No One Outside of You Has Your Answer

No one outside of you has your answer.

This was the prompt for Day 114 of the Project 137 by Patti Digh. This idea really sets me adrift, like someone put me in a rowboat without oars and cut the towline. Go figure it out, Cathy. I feel like I have measured myself my entire life by living up to other people’s expectations; other’s dreams and wants. This comes down to me and what I want. My expectations of myself. Gulp.

I run into folks who are either followers or are curious about this blog. This is my sanctuary to work things out. My colander to strain out the unnecessary to find the good parts. I gave my card to someone at a conference last week and she asked about the blog. I said, “It helps me work out my stuff.” The hope is that the byproduct of me working out my stuff is that someone else gains some wisdom or thought-provoking question that propels them forward. But really, at the heart of it all, is me working out my stuff.

So here are some insights of looking inward:

  • Shoes. No one else really walks in your shoes. And I don’t really walk in anyone else’s shoes. I can make assumptions about a loved one’s journey or what my colleague aspires to or if that mystery man is unattached. While I can identify with someone else, I really can’t live in their shoes and they really don’t know what it’s like in my shoes. They probably don’t even know my shoe size! So, the answer is taking care of your shoes and throwing out the ones that don’t serve you anymore. I recently decided to go to Barcelona this summer. I will need sandals to walk extensively and will have to break them in. That answer is in me.
  • Advice.  I have spent the last month grilling friends and family about the fate of a huge financial decision. I sought advice from almost every trusted resource I have. It’s fine to get advice. To be informed. To find a devil’s advocate. To weigh out all your options. I feel really good that I have heard all the pros and cons of my next move. I’m glad I have trusted friends and family to confide in. In the end though, it really comes down to me. I need to make the decision. The answer is in me.
  • Faith.  I realize now that serendipity is always conspiring to help me. The Universe is in my corner and some pieces have fallen into my lap to help me forward; actually leaps forward. As they say, “Let go and let God.” So while I was gnashing my teeth in worry and fear, I learned to embrace the idea that there is a greater plan and I am at the center of that plan. It is freeing to release the pain of fear and uncertainty and know that, if I have faith in myself, the Universe will conspire to help me. The answer is in me.
  • Willingness. As Benjamin Foley writes for Medium, “Wisdom, in my opinion, is the willingness to live the questions of life with an acceptance of no immediate answer. In a world of immediacy, this is a difficult accomplishment, but one that is enormously important if you are to create anything of value.” As my trusted friend Janine says, “You don’t need to make a decision until you need to make a decision.” This means I need to be willing to be patient. Not my strongest suit, but knowing that the decision will appear before me, when it is needed, is powerful. The answer is in me.

I have said over the past year that “you can’t push a rope.” What will be, will be. Trust your intuition, listen to your gut and find the answer in you.

Testing my Sobriety

I celebrated 4 years of sobriety on July 8th, 2021. It wasn’t easy. I’ve been cigarette-free for almost 20 years and, in contrast, that has been a lot easier. The social constructs for the two habits are vastly different. One habit is the elixir of social engagement while the other is shunned. I remember vividly the moment the acronym of H.A.L.T. slammed me in the face. I was in a hotel lobby in Scottsdale, Arizona traveling alone on business last fall (pre-pandemic). I was in the hotel lobby desperate for dinner. It was ten minutes to 4 PM and the lobby snack bar was closed. The only place open was the bar, which was to have a bar menu. I was Hungry (because I had just flown in from the east coast), Angry (because the only place to get food was the bar), Lonely (because the bar was packed with happy hour folks all there for a convention) and Tired (because I had been up since 2 AM Pacific time). It was the perfect storm for someone trying to stay sober. If I had a rental car I would have headed to McDonalds or Starbucks, ANYWHERE, but there. I survived the experience still sober but the acronym is important to remember, regardless of what vice you are trying to kick.

Here are my lessons from H.A.L.T and testing my sobriety:

Hungry

My children have always been very attuned to my state of satiation. I get an edge to my voice, I get impatient, I get antsy. I can hear my daughter Natalie saying, “Mommy, are you hangry?” If so, all bets are off. We may be in a two-hour line at Disney World but we are going to find Mommy some food. Now that I am a plant-based eater, it can be even more difficult. This was the case in the hotel lobby. Most bar menus are meat and cheese based, you know chicken wings, nachos and sliders. I was thinking “my kingdom for a kale salad!” There was a salad on the bar menu as I reviewed it on the stand outside the bar. I stood there looking for a table tucked in a corner away from all those happy folks drinking. I took the plunge and headed to a small table hoping for the best.

Angry

I sat down waiting for a server. There was one buzzing around the many tables of drinking folks. I finally got their attention. She came by to take my drink order. I asked if they were serving food and she concurred. I ordered a club soda and asked for a menu. It took about 10 minutes for my drink. I reminded her I wanted a menu. After another ten minutes, she obliged me with the menu. I waited. I waited. Two servers flitted around the bar refilling drinks. I started to steam. Percolate. Rumble with anger. I was so hungry and, now, angry. I overheard “my” server telling her various tables that it was the end of her shift and she needed to close out their tabs. Ugh. I will never order my food. She will never be back to my table. I sat there another 10 minutes. I knew that the restaurant opened at 4:30 PM. It was now 4:30 PM. I cannot stand skipping out on a check on a server. I spent way too many years as a server and restaurant owner to want to skip out on a check but my sobriety was at stake here. I got up, left money, left the table and the drink and went to the restaurant.

