Is Doing More, Better? The Success Trap.

As you might know I recently started grad school for clinical psychology. I made the decision last Fall and started dialing down my business duties with BCSF slowly until by the time December rolled around, I was finished with my biz duties and just teaching classes, which was the goal.

Basically, I’d pared down my schedule and the semester didn’t start until January 25th. Which in the end, meant I had several work weeks where after training between 10 and 18 hours of clients, I was left with a wee bit of spare time on my hands.

This is not a state of being that I have much experience with as an adult. The last time I had this much freedom in my day was when I moved to San Francisco 12 years ago and was looking for jobs. At the time of my departure, I’d been running BCSF for nearly 10 years. To say this was a new reality is undoubtedly an understatement.

I’m not someone that gets bored easily. My house is filled with books and magazines. I have plenty of ways to watch movies. I like to workout and have a home gym in my garage! I have a dog that loves to hit the dog park. I love to cook and experiment in the kitchen!

books

And I knew that I should value this time, this precious break between running an entire company and starting grad school. This punctuation in time that I’d probably look back on fondly and with jealousy once the midterms and papers were in full swing.

Yet, when I went to take a nap one day, I felt guilty. Like I should be doing something. I questioned whether I was being a productive member of society. I wondered whether a truly successful adult can justify taking a nap every day.

Wait, whaaaat? I immediately had a little chat with myself, because as someone that promotes self-care like no one’s business, I was a little frustrated that I was feeling this way. It made me confront the topic:  Is doing more better? Is busier better? Is having a fully stacked schedule, better?

I know in my heart of hearts that the answer is, no.

Why do we feel this way, though? Well, it’s my opinion (and research has shown this, too) that we equate success with being busy.

yosemiiiiiiittteee

But here’s why it’s bad for us to perpetuate this myth on a practical level:

Cortisol Levels

You’ve likely heard that cortisol is the “stress” hormone. Which it is. It’s attached to our fight or flight response and would be the first thing to rise up should a lion come bounding your way. It’s super useful for that kind of fight, but in our modern times we our stressors are different. It’s the to-do list, the crazy boss, ensuring our kids are getting the best. So many of us have elevated cortisol levels which is bad because it also eats away at some of our feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine. Translation? If you’re highly stressed all the time, the chances that you are happy also, are not so good.

Focus:  Multitasking is bad for our brains. 

Doing too many things at once is something that many of us pride ourselves on. I know I’ve been there! Ohhh, I can do this and that and that other thing. But we’re not going to do them as well, typically, and it trains our brains to work in a way that is well, a bit mindless.

flowers

Here’s the thing:  life is meant for enjoying and not scraping by. We can’t escape our lives. We can’t eschew our responsibilities — I mean, is your boss going to really care about your cortisol levels when they ask you to cover for your colleague’s vacation? Probably not. But here are a few things you can do, even when you’re busier than you think you can handle:

  1. Practice Mindfulness. This is the one thing that researchers (even one of my new professors talked about this already in my neuro class!) The thing is, is that you can do this almost anytime, anywhere, because in reality it’s simply a way to slow down. To appreciate what is going on around you, to appreciate the sensations of what you’re doing in the moment — such as taking time to feel the bristles against your teeth when you are brushing, thinking about each swipe as you wash dishes, etc.
  2. Turn Down The Noise. When I’m feeling especially antsy and I am driving somewhere, I turn off the radio. Seriously. It helps! And when I’m reading, I try to turn off everything around me because I find I absorb things more — and as a grad student, I’m guessing I’ll be doing this more often.
  3. Laugh! If I’m feeling stressed and want to chill out, I put on Netflix and immediately head to Parks & Recreation. If I can’t do that, I head to Instagram and scroll through my favorite funny meme accounts. It’s simple, but helps.
  4. Mediate. It goes without saying, but just to say it anyway:  mediation is a kind of mindfulness.
  5. Exercise. ‘Nuff said? Okay, just in case you needed more evidence:  “…enriched environments and exercise have been shown to lead to increased density of synpatic connections, and especially to an increased number of neurons and actual volume of the hippocampus a region important for learning and memory.” Translation:  exercise leads to new pathways being built in your brain. This is good for you. And while intense exercise does lead to cortisol being released — because exercise is an inherent “stress” on the body, in the longterm exercise will help regulate cortisol in your body. There is something to be said in this regard, though, for not having all your exercise sessions be 100% balls to the walls, to take rest days and to consider adding some cardio and yoga to your routine if you are struggling with stress.

