Courageous, Uplifting, Funny or Useful

Each Wednesday at 11am, my wife and I lift weights. Hitting “the big steel” is a time-effective way for us to check in with each other.

This week, I blasted myself with leg press (525 lbs, not bad for a skinny guy), pull ups and front squats. So I was very relaxed during our post session coffee break. Very gently, she let me know that my writing had been a little heavy. Readers would have noticed a month-long purgue of everything that’s been on my mind.

A kite-surfing buddy had sent me a note to similar effect earlier in the week. Generally speaking, he has a rule against offering advice but he bent his rule to send me three words, “let it go.”

I have a rule that when two close friends tell me something…

…pause, consider and pay attention.

A quick review of my drafts folder made me laugh out loud. Here’s what’s in the hopper:

  • Anabolic¬†steroids
  • Anger management
  • Death
  • Benefits of higher education
  • Emotional blindness
  • Making money from leverage
  • Making serious money (from other people’s money)
  • Tax reform
  • Mitt’s IRA
  • Becoming emotionally untouchable
  • Screwing up my son
  • Feminine¬†Beauty
  • Gordo’s gratitude list
  • How I lost $20,000,000
  • Overcoming guilt
  • Family strategic review template
  • Problems of the elderly
  • Coping with successful friends
  • Happy toddlers
  • How to give a time out
  • Gangsters and frauds
  • Difficult conversations
  • Conditional love
  • New, old, ancient, nature
  • Embracing volatility
  • Travel and tribalism
  • The free-est man I know

I might have to postpone publication of a few topics!

She said, “hey, it’s spring and it’s been a tough winter. I want to be uplifted. See if you can help me out.”

I’ve often said that we can use our (super)powers for good, or for evil. She’s asking me to help-a-sister-out. I’ve been hitting her, and you, with a lot of serious stuff.

As a parent, I shoot for nine positive interactions for each correction I need to give my daughter. People stop listening if we go all negative.

So for April, I’m going to give it a shot. Courageous, uplifting, funny or useful.

I’m also going to take a break from pro cycling and the twitter feeds of the haters. I’ve been dipping into the feeds of the angry – seems that this is not good for me (especially when my training volume is low).

To offer moral support, my wife’s taking a month off Facebook.

Now off to ride on a beautiful day in Boulder.

How I Cope With Change, Setbacks and Success

One of the things I’ve found with transitions, whether they are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ they can trigger depression. I’ve built a routine to cope and I’ll share that routine.

Thinking through the changes in my life, I can group them into categories

Moving transitions – I’ve lived all around the world and each move can seem like a big deal. However, because my daily life stays the same, these are easy to navigate. As well, I feel like I’m in control because these transitions happen due to a new opportunity that I want to pursue. The key to enjoying moving is maintaining the ability to move without hassle. Until I was 25, I could move with a single taxi ride – after that wasn’t feasible, I subcontracted the packing, moving and unpacking. If you strip out the “move” the moving transition (when you’re single) is fun. Perhaps that’s why I still harbor romantic notions of easily moving between residences with nothing but an iPhone and a toothbrush. While moves are fun, owning geographically dispersed assets is a hassle.

With kids and a spouse, moving can become stressful because you’re creating an involuntary transition for others. This reality is why I’ve been hesitant to ask my family to move from Colorado. Besides, Boulder is a great place to live and it’s easier to change my attitude than my family’s situation.

New life transitions – This type of transition might involve moving, but it might not. These shifts means your daily routine is going to be completely different. Examples are:

  • Going Pro – recreational athletes deciding to become fulltime athletes. This is called living-the-dream in my peer group.
  • Athletic Retirement – making a decision to let go of elite athletics
  • Joining The Workforce – after University, living the dream, a sabbatical or maternity leave. Big shock to the system because you’re not in control of your work schedule any more
  • Boyfriend/Husband – having to consider the needs of another in decision making (I failed spectacularly for years at this)
  • Wife/Motherhood – the transition from single woman, to wife, to mother, to mother of adult children, to grandmother. Each phase potentially resulting in a new routine, and often, a new self-image.

These transition, even for “good” reasons can act as depression triggers. The trigger being the need to let go of an existing identity.

In 2000, during a year long leave of absence, I can remember sitting in an Aussie hotel room wondering, “why the hell do I feel so depressed? I have an opportunity to vacation for a year.” The trigger likely being my loss of identity as “finance guy.” I navigated through that transition and, from 2000 to 2002, changed my identity to an athlete.