Lonely

When I approached the hostess stand at the restaurant, I explained that I had waited 30 minutes to order food at the bar and that I was hungry (and seething and precariously close to wanting a double martini). They sat me immediately and brought water and bread before quickly taking my order. I was alone in the restaurant, but I had actually felt more alone in the packed bar. Perhaps it was the free-flowing booze, or the camaraderie around a substance that I so freely imbibed for many years. 

I felt like an outcast. It was obvious that most of the folks knew each other.  Everyone was gathered in small groups except for the lone wolf or two at the bar. It struck me how lonely I felt amongst all the people and how, in the past, I would have felt comforted by being surrounded by all those drinkers. I know I was telling myself that everyone was aware I was by myself and not drinking alcohol; I felt that I was on a stage naked and vulnerable. In retrospect, I realize now that my phone was low on power and I felt trapped in not being able to reach out to someone.

Tired

Jet lag is a fickle thing. I can get to my destination and feel amped up and ready to go or completely depleted. Being tired breaks down your willpower and resolve. It’s remarkable as you look around a bar in a destination city like Scottsdale and wonder what time zone someone is on. I’ve met people from Singapore and London and Cape Town all at the same conference. We are all in different stages of rest and exhaustion. I’ve come to realize that I need to plan ahead so that I can be prepared for my state of tiredness when I arrive in a new time zone. I usually think ahead when setting up flights so that I can be better prepared. If I had to do it over again, I would have taken a Lyft to a restaurant that was open all day. When I’m tired, I tend to find the path of least resistance which, that day, was the hotel bar. A little extra effort would have had me either ordering room service or heading out to a Denny’s.

I’m proud to say that I survived the day sober. I remember thinking about the acronym H.A.L.T. that day at 4:15 PM as I waited for the elusive server to come by and take my food order. I looked around that bar as I yawned, seething, isolated and hungry and realized I was sitting in the perfect storm to break my sobriety. I’m proud of myself for surviving it and now I can recount that perfect storm when I face other challenges in the future and be more prepared. 

4 Make or Break Components of a Habit

I recently read BJ Fogg’s book, Tiny Habits.  It was eye opening to understand why some of my habit changes have failed and why some of them have succeeded.  He really tears apart a habit into its components and all the forces at work to make it fail or not.  He shines the light on how to succeed.  I was of the mindset that it was all up to my willpower to make a habit succeed.  This is probably why my best and most enduring habits are in the morning when I have the most willpower.  Before, I’m hungry, angry, lonely or tired (HALT) and I’m at my highest energy level. I have made several attempts at creating an afternoon habit like practicing my guitar or writing a blog post, without success.  I try once or twice and next thing I know; I’ve got the remote in my hand and I’m bingeing some show. 

Fogg does a great job of dissecting a habit and he does it without judgement.  As Fogg wrote, “In order to design successful habits and change your behaviors, you should do three things.  Stop judging yourself. Take your aspirations and break them down into tiny behaviors.  Embrace mistakes as discoveries and use them to move forward.” Understanding that it’s not a failure or opportunity to be self-critical when an attempt fails but to be able to hold it up to the light and see what’s available is empowering.

4 make or break components of a habit:

Make it small.  I mean really small.  Fogg’s example is to floss one tooth instead of the whole mouth.  Instead of “reading a book”, try “put the book on my nightstand” or “Read one chapter, or one page, or one paragraph, or one sentence.”  This makes it so much more accessible.  I actually started flossing my teeth after reading the book.  I have yet to floss just one tooth but I have, on a daily basis, been able to keep the habit because all I’m focused on is flossing one tooth.  I read part a book each night.  Sometimes it’s one page, sometimes it’s a chapter, it depends on how tired I am (and how interesting the book is).  I water my plants each Saturday.  My tiny habit that facilitates this is putting the watering can on the kitchen table.  I know it’s not done until the can is put away.  Keeping it small makes it all less daunting.

Make it easy. Fogg writes that B = MAP, or Behavior happens when three things come together at the same moment: Motivation, Ability, and a Prompt.  As Fogg points out, motivation cannot be depended upon.  Sure, there are times when I’m really motivated to go for a run or do a strength workout, but there are many times when I either had a poor night’s sleep or it’s raining outside or I’m just not feeling it. This was an insight for me.  So, I can’t just depend on willpower (motivation) alone.  In fact, I try to make whatever the habit is, as easy as possible.  So, I leave my dental floss out on my bathroom counter, I keep my shoes by the front door to go for a walk, I leave the book on my nightstand with the expectation that I will only read at least one page, I start my walk with only aiming for the corner of the street, and I leave a glass of water on the counter so that I drink it first thing in the morning. It’s like the engineers who look at how many clicks a customer has to make to purchase an item.  Eliminate the amount of clicks of the mouse, reduce the friction and noise for you to have the ability to actually do the habit. I have found that the easier a habit is to do, the more likely I am to form a habit.

Find a prompt. Fogg delineates three types of prompts.  

A Facilitator prompt is when you have high motivation but low ability.  So, it is a prompt like clicking a green button when you are tired (your ability is low) but you are motivated to be entertained (think of the next video loading up on Netflix).  

The Signal prompt is when you have high motivation and high ability to do the target behavior, so a simple reminder is enough like a calendar notification, sometimes, in my case, I don’t need the reminder because of my high motivation. 

The Spark prompt is when you lack motivation but have the ability. One of the best spark prompts for me is a Fresh Start Prompt.  So, it’s a Monday and I’m going to walk first thing in the morning for 10 minutes every day or it’s the first of the month or it’s the new year or it’s my birthday or it’s the vernal equinox.  

