Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Just [Decide to] Do It

Last night, during my group therapy session, one of my groupies was describing a difficult thing that she wanted to do but wasn’t sure if she’d be able to do it. Our therapist asked, “What will make the difference between doing it and not doing it?” We looked around at each other and at her, stumped.

“When you decide to do it.”

We all nodded vigorously in agreement, and the conversation moved on. This morning, I woke up thinking again about those words and how powerful they are. That simple phrase takes out all the fretting and overanalyzing and second-guessing and other mind games that come when a difficult task is in front of us. I find these tasks are the most difficult when they’re part of making a change.

The word “should” gets plastered all over everything when I’m faced with choices or making change. I should get more sleep. I should push the pace in a race when it hurts. I should talk to someone about [insert awkward topic that makes me feel vulnerable]. I should watch portions and mindless eating. The “should” implies there is some outside pressure, telling me what to do and not do. It’s hard to own a decision and truly incorporate the steps it takes to make a change when it’s coming from an unnamed external place berating me for not being perfect.

Deciding to do it makes it internal. It’s coming from within, from something I want, from something I need.

“Decide to do it” is different that “just do it,” which is certainly a true and powerful sentiment, but it implies that there isn’t first an obstacle of getting your brain on board with whatever “it” is.

I’m thinking about how powerful it is: “I have decided to go to bed earlier” is a lot more powerful than “I should go to bed earlier.” It requires that I own the decision, that I take steps to make it a reality, rather than just some general feeling that I should do something without a clear idea of what that means. It empowers me to take steps towards a goal, rather than just hoping the goal-making will itself bring results. It makes it real. 

And then, I think and hope, that each time I verify this decision with my actions, it brings me a step closer to not having it be a decision anymore, but rather something I just do.

I don’t decide to run every day, it’s just something I do, after years of having it be something I decide to do every day. Just like I don’t decide to brush my teeth or wash my face before bed (flossing I could still use some work on). Years ago, I decided to stop drinking soda, and now it’s not a decision I make every day, it just happens. This isn’t to say that, some days, it’s hard to get out of bed to get miles in, or make a trip to the bathroom between the couch and bed. But deciding to do things means not dwelling on how hard it is, it means you focus on getting the thing done.

Which is so much easier than spending days or weeks mulling things over before taking action, or beating myself up when I don’t do a “should”, or conveniently changing my mind when things get tough.

What decisions have you made? What have you decided on so many times, that now it just happens? What decision do you still struggle with?

Friday, April 1, 2016

Apparently, I don't write about running anymore.

I can sum up the past two months (maybe even this year so far), I think, through the realization that I don’t have enough eggs to go into all the baskets I’ve been trying to fill lately. But, it’s ok, because a lot of those baskets don’t need to be filled. And I wonder: how many of us work ourselves into a tailspin, trying to hold ourselves up to impossible standards, do things we think will be the golden ticket to a happy life?

Let me explain (otherwise, this would be a lousy blog post).

Through my ongoing quest for self-improvement, self-awareness, and growth, I have been soaking up articles and Facebook posts and podcasts and blogs, all about how to “live the life I want” or to “be the x I’ve always wanted to be (where x = lover, manager, employee, runner, friend, daughter, sister, woman, human. It took three sentences for me to get an equation into this post. #nerdalert). Every day, I would have “inspiring” emails delivered to my inbox and posts to my Facebook wall. I would read them with gusto, hoping for tidbits to motivate me, to flip the switch on whatever aspect of my life I saw in need of improvement. I created all these baskets to describe the person I wanted to be, and if only I could fill them with even one little egg, even a quail’s egg, I’d feel fulfilled and whole and could check that box.

About a month ago, it occurred to me that, although my intentions were good, I had somehow started subconsciously judging myself anytime I couldn’t find an egg, get that egg into a basket, or lost eggs. If I read about a way to better manage my time, and I couldn’t immediately implement it, I had failed. If I read about how to have better mental fortitude as an athlete and didn’t immediately see a change, I had failed. Through all my sources, I discovered that, in order to be happy and connected with myself and a good human being, I have to get up early, do morning yoga, meditate, drink lemon water, journal, not check my phone first thing in the morning, get eight hours of sleep (but - don’t worry - there are examples of very successful people throughout history who basically don’t sleep), nap (anywhere from 15 minutes to two hours), write down what I’m grateful for, make goals, don’t use the word “should,” not sit all day, take breaks every hour,  spend an hour every day focusing on my team and not my own work, network, have coffee and lunch with people, don’t eat lunch at my desk, spend time every day “thinking and synthesizing”, not check email constantly all day, don’t bring work home with me, spend the first and last ten minutes of every work day scheduling and making to-do lists, not rely on to-do lists, eat vegan, eat vegetarian, eat local, eat organic, avoid sugar, avoid alcohol, drink one glass of wine every day (maybe even two is ok), drink tea, drink coffee (but not too much), exercise every day, take rest days, run a lot, cross train a lot, do core, strength train, foam roll, get massages, write, blog, play piano, listen to music, listen to podcasts, tell those close to me absolutely everything that’s on my mind, give those close to me space, put my legs up a wall for ten minutes every night, never go to bed with a dirty kitchen, never go to bed with a dirty apartment, always make the bed, set aside 10%, no 15%, of my salary for retirement (is that enough?!), go away on the weekends, stay in and get things done on the weekends, prioritize friend and boyfriend time, prioritize alone time, do what I love, love what I do.

