Crisis and Anger

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“It’s a good thing to have all the props pulled out from under us occasionally. It gives us some sense of what is rock under our feet, and what is sand.”

Madeleine L’Engle

When things happen in life that pull the props out and put us into “crisis” mode–after the initial sorting of the sand and rock under my feet–I start to feel angry.

I feel angry because it seems like everyone is suddenly acting as if bad things are happening and people are dying when in fact there have been awful, evil, things happening and people dying painful, heartbreaking, physical and spiritual deaths all around us, every moment of our lives.

I feel angry as if I’ve realized it the whole time and others have been carrying on obliviously. I bitterly think ‘why are they only now realizing it?’

Even as I type those words, I am just becoming aware of the true source of my feelings.

What am I really angry about?

Now I know that the real reason I feel so frustrated is because I myself have been living as if everything-and everyone–is “just fine”.

Maybe it is. Maybe we are.

But I believe that there’s a reason each of us is here and it’s not merely to make it through every crisis–poverty, addiction, mental illness, family conflict, injury, disease, job loss, pandemic. *side note: I do believe that making it through any of these things is indeed a major victory.*

I believe that there is a larger purpose for my being right here, right now, and that it’s not just to “get through it” or “hang in there”.

Therein lies the root of the angry feelings bubbling up.

I feel angry because I know that I am guilty of presupposing that life for one more second is something owed and promised to me.

I feel angry because there are provisions and passions and gifts that I’ve been storing up, ignoring and keeping to myself.

I feel angry because I’ve been squandering time, turning a blind eye to the reality of death that awaits at any given hour.

I feel angry because I’ve been misusing energy on things that are not important–allowing my focus to dwell on untrue, judgmental, and anxious thoughts.

I feel angry because I’ve been wasting resources. I’ve been putting off multiplying gifts that I’ve been given, expressing gratitude, and blessing others.

It feels good to vent this frustration through my fingertips.

What do I do with this anger?

When I acknowledge my feelings of anger, I feel empowered to release them and surrender them to God.

I remember that this bitterness might be rooted not in what’s going on around me but in what’s going on inside of me.

I feel grace toward others, recognizing that when I start to judge someone else’s response in a crisis, my criticism is perhaps misplaced.

I feel grace toward myself because God sees me in my broken state and loves me. He isn’t afraid of my negative feelings. He can redirect them and redeem them.

I remember that if I believe in life and death; good and evil; in God’s purpose to redeem a broken world, then my reality is in a sense a “crisis”. I must respond by pursuing life proactively, with passion and urgency! I can no longer postpone this purpose for the sake of a false external or internal peace.

I remember that while the world may be confused and caught-off-guard, God is not surprised by what’s happening at any hour or location. God is not limited by my perspective of time and space.

He gives us access to His perfect peace through Jesus; He is constant; He is reality.

 He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.[b]

James 1:17

Dead Reckoning

By | Coaching, Fuel, Triathlon | No Comments

Do you ever read something and think, “YES! This is exactly what I believe but didn’t know that I believed it”? Someone puts words to your mishmash of ideas lost in your subconscious.

Last year, a cluster of words grabbed me and helped me to organize my thoughts about making decisions in life. In his book “Love Does”, author Bob Goff uses the concept of “dead reckoning” on the open seas to explain how using a set number of “fixed points” can help us navigate life. We can “draw a line from them” to ourselves and where the lines cross is the direction we want to go.

Definition of dead reckoning according to Merriam-Webster.com
1: the determination without the aid of celestial observations of the position of a ship or aircraft from the record of the courses sailed or flown, the distance made, and the known or estimated drift

I love the idea of using dead reckoning in life because it takes the emphasis off of being perfectly calculated in each minute detail and decision. As long as we are heading in the general direction that we want to be going, becoming the person that we want to be, then the specific path does not particularly matter. To me, this is freeing because there is no “one right way” to go– no “one perfect job” or “one perfect person to marry”– we get to choose our course within the protective bounds of our set points.

