The Body You Want

When my wife was a teenager, she really wanted curves.

coach_monsyThings worked out.

My teenage desires were different, but common. I wanted to be jacked.

gordo_crunchThat worked out too.

By the time we both got exactly what we wanted, we wanted something else.

We wanted to be whippet skinny so we could run fast.

We wanted to look like tall, but ripped, 14-year-olds!

G_WhipThat worked out, again.

I spent twenty-five years only to get right back where I started.

I noticed that there is an enduring feeling of my body being slightly unsatisfactory.

Once I noticed this pattern with my body, I saw it elsewhere.

Personal safety, other people’s driving, my house, my finances, my life situation… In many situations, there is a slight feeling of unsatisfactory.

I’m always striving to attain satisfaction that’s is just-out-of-reach.

As a young man, I might have seen striving as a good thing. My drive for improvement, my competitive urges, a desire for self-improvement… we have lots of names for the feeling.

Some cultures call it misery.

See what it feels like for you.

++

When I work with others, we use a simple technique.

  • Write down what will make you satisfied.
  • Write down what will make you less afraid.
  • Write down what will make you feel secure.

Out of your list, choose one thing and work towards it.

Work slowly, pay attention, write things down.

Give yourself at least 1,000 days.

Ten years might be better.

You might get there quicker.

With my body, I didn’t start to notice my pattern until I’d been at it for twenty-five years!

With finances, I was lucky, I saw my pattern after a decade, took a leave of absence and enjoyed my first retirement.

++

The fact that the lesson took a long time was helpful.

Good things happen slowly.

It’s tempting to short cut the process via cosmetic surgery, performance enhancing drugs, or cutting corners (fraud, tax evasion, deception).

Short-cuts rarely work because we fail to notice the slightly unsatisfactory feeling is following us everywhere,

My victories didn’t work, either. My successes left me wanting more and the feeling followed me around.

++

So I tried enjoying myself…

Pleasure can temporarily mask the unsatisfactory feeling and many use drugs, alcohol, fatigue and other techniques.

The trouble is… the associated hangovers are increasingly unsatisfactory as I age.

What to do?

If you can see the unsatisfactory nature of things then you might ask “who’s not satisfied?”

Once I could see the “unsatisfied person” it was easier for me to decide he wasn’t going to run the show.

At least, some of the time.

😉

Too Painful To Care

Monday I wrote about driving energy inwards to improve myself, my marriage, my family.

Related to this lesson, I’ve noticed a habit of avoiding knowledge that conflicts with my core beliefs. This isn’t anything new – human misjudgment is an ever present topic. However, spotting my own misjudgments can make me far more effective.

Being effective, and making better choices, is a more important to me than avoiding change.

A story.

The Tour de France just finished and I didn’t watch any of it. My lack of motivation was unusual and I wondered why.

The legacy of cheating has been to make it too painful to care. In my case, that manifests in a lack of interest in elite sport. In the case of the wider public, there is an element of truth-fatigue. It’s too painful to discover the reality that underlies an obsession with winning.

I’m using sport as an analogy – it’s an easy one for us to feel, and see in others. Choose your favorite sport and you’ll find a tendency to overlook it’s short-comings. If you can’t see it then ask a foreign friend their thoughts (or simply a pal that likes a rival franchise).

The lesson for daily living is deeper.

  • A friend with Alzheimer’s
  • An elder with dementia
  • A sexually abused child
  • A partner that defrauds the community

In these cases, we will feel a strong urge to “give the benefit of the doubt” to whatever causes the least pain. We will default towards inaction and strongly avoid information that compels us to face pain. I feel avoidance strongly in myself – it’s taken many setbacks for me to overcome.

One of the best lessons of hospice is that freedom lies on the other side of fear. Hospice lets me “be with” my fear of death/disease and feel grateful for today. Gratitude is powerful medicine to carry around inside.

Hospice is “easy” – it’s quiet and I’m not expected to solve anything. My home on the other hand… is often loud and I’m in charge. Maintaining serenity in my own house would be transformative for me, my wife and my kids.

So I look for small, daily, opportunities to practice equanimity:

  • Reading a conflicting viewpoint
  • Avoiding “justified” disappointment in a friend
  • Letting a commute unfold without battling my fellow drivers
  • Not playing into a negative emotional pattern with a spouse, child or myself (!)

Overcoming the smallest things, closest to us, can be powerful.

It takes courage to face pain.

Be brave.

Scope Lock

It’s easy to let short-term news dominate our thinking.

  • Children killed in war
  • Lost airplanes
  • Destroyed airplanes
  • Crashed airplanes

With death, in particular, I was curious.

I asked Google, “How many people die, per day, in the world?”

Google replied, “about 150,000.”

Per DAY.

That helped me put my obsession into context.

++

Realizing that my thoughts are largely wasted can create cognitive dissonance.

…but it’s awful

…I need to care (to show I’m a kind person)

I ask myself, ‘is linking worry to goodness effective?’ In my life, worry makes me anxious, not compassionate.

++

Here’s what I’ve noticed in myself. There’s a hidden cost to obsession with others.

The more I focus on seeking to change others, the less energy I have to change myself.

What one thing, if it happened, would change everything?

