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. 

Train Yourself and Change Your Emotional State

I’m taking a walk. Mind you it’s 9 degrees out right now in Vermont, but I’ve had my head in the computer for the last 4 1/2 hours, and I’m about ready to give it a lesson in aerodynamics (yes… I’m considering tossing it out the window). My anxiety and anger are planning a coup on my frontal lobe. Just like last in last week’s blog, I have no problem identifying “why” this is happening. Simply put: I’m not a huge fan of computers.  Add in the fact that the work I’m doing is something I’m passionate about and it’s a recipe for my emotions to grab control and test my computer for wind resistance. 

After all kinds of uploading, downloading, and filling out forms I find out that it may all have been all for naught–it froze, of course. It’s enough to drive me to eat a big bag of jelly beans. If you haven’t read my blogs before, know that sugar, in all its forms, is my numbing substance of choice.  But, on my best days I realize that numbing will only leave anxiety and anger knocking at my brain’s door when the sugar wears off.  So, through trial and error, I’ve found certain things that I can do, tools that I can use, that will move my energy through me and allow me to choose my actions.  

One tool is simply taking a walk.  Since emotions are just energy in motion, when I literally move I find I can help that energy move through me.  But that’s only half the battle.  If I keep “running my story” and allowing my thoughts to stay ruminating on my wicked computer and it’s not-so-secret plan to single-handedly sabotage my work goals, rest assured when I get back from my walk it’ll be like I never left the computer…and we don’t want that!  I’m not saying that sometimes it’s not enough just to move and change your environment.  But, if your mind is not your friend and your inner critic is feeding you self-talk that sounds like your worst enemy, then you need to change more than just your environment, you need to change…

Your thoughts.

Dr. Alan Watkins, a prominent physician and neuroscientist from Oxford, who specializes in the study of emotions, found that one of the primary ways we can change the very physiological energy that our body creates is to change the way we think.  Thoughts are one of the most subtle forms of energy that we have inside of us. They are fast, elusive, and can literally change our biochemistry especially when it comes to our energy in motion (our emotions). 

Let me give you a bit of proof: 

Let’s say you are on your way over to your in-laws house.  You know you’re not gonna’ have a good time.  You feel yourself slump over a bit.  You don’t feel good, maybe you feel a little lethargic and tired, and you’re not even at their house yet.  That’s because the dread you are feeling of the ‘bad time’ is causing energy to stagnate within you.  

Now, let’s say you were up most of the night and only got three hours of sleep.  But, the next day, you were going to a theme park with your kids to ride roller coasters and eat sugary food.  In that scenario, you would find an enormous amount of energy from all the thoughts you’re creating about the wonderful time you’ll have when you get there, so you’d be bouncing out of bed, raring to go!  

In both scenarios, neither outcome has actually happened. Yet the energy in motion was created based on what you thought would happen.  Some of those thoughts caused your heart to beat a bit more erratically, your palms to sweat, and drained your energy. Other thoughts (the ones that had you on a roller coaster with your family) had that heartbeat increase along with your energy!

So, how do we train ourselves to use our thoughts to change the way we feel? 

Let’s take a look at the situation with my computer.  There’s no taking away the fact that it froze and I might have lost some of the work I had done. And there’s simply no taking away from the fact that it caused me anxiety and irritation when it happened. If I leave my thoughts dwelling on that fact, and running images over and over again in my mind of the work I did, the hours it took me, all of the effort…then those emotions will be with me for a long time to come. 

But I’m the one who is in charge of the ‘mental film’ that I roll in my mind. It happened and I had to feel it.  I took a walk to gain some physical distance from it.  But, while I am walking and when I come back to the computer, what I think about is up to me.  Yeah, it is a bummer that all my work might not have saved.  But I did it once and so I know what to do, which will make it easier to recreate the work.  I also know that I can call someone and get some technical help (practicing my interdependence and resourcefulness).  I can appreciate that the technology failed, I did not.  That this moment does not define my success.  And that I have a long history of achieving results if I just keep at it.

You always have a choice in any situation to think about all the possible perspectives.  There is more than one truth.  When you take a step back, examine the full spectrum of possibilities of what else can also be true (in addition to your first thought), then you can choose to focus on the perspective that will serve the reality you want for yourself.  

I’ve decided I’m going to choose my thoughts.  I’m going to allow my computer to live another day, and choose to think of the computer freezing as an opportunity to practice my perseverance.  Because quite frankly…it serves the way I want to feel and what I am trying to accomplish.  Now that I’ve made some space and enabled my emotions to flow through me, I feel centered, and ready to take another crack at my work.  Time to reboot my computer, email the Help Desk, and build some interdependence!

