School is closed for at least the next two weeks because of the Covid-19 virus. I still don’t know anybody who has gotten it, so it all seems very surreal to me although I’m definitely not a conspiracy theorist. On Friday morning, as we prepared for the last day of in-person school for an indefinite amount of time, my children were bundles of emotions. They couldn’t help but be excited by the prospect of sleeping in and learning from home. But rather than cheerful exuberance, my youngest was a mean and grumpy mess. We tried joking with her but that just fanned the flame. Finally, I went over to her and gave her a big hug and said, “Hey, I know this is all very strange. The school is doing what they need to do to help stop the spread of the virus. You probably don’t know what to think. But we are safe, and we will all be together, and we will have some fun.”
She cried for a minute but then her mood changed completely and she was joking around and eating breakfast in good spirits.
Similarly, thousands of people have been stockpiling toilet paper. The memes are endless and the pictures of bare grocery shelves are everywhere. Why toilet paper? Covid-19 doesn’t give you diarrhea. It doesn’t make sense if you think about it. But clearly it isn’t just a handful of doomsdayers, and I refuse to believe that the majority of them are now selling toilet paper for $50 a roll on line (shame on those who are!). Still, every grocery store in my town has sold out, restocked, sold out again and on and on. This means that the average Joe is buying well more than a month's supply.
What does this have to do with my daughter’s breakdown? Control. People are feeling out of control so they are exerting control in places they can. They can't control the virus or the lockdown, but they sure as hell can stock their closets with toilet paper. This is an unprecedented situation and we are being bombarded by information and misinformation and convoluted messages. I’m an adult whose husband works in the medical field and I still can’t wrap my head around what’s going on and what’s the best course of action. My 8 year old daughter is hearing snippets of news and I’m sure she’s picking up on the universal anxiety that’s everywhere, but she doesn’t understand why her school is closing and why we are joking about a toilet paper shortage.
I’d argue that most of our problems come from a lack of control or a feeling of such. What can we control, after all? We can’t control the actions of others. We can’t control the weather. We can’t control the coronavirus. We can’t control whether or not somebody loves us. We can’t control corrupt politicians or the opinions of others or the actions of criminals or how long somebody lives. The only thing we can control is ourselves.
I’ve never understood people who seek out positions of power and greed for the sake of power and money. But while I am not wired that way, I think I’m starting to get it. It all comes back to control. If you are in a position of power, you have more control. If you are rich, money gives you control over a lot of things. Crime is all about control. In fact, I can’t think of a crime that isn’t about control of people or resources or money or government.
I don’t have an answer to this need for control that pushes humanity to start cults and bully each other and create toilet paper shortages. I think growing your own food and raising kids (or pets) and creating something (ie. making art, writing, baking, building) help give us some sense of satisfaction and control. I’ve been thinking about it a lot with at least 2 weeks of limited social activities ahead and here are some things I’m going to try and want to share with you.
Control in the Time of Covid-19:
If you have any other ideas about how to exert control in these uncertain and unprecedented times, please share. We will get through this.
My oldest daughter goes to middle school next year. Students in her elementary school have two public options: the default neighborhood school (School A) and a lottery-based choice school that has smaller classes and more traditional academics (School B). We visited both and my daughter chose the default school, which has a more hands-on and established STEM program.
The 5th grade class is split, most into three groups. Some are going to School A. Some got in to School B and some are on the waiting list for School B but will end up at School A if they don’t get in. Within Aleida’s little circle of friends, she has representatives from all three groups. Her best friend is on the waiting list for School B, and as you can imagine, my daughter is torn between wanting her friend to go to the school she wants and wanting to have her at School A with her. As a mom, I am proud of both of them for choosing the school that felt best suited rather than simply going where their best friends planned to go.
Still, this is an uncertain and scary time and the division of students adds to the high emotions. A couple of times, Aleida has come home upset, saying that the School A people and the School B people were talking trash (my term, not hers) to each other, each claiming that they had chosen the better school. It made me sad to think that their last couple months in elementary school would be tarnished by this rivalry, but it isn’t exactly surprising.
