The Pursuit of Greatness

I believe I am privileged to work with, watch, talk to, be friends with and coach people who are in the pursuit of greatness.  It is an incredible environment to be around and the people who are striving for greatness are fascinating.  It is not just in athletic or sporting realms that this happens, it seems heightened and much more obvious in that space, but it is everywhere if you care to look.  It can be witnessed in parenting, workplaces, schools, the people around you daring to live the dream.  I want this in my life, I want this for friends, family, hell I want it for everyone…….just imagine that place, everyone in the pursuit of their greatness.  No us and them, just us.

I saw a great example of this “pursuing greatness mindset” recently when I read what Steve Nash, a great basketball player, had to say about retiring.  Steve Nash, in the last couple of years has, to put it mildly, had a bad run with injuries. In that time he struggled to consistently play in the NBA, (for the LA Lakers) and in peak form.  He has also copped a barrage of criticism during this time about his decision to try rehab instead of retiring.  The way he conducted himself, his mindset, the glory he found in pain and how he approaches life post basketball, I want front row seats to that. I wish I knew him, I wish I could talk to him but I have to settle for what the media provides. I am grateful for that.

This is a quote from his letter to fans announcing his retirement.

“I heard someone once say there comes a day when they tell us all that we can’t play anymore. We’re not good enough. Surplus to requirements. Too slow, maybe. When you’re a teenager with outsized dreams and a growing obsession, and someone tells you this ain’t gonna last forever, it’s scary. I never forgot it.

So what did I do? Stayed obsessed. Set goals. Worked. Dreamed. Schemed. Pushed myself beyond what was normal or expected. I looked at my hero, Isiah Thomas, and thought to myself, “OK, I’m nowhere near the player he is but if I get better every day for 5 or 10 years, why can’t I be as good as him?”  The greatest gift has been to be completely immersed in my passion and striving for something I loved so much — visualizing a ladder, climbing up to my heroes.”

I think one of the most important points he makes here is about striving.  It is the effort, the fact that you are doing something you love, that your time is spent in such a fulfilling way and it is a gift worth treasuring.  It doesn’t need to be the NBA, it doesn’t need to be in the sporting arena, it doesn’t need to be on the world stage (unless you want it to be).  Are you in the pursuit of greatness?  In your life are you striving for what you want?  When you get right down to it, and I mean right down – what else is there?  We get one go at it, will you pursue mediocrity or will you pursue greatness?  If you aren’t, is it time you did?

Golf – Friend or Foe?

So, I have taken up golf.  Personally – I thought it would be a bit of fun, the outfits are fabulous and it’s a nice walk – apparently golf ruins a good walk but I will get to that. Professionally – I thought it would be fascinating to see what the depths of mental anguish and frustration might feel like that golfers speak of and test the boundaries of my own mental strength, see if I couldn’t learn a little something new.

I learned, dear readers, that one of the seven rings of hell is a golf course.  So much frustration in one round and yet just a tiny little bit of joy each round to keep you coming back.  Well played Golf, well played.

It was during my last diabolical round with one good hole and 8 severely challenged ones I started to think, what is my lesson to this story – rise to the challenge?  Become the Master not the Servant? Check my expectations? Yes, some of that but what struck me most was this.  Is there such a hurry to hit better, further, straighter or is there just Golf?  If I spend much of my time wanting to be better and regretting past shots is it robbing me of enjoyment right now?  What a great opportunity to practise mindfulness.

When you are starting anything new, a new habit, a new way of living, a new job, developing a new mental or physical skill – check in.  Are you mindful of each moment or are you in a hurry to get better, get results or wasting precious time thinking about past performance or mistakes.  Are you anxious about the future, are you reliving the past, wishing it to be different?  Or are you finding the joy in each moment?  No, there isn’t much joy in taking 5 putts to finish a hole and I think I would need to be a far more enlightened being than I currently am to find joy in looking for my ball in the rough nearly. every. hole. but as Eckhart Tolle says “Accept – then act.  Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it.  Always work with it, not against it.

So here it is.  I am grateful that I have the time and opportunity to play golf, no seriously I am.  I am grateful I have lots of great friends to play with and the possibility of making more. I will also accept that my ball is in the rough – like I chose it – and work with it……….most of the time.

See you on the course, I’ll be the one looking for my ball.

The Glory In Pain

It has been a few days since my beloved Seattle Seahawks lost the 2015 NFL Super Bowl.  After listening (again) to just how sad I still was my friend asked me…….”I don’t get it, you don’t know anyone on the team, you don’t live there (in fact I probably couldn’t live much further away), you aren’t related to anyone on the team.  Why do you put yourself through it?”. Great question.  It really made me stop and think.

A few years ago I read the Seahawks Head Coach, Pete Carroll’s book, Win Forever.  Professionally speaking it was a groundbreaking book for me.  After reading the book I decided that I would invest emotionally and physically (thanks to the timezone difference – 5am Monday morning games!!!!) in the Seattle Seahawks. I wanted to see how Pete Carroll would further develop his team based on his philosophy and enjoy learning more about the sport. The more I learnt about the culture of their fans – the 12’s – as they are referred to and the players who work tirelessly on and off the field, the more I loved being a part of the experience.  And so my love for the Seahawks took flight (see what I did there???).  It was a conscious decision to invest.

So when my friend asked me, “Why put yourself through it?”  I thought it was a great metaphor for life.  If you spend your life avoiding experiences because there might be pain what life is that? Not emotionally investing in a team because it hurts when they lose a big game doesn’t account for all the fun and excitement they bring when they win. Not going for your dream job, putting your honest self out there when dating, trying out for a team/band/musical, keeping yourself “safe”.  Where is the fun in that?  Surely eventually the pain of what could have been is greater?

As humans, we will do more to avoid pain than we will to seek pleasure.  I wonder if we looked at certain types of pain a little differently would it help?  Now obviously (I hope) I am talking about the types of painful feelings that ease over a relatively short period of time.  I am not talking about deep grief or physical pain – that is a whole other area to discuss another time!  I wonder, what if we think about the hurt of losing or missing out on something we wanted as an indication that we strived. Would that make it easier to take?  If it meant we pursued something that pushed us out of our comfort zone and that there is glory in that, it would be a far more empowering way to look at life.

I think there is often pain in glory and glory in pain.  Winning a Silver medal for example – there is pain in losing a final but so much glory in the achievements along the way to earn that silver.  Would you not strive for Gold in case it was painful if you lost?  I hope not.  If we sit on the sidelines of life it is a life half lived.  Strive for that big thing, enjoy the pain of loss if it meant you were going for glory – you earned it.

I think this quote from Tom Hiddleston sums it up well – “We all have two lives.  The second one starts when we realise we only have one.”

I can’t wait for next season.

Are You The Master Or The Servant?

I remember quite clearly the day that I realized I was living a large part of my life as a servant to my mind. I was completely reliant on external circumstances and people to “make me happy” or to provide me with a sense of validation of my existence.  Because I couldn’t control other people or external events, more often than not I found myself falling victim to them.  My happiness or sense of self depended on others. This had to change.  I started with my Mindset.

When I truly understood that I was 100% responsible for my own happiness things started to shift.  I needed to work on becoming the Master instead of the Servant. Positive lasting change happens when you become the Master of your Mind.

It seems that we are in the season of plans for change, resolutions and goal setting.  Let me be clear – I am a huge fan of planning your life, scheduling your time and setting effective, intentional goals but it won’t work if we are stuck in a servant’s mindset.  A servant’s mindset has the language of a victim ( I can’t help how I feel, I don’t have time, I’m too old to change, it was never going to work) it looks reactive (quick to anger, susceptible to mood swings) and it feels uncertain and frustrating.

When you are the Master of your mind you are in charge.  It sounds powerful (I am grateful for each opportunity, I am choosing my direction, I am aware of my feelings but I am not my feelings) it is responsive instead of reactive.  When you are the master of your mind you understand that there is space between your thoughts and feelings where you can choose your response according to the outcome or result you desire.  You choose what you want to focus on.

Before you let another new year resolution pass, stop and look from which place you are making them. Because you think you should?  Because you would like to make some changes?  Or is it because you must and you will because you know what you need and will stop at nothing to get it?

The time of year, matters not. How many times you have to start again, matters not, you can make the decision to embark on change whenever you want……..you are the master.

Spheres of Influence

Part two of Mike’s contribution.

