Coping Skills

I’m constantly planning to teach, teaching, charting about teaching, and feeling… less excited about coping skills by the day.

“No childhood shit… I just need some strategies.”

~Brene Brown

Coping is a big business, chasing after alleviating symptoms instead of going to the root cause is all the rage. I heard speculation kids today are anxiety-ridden bundles of goo because we took kindergarten and preschool away. It isn’t enough to learn how to play together and how to handle when it’s time to play apart. Young children must learn numbers, letters, and to read. Maybe it’s the phones, with Snapchat and discord, social media and texting 24/7. The rumor mill in middle and high school is now digital, with mean girls and yo’ mamma flying at the speed of electrons and “proof” of all manner of insults a screenshot away. Adults of all ages fair no better. Because we are so anxious, irritable, and unbalanced, we need more coping skills. We don’t have enough coping skills.

Image Source Pixabay

I call bullshit. Remember that card game? You and your friends clustered around a pile of cards, lying like crazy about the cards you had and the cards you put down, out of earshot of the responsible adult in the house. The point is to get rid of all the cards in your hand first, by whatever means necessary. If someone thought you were lying, they would say “Bullshit” and if they were right the entire discard pile went into your hand. If they were wrong, the discard pile went into their hand. Picking up the pile made the task of winning simultaneously easier and more difficult. Sure, you had more cards to get rid of, but you also held the truth in your hand. It was possible to look over the Mae West-worthy fan of cards and say “Don’t even try.”

I call bullshit on coping skills. We can either arm you with coping skills for the existential dread you feel when you hear your yesterday’s-best-friend said something catty on the social media network of your choice, or we can dig deeper into what is sparking the existential dread in the first place. The former is SMART and easy, the latter is difficult-difficult. Either you will learn and utilize up to three coping skills per week for four weeks or we can go back to the “childhood shit” and talk about why this hurts so much. I’m now looking over my fan and saying “Don’t even try.”

If I am an exhausted ball of anxiety and in need of “coping skills,” what I need is a change of activity and/or perspective. Sometimes life sucks and there is no breathing pattern or pretzeled-up yoga pose I can teach you, no pill or tumbler of fruity-flavored alcohol I can provide to make anything feel any better. Often, underlying beliefs trap us in cages of our own making.

What are you afraid of? What terrifying belief is making your heart pound and your spirit sink?

Moving along… coping mechanisms and self-care strategies. From page 58 of Judith Herman’s classic Trauma and Recovery

Stress-resilient individuals seem to have three characteristics, high sociability, a thoughtful and active coping style, and a strong perception of their ability to control their own destiny.

Brownies are not a thoughtful and active coping style. Taking on more work to prove your worth and distract from uncomfortable feelings is not a thoughtful and active coping style. A thoughtful and active coping style neither substitutes one harmful behavior for another, nor does it layer physically or emotionally painful stimuli like Van Gogh would layer oils of a painting.

To cope with having a mostly sedentary, emotionally intense day job, I lift heavy things. Lifting heavy things is restorative, as is a daily meditation practice, hot tea in the morning, a Kindle full of books, a yoga practice, a full night’s sleep, regular time with good friends, a tidy room, a mostly plant-based diet, and 10 minutes sitting outside staring at trees. Thursday I ate brownies, thinking the momentary burst of goodies would feel good and perk me back up after a hard morning. Not really. I also learned I hate the syrup-filled coffee beverages at the national coffee chain when I tried drinking one as a treat after a long day. A plain latte is just dandy.

Here’s the thing. Often, on our way to the thoughtful and active coping style we develop fast lanes to maladaptive coping strategies. I “used to” eat to cope with stress, as well as throw myself into projects and all manner of unhelpful things. Even though the last few years have taught me better ways to manage myself so I don’t need “coping skills,” those fast lanes still live in my brain and I am likely to return to them even though I know they don’t work. This is me, looking over my fan of truth, telling myself “Don’t even try.” While focused breathing or grounding exercises are a better choice than a brownie or a syrupy beverage in the moment, the solution is to dig deeper and examine what about those days made them so hard. Was I poorly boundaried? Did I over-schedule or mis-schedule clients? How has my sleep been? What fears about my work performance are driving me? How can I re-incorporate those genuinely restorative practices into my daily routine?