One of Fogg’s quintessential habits is what he calls “The Maui Habit” which is basically saying out loud, “It’s going to be an amazing day,” when your feet hit the floor in the morning.  I have to say I would get wrapped up in the fact that I forgot to say it until I got to the bathroom or when I was meditating later in the morning.  Then I realized, just because I missed the prompt of my feet hitting the floor, doesn’t mean I didn’t do the habit.  Whatever the prompt, if you remember to do the behavior for whatever reason, that’s terrific!

Celebrate. I have to say the Fogg had to prove this one to me.  I initially was skeptical of celebrating a new behavior. And by celebrating, it’s not throwing a party or getting a manicure.  It has to be immediate.  So, think of giving yourself a high-five or a fist pump or “Oh yeah.”  What would you say if your team just scored to win in the final seconds of a game? That?  That’s your celebration. It makes sense because of our brains.  When your brain realizes that you have a positive reaction (celebrating) to completing a new behavior, it wires it into your brain. It’s a positive neuropathway that your brain will seek to recreate again, and again, and again.  So, when I started flossing my teeth in the morning, I gave myself a fist pump.  I did that for about a week.  I do it periodically now, but now I see flossing as a positive experience.   As Fogg says, this is a critical piece that most folks dismiss.  Don’t forget to celebrate.

Since I finished this book several weeks ago, I’ve been successful in flossing my teeth every morning, drinking a glass of water first thing in the morning and I’ve taken an early morning 10-minute walk outside as recommended by Dr. Huberman to help with my circadian rhythm and general wellbeing for the rest of the day.  Now that I have a much better understanding of habit forming, I am much more adept at creating and keeping habits.  How do you create a habit?

6 Cures to the Disease to Please

The disease to please is Habit 8 in the insightful book, How Women Rise. I am a recovering please-you-alcoholic. When I felt trapped in my unhappy second marriage, I was wallowing in trying to be “love and light” to a man who would never be happy. It has taken me five years to realize that, in retrospect, I kept tying my happiness to whether he was happy. I spent years keeping track of my internal list of rules to try and make him happy. No lemon, no lime, steak is too rare, too well done, not too spicy, not too bland, dinner at 6…no at 7…no at 5:46, heat set at 70…no 73…no 68, no dairy except for pizza, nothing vegetarian…ever. I look back and wonder what I was trying to find or obtain. Why did every grunt or disapproving look have such a hold on me? Where was I in that relationship exactly? I had evaporated into a pleasing abyss. Was I his codependent?

Pleasing others is why women are held back from rising in the ranks. When I coach female clients at some point in the coaching engagement, they frequently figure out that they need to be able to say “no”. As Katie Phillips wrote for Talented Ladies Club, “People pleasing isn’t a topic we talk about often, and it may not have occurred to you that you were stuck in the rut of putting others’ needs and happiness ahead of your own.” Tying yourself to anyone else’s happiness is exhausting. If how you are feeling at this current moment is dependent on anything outside of yourself, it’s a losing proposition and, one, you have little, if any, control over.

Six cures to the disease to please:

  1. Delay your response.  As Vanessa Van Edwards wrote, “Here is my favorite anti-people-pleasing phrase: “Let me get back to you.” Or Stop. Just for 50 to 100 milliseconds. This small amount of time is all you need, according to a 2014 Columbia University study, to make better decisions.” So instead of a knee jerk reaction to say yes to a project or meeting or updated slides or making chicken fried steak, delay your response. Frequently in the moment, especially if it’s your boss or unhappy spouse, you are in your limbic brain. When you are in your limbic brain you are in fight or flight or freeze response. Your prefrontal cortex (where you do your best thinking) is shut down. All the blood has rushed to your legs for you to take flight. Give yourself some space and delay your response.
  2. Start small. Say “no” to small things at first. Like watching the basketball game, or the movie, or the Friends episode, or answering the phone, or taking out the garbage or staying up late, or getting up early or scheduling a meeting over lunch, or after five. I think starting in your personal relationships might be easier at first and then move on to your work relationships. It’s easier to say “no” to one more treat from my dog than “no” to my bosses’ demands. My son was home earlier this week and was watching some show I had no desire to watch on my only television. I said, “Let’s watch something else”. He was surprised but we found something else we both enjoyed. As with most things, it seems to start with small steps.
  3. Effective relationships.  This next idea may seem crazy but it is better for your relationships. As Dr. Ilene Cohen wrote for Psychology Today, “I learned that when you do too much for others, you over-function in your relationships, which inevitably leads others to under-function. Though my intentions were good, they ultimately hindered the overall effectiveness of my relationships.” I think of saying yes to so many projects and tasks at work actually doesn’t give my direct reports and coworkers opportunities to learn and grow. As for my marriage, it created a scenario where my ex functioned in a smaller and smaller role as I maintained the scaffolding of the relationship rules. In the end, I was exhausted and the relationship was a figment of my imagination. Strive for effective relationship through an even playing field of collaborative roles.
  4. Be authentic. Aligning with your values and being authentic with your needs and wants is not something many women are brought up with. As Cohen writes, “I came to terms with the fact that we’re all unique individuals. We should be able to act authentically and connect with who we are and what we value, instead of always doing what others want.” Perhaps it was being the mother of a new born child and 4 a.m. feedings, but somewhere after motherhood, I forgot how to prioritize myself. Be authentic with yourself and what your needs, and yes, your wants are. Align with your authentic self.
  5. Don’t. Saying “I don’t” instead of “I can’t” is so much more empowering.  As Van Edwards espoused, “‘I don’t’ establishes a clear boundary, making you sound much more confident and clearer in your intentions. On the other hand, people who say ‘I can’t’ seem like they’re giving an excuse and might have some wiggle room to give.” I have actually used this frequently as a sober vegan. It’s much more empowering to say “I don’t drink “ or “I don’t eat meat”. Try using “don’t”.
  6. Stop apologizing. My daughter Natalie has admonished me for this many times. “Quit saying sorry!” And, yes, she means apologizing for everything, which I have been known to do. Again, I think this is more frequently part of the female vernacular. As Van Edwards wrote, “The next time you say no, say it with meaning. Don’t apologize because you have to prioritize. Don’t feel bad that you have something to take care of. You are standing up for you; and remember, if you don’t stand up for you, no one else will.” Apologizing is discounting and minimizing your priorities. Stop stepping back from what you want.

