15 August 2008

Being Positive

Chris asked:
"Can you expand on your practice of relentless positivity and how you apply it to training, racing, everyday life- and those occasional down periods most of us must deal with."
Happy to share ideas.

The first step for me with any topic/challenge is awareness. Without awareness of our patterns, biases and habits, we tend to roll through life on autopilot. So, I want to create awareness of my current programming as well as the triggers that can toss me into an unconscious reaction.

It has been close to a decade since I undertook the program outlined in The Artist's Way. The program appears really hokey at the start but has a tremendous amount of value. I don't really know how, or why, the program worked for me but it enabled me to gain clarity on my values and biases.

In the case of personal attitude -- awareness would likely concern how/when we speak/write/think of ourselves in a negative attitude. Awareness would also include how we speak/write/think of others in a negative attitude -- in my experience, the more needy our ego, the greater the desire to speak poorly of others.

We too often accept vocal negativity from 'popular' people because of their station in society. If we want to be positive about ourselves, we need to be positive about everything. Remember that fit, beautiful, popular, rich and successful -- none of these imply "positive".

Peer group
is an easy way to improve attitude (or screw it up). Positive people want to be associated with others that reinforce their attitude. In building quiet self-confidence, you will make yourself much more attractive to the sorts of people that you want in your life.

If you note the sorts of people that attract you, then you can quickly learn about your true value system. Over time, your peer group will modify your value system. Choose wisely!

Learning Positivity -- A good technique to start the ball rolling is to carry a small notebook around and record 'good things' as they happen to you (at least one per day). Our brains seem to do a lot better at finding faults then seeing good events. The notebook helps reprogram us by noticing something good; then writing it down and making it more concrete. No need to write down your judgments/negativity and don't worry if you find that there is a steady internal conversation that is less than ideal (its perfectly normal).

Another technique that I use is reminding myself that every person/situation has something to teach me -- even if it is patience, or anger management. So the internal dialog goes, "this situation seems to be stressing me, but I am learning how to cope and manage myself. So, actually, it is pretty useful for me."

Getting a momentary pause into my head to consider the situation is magic. By maintaining my self-awareness, I can often direct the outcome. My (slower) conscious reactions are nearly always superior.

NOTE -- this is why I avoid repling to an email/post/friend when irritated. I give myself 24-hours to mull things over -- the quality of the reply is always better. If I am really wound up then I write a reply (in Word, so I can't accidentally send) and review in the morning. I have never had to send the reply to feel better. Breaking the cycle of attacks is a noble calling!

Interestingly, I have also found that nearly everything in my life will work itself out in a few days WITHOUT my involvement. I suspect that we all greatly overestimate our importance to the world. This is also good to remember because we tend to be so self-absorbed that we fail to notice much of what's happening around us. Very good news as it means that most of my mistakes go unnoticed.

So we have a continuous, and circular process of:
  • Create awareness;
  • Consider (then adjust) peer group; and
  • Seek to reprogram self.
We can most easily adjust our patterns through control of our writing. Diaries/Blogs are very powerful tools that we can employ. Know that public expression exposes us to the slings and arrows of the insecure -- nothing demonstrates our collective insecurity quite like an internet forum that enables anonymous posting. Participation in such a community strengthens its power over us and brings its dysfunction into our peer group.

Once you feel that you have a handle on your writing then speaking/teaching is a very powerful method of reinforcement. Beware of our tendency to insert little self-depreciating 'asides' -- these are not alright. We don't need to pull ourselves down to be attractive to others. Humility doesn't require self-abuse.

The Dinner Party Game -- I've spent over an hour saying something positive about each successive person that was being cut-down at a dinner party. It is a fun game, but fatiguing. I passed on my next invite to that house (peer group).

Teaching -- when I had a public internet forum (that enabled anonymous posting), it provided me with a great platform to clarify and establish my thoughts on a wide range of topics. It also provided me with a daily opportunity to reinforce the views/qualities that I wanted to build into myself. However, be aware that consistency bias is a powerful force that must be battled to retain an open mind.

Feedback -- having a trusted adviser share areas for improvement can be really beneficial but remember that we each have a limit for the amount of "tough love" that we can handle. Quite often, you are best served by advisers with whom you have no emotional attachment. A coach exists to take the blame and (once trust is established) point out items that others would avoid. The client is normally quite adept at taking the credit for progress.

There is always a subtle background desire for reprisal when I receive a direct, and accurate, assessment of my weaknesses. As a result, I ask Monica for feedback when I can handle it and NEVER before bed. I never ask an adviser for feedback when I know that I am unable, or unwilling, to try their advice.


Coping with down periods. These are the key things that I use to try to perk myself up:

Wake-up time -- if I can get myself out of bed on time... this seems to help. Sleep pattern is HUGE for me.

Light -- I turn on every light day/night when I am awake. Bright light seems to help. In winter, I recommend walking outside during the brightest time of the day.

Sleep -- going to bed early (but not too early!) seems to help. I try to avoid napping more than 15 minutes because that normally means I don't sleep as easily at night. When I was working long hours in Hong Kong, weekend naps were really helpful. Back then, I was so tired that falling asleep was never an issue.

Music -- my iPod is a valuable tool to perk me up when I'm feeling a bit flat.

Intensity -- sustained high intensity is a bad idea (for me) when feeling flat. However, alactic training can perk me up. Alactic training is short (5-20 second) bursts of high intensity training.

Strength Training -- I find that lifting weights helps cheer me up.

Nutrition -- refined carbs are the bane of the mood swinging athlete. If I am going to take comfort in food then I aim for protein and good fats. When I am depressed my brain chemistry is screwed up enough without deviation from my normal (high quality) diet.

Peer Group -- I am very lucky that my wife, and buddies, like me despite my flaws. Hanging around with them when I am flat is beneficial (even if Monica has to drag me out of the house).

Movement -- one hour per day, every day, non-negotiable -- walking counts!

The final thing is a reality check. No matter how depressed I get, I can remind myself of the following:
  • I have felt this bad before;
  • I will feel better eventually; and
  • Only I can take responsibility for my recovery.
The three points above, help me persist with my emotional rehab exercises (outlined above). Once I come out of my funk (not during), I sit down and figure out what triggered it. Key triggers:
  • Sleep disruption
  • Long haul air travel
  • Change in eating habits
  • Change in exercise habits
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Excessive training intensity
  • Excessive use of altitude
  • Illness
  • Injury
Looking at the list above, the two weeks surrounding an A-priority event have a lot of these triggers.

Also beware of anything that can change your brain chemistry -- prescription drugs, alcohol, recreational drugs. As well as major forms of life stress: moving, change of job, divorce, death of a close family member, etc...

When done with a wellness-focus, the athletic lifestyle provides me with the greatest probability of emotional stability. Far better than the false gods of alcohol, sex, work, money, and personal superiority.

It is ironic that endurance athletics is most effectively used as a coping mechanism absent of the protocols that are designed to maximize performance.

Over the long term... the desire to succeed is most effective as a mental trick to get myself out of bed in the morning.

The best lesson that I was taught this year was never mess with another person's motivation. That is a tough thing to do as I battle with the desire to "be right". I want to do a better job at respecting what gets other people out of bed in the morning.


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At 10:53 AM, Blogger Jon said...

Fantastic outline. I find it really hard to be positive about life in general and racing in particular. Even if I have good race and get an AG placement, I am quick to find the fault (usually in my bike leg) or in a swim or some little thing that brings the whole thing down. I really like your approach, this will be in the bookmark bar!


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