The moral of this story is that taking care of yourself is important. And sometimes taking care of yourself means saying no to doing more. It means taking some time every day to be you.

And as pampered, privileged and first-world as it sounds, the catch is, is that it actually helps you function better, keeps not only your body healthy, but your brain, too. And I’m gonna bet, you’ll actually do your jobs better when your feeling at the top of your game.

 

Is Self-Care Just an Excuse to be Lazy?

Self-care is one of those terms that five years ago I had never heard of. But in my corner of the world, these days I hear it all the time. I use it all the time. I’m still not sure how prevalent it is in the mainstream, but it’s safe to say that it’s a booming concept in many nooks and crannies of the world.

Self-care as an act is doing things to take care of yourself. It can be anything from getting massages, doing yoga, meditating, exercising or even just reading.

It’s your time away from your responsibilities to relax and restore.

It’s a concept I love.

But I was reading some internet commentary recently that said that self-care was an excuse to just be lazy and that it was a sign of an over-privileged middle to upper middle-class needing yet another way to justify pampering themselves.

😦

It made me sad. But I truly get it. I am single lady that has no children, I work for myself and thus choose my own schedule. I work from home often. In reality I have so much damn privilege — right?

The thing is? Taking care of yourself shouldn’t be a privilege left to just a select few. It’s something that we all need.

  • It makes us better humans. Endstop.
  • It gives us a chance to re-connect with what we truly value in life. If we are constantly going from one thing to the next, there is no time to evaluate if we are actually living a life that matters to us and reflects our own values. Basically, it increases your own mindfulness about your own life.
  • Engaging in self-care acts reduce stress, which of course contributes to overall health and well-being.
  • It makes us better workers. As a society, via labor laws, we acknowledge the power of taking breaks from work, yet we put in high-esteem those that are constantly “busy” and never take breaks. Why do we do this? It doesn’t make us better at our jobs to work non-stop. I personally find that I run my gears when I do this and don’t actually accomplish as much as when I work in small, dedicated, bursts.
  • In my opinion, it sends a powerful message to yourself and those around you:  that is, that you matter enough to be taken care of.

You matter. That is what self-care is all about, in my opinion. It is not a selfish act. Prioritizing your health matters.

At the end of your life will you be happy that you accomplished everything on your to-do lists and were so busy you barely had time to catch your breath? Or will you be happy that you took time to smell the roses, watch the view or take a bath? I can’t answer that question for you, but I know how I’d answer that question.

I love my little corner of the universe 💕 #thatsky #bayarea #sunset #landscape

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I Wish I Could Do That!

“I’m not the kind of person that works out.”

This is a thought I had in college and my early 20s.

“I wish I could do that!”

This was said to me when I was doing a workout last year on Thanksgiving morning.

It *really* struck me. The person that said this to me was in reality no different than myself. She had time, access to fitness equipment, and no children. A lot like myself.

For a moment I felt a slight sense of shame — was it bad that I was choosing to spend some time working out on the morning of a holiday instead of leaving early to spend more time with family? was it selfish? was it vain?

Given I’ve been working on my mindset practice for quite some time, I knew how to turn my shame triggering thoughts around. Because I exercise for so many reasons, I knew that I would not only physically feel better going into a huge Thanksgiving meal, but that I would calm any anxiety I had (family, traffic, cooking, etc.).

Here’s the thing: you get to decide what kind of person you are.

You get to decide to exercise. “I wish I could do that.” Is language that takes the power away from you. Linguistically, you are saying that you have no choice in the matter.

But the beauty of being an adult living in the free world? We choose our path.

There is not one kind of person that works out. There are people that run, people that lift, people that swing kettlebells, people that go to spin classes, people that go to yoga, people that do pilates, people that run 100 miles in the desert, there are people that ride bikes, people that hike mountains

Exercise is simply movement. The human body is, in fact, designed to move. For realsies. There is no one kind of person is allowed the privilege of being the “KIND OF PERSON THAT EXERCISES”.

You ARE that kind of person.

You ARE the kind of person that chooses to do something you love.

You ARE the kind of person that can decide to be joyful in your movement.

You CHOOSE to be that kind of person.

You choose to be this kind of person by the everyday small choices that you make. You choose to be this kind of person by developing habits. The difference between myself and the person who made the comments to me?

  • I wake up early and have a structured sleep schedule that I prioritize.
  • I don’t negotiate with myself about exercise, I simply do it.
  • I have found movement that invigorates my soul.

In life, we can be “victims” of circumstance or revel in the joy that is the wide open path of choice.