I struggle with this every day. I want to do for others. I realize now that pleasing others is in many ways a way to give my power away. To a great degree, it’s implausible to think that pleasing others has an impact on how someone perceives me. Perhaps the most important thing is how I perceive myself. How does people-pleasing impact you?

7 Ways to Engage in JOMO

You decide against going to the company baseball game on the off chance your ex might be there, and according to the Facebook posts, it looks like it was a ton of fun. You want to go to your high school reunion but you haven’t made your first million yet, so you decide to skip. What if your old boyfriend shows up single and rich? You stay at the Christmas party for one more hour (and one more drink) to see if they finally play your favorite song. These are examples of FOMO or the Fear of Missing Out. You say Yes to things you really don’t want to attend or No to things; and then regret that you didn’t go. It can make you either completely over-committed, or wallowing in shame over not feeling good enough to attend.

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My children on top of La Piedra del Piñol

All social media channels fuel the fire on FOMO. The Instagram pictures of fabulous food at the new restaurant you’ve been wanting to try, the fabulous pictures of Glacier National Park your friend just sent you (wow, I want to go there) or the Facebook pictures of your college friends getting together while you recuperate from surgery. There is an antidote for this. Blogger Anil Dash coined the acronym JOMO (or the Joy of Missing Out). For me, it’s an acceptance of being OK where you are.

Here are 7 ways to engage in JOMO:

  1. Other’s Expectations. As Wayne Dyer famously said, “What other people think of me is none of my business.” There is true peace in that. Let go of knowing or fulfilling other’s expectations and you will find joy. Isn’t that why you went to the committee meeting on Tuesday, so that you were seen instead of really caring about the agenda? I’ve done that in the past – just shown up so that everyone could check off my name on the list. Cathy was there. Letting go of other’s expectations is where the joy is.
  2. Their moment. When my kids and I went to Colombia about three years ago, my kids wanted to climb the 740 steps to the top of La Piedra del Peñol. I was fifty pounds heavier than I am now and I didn’t figure my adult children would want to wait for me to climb the rock. I waited at the bottom. I figured I would regret it, but it was their moment. I have a picture from the top of the rock, of my beautiful children smiling in the camera with that enormous sense of accomplishment. It is their moment together. Two Colombian-American kids standing at the top of an enormous Colombian rock, taking a selfie. There is joy in letting it be their moment.
  3. Just say No. Christine Kane calls this the Proactive No. It’s one of the reasons I turned down an opportunity to go to a baseball game a few weeks ago. I hate baseball. Don’t go to something that you feel is boring. Unless my kid is playing in the game, I’m not going. Proactive Nos are rules to live by, like: I am always home on a Sunday evening, 2. No horror films (ever) and 3. I will never schedule a flight before 7 AM. These are your guidelines so that you have an easy out of the cocktail party on a Sunday night, “So sorry, Sunday evening is family time.” There is joy in Proactive No’s.
  4. Be complete. You are good enough right now. You are complete. If you are in a relationship or not. If you are overweight or underweight. If you have made your first million or not. If you finished the marathon or not. If you have been to all fifty states or you are missing one (Alaska). You are complete right now. When I was suddenly single two years ago, I knew I had to be completely on my own before finding someone new. No one else or thing or place can complete me. There is joy in recognizing you are complete right now.
  5. Mindfulness. There are many ways to get to mindfulness. It might be yoga, running, or meditation. I personally find that the meditation that I learned from Art of Living is the best way to get me centered each day. I have been doing this twenty-minute meditation without fail for over three years. Focusing on my breath helps me reset my head. Let go of regrets and fears. Joy is all between your ears.
  6. Solitude. At this point in my life, I face an empty nest, except for my beloved dog. Some of you might be rolling your eyes as you face getting the kids’ back-to-school clothes, signed up for activities, all while working a full-time job and trying to get the laundry done. You are just wishing for the time you’re faced with blessed solitude. Initially, the silence was deafening, but eventually, it morphed into peace and joy. Solitude takes getting used to and it’s not easily accepted initially. We end up filling up the solitude with technology, screen time and addictions. Grab that classic book you’ve been meaning to read for the last decade and relax into solitude. That’s where the joy is.
  7. Be grateful (not jealous). I have friends that travel the world, that accomplish amazing feats like triathlons and marathons, and have the means to go to exotic locations like Bali and Antarctica. I am grateful for the people in my life and am so happy an old college friend relocated to Paris for a year. I’m so happy that a college friend traveling to Machu Picchu five years ago prompted me to make the trip myself last year. I personally know over fifteen people that have completed marathons. That is amazing. Being grateful reframes everything into joy.

JOMO is just another way of letting go. Releasing the energy that you might be missing out on something even better. There is joy in just releasing it.

My daughter. My Hero.

This is for my daughter on her twenty-ninth birthday!

