Changing My Mind

A few months ago, I let my coach choose my next goal. He knows me pretty well and I trust him. He picked fat loss, with a sprinkle of powerlifting to keep it interesting. We geared up, changing the focus of my training with him to metabolic conditioning. I checked in with an RD and had my actual base metabolic rate esti-measured (it’s high, at about 1400Kcal/day) and had her work up a diet plan I never followed. I hate diet plans. She’s a great RD, I’m a terrible RD client.

We did okay for a month or so. I started deflating. It was fun to deflate, even if the scale didn’t move much, and then I started a new job and all hell broke looser. There were blog posts about the anxiety I experienced, the uncertainty about training, shifts in focus, flat lifts, and eating school food at 51. I missed the magic of summer, working out five days a week, goofing, sweating, and cussing.

There was a failure in my line of thinking when I accepted the fat-loss goal. This is hindsight and I’m working at a low “B” average, but see if this is plausible. I shrank like crazy when we started lifting to prep for the first powerlifting meet in Atlanta. If not paying attention to how much I weighed could make me shrink, then surely I could become a “normal” sized person if that was the focus! This time I would have my coach, and he’s awesome, and everything would be playing-with-baby-goats awesome and I would finally, finally, finally reach My Goal.

You talk about it a lot.

@coach_cardigan

Fat loss has been a given-goal of mine since kindergarten when Charlie Louera told me, at age 4, I looked pregnant. I talk about fat loss a lot. I rant about fat loss being a woman’s given goal. I seethe with resentment when “fit folk” assume I’m only seeking fat loss and I’m new at this athleticism thing. Seethe. If they knew me as well as my children, the fit folk would run and go clean their rooms at that moment. It was only natural for my coach to pick “fat loss”.

There were a few snags, including the aforementioned anxiety, scheduling, programming, and school food, but most important snag of all was it didn’t excite us enough to pull through the anxiety, scheduling, programming, and school food. My coach isn’t a “get a beach body” kind of personal trainer. He is into increasing sport performance, preferably strength sports, but he was willing to play along and help me out. I learned all over again, stepping on a scale daily or weekly twists my psyche into a pretzel, and the effort required to prep and pack my lunches, take care of my recovery, do cardio, and stay away from the donuts in the breakroom is greater than any excitement over a shrinking hip measurement.

We suck at fat loss, and it’s okay.

me

Not so long ago, flailing at a goal would have meant concentrated self-recrimination, renewed vows of obedience to The Plan, and re-doubled efforts. I’m old now and beginning to see the wisdom of doing what works. We are good at tending to an aging female body and keeping it injury-free. I’ve lifted consistently for a year without new injury, fixed a nagging shoulder injury, crafted a legal squat out of I don’t even know what, added 80 pounds to my deadlift, and laughed a lot. Let’s do more of that. The size of my ass will have to take care of itself. I set a new goal. It’s ambitious. It suits us.

This is the thing, though. In order to reach the new goal and keep myself together body and soul, I will have to do everything for the fat loss goal plus more. Everything has to be on point. Nutrition, sleep, recovery, workout frequency and quality. All of it. I’m pretty excited. It was fun to hear my coach tell other people at the powerlifting meet about our goal. He sounded proud to mastermind the effort.

The red and the yellow, you’re going to pick up a red and a yellow. Visualize that.

@coach_cardigan

At the powerlifting meet Saturday, at the end of a very long day, I rounded the corner of the screen separating the warm-up area from the judging platform for my third deadlift attempt and nearly cried with joy. My coach had been going on about a red and a yellow for weeks and at some level I understood he was talking about plate colors, but didn’t realize what he meant until I spotted the bar. There they were. A red plate and a yellow plate on either side. He said they were going to be there and I was going to pick it up. The whole scene was like the end of a treasure hunt. Seek the red and the yellowwwwwwwww [cue creepy voice].

The bar weighed 234 lbs and the only person who lifted lighter than me was the 11-year-old, but it was a personal best for me by nine pounds and a relatively smooth lift. Every time we follow the plan and the plan pays out, we build trust in ourselves as individuals and as a team. He makes plans, I mostly follow them. Lunches and snacks for the week are packed, laundry is done. It’s time for bed.

