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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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.

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.

Saturday.

Saturdays have this strange, roller-coaster quality. I can go to the garage and lift! Yea! I have to go to class. Boo! Saturday is squat day! Boo. My squat is getting better! Yea! Equanimity is still a goal state for me. I spend a lot of my time on the various roller-coasters in the amusement park that is my life right now.

And I feel angry. Really angry. It has something to do with the end of the semester and graduation and life pressures. That’s fair. What wasn’t fair was throwing the barbell after a few sets of terrible squats. Nothing felt right. My knees were creaky, the squat wasn’t deep enough, the shelf wasn’t supporting my upper body and a warm-up weight was kicking my ass. It felt so wrong, I picked the bar up off my back, hoisted it overhead, and threw it into the J-hooks from about three feet, and yelled “No!”

The garage is supposed to be my happy place, where the weight makes it all go away. I don’t have to share it with my family or the people at school. The garage is my place, where I have space and excellence and effort, and the barbarians tore down the gate. Like most people, I resorted to blame. It’s their fault, those people. Those people who are not me. They stole one of the happiest hours of my week.

If you live for a few hours in the week, you’re doing something wrong.

I am doing something wrong. First, the expectation of equanimity is bullshit, at least for now. Second, what’s creating the base conflict is an uncertainty surrounding what I’ll be doing after graduation. Third, fueling the base conflict is a reflexive checking with the voices in my head for direction. They are not helpful, and never have been. I should fire them. A few quiet moments to check in with a good friend is what was desperately needed, and wasn’t happening. These last two weeks are filled with other people’s business. Class is for professors. Field is for patients. Home is for homework. The garage is for me and I couldn’t keep the barbarians out. My coach is not my therapist. We have a relationship, but not that kind of relationship, and my barbarians are my business.

What did we learn? We confirmed performance is linked more to joy than to sleep. I’ve staggered into Saturday mornings, happy to be there, on four hours of sleep and a previous day’s diet I wouldn’t confess to my macro counter, and lifted well and easily. Yesterday’s shit show followed three straight nights with seven hours of sleep and good nutrition. It’s all about me and my head space.

Self-compassion is the way out. It’s understandable to feel angry right now, and I’m sorry I’m going through this. It’s hard and it sucks. I’m good at what I do, what I have to offer is valuable. I don’t have to be at the top of my game everyday and I’m proud of myself for sticking with it, loading the bar and working through what I could.

The barbarians can suck it.

Ready Player One.

Read the book last year, saw the movie tonight. I found the movie to be a disappointment for a variety of reasons and combined with a reflection on Molly Ringwald’s piece on the drive home, realized the Cool Kids still only pretend to understand and like us. Molly Ringwald doesn’t realize she was not the innocent hero in Breakfast Club, her character deserved to be called names and her job was to realize she wasn’t any better than the other kids. The audience understood.

I was never a gamer, and quit playing my one MMORPG before starting grad school. There were, however, years when slipping on the headphones and sliding into my online persona felt more real than my life. A gamer friend pointed me toward the William Gibson book, Neuromancer, because he said I reminded him of the main character. “You aren’t playing the same game the rest of us are.”

Tonight in the theater, the audience laughed at the fat woman dancing on a pole in her VR universe. Alone in her trailer, she wore hot pink velour and danced for an unseen audience who appreciated what she had to offer. Somewhere, she was desirable, and people in the theater found the notion preposterous, as intended, and laughed. The movie played lip service to the tragedy with a voice-over by the main character, explaining how people could be anyone in the Oasis. The book was much more direct, showing as the economy moved from real life to virtual life, real life ceased to exist except for the people who operated the online universe and its requisite real life infrastructure. There should have been no people on the streets in the movie. Everyone is at home, imprisoned by rigs which allow them to pretend to escape their imprisonment, receiving deliveries from drones, isolated from other people. Only the very poor and very rich still are outside.

The appearance of the Molly Ringwald piece was coincidental,  but the leader of the corporatist scum of IOI was styled to resemble the vice principal from Breakfast Club, Richard Vernon. Do you remember when the Internet was the opposite of corporatist? When it was going to free us, connect us, and let us wander the world of ideas? Now you’re imprisoned by your Facebook advertiser profile and aggregate activity, with Twitter and Google deciding what you may see and read and watch. We accept the deliveries from search bots as if they were all the world had to offer, and remain isolated from people who don’t think as we do.

The amount of time and effort it takes to master game content is staggering, and the high-end gamers I knew would shrug it off as inconsequential. It was possible to spend thirty or forty hours a week playing the game and still not reach the highest levels of play. Excellent play required research, preparation, and social capital inside the game. Moving to higher levels of play involved remembering incredible minutia, e.g. running into the walls of an elevator while it descends in a particular quest allows the player to drop through the floor and reach the bottom a split-second earlier. Only noobs ride it all the way down. Someone had to find that hole, reproduce it, and transmit the knowledge through their social network. The movie invented an impossible first stage to the easter egg hunt. It is inconceivable that an entire player base of expert VR gamers didn’t turn around to find the back way to the solution and the first key. Only noobs run the actual quest. The key to winning is in the metagame, which the book illustrated again and again. The movie missed the mark by trying to make a movie which appeals to the masses, who, like Molly Ringwald, don’t realize they aren’t one of us.

Sometimes I miss being able to sit down with a glass of iced tea, a sandwich, and tirelessly roam lush landscapes with my great sword in hand. I miss all the people and the laughter and the sense of accomplishment. There is a line in the movie, uttered by the female lead, Art3mis, to Perzival  “You don’t know me. You only see what I allow you to see,” as if this were some sort of revelation on the nature of online life and not the human condition.

