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Category — Taking on challenges

D E T E R M I N A T I O N

What does it mean to be determined?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, like many of us have, as we watch –in a state of almost indescribable horrific awe — the actions of a man determined to bring disrespect, dishonor and ridicule on the office of the presidency. And on our country. Which is to say on all of us.

But I have also been thinking about our determination, determination to show ourselves, our neighbors, our communities and the rest of the world what we value and what we are willing to fight for.

Which has got me thinking about what determination actually is and how to nurture it in ourselves and others. Because we need a lot of it. And we need it now, and we need it for the long haul.

Lest you think determination is an unpleasant scowling, grit-your-teeth experience, let me suggest just the opposite: Determination is a positive emotional feeling that involves persevering toward a difficult goal in spite of obstacles. It is about facing challenges with (I love this phrase) anticipatory enthusiasm. In the field of positive psychology – the best thing to happen to psychology since Freud died – determination is studied and identified as a constructive and optimistic force that compels us toward action and results in important outcomes.

One obvious outcome is that we “win.” Our determination defeats the obstacles. But that may be an in-it-for-the-long-haul outcome. What about in the meantime? In the meantime, as we are being our determined selves, we are nurturing perseverance and resilience. And as we persevere, we develop important coping mechanisms. As we persevere, we get stronger.

Determination in the face of daunting obstacles strengthen and empowers us. Strengthens and empowers. It fuels us. It stokes the fire.

Oh, and here’s something else from the woman who brought you Counterclockwise (that would be me): A number of studies have linked the meeting of challenges with determination to increases in physical health and mental well-being. Some specific positive outcomes include illness resistance, increased survival rates and decreased levels of depression.

March 22, 2017   1 Comment

Defying Gravity

Idina_Wicked_1It’s easy to be upbeat when things are going your way.

You’re healthy. Your children are all talking to you. The house gutters are clean. And you didn’t have climb on the roof to do it.

It’s easy to feel empowered and invigorated when things are going your way.

Your dentist doesn’t find any new work to do. You can now zip up your jeans. The writing is going well. Most of the time. Okay, some of the time.

The true test of resilience is what you do and how you feel – and what you say to yourself — when things are not all bowl-of-cherries.

So let’s just say, hypothetically, you’ve been working really hard on a project you believe in, a good project that is making a positive contribution, a project that has two years of success behind it. And then a person who doesn’t know you or the project, but now holds the power, pulls the plug. For instance. Hypothetically.

Or you get a DEXA-scan to see just how awesome your bone density is because you are a life-long exerciser, a runner, a yogurt-eater, a calcium-supplement swallower, and all-around brimming-with-vitality human, and you find out you have borderline osteopenia. For instance. Hypothetically.

Or a dangerous, hateful, intolerant, thoughtless, megalomaniacal, narcissist is suddenly your president. For instance.

When faced with these hypothetical situations, or any other rotten news or shitty life circumstance, I have three strategies, which I will now generously share with you.

#1 I listen to my negative self-talk. Yep, that’s right: I listen. Believe me, I have tried to stop the negative self-talk. We all know we shouldn’t beat ourselves up. And we all beat ourselves up. So, rather than struggling to quiet the voice, I tune in carefully. I listen to my internal monolog as if I were saying it to someone other than myself. Would I ever say to someone else: You are a failure. You are not valued. You’ve got one step in the grave. You better dig a hole and stay in it for the next four (eight years). Of course not. When I externalize the voice, I see how awful it is. Actually, I see how overblown and silly it is. I laugh at it. Ha!

#2 I get excited about Plan B. I always have a Plan B. Or I devise one as soon as possible. Planning and list-making keep me buoyant. Action is almost always the antidote. There is always a way through, a way around, a new way. And: no making lemonade from the lemons life gives you. I will decide what kind of juice I want, thank you very much.

#3 Defying Gravity. Blasted at top volume in the car. Forget the cheese factor, folks. This fucking works.

To those who’d ground me
Take a message back from me
Tell them how I am
Defying gravity
I’m flying high
Defying gravity

December 14, 2016   1 Comment

This is what democracy looks like

stand-up-speak-out What can we do? That’s the big question. We can gasp at what he says, shake our heads in disbelief at the people he chooses for government posts, get angry, get depressed, mock him, proclaim that “he’s not my president.” But, I repeat: What can we do?