Tomorrow starts the next mesocycle, the next plan, the new goal.

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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

 

 

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.

 

 

Monday Morning Excitement – A Better Version of Me?

Monday morning begins a new phase of training. This will be an 18-month macrocycle of muscle and strength gain balanced with fat loss, which follows a 6-month macrocycle of muscle and strength gain introducing me to powerlifting. Will this lead to a better version of me?

I say no.

There is a difference between who I am, those stable internal characteristics, and what I do, unstable internal characteristics. Am I a better person at 35% or 30% or 25% bodyfat? If I’m a better version of myself at 25% then shouldn’t even lower bodyfat be better? One of Simon Sinek’s more famous quotes is

What you do simply proves what you believe.

Sinek, one of the world’s most sought-after figures in leadership today, did not say “What you do proves who you are.” Let’s do a little thought experiment. Substitute a bank balance, prestige, fame, or any other external marker of success for bodyfat. Does more achievement equate with a better version of myself? Does less achievement equate with a worse version of myself? Take this a step further. Does more achievement mean I’m a better person than someone with less achievement? Is the bank president a better person than someone with no home? I say no.

If you resist this idea, take a closer look. Are you trying to argue the person who is able to execute the processes necessary for greater achievement is a better or different person than the one who is not? The common meme from Pinterest looks like this

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Who am I, and how is who I am separate from what I believe? Self-image is collection of beliefs about the Self. These beliefs may or may not have any grounding in reality and influence how we see and respond to the world around us. The beliefs are layered on as we interact with people and the environment from the moment of conception. One of the most profound questions I can ask someone searching for personal growth is “How do you know any of this is true?” Think about how your behavior might change if a few key beliefs you hold were different. Does that change who you are?

One of the functions of asana and meditation practices is to separate who-you-are from what-you-do. The who-you-are is sometimes characterized as the sky and what-you-do, or emotions, thoughts, and behaviors, as the clouds in the sky. Who-you-are can watch the what-you-do, therefore they are not the same. With careful observation of what-you-do, it is possible to peel back the layers of belief to arrive at a more complete sense of Self and accept the present moment as it is, not create a better Self.

Nadia Bolz-Weber engages with this idea of self-image and ideal self in this 11-minute talk at the Makers conference. Go watch it now and come back.

What I believe to be important, my values, creates a fence around all of the acceptable versions of me. As long as I am inside the fence, I am in my integrity and am a valid version of my self.

There is this dark corner where the Inner Critic lurks. He tells me I will know I’m okay if my children are polite, my house is clean, I earn advanced degrees, teach more people, finish another project, or any one of an infinite list. The Inner Critic has all the time in the world to come up with new tests, new proofs, new “if-onlys” and “as-soon-as”. The Inner Critic can suck it.

When I was younger, what I believed led me to do things which deposited a heavy layer of adipose tissue on top of an otherwise capable body. The adipose tissue protected me from a variety of evils and uncertainties which no longer exist and it has to go. The 18-month arc is not about becoming a better, stronger version of myself.

I am, and that is enough.

Namaste.

Routines

I want to start with routines, because routine is the midpoint between habit and ritual.

When we talk about changing the things we do, we have to talk about brain physiology, learning theory, systems thinking, cognitive distortions, and the Heath brothers. As mentioned in the previous post, our lives run on autopilot most of the time simply because actively making decisions every moment of the day would consume the mind. Your brain uses the pre-frontal cortex to make and execute plans and regulate emotions. It was the last brain structure for evolution to construct and the last structure to develop in an adult brain, finishing up around the age of 25. Learning theory describes how we reinforce and extinguish observable behaviors through two sets of direct mechanisms, as well as social learning theory which describes how we reinforce and extinguish observable behavior by watching others. Systems thinking treats an actor as a member of a larger system, which acts and is acted upon, a formal way of saying “No man is an island.” Cognitive distortions are ways of thinking that distort observations to fit a pre-conceived narrative and are considered to be maladaptive. The Heath brothers have written wonderful popular books on change and introduced a variety of metaphors into popular culture.

What about routines?

