precision Nutrition cert (well on the way!)
  • Develop a solid business plan (which goes hand in hand with really having a clear idea of what I want my business to look like)
  • Captain the Tramps to a winning season
  • Solidify Plan B’s place in TCRG (and amongst other similar B-Teams)
  • Jam a full game as a primary jammer
  • Deadlift double bodyweight
  • Quit my day job
  • Find a mentor

There are also a number of things that I’m incredibly grateful for that have happened this year.  These are them:

Derby – and the maintaining of my sanity within it.

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Derby feels like an old shoe to me now.  At first it was like a new shoe that I was really excited about wearing because it was so sexy and all the coolest people I knew were wearing it.  Then it was like a new shoe that I bought because I thought it was so sexy and all the coolest people I knew were wearing it, but when I got it home it was really uncomfortable and I hated the way my foot looked in it and I couldn’t even stand the thought of putting it on and I wondered if the people who looked so sexy in it were just so much cooler that they were comfortable in it right away or if they were secret masochists who loved a painful shoe.  Then it was a shoe that had made me miserable for long enough, just sitting in my closet not being worn, so I made it fit me – I put in insoles, wore thicker socks, and started not to care about how I looked in the shoe.  Now it’s just my shoe.  I wear it, I love it, and I can’t imagine not wearing it.  Derby and I have finally made friends and we know exactly how much of each other we can take.  And that makes me so, so happy.

Wicked Awesome Clients/Students/Trainees (I really need a boss name for y’all)

I was so blessed to have a captive audience when I decided to start training.  It was incredibly helpful to have friends, family, and a derby community that was SO on board with me.  It made making the choice to pursue training about a million times easier, in part because I knew I’d have people to train, and in part because I really, really cared about their well-being, but knew that they’d forgive me if I made a mess of things.  When you’re just starting out, you are so scared to make a mistake that you can put up roadblocks for yourself, reasons why you can’t or shouldn’t.  Having friends to teach made one less roadblock I could throw up.  And it has made all the difference in the world.  Also, it’s amazing to see my friends making changes in their health and wellness. I’m grateful to have a gaggle of derby girls who are total badasses and let me help them become even badass-er I’m grateful to have clients that trust me to steer them straight, and who give me their all, not just when we’re together, but in the time that they’ve committed to themselves at home as well.  This is Angela:

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photo courtesy of Ivan Sorensen

I’ve been working with Angela from the start.  She started with me with a large number of physical challenges, not the least of which being daily pain in her knees and back, and daily anti-inflammatories.  She also was a person who had no interest whatsoever in “working out”.  Now, she wakes up without pain, loves to lift, and plans to tackle the Iron Maiden challenge as her 5-year goal.  We still have a long way to go, but she has realized how strong she is – and the capacity she has to get stronger.  Each time she comes into my gym, I see the hardships of her day fall away with each lift.  When I look at her, I see where she can go and what she can accomplish when she gets after it, and it’s so awesome.  Commitment like hers, her desire to get better, that’s what makes training worth it.

My friends and family

I have lovely and tolerant friends and family members who understand that I have to be doing precisely six million things at once, and who work their lives around my schedule.  I have friends who don’t get jealous of derby and its hold on my time, they just come to see games and learn to like it too – which is amazing.  I have a father who tells me I need to get meaner on the track (and I quote: “What is this, a Sunday skate in the park?”) – all the while loving that his daughter has finally found an interest in sports, and a mother who is, and always will be, one of my very best friends.

My wonderful husband

Among those who learned not to hate derby, was my incredible spouse.  He decided not to fight it, and became one of the best derby announcers in the country.  Not bad Slim, not bad.  He has been the most supportive proponent of my not hating what I do for a living, and has made it easy for me to take this leap.  He cleans when I’m run off my feet, he makes sure I have food when I’m at practice until 11, he looks after the dog, and he looks after me.  He is the best partner I could ever ask for, and I am so grateful that he didn’t just end up being a fling like we’d planned.

My tiny dog, and her continuing health

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For those of you who don’t know, I have a tiny dog.  Her name is Stella, and I have an unhealthy attachment to her.  I am SO in love with my dog.  She spent the first half of her life in a puppy mill.  She only has three teeth.  Her jaw was broken when they found her, and had to be reset, hence the ridiculous face.  When we first adopted her, she was 6ish, and the OSPCA told us she might always cower in her crate, hiding from us and the world.  She was the light of my life the first time I saw her, afraid of everything, not wanting to be touched, having to be bribed with hot dog to even come within arm’s reach of us.  Now, she lights up my life with her constant need to be in my lap, her face kisses, her doggish games, and her demands for attention.  She’s getting to be a lady of a certain age (we think 12ish now), and I am grateful every day that she’s with us, healthy and happy.