We can take a stand in our communities. We can come together in our communities, in our cities and towns and state loudly and publicly what we believe in and what we will do. The President-elect lost big in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco – and many other smaller cities across the nation. San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors, by unanimous vote, passed a heart-stirring resolution that serves as a template for communities across the country. Each of us, all of us, need to assess our own communities and see if we can follow San Francisco’s lead.

I begin here with how the resolution ends:

…although the United States will soon have a President who has demonstrated a lack of respect for the values we hold in the highest regard in San Francisco, it cannot change who we are, and it will never change our values. We argue, we campaign, we debate vigorously within San Francisco, but on these points we are 100 percent united. We will fight discrimination and recklessness in all its forms. We are one City. And we will move forward together.

And here is a sampling of the resolutions:

RESOLVED, That no matter the threats made by President-elect Trump, San Francisco will remain a Sanctuary City. We will not turn our back on the men and women from other countries who help make this city great, and who represent over one third of our population;

FURTHER RESOLVED, That we will never back down on women’s rights, whether in healthcare, the workplace, or any other area threatened by a man who treats women as obstacles to be demeaned or objects to be assaulted;

FURTHER RESOLVED, That there will be no conversion therapy, no withdrawal of rights in San Francisco. We began hosting gay weddings twelve years ago, and we are not stopping now. And to all the LGBTQ people all over the country who feel scared, bullied, or alone: You matter. You are seen; you are loved; and San Francisco will never stop fighting for you;

FURTHER RESOLVED, That Black Lives Matter in San Francisco, even if they may not in the White House. And guided by President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, we will continue reforming our police department and rebuilding trust between police and communities of color so all citizens feel safe in their neighborhoods;

FURTHER RESOLVED, That climate change is not a hoax, or a plot by the Chinese. In this city, surrounded by water on three sides, science matters. And we will continue our work on CleanPower, Zero Waste, and everything else we are doing to protect future generations;

Grassroots, folks. Let’s proclaim our values. Let’s stand by – and back up – our beliefs. What can we accomplish in our communities?

December 7, 2016   3 Comments

Life lessons on two wheels

bike tour selfieWhat do you think about on day three when you’ve been in the saddle for six and a half hours and there’s a big hill you didn’t expect looming ahead and your Bike Brain says it’s 97 degrees and you need to believe that this biking/ camping adventure is more than just a biking/ camping adventure?

Here’s what you think about… Allow me to present these nuggets of sweaty wisdom (with their bike-centric application, in parentheses):

 

Yes, you can have everything! Just not all at the same time.
(“Everything” in bike touring terms: generous shoulders, wind at your back, no traffic, scenic road, shade. Each one is a joy in itself; together, they are pure ecstasy – but they never occur together.)

When it looks like it can’t get any worse, it does.
(That first-day 95-degree heat becomes 97 on day 2 and 101 on the afternoon of day 3.)

When it feels like it will never get better, it does.
(Thanks to Chamois Butter applied liberally to nether regions.)

Don’t ruin a good experience by thinking about how fleeting it is.
(Ah, that glorious nano-second-of-relief patch of shade. Breath into it, lean into it, don’t mourn/curse its passing even before it passes.)

You have to do the hard miles to earn the easy miles.
(Self-explanatory, in life and on the bike.)

And in the end: It’s all good miles.
(The tough uphill ones, the blazing hot ones, the no-effort downhill swooping ones, the ones at the ragged end of a long day, the one’s in the cool of the morning with a stomach full of oatmeal. All of them.)

And, perhaps one nugget that has minimal application to every day life but did sustain (and entertain) me up an endless, merciless incline:

Whoever wrote “the hills are alive with the sound of music” never biked up one.

August 3, 2016   3 Comments

Self-talk

CC art

FADE IN:
INT. BEDROOM – JUST BEFORE DAWN

LAUREN lies in bed on her back staring at the ceiling. It is just light enough in the bedroom to see her. The windows are open. Soft but insistent hiss of rain.

LAUREN (V.O.)
Alright. Time to get up. You’ve got a Barre3 class in less than an hour.

Other LAUREN (V.O.)
(whining)
No. It’s dark. It’s raining. These flannel sheets are so soft and, wow, they are the same exact temperature as my body. I could lie here forever.