If most of your day is going to be on auto-pilot, it would be nice if the auto-pilot took you where you preferred and not only where you went last week. Take a moment and think about what you do for the first hour after you wake up.  Chances are you have a set of things you do in a general order and those things could include periods of indecision or chaos. Chaos and indecision nest nicely into a routine. If you have ever heard a parent of young children complain about “trying to get out the door” and “every day is a battle” then chaos is a part of their morning routine. Deciding what to do for the rest of the day can also be part of a routine. If you walk into your favorite restaurant and consider the menu before picking the same thing, or never picking the same thing, that’s a routine.

A routine is a behavior or a set of behaviors that execute on semi-conscious cues.

Purposefully built routines have the power to alter our paths. What would change in your day if you began it on purpose? Could you be more calm or more energized? How would you like this day to happen?

You are the expert on you. Without giving any advice about what to do with your morning routine, let’s talk about how to change the routine you have.

  1. What is the result you want? Begin with the end in mind. If you had the perfect start to your day, how would you be and what would be happening?
  2. Notice what you’ve got. For 2 – 3 days, watch yourself go through your morning without judgement. Notice what you do and notice what works and what doesn’t. At this point no one cares why some things happen and some things don’t. The story is irrelevant. Just notice.
  3. Break down the ideal start to the day. This is a loop. Your loop may have you walking all the way back to the night before.
    1. What is the last thing that has to happen?
    2. What conditions or actions have to exist to make it possible?
    3. Repeat with the condition or action from 3.b
  4. What’s already in the routine and working? Does it need to move earlier or later or stay right where it is?Next is the most difficult step.
  5. Change one thing. Just one, for a week or two. Make a change and monitor how it goes. Even if the change seems stupid easy and you are certain you could change the entire morning, don’t. For most people, change is best accomplished in small increments. Be patient. Change one thing. Once that thing is fairly well integrated, which takes a week or two, change the next thing.

Routines are that mid-point between mindfulness and habit. We use the mindfulness technique of notice-and-name to become conscious of patterns, consciously change parts of the pattern, and as they become more automatic, make more changes. The routine may over time become habitual, but for the moment we are still very aware of actively making choices.

In the comments, let me know how it’s going or ask questions! I’m happy to help.

Trust

School is over. The first powerlifting competition is in two weeks. What next?

I have a good relationship with my coach, so I let him choose. If you don’t have the kind of coach you could trust with your body, find a new one. Seriously. He’s certified, degree’d, and committed to holistic well-being. We’ve spent more than (2 hrs * 4 weeks * 4 months) + (3 hrs * 4 weeks * 6 months) together and he knows me fairly well. He was also spot-on with his lift estimates for my first meet, even with my wacko eating, stress, and sleeping the last semester of school. We committed to eighteen months. If I had eighteen months to spend on a goal, what should it be?

He chose body transformation with a sprinkle of powerlifting for interest. We agreed to blog both sides of the quest over at groundedsc.com, because AO is also my business partner. My blog is about my stuff, the emotional and mental game, and my response to coaching. His blog is about working with a difficult client on a challenging goal, e.g. balancing the calorie deficits required for fat loss while increasing muscle mass and maintaining powerlifting performance.

You’ll be a different person in eighteen months. So will I.

Body transformation is an ambitious goal. In theory and in practice, I understand nutrition, change psychology, habit formation, blah, blah, blah, so AO has stayed out my nutrition struggles. He’s the CSCS, I’m the LMSW. We have scopes of practice, but I’m having trouble settling into consistent eating habits and my weight loss is stalled. He’s gently insisting on a higher level of accountability because as a client I am back to knowing and not doing. I thought I could count macros and cut once school was out and I was so wrong. As long as I am still inhaling chips and guac or treating myself to a burger and fries this often, he can’t do his job. He is very good at his job.

The plan at the moment is to use Precision Nutrition‘s ProCoach system to manage my return to sane, consistent eating. It will lead me back through thirteen evidence-based habits, while I reflect on what’s important to me and any barriers I experience. On the movement side, AO is anticipating an eighteen-month macro cycle composed of four meso cycles, each of which will culminate in a powerlifting meet. Each meso cycle consists of a fat loss, hypertrophy, and strength microcycle. I’m glad he’s doing the spreadsheet because it hurt my brain just to construct the sentences.