My daughter, who would truly prefer to stay in her sweet little elementary school, chose School A because after the information night, she was excited and energized. School B made her weepy, which said a lot to me about what gets her going about education. Still, they are both great options and on the other hand, they are both middle schools, so no matter which she chooses, she’ll still be going through the trying years of high hormones, friendship drama and emotional chaos. As she was coming to terms with her choice, she was trying to justify it to herself:
“School B doesn’t have a great STEM program and I’m really more of a STEM kid.”
“I heard School B gives out more homework.”
“School B doesn’t do as many projects. I like projects.”
“School B just seemed kinda…”
I stopped her there. “Look,” I said, “I know you are trying to convince yourself that you made the right choice. I’ve been doing it, too. I agree that School A is a better fit for you and your interests and your learning style. But School B doesn’t have to be a bad choice. They can both be good options and you can still be happy with the choice you made.”
Doesn’t this translate to any choice we make? How often do we try to villainize the alternative to justify ourselves? I see this (and have been guilty of this) in everything from parenting to politics. This is the basis of judgment. We get so attached to our way or our beliefs or our choice that we can’t see any other way of looking at it. We can’t accept that any other option is acceptable for somebody else. Or we feel insecure about our choice, uncertain about who we really are and what we want, so we try to make the choice more clear by seeing only the bad in the alternative.
My daughter is on the brink of middle school and trying to figure out how the world works and how she fits into all of it. It’s confusing and scary. She’s a pretty unaffected kid, but still, she doubts, she has lapses in confidence and struggles to make sense of it all. And all the kids around her are doing the same thing. Part of me knows that this is what it means to grow up. These tough decisions and strains on friendship are rites of passage. We all went through them and here we are...adult citizens of the world. But part of me mourns her loss of innocence. She’s seeing the world through increasingly knowing eyes and it changes things. Yes, the world is full of wonder and excitement, but it is also full of hard truths and contentious people. I don’t want her to be overwhelmed as her awareness increases and the balance shifts.
It’s been a couple weeks since Aleida has talked about the School A/School B kids rivalry. They have settled down now that most decisions have been made and kids are coming to terms with it. She has about two and a half months of elementary school left before her life changes in a pretty major way. I want her to be confident to make hard decisions and feel strong in her sense of self. I want her to be fair to other people and to allow for differences without judgment. I want to do this myself and be a model for her. I have started listening more closely for the inner voice around my decisions. I’m trying to hear the judgment and tame it. I’m trying to make sure that my choices are based on authentic motivation and not some skewed rationale.
The next time you make a choice, listen to your thoughts around it. Are you being fair? Are you villainizing the alternative? Did you choose from a place of authenticity? Can you make the decision and then sit with it peacefully? If not, perhaps you need to dig deeper and really get to know yourself and more importantly, be okay with it.
Yesterday, I listened to an episode of This American Life called “The Show of Delights.” Prefaced as being counterprogramming for all the crappiness in the world right now, the show was a mosaic of short stories about delightful things or people who focus on finding delight. From the poet who spent a year documenting what delighted him to the night zookeeper who took great delight in caring for the wild animals, it was a refreshing hour that left me focused on all things delightful.
I inherited a sense of delight from my mother, who died almost 18 years ago but whose penchant for being delighted lives on in myself and my daughters. My sister and I have many stories from childhood of being on family vacations and going on outings that might not have seemed delightful to us, but of hearing our mom’s catch phrase, spoken with breathless enthusiasm, “Isn’t this fun girls?!” You see, one of the best things about delight is that it begs to be shared. “Isn’t this fun girls?” was an invitation for us to see the fun, to be delighted by the wind in our hair and the simple fact of being alive. I am grateful to my mother for passing on this ability to notice the delightful and bask in it...to first open myself to the feeling and then reach out to others to share in it.
My mom used to tell the story of me during the first snow storm we experienced upon moving to Colorado when I was 8. I was sitting on a couch with my head bent close to the window. I was watching the snowflakes land and swirl. At one point, I burst out with delight, “They really are all different shapes! Come see!" Being delighted means noticing the uniqueness of each snowflake. It means seeing the little kids splashing in puddles and jumping in piles of leaves. It means taking a moment to pet dogs and notice how grateful they are for the attention. It means appreciating the first bite of your favorite food and the changing colors of a beautiful sunset. While delight can come from something grand, the beauty of delight is that you can find it in the smallest, most common things. I’ve been delighted by an ant carrying a large crumb. I’ve been delighted (many times) by watching my cats wrestle. I’ve been delighted by my daughters’ maturing sense of humor. I’ve been delighted by seeing an old couple holding hands. I’ve been delighted by the scent of a candle. Focusing on what is delightful is akin to keeping a gratitude journal. It’s putting on rose-colored glasses and seeing the world through a generous and enthusiastic gaze. And gratitude journals have many benefits to your well-being, so I assume that focusing on feeling delighted does too.