LAUREN (V.O.)
(annoyed)
Get up now. You’ve got a 7:30 class.

Other LAUREN (V.O.)
(petulant)
Big deal. So I miss a class. One class.

LAUREN (V.O.)
(accusatory)
Lazy. Slacker.

Other LAUREN (V.O.)
(defensive)
Shut up.

LAUREN (V.O.)
(scolding)
You’ve gained all this winter weight. And now you’re gonna stop going to class? You go, girl. Way to self-sabotage.

Other LAUREN (V.O.)
(whining, hurt)
Thanks for that. Way to motivate.

LAUREN (V.O.)
(stern)
If you don’t go, you’ll be mad at yourself all day.

The LAUREN (V.O.)
(combative)
So what? Leave me alone.

LAUREN (V.O.)
(kinder)
You know how good it makes you feel. Your body. Your mood. You know how much energy you get. It fuels your whole day. It’s a gift you give yourself.

DISSOLVE TO:
INT. BARRE3 STUDIO

LAUREN, step-tapping, windmill arms, with 16 other women. “Edge of Glory” blasting on speakers.

March 9, 2016   1 Comment

What, me worry?

Hakuna.matata4And then there’s the morning (this morning) when instead of awakening to take a deep belly breath and stretch your limbs and luxuriate in the softness of the flannel sheets against your skin and feel the warmth of the body next to you, you instead awaken to hear a mind already chattering with petty worry and negative thoughts: You have so much work to do today…and how much of that work really matters to you…and why aren’t you filling your hours with what does matter…and why did you read Martha Stewart Living last night instead of starting that book on prison reform you should be reading…and the garage is overflowing with returnable bottles…and how come this new blogsite you’ve been talking about for six months isn’t up yet…and oh, sweetie, just in case you momentarily forgot, you somehow (well, you know how) gained five pounds since Christmas.

Welcome to the Black Hole Zone.

Astronomically speaking, a black hole is a place in space where gravity pulls so much that even light can not get out.

Uh huh.

A place where no light can get out. Did you get that?

Have you been there? Of course you have.

What does one do to stop the chatter, to dig out of the hole? (Okay, I know you can’t dig yourself out of a Black Hole, but just stay with me.)

There’s the “count your blessings” approach. Yes, we all should, especially those of us who have so many. There’s a “daily affirmations” approach. Yes, positive self-talk is a good thing. You go, girl. Both of these strategies are lovely. But, for me, a little cheesy, a smidge bumperstickery.

There’s the “stop digging” approach. Here’s a turn-of-the-phrase truism I heard on the radio the other day: The best way to dig yourself out of a hole is to stop digging. I like that one. Translation: Just (don’t) do it.

I prefer either of these strategies:
1. The sweat it out approach. Brainless bliss in the exercise studio or on the forested hike or the long-distance bike ride. It quiets the mind and lifts the spirits.
2. The fake it ‘til you make it approach. Pretend you’re not worried. Turn that frown upside down. (Yes, you may groan.) Burst into song. You know which one. At some point, the pretense becomes real. I know that sounds psychologically problematic, but I’m pretty sure this is what Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is about. A nicer way of stating this approach is: Believe you can do it (transcend stupid worries, for example); act as if you are already doing it. And you end up doing it.

And you?

February 10, 2016   No Comments

Shades of Gray

gray-greyNope. Sorry. Not Fifty Shades of Grey.

I’m talking about a different sort of shades of gray — with gray spelled the good old all-American way, you know, with an “a.” Although, really, that’s the least of the differences between that spurious book and my topic today.

My Shades of Gray is about how we – and by we I mean me – often don’t see shades of gray. Instead we see black or white. Success or failure, All or nothing.

In the world of therapy (because, yes, thinking like this is a bonafide psychological problem), this is called splitting, “the failure in a person’s thinking to bring together both positive and negative qualities of the self and others into a cohesive, realistic whole.”

All-or-Nothing thinking dictates: “Either do this perfectly or don’t even bother.” Assuming you do take action and accomplish something, all-or-nothing thinking frames it this way: Either what you did was flawless or it was hopelessly flawed. Given that those are the only two choices, and given that “flawless” is generally unachievable, failure is pretty much assured. Which doesn’t mean you’ve actually failed – not at all – just that 100 percent A+ perfection was not the outcome. Easy to see how all-or-nothing thinking can sabotage effort and create enormous road blocks to positive change.