It is difficult to “be” IRL. It is difficult to “be” in-game. The pressures are similar, other people have expectations, needs, and wants. They make demands on your time, energy, and resources. The persona in-game doesn’t have to worry about endless laundry or paying bills and can log out when the grind is all too much. Maybe the checking in and checking out is what prevents us from mastering either world. The difficulty lies in remaining present to experience, to the Self, and answering the great questions –

  • Who am I?
  • What’s important to me?
  • What am I willing to trade?
  • What’s non-negotiable?

Tomorrow is squat day.

 

Halfway. Checkpoint.

stairs-1888232_640 Now that you’re half-way, how do you feel about your progress?

Today was the official half-way point, the end of month 3. In three months I missed 2 workouts, added more than 10 pounds of muscle, dropped x inches, added at least 10 pounds to my bench, 30 pounds to my deadlift, and constructed a passable squat. I also have perplexed and aggravated my coach at least once.

It makes me happy to drive him to think.

The question on the table is how do I feel?

Today I felt complicated. A conversation with my dad yesterday set up an awful night’s half-sleep after a blech-effort workout. I will no longer be talking to my dad on lifting days. I feel like I should be getting better, faster. Like I’m not bringing everything to bear on the lifts, cheating myself by slacking, cheating myself by talking too much, not doing more weight, all the exercises, better quality reps. Today was a stop thinking or cry kind of day. I started to cry a few times but it didn’t work out. Stepping into the garage has to be like stepping onto my mat, a space where everything stops and my energy creates a bubble of protection. My safe place.

There’s just too much going on. Too many transitions and terminations. What kind of job do I want? What population? What do I want to do? What am I going to do? Am I enough? Who is going to want me? My current half-joke is I can always go back to teaching swim lessons and my dad said “We would think we would want more after all this,” which always pisses me off. Teaching swim lessons involves teaching a complex set of skill progressions at developmentally appropriate levels in a hazardous environment. It’s not my fault the world thinks any half-baked sixteen-year-old can do it well and be happy making $8.25 an hour. Goodness knows, I’ve made a thousand grievous errors while teaching and by the grace of God no one has died.

But that was not really the question.

Maybe it was just a polite, non-question, like “What are your plans for the weekend?”

I feel fine. The plan is solid. We will execute on the plan, check, and adjust.

 

 

Graduation Pressures

Graduation is soon. One classmate keeps a running count of the days remaining. “Not many” is all I can mumble.

“What are you graduating with?” [random encounter with a normal human]

“A Masters in Social Work.”

“Ah.” The normal human’s face looks puzzled before it performs Standard Happy Expression. “Congratulations! What are you going to do?”

“Catch a nap.”

But, seriously. I’m going to start opting out of the US Healthcare system by eating mostly fruits and vegetables and staying away from meat and dairy. I want to be the person I am in the gym. Perhaps less chatty. My coach thinks it isn’t possible for me to be quiet. This is what happens when you give a person, who processes life out loud, emotional space. She chats. I also lift heavy things, take risks and direction, work toward goals, expose vulnerabilities and allow them to be addressed. It’s a pretty sweet life under the bar.

Wisdom from my Dad

There is a set of family aphorisms, distilled from my father’s stories. We are a family of storytellers and complainers, and I still am apt to make a point by telling the story and expecting the listener to distill my meaning and salient points. It’s rude and can be annoying for people in a hurry, so if you’re in a hurry it won’t bother me if you need to leave.

Always take the final. Dad went to Indiana State University a long time ago, when it was still Indiana Teacher’s College and they still required every graduate to demonstrate competence with English composition and spelling. For a variety of reasons, my father didn’t learn to spell until Wheel of Fortune was well into syndication. He had failed this course already a number of times. This semester was the last semester it would be offered. The college was changing curriculum. If he failed again, he would have to graduate under an entirely new catalogue and likely never graduate. He failed every spelling test of the semester, under the syllabus he could not pass the class and he was not alone. There were three other students who were poised to fail and the instructor gathered the young men in her office. She asked each of them in turn, “Are you going to take the final?” and waited for an answer. Dad realized there was a purpose to the question and somehow divined the “No” was not the answer to give. He took the final and was gifted his “D”. He didn’t graduate from ISU, but those are other stories.

Everyone has different objectives, and the people who give you your goals may have their own goals which are directly opposed to yours. Pay attention. After my parents started having children, Dad decided to settle into a career and became a sales rep for an OEM manufacturer. His job was to sell as much product as he could, and he was evaluated and compensated on the number of widgets sold. In order to travel to see clients, he had to purchase airline tickets and rent cars, or purchase gas for his company car. The person who could authorize those expenditures was rewarded for keeping expenses low and would refuse to let Dad leave town to meet with clients. Sometimes, when Dad would make an especially large, long-term contract he would aggravate the person in charge of the plant where the widgets were made, because the sale meant incurring expenses to add a line or a shift of employees. It isn’t personal, they are looking out for their bread-and-butter just like  you.

You can’t park at the front door until you drive to the front door. Dad meant this one literally. In a crowded parking lot, go ahead and drive by the building entrance because there just might be a spot available. Over time, I’ve expanded this one to something more metaphysical about asking for what I need. I can’t have it until I ask for it. People tell me no often, and sometimes they tell me yes.

Right now, my mind feels like a dumpster fire and there’s no way out, except through. The dumpster fire has me looking for small comforts, like chocolate and pizza and a Netflix binge. There are a thousand small things which need my attention and the extra mental burden of eating well and moving more seems like too much, like I permission to NOT attend to something. The trouble with not attending to eating well and moving more is feeling awful after, not in a guilt-ridden-emotional way but physically awful.

Tomorrow I’ll go lift early, get some tea and breakfast, and settle in to the mound of things to be read and written. Somewhere in there, I’ll take a break and call my dad.

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.

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