If you are not prone to delight, it doesn’t mean you can’t learn to be. You can train yourself. As always, it starts with awareness...being observant of the world around you and mindful of your thoughts about what you see.
Do you want to join me for a month of delight? Starting in March (you can start earlier if you need the practice), I will post a daily delight and encourage anyone else to do the same. At the very least, it’s a fun experiment. At best, it will change your outlook for the better and increase the joy in your days.
A couple weeks ago, my husband’s friend was visiting. They don’t see each other much, and the bromance is strong between the two of them. One evening, they were downstairs playing video games. My girls were down with them.
I went downstairs to ask a question about dinner. Dave and his friend were facing the television and the girls were off to the side holding the small switch game, occasionally looking up to see what was happening on the big screen. My husband was playing a 1st person shooter game. When I came down, the scene was just the inside of a building. My husband, as the player, was searching around with a gun out in front.
“You aren’t shooting people in this game, are you?” I asked.
Both Dave and his friend looked over a little guiltily. “Uh…” Dave hesitated. “No...of course not.” But his tone and sideways glance gave him away.
My oldest looked up and said, “This game is kind of violent.”
I started fuming, but didn’t want to make a scene. So I swallowed it and said, “Can’t you play something else?”
They agreed to turn off the game and were deciding what to play next. Dave’s friend said, “Well...if you have a hard and fast rule against violence, we probably shouldn’t play that other game…”
That other game turned out to be a virtual reality fighting game where you fight off pixelated, monochrome beings who come at you. For some reason, this was totally different in my mind, but I think they ended up playing MarioKart.
Anyway, the evening progressed. In my head, I was still angry...or at least I was defaulting to anger. Anger was my coverup for confusion and discomfort. I was projecting all this on my husband, and I was preparing to tell him how poor his judgment was and how I couldn’t believe he didn’t think that was inappropriate and so on and so on. But his friend’s words came back to me: “If you have a hard and fast rule against violence…”
We don’t. We’ve never talked about it. We have discussed the appropriateness of different movies and games, but we’ve never set up general rules. My girls have watched all the Harry Potter and Star Wars movies. Definitely not free of violence.
They play Super Smash Brothers which is a game in which cartoon characters fight each other, but still that doesn’t bother me. As I’m thinking about what we allow, I realize that something about the realistic first-person shooter games crosses a line for me. But considering our lack of boundary around it, I couldn’t berate my husband for what I saw as a lapse in judgment.
Eventually, my husband came up to help finish dinner. He didn’t say anything about the game and we worked side by side amiably. I had another choice here. I could have left it. I could have said nothing and just let the slightly negative interaction downstairs dissipate. But then we still wouldn’t have had the conversation.
So I said, “So...hey...about the video game?”
“I’m sorry if I overreacted a little. But I think I’ve realized that first person shooter games--especially realistic ones--are a hard line for me. You can play them, of course, but I’d rather you not in front of the girls.”
“I get it. And I agree.”
Now I should take a second to note that my husband is one of the fairest and most level-headed people I know. I am fortunate in this, especially since I can be overly emotive. Setting a boundary isn’t always so easy, but it can be that simple. This highlights one of the important rules when setting a boundary: You have to communicate it. We often set boundaries in our minds and are appalled when they aren’t recognized. Boundaries are personal for a reason. There is no given that others will agree with your boundary, and our ideas around boundaries depend on many factors including our culture, our past experiences and our unique personalities. Our comfort level with different boundaries can also change as we age and life happens. Relationships require an ongoing conversation around boundaries and this is magnified if you are coparenting and have to make all those decisions about how to raise children.