I had so many good suggestions for how to live a better life. None of those suggestions were “just live happy.” 

About a month ago, I had a thought (and I remember exactly where I was in GGP during a run, which is pretty amazing, because every time I pass that point, I think about this): what if I’m actually doing ok? What if I am “living the life I want?” What if I am the person I want to be? What if the struggle, then, is letting go of the picture that obtaining x will mean I’m done working or done growing or finished? That there actually isn’t a checkbox for me to say, “Ok, I am done being the best x I can be.” This realization was equally freeing and a tough pill to swallow. It means my work is never done, but it also means that I don’t have to hold myself to an impossible standard of being “finished.” The perfectionist in me hadn’t been serving me well, and it was a moment of actually believing the sentiment that life is about the journey, not the destination. I don’t have to solve everything. I don’t have to *gasp* be perfect. But “just live happy” seems to be a much better mantra than “just live by doing [all those things I listed above]” - it certainly rolls off the tongue a lot better. 

I unsubscribed from about 90% of all those “helpful” websites and posts and inputs. I have not missed them one bit. Most of them actually were filled with good advice; I just was tired of feeling like shit after reading them. The remaining inputs are truly healing and productive and the beginning of a conversation with myself, not a “do this or else you’re a failure” sort of a thing. I’m good enough at deciding I’m a failure (oh, therapy, how I love you, but you have a lot of work to do) - I don’t need it from complete strangers who don’t even know me. 

On a different, but related, note: over the last two months, I’ve also felt like I’m teetering on the edge of physical wellness. (This is the TMI portion of the post). My left knee started acting up; thinking it was bursitis, I went to the doctor, and it turns out I have an enthesophyte, which is a fancy word for bone spur. That doesn’t itself cause pain, but my imbalances (I’m a runner, I have a stupid left glute) means my quad pulls on it and gets irritated. My left hamstring and piriformis then decided to revolt, and it took a very large man to dig his elbow into my hip socket to get rid of that pain. I also spent a few weeks convinced I had celiac/lactose intolerance/pregnancy/ulcers/cancer/aliens (I should know better than to consult Dr. Google), because I would get waves of crampy, bloated, distended “situation” in my abdomen. I was also sleeping an inordinate amount of time - I mean, I like my eight hours but I spent a week sleeping 9-10 hours each night and feeling the proverbial bed magnet like I never have before - making it hard to actually get stuff done. Something was obviously not right. And if something isn’t right with my body, I know. Even if a doctor tells me to take Gas-X and give it a few weeks (!!), even if I’m not feeling acutely stressed, even if my heart rate and blood pressure and blood panels are fine.

Somehow, even just realizing that helped. But I knew I was searching for eggs for a million different baskets, and even searching for eggs for baskets I didn’t even need to be filled, and something had to give. I can’t prioritize absolutely everything. Realizing that my physical health was suffering from all the pressure I was putting on myself to do it all was a great and humbling sign for me to step back and re-evaluate. February and March are incredibly busy times at work, I am trying to prioritize time with Josh to build and rebuild, and I was trying to force training when my heart wasn’t really in it and my body was revolting. So I made the conscious decision to back off of training (not running, but I am running fewer miles) - it wasn’t fun to “have” to run when I got so busy and focused on other things. And you know what? Hiking 12 miles with Josh and a friend without worrying about whether I was going to run before or after… a 12-mile hike is a fucking workout. 

This, of course, isn’t to say I’m suddenly just going to coast and not want to improve myself. It just means I want to start doing things because I want to, not because I “have” to. In reading my previous blog post, I know that I have some really important things I want to improve at, and it won’t take a moment, but I’m not a failure if it doesn’t happen right away. It’s a good reminder of what is important, and a good reminder that it will take time.

Getting out of my own way and letting myself chase what I want (and not what I think I want, or what I want because I think others want that of me) will always, I think, be a struggle for me. I always feel like I have to explain myself, if not to anyone but me, for any decision - big or small - I make. And this is an exhausting, complicated, way to go through life. Life is not so fucking complicated. 

My friends, if any of you struggles with this and/or has any words of insight (just don’t say, “just do x and you’ll be cured,” otherwise I’ll know you didn’t read any word I wrote), I’d love to hear your thoughts. Much love xoxo.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Time to get Uncomfortable

I’m about to tell a bunch of people what the voices in my head are telling me. This is scary stuff. How did I get to this point?

It all started with a run. A shitty 5k race that I ran this morning, to be precise. Ninety percent of the reason it was shitty was because I was sick at the beginning of the week, following a long weekend up in Reno/Tahoe spent snowshoeing rather than running, so by the time I felt good enough to lace up my running shoes on Wednesday, it had been nearly a week since my legs had moved faster than a brisk walk. 