Well, easy to see in retrospect.

But not so easy for me to see last Monday, the very first day of the January Barre3 challenge. I had been looking forward to the challenge, building it up in my mind. January was going to be THE month. With perfect (there’s that word!) attention to body, mind and spirit in January, with four studio classes and two at-home, online work-outs every week, with a smoothie/salad/soup daily regimen of healthy, whole food, with insistently self-compassionate self-talk, I was going to launch the new year in a big way. It was going to give it my all (there’s that word!).

Instead, it snowed on Sunday followed by sleet and freezing rain, and come Monday morning I could not drive up my steep access road to get to the B3 studio. Or to the store to stock up on smoothie/salad/soup ingredients. Instead of ALL, I was left with (I thought) NOTHING. Why even try to rescue the day, do the online exercises, see what I could pull together from what was in the cupboards? My Monday fresh start to my January fresh start was RUINED. Poor me. Poor loser me.

Embarrassingly, it took me most of the day (during which I did NOT log on to do the online exercises but did find plenty of time to mindlessly eat handfuls of granola) to recognize my erroneous – not to mention damaging – all-or-nothing thinking.

On Tuesday, when the ice hadn’t melted, and I still couldn’t make it up the access road and into the studio, I did not self-sabotage. I hauled out the yoga mat. I breathed and asana-ed my way into a better head space. I did two online work-outs. I threw together a bottom-of-the veggie-bin soup. It wasn’t ALL. But neither was it NOTHING. It was a Shade of Gray.

January 13, 2016   2 Comments

What do you REALLY care about?

target

If I only had the time, you say to yourself, I would (fill in the blank): start writing that story/ take an EdX course/ get to know my neighbor/ learn tagine cooking/ volunteer at the homeless shelter…

As soon as I finish (fill in the blank): the laundry, scrolling through all these Facebook updates, remodeling the kitchen, this one big project at work, I’ll find time to  ______, you tell yourself.

If I could just clear the decks, you tell yourself, then I’d have the time to get to what is really important to me.

STOP. The people who win Pulitzer prizes, the people who win Nobel prizes, the people who start new businesses, who exhibit their art work, who go back to school at age 40 (50,60,70), who teach themselves how to play the piano, who invent, discover, create, lead — all of them, like you, like me, have 24 hours in a day. That’s it. They don’t do more because they have more time. We all have the same amount of time. It is how we use it.

Here’s a thought: Instead of doing everything other than what you really want to do — on the mistaken notion that you must “clear the decks” in order to get to the important stuff — START with the important stuff. Put the important thing, the passion, the dream, the challenge, at the center (or as close to the center) of your daily life as possible. And then make the rest of the day fit in around that. That’s the idea of the target drawing above. (And yes, you’re right, I was not referring to myself when I mentioned “people who exhibit their art work.”)

I am not saying that you paint your masterpiece while your children eat from the dog’s bowl. I am saying that, after you do what you absolutely must do, you elevate your passion to the very next spot. You make a space (that is, a time) for it rather than hoping you have time “later.”  Because later never comes.  Because the decks will never be cleared. There will always be another call to make, another errand to run, the emails in your in-box, those pesky weeds overrunning your garden.

Life doesn’t stop, or simplify itself, to allow you time to pursue your passion. Life, in fact, has an uncanny way of getting in the way. But that’s only if you construct your days around everything you have to do that is not what you say to yourself (and others) you really really want to do. If you construct your days around that passion/ challenge/ dream, then the question is not “when will I have time to (fill in the blank with that one thing you say you really really want to do)” but rather “when will I have time to vacuum the living room carpet?”

It’s a sure bet that at the end of the day –- and at the end of your life – you won’t be wishing you spent more time with the Hoover.

January 6, 2016   No Comments

Kick in the butt/ Pat on the back

Master-Skill-CurveIs it possible to raise the bar and simultaneously practice self-compassion?