In part one of this discussion I talked about the journey through Motor Neurone Disease with Stacy. The acute and global tasks that all demanded urgent attention, and the realisation that I was not capable of changing everything in life.

The disaster and the intense and immediate consequences of my choices brought me to a realisation. I’ve chosen to call the realisation spheres of influence, I’ll attempt to describe it now.

The task of caring for Stacy was so broad that constant prioritisation had to be made. The question was how I would conduct that prioritisation, acute vs global. Struggling and suffering with this process is where I believe realisations occurred for me. The realisation was, I cannot do everything that needs to be done. My wish list of achievements was larger than my time allocation and ability. In this environment it was resoundingly clear to me:

– Focus on the challenges that I had an ability to influence. Do not focus on the difficulties that I could not influence.
– Work on what I could help, not on what I couldn’t help.
– Deliberate on problems that were within the realm of improvement, not beyond that realm.
– Align my attention, passion and enthusiasm with activities that made things better immediately.
– And importantly, jealously gather all of the effort, energy and commitment that was spent on areas beyond my ability to influence. Hoard those most precious commodities, save them from senseless expenditure on the uncontrollable.

The tasks that I could help with were so great that I would have been negligent had I allowed any waste of my effort. In that situation the feedback was swift and horrible. Time and energy expended on anything other than facets of our life that could be managed directly had a negative impact on performance in elements that could be influenced for the better.

There were many times when I would be in the midst of working on something that I felt was important, writing to a health professional, reading about a piece of equipment, booking an appointment, etc. Activities that could help with the global challenges. Often part way through Stacy would need me, a cramping muscle causing pain, an advertisement featuring a mother and child sparked grief and loss, a desperate flush of fear caused by not being able to sit up. These situations were undeniable, I had to jump and deal with the acute task. I could and we did, we managed.

Over time I began to think of this convoluted mix of acute and global tasks, things I could help with immediately, and things that were beyond my ability in the current situation as spheres of influence. It seemed to me that while there was an endless list of activities that I desired to positively influence there were some that I did, and some that I just didn’t.

Some things were within my ability to control, some things were not. I could help Stacy stand up and stretch, I couldn’t cure Motor Neurone Disease this week. If I decided to focus on the task beyond my ability to influence Stacy would suffer. Physically suffer, the pain from not being able to stretch tight and cramping muscles. Emotionally suffer, the fear and distress of being trapped and alone. Mentally suffer, the knowledge that this pain and suffering was likely to get worse rather than better.

The consequences of working outside of my immediate sphere of influence were disastrous.

This is how I have come to understand my role in the world:
There are spheres of influence that we all have.
There are areas beyond those spheres.
Energy spent outside that space may not be useful.
Generally in life energy spent outside our sphere of influence doesn’t come with immediate and upsetting consequences. Perhaps those consequences of poorly spent time and effort are much more covert or long term. Discussed as bad luck, or low ability. Understood through a lens of lacking time and opportunity, or fatalistic evaluation.

In sport we can influence our focus, our preparation, our emotional state, our adherence to the team plan. We cannot directly influence the opposition, the weather, the crowd, the officials. Any time spent on the later is time not spent of the former. The only way to influence those factors is to focus on ourselves and our performance.

At work we can influence our attitude, our effort, our knowledge, our ability to learn, our interaction with others. We cannot directly influence the existence of our job, the stability of the employer, the attitudes of our colleagues. To keep our job, get promoted, get along with others and be successful our focus must be on our sphere of influence.

I suspect that a reality of life is that your precious ability, effort and energy need to be removed from areas beyond your influence and instead poured with vigour into the space you can improve. It is also important to not bemoan the cessation of effort in an area beyond your control. It can be hard to accept that some things may not change, however if you truly can’t affect an outcome then energy spent attempting to is energy that could be used elsewhere.

This is a realisation that echoes through my life now. I am equipped with tremendous ability to exert my will and achieve results, as long as I effectively direct that effort. We are all equipped, we can all heavily influence many areas of our life, and the lives of those around us. There is a limit to that range of influence. There is a choice to be made.

The scope of these spheres of influence are clearly different for each individual, they are also possibly difficult to define. I imagine that a significant challenge in the life of each individual is to find a way to decide how and what they wish to influence. What they want to achieve and which dreams are most important to pursue. I would argue that an important element of successfully answering those questions and effectively chasing that dream is to consider spheres of influence.

Decide what you can influence, identify what you can’t. Enthusiastically pour your valuable and significant ability, passion and effort into the space where you can make change. Release yourself from poorly exercised effort and spend yourself wisely. Your influence is important.

Disaster The Teacher

We are in control of what we make things mean.  

We can’t control “external events” or other people. What we can do is choose our response to these events or to the behaviours of others. I think that my friend Mike has had to consistently choose his response in the face of what I consider some of the toughest circumstances a person would have to face. I am very grateful to Mike who agreed to share his experience and learnings from an extraordinarily difficult part of his life. Thanks Mike.

When disaster strikes in our lives we all undergo some form of management process. There is an initial superficial response; physical, emotional and mental. Then something else happens, something that can eventually be quite valuable.

My journey through disaster informed me about the world, and produced moments of clarity that I suspect may have eluded my comprehension otherwise. In this process I find great value. The following two part entry is a description of one of the many important realisations that continue to inform my life today, perhaps it will resonate with you.

Part one – Disaster

My wife Stacy was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease at 27 in 2009. She died three and a half years later. The horror and disaster of that period is beyond explanation here, however I will say that she suffered greatly, and steadily progressed from vibrant and vital to trapped and isolated. I travelled that journey as her full time carer and closest witness.

As Stacy and I attempted to deal with the challenge of Motor Neurone Disease there were many varied elements that demanded our attention.

  • We battled to identify and maintain some form of internal equilibrium, a space of partial calm from which we could approach everything else.
  • Distributing the news, specific updates and the emotional tone we deemed appropriate to our friends, family and community.
  • Management of the practical elements of Stacy’s physical condition, eating, talking, moving around the home and out into the community.
  • Handling the concept of accepting the diagnosis and developing a familiarisation with the predicted outcome.
  • The need to source and investigate an alternative prognosis. We travelled overseas and trialled alternative treatment options abroad and at home.
  • Adjusting to the changing details of her physical function, new home, new equipment, constantly modifying routines and techniques.
  • Monitoring of Stacy’s mental, physical and emotional ability to interact with people.
  • Selecting her exposure to the outside world, specifically the news and life progress of her peers.

These are some of the complex and significantly consuming tasks that we engaged in relentlessly for years. It was a process of constant problem solving and challenge negotiating.

In order to make sense of the following realisation and discussion I’ll label the activities listed above as ‘acute tasks’. I use the term acute as while these activities were recurring, they could be dealt with and managed in the short term and then set down, they required acute moments of attention.

Perhaps an example would be helpful in aiding understanding. Lets look at the first broad and borderline inaccessible point above:

We battled to identify and maintain some form of internal equilibrium, a space of partial calm from which we could approach everything else.

A conversation something like this occurred regularly.

‘Mike I’m scared’ said Stacy without prompting.

‘What is going on Stace, what are you feeling?’ I returned, bracing myself.

‘I keep going over what the nurse said about needing to get an electric wheel chair’ explained Stacy, her eyes searching mine for haven.

‘Right?’

‘I don’t want to be stuck in a wheel chair, I hate the idea’, fear and determination wrestled for control of her words.

‘Fair enough Stacy, it will suck a bit, it could also be helpful at times.’

‘Mike its terrifying thinking about not being able to move my body enough to do anything without help’, she openly explained.

‘I hear you Stacy. Do you want me to reschedule the appointment for later on?’ I prompted, hoping to seek a path towards calm.

‘Maybe we should just leave it as is, and then we can hold off ordering it until it is necessary’. Stacy’s inherent courage strived for the surface as she managed and resolved the immediate challenge.

‘We can do that, you don’t need to get anything that you don’t want to right now. Let’s leave it there and think about what is for lunch’, I answered with pride, relief and apprehension churning within me.

The spark of life and cheek that lived inside Stacy crackled.

‘Don’t worry about that, I’ve had an idea for hours’.

The elements that I’m attempting to highlight with that dialogue are: there were constant challenges and difficulties that had to be negotiated, and, the group listed above I’m calling acute because the challenge could in some way be managed and moved past.

