Is it Physical or Emotional Pain Holding You Back?

I can remember quite vividly the final hours on my last hundred-mile attempt. It was Halloween, my favorite time of year.  A full moon.  Some of my crew in costumes.  The works. 

As the miles got into the 50s, I began to feel my physical body falter.  When that happens, it tends to take the rest of you with it.  My mental game may be good, but physical problems in a race always bring about fear.  Fear that I won’t finish and I’ll be embarrassed.  Fear of the shame and self-judgement of putting all this time in and having nothing to show for it.   And then there’s the other fear–the one that comes on the moment I start to feel wobbly and goes,”Oh my God!  You still have at least 45 miles to go with this kind of crap!”   

But, truth be told, my sound mental-emotional game doesn’t come from not knowing these emotions, and it ESPECIALLY doesn’t come from ignoring or ‘overcoming’ my fears.  It comes from knowing them all too well and accepting them.  Feeling them and knowing why these emotions are there allows for very important questions to be answered: is my fear trying to stop me from doing further physical damage, or am I just shaken up a bit and, if I walk it off, is it possible I’ll come back from this? 

The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.  Our bodies have all kinds of safety mechanisms and our emotions are one of them. That fear that we feel, where the hairs on the back of our neck are standing up, is there to let us know that there is immediate danger and we need to get the hell out or get ready to fight!  When we start to feel physical back pain, leg pain, and our lungs feel like a deflated balloon, these are all indications that we are physically pushing ourselves to our limits.  

The goal of the endurance runner, or the person trying to get themselves ready to go after a job they want, or the parent trying to get themselves in a place where they can actually talk to their children about something difficult, is all the same.  We are looking to have our own back and use our emotions wisely as advisors instead of ignoring them and having them make our decisions for us. 

Most of the time we can train ourselves physically and mentally for just about anything. We can get familiar with physical or mental exhaustion, pain and fatigue that comes with our efforts.  We can improve our speed or our skills in just about anything important to us. We even know what to do if we get an injury (go to a doctor or grab a bandaid) or just burn out mentally (go bed).  If we follow the directions to the letter of our doc or hit the sack, we will probably feel a great deal better. 

But what about our emotions? 

When that strong fear comes up in our body, all we have is empirical evidence.  If we don’t have any empirical evidence, we are like babes in the woods.  Yes we all have had fear, but not all of us can identify when it’s there, why it’s there, and if it’s giving us useful info for what we’re dealing with.  Consider this: how about if you’ve never been in a race where you pushed yourself to your physical, mental, or emotional limit?  How about if you’ve just decided to do some seriously hard parenting and put out some good boundaries?  How about if you finally got the courage to go after that job you’ve always wanted and the resume is ready to go?  Most likely fear is flowing through you screaming, “God!  Don’t do this! This is dangerous!”  The question then becomes: dangerous to what?

Danger to our ego.  We don’t want to feel shame, uncertainty, or self-doubt about ourselves.  

We may have uncomfortable emotions that we have no way to train for.

Or at least we think we don’t.

Emotional resilience training is about getting familiar with all of your uncomfortable emotions, but mainly it’s fear.  Because most of the time we don’t fear the things that we are trying to tackle nearly as much as we fear the feelings that we’re going to feel if we fail going after them. 

Think about it. We have anxiety over the fact that we may feel anxious if we take on a new challenge for ourselves. We fear that we’re going to feel embarrassment if we ask that certain person out that we’re keen on, and we definitely don’t wanna feel that!  We feel shame when we go after a certain distance or a race and we don’t make it…what are other people going to think of us?  We fear these emotions because they don’t feel good.  We don’t know how to identify them and we don’t know how to listen to the information they provide and use it to take action that will help us.

When you build a relationship with your fear, you can start using it to further your endeavors instead of allowing it to decide for you what you’re actually going to try.  Here are some tips on how to befriend those emotions, so they can help you instead of hinder you:

Think of Fear as a friend not your foe – we all have friends that sometimes tell us uncomfortable things because they’re worried about us. Sometimes they are right, and sometimes they’re not. It’s always our choice as to whether or not we take their advice, but we need to acknowledge that they are coming out of a place of love for us.