Is it possible to expect more of yourself than you already know you are capable of, to push yourself out of your comfort zone, to take on a big new challenge…and be kind to yourself in the process? Particularly when “the process” can mean failing – yes, I am going to use that word! – to meet your own expectations, failing – yes, again – to learn quickly enough, to master the task, to excel…or, more humbly, to get to a point where you don’t feel embarrassed at your attempts at whatever it is you are attempting.

Is it possible to speak to yourself in two distinct voices: the tough and demanding task-master; the encouraging and supportive counselor?

Yes, I think it’s possible. But I also think it is very very hard. It is very hard if you have high expectations for yourself and keep expecting more. And it is very hard if you are averse to the “good job!” mentality that suffuses our culture. You know what I’m talking about: The automatic praise delivered for modest, mediocre or just plain lame efforts.

So what do you do if you want to keep taking on challenges but also not beat yourself up for being so-very-much less awesome than you would like to be? Here are two strategies that (sometimes) work for me:

I keep in mind that there is always someone more accomplished than me, regardless of how much I am able to accomplish. And there is always someone farther back on the learning curve, regardless of how clueless I am. I keep this is mind not for the sake of comparison, but just the opposite – to stop comparing myself to others. Regardless of what I do, I will always be part of a continuum of effort and skill. Case closed. Move on.

I also keep in mind that the path to mastery is not one long climb to the top. The path is far more interesting (and more challenging) than that. It involves short bursts of progress often followed by long plateaus during which it is easy to believe I am making no progress at all and never will again (and thus the voice of little compassion starts yelling at me). The path involves hard-won advances sometimes followed by ego-crushing backslides (if I listen to the ego-crushing voice). Knowing that any learning curve has ups and downs interspersed by long plateaus, knowing this is just the way it works, helps me have patience with myself.

Sometimes, if I actually deserve it, I tell myself “good job.” But, regardless, to honor the process and my perseverance, I always tell myself: “I believed I could, so I did.”

December 22, 2015   No Comments

A groove becomes a rut over time

Ballet me and NutWith Raising the Barre, my new book, just out, I’ve been on the road quite a bit: reading at events, responding to readers’ questions, listening to their take-on-the-challenge stories and their shake-it-up-midlife dreams.

I know that my personal dream to dance The Nutcracker on stage with a professional ballet company is not, to put it mildly, for everybody. But everyone I’ve talked with on my travels or heard from via email and social media gets it – either because they too have this do-I-dare-to-dream-this dream or because they, like me, feel this midlife urge to raise the bar on their own life. It’s really about appreciating where we are and what we’ve so far accomplished but not allowing complacency, not going on autopilot, not settling. A groove becomes a rut over time.

The big, important (and generic) question I’ve been getting most often is: How did you do it? How did you move from dreaming to doing? I just got this question recently during a live Facebook chat with Barre3 founder Sadie Lincoln, who is the poster girl for dream-and-do-it. Because we were slammed with questions, I could respond only briefly. I wrote this…”One word: LISTS.”

Let me elaborate. The difference between wanting to do something and doing something, between wanting a change and making a change is motivation. First step: Ask yourself why you want or need to take on this challenge and make this change. What are your specific reasons? Make a LIST. The list itself creates (or fans the flame of) motivation.

But that’s not enough. Motivation must be tied to expectancy. Can you see yourself doing this? Do you believe it can happen? If yes, where does your confidence come from (LIST!). If not, why not (yes, LIST).

And now comes the hard part. It takes focus, effort and attention – lots of it – to make something happen, to convert dreaming to doing. I don’t mean that in a general ya-gotta-dig-deep way. I mean, specifically, in a this-is-what-I-need-to-do-to-make-this-happen way. Are you seeing a…wait for it…LIST here?

That’s how I did it. Step by step. Each step an item on a list, from changing my fitness routine to finding a “remedial” ballet class; from enlisting a friend into the adventure (everyone needs a wing-woman) to talking with midlife women who made big, bold changes; from buying my first leotard in more than 4 decades to…well, you get the idea.

A list does not rob you of spontaneity. It imbues you with focus. It converts the impossible to the possible, step by step. In Raising the Barre I refer to – and draw confidence and energy from –E. L. DOCTOROW’S famous line: “Writing a novel is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” For “writing a novel,” I substituted “dancing The Nutcracker.” I focused on what the headlights illuminated, not the long, dark (foggy) road ahead.

And I got there.

December 16, 2015   No Comments