In 2002/2005/2008/2011, same crisis but different trigger! I had dark patches when I wasn’t able to train at the level of an elite athlete. At first the trigger was fatigue from extreme training. However, when I turned 40, the inevitable decline of physical capacity made itself felt.

Having learned to separate my self from my emotions, the transition seemed bizarre. I remember riding up St Vrain Canyon on a beautiful day and wanting to cry the entire time. I turned around early on the ride and suspected that my elite career was over. Strange, or extreme, emotional events cause me to pause and look inwards.

I consulted with a athlete-doctor, now our team doc at Endurance Corner. He observed that extreme exercise, and variable training load, can have outsize effects on an athlete’s neurochemistry. Seeing the link between my physical choices and my inner mental state was an “a-ha moment” in my life.

The way I experience stress, exercise, alcohol, sex and many other experiences is different than most. I can make myself drunk with exercise – a strong sustained effort will get me “high.” I joke about fatigue intoxication but it’s real (and a lot of fun to get completely blasted in a socially acceptable manner). In my case, the same effect that makes me high, can also make me depressed.

Below, I share how to keep the buzz a good one. Whether you are an athlete, or not, the key to managing life transitions is have a core daily routine that you repeat. This core daily practice is universal – if you look for it then you’ll find it everywhere (religion, spiritual practice, bloggers, self-help gurus, success literature). Everybody has their secret recipe and, often, something they want to sell you.

Unexpected change – With a move, or a new life, I can see it coming and I feel like I have a choice. A sense of control, even via illusion, is comforting. There are some transitions that arrive on their own. They might be negative: unemployment, divorce, infidelity, fraud, injury or illness. They might be positive: financial windfall, promotion, fame or unexpected victories.

The negative surprises can get us stuck in a cycle of blame and anger. The positive surprises can trigger feelings of guilt and lack of self-worth.

Both types of surprise can fool us into thinking that we’ve earned the right to cover up our pain by following false gods. You can take your pick of the seven deadly sins – in my family we “soothe” ourselves with with anger, alcohol, sex, food, and my favorite, fatigue.

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I have dealt with all these transitions, good and bad, around the world, on multiple occasions. There are four techniques that bring me out of the depression that results from a serious setback.

Give yourself time to mourn – I give myself 48 hours to feel awful. I let myself feel really sorry for myself. Then it is time to get back on track.

Getting Back On Track – keep it simple. One hour of exercise, low sugar diet, no booze, bright light and one positive step per day. This works every single time.

When I’m depressed, I’m fearful that my game plan won’t work and I’m tempted not to start. The dialogue goes… it probably won’t work this time, this time I’m really depressed. However, the simple steps have never failed me and is similar to what others report working.

The hour-per-day of exercise is flexible. I give myself a “win” if I start the hour. For example, I broke a few ribs at the end of 2011 so had to walk slowly around my neighborhood. In a particularly tough month in 2004, my wife staged an intervention to get me going by walking me around the block. We joked that she was walking-her-gordo; it worked and I got going again. The big thing for me is getting out of the house and into natural light. Having restarted myself a zillion times, I don’t mind the dark weeks. They make me appreciate the majority of my life, when I’m rolling along just fine.

Create Space – when I have no idea what I’m going to do. I give myself time to figure it out. I used to find an open schedule terrifying until I noticed that I enjoyed those days tremendously. Remember that we don’t need to quit our jobs and move to the Himalayas to find space. Simply block out time where you unplug from technology and chill out. To chill, I like being near water, or walking in a forest. Here in Boulder, I’ve been known to stare at the mountains – sometimes I need to drive there, but I prefer to ride.

Gain perspective – the best part of these setbacks is the realization that they aren’t fatal. Eventually something will prove fatal. However, it’s not going to be a broken marriage, a bankruptcy, an act of white-collar crime or some guy cutting corners to race fast.

Two books that helped me feel my Family Mantras: The Last Lecture and Tuesdays with Morrie. Those situations were fatal and I aspire to show the protagonists level of courage.

Learning to cope with serious transitions makes us useful to our friends, families and employers. An ability to continue to move forward under duress is a valuable life skill.

Start by overcoming the small setbacks that appear in daily life.

I can get through highly charged situations so long as I remember to breathe!