It would be back. Stacy and I would regularly battle to identify and maintain some form of internal equilibrium, however in the immediate case it was handled.

Amongst these acute tasks there were other activities that demanded solutions, I’ll label this group of activities as ‘global tasks’.

  • Finding a cure for the disease that was killing my wife.
  • Taking away the constant pain that loaded her body.
  • Permanently intervening with the emotional torture of knowing that she was going to die.
  • Reducing the shaking fear she had of that unknown.
  • Removing her feeling that she was alone, trapped and deserted inside her body, unable to communicate and unable to leave.

These massive challenges permeated all aspects of our life, they could not be quickly resolved and overcome. These global tasks constantly existed. They existed and called for my immediate and urgent attention. Screamed for me to focus completely on the essential and drastic situation.

This desperate and in some ways hopeless scenario endured for years. Stacy and I had so much to do, an all consuming puzzle of management across all elements of life. Acute tasks dominated every hour and a wall of howling global tasks constantly demanded attention. To negotiate an ordinary day with these constraints and obstacles required far more resources than I had available in my role as Stacy’s full time carer.

As my spirit thrashed with the need to save my wife, to muster all my ability and concentration on the major global challenges, it was constantly assaulted by my limits and the immediate daily acute tasks of survival.

There was a choice to be made, spend my energy and ability on the closest global task, or answer the acute task that just called for a solution. The reality is, this was a clear choice. You know what, I think it wasn’t actually a choice at all. The acute task must be done, the immediate needs of our life were so powerful that to resist even slightly always caused pain and distress.

Another example may prove illustrative here.

If Stacy had an itchy nose it superseded all other important work. No research, no phone call, no endeavour designed to improve the long term global outcomes of our life could be prioritised above helping to remove that immediate maddening feeling of discomfort.

An itching nose is not just an itching nose when it can’t be immediately scratched, it is a howling example of helplessness and epic physical destruction. It is physical torture and a gigantic mental and emotional trigger. It must be immediately resolved.

For a carer who is distracted or who decides to finish a sentence in an email before helping to scratch the itch it is disaster. A slight elevation in priority of anything other than the acute task of scratching Stacy’s nose caused her massive distress. I would feel negligent and mean spirited. A sinking feeling of failing in the only job that had ever really mattered to me. To be relied on wholly and to deny that responsibility even momentarily cast a shadow on my motives and character.

This was disaster teaching me. Repeatedly shocking me with the magnitude of my ability to be influential, and the depth of my failure when I wasn’t.

Alright, digest that for now brave readers. In part two I’ll talk about that concept of influence and how I think disaster managed to teach me a lesson that is useful to me today.

 

My Journey Is Not Complete

A theme is emerging in this blog that I am excited about. It is becoming a platform for the sharing of stories that we can all be inspired by, relate to, or just simply enjoy the connection between our human experiences. I have written before about the power of Vulnerability and how sharing your story helps many others; I’m into that! I like where this is going.

In my job as a Mental Skills Coach I come across so many people whose stories fascinate me. I see the struggle against past conditioning, the hope of constructing a better future and the determination of the human spirit. I coached Lisi and discovered pretty quickly that she was driven, fiercely independent and incredibly generous. I also found out she has a pretty amazing story to tell……

Empty and exhausted I slumped into a heap on the mattress on the floor of the wardrobe sized room I had recently occupied. This empty room was my new home for the next 6 weeks while I figured out my next move. I had just made a hasty and unplanned escape from what had become my life – a world of conflict created by my association with a fairly exclusive Christian group. Some people used to call it ‘the cult’ but to use that word is too strong. (It had been investigated by the police who said it was not so.) Let’s just say it was a group of well intentioned but misled people with an unbalanced view of life. A group well practised in powerful methods of persuasion, who held very strong sway over its kin and was disconnected from the outside world. It was now the week before my mid-year exams (I was in the 3rd year of my 4 year physio degree).

I was 20 years old, semi-homeless, sick with glandular fever and had had little to eat and hardly any sleep during the preceding fortnight. I was lonely and confused, but for the first time in a long time I wasn’t afraid. I felt free and I knew the possibilities of where I could go were endless. I had hope. I slept for 2 days and by some miracle I emerged from that deep slumber and passed those exams.

I want to say at this point that I had a very happy childhood. I had a loving family with intuitive, devoted and supportive parents. Our extended family and church community were a close-knit group. We were never well off financially but I wanted for nothing. I could boast achievements in academia, sport and music and was afforded many opportunities by the generosity of my family and the wonderful people within our community. They were good people. But something wasn’t quite right.

It has taken me 14 years to really understand what went wrong for me. On the surface everything would appear just right. A happy, connected and fulfilled group of people who marched through life’s ups and downs together. Arm in arm with a swing in their step, a song on their lips and a smile on their face; brimming with love and acceptance for all. You had to be in it to really understand but if you weren’t in it you should want to be. ‘Separate yourselves from all else’, the message went. Devote yourself to nothing else because this is all you need and all you should want to need. Question nothing but your worthiness to be loved, because none of us were worthy. You are loved, but you are not worthy to be loved. It was a subtly, dangerous, contradictory message I learned as a child; an immature mind only capable to take it at face value. From being a happy and confident child I slowly learned to hate myself and trust no one.

This mechanism of control is a very powerful one. Being ground down by feelings of unworthiness while being disconnected from anything else, over time you begin to feel powerless and trapped. I don’t remember being told how important it was to love myself. I was indoctrinated into believing that there was nothing good in me and my mind was preoccupied with seeking out my faults. I think on some level I knew that I wasn’t happy in this environment, but somehow feeling condemned and fearful was made to feel normal. I did many things to relieve the burden of this feeling. I became a fierce competitor and a perfectionist, constantly trying to prove worth to myself and to others by the quality of what I could achieve. I tried to change my body image. I fervently devoted myself to doing things for others in the hope that I might feel like a good person and they might think the same of me. I craved acceptance and love but more often I was overwhelmed by feelings of condemnation and fear. I wasn’t happy but I didn’t know anything else. I was free to leave at any time but to break away was paramount to death, to be lost. And if you did leave the flock, you knew that you would lose all contact with the people there – for those of us born into this community that meant every meaningful connection we had ever had in our lives. For me it was my extended family, all my childhood friends, my uni friends, my touch footy team mates, my employer. I had never invested much in relationships outside of this because I simply didn’t need to and didn’t think I was meant to.

When I was 18 my parents chose to leave this church. They joined the ranks of the outcast, the lost, the ‘cut off’. They were labelled as worse than the unbelievers. They took my younger siblings with them and because I was of adult age I was left to make my own choice. I stayed. I desperately wanted to hold on because I didn’t want to be ‘lost’. I didn’t want to lose the connections I had. My staying created much conflict within myself and my home. I tried to ignore any suggestion that there was another way. For the next year and a half a battle raged within me and around me. In or out? Family or church? What was right for me? Who really had my best interests at heart? Who should I trust? Like a caged animal I was constantly on edge; I was so conflicted. I didn’t know who to believe or what to believe in.

And then I snapped – I can’t even remember exactly what it was that pushed me over the edge – but I did snap. It was a split second decision which saw me throw some clothes in the back of my car and drive away without any intention of returning; set on starting life with a completely clean slate. I couldn’t choose between the two sides and in the end I think I chose me.
My journey to restoration has been long and colourful. Having broken all ties with everything I felt connected with, I questioned my decision many times – it was hard to reconcile what I had done with the thought that it was a good thing to do. I struggled with developing and maintaining relationships with people for a long time, but there was one thing I easily fell into stride with which helped me to survive. I joined an Ultimate Frisbee team.

There was something special about this sport that made me want to come back for more. The sense of camaraderie within the community of players, the sportsmanship and focus on spirit of the game, it was uncomplicated. The more I played, the more I realised this was something I could actually be really good at. For the first time I was enjoying striving for something and it made me want to physically look after myself so I could keep getting better. There was suddenly something that I liked about myself and felt good about doing. Something I could channel my tenacity and stoicism into. It helped fill the void. It was a start.

From here several significant things happened –
I met a very special friend who, when we first met, blew me away with her generosity of spirit and genuine care. She told me I was good company and I believed her. I will never forget that.

I reconciled with my parents and siblings.