Clarity and purpose

I think I’m getting clearer about who I am, and what I want from life.  I’m grateful that I’m not as scared as I once was to admit what I want and go for it.  I’m still working on the whole feel-the-fear-do-it-anyway thing, but I’m getting there.

Almond Butter

Yes, I am spending some time away from you now, but you were a big part of my 2012,  and I’ll never forget all of our lovely moments together. ❤

That’s what I’m grateful for this year.

I am sure that 2013 will be full of surprises, awesomeness, and wonder.  I wish all of those things for all of you.  I’m excited for what’s to come.

How to Handle the Holidays

20 Dec

It’s that time of year again (though it does not look like it AT ALL in Southwestern Ontario).  A time of feasting and fun with family and friends.  A time to enjoy life, the company of others, and the bounty of the earth (and the supermarket, and grandma’s kitchen, and the wine cellar).  A time where maybe sometimes, some of us, overindulge maybe a tiny, little bit.

holiday-buffet-ss

Here’s the thing: it’s the holidays.  There will be parties.  There will be merry-making.  There will be drinks, and hors d’oeuvres, and sweets.  The end of December tends to bring out the host in all of us, and that’s not a bad thing.  Holiday parties – not a bad thing.  Meals with family – not a bad thing.  It’s the cycle of massive over-indulgence, followed by massive guilt and shame that end up being a bad thing.  Trust me, I know all about the food guilt and shame.

Couple a comfort-food-rich time of year with the stress of getting everything done before December 25th, the money-managing that has to happen, and the challenges of family relationships, and you might be looking at a nutritional and emotional powder-keg.

holiday-stress

But the end of December doesn’t have to be a threat to your health and fitness goals.  Rather, it can be an awesome time,  where you maintain your sanity, maintain your healthy eating habits, and still have a good time with those you love.

Here’s how I try to keep things in check over the holiday season, so that I don’t start my January full of stress, shame, and cheese.

Learn to say no (and to say ‘not right now’).

There are tons of holiday parties, gatherings, lunches, dinners, and events.  Prioritize.  Seriously, you can’t do everything.  Give yourself permission not to attend every single event you’ve been invited to.  If you want to go somewhere, go there.  If you’re doing it because you feel obligated or pressured, evaluate the pros and cons, and let yourself say no.   Absolutely the holidays are about people-pleasing, but as they say, you can’t please all of the people all of the time.  I have spent many a New Year’s Eve trying to attend every single party, and ended up not really having enough time to spend with the people that matter.   The people that love you understand that everyone is facing about a million demands from now until the New Year, and will understand if you need to offer a rain check*.   Try to manage your time wisely, and make sure that you carve out chunks of time that are just your own.

Check yourself from time to time.

Holiday time is stressful.  Trying to find the perfect present, the perfect outfit, and also be on your best behaviour for in-laws or bosses – it can wear on a person.  Make sure to check in on your mental health and stress level.  It can seem like a sprint from mid-December to January 1st, make sure that you use your rest stations.  Running yourself ragged will do you no favours, not for your peace of mind, and not for your overall health.  Realize that sometimes the perfect is the enemy of the good, and that being yourself is a pretty good thing to be.

Make Lists.

Right now, on my person, I have 3 to-do lists.  There are days when I have more.  Lists keep me sane.  They keep me on track, and crossing things off them makes me feel good.  The book, The Checklist Manifesto, is totally boss.  It talks about how simple checklists keep the most detailed professionals – surgeons, pilots – on track and operating at their most efficient (it’s also a great gift for that Type-A person on your shopping list).  It’s true that what gets measured gets managed, so list your responsibilities, list the tasks you’d like to finish, list the places you need to be, and list the goals you want to achieve.  Then get after it.  The other nice thing about a checklist is that once something is on the list, it becomes a priority.  For example, almost every single to-do list that I write has my personal training session on it.  That way, I make it a priority and don’t just skip it because I’m too busy.  I make the time, and I’m glad that I did.

Indulge in splurges, not substitutions.

So, I haven’t talked a lot about dietary choices thus far.  I think that’s because managing your stress and checking in with yourself go a long way in helping to keep food choices on course.  However, this time of year offers lots of temptation, and popular media really likes to highlight the familiar scene of binging all December and begging forgiveness come January.  I’m pretty sure there’s a better way.  There are lots of little tips to avoid holiday overeating – eat a healthy meal before you go to parties, keep your plate full of veggies, try to talk more and eat less, keep your glass full of water, and so on.  These will work for various people to various degrees.  Here are the two things that work best for me when it comes to eating over the holidays:

  • Don’t keep checks and balances.  This might be a contentious point, and some folks may respond very well to doing the exact opposite of what I say here, but this is about what works for me.  I know how my food crazy operates, and what will make it spin out of control.  If I start obsessively tracking what is “bad” in my diet, I will start taking measures of self-denial and commence with the negative self-talk.  If, in stead, I try to eat healthy, whole foods 90% of the time, and don’t fuss too much about the other 10%, I’m a much happier, healthier person.  It can be so easy to beat yourself up about “giving in to temptation” over the holidays, but what good does it do?  More often than not, it leads to feeling worse about yourself, and making more of those choices you are beating yourself up for.  Guilt and shame about food add more stress to an already stressful time of year.  This year, try some new, healthy recipes, work in lots of veggies and lean proteins, and remember to enjoy the act of sharing food with friends and family.
  • In order to abide by the advice above, this is my main holiday (and also all-year) eating tip:  Splurge, but don’t substitute.  I LOVE freshly roasted turkey, I LOVE stuffing.  I LOVE pumpkin pie with fresh whipped cream.  I LOVE Toblerones.  And I will eat these things over the holidays.  I like cookies, and brownies, and truffles, and chocolates, and pastries.  But I just like them.  I struggle, because I know when these things are put in front of me – if I have one, I’ll keep going, and I’ll probably feel bad about it later.  My best tool against eating a bunch of stuff that I sort of like is eating a little bit of something that makes me drool with anticipation.  When the treat is something that I’m crazy about, I can revel in my decadence, be totally satisfied, and move on.  When it’s just a filler, I’ll keep eating because I’m not getting what I really want.  So, instead of eating things because they are there – eat them because you really, really want to.  You’ll eat less, and you’ll feel better about it.

and finally,

When you have time to train, train.

This is a busy time of year, and your training sessions can often be the first thing that gets skipped.  Don’t let them be.  Training time is important time.  Last year, the first thing I did on Christmas morning (after kissing my husband, petting my dog, and putting the turkey in the oven) was went down to my studio for a workout.  Remember that energy begets energy.  A good training session will leave you with more energy to tackle your to-do list.  It’ll put you in a better mood, and can serve as that valuable “me-time” that we all crave.  Remember that training is treating yourself well, and the holiday season is all about treating those we love.  Love yourself – train in December.

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I wish you all the happiest of holidays and wonderful things in the year to come.

* Here’s an interesting fact about the expression “Rain Check”:  It’s apparently American in origin, and refers to a token (originally from sporting events), rather than a cheque to be banked later, so even though the Canadian in me wants to spell it “rain cheque”, that would be incorrect.  Seriously, read all about it.  Also, I think I have a new favourite website.

The Mind is a Muscle

29 Nov

Yes, I know that structurally the brain is an organ, and is quite different from a muscle.  However, functionally, our minds are just like any other muscle in our bodies.  They need exercise, they need to be fed the right things, and they need rest occasionally.

As an adult, trying to learn new things is WAY more challenging than it was as a child – I know, since I’m now studying anatomy, biology, and nutritional science having dropped out of all sciences after grade ten (thanks Humanities degree!).  I have to study my ass off first to absorb any new information, then I have to keep studying my ass of to retain it.  Then after I think I’ve got it, I study some more so it doesn’t go away.  I can’t cram to remember things for an exam and then forget them the next day anymore.  Now, if I learn something, it’s sticking.

That said, it was hard to re-learn how to learn.  After University, but before training, I felt as though my brain had atrophied.  That I was about as smart as I was ever going to get, and was probably starting to reverse the learning process.  I’m pretty sure I felt this way because I just wasn’t learning anything new.  I was doing the same thing day in and day out and hoping that I would feel better about my life.  Said Einstein (allegedly), “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.”

My problem was that initially, I didn’t really believe I could learn all of the things that a career/life change would require me to.  I didn’t think I had a “science-y brain”.

In Switch, by the Heath brothers, they quote a study where a middle school math teacher was able to reverse a decline in math scores by having students read aloud a scientific paper on how the mind is a muscle that can change and adapt when exercised.  Carol Dweck, Stanford psychology professor and author of MindSet has done a great deal of research on the differences between fixed mindsets – the belief that abilities are basic, fixed, and unchangeable, and growth mindsets – where challenges and failures are par for the course when improving and acquiring skills. Regardless of whether brain structure and function scientifically supports the notion that our brain is a muscle, the students’ performance suggests that all we need is to think that we can improve in order for improvement to occur.  In the book, Heath asks, “How would we differ in our own willingness to tackle changes if we started believing ‘the brain is a muscle’?”.
Neuroscientists have done great amounts of research into neuroplasticity; from Wikipedia:  “Neuroscientific research indicates that experience can actually change both the brain’s physical structure and functional organization.”

Knowing that your brain can, and does, change is key for a number of reasons:

  • Trying new things
  • Accomplishing stuff you didn’t think you could
  • Being better at things you can already do
  • Generally making progress at anything

Just like in fitness, where progressive overload means that your body is challenged with new movement patterns, heavier weights, and more challenging combinations, your brain needs to stay challenged to make progress.