A second guideline when setting boundaries is to keep it about you. This means waiting until you are feeling calm and rational. If I had tried to set a boundary downstairs after I had just seen the game, I would have made it about my husband. I would have said all the unfair things in my head out loud. It would have been a more charged conversation at best, an argument or fight at worst. By waiting and getting to the bottom of my anger, I was able to speak calmly and it was well received.
If it sounds like I’m bragging, it’s because I am proud of myself. This interaction is evidence of the past couple years of coaching and mindset work I have done. A few years ago I would've jumped right in and made a scene. I would’ve picked a fight. It was nice to realize that I have grown.
Back to boundary setting. Here’s a simple way to remember it:
The final step is perhaps the hardest. You have to decide what you will do if somebody crosses your boundary. Again, make it about what you will do. You also need to be sure that you are prepared to follow through. If somebody breaks your boundary without any consequences, then what you have is a paper fence. Build your boundary out of steel. Here are some examples of ways you might honor a boundary:
I don’t like it when you tell racist jokes. If you do so, I will leave the room. (and then you have to leave the room...every. time.)
Unexpected visitors throw off my schedule and make me anxious. If you show up unannounced, I will ask you to leave. (and then you have to ask them to leave….every. time.)
The good news is that once you have made a practice of establishing and upholding your boundaries, it gets easier. In a trusted relationship, you don’t have to set a consequence. I didn’t have to tell my husband what I would do if he played that game in front of the kids because I trust that he won’t.
Also, remember that I am speaking within the realm of life coaching, not therapy. This process works well with rational, thoughtful people. If you are dealing with somebody who is toxic, abusive or mentally ill, you might need support from a mental health professional or perhaps even law enforcement.
Like all changes worth making, this is not easy work. If you have a habit of holding loose boundaries or if you feel overwhelmed when you think about where to start, remember that one small step at time will eventually get you where you want to go. No steps will keep you exactly where you are.
For help with this, contact me. Sometimes a little support goes a long way.
*Disclaimer: This post is about the frustrating but benign and temporary anxiety that comes when you are worried about a specific event or feeling stressed/overwhelmed. Prolonged, chronic and/or excessive anxiety, anxiety that is accompanied by physical symptoms or anxiety that results from past trauma is something different and more serious and might require help from a medical professional or therapist, which I am not
As many of you know, we do martial arts as a family. Last weekend, we participated in a black belt test that started at 8 am on Saturday morning and ended at 1 pm. These tests are hard. We are going almost non-stop, with only short breaks to change, grab gear, hydrate and eat a quick bite. For a couple days after, we are tired and sore. It’s hard, but it’s also really fun.
The night before the test as we were eating spaghetti and preparing ourselves, the girls were talking about how nervous they were. We’ve done a good handful of these tests by now, so we know what’s coming, which is both good and bad, I guess.
As the girls were getting worked up thinking about how hard the next day was going to be, I said, “What’s the worst that can happen?”
This led down a rabbit hole of scenarios where people were passing out and breaking arms and losing their lunch during the test. The extent of their imaginations made us both giggle and grimace.
“Okay,” I said after a particularly morbid anecdote, “What’s the worst thing that might actually happen?”
My oldest daughter, Aleida, got serious. “Master Stites could ask us to do Twilight Zone.” Twilight Zone is an extremely difficult form that Aleida learned about a year ago. Set to the music of Twilight Zone, it is fast and furious with a double tornado kick and other challenging combos. It isn’t a form in the normal rotation, so Aleida hasn’t kept up on it.
“Okay, so what if he does?”
“I won’t be able to complete it. I won’t remember all of it. It’ll be so embarassing.”
“Yes,” I reply, “it would be embarrassing for you, but we’ve seen this happen to other people, and honestly, you wouldn’t be the only one in this situation if he does call it. I think many people have forgotten it. And if you forget that one form and do well on the rest--which you will--you won’t fail. You’ll probably just get told to practice Twilight Zone before the next text, right?”
She nodded, took a bite of dinner, and seemed a bit more at ease.
The day after the test (which went great--no Twilight Zone), she was worried once again, this time about a speech she had to give in class in front of her peers. Obviously, if public speaking is the number one fear of Americans, she is not alone in her anxiety. She practiced for the family and we all agreed she had an interesting topic and was prepared and well-informed. Still, she sighed and furrowed her brow, clearly scared and picturing disaster.