I met my husband, whose unconditional love taught me that I didn’t need to spend my life trying to compete and prove my worth. That it didn’t matter what I did, I just needed to be me. He also showed me that grace and humility is a more powerful way to connect with people than trying to control them or needing to prove a point. And that it is ok to be wrong and have faults.
My first child, who taught me how strong I am, how patient I can be, how much love I have to give and how much joy there is in life if you look at it the right way. Who taught me to stop and enjoy each day and live in the moment, who taught me that when the going gets tough I will always have something more to help me get through it.

A coach who taught me the most powerful lesson of all – that I can choose. I can choose how I feel about all of it. I can choose to acknowledge my mistakes, learn and grow from them and move on. I can choose to trust. I can choose to let myself be loved. I can choose to feel worthy. I can choose to see the good, the positive, the best of everyone and every situation. I can choose to enjoy what I have, who I am and how I live. I can choose to be happy……… and that a cup of tea will soothe the soul.

There have been times I have told myself I couldn’t go on and for a long time I battled with a sense that I had failed at my old life and that this new life was just a consolation prize. But my life today is one that I couldn’t be more proud of or happy with. I have wonderful relationships with my family and friends, a rewarding job, a successful sporting career, two happy and healthy children and a sense that I know who I am and what I can give to the world. I know how to be happy and I know how to connect with others.

I still see myself as a spiritual person and live according to basic christian values, but my mind is open. I believe that there is a richness in the world and a depth to humanity that can only be accessed when you embrace each other’s belief systems and cultures, whether based in organised religion, discovery of science or one’s own personal reflection.

I am grateful for the journey I had been on – the heartaches, the disappointments and the losses as well as the revelations, the joys, and the connections. It makes me who I am. It makes me a better athlete, a supportive, understanding and empathetic mother, friend, colleague.

Everything I have experienced has made me who I am today and the thing that excites me is that it is an ongoing journey. Life is an experience of evolution.

My journey is not complete.

Vulnerability Confidence and Power – Odd One Out?

Vulnerability: exposure to the possibility of being attacked or harmed either physically or emotionally  – even with this definition the word itself suggests that there is ability in it.  Brené Brown knows the greatness of it but it wasn’t until I started this blog that I understood the power of it.  I get a jolt of anxiety every time I go to hit the “publish” button on this blog, will it be criticised, will I seem foolish, will people think what I write about trivial…..these thoughts (and the immediate feelings of dread that accompany them) were very strong in the beginning.  As with most things the more you do it the more confident you become.  Do they go away entirely?  Not yet…..but it is getting easier.

I recently attended a presentation by Russ Harris.  He spoke about his new book, “The Confidence Gap“.  He states, “confidence is not fearlessness, in fact you can be full of fear and still be confident.”  Just because you are afraid of doing something doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.  Public speaking for example – you can be very good at it and confident in your ability to do it but that doesn’t mean you don’t get nervous right before you go on.  If you wait for the absence of fear to do great things you will never do great things.

And this is my point.  If there is fear in confidence and power in vulnerability let’s use it.  Let’s not avoid being great or stepping up because we misinterpret fear and vulnerability as a weakness, as a sign of not being worthy.

Two women have contributed posts for this blog Carmen and Nikki.  Carmen wrote a deeply personal post about her eating disorder – she felt nervous and exposed and was very fearful before we published it.  The result of her accepting those feelings and still publishing her post though, was simply extraordinary!  Carmen received an outpouring of support and thanks.  Messages from people who knew of her past and those that didn’t and were surprised to learn of her plight.  Support also came from people whom she didn’t know, but on some level, could relate.  Whether they themselves had, or are, traveling a similar journey, or they know someone that is battling similar challenges.  It was in her vulnerability that she found power.  When I asked her about her experience she replied that the whole experience had been extremely moving and humbling.  That it had reinforced her own strength, it had reminded her of how far she had come and it was a beautiful opportunity to celebrate her life, her past, and give gratitude for what she has faced and conquered.  Above all though, it reminded her of the wonderful people she has around her and when those dark days appear, and they do on occasion,  she has confidence in the network of people around her.  She needn’t feel alone in her struggles.

Nikki wrote her blog on her mindset when dealing with her Breast Cancer diagnosis, treatment and double mastectomy.  Her vulnerability and confidence have inspired others going through similar experiences.  She says of the response to her blog -“I definitely agree with the concept that with vulnerability comes power.  Ever since deciding to write about my experiences I have found it so rewarding that I am no longer scared to share.  Sharing my vulnerability has become part of my healing process. (hence the photo!)*  The responses help me see my story from another perspective, I’ve cried, I’ve laughed and I’ve felt overwhelmingly loved!”

If Carmen and Nicki succumbed to fear they would have missed out on incredible support, love and the opportunity of helping others!

As Brené Brown has said, “I spent a lot of years trying to outrun or outsmart vulnerability by making things certain and definite, black and white, good and bad. My inability to lean into the discomfort of vulnerability limited the fullness of those important experiences that are wrought with uncertainty: love, belonging, trust, joy, and creativity to name a few.”

Let’s stop apologising for it – it is not a weakness. Embrace vulnerability – admit to it – at work, at home, at school.  Showing it to others is an invitation to them to connect with you, support you and be inspired by you.

It is time we saw vulnerability for the powerful emotion it is.

* Nicki posed for the 4th Trimester Body Project post double mastectomy.  The link to her stunning photo is here.

 

 

The Strength In The Story

I have always liked this quote – “be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” I am both fascinated and inspired by people’s “battles”. What have they overcome? What holds them back? What haunts them? What motivates them? Recently I caught up with a friend Carmen, and we got talking about her battle. It was so compelling I asked her to share it here.

I have known Carmen for a long time, I also worked with her when coaching the Under 23 Australian Womens team in 2010. Carmen was our Team Chiropractor. She is a dedicated and accomplished professional. In spite of or perhaps because of her battle with anorexia, she is also an accomplished endurance athlete, ultramarathon runner and ironman triathlete.

This is what fascinates me! It is her mental strength and her mindset that makes her really good at all of those things. Even when we do things that aren’t “good” for us, it doesn’t mean we aren’t good at doing them. At the foundation of our habits and behaviours we apply the same mental skill.

I would like to acknowledge and thank Carmen, who during this process has felt vulnerable and exposed but has shown a willingness to share her story in the hope that subjects like anorexia and mental health are brought forward in a way that speaks of strength and bravery; not of weakness.

Carmen’s story so far………..

“It was 1995 I was 18 years old, living miles away from home in the small town of Alexander City in Alabama, and……..I had reached my darkest hour. I was huddled in a dark, small broom cupboard, cramped with a lack of room to move. The protruding bones in my back and their weeping open wounds, were excruciatingly painful as they were pressed hard against the wall. There was a horrible, overwhelming odor from the bucket of vomit next to me, an acute reminder of my recent attempts to prevent weight gain or perhaps even foster more weight loss.

I could hear the sounds of a ferocious hurricane outside, not knowing when or if it would ever end, or the disastrous toll it would take, a foreign occurrence for an Australian who had never experienced storms like these. I could hear the rain coming down in thick sheets, pieces of metal ripping from the roof, windows shattering, trees cracking, furniture was being dragged along the wooden floorboards, it sounded like a freight train. The chaos, the turmoil, the fear, the uncertainty, and the destruction ripped at my core.

Then, there was a sudden realization that what was going on outside of that small cupboard, in that remote town of Alabama, was nothing compared to the chaos, the agony and the destruction that had tormented my anorexic mind for years!

I started thinking – maybe this was my chance, I could escape……not only from the confines of this cupboard but by putting myself in harms way of the hurricane I could end the struggle from my tortured mind. Or I could stay here, wait out the hurricane, survive and then with the stillness that always follows a storm, emerge from the destruction, survey the damage, face my fears and rebuild my life. I suspected it would be a long road back, I didn’t know ‘how’ or even ‘if’ I could but I had to start with a vision. A vision for how my life could look without the perils of a distorted anorexic mind. A life of joy, health, happiness, purpose and love. It takes reaching the bottom sometimes to find the hope and the willingness to change!

I’m not sharing this story for sympathy, pity or compassion – we all have our stories. I am sharing my story to invite others to lean into their own insecurities, their own pain, to face their own demons. To not run from them, hide from them or numb them. I invite others to be open, to be grateful and be ready for a life of joy, strength, and authenticity. A result of confronting and owning the truth and totality of our experiences.