Ask yourself, “Is that really true?” – we all do it.  Usually we hang our proverbial hats on the fact that some things are physically just too demanding, we don’t have time, or we are simply not capable of tackling a new and uncomfortable challenge in our lives. Sincerely asking yourself, “Is that true?”, cuts off the ring so to speak.  When you take the time to consider whether failure is certain, you are forced to acknowledge that you actually might have a shot at  success, but you are scared, anxious, or worried about being shamed if it doesn’t work out. When we look at it in this light, we can see that it is actually an emotion stopping us from trying, not our abilities.

Practice the “six of one, 1/2 a dozen of the other” rule – many times we forget that we’re avoiding the job interview because we don’t want to shame ourselves. Whether we like it or not, when we want something and we don’t act, or when we act on something and we don’t get what we want … we are still in an uncomfortable emotion.  At least by trying whatever challenge is in front of you, there is a chance that you will experience positive emotions like confidence, joy, and capability. If you do nothing … you will always be scared.

So, in a race or in life, it’s often best to take a moment and recognize when your ‘not so friendly’ emotions rear their heads and try to warn you off of something that you are stretching or striving for.  As you do, you can acknowledge the information they are providing, see if that emotion has usable information, and if not, work on recognizing that discomfort for what it is: growing pains.  Turn your attention to the effort at hand, get up off that curb, dust yourself off, and continue to pursue your goal and welcome all of the emotions that join you along the way.

I’d love to hear about an emotion that came up for you recently and what you learned from it that helped you.  Post your experiences in the comments below!

If you would like help lessening your fear and anxiety, reaching your goals, breaking habits, or creating new ones, I’d love to work with you.  Just click the button or the link below for a free consultation and let’s talk. 

Change Your Feelings About the Emotions that Scare You!

The tank is on empty. I’ve been running for only about an hour and a half now and I’ve still got over four hours left in this race.  My anxiety is on high alert.  I’ve been training in 60 degree temperatures, but, lucky for me (that’s sarcasm by the way) the weather on this glorious morning is already in the 80’s … and I’m only an hour and a half in.  I’ve already changed my shirt, re-filled my water bladder, and I KNOW it is a bad sign to be feeling that all-too-familiar sluggishness that usually comes during the late stages of an endurance race.  No gas and I’m breaking into walks … walks that I didn’t decide on.  Needless to say, that anxiety I’m feeling?  Well, it’s giving me anxiety and that’s not gonna work.

Everything that I know about endurance sports is that they are about planning, making smart decisions, and building a great mental game to deal with the adversity of uncomfortable emotions.  This is one of the major reasons I love them so much, and probably one of the most important things I feel I get out of them, because the way you feel about your emotions determines the actions that you take.   

But, at the moment I’m in it and anxiousness is telling me that, with this much left to go on the race, it’s time to slow down and change my plan.  My relationship with this anxiety for many years has been an adversarial one.  I should ‘get over it’.  I need to ‘overcome’ my anxiety. Controlling it was another option I’ve tried.  After much trial and error, and many bouts with it, I’ve come to this conclusion: 

I need to change my relationship with my anxiety.

Alan Watkins, a leading physician and neuroscientist in the study of emotions, puts it best; he said most of his colleagues don’t even know that there is a difference between feelings and emotions.  I have to say, I didn’t know this truth for most of my life.  The main difference is this:  on a physiological level emotions are simply energy in motion in your body.  They can develop for all sorts of reasons, or just simply because of regular or irregular bodily functions.  There are techniques (ex. breathing regulation) and other tools you can practice to help that energy in motion flow in your body, so that you feel more comfortable.  But, one of the major ways we can change our physiology and energy in motion so we can have the information they provide at our brain’s proverbial fingertips at all times:

You can change how you feel about them. 

If anxiety is your thing, meaning it’s a thing that seems to come up for you a lot in your life, then how you feel about it is going to determine how long it lasts in your system, and the intensity and duration that you’re going to feel when it’s there.  That’s the great thing about feelings.  You get to choose them.  While an emotion is the physiological energy in motion that’s coursing through your body because of a catalyst like a  cheeseburger you ate at midnight last night, or a blaring horn from a guy who thinks you cut them off, the feeling is your take on it. Your perspective on that energy in motion.