You can challenge your brain any number of different ways – there’s a push towards “mental fitness” these days.  Computer games and such that challenge your mental agility.  Mental training can have a huge impact on your physical performance as well.  Every now and then, in my derby league, we have mental fortitude practices (an idea that Bonnie D. Stroir passed along).  Days that may not be so physically challenging, but that make you think hard about what you are doing on the track, or get your adrenaline pumping.  For example, scrimmaging in the opposite direction, playing super-loud music during a drill to force focus, or teaching a skill and then doing it on one foot, then backwards, then in the opposite direction.

There’s tons of research to support the idea that training the brain is crucial to training the body.  In fitness, we often say “train the movement, not the muscle”.   Muscles are dumb, they don’t have memory, brains are smart, they do have memory.  Faulty movement patterns, as well as correct ones, live in the brain.  Corrective exercise isn’t just a warm-up or a filler, it’s skill acquisition.  We can use this to our advantage by really digging into how correct movement patterns feel and tapping into unconscious learning.  If we remember that feel is just as important as form, the learning is much more likely to continue into day-to-day life.  I may not find myself breaking down a full squat pattern in my office, but maybe I’ll remember what engaging my glutes feels like when I stand up from my desk chair.

Greg Rose had a great presentation at Perform Better Chicago this past summer about training the brain.  He compared block training (doing the same thing over and over again) with random training (performing variations on a movement pattern) and looked at the gains made by both styles.  Initially, the block training made rapid, dramatic gains, and rightfully so.  Doing one thing over and over and over makes you good at that thing reasonably quickly.  However, over time, the variable training stuck better, and the gains manifested over time.  The block trainees peaked, whereas the variable trainees retained the initial skill and kept building on it over time.  The example he used was math – he had one volunteer answer the same question over and over again, and the volunteer got really good at knowing the answer to that question really quickly.  Why?  Because he memorized the answer.  Next he had a volunteer answer that question, and then a different question, and then a different question, and so on.  The first volunteer could definitely answer the first question more quickly, but over time the second volunteer was better at math.  Same goes for correct movement patterns.  Get people moving well first, then give them greater physical and mental challenges, and they’ll get better at everything.

Mental training and fortitude improves physical performance.  However, the reverse is also true.  Physical exertion can improve your mental health and performance as well.  Not only are the endorphins generated during exercise a nice pick-me-up to your day, but challenging your body can help your cognitive functioning.

Also from Wikipedia:  In a 2009 experiment led by researchers at National Cheng Kung University,  two groups of mice swam a water maze, and then engaged in an avoidance task – gauging how quickly they would move away from an unpleasant stimulus. Then, for four weeks, one group of mice ran on their wheels (which mice seem to enjoy), while the other group ran harder on mini-treadmills at a speed and duration controlled by the scientists. They then tested both groups again to track their learning skills and memory. Both groups of mice improved their performances in the water maze. Only the treadmill mice were better in the avoidance task, a skill which demands a more complicated, cognitive response.  Exercise improved both sets of results, but more challenging exercise improved cognition.   “Our results support the notion that different forms of exercise induce neuroplasticity changes in different brain regions,” Chauying J. Jen, a professor of physiology and an author of the study, says.

Other recent studies have provided human examples as well. In an experiment published in the ASCM journal, 21 University of Illinois students were asked to memorize a string of letters and then pick them out from a list flashed at them. They then did one of three things for 30 minutes — sit quietly, run on a treadmill, or lift weights — before repeating the test, they were then given a 30-minute cool-down and tested again. The test was repeated twice more, on different days, with students engaging in each of the options.  Running improved performance, both in speed and accuracy the retest (as well as the post- cooldown retest), when compared with the other two options.  (source) 

So, let’s keep going with the idea that our brain is like a muscle, that can grow, change and adapt when exposed to challenging stimuli.  Like any other muscle, its gains come from acute bouts of exercise followed by rest.

Your mental fitness demands rest – just like your physical fitness does.  We make thousands of decisions every day, we challenge our minds in all sorts of ways, we need to make sure that we give our brains down time as well.  Whatever that looks like to you – going for a walk, meditation, a long bath with a gossip magazine – it’s all important to your mental recovery.  And while we’re on that subject, we go to the dentist for a check-up twice a year, the doctor once a year, when was the last time you had a mental health check-up?  Look into it.  Letting stress, negative mental messaging, poor coping mechanisms mess with your mental health will take a toll on all aspects of your health and performance.  Your sleep will suffer, as will your cognitive, physical, and emotional functioning.

So look after your brain.  Keep it just as fit as your body.  Take it to the doctor every now and then for a check-up.  Feed it good food (both literally and figuratively, with the media you consume).  Exercise it well and often.  Believe that with proper prompting your brain (as well as your abilities and your notions about yourself) will change, adapt, and improve.  And finally, make time to let it rest.