I choose very carefully not to define myself by my past, I choose not to live in the destructive wake that Anorexia can cause. I choose to embrace, with wholehearted gratitude, the gifts of my plight.

Each of us has within us the power to achieve greatness. But sometimes we lose our way. Sometimes the story we tell ourselves….

  • I’m not good enough
  • not worthy enough
  • not pretty enough
  • not thin enough
  • not athletic enough
  • not smart enough

becomes our perceived reality and we lose connection with our birth right for greatness and our connection to our life’s purpose.

On that dark day in 1995, I chose to emerge from that cupboard to face my destruction. In the previous 6 months, I had quickly and drastically lost more than 40% of my body weight, through excessive exercise and starvation. At 18 years of age I weighed a mere 36kg. I was weak, frail and lost. A shadow of the person I once was. I resembled someone who had escaped from a concentration camp. I no longer fitted in any of my own clothing and I had to shop in kids clothing stores, the only place I could find clothes that fit.

Returning home to Australia I was met with shock, disappointment, judgment and misunderstanding. Ironically, in my efforts to be more liked, more beautiful, more loved, I had alienated myself. I was attracting a different, unwanted sort of attention. I was miserable. My eyes were dark and hollow, my soul empty, my heart numb. My mind was rarely present on any task. I spent my every moment, typically counting calories, those consumed and those expended. I would strategize how I could skip my next meal, or how long I’d have to go without eating or how much exercise I would have to do. Knowing that there was a family dinner approaching I would set my alarm in the middle of the night and do countless squats or sit ups in order to burn the calories or in many cases punish myself for letting myself eat.

Those who loved me were at a loss as to how I could let this happen, how they didn’t see it coming and certainly at a loss as to how to help me. Psychologists, friends, family members just wanted me to start eating. “You’re too skinny, why can’t you see that, just eat?” But my wounds ran much deeper than that. And if truth be told, 20 years later, sometimes I still have to step into the arena to face the same battle.

Then…my gift from the Universe! There was someone who allowed me to see myself through a different lens. Dr Rob our family chiropractor, who unknowingly through the telescope of the chiropractic philosophy, helped me remember what was ‘right’ with my body and not what was ‘wrong’ with it. Not it’s weakness or it’s frailty, but rather it’s strength, it’s resilience and it’s self healing wisdom. Dr Rob, like many Chiropractors, looked at the world vitalistically. He saw opportunity, possibility, cause and effect, the perfection in the imperfect.

As Dr Rob was adjusting me that day, he laid his hands on my spine, like he had done hundreds of times before and paused……. he commented about how amazing my body was, how strong it was! Of course my first thoughts were about aesthetics. How could he think I looked good, everyone else was telling me how bad I looked and that I needed to put on weight. He elaborated and said he wasn’t referring to how I looked. Whilst acknowledging that he knew I was in a deep struggle he invited me to see how amazing the human body is. Teaching me that I could be going through such emotional pain and physical stress and yet still get up each day, study, exercise and survive! He commended me on my strength, my resilience, my will and tenacity……..WOW!!

Up until this point, I had been focusing on where I was failing. How I had let everyone down. How bad I looked and how I had no idea how to climb out of this deep cavernous hole of misery and pain. Others, in their efforts to help me, just wanted to see me eat. They focused on trying to understand why and how I ended up this way? To me, this just felt as though they were shovelling more dirt in the hole and the burden grew heavier.

But things suddenly seemed different, a new perspective was offered. In order to successfully DO anorexia, I had to be determined, strong-willed, committed. I had to be willing to sacrifice what I wanted in the short term, to achieve what I wanted in the long term. These were my innate strengths and character traits. They were gifts, talents. I started to contemplate, what could I achieve if I applied these innate skills to other areas of my life? For the first time in a very long time, I breathed in possibility, happiness, joy and HOPE! Up until that point, the focus of my recovery was letting go of my apparent dysfunction but when my focus shifted to embracing my gifts, my true healing began. I was able to begin a journey of fulfilling my life’s potential.

I sit here now, 2 decades later reflecting on what I have accomplished. I sit here dressed in my cycling lycra having just completed a 100km training ride with a couple of my triathlon friends. It was a recovery ride as less than 4 weeks ago I was in Japan racing the Japan Ironman. A race that represented one of my greatest athletic accomplishments to date. I finished 2nd in my age group and 10th female overall. I’m still relatively new to the sport of Ironman and I am quickly discovering that it is a pursuit. On so many levels it embodies so much of what I am about. Being inspired by and inspiring others to pursue their goals, overcoming adversity, and witnessing and experiencing the enormous capacity of the human body and mind!

It is those same skills that I refined through my teenage years and early adulthood through – punishing myself with hours of excessive exercise, denying myself food in pursuit of the unattainable perfect figure, regularly subjecting myself to the tortuous task of throwing up my last meal – that primed me to be the person I am today. The Chiropractor, the Ultra Endurance Athlete, the Coach, the Friend, the Mentor.

It most definitely hasn’t been an easy journey. It has not been the road of least resistance. I have reached some devastating lows, I have waded my way through a thick swamp of self doubt, self loathing, and low esteem……time and time again. I still have days, in fact months, when I’m still learning to love the reflection I see looking back at me in the mirror.

But it is in those moments, when the going gets tough, that I draw on the gifts of my past, moments when I was

  • lying face down in the dirt, at the 80 km mark of my first 100km Ultramarathon, when every sinew of my physical body was screaming at me to quit
  • facing the rejection of not being accepted into Chiropractic College when I first applied
  • 6hrs into a 10 hour Ultra marathon in South Africa and every single step felt as though needles were stabbing the ends of my toes as the nails were peeling away from the nail bed.
  • 30kms into the marathon leg of an Ironman Triathlon, running in 2nd place and I am desperately trying to find more speed and stamina, to keep digging despite the pain – even though realistically I knew         that there wasn’t enough road left in the race to catch first place and my chances of qualifying for the World Championships were fading.
  • lying curled up in the bottom of the shower crying with a broken heart from a relationship break up
  • desperately trying to find the will to keep going when life seems to be throwing me curve balls

It is in these moments, I’m reminded of that lost, lonely, frightened, emaciated 18 year old girl, curled up in the broom cupboard. The girl who was stronger than she knew, braver than she believed. The girl who found the strength and courage to emerge from the darkness…………….”

What Did You Expect?

I read a great book years ago, Buddhism for Mothers by Sarah Napthali. In it she talks about treating negative feelings like visitors.  It is comforting to know when you are feeling low that it is temporary.  We move on – all in our own way – but most of the time we move on.  For the past few weeks I have been visited by sadness, disappointment and failure.  Puzzled and frustrated, wondering why these feelings, weeks after the “event”, were still visiting regularly ……. eventually it dawned on me.  I was in this state because of what I had done – I had set myself up because I had expectations.

For the past 9 months I have been coaching a Victorian Ultimate Frisbee Men’s team who competed at the World Ultimate Club Championships in Italy last month.  We came fourth.  To many people this is a good result, something to be congratulated on.  I honestly think I would feel that way too except for one game, the semi final, I expected to win.  We did not win.  And this, readers, is why I find myself in this situation.  You see, I thought we could win the game, I thought we should win the game…… I had expectations.  When my expectations didn’t match what actually happened I opened the door to sadness, disappointment and an awful feeling that I had failed the team.  It feels uncomfortable to even say it let alone admit it here but if you have read this post you will know I am ok with it.

Almost a month on I still feel it; I still think about what could have been done differently.  When talking to a friend about how I felt about the whole thing, it occurred to me I could have avoided this situation by taking away the expectations – of myself as a coach, of the players and of the opposition.  I could have stayed in the moment and stayed far away from expectations.  It doesn’t mean that I don’t have standards or I don’t want to win, it means I would not have given up the chance to approach things differently.  I had no control over the outcome so why would I spend even one second thinking about it?

When I think about all the areas of our lives where we place expectations –

  • expecting our children/partner/co-workers to behave in a certain way
  • expecting our bodies to look a certain way
  • expecting to perform a certain way

we are setting ourselves up for disappointment.  If we (or others) don’t live up to those expectations we open up flood gates for negative feelings.  We create so many avoidable conflicts by putting our expectations on others and on situations over which we have no control.

What if we turned it around – instead of expecting things to be a certain way, what if we stayed in the moment and built on each moment based on what we want for ourselves?

If we know what we want and set our goals around that we then have a process for achieving.