Here’s my statement of self-compassion: It’s okay to return to where I came from every once in a while, we all do. The important thing is to recognize this isn’t where I live anymore and to go home.


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Back to Basics and Purple Cows

If you’ve been following along, you know I think my powerlifting coach is great and summer was challenging for us as individuals and as partners. The last strength cycle knocked me flat, literally. My left knee developed an awkward ache and tightness, I was too wiped to get accessory work at my big-box gym for the final ten days, and eventually I lay on the floor of the barn hoping I wouldn’t have to get up and squat anytime soon while we reflected on the mess we were. This cycle had been ambitious and complex with some form of each major lift on each of three days. In exchange for all of this misery, my maxes didn’t move.

After assessing the knee and figuring out it hurt on exertion, he offered “If you have questions about your knee, you should get it checked out.”

From the floor I reply “Why? All they are going to do is tell me to rest and ice it.”

Ain’t nobody got a co-pay for that. He also observed I was old and a woman and didn’t recover like a young man. “Differently,” he said. Yippee-kai-ay.

We laid off squats for a week. Prayer works.

I wasn’t the only one struggling with the programming. His weightlifting was suffering. Back in the barn, he made an announcement. “This was too complicated. I think I’m going back to basics. We will do one lift per day, a variation for strength and then another variation 5 x 5 for hypertrophy. It will be a hybrid cycle.”

We are now at Week 2 of the new plan with time and space to chat about Big Ideas instead of being exhausted and cranky and making small talk. Tonight’s topic was Seth Godin’s Purple Cows, giving people their pickles, and figuring out what makes a service provider unique. As part of a new hire process at a local barbell club he was asked to watch a TED talk by Seth Godin…

 

What is my coach’s Purple Cow?

There were somewhere north of 100 other exercise science graduates walking across the stage with my coach. There were maybe a half-dozen of those 100 who are as obsessed with building training spreadsheets, but still, a half-dozen this year and there will be another half-dozen each year. He prides himself on being highly technical and inhaling Russian, Bulgarian, and Chinese training programs while developing his own process. His Instagram feed is his teaching tool, full of training minutia, with the exception of just a few posts.  What is his Purple Cow? Can you tell? It won’t appeal to everyone, but for those who are destined to be loyal clients this thing makes him irreplaceable. I’m not telling him, as payback for squat days and not talking about the new A Star is Born until I see it. He’s not the only one who loves his process.

Developing self-awareness is the pre-cursor to the intimacy challenges of early adulthood. I like this Khan Academy video explaining Erikson’s psychosocial stages, but all I’m interested in today are “Identity vs Role Confusion” and “Intimacy vs Isolation”. Longer life spans and a relatively wealthy society have conspired to extend the time we are allowed to spend in adolescence/ “Identity vs Role Confusion” well into our 20s. Developing supple answers to The Big Four (h/t to Krista Scott-Dixon)

  • Who are you?
  • What’s important to you?
  • What are you willing to trade?
  • What is non-negotiable?

allows individuals to move forward into intimate relationships conscious of what they have to offer as well as their wants and needs.

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What the heck is intimacy anyway? Let’s borrow this one from Weinbarger, Hofstein, and Whitbourne (2008)

Intimacy was defined as the potential to establish close relationships involving high levels of communication, closeness, and commitment.

[Without going full Bowenian (and you never go full Bowenian), spot me the idea when we say “closeness” we are talking about closeness-caregiving and not enmeshment, those icky relationships where the one partner is trying to manage the other’s feelings/solve their problems and personal boundaries are for people who don’t care enough.]