Again, I said, “Okay, what’s the worst that can happen?”
And once again, the family had fun with this one, imagining everything from passing out to farting loudly. When the hilarity settled, I again asked, “Okay, but what’s the worst that might actually happen?”
“I’ll forget what I’m saying or I’ll miss a big part of my speech. Or I’ll have to start over.”
“Okay, so what will you do then?”
“Look at my note cards…? Keep going…?”
“Yes! Exactly! The notecards are there if you get stuck. If you forget what’s next, just take a breath, look at your notecards, and keep going.”
She still looked worried, of course, but the furrow in her brow relaxed just a bit.
She rocked her speech, by the way. After school she even said, “I was really nervous right before, but once I started, it wasn’t so bad.”
We all know from experience that anticipation and not knowing is far worse than actually being in the middle of something difficult. Our minds almost always imagine a much worse scenario than what happens in reality. And even if the very worst happens, we just live it. Anxiety is never happening during...it happens before, when our minds mess with us.
This is my new favorite strategy for anxiety. Something about the question, “What’s the worst that can happen?” followed by “Okay, but what’s the worst that might actually happen?” puts things in perspective. First of all, once you imagine pooping yourself in front of your peers, forgetting a few lines doesn’t seem so bad. Often, our worst case scenarios simply aren’t likely. Secondly, when you verbalize the worst thing that might actually happen, you demystify it. It’s similar to naming your emotions. When you call anger “anger,” it takes a bit of the edge off and lets you move forward with presence and intention. Likewise, when you get to the heart of what you are afraid might actually happen, you can name it and understand why it is causing anxiety. My daughter wasn’t really afraid of forgetting her form at the karate test; she was afraid of the embarrassment she would feel if she froze up in front of her fellow martial artists and her instructors.
The other benefit of naming the worst thing that might actually happen is the ability to strategize and focus on preparation. Anxiety is the enemy of proactivity unless you allow your awareness to move you into action. If you are anxious about freezing up during a speech, think about what you can do to avoid that happening. Practice more? Write better notecards? Have a friend cue you if necessary? Role play what you will do if you do forget what you were saying? Role playing or talking through what you will do should minor disaster strike gets you one step ahead of the fear.
Anxiety has the habit of building like a snowball rolling down a hill, taking a little issue and growing and growing until it is unrecognizably huge. You lose perspective once the real issue is hidden in a ball of anxiety. As always, awareness is the first step. If you can catch it early, if you can recognize when your mind starts to skip like a broken record, returning again and again to an anxious thought, you can begin to break the pattern. Ask yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” Have some fun imagining bodily functions and natural disasters. But don’t forget the important step of bringing your mind back to reality. “What’s the worst that might actually happen?”
Anxiety is a normal part of the human condition. We just have to make it work for us, not against us.
On Monday evening, I held my word of the year workshop. I went in thinking my word would be GROWTH. I want to grow my business and continue to grow as a person and coach and parent. I mentioned this idea to a friend and his reply was, “Wow. That sounds heavy.” He was right, of course. But I think that choosing any word to guide your year comes with some weight and commitment. I didn’t end up with growth as my word, however. As I went through the process, I changed my mind.
The process entails answering some important questions, meditating on your best day, brainstorming a long list of words and then narrowing down to three and contemplating each one before choosing your final. My three finalists were EXPLORE, CONNECT and CONTRIBUTE.
As I spent some time focused on each word, I realized that I already explore a lot and to be honest, my proclivity to explore has gotten me spread a little thin. If anything, I need to explore less (I won’t) and focus more (I’ll try). When I focused on connect, I felt a little spark and immediately came up with a half dozen ways to apply this word to my life. When I wrapped up with contribute, I realized that to do so, I had to first connect, so I chose CONNECT with confidence. Unlike last year when I settled on DECLUTTER, I feel excited and ready to make this my mantra.
Here are just a handful of ways that I will work on connecting this year:
I completed the requirements for becoming a certified life coach. This is a strange, young industry. Unlike counseling or nursing or teaching, in which you have to become licensed in order to do the work, coaches have to do the work in order to become certified. As a result, anyone can create a website and call herself a life coach.