Would I still be disappointed losing that Semi Final – hell yes – I HATE losing!!!!  I think without the expectations I would take it more as if –  it is just what it is.  Nothing more and nothing less.  Without my expectations I could have more easily accepted the result.

What have I learnt from this? The journey is as important as the final result.  From the greatest challenges come the best lessons (a huge benefit of adversity) if we are open to it.  I would still rather risk feeling pain and sadness and be in the competition than to not be there at all.

I think it is time for my visitors to leave. They are not welcome anymore.  Instead I will welcome growth, gratitude and a renewed desire to be at my best.

 

 

The C Word.

One of my favourite things about being a coach is being a part of peoples’ “strive”.  Whatever it may be – striving to be a better athlete, a better mother, a better person – I love being a witness and a part of that journey.  When I coach sports teams striving for better is at its most tangible.  In that environment it is very obvious that as a team and as individuals we are all striving for better, striving to win or to compete – pushing through mental and physical barriers, the rise to face challenges and dealing with adversity.  It is always fascinating to me to see how people do it.  This year I have had the privilege to see one of the athlete’s I coached in 2012 use some of the Mental Strength techniques I teach in her battle against Breast Cancer.

Nicki is (amongst many other things) 34, a mother, a wife and an athlete – she is fit and health conscious.  The Victorian Womens Team she played for (and I coached) competed and won the Australian Ultimate Championships.  Challenges faced, fought and won.  A year and a half later Nicki called me out of the blue with the news that she had been diagnosed with Breast Cancer.  While I was still getting over the shock of that news Nicki was already choosing her response.  She wanted a strategy and tools to face what was ahead of her.  Committed to preparing herself for a challenge most people hope they never have to face.

I asked Nicki to write about her experience in the hope that her mindset is as inspiring to others as it has been to me.  She writes here……….

“This morning when I looked in the hospital mirror at my naked body, I saw what I had expected, and smiled with a mixture of relief and joy. I saw a newborn babe in an adults body, stripped of pubic hair and breasts, with some tufts of hair proudly holding on tight to my scalp. I saw a second chance, I saw a new life and a new beginning.

I have had to make some tough decisions. One of which was to have a double mastectomy without a reconstruction. After gathering information from my medical team, I asked my future self, the self that is not scared, the self that is happy in her body, what she needed. Firstly the question was – do I need to remove my breasts to have no fear of the cancer returning? Yes, yes I do.

Do I need breasts to feel like a woman? Would not having breasts change the outcome in any way? As I looked at the cancer free me, I realised that breasts were not essential to my happiness and that what mattered most was my family, community and the ability to get amongst it, be a part of living an active, loving life. A year of further procedures to give me new breasts was not only not essential but would actually delay me from getting to that place. From that moment on, I have been visualising my future self without breasts, as happy and confident in my body as ever.

So that is how it came to be that after enduring chemotherapy and one of the most barbaric surgeries, a bald head and a bare chest made me smile. I am well and truly on my way.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2014 , I was fortunate enough to have, as part of my armoury, support from Anna. Whilst every single person in my life has been instrumental in helping me and my young family through this tough time, what Anna bought to the table was empowering in ways I never thought possible.

In the very first week of my diagnosis Anna provided me with a guided visualisation recording that from the moment I listened to it has shaped my decisions and kept me focused. For me, the all important step was defining what I wanted at the end of my treatment, and to see it, feel it and believe it.

The Image I developed the first time I followed the visualisation was one of me standing tall, with my little family around me and my community of friends and family encircling us. We are outside and there are sounds of fun, sport and play all around us and I know that I am a part of that. I know that I can play Ultimate, get on my mountain bike, swim in the ocean and keep up with my kids! I know that I am loved by every person around me and I know that they feel the love back from me in return. I am wearing some of my handmade clothes and am confident and comfortable in my body and who I am. Most importantly, I am not scared. I am not scared of cancer returning, I know that I have done everything in my power to beat it and that it is not coming back.

 

 

What Are You Looking At?

I sometimes have to remind myself – just because I am a Mental Skills Coach does not mean that I must have perfect “Mental Skills”. In fact, there are times when I wonder how far I have come on my own personal journey of development. Such a time came this week when I spent quite a bit of time trying to buy some new swimmers. It is fair to say that my time spent “swimwear shopping” did not blow my skirt up. I knew things were bad when the sales woman, trying to empathise with my frustration, said to me, “At least you aren’t crying. I’ve dealt with women crying!” What the!!??? I would like to think I wasn’t in danger of crying but who knows maybe there is a “swimwear trying on tipping point”?? A dark part of me almost wants to find out…..almost. Anyway, this post is not about the wheels falling off in a swimwear shop. This post is about perspective.

After leaving the store with half a swim suit (don’t ask) I got to thinking about my reaction. How could I be handling this better? Am I looking at this the wrong way? Don’t I teach athletes and clients that Mental Strength is not the absence of negative emotions, it is performing and living the life you want while dealing effectively with your emotions? My change in perspective when I came across the ESPN Body Issue 2014. Each year ESPN Magazine releases their “Body Issue” where athletes pose in a series of nude photos. It is not so much the nude photos that interested me – ok fine it was – but there was more to it than just naked athletes (I swear). Each athlete was interviewed and ESPN shot behind the scenes videos. The thing that struck me was how they talked about their bodies. Many of the athletes like tennis player Venus Williams, NFL athlete Marshawn Lynch and ice hockey player Hilary Knight focussed on what they needed from their bodies to perform, not necessarily on how it looked. Hilary Knight says, “I had this idea that muscular isn’t feminine. There is this image of athletic women as small and petite — the yoga body type. Women in general, we tend to shrink ourselves and not have as much confidence as we should in presenting ourselves and our body types. It’s OK to be fit and healthy and comfortable within your body, whatever frame you have. Since gaining 15 pounds to be at the top of my sport [for the Olympics], I’ve tried to shatter the body image that muscular isn’t feminine.” She wants to be the best, in fact, she wants to play in the Men’s League, therefore her body needs to be in line with her thinking.

Isn’t that what I should be doing? Focusing on how I need my body to perform not just on how it looks? Thinking this way doesn’t mean I don’t care how I look. Like Snowboarder Jamie Anderson says in her interview, “I don’t think I’m your typical rock-hard ripped girl. But that’s what I love and embrace about myself. I feel good, but I always feel like I can be better. That’s what I thrive on.” The life I have planned will require my body to be fit and healthy so that I can travel, be present and active with my family, stay healthy and independent for a very long time. It will need to stay strong so I can live the way I want. Thinking about it this way makes things a lot clearer. I know what I want long-term so what do I need to do now to get it? Does it matter that the swimmers I am trying on don’t look the same as on the 20-year-old model in the picture or is it more important that I am fit enough to run around with my kids? Focusing on what I want my body to be able to do gives me a better perspective than focusing on what I wanted it to look like.

Paralympic Snowboarder Amy Purdy who lost both her legs below the knee to bacterial meningitis said in her interview “What I love about my body, especially right now, is just how strong it is. I’ve felt that contrast of it being as weak and vulnerable as it could be. When I was in the hospital and I lost my legs — to go from that to feeling stronger than ever, and knowing the strength of my body has been what’s gotten me to where I’m at today, as far as the Paralympics and “Dancing With the Stars” goes — I’m so proud of how healthy I am.”

So I think I will change my perspective. I might even go back and shop for the other half of my swim suit…..

Are You Comfortable?

I used to avoid being uncomfortable like the plague with a side of leprosy. I spent a large portion of my life living in my comfort zone until I realised – I was uncomfortable in my comfort zone.  As often happens when the student is ready, the teacher appears. In my case the teacher was the Australian Under 23 Womens Ultimate Frisbee Team who needed a coach to compete at the World Championships.  It was my first time coaching an Australian Team. I was constantly out of my comfort zone during the 8 month campaign.  From beginning to end – selecting the team, developing a culture, establishing a playing style, coaching the team in the Gold Medal match where we beat Japan by one point talk about uncomfortable.

At the time I didn’t consider this constant feeling of being uncomfortable to be a good thing; I considered it a weakness to be hidden and a feeling to be avoided.  It wasn’t until I reflected on the entire experience that I realised your uncomfort zone is where all the action is.  Your uncomfort zone is where people cheer you on, where you experience high levels of all emotions….. which is a good thing because it means you are really living.