My daughter, Natalie, is my stable rock. My ballast. My hero. She has recently turned twenty-five and moved to Seattle about a year ago.  I had the great fortune to spend a recent weekend with her in New Mexico where she was born.  It was great fun to return to a state that has many natural marvels and be able to give context to how her life began.  Some twenty-six years earlier, my first husband and I moved to Albuquerque to run a restaurant and try our luck as entrepreneurs.  The restaurant eventually failed and put immense pressure on our marriage.  The wonderful shining glory that came out of that ill fated move to Albuquerque was a delightful, precious blue-eyed baby girl with an infectious smile and laugh.

Outside of a return trip to New Mexico when Natalie was eight, she has not returned.  She has faint memories of that trip and certainly does not remember her first four months of life in the Land of Enchantment. We had a lot of fun returning to where it all began. It also brought up some of the reasons I have depended on her for so much in her quarter century on the Earth.

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My brother, Rick, my daughter, Natalie and I hiking in New Mexico in 2018

Here are the ways Natalie is my hero:

Open. Natalie is open to any and all adventures. We did not have much of an agenda once we landed at Albuquerque’s Sunport except for a restaurant reservation or two.  Whether it was strolling the plaza in Santa Fe or taking a hike around a reservoir, Natalie was open.  She had no deadlines, no agenda, no must-see spots.  I feel like so many people in life have hidden agendas or hidden intentions.  Not Natalie. Anything goes. Wanna hike?  Sure.  Shop? You bet. Sleep in? OK. It makes me rethink how open I am to what is next. Be open.

Decisive.  Natalie may be open to all the options but once she has made up her mind, or the group has made up their mind, she goes after it. We had decided to hike Tent Rocks located outside of Santa Fe with my brother, Rick.  Once the decision was made, there was no going back.  I’m pretty sure that even if it was raining or 110 degrees, Natalie would have made it to the top of that slot canyon. She was committed. Even a random crossing of a rattlesnake on our path could not deter her from her destiny. Once you have weighed out all your options, be decisive.

Empathy. I have always had an issue with balance. I pause at the top of steps and escalators to get my barring. There were several times along the hike that Natalie grabbed my hand. I didn’t ask. She knew. When navigating very narrow footings, she said, “just one foot in front of the other.” I didn’t ask. She knew. As we hiked she would insist on a water break.  Not for her. For me. She pays attention. She senses the discomfort. She anticipates the need. It’s such a gift that I don’t know she is even aware she has it. Be in tune to those around you.

Navigator. Natalie and I had explored a trail near Santa Fe around a reservoir.  The trail was not well marked.  Towards the end of the hike we lost the trail. Pretty soon we were hiking through low uncharted brush and no fellow hikers were to be seen.  We had no GPS.  No cell coverage. I felt a bit of concern. There was no need. Natalie had a feel for where we were and led us back to the trail head and parking lot. There have been many hiccups and storms in my life over the last year and Natalie has been the calm navigator seeing me through. Make sure you have a sound navigator to help you through the storms.

Ballast. Every boat has a ballast to weight the boat upright. Natalie is my ballast. She is rarely rattled by events and keeps an even demeanor.  I can be easily flustered and fly into worst case scenarios. Natalie keeps me balanced by listening and asking questions to help me understand my own thinking. I may be ready to unload all the cargo on the boat or drop anchor but Natalie is the voice of reason.  Who is your ballast.  Maybe you are a ballast for someone else.  It’s important to have a ballast to even things out.

Joy. Natalie has infectious energy. She also happens to be a great selfie taker.  There she is in the center of the photo flashing her enchanting smile.  I cannot look at a photo of her without smiling. She is joy. She is possibility. She is magic. There are very few people that I know who exude that joyful energy. It sparks action. Everything seems possible when there is joy in the room.  I am so fortunate to have her in my life. Find joy.

I am so proud to be Natalie’s mother and, most importantly, that she is in my life. She makes everything brighter and more amazing. Who is your hero?

6 Benefits of a Morning Swim

I started swimming on a regular basis about three months ago.  When I relocated to Durham, North Carolina, I found a public indoor pool and decided to sign up for a 10-visit swim pass.  I have to say I was a bit nervous.  If you have ever been to a public pool or shower, it can be intimidating.  Are the showers mildew covered, is there a private place to change, will the pool be a decent temperature, and, most importantly, will there be a free lane for me to swim in? I reserved a lane online, paid my fee, and drove, with trepidation, to the Campus Hills location on an early Saturday morning.  There was plenty of free parking, a pleasant gentleman at the reception desk, and a clean, empty locker room for me to leave my belongings as well as baskets available to take personal items out to my lane.  I was reassured.  Now all I had to do was swim.

My local indoor pool

I was on my high school swim team my sophomore year.  I can remember the early morning practices and swimming upwards of 2,000 to 2,500 yards.  What I remember most was the trance like state I would get into, swimming back and forth.  I was longing for that.  The Zen state of just being, I think it’s what brought me back to the pool after some forty years.

Here are 6 benefits of a morning swim:

It’s a great start.   There are almost always other swimmers at the eight-lane pool.  I ran into one of the women that was swimming a few lanes over on the way out the door.  I told her to have a great day and she said “Nothing can go wrong after starting my day with a swim.” I heartily agreed with her. It’s like teeing up my day for success. I’ve exercised, I’ve showered, I’ve centered myself.  It’s a terrific way to start your day.

There is one path.  Throughout my day, I need to make countless decisions whether it be what to wear, what trail to walk my dog, what to eat, or what task to work on. When I’m in the pool, there is only one way and one direction and one thick black line on the bottom of the pool.  That is my only path.  I follow the black line until it ends at a T and then, I go back the other way. It’s such a great antidote for decision fatigue.  Jump in the pool and just follow the black line.