Anchoring and Priming

People are constantly trying to con us.

One defense is to share examples of people setting us up before we draw a conclusion.

I follow cycling. I might have to stop, but that’s a topic for another day. Cycling has a credibility problem because the public has been forced to discover that it’s a corrupt society. This is very bad news if your personal happiness depends on pro cycling.

Two questions – say them out loud before you answer:

Cycling has a hundred year history of corruption. What percentage of the current peloton do you think is doping?

What’s your answer? Play the game and write down the first answer that popped in your head.

Wait a bit

Wait some more

Answer this question:

Cycling has made great strides with cleaning up. Improvements in cycling are shown by the top riders climbing under six watts per kilo. What percentage of the current peloton do you think is doping?

What’s your answer? Play the game and write down the first answer that popped in your head.

Did your brain arrive at a different number? I wrote the questions and I can’t help revising my estimate downwards.

What is happening?

The first question contains “100” and “corruption” – the 100 anchors me at a high number and corrupt prepares my mind to think about crooks.

The second question contains “six,” “cleaning” and “improvements” – the 6 shifts my anchor downwards and cleaning/improvements sets me up to revise my opinion in favor of clean sport.

My point is not to tell you that elite endurance sport is filled with cheats. My point is to challenge you to become aware of how people influence our reality.

The true masters of this are the media, particularly anything connected to News Corporation. Watch Fox News (with the sound off) or read the headlines of the Wall Street Journal.

Family Mantras

In my life, focusing on the faults of others is always a reminder to look inwards. For when I’m struggling with myself, I start to look outwards for easier targets! My article on creeping clutter was triggered by catching myself wishing my wife would clean up the kitchen.

There is a lot of anger in the world outside my home. Even inside, the minds of preschoolers are churning with strong emotions.

I’ve been able to modify my own sources of greed, envy and anger. I do this through awareness of three truths:

  • We’ve already won
  • We have more than we need
  • I don’t need to be right, I want to be at peace

When I see the truth in these mantras, I remove the seeds of greed, anger and envy. If these seeds grow then we can end up disgraced, or in prison. Theft, fraud, infidelity, anger and unhappiness have their root in a desire for more.

As I roll through my day, I am on the lookout for examples of how we’ve won, how we have more than we need and how serenity benefits the family.

A friend observed that having the opportunity to argue shows how lucky we are. Debate is a sign of affluence. When faced with an argument, he sees a person that is lucky to have the time to make themselves unhappy!

From the outside, it can appear that I spend a lot of time focused on the risk of negative outcomes. However, from the inside, I find it helpful to remember that my time is limited. To my family, I say…

Whatever happens, remember this – I had a fantastic life and loved you very much.

What’s your family mantra?

Scripted Racing

Watching the USA Pro Challenge in my home state of Colorado for the last two years, I was struck at how the race unfolded like a Hollywood script. The sponsors couldn’t have wished for a more dramatic outcome to the way the final days of the race played out. In both years, we had a happy ending with Americans winning the overall.

Personally, my favorite stage was when, the big man, Jens Voigt won a high-altitude mountain stage. The Jensie won with with an escape at 12,000 feet above sea level. He dropped America’s best climbers and solo’d to victory. We loved it.

How often does scripted racing occur in cycling?

Reading Millar’s book, it seems that the practice is common in Europe and can be a source of (undeclared) cash for the riders. I’ve read accounts of payoffs in US racing, when there was a multiplier in play for stacking wins, but we hear little about the practice on home soil.

What about triathlon?

I’ve only heard of a few athletes being prepared, paid and trained to race for a leader. Even at the Olympic level, there aren’t many countries that are able to assemble a team to work for their medal hopes.

Triathlon appears to be much more of free-for-all at the competitive level.

Which makes me wonder about the plausibility of a clean athlete dominating. History makes me wary of a clean athlete’s ability to sustain undefeated streaks, or multi-year championship runs.

What happened to triathlon performances when EPO entered the Pro Peloton?

Who dominated across the modern era of my sport?

Which great triathletes decided to retire as EPO entered cycling?

These questions make me uncomfortable and, perhaps, are better left in the closet.

I remind myself that it’s not all bad news. As EPO arrived, many elite athletes left. Over time some may share their reasons why. There may be an untold story out there.

With cycling there’s the option to pay off your competition directly, or indirectly by hiring them onto your team. In triathlon, there are only a few elite athletes that assemble a team around themselves.