No one is lining the streets to clap you along your comfort zone parade.  It is when you are striving that you experience the power of emotions that turn up the volume and the brightness of life.  It is when you are striving for something bigger and better that the people around you go out of their way to encourage you!  I love to see Facebook feeds littered with updates on people striving for excellence (whatever that may mean for them) and the encouragement they receive.  I don’t see 80 likes and 55 comments for updates on “off to work again I hate my job”.  Your comfort zone inspires no one.  I love this list I found on Forbes.com from author David Van Rooy.  He shares his top six reasons on why it is so important to push past your comfort zone.

  1. You will let perfection go.
  2. You will inspire others.
  3. You will have no regrets at the end.
  4. You will define yourself authentically.
  5. You will gain control.
  6. Your life experience will be fuller.

To fulfill your potential you must get comfortable, actually no, you must embrace your uncomfort zone.   The collection of skills and knowledge that you gain by embracing it will have a tremendous effect on your life.  Knowing that you can make room and even come to love the feeling of uncomfortable opens the door to many, many more opportunities.  In my case the perfect example is writing a blog exposing my feelings and personal stories.  Something I would never had imagined myself  doing!

Your uncomfort zone really is where the magic happens.

 

Inspired by the Bathrobe Mum

I was picking my kids up from school the other day and I saw a Mum come through the front gate wearing a bright blue, ankle length, terry towelling bath robe and matching slippers.  I LOVED IT.  I was so excited to see someone brave enough to just put it out there – this is what is going on for me today – take me as I am.  

The most common thread of stress and anxiety I find when working with Mothers is that the pressure of living up to the external image of a great mother (whatever that is for them) becomes more of a burden than the actual mothering part of Motherhood.  We are bombarded with images of mothers… back on the catwalk 3 months post baby, travelling around the world in designer clothes with perfectly dressed and perfectly behaved children in tow.  Information about what we must do, shouldn’t do, could do and heaven forbid wouldn’t do.  Where is the information saying you have kept your child safe and mostly happy, made a meal and brushed your hair – CONGRATULATIONS you made it through a day being a mother?

Are we making it more difficult for ourselves by buying into unrealistic expectations of Mothers and judging any vulnerability as weakness or failure?  I think so!  For many of us it feels way too scary to show vulnerability and easier to present our personal version of perfect.  Short term maybe it is but long-term it is by far the hardest option and the most damaging.  Let me be clear, I am not saying give up, let it all hang out, consequences be damned.  I am saying we should always strive for our best but on the days when your best is a bathrobe and slippers then I say GO FOR IT!   Celebrate those days and the days when it’s power lipstick and move over Angelina Jolie I’ve got this.  Embrace it ALL.  Brené Brown says it best in her book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead.  “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness”.  It is when we show our vulnerability that we will receive the greatest support or a standing ovation for being you because you are living out loud. When we decide to make the shift from presenting an image of ourselves to actually being ourselves, who we are day by day, that is where our freedom lies.

So in honour of this post this is what is going on for me today.  I am working from home, I have a cold, I thought I might go to the gym but probably won’t, hence the decision to put the Ugg boots on.  Will I pick my kids up from school in this outfit?  No, I’m not quite there yet but I will share it with you.  Will you share where you are today on our Facebook Page?  Fabulous or Fabulously Vulnerable?

Show us, either way it’s all good!!

 

 

Your Happiness Equation

I was in Queensland with my Grandmother a few months ago. I was making tea (not shocking) and I came across the most fabulous tea set I have ever seen. Stashed in the back of the cupboard, unused (shocking). I proceeded to pull it out and set up our tea party with a whole new mindset. Whilst sitting in the sun having our tea party I pondered how little it takes to feel happy. For me that day it was a fabulous tea set + sunshine + good company = happiness.

These days the pursuit of happiness, seems to be an elusive yet highly sort after activity.  It makes me wonder, are we making it more complicated than it is?  Even the phrase “pursuit of happiness” suggests that we aren’t in control of how we feel, we must pursue it, search far and wide for it. Viktor E Frankl, Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist as well as a Holocaust survivor is quoted as saying ” it is the very pursuit of happiness that thwarts happiness.”  What if we already had it?  To become more aware of the role we play in feeling our feelings we just had to consciously formulate an equation for happiness.  Your Happiness Equation.  The simple and readily available things that trigger feelings of Gratitude and Happiness.  Recognising the everyday things that consistently contribute to your feeling happiness, joy and gratitude.

I asked this question to a group of friends recently – “What is your happiness equation?”  The answers were beautiful in their simplicity.  If we spend a minute thinking about the little things that bring us happiness more often, surely we are far better equipped to seek them out.

 

 

Are You Practicing Gratitude?

I had a cup of tea with 2 awesome girlfriends yesterday.  The subject of Gratitude came up. We were talking about how sometimes you have a little moment when if you stop and think about it you realise that you are actually really grateful for what you have in your life.

Over the years, on and off, I have kept a gratitude journal.  It has now evolved into using an app on my phone, which is great for attaching photos, setting a reminder and having it with you more often than not to access it.  I know that when I neglect to write in it (sometimes months have gone by) I definitely notice the difference.  Practicing gratitude is a great way to train your brain to focus on what is important to you and how you want to perceive your world.  We know that what we focus on is what we get and that our brains need and want direction – this a great way to do that.  It can be as big and detailed as you want or a list of your top 3 things. It could be a photo with a caption or a combination of all. How you do it – matters not. What matters is the want and the discipline of doing it and finding what works best for you.

According to happify a web based program committed to the “science of happiness” – “The simple act of identifying and then appreciating the things people do for us is a modern-day wonder drug. It fills us with optimism and self-confidence, knowing that others are there for us. It dampens our desires for “more” of everything—and it deepens our relationships with loved ones.”

“Feeling and expressing gratitude can make you happy in the moment— a growing mound of evidence shows that giving thanks can also have a lasting effect on your mood. One study from the University of Pennsylvania found that people who wrote and delivered a heartfelt thank-you letter actually felt happier for a full month after, and the same researchers discovered that writing down three positive events each day for a week kept happiness levels high for up to six months.

Psychologist and author Robert Emmons states that “the practice of gratitude can increase happiness levels by around 25%”. He has researched the mental, physical and social benefits of Gratitude Journaling and found that even after 3 weeks of keeping a gratitude journal people “consistently report a whole host of benefits”.

He outlines in this article 4 of the top reasons that Gratitude has a transformative effect on our lives.

  1. Gratitude allows us to celebrate the present.
  2. Gratitude blocks toxic, negative emotions, such as envy, resentment, regret—emotions that can destroy our happiness.
  3.  Grateful people are more stress resistant.
  4. Grateful people have a higher sense of self-worth.

What will you be grateful for today, tomorrow and the next day?

My gratitude journal for yesterday?

  1. Cups of tea in fabulous tea cups.
  2. Incredible friends.
  3. Katie’s Homemade Anzac biscuits.

Start today and enjoy the many benefits of focussing on the abundance in your life.

 

 

Mother of a Mindset. Step Five: Movement

I quoted Harvard Medical School psychiatrist and author John Ratey in my original blog post for Nourish. He states – “Exercise is the single best thing you can do for your brain in terms of mood, memory and learning.” The health benefits of exercise are well documented and we are discovering more and more that the mental benefits of exercise are just as great.

Neuroscientist Judy Cameron, Ph.D writes in this Huffington Post article “Increased blood flow benefits the brain. Immediately, the brain cells start functioning at a higher level, making you feel more alert and awake during exercise and more focused afterward. When you work out regularly, the brain gets used to this frequent surge of blood and adapts by turning certain genes on or off. Many of these changes boost brain cell function and protect from diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or even stroke, and ward off age-related decline.Exercise also triggers a surge of chemical messengers in the brain called neurotransmitters, which include endorphins, often cited as the cause of the mythical “runner’s high.” The brain releases dopamine and glutamate, too, to get those arms and legs moving, as well as gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, a prohibitive neurotransmitter that actually slows things down, to keep you moving in a smooth and controlled manner. You’ll also likely feel better thanks to a bump in serotonin, a neurotransmitter well-known for its role in mood and depression.”

I asked Meg Campbell, owner and Wellness Coach at Live Life Personal Wellness, the exercises she believes are the best you can do for mental and physical reward.  Drawing on her 20 years experiences as a Personal Trainer, Teacher and Wellness Coach she gave me her top three.