The Eriksonian definition of intimacy also defines modern marketing. Social media enables high levels of communication, perceived closeness, and commitment to a brand which expresses shared values and ideals or aspirations. Godin’s Purple Cow. Further, the more authentic the communication, closeness, and shared values, the more loyal the fan. From a psycho-social perspective, as a human, failure to stake out an identity independent of authority figures and peers expectations leaves the individual wandering in the wilderness looking for a tribe he can’t describe and feeling out-of-place and discontented at best. Using this psycho-social perspective, as a brand, failure to stake out an identity independent of the larger, undifferentiated market leaves a brand wandering looking for clients he can’t describe and feeling unnecessary or unappreciated at best.

My spouse tells it this way:

When we’re little, we’re playing in the sandbox and some new kid comes into the sandbox. We both like the sandbox and so we’re friends for now. If the new kid also likes the same flavor of Kool-aid, we’re besties. When we get older, the process is the same and we pretend it’s more complex. If you can’t decide if you like orange or grape flavor better, or all flavors are just as good, or if the flavor you think you like depends on what the last new kid liked, how can you find your True Besties?

My coach’s Purple Cow follows him everywhere, and for the moment, like Mr. Snuffleupagus, the Purple Cow is large and just out of view.

He asked me what my pickle was, as a client, but that’s another post because I think I misspoke.

Birthdays and Planners

My birthday is in October, along with my uncle’s and brother’s and grandmother’s birthdays. Now, my preferred planner ships to me in October and every year about this time I start taking stock and reflecting on goals, process, outcome, and direction for the next year.

This year was a solid “B”. I meant to finish grad school, lose a bunch of weight, be able to deadlift 250 pounds, start a business, and either learn how to dress intentionally or find a job where I wouldn’t have to. Grad school finished, I lost some weight and packed on some muscle, my deadlift is sitting at 225 with two months left in the year, the business is on hold until I can find a partner, my friend is teaching me how to dress and I found a great job where I can wear stretchy pants and untucked dress shirts. Not bad.

What about next year?

I am 51 this year, and I’ve been setting SMART goals since my early teens. There is a difference between setting goals and achieving goals, between being motivated and being committed, and between striving to please your Self and working to ward off outside negativity. The framework I use has layers stolen or borrowed from other sources.

First

The Big Four questions, borrowed from Krista Scott-Dixon, Ph.d, at Precision Nutrition:

  • Who am I?
  • What’s important to me?
  • What am I willing to trade?
  • What’s not negotiable?

These are beautiful questions that go straight to the soul. If your heart pounds with anxiety when you see the questions because you don’t have any of the answers, it’s okay. Part of life is figuring them out. Try something. If it doesn’t work, try something else. Here is Vaynerchuk talking about “tasting” for 2:54.

Whether you’re in your 20s, 40s, 60s, or 80s, tasting is still a great idea. We change as we age. It would be foolish for me to predict at 24 how I will think or feel at 64, and then act at 64 as if those predictions must be true.

Second

I’m starting to enjoy thinking of

  • how do I want to BE?
  • what do I want to DO?
  • what would I like to HAVE?

The Big Four put a fence around all of the acceptable versions of me, so I can think about what my life could look like when lived with integrity. For the last two years, learning was my most important value. To learn, I neglected my family, my health, and almost every other opportunity. Learning dominated to such an extent when graduation came, I felt adrift and created those “lost” months of the summer.

This short video is about parenting, but even if you aren’t parenting, the advice is still great. Find your Thing, do that Thing, enjoy your Thing, value your Thing. Don’t do the thing you hate. Do you. Check your expectations of yourself and others.

This is where I’ll start. It’s a messy process full of color markers, washi tape, scrapbook paper, and Pinterest. What is speaking to me at this time of life? I’ll do some work, take some pictures and let you know.

The War of Art

It is a little book and it was on the schedule for July. July was a Lost Month in my life, but keeping commitments is still important to me and so today I invested some porch time with Mr. Pressfield.

The book is about the struggle to bring forth whatever is within us. Pressfield describes Resistance as an external force or monster compelling behavior. It shouldn’t have surprised me because this technique is at the center of narrative therapy and Pressfield is a master narrator. The monster has you clean the floors instead of writing a chapter of your book, take another course on creating the perfect Instagram feed instead of creating a good-enough one, or anything, anything except create the thing.