After a mile I started coughing and wheezing, probably scaring everyone around me (maybe I helped them run faster – running away from typhoid Erin). I obviously wasn’t back to my healthy self, and from then on every time I tried to push, I felt like I was having an asthma attack. Not a recipe for 5k success.

But you’ll notice I said that was 90% of the reason. A part of me is 100% sure that there was a part of my lackluster performance that had nothing to do with my lungs. It had to do with my brain. If you do that math, there is less than a 100% chance that I competed to the best of my ability today (TB and all). I can get over the numbers on a clock, but not that pit in my stomach that thinks I gave up when things got hard. And that made me sad.

Sad enough to cut my planned extra miles and laze around in bed the rest of the morning. But as I did that, I thought about why I can push through 26.2 miles of intensity and not 3.1. I thought about how there is so much of a marathon that is actually comfortable – most of it, really, in a good race. I’m also comfortable training for marathons, as without a high school and collegiate distance running career, my first introduction to a training plan was Hal Higdon’s Novice Marathon Training Plan.

Still in the safety of my bed, I started Googling things like “switching to a 5k from a marathon” and “how to gain speed after a marathon,” which only got me so far. I then Googled what I was really thinking: “I’d rather run a marathon than a 5k.” I found some blog posts and general articles, but I came across the phrase “getting out of your comfort zone.”

Light bulb moment.

I need to train to get out of my comfort zone that, for me, is the marathon. So I started searching “training to get out of comfort zone 5k” and such things, when I came across the phrase, “Get comfortable being uncomfortable.”

Epiphany moment.

Reading this phrase made me realize that I have never in my life really trained for anything shorter than a marathon (even if I’ve done shorter races, it’s always been along the way to a marathon or kind of as an afterthought, and I’ve always brushed them off – “only” a 5k). No wonder I haven’t gotten better at running anything but marathons!
But then, almost immediately, I realized this phrase hit home for me in almost every aspect of my life. Running, work, relationships, food.

I suck at being uncomfortable.

Comfort. It’s, well, a comfortable place to be. But no growth comes from comfort. Growth comes from instability and change and things needing to be thrown into the air in order to fall into a different arrangement. Which is all inherently uncomfortable.

As I ruminated on this, instead of getting depressed and down on myself for having something “wrong” with me (my usual MO), I immediately got excited. This one simple phrase may have ramifications in all the parts of my life that I want to improve? Sounds too good to be true.

And maybe it is. But I want to try to improve my threshold for discomfort.

Writing this is absolutely the first step. Well, the writing is Step 1A. Step 1B is posting this. Step 1C is letting people know I posted it. Admitting weakness and sharing goals = uncomfortable.

But what are these goals, you ask? I am a huge goal-setter, but I usually never tell anyone what they are. I will let my therapist figure out the why (and you can imagine how well that works for me), but for the time being, I’m going to address how I think being uncomfortable will help me in aspects of my life. This in itself is risky, because this may not work. And now it’s in writing. On the interwebs. Where nothing ever dies.

So, about those goals...
1.     Running
I guess I’ve painted the picture here: my uncomfortable place in running is running shorter distances fast. Luckily, I have coaches and teammates and a race schedule that does not include a marathon for me to use this spring to prepare for a goal 10k in May, with other races along the way.

2.     Work
I’m in that lovely place of mid-management: I am responsible for a team of people on top of a to-do list a mile long. I’m enjoying learning about leadership and management, and have great opportunities to do so. One thing that keeps coming up is – networking.

Me = introvert. Me = fear of rejection. You see the problem.

My current uncomfortable place in work, then, is the seemingly simple act of reaching out to people to have a cup of coffee.

I’m so bad at it. I feel so awkward. I think I don’t have time. But I have to make time – it’s one of those big-picture “Quadrant II” activities. My goal is to start making a list of contacts and reaching out to them.

3.     Relationships
Well, this is awkward: you’re all reading this!

My current uncomfortable place in relationships (friends, family, significant other, etc.) is being able to speak up for what I want and how I’m feeling. I’m really good at pushing “bad” feelings down and going with the flow so as to not upset anyone (just ask my therapist), so my goal is to first identify what I’m feeling and what I want (which is a huge task for me in and of itself), and then say it out loud (Exhibit A).

4.     Food
Oh boy. I am a huge emotional eater. I eat what’s in front of me no matter what. I eat at parties when I’m uncomfortable. I bust out the peanut butter and a spoon when I’m home and bored or anxious about something. Food covers up whatever I’m feeling uncomfortable about.

So my uncomfortable place is my uncomfortable place. And not being so afraid to be in that place that I need to cover it up with something else, like food. Or wine. Or whatever. My goal is to think about why I’m eating, and see the emotional eating as a symptom of something bigger.

The biggest tools I think I have are mindfulness and writing. Mindfulness is something I’ve been working on by meditating and journaling and doing yoga, so is an ongoing practice. Writing it down here will I think be a way of motivating mindfulness – if I “have to” record what progress I’m making, I’ll think about things more and be able to hold myself accountable.

So, even if no one reads this, that’s not the point. At the end of the day, I like structure and having this blog will give me that. Here’s hoping, anyway!