In the time I’ve been practicing, a client has never asked about my training or certification. I’ve been a little uncomfortable with the fact that I don’t have a credential, and I was glad I never had to explain the process to anyone. But now, I’m pretty darn proud of my certification. Honestly, it’s like another masters degree. Here’s what I had to do to earn my credential:
I took and passed the test before the holidays, and I just recently got notification that I am officially a certified coach. The certifying body is the International Coach Federation (ICF) and they are one of two world-renowned coach organizations.
I now hold three credentials. My Associate Certified Coach from the ICF, my Equine Facilitated Coach from the HERD Institute, and an Adolescent Life Coach Certification from the Adolescent Life Coaching Center.
In the end, it doesn’t change much. I get added to the database of ICF certified coaches and I can change my description from a “trained” life coach to a “certified” one. I can add the little ICF ACC symbol to my website and marketing materials. Still, outwardly, the change is minimal. But it feels like a big deal to me. I’ve seen this through and the credential proves that I have knowledge and skills as a coach. So if you're looking for a certified life coach, I'm your gal. I'm taking new clients in 2020.
My word of the year for 2019 was “Declutter.” I chose it because I felt the need to declutter my space, my thoughts, and my life. I knew it would be challenging and hoped it would be motivating. If I give myself an honest grade, I would say 5 out of 10.
Earlier in the year, I did some significant declutter projects, and recently, my husband and I decluttered our storage area. It brings me great pleasure to walk in there and see all the camping gear and boxes of old photo albums stacked on shelves in an orderly fashion. We got rid of a lot of stuff and that is liberating too.
Emotionally I have continued to work on minding my thoughts and trying to cull out the ones that don’t serve me. And honestly, that has been helpful. I don’t spend as much time wallowing in negativity. I’m getting better at catching myself in a downward spiral and pulling back up out of it. That has improved my life more than a clean desk ever could.
I did learn a few lessons in the process. First of all, I need to pick a word I’m excited about. Declutter doesn’t exactly inspire. I thought the challenge would motivate me and to a point it did, but not enough to make me embrace the word and live my year accordingly.
Secondly, I learned that I’m okay with a certain level of clutter. I’m trying to get better for the sake of my family who shares my space and for the guests who come to my house, but if I’m being honest, I don’t love a pristine living area. It’s called a living area for a reason and you certainly can’t question if our family lives in our house. Evidence is everywhere. We are a busy, lively bunch. We have pets. We move quickly from one activity to the next, and sometimes, we leave a trail. We are all working on that and getting better, but I don’t mind seeing remnants of craft projects and board games and good meals because it shows that we are really living.
The third lesson I learned is that I have more to do. Our craft room/office/the-place-we-put-everything-we-don’t-know-what-to-do-with needs to be cleared out and organized. It is a great space and we use it a lot, but our time could be so much more efficient if we cleared out drawers, cleaned off work spaces and got organized.
Finally, I learned that little steps are still steps. I am not going to change a lifetime of habits without some time and struggle. Even though the Year of Declutter is coming to an end, I will continue to take steps to live up to the word.
On a positive note, I'm sitting at a clean desk. I cleared it off a few days ago, and it certainly makes me happy to see the surface and not piles of papers and forgotten things.
For local folks, I’m holding another workshop to determine your word of the year. It will be at the Golden Library on Monday, January 6 from 6:30-7:30pm. Join me for a fun and inspiring (and FREE) evening and leave with a small memento to remind you of whatever word you choose. I have an idea in mind for my word of the year, but I'm going to go through the process and make sure before I reveal it.
In the meantime, Happy New Year! I hope you have some time to reflect on 2019 as we prepare to move into a new decade.
I went to three Christmas parties last weekend. At each one, I ate a lot of cheese, drank a lot of alcohol and binged on cookies and sweets. It was wonderful. Even now, as I write this at 6:30 in the morning, I am eating a cookie from the cookie exchange party. One of my greatest pleasures in life is eating a cookie with my coffee first thing in the morning, and I’m not ashamed to say that I will probably do this every morning until the new year.
I used to worry about myself over the holidays. I eat fairly well most of the time, so I feel the addition of an average of 5 cookies to my daily diet as well as an increase in drinking alcohol and consuming mounds of cheese trays and other rich, holiday-only foods. Even now, I feel a little layer forming around my mid-section. I’m still working out regularly, but with the colder weather and the coming and going of viruses, even that is not at the level it needs to be to compensate for my increase in calories. But still, I’m not worried about it.