In Motivational Interviewing, we talk of resistance as an expression of ambivalence. Change challenges everything we hold dear and generally there are reasons to undertake a new venture and reasons to leave it be. When working with someone who is ambivalent, we honor indecision and talk it all the way through. Typically, when people feel pushed too hard or too fast, they dig in and push back against the thing they desire most but are afraid to reach for. It has been my practice to talk with clients about unfinished business in several ways.

If I can’t get started on a goal or if I sputter out before it’s done, what is at the root? I first consider if the thing I say I want is really what I want, or if it is a remnant of a long-ago inherited “should”. In contrast, Pressfield asserts the very thing we cannot bring ourselves to start or to finish is at the heart of our purpose and the resistance we feel is a product of fear. Life tasks which loom large should provoke fear. They are beyond our current capacities, mental, physical, and emotional, and they demand we grow or give up. Staring into this kind of abyss could drive a person to clean baseboards. Pressfield’s Resistance is actively working against us in the universe, keeping us from making the world a better place through our work. It is the very nature of the Devil.

How might this be related to perfectionism and all-or-nothing thinking? These two cognitive distortions work against progress toward a goal by focusing on outcome goals instead of process. Let’s listen to Brene Brown talk about perfectionism for 3:24.

Perfectionism is a boundary violation, trying to manage others’ feelings in an attempt to protect ourselves. Perfectionism won’t let you send your story off because that third paragraph doesn’t flow quite right, invite friends over for an afternoon because the kitchen is “a mess”, start working with clients because you need one more certification to be of service. All-or-Nothing (AoN) works in Resistance by saying you have to be in the mood to write, or well-rested to work out, or you alternate between being “on diet” and “off diet”. Life seems to be a series of toggle switches with the settings “Always” and “Never”. Perfectionism and AoN thinking protect us from failure by keeping us from making incremental, good-enough, sustainable effort.

What about my friends and family and the support they offer? The War of Art recommends we abandon support because support as defined is unhelpful and a tool of Resistance. There is a difference between the friend who goes with you to a restaurant and agrees it’s been a hard week and you deserve the chili cheese fries and large Coke, and the one who looks at you and asks “Weren’t you working hard on choosing vegetables and lean meats?” The latter is a support, the former is trying to justify her own mozzarella sticks and hot wings. We tend to spend time with people who behave the way we do. We share interests and we share time together. Are the people around you a support or a hindrance? Gary Vaynerchuk recommends you cut one loser friend.

What then? The muses are with us, whispering in our ears and inspiring us to act. They come, says Pressfield, when we are disciplined enough to do the work and push past our fears of exposure, failure and do enough for today, every day. Back to a 6-minute rant from Vaynerchuk about luck and work.

The War of Art is a short book. Pressfield is a master storyteller, outlining what we know about long-term success

  • Achievement is a marathon, not a sprint
  • Focus on process, with an eye to outcome
  • Do the work and then let the results go
  • Show up anyway, ISYMFS
  • Have the courage to stop listening to people who cripple you, obvious critics and “friends”

Let’s end with Des Linden embodying the War of Art

 

 

Power Struggles

We are now through the second meso-cycle, a mini strength cycle that was intended to end in a competition in Charlotte, my weight is down some, body fat is down 7% from the last time we measured, and my strength hasn’t moved. Like most of life, last month’s effort has brought mixed results and mixed emotions. I’m on the road for a week, visiting family and friends before starting a new job, sliding workouts between day-long driving marathons and being with people I don’t see often. In my bag is Yalom’s book, The Gift of Therapy.

Last night I was reading a vignette on pp 58 – 61 in the paperback edition. Yalom describes an interaction with a patient to illustrate how to work with the process of the therapeutic relationship to draw out themes from “back home” relationships and issues. The patient’s frame equated improvement with losing, she would lose and Yalom would win, and being positive about and in the relationship with vulnerability. She was critical and negative as a protective mechanism. Yalom’s curiosity about the roots of the power struggle kill it. Yalom’s text convicted me. In my own past, I’ve used power struggles to assure myself of the other person’s ability to take care of me. What’s the lesson?

