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. 

Grab a “Hold” to Create Your Best Emotional State

There’s no freakin’ way! I didn’t say this out loud, but the thought screamed through my brain as I stared out over the dark, endless basin filled with water that I would be swimming in tomorrow morning for my first Ironman. It was going to be roughly a two and a half mile swim.  There was a 112 mile bike to follow, and that little matter of the marathon afterwards to consider. But, honestly, it was the swim that I dreaded.  

Looking over that dark water while I was picking up my race packet was scaring the bejesus out of me. A few of the athletes were looking out with me. My eyes shot back and forth from the water to them, trying to ascertain if they were just as freaked out as me. As I pondered this, I found myself nervously fiddling with the rosary that was in my pocket. Somehow it was soothing and seemed to calm me down a bit.

I had a habit of going to Sunday Mass and taking the little plastic rosaries that they have in a dish near the vestibule. I must have forgotten to take this one out the previous weekend and now I was using it as a holy ‘stress ball’. 

I had an incredible race performance the next day, doing better than I ever dreamed I would!  Having that rosary on me to fiddle with when I was nervous or anxious, races, before talks, workshops, any challenging situations, has become more than just a habit–it’s my ritual. It’s no longer just a source of comfort, it is also a source of inspiration. I can literally recall my entire race whenever I even look at my rosary now. That recollection comes in a tidal wave full of all the confidence and pride that I felt finishing that race, just flooding my senses.  

The crazy thing is I don’t even know how to say the rosary. In fact, let’s just get this straight, it’s really not about the rosary. It’s not about any world religion or philosophy. It’s certainly not about that fancy race t-shirt or medal that they’re going to give you at the end of the race (if you make it). It’s not about running out and buying yourself a lucky rabbit’s foot (if we’re honest with ourselves, you and I both know that rabbit wasn’t so lucky so how good could the foot be?). 

It simply comes down to the meaning you place on the object. Once you give meaning to an object it becomes a ‘Hold’. Quite literally this is something that, when you hold it in your hand physically or in your mind mentally, it triggers an almost instantaneous recall of the event and the emotions that accompany that memory. 

You probably already have ‘Holds’ already, some you know about and some you don’t. Think  about that worn out t-shirt that has more holes in it than swiss cheese.  Every time you even think about throwing it away you feel like you’re actually throwing away that first 5K you ran and all the pride you felt in it!  Likewise, you may have pictures around the house of relatives. So, every time you walk into the kitchen and see the picture that includes your annoying uncle, the memory of the time he burned all the burgers at the family reunion sneaks into your head, and you suddenly lose your appetite…without actually knowing why.

Objects and mental pictures can hold more than just sentimental value for us. They can hold the key to better overall performances when facing challenges that are dear to us, or even the ones that are brought to our doorstep. 

Heidi Grant Halvorson, Ph.D., in Psychology Today, described the relationship between past success and present performance.  She shares that by thinking about your past success, “you start feeling like you’ve really got something that makes you a successful person.”  A Hold can help you gain rapid access to your memories, enabling you to fast-track the infusion of emotions that you want.

How to identify if something is a ‘Hold’ for you?

Focus down on an object or memory of an object –  You really don’t have to hold it in your hand, but you do have to give it your attention. Really focus down on a particular object and see if a memory or specific feelings come up for you.  These can be anything at all, but they should really spring to mind! 

Now notice if a particular object or memory is emotionally charged –  Now if you’re looking around your house at the laundry basket, or deeply recalling the sandwich you had at subway 3 hours ago, it may not have a strong ‘emotional charge’. But, if you’re looking at a photo of your graduation, or your finish at your 5K, or son’s well-worn baseball glove and uniform, you will most likely feel the confidence and connection that is housing the memories of the ‘Hold’.

I have a friend who got a tattoo in honor of his father. Whenever he looks at that tattoo, he says it instantly calls to mind working with his dad and the ‘can do’ feeling his father instilled in him.

Start by taking a look at what you have to work with within the physical stuff that you already own, or memories of those things in your mind! Take some time to look around your home, your car, your workspace, anything that might actually give you that emotional charge that you’re looking for when you need your best overall performance. Likewise, consider trying to recall some of the memories of the most incredible things that you’ve done in your life. Things that you’re most proud of, to see if an emotional charge is housed within them.

Pick one or two of these items–those that have the strongest emotional pull for you. Take some time each day to pick up (or call to mind) the hold that you identified. Let the emotions fill you up. Try to keep those emotions as you take action on your performance challenge, or even just when you try to contemplate that challenge. You’ll gradually notice that your ability to call those emotions up for yourself, and hold onto them will increase when you have an actual ‘Hold’ to connect with them!

In the next blog we’re going to talk about actually how you can create your own Holds!

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.