You see, fitness is not an issue for me. I don't worry about gaining weight or getting weak. I don't question if I will motivate to work out and be active. I know I will do it. I value it too much and the benefits are so important to me that I know I won't let myself get lazy. In a pleasant way, I am addicted to it. If a few days go by without a workout, I get grumpy. And even if life gets crazy and a week goes by and I haven't been as active as I'd like to be (or if I’ve been eating and drinking with abandon), I don't worry about the slippery slope effect. I trust myself to get back to business.
This wasn't always the case. I didn't come out of the womb lifting weights and wearing a black belt. I was an active child and our family's move to Colorado when I was 8 certainly helped set the stage for a lifetime of being a doer. However, in college, I was prone to false starts and the New Year's Resolution gang that crowded the campus gym for a few weeks. I would ride cycles of motivation and slack, dreading and yet somehow knowing that I would succumb to fitness failure. When the inevitable valley came, I'd ride it out until I had the next motivator...upcoming swimsuit season or the new year or whatever. It was a frustrating way to live...wanting to be fit but not trusting myself to follow through.
Somewhere in my twenties, fitness became not just a nice idea to aspire to but a full-fledged priority. It helped that I married an active guy and that we motivated each other, meeting to mountain bike after work and signing up for triathlons and adventure races. We had kids and consistency became harder, but if anything, parenthood motivated us more. We refused to fall into the trap we were often warned about…”Oh, you’re in shape now, but just wait until you have kids.” Likewise, I stopped worrying that I would hit a certain age and my metabolism would slow down and exercise would be futile. 30 came and 40, too, and honestly, I’m in better shape now than when I was 20.
Staying fit isn’t easy, but because it’s the lifestyle I’ve chosen, it isn’t difficult either. I thrive on it and I know I will always prioritize it.
The holiday season is tough. It’s busy and often stressful, and temptations are everywhere. Between baking cookies, attending elaborate parties and eating large meals, it’s hard to stay on track. If you live in a place that has actual winter, you might find it harder to work out and you might just lack the time to do so with the demands of shopping and year end work goals and increased activities and the kids at home.
I don’t encourage the gluttony I described that was my weekend. Not everyone can jump off the track and back on again. My point is that I have spent years developing trust in myself. It has taken decades of proving to myself that when push comes to shove, I will get it done. And if you follow my blog, you know that while I have my health and fitness pretty nailed down, I struggle in other areas. So I understand that my reality is not true for everyone.
But here’s the thing, anyone can develop that inner trust. You can cultivate a lifestyle that supports your wellness. You can develop habits and thought patterns that set you up for success. Yes, it will be difficult in the beginning. Anything worth doing has its challenges, but it won’t always be a struggle. Eventually, you will get to a place where your priorities will change, your lifestyle will shift, and your actions will be in alignment with your intentions and you will trust that you can keep it up.
Christine and I created the Empower! Program for this very reason. We want to support adults and tween girls in creating an intentional lifestyle. We know it isn’t just about working out. We also know you can’t just snap your fingers and think in a way that will encourage healthy habits. We know that it is in the connection of the mind and body, the pairing of mental intention with physical habits that true and sustainable change is made. Our program isn’t about losing weight or looking a certain way, and it goes well beyond fitness. It is about developing habits that reflect your authentic self and encourage action and accountability in all areas of your life.
I’m looking forward to the program personally because i know it will help me start my year with goals and the motivation to achieve them. 2020...a new decade...what will you do with it?
My older daughter is in 5th grade. Last week, we went to a middle school information night. How did this happen? My feelings about this will show up in another post, but for now, just know that she is a lovely 10-year-old and I’m not ready to throw her to the wolves of middle school.
She had a great year in 4th grade. She bonded with her teacher and experienced a lot of growth academically and personally. 5th grade is different. She has 3 teachers and she rotates between classes. She likes her teachers, but the bond isn’t the same. And sometimes, she comes home with homework in 4 different classes.
She does homework and eats snack right after school. If she has a lot of it, she will sometimes stress out in the middle, wondering how she will ever finish and why she has to have so much in the first place. But she does it.