July and August have been awful. There has been no training routine and I’m not lifting well in the new gym even though my anxiety has been slowly declining for a couple of weeks. How has that shown up in training? I’m regularly 15 minutes late for appointments, less aggressive with effort, afraid of engaging with soreness and discomfort, generally more negative and a pain in the ass to be around. This is a power struggle and my coach hates power struggles. To cure my struggle, it is essential I be honest with myself about the root of the struggle. If I allow myself to be positive and enthusiastic about this relationship and even about my own improvement, I leave myself vulnerable to a loss. I will lose. Yalom’s patient said she could feel the sharks circling.

According to Merriam-Webster, loss has six definitions. Number 4a is

failure to gain, win, obtain, or utilize – loss of a game

and 2b is

the harm or privation resulting from loss or separation – bore up bravely under the loss of both parents

My natural language is that of a game, of the power struggle, and it would be easy for a coach to stop at this level and attempt to win. He could call me out for being late, reduce or cancel my workout time, push through all my resistance, show me I can do more, call out my complaining, or even let it all go. The subtext is the “harm or privation resulting from loss or separation” and this is where we have to go. I feel vulnerable to the loss of a valuable ally and the uncertainty is affecting my training and our relationship. I am retreating behind a wall of power struggle. This wasn’t an efficient communication strategy when I was four, and it certainly isn’t helping now.

The difficult-difficult task is to say out loud “I am scared, I have been rude,” give him a case of San Pellegrino sparkling water to make amends for breaking social norms, and have a conversation about how I feel and what I need.

 

Transitions

The Shapely Ass Project is in full swing. We are now eight weeks deep into the Precision Nutrition curriculum, through the first round of hypertrophy and into a small strength cycle. My coach moved, so I lost my training space and joined a commercial gym this week. Losing the training space has been jarring for several reasons. First, the garage was the crazy safe space. Second, my routine was disrupted. Third, contact with my coach has changed. How do you handle mental, emotional, and physical disruption? His dog vomits every morning at the new house. I whine like a four-year-old. It isn’t pretty and some days I can’t tolerate myself, but the whining is slowing down as I settle in to our new reality. There is hope for the dog, too.

Why should the disruption of a routine be so disruptive to an adult? I don’t have any diagnoses like Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) which would indicate a clinical difficulty with transitions.

Motivation is what gets you started

Making changes stick has several elements. First, we “harness the elephant,” or our limbic system, by appealing to emotion and creating a motivating feeling. Most people don’t overhaul their eating and movement patterns because they looked at a set of lab results, evaluated how far out of lab limits their various levels were, and decided those levels just wouldn’t do. It even sounds silly. The changes come after you look at a sky-high A1C and you react to the vision of not being able to play with your children or grow old with your spouse. Maybe you’re inspired by how you think you would feel completing an Ironman triathlon. Emotion gets us started. In my case, about a year ago I realized I needed to get back into the gym for stress management. I felt terrible and knew the gym made me feel better.

Next, we “direct the rider,” also known as the prefrontal cortex, by creating support systems and conditions that make the path as smooth as possible. The rider is what makes plans and choices and will take the easiest path possible. If our desired path is smooth enough, the rider will use the energy of motivating emotion to get us where we want to go. I made my path smooth by creating a set schedule and booking time with a trainer. There were no choices to be made on first two, and then three mornings a week. I was meeting AO at the gym. In fact, when we made the transition to three mornings a week, I paid for six months of training up front. This removed even more decisions from the queue and allowed each of us to not worry about our side of the relationship and focus on training for six months.

Imagine the strength of the habit created by the stress/anxiety – lifting – relief habit loop. For six months, three times per week and then five times per week for the last six weeks of the program, I knew I would start my day by generating enough endorphins to relieve my anxiety. In six months we missed three workouts.