What do you choose for today? Remember, it’s the small choices that add up to something amazing.

The Scale is Not Your Enemy.

Trigger Warning:  If you have struggled with eating disorders this post may not be for you.

For all my teens and most of my 20s I thought bathroom scales were for other people.  I owned one in my early 20s when I first started exercising and used it to track my weight loss, loosely. And then I was depressed, lost my commitment to fitness and healthy eating and I started to gain weight again.

I didn’t use scales when I saw them and I looked away when I  was weighed at the doctor. I didn’t want to know how much I weighed. If I knew the truth, that meant something. It meant that I couldn’t hide, it meant that the truth was out there. It meant that I was a failure, it meant that I was “too big”. It was proof that I wasn’t normal, that I was different than my friends and that number on the scale was proof. I knew that I was different than most of my female friends already (when you’re nearly six feet tall, the jig is basically up), but the number on a scale was solid, factual evidence that I was different in a way that was bad.

I didn’t want to face all of those meanings. When you place that much negative importance on something, who would want to face it?

I remember talking to my best friend back in the thick of my war with the scale in my mid 20s and she mentioned that she weighed herself daily when she was trying to lose weight because it held her accountable. It motivated her to keep going. As she talked, I remember my stomach sinking a little bit at just the idea of it it:  it sounded terrifying. I was sure that if I did that, I wouldn’t be able to think about anything else during a day if it started with the anxiety of weighing myself. Looking back at my medical chart from the period we had this conversation I weighed in the mid 170s. Not much more than I weigh now.

A few years back I’d had a bit of weight gain. I could tell by how my clothes fit. I was working out pretty vigorously on my own and teaching BCSF, so I felt incredibly frustrated by this. I tapped into a dietician that I’ve known for years. I went into her office for some tests. And now she knew my weight. And we talked about it. It was out in the open. My palms were sweaty, and I felt ashamed. I should know better…right? I’m a trainer — I should be able to have a handle on this. Right?!

She calculated a few things for me and I learned some useful things, like how my resting metabolic rate was substantially higher than it would be based on norms, because of my high amount of lean muscle mass (a win!). She calculated my caloric needs. She offered to check in with me at a few points over the next few months to see how I was doing.

She knew my truth.

And suddenly I found myself weighing myself every other day. I still ate things I wanted. And the weight came off.

That was 3 years ago or so. And these days I still weigh myself a few times each week. And it doesn’t ruin my day.

A lot of my colleagues out there are teaching the world that the scale doesn’t mean anything, don’t equate yourself to a number. That it doesn’t have anything to do with your self-worth and that you don’t even need to weight yourself. They are all 100% correct. These are the women that I resonate with the most.

But, I’m here to offer another perspective. Burying your head in the sand, like I did, is also not a way to deal with this. Because isn’t that just another way to give the scale more power? To completely avoid something because you’re afraid of it? I just don’t think that’s the answer for many of us.

thescale

{my scale. see, it’s not scary! it’s pretty darn silly, if you think about it!}

I can weigh myself now, often, because I have done exactly as my colleagues have suggested — I’ve detached emotion from the scale. Now, when the number has gone up, I think about what I’ve done. Have I been eating more than usual? Have I been eating a ton of sodium? Did I have too much alcohol?

The scale is a tool. It’s one way to measure progress. It’s one method to keep on top of your health.  I think a few things contributed to my ability to change how I feel about the truth.

1. I Talked About It. Someone knew my truth. The number was out there and it was discussed. It was freeing, I realized.

2. Exposure. The more I started weighing myself, the less scary it became. It was one of my many things I did to take care of myself, like brushing my teeth.

3. Performance Gains. I was motivated by my increase in performance that I got from losing excess body fat.

4. Zero Deprivation. I was not depriving myself when I was losing weight. I didn’t see the scale as a symbol of unhappiness as I’d done in the past because it wasn’t a source of frustration.

5. It’s a Tool. Accepting the scale as a tool, as an indicator of how I’m doing on a purely scientific-type way is the ultimate freeing force in this for me. I’m not a terrible person if I eat Pho one night and then see a 2-pound weight “gain” the next day. I simply realize that Pho has an insane amount of sodium in it and that likely I am just seeing water weight. I’ve actually gotten to the point where this kind of thing amuses me.

