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.

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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.

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.

 

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.

 

Talk to me about it

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Today I asked my coach to talk to me about weight manipulation, “cutting”. Talk to me about it.

Remembering the Trans-Theoretical model, there are stages of change.

  1. Pre-contemplative
  2. Contemplative
  3. Action
  4. Relapse
  5. Maintenance

People move back and forth among the stages as we work toward change. The process is hardly linear and is usually depicted as a circle. I’ve been bouncing between contemplative and pre-contemplative about dropping weight for nearly a year. Graduate school has consumed every available ounce of will, and when I realized this had to wait, I took my first action step by pushing the whole project off until graduation.

Looking back at old blog entries, there is a tidy plan from two Decembers ago, which would have led to a desired outcome. It was fabulous! So SMART. Like I’ve done this before… a billion times. I can operationalize your ass in a heartbeat.

Today’s discussion was fairly technical. From his side of the house, there are three types of goals to work toward. First, there could be an aesthetic goal, or striving to achieve a certain look. Second, a body-fat goal, trying to achieve leanness, as measured by the percentage of body weight that is fat. Third, a weight goal. The third one is off the table. The body-fat goal makes the most sense. I’m far away from any kind of “look” and done chasing a number on a scale. Body fat percentage can be estimated by bioimpedance (BIA), calipers,  or a measuring tape. Everyone is graduating, which is good, but it also takes away our access to the medical-grade BIA equipment at the school’s fitness center. No one owns calipers. I have measuring tape and a helpful spouse. Done.

I’ve undergone this process a billion times since I was seven years old, but never in the context of powerlifting, so how do they do it? It’s calorie deficit. Simple enough. My coach says the usual process is to figure out what my estimated maintenance calorie count is, and every week for a set of weeks drop the calorie consumption to 80% of the previous week. How long did I want to cut? Twelve weeks. Okay. He also recommended some periodization, some weeks on and a de-load week. I think he wants to live. Really, if I think about the calendar, cutting in two phases until early July and then de-loading for the meet makes sense. The macro split also has to be calculated. My preferred split is 40-30-30. It’s been a very long time since I watched my macro splits.

What prompted the post today was reflecting on something I remember from Motivational Interviewing. Miller observed their early substance misuse patients,  wait-listed for treatment, who were given a handout on reducing alcohol use began changing without treatment. Curious about the phenomenon, they began looking at what happens if you make people wait to change when they are ready. Strangely enough, those relapse rates are higher than for folks who started the process while waiting for official treatment. In this instance, as I’ve felt better, I’ve made better choices and tried to move those “big rocks” of weight loss without accounting for any failed attempts. After all, this effort isn’t “on the clock”. Today, I turned down an enormous cinnamon roll because I didn’t want it without feeling the pressure to not eat it.

The math is strong in the exercise science folks. There’s a spreadsheet for everything. It’s all concrete, no woo-woo. Talking about weight loss with athletes is always a difficult conversation, suited to my side of the house. The emotional and social components are huge, as is the foundational idea this is not a diet for a short-term result but a change in my relationship with food. I don’t want a relationship with food! Can’t we just date casually? Yes, yes we can. In order to date casually, I’ve had to let go of my death grip on the damn stuff. There have been some seriously dysfunctional relationships in my life, but this one takes the cake. Maybe that’s how I should recast my affection for Love the Way you Lie.

This is my coach’s first time introducing an athlete to powerlifting and pursuing long-term goals. My job is to be a guinea pig, to show up and follow the plan. Healing occurs in relationship. In this relationship I’ll trust what he thinks he knows and count my macros. After April 28. Because that’s the plan.

The Second Part of the Story

The first part of my story ends “… and so I learned to never let people see me cry. It shows them where they can hurt you.”

The second part of the story is the important part. In Brene Brown’s first TED talk, she speaks of “numbing,” and how numbing negative emotions also numbs positive emotions.

You want to avoid feeling fear? Be prepared to also nix joy. Never letting people see you cry means you also don’t dare let them see you light up, because then they know what they can take away. I still admire the gritty stubbornness about my earlier attitude toward sharing  – there’s nothing you can take away and nothing you can give me that will make me move. It’s frustrating to people who only understand how to manipulate instead of evoke motivation.

Tara Brach calls the hard shell we maintain to smooth our path through an uncertain world full of hurt a “space suit,“. My space suit was built during years of bullying, loneliness, raging self-doubt and self-hatred, with mounds of macaroni and cheese eaten in secret, gallons of alcohol shared with fellow space travelers, layers of bright red lipstick, and a desperation to remain unseen. The space suit projects a false-color version of Self, attracting people who perceive and need our weaknesses to complement their own space suits. The thing we hoped would protect us only makes us more vulnerable.

“… and so I learned to let people see me cry and light up. It’s the only way your people can find you.”

“Did you find your people yet?”

“Not yet.”

It takes practice to find your people. Sometimes they can’t stay. Sometimes they are busy. Sometimes they are rare. Those people who appreciate your authentic Self are worth the risk.

Edgeplay, The Self-Awareness Class

There’s this class I teach called Edgeplay.

Your edge is the threshold in a pose—or moment in seated meditation—where physical, mental, and emotional resistance comes rushing to the foreground. Reaching your edge is like applying an enzyme that ignites a reaction and magnifies your physical, mental and emotional patterns. This magnification—while challenging—allows you to see yourself (and your conditioning) with greater clarity. In short, you become conscious of previously unconscious patterns. ~Jason Crandell

How will we come to the edge?

Go looking for it, of course. In six quick weeks we will watch videos, listen to podcasts, and read some essays that send us to the core of who we are, or at least allow us to examine the story we tell from a different angle. These ideas from every corner of my Nerdvana belong to their original authors, and I hope everyone who wanders through will find value in their mash-up.

Namaste.

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