In the new set-up, I lift alone in a commercial gym four times a week by following a spreadsheet shared in a Google drive. We meet for metabolic conditioning, or “metcon”, in a local park a few times per week. Because of the nature of the work, we chat less and are physically farther apart. It feels strangely lonely. The schedule is still variable, I’m constantly making decisions about when to work out and how to implement the workout once I’m in the gym, and even went to the wrong location to train one day. Before we were able to even structure this much, the ambiguity surrounding the transition was brutal because none of it was mine to resolve. The elephant is skittish and the rider is picking his way down a cliff face during an earthquake. All of my most functional cue-action-reward loops are blown to hell.

So, I whine like a four-year-old about discomfort and wet grass and ego challenges. His dog vomits every morning. Today was better than the first day and as we find our stride, the path will smooth and the elephant can keep charging ahead.

 

Being Lost

This week I was reminded of  story. When my oldest child was learning to drive, we would make her drive home from unfamiliar places to build and reinforce her mental maps of the metro area. The city was laid out in a perfect grid, so if you knew key cross-streets it was possible to navigate without understanding where you were. In the days before Google maps, this was an essential skill. The time to feel lost and desperate in the dark, in an unfamiliar neighborhood, is when your parents are in the car to help if necessary.

Reviewing the Merriam-Webster definition of “lost,” it appears lost is a state of mind rather than a state of being. The world has not changed, I am merely unaware of my place in it. I am disoriented. When my oldest drove us home that horrible (her word) night, she was disoriented. We were confident in her ability to take us home, so confident we mocked her misery by singing the first bars of “O, Canada” repeatedly, as if she would manage to drive us to Canada before she figured out where she was. It was not helpful.

If I am lost, I am unaware of my place in the world.

What am I, if not lost? Roget’s thesaurus suggests when we are no longer lost, we are connected to purpose and to others. The oldest child, driving on that dark street, was “lost” until she recognized familiar landmarks. Once she understood the relationship between her current position and her goal state, even though her physical position did not change, she was “found.”

The soul needs time to be lost. I can’t imagine a life with each step pre-determined. When we are lost we are gifted the opportunity to learn about who we are, what we do and don’t value, and a chance to make abysmal trades and discover what is non-negotiable. Being lost is uncomfortable, yet necessary. It is how we learn our way home. I think we err by standing still and waiting to be found. Make a choice. Check, adjust.

Being lost is uncomfortable, yet necessary. It is how we learn our way home.

 

Habit: On the One Hand…

In this series, we are looking at routine, ritual, and habit. If routine is the mid-point, habit and ritual are the end-points on a continuum. Routine is one or more actions taken as a matter of course, they are fairly automatic and can serve us if chosen purposefully. Today we are looking at habits. For a long-form treatment of habit, the book by Charles Duhigg is an excellent, easy read on how habits work and how you can establish new ones.

What makes a habit different from a routine? Habits live deep in the brainstem and become nearly as automatic as breathing. They are literally mindless. You can acquire habits without conscious thought, the involvement of active learning strategies or even memory structures. A habit has three parts.

  1. Cue. The cue starts the chain of events. Substance misuse counselors will talk about “people, places, and things” for cues for unwanted habits like alcohol use, smoking, or substance misuse. Waking up can be a cue to pick up your phone or to go sit and meditate. A feeling can be a cue. The story in Duhigg’s book everyone appreciates involves his afternoon cookie habit. Duhigg realizes he has put on weight by standing up in the middle of his afternoon at the office and going to the breakroom to eat a cookie every day. Was hunger the cue? Not at all.
  2. Routine. The middle part is the thing you do. Duhigg would stand up, go get a cookie from the breakroom and chat with his colleagues for a few minutes and then return to his desk.
  3. Reward. There are two kinds of “rewards” – positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement.
    1. A positive reinforcement is a good thing you get as the result of the action or activity in Step 2. This is what we usually think of when we think of rewards – work hard, get a raise or promotion, behave yourself during a meeting, get an ice cream. Do the action, get something good.
    2. The second kind of reward, negative reinforcement, is a bit more subtle and wickedly effective. Put on your seatbelt, make the stupid beeping/pinging/plonking sound stop. Eat a whole pizza, make the hole in your heart stop aching. Give in to your child’s whining about the candy bar, the whining stops. Do the action, make a bad thing stop. The reward is what sends us to the activity again and again, building up strong biological connections between the cue, activity, and reward.