For me, on race day, one of the things that I pull on is the fact that a little bit of anxiousness has always led me to sharpen my focus.  It always brings my attention to the full picture of the situation I am in. Think about it. If I didn’t know that I was overheating, or that I was having trouble early on in the race how could I adjust my efforts and still complete something that was important to me?  

Like most of us, I really don’t like to feel uncomfortable emotions.  But without checking in from time to time on what they’re actually telling me, and, instead, just trying to get rid of them because they don’t feel good, I begin to develop an emotional prejudice against them. The truth is I most likely would run myself into the ground without that little bit of anxiousness, because I wouldn’t even know that I was having a problem.

Your emotion might be fear, shame, or self doubt that you are having an almost ‘adversarial relationship’ with.  Whatever emotions scare you, here are a few things that you can do to change your relationship, and therefore your feelings about those emotions, so they can become a blessing rather than a curse.

Is this emotion useful? 

OK, granted I know this isn’t an easy question to ask yourself when you’re actually in the midst of fear, anxiety, or uncertainty, but just knowing that it’s useful in the task you find yourself in sometimes is enough to bring that emotion into perspective.  Once that happens, you can then bring your mind back to the task at hand, because it’ll be less overwhelmed by the emotion. Charge yourself to not just try and rid yourself of that scary emotion, but rather to figure out if it is useful to the situation that you’re in. 

How is this emotion useful?

Much of the time an uncomfortable emotion like anxiety isn’t just showing up in your body because it has nothing else to do. Challenge yourself to take a moment and examine the possible benefits they may be providing you in the moment at your in. For me that anxiety I was feeling was letting me know that I needed to slow up, take in more fluids, and make a game plan for the next 4 hours.

If appropriate, take action based on what that emotion is telling you. 

It’s true that sometimes we are rolling mental film in our brains, running thoughts in our heads that keeps anxiety or fear alive long past their use.  If this is the case, then we need to roll different mental film that can change the way we feel.  Sometimes feeling the pain of an emotion we don’t particularly like, has us bee-line to this option before we consider the actions that our emotion might be suggesting.  Consider taking the action that your fear or anxiety might be suggesting.  First, it might be exceptionally helpful for whatever situation you’re in, and secondly, most of the time (again, unless we’re running that mental film) it would allow the emotion to dissipate naturally on its own.

I decided that the anxiety was helpful, providing valuable information for me.  I choose to take action based on what my anxiety was telling me.  I embraced the walk and made it a decision not to run until my anxiety lessened.  I ate some food.  I remembered that this race was about time, not a distance.  I took the pressure off by reminding myself that I could always walk if I had to for the next four hours (although I knew in the depths of my mind that  probably wouldn’t happen).  I took action on what my anxiety was telling me, and watched it dissipate over the next half an hour, got my legs back (somewhat :), and got a slow run going again.  

This week, challenge yourself to acknowledge an uncomfortable emotion that comes up for you around something you need to accomplish.  Allow it in like an old friend.  What’s it trying to tell you?  Is it good information?  How do you feel about the emotion once you’ve considered what it is telling you?  Is there an action you can take that will help you achieve the activity you need to get done based on what that emotion is telling you?  After you take that action, consider if you feel differently about that emotion now.  I’d love to hear how this challenge goes for you!  Enter your experience in the comments below!

If you would like help lessening your fear and anxiety, reaching your goals, breaking habits, or creating new ones, I’d love to work with you.  Just click the button or the link below for a free consultation and let’s talk. 

Change Your Perspective for Optimal Performance

I bought a wetsuit this year.  I backed this with the mental justification that, instead of buying a membership to a pool where I’d still have to wear a mask in the building, and make swimming lane ‘reservations’ as if I was going to a top notch restaurant, a wet-suit would enable me to do open-water swimming.  This was a no-brainer for me because I absolutely LOVE open water swimming.  But, living here in Vermont, I realize that, unless you’re a polar bear, a wetsuit will be necessary if you want to get more than a few months of swimming outdoors.  