Don’t Avoid the ‘Black Box’

My kidneys hurt! If you had asked me four years ago where my actual kidneys were, I would have pointed to my back and that would have been the end of the conversation. But since 2013, when I missed the opportunity to finish 100 miles, and landed myself in a hospital… well… I’ve gained some familiarity.  My race ended that year at mile 86 because of rhabdomyolysis and a little bit of kidney damage.  Unfortunately my second attempt the following year ended much the same.  

Two weekends ago I made my third attempt at running 100 miles.  I have felt that I did everything I possibly could to set myself up for success: from dietary needs, to clothing, to training, to having the right crew there. But I was unable to finish the distance and I found myself needing to go to the hospital yet again.

Usually, waking up in the morning after the race there’s a halo effect. A period of time when you really don’t feel that bad physically, mentally, or emotionally.  You’re happy with what you could do, and you don’t have any question that you did your best.  But, if you’re honest with yourself, that halo effect ends, and all the uncomfortable emotions and self questioning begins to roll into your mind.

When you don’t achieve the outcome you want at something you’ve worked really hard for, you can’t help but to have feelings of self-doubt, sadness, and disappointment fill you.  I’d say for at least a good day or two I tried ‘strictly’ positive talk.  If that wasn’t working?  Tried and true distraction!  Watch TV, build a birdhouse (not really), or start planning the next race, ANYTHING to not have to feel those emotions that were felt so god-awful.  

But when I’ve finally stop all my ducking and avoiding, cease pushing away all those uncomfortable emotions, or just plain lying to myself with mental smiley bumper stickers, like “I’m fine, everything’s fine!, I always end up taking the only action that has ever helped me process my feelings and improve my process.  It’s what I call…

Deciphering the ‘black box’.  

This is the process of getting to the bottom of what happened after the plane “went down”.  In my case? The plane is the most recent race that went awry, and journaling a ‘court stenographer’ account of everything that transpired is the most helpful thing I can do for myself.   After every event, successful or not, I write down anything and everything I can remember about my race — what went right, what went awry, and everything in between.  This journaling allows me to see what ‘wins’ I can take away from a race (that honestly I might never have seen without Deciphering the black box)  and what ‘setbacks’ I dealt with, so that instead of just letting self criticism erode any further efforts, I can improve and learn grim the entire experience regardless of the outcome.

If I’m honest?  I want no part in this journaling.  It’s hard to face those setbacks and the feelings that accompany them.  To  see them as anything but something to be avoided at all costs. I don’t want to remember the things I didn’t do right (or just plain didn’t go right).  But, I know from past experience and deep practice, that unless I go to that place where I can actually explore and see what I could do better next time around in anything, I am destined to keep repeating the same mistakes.  

And as uncomfortable as all these emotions are, they serve as the greatest motivators for me to improve.  They don’t only allow for growth, they promote it!  They are the catalysts that get me to write down everything that happened, to improve my craft, to get up and try again.  If I could ignore them, stuff them down, or just plain avoid them and that was the answer to get them to subside, I’d probably do just that.  But from past experience, I know this.

There is only relief from my uncomfortable emotions when I allow them to have their say.

Avoidance of uncomfortability, of disappointment, fear, or shame is something we all try to do.  No one wants to hear what these emotions have to say because they feel self-incriminating!   We know what we did wrong, right?  If we’re truthful with ourselves, those uncomfortable emotions that we’re feeling are not there to punish us.  Rather, they’re there to urge us to take actions that will help us get better at what we’re trying to accomplish. Like the medicine our mother gave us when we were young: just because it was hard to swallow, doesn’t mean that it wasn’t good for us.

So, I acknowledge that I’m feeling like I’ve failed, that I’ve let myself and my crew down by not finishing the distance.  I use those feelings to spur myself into action.  Picking up my computer, I begin writing down every single thing that I can remember that happened during the event, diving head first into that black box in my mind, without judgment.  When I finish, I have a lot of substance that I can learn from.  Best of all?  I feel better!  My emotions have been heard.  I have information that might allow me a more successful attempt at those challenges that are so dear to my heart…or even the ones that are brought to my doorstep.

Me and my kidneys are at least now walking with the knowledge that there were a lot of things that I could’ve done better for that race and a great many things I did right.  Most importantly,  without my emotions clouding my reason because I’ve allowed them their say, I can also see the things that were actually out of my control.  Although I know the outcome wasn’t mine to dictate, I do know reviewing my ‘black box’ has allowed me to improve my thoughts and actions in any challenges that I decide to take on in the future.  And consistent effort and improvement is something I can live with.