Learning theory tells us habits are never “broken”, the biological connections always exist. Thus the biblical exhortation to “raise a child up in the way he should go“. Early learning theorists, before the age of fMRI and brain scans, estimated replacing an old learning/habit with a new learning/habit would take three times the initial effort to establish the old habit.

Let’s return to Duhigg and his cookie problem. He realizes the afternoon cookie is a problem, and also realizes the cookie is solving some other problem. The $1,000,000 question is – what problem? The cue is easy to identify, mid-afternoon at his desk. He tries substituting healthier snacks like apples or granola bars, but still ends up in the breakroom with a cookie more afternoons than not. Over a period of weeks, he comes to understand he isn’t hungry. What he wants is a break and a chance to chat with people for fifteen minutes, about the time it took to eat the cookie. By replacing the cookie action with something else, he is able to work within the established chain. The cue still sends him to the breakroom to talk with friends, the reward.

For example, my husband and I have very different habitual movement patterns when we first enter the house. This means vehicle keys are either in a “Dad place” or a “Mom place.” Neither place is bad and we don’t feel the need to establish a single place for keys to go, however it does mean when looking for keys you have to know who drove the vehicle last. In college, I knew people who only smoked when they drank beer from a bottle of a particular shape and were baffled by it. There are people who will immediately run through their mental to-do list if they find themselves with a few moments of ease.

If half of your life is by pseudo-choice, there are a series of cues for you and the beings you live with, do those habits serve you, or by solving one problem ineffectively, are those habits creating other problems?

To analyze a habit pattern, look for the three pieces.

  1. What started this?
  2. What action am I taking?
  3. What do I get out of it?

Remember the cookie problem? It isn’t about the cookie.

Here is Duhigg making an entertaining 15-minute presentation.

Habits establish themselves. The cure for maladaptive habits is mindfulness and intention. Next, we will talk about the ritual or supercharged mindfulness and intention.

What do they mean to you?

The medals from my first powerlifting meet came today. When I’m talking about a new goal with a client, one of the first things we have to get right is what the goal means. One way to explore the underlying meaning of a goal is to do the classic 5 WHYs exercise. Originally developed to be a part of root-cause analysis in quality improvement efforts, the 5 WHYs can also be used to get to the root motivation.

I never would have thought to do the meet if my coach hadn’t suggested it before Winter Break, and I’m not sure who was more surprised I agreed to it. For this particular goal, I chose to do a powerlifting meet to give me something to focus on while I lifted weights to keep me de-stressed during the last semester of grad school. The meet would also occur after graduation and hopefully off-set the graduation let-down.

None of those reasons ascribe any meaning to the medals on my desk. What do they mean?

The human mind chases after the next thing. Today, I am three weeks post-competition, two weeks into the next training macrocycle, and at least three evil plans deeper in the stack. I have already moved on to the next things.

What did it mean to participate in a powerlifting meet?

It means I kept my commitments. I showed up when it was cold. I showed up when it was hot. I showed up when I was tired. I showed up when I was rested. I showed up to get under the bar when I couldn’t stand to be anywhere. In six months I missed three scheduled workouts.  It means I compromised when necessary. On the days I couldn’t lift the scheduled weight or all the reps, I did what I could. It means my identity shifted. I have always been “a swimmer,” even when competing in other sports I was merely a guest on vacation from my real self. I’m not a powerlifter, nor am I exactly sure how I’ll know I’ve become one of those amazing women who pull and push heavy weights, but at this meet the feeling of not quite belonging was notable by its absence.

It means I have an incredibly supportive spouse and a wonderful coach, who were with me when it was cold and hot, when I was tired and moody, even when I threw a barbell into a set of J-hooks. They were with me at dinner, in the unexpected restaurant with the beautiful live music and the mango sorbet, which I enjoyed more than my deadlift PR.

Don’t leave the story thinking this is some Cinderella tale! There were more awards than women in my bracket and the medals are effectively for participation. Participation can still be packed with meaning.

 

 

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