Then came the promise I made to myself: you’ll start your swimming at the beginning of May. You’ll make it to October.  Then that expensive rubber suit will be well worth the cash you’re fronting because you’re going to get at LEAST two extra months of swimming in. Awesome, I’m committed. Until May 1st came … and it was still snowing. 

My body temp runs a bit warm, but not warm enough to ‘willingly’ get into an ice cold body of water while snowflakes were still coming out of the sky.  But I was determined to get in that water.  I made a promise to myself and I was going to keep it.  It didn’t matter how long I was going to stay in that water, but I was getting in.  I was angry.  “Why the hell is it this cold in May!” The sun wasn’t out, but it wasn’t snowing and I knew that water was going to be cold.  

It didn’t disappoint.  

The wetsuit held up alright, but my hands and feet were numb and my face was freezing.  “This was a stupid idea! You’ll never get these cold water swims in.  Buying this suit was a waste!”  I barely made it 30 minutes before I left, disgruntled, disillusioned, and still kicking myself for buying the wetsuit.

May 7th.  The sun was out and the day was about 10 degrees warmer, but definitely not warm enough for beach balls and water skiing. I was swimming in a bigger body of water this time.  After what happened last week, I was having real reservations about even getting into my wetsuit let alone the water.  That inner critic was filling my head with the feelings of my numb hands and feet, and the pain I felt in my face from the cold water.   I marched down to the water as if I was going to prison.  The last thing I wanted to do was have an experience like I did last week, and here I was reliving it without even getting a toe in the water.  

I put my foot in.  It was REALLY cold. 

I was elated! 

Don’t get me wrong, the water was still freezing.  But it wasn’t what it was last week!   I could feel that inner critic subside as I started to actually believe that I was going to get a good swim in!  Was it possible that I could actually go past 30 minutes today?  The sun was out after all, and it had been a week.  As my perspective changed so did my energy.   I wouldn’t say I dove into the water carefree and brimming with joy over the temps, but I definitely felt a new surge of confidence . There was a smile on my face.  I had gotten the green light mentally … from myself.

In any situation that we find ourselves in our perspective is always just that: ours.  How we think about a situation determines how we feel about a situation.  How we feel about a situation can change our emotional state.  And our emotional state can provide a powerful catalyst to propel us forward or stop us in our tracks!

Here are a couple of suggestions to help you change your perspective, so you can change your performance!

  1. Stop thinking about what ‘should’ be – The number one killer of anyone’s performance is dismissing what is in front of you for what you think should be.  That water was freezing the first time in, and it didn’t get any warmer by feeding myself negative thoughts reinforcing what I wished the situation to be.  What it did do was create more aversion and a mental attitude that was self-defeating rather than performance-supporting.
  1. Bring in the gratitude – Showing real appreciation, even when you’re facing difficulties, can make a huge difference in whether or not you continue to make efforts towards your goals or leave them by the wayside.  Focus down in your mind and celebrate whatever you can find to be grateful for in the attempt you’re making at your goals. If you struggle to find something, practice being grateful for the lessons you learned from your previous attempt.
  1. Remember the ‘bigger picture’ –  Perfection is a fabrication, and nobody goes undefeated in their going after their goals … except those who never try at all.  Whether celebrating your ‘wins’ or dealing with ‘setbacks’, remember these experiences are part of your journey towards achieving your goal.  If you just started your efforts, think about the fact that you got the courage to start going after what you want.  Hold the long-term goal in mind and acknowledge that every step you take, regardless of how each step goes, it is bringing you closer to that goal.

Whatever endeavor you are going after, your perspective can hinder or enhance your performance.  Remember: how we think about a situation determines how we feel about a situation.  How we feel about a situation can change our emotional state.  And our emotional state can provide a powerful catalyst to propel us forward or stop us in our tracks!  Try these tips the next time you take action on your goal.  Share in the comments, below, how it goes; I’d love to hear!

If you would like help lessening your fear and anxiety, reaching your goals, breaking habits, or creating new ones, I’d love to work with you.  Just click the button or the link below for a free consultation and let’s talk.