Inevitably, later in the evening, usually when she’s trying to go to sleep at night, her mind will start to mess with her. “What if I didn’t do all my homework?” she will ask. “What if I forgot something?”
Can’t we all relate to this? Don’t we all have areas in life that keep us up at night? We worry about what we did or didn’t do. We worry if we are good enough. We think about what we should’ve said or what we could’ve done differently or what people think about us.
The good news is that these thoughts are a sign that we care. My daughter works hard and she cares about how well she does. She wants to do well. She wants to please her teachers and get good grades and ace tests. In the rare event that she forgets something or gets a bad grade, she feels it acutely.
And that’s the bad news. Because we care, we feel things sharply and we often spend time thinking in a way that doesn’t serve us. We worry and fret. We question and doubt ourselves. While this is natural, we must realize it is also very unproductive.
My daughter’s nightly worries take energy. These thoughts sometimes keep her up at night, postponing her sleep, which is sooo important. These anxious thoughts certainly don’t help her prepare for a test or feel good about her abilities. On the contrary, they sow doubt and insecurity.
Let's remember that anxiety is a throwback emotion. Our ancestors needed anxiety to survive. But in our world where getting food is an act of going into a well-lit building and picking something off the shelves versus hunting and gathering and survival isn't usually a question from moment to moment, most of our anxiety is unfounded. Yes, our world is full of threats, but if we are truly in danger, we are not sitting around and fretting. We are running for our lives or fighting back or actively hiding or calling the police.
Anxious thoughts are not a problem in and of themselves. In fact, they can serve the purpose of highlighting what is important. They can also help us figure stuff out. They become problematic when they occur beyond logic. My daughter, for example, will often have a conversation with me that goes like this:
“What if I forgot to do some homework?” she’ll ask.
“I don’t know.”
“Did you check your planner? Did you do everything you needed to do?”
“I think so...but what if I didn’t?”
“I saw you working on math and reading. And you spent some time on your science presentation. Was there anything else?”
“No. That was it.” Pause. “But what if it wasn’t?”
You see, our brains often work against logic, against evidence, against the truth. And if we aren’t paying attention, we become victims to this thinking, which absolutely limits us.
So what did I say to my daughter? What will I keep saying to her when these thoughts interfere with her wellbeing? Something like this:
“Did you do the homework that was assigned to you...as far as you know?”
“Yes,” she replied.
“Do you trust yourself?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, do you believe that--to the best of your knowledge--you did what you needed to do?”
“Okay, then you need to trust yourself. You can lay here and get all worried about what you might have forgotten, but you almost always get done what you have to get done. So focus on that. Focus on the fact that you haven’t forgotten a homework assignment in a long time. Trust yourself.”
She looked skeptical, but she was listening. “And,” I added, “even if the very worst thing happens and you forget a small assignment--I know you wouldn’t forget a big important one--then you talk to the teacher about what you can do to get it turned in or make it up. That’s the very worst thing that can happen, but remember, you almost never forget stuff, and when you have, it hasn’t been a big deal. Put the time in when you are doing your homework. Check off the list of your classes, and then trust yourself.”
She gave a little smile and nod, pulled her covers up to her chin, and looked more at ease. We said our good nights and she went to sleep fairly quickly.
Does she still struggle with nightly anxiety? Yes. Does her brain still think thoughts that go against reason? Absolutely.
Changing the patterns of thinking that don’t serve us doesn’t happen overnight. It isn’t easy to break these cycles. My daughter will probably always be prone to anxious thoughts. My goal with her (and my clients and myself) is to raise awareness around not only how we are thinking, but the idea that we can change how we think. Unchecked, our brains will run wild with thoughts that hinder our ability to live happy and productive lives. But once we start tuning in, we can put some resistance in the well-oiled gears of those thoughts and start building a pathway for better and more helpful thoughts to run in our minds.
A few nights ago, I was sitting with my daughter at bedtime and talking about the day. I saw her eyes cloud with the familiar worry. She looked at me and when she made eye contact, a light of memory struck and she smiled, somewhat grimly, but it was a smile all the same. Then, quietly and with determination, she started chanting, “I trust myself, I trust myself, I trust myself, I trust myself.”