No technology. There are no calls, emails, social media, or screens…at all. It’s amazingly freeing to be without the distraction of any notifications. I do wear an iWatch which, miraculously, counts my strokes, my laps, and heart rate.  But outside of biofeedback, I am free to detach from the outside world and focus on the black line below.

It’s good for your heart. Of course, any exercise is good for your heart but as written by Dr. Daniel Bubnis for Greatist, “One study found that people with a regular swimming routine lost weight and had decreased carotid arterial stiffness, lower blood pressure, and increased blood flow to the brain. All these benefits reduce the risk of heart disease.” I have to say that my blood pressure was already lowered most likely by eating plant based but I’ll take anything that’s good for my heart.

It burns calories. I noticed this almost immediately when I started tracking my swimming on my watch.  I burn close to twice the calories that I burn on a hike of the same period of time (say 30 minutes) and my average heart rate is higher as well.  As Bubnis wrote, “Since your whole body is working, it’s no surprise that swimming is a real calorie burner. Swimming burns the same number of calories as jogging (without the joint stress). And that’s if you’re swimming at a relaxed pace!” It’s a workout even though there’s no sweat!

Less stress. For me, it’s the repetition of the stroke, the breath, the hum of the bubbles in the water, the trusty black line below, the peace and flow when I push off the wall to glide effortlessly forward. As Bubnis reported, “A 2012 survey commissioned by Speedo found that 74 percent of participants had reduced stress after swimming. And 70 percent said swimming left them mentally refreshed. Keep in mind that any form of exercise can help reduce stress. But water-based activities are known to have additional soothing effects. It’s just hard to be stressed out when you’re floating in water.” Swimming can reduce stress.

I initially started swimming during the winter because it was the one activity that wasn’t as dependent on the weather, and I could reserve a lane time that fit my schedule. There are some days when it’s not a morning swim, although I do prefer to swim in the morning. I have slowly been working my way up to longer distances, today was 1,200 yards! I think back to swim practice in 1977, and Mrs. Woods starting us off with 1,000 yards freestyle to get warmed up. Whelp.  I can’t swim the entire length of a pool with one breath either.  It’s just nice to find peace, solitude, and a little bit of Zen to start off my day.

Endings. Letting Go of the Anchor.

This is a repost from 18 months ago. Enjoy!

I have been stuck for about 4 years now. It has likely been more like 10 years. I can blame the dissolution of my marriage on Hurricane Matthew but the downward spiral happened years before. I spent six years putting lipstick on a pig. I ignored the signs of an absent partner and spent my days “being love and light.” I sat on the same couch, I made all his favorite meals, I invited him on my business trips, I tried to shoehorn myself into his heart in all manner of ways hoping we would turn the corner. He left anyway.

The last three and a half years have been spent trying to get free of him financially. At long last, yesterday, I am free. I stood at the mailbox and cried as I held the document that released me. The deed to my home is mine. I am free to do whatever I choose, whenever I want. It goes on the market this weekend. So now is the ending. As William Bridges writes, “Transition starts with an ending. This is paradoxical but true. This first phase of transition begins when people identify what they are losing and learn how to manage these losses. They determine what is over and being left behind, and what they will keep. These may include relationships, processes, team members or locations.” So now comes the ending and making these critical decisions of what must stay and what must go.

How to embrace endings and let go of the anchor:

What must go

Clutter is a distraction and weighs me down. I am a huge fan of Marie Kondo and her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Her series on Netflix is inspiring as well. Marie is a joyful, delicate person. She is in tune to the spaces she enters and is incredibly upbeat. She walks people through all their flotsam and asks the simple question, “Does this spark joy?” Or as I like to think of it, “It’s a hell yes or a hell no.” Three years ago, purging my life of all things of and with my ex was easy. Most of it was “hell no.” Now that we have a property division and I am curating my belongs, I am even more brutal about what must go. Now I think it terms of “do I want to pay for this to be moved to the next place?” It was easy to hold onto an old couch or sauté pan if I didn’t have to transport it anywhere else. Now that I would have to move it? It’s a hell no. Ending is letting go of what weighs you down.

What was

I am wrapped up in all the memories in this house. I am wrapped up in all the sunrise pictures I’ve posted on Facebook. I think of all the wild animals that have flown, crawled, slithered and walked their way into my view. I wait patiently every morning for the sunrise and whether it will be more magical than the last. I note the variety of birds that have flown by my lakefront backyard over the last seventeen years. The ospreys, Great Blue Herons, hummingbirds, Egrets, little blue herons, mallards, cardinals, woodpeckers and Bald Eagles. I reminisce and hope they will take one last bow before I leave, but treasure that I was here to experience it at all. There is the closet door that marked my children’s height and weight over ten years. The photos of holidays and celebrations over seventeen years. I am grateful that I experienced it all and so happy to have shared the memories with my children, friends and family. I am so happy that this home has sparked joy and I look forward to another family being able to create their own memories. Endings are about keeping the memories and moving on.

What will be

It was my coach, Tammi Wheeler, who wisely pointed out that I was entering “The Neutral Zone”. This is the uncomfortable place of stepping off a cliff and hoping for a parachute on the way down. Living with the decision that I am leaving this magical place. To be open to the possibilities of what will come. To trust myself that it’s as it should be and I will, as always, land on my feet in an even better place. As Bridges writes, “This is the time between the old reality and sense of identity and the new one. People are creating new processes and learning what their new roles will be. They are in flux and may feel confusion and distress. The neutral zone is the seedbed for new beginnings.” I am preparing myself for the new patterns and processes. I trust the Stoics’ Amor Fati (love of one’s fate) and keep a curious mind as to what the next adventure will be. Endings create possibility.