1. Cardiovascular exercise outdoors
Whether you are a seasoned runner or simply​​ ​enjoy a brisk walk, the fresh air combined with cardiovascular exercise, is important for your body and mind. ​Head to the park with a skipping rope, go for a bike ride, Rollerblade or even take up a team sport .Find something you love, get outdoors and enjoy it! If you ​have a good exercise history you can combine some High Intensity Interval Training (HITT) to your exercise of choice. Remember to ​inhale the ​fresh air ​using​ deep diaphragmatic breaths​!​ This will connect your mind and body and help with stress reduction.

​2. Resistance training
​ Strength training is a wonderful form of exercise for women. Increases in bone density, metabolism, muscular strength and changes in body composition are some of the benefits you can expect if you perform resistance training 2x/week. You don’t have to be a member of a gym, bodyweight exercises can be just as effective. Alternatively you could purchase some home equipment such as gymsticks, kettlebells, dumbbells, power bands or TRX and have a qualified trainer design a home program for you.

3. Mind Body Exercise
​We live in a busy, fast paced world so balancing your exercise regime out with nurturing, supportive activities, proven to reduce stress and anxiety, is a great idea. Yoga, Tai Chi and Pilates are fantastic options that ​have numerous benefits including; stress ​ reduction,​ ​increased pelvic floor and core strength, enhanced body awareness, increased flexibility, muscle tone and a stronger ​connection between​ your mind and body ​.

I created a Mother of a Mindset Pinterest board that has more information and video’s of the exercises Meg has mentioned.

If the endorphins, the mental health and the physical benefits are not enough to get you sprinting off the couch then use the other Mother of a Mindset steps, Cause or Effect?, What you Focus on is What you Get, and Be on a Mission , to create a successful pattern of thinking, a routine, habits and behaviours that will make it impossible for you to not get going!

Enjoy!

 

Mother of a Mindset. Step Four: Mindfulness Meditation

Finding time to connect with yourself and notice what you are paying attention to is crucial to gaining a successful mindset. There are many ways to do this and Mindfulness Meditation is one of the most powerful.

A huge challenge facing us today is finding the time to be aware and conscious of what is important to us. The overflowing, fast pace life we lead and our society that has placed importance on external indicators of happiness and success is resulting in the slow yet consistent muting of our “inner voice” – our ability to pay attention to what is most important to us. Every spare minute we have can be filled. Thanks to the technology we have mastered (or that has mastered us) and the schedules we have created in our lives we are closing out any available time to reflect and pay attention to the present moment. We are chasing time, rushing to catch up. What we need is awareness, the ability to step back and pay attention to our purpose. Mindfulness.

According to the creator of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Healthcare and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Jon Kabat-Zinn Mindfulness is – “paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment and non – judgmentally”. Practising Mindfulness or any other type of meditation for that matter is one of the most beneficial things we can do for our mental and physical health.

Some of my favourites are:

  • Reduce brain related problems in old age
  • Recognise, slow down or stop automatic and habitual reactions
  • Respond more effectively to complex or difficult situations
  • See situations more clearly
  • Become more creative
  • Achieve balance and resilience at work and at home
  • Reduced Depression and Anxiety symptoms
  • Strengthen our immune system
  • Lift our mood and reduce stress
  • Sustained meditation leads to neuroplasticity, which is defined as the brain’s ability to change, structurally and functionally, on the basis of environmental input

Learning  about different types of meditation and how to meditate has never been as easy as it is today. Internet-based programs and free apps like Smiling Mind and Headspace are excellent resources to make daily meditation practice achievable. Even starting with sitting still focussing on your breath, counting 10 in and 10 out is a great place to start.

Start now, make this part of your daily routine. The personal benefits are huge and the ripple effect for your families may be even greater. Being the master of your attention, having the ability to choose your response in high pressure/stressful situations and finding joy in the ordinary, is one of the biggest game changers I have seen in the lives of clients and the performance of athletes that I have coached.

Find the time, the place, and the meditation that works for you and enjoy.

 

 

Mother of a Mindset. Step Three: Be On A Mission

Now that you have shifted your mindset in Mother of a Mindset Step One and Step Two it is time to develop the steps that will maintain and grow your new found focus.  What systems can you put into place to support your new mindset?  The next 3 steps in the Mother of a Mindset blog will explore a few of your options, starting with Being on a Mission.

Our brains are goal seeking machines. If you do not provide it with direction, it will go ahead and find its own direction based on what you spend most of your time thinking about (yikes!!).  By developing daily missions and longer term goals based on what you want to achieve in your life and knowing why you want to achieve it will set you up for success.

  1. Write down What you want for yourself and Why?  In the next 3, 6 or 12 months what is it you want to achieve in your life?  Develop a HUGE GOAL and a clear picture of what your huge goal looks like.  Now think about WHY you want it.  What is the positive emotion behind your huge goal?  By creating this as a picture with strong positive emotion attached to it makes it easy for your brain to sit up and take notice of what you want.  Adults have an average of  50 000 thoughts per day so by putting  positive emotion with your huge goal your brain will know it is important.
  2. Now that you know where and why you are moving in a certain direction you need to pre plan your day – the night before. Make yourself a list with your top 3 tasks for the day that must be done before you go to sleep.  I like to also add 2 other lists – things I like to do (mental imagery, meditation, exercise, cups of tea – nurturing things) and a list of things that are coming up in the next few days, if I find time in my day I can start working towards the next most urgent task.  There are many benefits of having your list complete the night before: you sleep better knowing you are prepared for the next day, having provided your brain with direction it will go to work (while you are sleeping) on planning and working out the best way to get it done, you wake more alert and focussed therefore are able to be far more productive, you feel way more fabulous for the better quality of sleep……..even if it is broken into many chunks by a small human 🙂
  3. Review and Reward yourself daily by ticking of your list and patting yourself on the back for a job well done.  Setting up this cycle of feeling good about what you achieved will train your mind to seek achievement and the feeling that comes with being productive and focussed.  Your body will respond to the serotonin and dopamine released by your brain and want more…… far better to be responsive to happy hormones instead of cortisol from stress of being overwhelmed or stuck!!

Setting the outcome you want for each day and then planning accordingly puts you in the driver seat.  Be present and mindful of the time you have and what you want to do with it.  Like Abraham Lincoln said ” The good thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.”  Prepare.  Plan.  Act.

Mother of a Mindset. Step Two – What You Focus On Is What You Get.

Imagine that your Focus is a torch-light. It captures within its light what it is focused on. Everything outside the beam is excluded; it can’t pick up what it isn’t focused on. What you focus on is what you get…..to the exclusion of everything else.

Where is your focus? Do you find yourself seeing the negative in every situation or the positive?

I remember thinking when I first heard the What You Focus On Is What You Get theory – how obvious, how simple, why didn’t I know this all along!    I was focussing on perpetuating the cycle of poor me, it’s all too hard, I’m not happy.  I was at effect,  I was choosing to focus on the negative (at the time I didn’t think I was choosing to do it,  I thought it was just happening to me, but when you stop and really think about it – if it isn’t you making the choice, who is?).  Shifting my thinking to cause and being conscious of what I was focussing on laid the foundations for a successful mindset. It took a simple but powerful shift in where I was shining my torchlight and results were instant.  It is very easy for me to get all Captain Hindsight here so please let me be clear, if you have spent a large part of your life focussing on the negative it isn’t always so simple and obvious and easy to change, it will  take time and determination. The effort, for me, was consistent for months. Each week being easier than the one before, until it became habit.  A habit that makes a huge difference.

When looking to shift your mindset old habits will trip you up.  Be aware of what you want to focus on, the type of person you want to be and why?   Start to create a very clear picture of what that looks like, sounds like and feels like.  Provide your brain with direction.  Choose what you will focus on in every situation. When it gets tough? Acknowledge the time you slip or could have done better and return your focus to what you want to be focussing on………….every time you catch it.  This will start to train your brain to think and focus on what YOU want it to, not the other way around.

Deepak Chopra sums it up well – “When you feed negative input into the brain, it changes, shaping itself to conform to the messaging it receives. The brain has no mind of its own. It cannot choose which instructions to obey and which to ignore. You are the one who possesses a mind, and you are the author writing your story. Which means that you have the most control. You can feed negative messages to your brain or positive messages – the choice is yours.”

What are you going to focus on?