Elite sport has shown, repeatedly, that implausible performances are implausible.

When I was emotionally attached to my heroes, it was easier to look down the results sheets for a foreigner, who would become the focus of my ethical concerns. The best cheats are skilled at getting us focused on something other than themselves.

Ten years ago, it was to painful to consider the scale of corruption that was happening in front of my eyes.

We share a need to believe.

Good For Him?

A successful family web requires constant forgiveness, of our own errors as well as the rest of the family.

One of the great things about young children (and my wife) is a lack of memory about my mistakes. I get a fresh start each morning. I try to offer the same to them.

Irrational loyalty in a spouse creates a paradox. There are times when I overreact to others getting the benefit of my wife’s gift to our family. A conversation that we’ve had, more than once, goes like this:

M – I think Bruce might be sleeping with Sheila.

G – You sure?

M – Not really.

G – That’s messed up, what about the kids?

M – Well, he’s not happy. Good for him to try to find happiness.

G – Good for him?!?

At that point, I get very very quiet. I do that because I know…

My wife’s already perfect. I really mean it. Making her more like me, convincing her to see the world like I do, is highly unlikely to improve her, or our marriage. Society is always telling women that they would be better if they were something else. My gift for her, and my daughters, is believing that they are perfect as they are. There is ancient wisdom with this insight, women flourish in this environment.

My marriage benefits from my spouse’s irrational loyalty. A price I “pay” for this gift is her tolerance of the errors of people that are close to us. I should chill out, it’s a bargain and I get most the benefit.

However, I’m not irrationally loyal and my love is conditional. It takes a while to grind me down but I’m an old testament guy. No exceptions, other than my kids have a waiver until they are 18.

As a result, when fraud sets off an ethical trigger, my automatic brain floods my mind with rage and fury. I’m not a nice man when crossed and I’ll share a few thoughts:

Good for him? Why don’t I get myself some and see if there’s a different reaction.

Good for him? You have no idea how often I turn away from a path of infidelity.

Good for him? That happens in our marriage and I’m gone!

Good for him? I always wondered about their sporting ethics, now I know.

Good for him? What about those children?

Of course, my internal dialogue is an over-reaction. Having had my share of vomit moments, I am being triggered by an event in my past.

However, we should remember that when we fail to stand up for what’s right, we might be attracting what’s wrong.

…and I’m not writing about the Law of Attraction. I’m writing about our ability to extinguish ethical dilemmas before a decision needs to be made.

Many of my best decisions have been placing myself in a peer group where I never had to choose.

I have learned to protect myself from my own misjudgment.

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Names and conversations are compilations. If you think I’m writing about you then you’re mistaken. I’m writing about me.

Let’s Agree That It Is OK To Say No

I was chatting with a buddy and asked if I could borrow a book.

“No, you can’t. Go buy it for yourself.”

“But, I promise to return it.”

“I know you’ll return it, Dave (mutual friend) wouldn’t return it but you would.”

“But, if I buy it for myself then the author (a writer that cashed in on exploiting my pals) will get my money, and that bothers me.”

“Sorry, can’t help you, that’s your issue.”

My friend says “no,” without reservation, many times per day. He’s a grandmaster of “no.”

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The ability to say “no” frees us from the emotional drain of doing what we don’t want to do AND frees those around us to be open about their needs & desires.

Everyone is better off.

Running a major corporation, dealing with a demanding friend or guiding an energetic preschooler, puts us in a position where we will never be able to meet every request. We will never meet the demands of the world, or our inbox.

To protect our ability to do what needs to be done, we need to create a habit of shedding what we can’t do.

It’s OK to say “no.”

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Another example. Over at Endurance Corner, we host training camps for triathletes. At the start of camp, I often say:

We’re here to support your camp. Feel free to ask us for anything you need. If we can get it done for you then we will make it happen. If we can’t get it done then we will tell you why.

Ask me anything.

If I can serve you then I will do it.

If I can’t serve you then I will tell you why.

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Much of the stress we experience in our lives comes from a reluctance to say “no.”

Toxic people and sociopaths use this reluctance against us. It’s a form of abuse and they feed off the abuse. We’re not doing anyone any good by complying with their wishes.

Within your Family Web, see if you can get everyone to agree that it is OK to say “no.”

It’s better for everyone.