6. Self-Worth & Confidence. My teens and 20s were a struggle, so it’s not a surprise to me that something so simple as knowing my weight had the power to deflate me. Feel confident in my life overall, in myself in knowing I have a path that I am happy to be on, removes the power of 5 pounds, 10 pounds. Happiness is more important than a number on a scale and now I realize that.

flexpower

Does the scale scare you? Tell me your struggles. The truth is powerful when it’s spoken out loud. We are only scared of things if we let ourselves be scared. We do not need to let inanimate objects tell us our self-worth. We don’t need them to conflate success with a number. They are what they are. They are numbers. Your weight is no different than your blood pressure, your cholesterol, your glucose level. They shouldn’t be equated with self-worth, but they do matter to your overall health.

If the scale scares you because you’re afraid it means something about who you are. Stop. Breathe. It’s about your health. Not about who you are a human being. Please don’t believe for a moment that the scale measures your humanness. The scale is a measure that isn’t meaningless, but it also isn’t meaningful about who you are.

 

Slow It Down

Slowing down the anxious brain when all it wants to do is buzz, buzz, buzz and remind you of the 1,456 things you need to do tomorrow is like telling someone to not think about white polar bears when you are putting a picture of white polar bears in front of their face.

This time last year when I was going through the thick of my break-up I remember being so preoccupied with my heartache that I was literally forced to slow down and focus on the minutiae of my everyday life or I honestly thought I might end up hurting myself. Suddenly everything I did was methodical — driving required me to look three times before switching lanes. Walking into my house from the car took twice as long because I was liable to forget a bag of groceries if I didn’t painstakingly look in the backseat twice.

By nature, I am a rusher. I think two steps ahead. And while this definitely has it’s benefits, this trait isn’t always an asset. Sometimes when I’m teaching BootCamp I have been known to nearly allow my class to skip the last set of three because I have already mentally moved on to their next set <– luckily, they often notice and end up begrudgingly do that third set due to their own honesty ;).

I have tried so many things to slow down my busy-body brain — yoga, meditation — and probably the only thing that has truly worked in my day to day life is the occasional walk with my dog or cooking (not every walk or cooking sesh mind you, most I am rushing to get through), but I will tell you that the slowing down I did because of my break-up was the most genuine slowing down I have ever experienced. It felt like my brain was moving through the world in a puddle of molasses. It was a plus-side to my break-up: it made me slow down to truly see what I was experiencing. To breathe for what felt the first time in two years. To move unencumbered. To truly slow down time and simply exist for awhile is a humbling and powerful experience. You see things that you don’t always see: I saw the people around me: the ones that said, “I will bring you frozen yogurt and wine.”. I saw my dog curling up next to my leg at night. I saw a birdhouse in a tree in front of my house that I had lived in for 2 years. I saw the start of a smile line on the left side of my mouth. At the Radiance Retreat a week after my break-up, I saw my future.

I thought of this time last weekend as I was finishing up in my garage gym after working on Bottoms-Up Presses. I have been working on these the past few months off and on to help increase my pressing ability which has felt more difficult than I’d like. The thing about Bottoms Up is that you have to slow *way* down. You have to go backwards in terms of weights — I started with 8 and 10 pound kettlebells last summer for this movement — weights I haven’t used in what feels like years. It’s an incredibly slow lift — you watch it go up, up and up and then you watch it come down, down, down, all while attempting to keep your dental work intact.

Post-workout, I thought about how good this was for me, this slowing of movement, this focusing, this concentration. I took the same thoughtfulness to my Turkish Get-Ups during this workout and considered how I was truly practicing something. I was making this a practice, not just a workout. I was practicing slowing down. I wasn’t thinking about anything else, but what I was doing. I was living in the moment.

And that is exactly the elusive thing that I strive for all the time — to be present. To focus on what I am doing and to be not be worried about the other things I need to, should be, could be doing. This is what I want for myself. This is what we all want, right?

If you’d like to attempt to experience this slowing down, even it’s just for 20-minutes, I have  a strength workout to help you focus on the present. To slow down.

slowitdownworkout

These are technique driven exercises that require patience, time and a little bit of skill. They will inherently slow you down. This workout written as above is not recommended for a beginner! Here’s how they look:

And from some others around the Interwebz:

1. Turkish Get-Ups

2. Bottoms-Up Press

3. Jumping Pull-Up with Negative (note that the demo begins at 1:40)

4. Box Squat without weight, and with a barbell

Even if you don’t try this workout, what is one thing you can do this week to slow down and focus on what you are doing? Here are 3 quick ideas:

1. Turn the radio off in your car while driving. Look around. Focus on the act of driving.

2. Take a walk without your cell phone or any music.

3. Whatever workout you do, do it without music.

Tell me how it goes!