As I reflected on this experience with Tammi last week, I said that this house had been an anchor for seventeen years and it was time to let it go. I am excited and apprehensive as I take hold of the tiller of the boat and head out into open waters and new beginnings.

Got Time Poverty? 4 Causes

The most difficult part of working remotely is that my day has no chapters, no boundaries. There are no bookends to my day. Traveling to work or to school or the daily arrival of my children home from school used to make a delineation in the day. There are the blurry lines of “Am I at work right now?” or “Am I on a break?” or “I’ll answer this one email even though it’s 3 PM on Sunday.” My days are one big smoosh of what feels like aimless work and yet at the end of the day I say to myself, “How was I home ALL day and I got NOTHING done?” This has been my excuse for months as I have barely written any new blog posts. I have been suffering from time poverty. I have plenty of time – I just have no idea where it goes.

I read an article from by Ashley Whillians on Ideas.Ted.com in which she wrote, “Time poverty is a serious problem, with serious costs for individuals and society. The data that I and others have amassed show a correlation between time poverty and misery. People who are time poor are less happy, less productive and more stressed out. They exercise less, eat fattier food and have a higher incidence of cardiovascular disease. Time poverty forces us to compromise. Instead of preparing a nutritious dinner, we grab chips and guac and munch mindlessly while staring at our screens.” Hmmm. It’s not just me that is sucked into screen time and feeling miserably unproductive. 

Here are some of the reasons I suffer from time poverty:

Technology

Whillians posits, “Technology interruptions break our hours into confetti.” I love that metaphor. Confetti. Light little pieces of magical colors that have absolutely no functionality and are a mess to clean up. That would be my inbox on 3 different email accounts, 4 different messaging systems and 2 different phone numbers. That is my technological confetti and I’m cleaning it up all day, every day.

Shawn Stevenson wrote, “Just being near your phone impairs cognitive performance. If we’re going to be empowered… if we’re going to be able to reach our potential in an increasingly distracted world, we MUST do some practical things to maintain control of our attention. This recent study uncovered that THE MERE PRESENCE of your phone can cause significant cognitive impairment. The researchers conclude that, even if your phone is not “dinging” with notifications, even if it’s face down, even if it’s turned OFF, your brain still has to use significant mental energy not to pick it up (whether we realize it or not).” Hence, in order to write this post, I put my phone in another room and shut down all apps on my laptop. 

Money

Whillians wrote, “Money does not buy joy. A culture obsessed with making more money believes, wrongly, that the way to become more time affluent is to become financially wealthier. We think, “I’ll work hard and make more so that I can afford more leisure time later.” This is the wrong solution. Focusing on chasing wealth leads only to an increased focus on chasing wealth.” I think it’s also a focus on material versus experience. This is tough in the middle of a pandemic. Why not buy a big television to binge on Netflix for the weekend or a freezer to store all my backup to the backup meals in case I get quarantined for two months? Amazon can get you anything you want in a matter of days, if not hours. Just because you can buy it, doesn’t mean you should. Time well spent is the new affluence.

Busyness

I can panic if I see that my schedule is back-to-back for the day and panic even more when my schedule gets freed up with a cancellation. I value the busyness and take pride in getting it all done in one day, taking the dog out, making dinner and setting up that long overdue dentist appointment while working all my meetings in flawlessly. Whillians wrote, “With our self-identity so wrapped up in work and productivity, the social appearance of being busy makes us feel good about ourselves. In contrast, focusing our attention on something other than work can threaten our livelihood and status. We worry we won’t be valued, and, in part, we are right.” I am trying to stop sending emails and texts outside of “normal” business hours. I’m trying to stop being part of the problem and not encourage the cult of busyness.

Future

I always think I’ll have plenty of time later. I plan and load up my Saturday with chores and errands. And when Saturday arrives the day evaporates into unplanned phone calls and a change in the weather. Whillians posits, “Statistically, the best predictor of how busy we are going to be next week is how busy we are right now. Our minds frequently forget this important point and trick us into believing we’ll have more time later than we do now. This over optimism means that we become cavalier with our yeses, even with the small stuff we don’t want to do. We also want to say yes; we see it as a way to overcome idleness and feel productive, connected, valued, respected and loved.” I think of my plans a few Thursdays ago. Swim at 7:15 AM, meeting with WIN at local coffee shop at 8:30, Coach at 10 and 11, then Rotary Meeting at 12:30 at a local country club, then Group coaching at 2 PM, individual coaching at 3,4 and 5 PM. Thank goodness I had a cancellation. What was I thinking to overbook my day? If one thing goes wrong, my whole day can fall apart and in the end I feel completely depleted.

One of the gifts of moving to Durham are the countless trails and greenways. Within two minutes, my dog, Baci and I can be on a path walking through the trees. I used to listen to books but now, I am present in the moment and leave my earbuds at home. I listen to the birds, watch the squirrels torment my dog, look for redbud in blooming and watch the breeze kick up pear tree blossoms and watch it flutter in the ground like snow. The cure to time poverty for me is to be here right now. How do you cure time poverty?

Anatomy of a Weightlifting Competition

My son, Benson, has been lifting heavy things above his head for at least ten years (mostly for wrestling and football in the beginning) but he has been doing it as a sport for about eight years. It’s been over two years since I was actually at a weightlifting competition in person due to the pandemic.  Benson and I drove to Columbus, Ohio for The Arnold which is a giant competition of bodybuilding, weightlifting, gymnastics, running, wrestling, strongman and boxing (to name but a few).  Columbus is awash with physiques from all walks of life but it definitely is skewed to large muscle-bound men and women strolling the streets in athletic wear. I calculated more that once the weight limit of an elevator while descending with four or more herculean bodies on board. Being at The Arnold was quite the experience.