In my case, kindness through daily action in my own house.

Beware of feeding what you want to leave behind. In my case, fear – anger – anxiety.

Vanity And Victory

Kids have an amazing capacity to reflect and absorb the world around them.

I can see this ability, most clearly, in how they pick up the phobias and idiosyncrasies my spouse. With regard to my own traits, I see my strengths reflecting in the kids. By the way, my wife sees the same thing – just reversed.

There is a great scene in the movie, Parenthood, where Steve Martin exclaims, “I just can’t figure out where he gets this obsessive behavior from!” I think about that quote a lot and smile at myself. I own obsession in our household.

As an elite athlete, I valued physical power, domination and winning. You can see these characteristics expressed in other fields (finance, business, perhaps the military). These values have strengths and weaknesses. For a young person, they help you get a tremendous amount of work done (good) but they can leave you blind to the feelings of others (less good). Lacking empathy isn’t always a bad thing, say if you’re combat infantry. However, when that value flows up the organization, it can lead to harassment and corruption.

Over the last two years, I saw the risk of maintaining my values of vanity and victory. I became aware of corruption and scandal throughout the lives of my peers. We always tell ourselves that we’re different but the evidence was so overwhelming that I had to admit that I was fooling myself. Elite performance is a high risk field for ethical strength.

Most athletes sort the world into fast/slow and fit/fat. This differs from business, expressed as rich/poor and beautiful/ugly.

I get resistance when I point these splits out of people (they are obvious in my own thinking). If you can’t see them then listen to other people talk about individuals with mixed characteristics. For example, fast/fat and slow/fit create confusion in athletic populations.

Back to the start of this piece – my children learn little from what I say but they learn most everything from what I do. Bringing them up in a household that prizes winning, and looking good, above all else might not be the best way to play it. They’re going to get plenty of that in the local Boulder community.

Widening the net, consider an individual that achieved the difficult task of creating a lot of wealth. If your #1 value (expressed in peer admiration) is wealth then you are setting up a conflict with your kids, who crave your admiration. If they reject you then they might be protecting their self-image from realizing that they can never be successful on the terms you prize. Look outside your family for examples, they are easy to see.

Millionaire, Champion, CEO… these are difficult to achieve – you deserve respect for the work required to achieve.

  • Achievement become identity
  • Identity becomes values
  • Values become skewed
  1. Remember that the value lies in the work, not the achievement
  2. Goodness requires neither beauty nor money
  3. Listen to how your friends speak about others
  4. Consider if you may need to adjust your friends

As always, I’m talking to myself, not you.

28-days away from elite sport

Today is the four-week anniversary of my pause from focusing on elite sport.

For moral support, my wife’s been taking a 28-day break from Facebook . I think her break has been tougher because Facebook started an email campaign against her. I had a similar thing happen to me in 2010 and forewarned her that the spam-bots were crafty!

I’ve been Facebook free since the start of 2012 – it can be done.

My break has been 100% positive – I can’t find a single drawback to my life from pausing from professional sport.

Training – with less web usage (particularly twitter), I suddenly had time to train in the morning before my kids get up. While it was “only” one extra run per week, I felt great that entire day from the early session. It’s worth noting that 1 extra session per week, boosted 14% of my waking hours. Early training is high-return exercise.

Reading – I’ve been talking about reading at home for more than a year. I do most of my reading on airplanes and, subtly “blame” my kids for not being able to read at home. In the last month, I’ve managed to read three books at home, which is more than the previous twelve months! The books were: The Gift of Therapy; Living a Jewish Life; and Life’s Greatest Lessons. Turns out I was the issue, not my kids (who remain full of energy and a source of self-knowledge).

Patience – It could be the normal ebb and flow of parenting relationships but, as I reduce my time online, I’ve had more tolerance with my kids. Less in-bound noise seems to result in better relationships around me.

As for the outside world, Life Goes On…

My media filter isn’t complete and I heard all the major stories (and a few that haven’t hit the press yet). The difference is they filtered through gradually, rather than having to ferret them out. While I might be less informed on athletic gossip, I know enough to meet the needs of my friends, family and team. “Fresh news” is nearly always incorrect – I’m better off without it (links to my blog on improved thinking).

Turns out I was fooling myself about my need for constant input on, and criticism of, the choices of others. Not the first time.

Another debt of gratitude to my wife (links to my gratitude list).

The cost of the status quo is always hidden. I’m glad I was willing to try a change.

Pre Race IVs

Given that blood transfusions are in the news, with an interesting history of their use in cycling available, I thought that I’d put this out there.

The first I heard of pre-race IVs in triathlon was a decade ago. The context was their use to increase blood volume in the 80s. The timing was before an Ironman triathlon.

I’ve used sodium citrate in a pre-race drink and that’s been reported to increase blood volume. Given that there are numerous pre-race beverages that contain sodium citrate, perhaps we’re talking about a similar mechanism. However, you don’t need to travel with a doctor to drink a beverage with sodium citrate.

I’ve started hearing about pre-race IVs again, in the context of professional and elite amateur triathlon. While we might be talking about saline and vitamins, it does make one wonder what else might be in the bag and if the IV is part of a larger program.