We are also avoiding setting any end-game goals. It was his idea to set micro-goals as we go and not look too far ahead. I suspect, however, he will set secret goals. His eyes lit up and he got a vision when he thought about me being a different person, I saw the thought run across his forehead. We don’t care so much about the scale as we do body-fat and tape measurements. The scale will move, but weight loss isn’t a linear process and I care less about how much I weigh than how much weight I can push or pull. I ordered an inexpensive at-home body-fat BIA device which may not have high validity but should have good reliability.

If you can’t do this with your coach/trainer, find a new one. You deserve better.

 

Planning as Security Blanket

I love to plan. Once I realized how amazing plans were, calendars, markers, highlighters, and washi tape became some of my closest allies. Converts are always the most fervent.

In the last weeks of the semester, I had no plan and became a crazy person. Every time I tried to plan, there was nothing to plan and the calendar stayed empty and I became unhinged. If there was only a plan for life post-graduation, then everything would be okay. Stand-alone events slowly began to populate the calendar, but they weren’t a plan to follow or from which to deviate.

Today I read a short article at the New York Times discussing the necessity of quitting, stopping, shutting down. The author bailed on a marathon for which she had been training nearly a year after an injury which wouldn’t heal. She noted our culture’s drive to push on through discomfort and how unnatural it is. What caught my attention was the reference to Barbara Cecil. We cannot plan our way through a crossroads because alignment of our direction to current circumstance requires deep listening. Planning is declaring an intention.

School is over. There is time to do laundry, clean the house, and listen. The washi tape will be there when the Universe lets me know where I’m headed.

The Miracle Question

It seems fitting to be pondering the Miracle Question at Easter.

If a miracle occurred, when you woke up tomorrow your life was exactly as you wanted, how would you know? What would you be doing?

I like the doing question variation. The Miracle Question is a part of Brief, Solution-Focused Therapy and it provides a quick focus on positive changes to behavior. When I applied to the MSW program, my plan was to improve my clinical skills, gain a significant credential, and return to a coaching/teaching space working in health and well-being. The program changed my perspective and made me question my priorities. Am I using my powers for good? Is what I do enough in the world?

My conceptualization of the work I prefer to do resembles an old-school number line, with executive functioning at the zero-point. My population hovers in a range from around values clarification and values-based decision-making at 5, down to acceptance of inherent worth at -10. To paraphrase Brene Brown, I don’t hang out with those people who function above a 5.

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http://compulsorywebsite.weebly.com/negative-numbers.html

There are people in this world who can go to a Franklin-Covey seminar and walk out with a new binder and the revolutionary idea of a priority-ordered to-do list and be fine. A priority-ordered to-do list never occurred to them, they were trying to organize their lives in other ways and this is the ticket. Those for whom the binder is another frustrating tool they can’t get a grip on, we back up and move to fundamental ideas of the self-constructs and how those influence the way we relate to the world. If examining the self-constructs isn’t enough, then we have to back up to the absolute beginning and our right to a place in the world.

My preferred populations are the novice and the lost. Novices and lost people are found everywhere. They tend to wander. We tend to wander. Right now, I’m lost.

If I woke up tomorrow and my miracle occurred, I would have what I came here for, a business providing a peaceful, supportive, challenging place for health and well-being. I would work out and learn and talk to people and listen and write. There would be plants and chair swings and quiet places to be and soothing sounds like the dropping of weights and laughter and water.

Mental Prep

Over Winter Break I spent time prepping to lift heavy, lift consistently, and raise my game in the gym. I scoured Pinterest for motivating graphics and quotes, pasted them in my planner, thought about how I would feel and when it would suck the most. I sacrificed extra money so my trainer would make sure I worked out three times a week.

My squat is deeper than any human emotion

Every time I step up to the bar on squat day, this is what I say. When we began, my squat couldn’t get to parallel and I had to do sets of box squats even on non-squat days. My stabilizers were some weak-ass muscles. It wasn’t leg strength, just faith and stability. Friday I pleased my coach with a squat, at least to parallel and with some weight.

He makes it easy to be my best self, to show up and take risks, and showing up is more than half of the game.

How can I use that same kind of preparation to raise my game in other areas?

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