My son, Benson Robles, competing in the Snatch at The Arnold.

My children have both been athletes and participated in sports for the majority of their lives. Soccer, football, water polo, track, and wrestling, I’ve been in the crowd (or lack of a crowd) for the last fourteen years. I’ve driven three hours to see my son compete in a wrestling match to only see his hand raised because he didn’t have an opponent.  I’ve sat in the bleachers for my daughter’s soccer match where there was just my father and me in attendance for the visiting team. I’ve flown to Miami, Salt Lake City, San Francisco and Atlanta, to see my son compete in weightlifting competitions.  I’ve sat nervously on my phone streaming a competition hoping and praying the connection won’t drop and listening to commentary that you don’t hear when there in person. It’s strange to hear someone talk about your son strictly from a sport perspective. Someone you will never meet but they are critiquing your son on the merits of his techniques.

Here is the anatomy of a weightlifting competition:

Weekend

Most, if not all, the competitions are on the weekend.  Some start on Thursday and they are all over by Sunday (local one-off meets are typically only one day like Saturday).  The men and women who are the lightest and lower qualifying weights go first. So, women that are 55 kg and men that are 61 kg start the competition, but they are arranged by categories like 55 H or 61 N.  The letter of the category indicates where this group is slotted in the competition.  So, a later letter alphabetically indicates that they have a lower total lifted (weightlifted) in prior competitions, so they are slated to go earlier in the competition, in this case on Thursday.  My son’s category was 96 A.  That means he is in the 96 kg competition, and he is in the final flight of the competition because he has an A (the most weight lifted) category, and participants in the flight are likely to be on the podium. He was slated to lift at 10 AM on Sunday.  Benson is usually at the meet with teammates or comrades from the same gym and will usually see some of the other competitions before he lifts but definitely after he has competed.

Leading up to Sunday

Leading up the competition is mostly down time and eating.  We traveled by car all day on Friday. Benson got together with his teammates on Friday night after several folks had already competed. So, every competition has a group, smaller competitors that have already gone, those competing the next day and those like Benson, still trying to time his workouts, eating and sleep up to the competition. Benson has historically had to eat (a lot) to maintain or “make” weight. He’s had times in his athletic career where he would be doing burpees and/or tapering off food and water before a weigh-in but this time he was comfortably in the range.  He went to lift on Friday when we arrived and then slacked off on Saturday.  I don’t completely understand the schedule, all I know is to go with the flow; if he’s hungry we head to a restaurant (he normally orders two entrees) or if he’s tired we hang out in the hotel room. Benson knows what he needs and I just sit back and wait for instructions.

Competition Venue

The day of the competition the weigh-in is usually two hours before the time of the competition. I dropped Benson off at the venue to weigh in and then we went back to the hotel.  I personally prefer an early time so there isn’t a lot of sitting around overthinking things.  Benson has lifted as late as 8 PM which makes for a very long day. We arrived back at the venue at about 9:45 AM.  Athletes and coaches have lanyards that have their credentials and time slot; they go behind the lifting platform while the audience, like nervous moms, sit in the stands or folding chairs depending on the venue accommodations. This was an enormous competition because it had several age groups and competitions going on at once.  So Junior, Senior and University students were all competing on 6 platforms.  Every other national meet I had been to had three platforms, this was big. There were curtains behind the main lifting platform and weights, chairs and mats behind where the competitors and coaches that can’t be seen.  When I watch the competition on live stream it is very frustrating because you can’t see who is waiting to come up next or hear who they are calling up next.  In person, you can hear what’s going on and, more importantly, see that your son is waiting in the wings with his coach to go next. 

Weightlifting Poker

Each lifter gets three attempts at the Snatch (going from the ground and above the head in one movement) and three attempts at the Clean and Jerk (going from the ground to your chest and then another movement above the head).  The weight on the bar always starts at the lowest weight and with each attempt must either go up in weight or stay the same.  The weight NEVER goes down.  To be clear, it is three attempts total at the Snatch.  So, if you miss your attempt on the first snatch, you can try at the same weight or you can try at a higher weight.  If you miss, they usually will assume that you will come back to attempt the same weight.  Most lifters (and their coaches) will usually wait out the two-minute clock before saying they want to try a higher weight (if you miss an attempt and have to follow yourself because no one else is lifting that weight, you get a two minute clock). If you just missed, you want as much time as you can muster before attempting again.  This creates what I call Weightlifting Poker.  If you are trying to beat your other competitors, you must be willing to go up a kilogram in hopes that the other guy won’t be able to make it.  So, if three guys have said they are trying 150kg and the first two guys miss their attempt, the third guy can win at 150kg unless the other two lifters have another attempt; then they can go one kilogram higher on the next lift.  During the competition, it’s a constant change of who the next lifter is as lifter and coach try to figure out, their best lift, how the other competitors are doing so far and if they have enough rest in between to make the next lift. At the Arnold, I would say that the platform that Benson was competing on, had at least 50% red, meaning that at least half of the lifts were missed. It was exciting and nerve racking to watch not knowing which lifter would prevail.

In the end, my son took three silver medals.  He had the second heaviest Snatch at 142 kg and the second heaviest Clean and Jerk at 172kg and the second heaviest total (add the Snatch and Clean and Jerk together) of 314 kg.  He barely missed a 175kg Clean and Jerk for Gold. As I sat in the audience, I overheard some guys talking about “Benson Robles” being the one to beat.  Pretty cool at a national meet. The entire competition is a ballet of skill, might and mental fortitude. I’m so proud of my son for his tenacity, hard work and endless training that has brought him this far.