As a coach, a couple of my set points are:

  1. hard science: objective data points in physiology, psychology, etc
  2. soft skills: subjective relationship and communication abilities

Hard science helps me to measure an athlete’s progress over time, while soft skills enable me to work with the individual in a way that uniquely fits them. I look at both of these points to “draw my lines” and then, using experience to guide my intuition, carve a path somewhere in the middle to point toward the athlete’s desired destination (i.e. performance goal).

Another example of using dead reckoning occurs in my training. Once again, hard science is one fixed point. This includes objective data gathered during workouts such as pace, power, heart rate, etc. Another fixed point is RPE (rating of perceived exertion) which is more subjective as it is based on perception rather than reality. Taking into account these objective and subjective points, I draw two lines and set a course down the middle. The specific course is partly data-driven and partly experience-driven and intuitive.

Just for fun, one more example: baking sourdough bread. I have been learning the science and art of this procedure for over a year, and I am still quite a beginner. What I love about the process of cultivating the culture, creating the dough, rising, baking, etc., is that there is such a science but also such an art about it. A good bread maker knows their dead reckoning on the seas of sourdough!

I have tried many different techniques, ratios, rise times, kneading tools, baking methods, etc. Sometimes the results are predictable and consistent. Sometimes I do the exact same steps only to yield almost indistinguishable loaves.

Seasoned bakers know that the dough feels like, what it smells like, how it reacts with water, etc. They just know. That is the art of baking which, combined with the science, creates the perfect course to that crusty-on-the-outside, soft-and-holey-on-the-inside, hollow-sounding, soup-dipping kind of sourdough bread that I want to make.

Mental Roadway Congestion

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[Disclaimer: I am not a professional in the field of psychology. All blog posts are pure opinion from my personal coaching, triathlon, and life experience.]

If your brain were likened to a highway would you consider it jammed, pothole-laden and confusing, or open, smooth and straightforward? Is it clogged up with rubberneckers and parked cars, stuck in a dead-end or roundabout without exit? How would you think differently if you had more space and clarity in your mind? How much more capability could you uncover by changing the thoroughfare of your thoughts?

Neural Roadblocks

In many respects, what you can’t change and what you can’t control are a waste of your time, energy, and precious mental space. Focusing on these things often leads to a sense of neurological stickiness. Shifting your focus to yourself and what is in your control will not only free up storage in your head; it will allow you to access the power of clearly focusing on your personal growth and purpose in life. This heightened sense of purpose can be a major force multiplier.

Avoid fixating on past performances to predict future results. This goes for your own performances and others’. You don’t know what would have happened “if only _____” and you don’t know what might happen next. All you can do is to prepare yourself in the best way that you know in order to have the best possible outcome…regardless of what happens outside of your control.

Let’s look at a hypothetical example…

Tony vs. Bobby

Tony and Bobby are both competing in a marathon. Tony recalls that Bobby only started training for marathons relatively recently and was not nearly at Tony’s level in their local 5k last summer. Tony has already envisioned himself crossing the line minutes in front of Bobby.

When Bobby passes Tony in the race, Tony has not mentally prepared for the possibility of this outcome. He had expectations based on previous results which were no longer relevant. He was stuck in the past rather than showing up to the race in front of him. He mentally falters and his pace slows as he watches Bobby fade into the foreground. Tony feels progressively worse and comes across the finish line physically, mentally, and emotionally defeated.

Tony was looking at his past self in comparison to Bobby’s past self, failing to see that both Tony and Bobby were no longer the past versions of themselves! He was so focused on Bobby’s progress (something out of his control) that he neglected to celebrate his own growth; he failed to learn from and improve his personal process and mindset (things in his control).

Don’t be like Tony. Instead, recognize that others have their own story and path to navigate. It’s a waste of your mental space to focus on their trajectory or to form expectations for their performance based on their past. Let them focus on them. Your process is enough of an adventure to pursue and merits your complete attention!

Tony vs. Tony

As with the comparison-to-others roadblock, it’s equally ineffective to focus on your own past performances as a means of predicting your future results. Taking Bobby out of the equation, Tony was still basing his expectation on his own past performance, which weakened his ability to fully focus on and race in the present moment.

Re-Routing

Each time we approach a new day, training session, or start line, we can create a new outcome regardless of what’s happened in the past. Step into each situation anew. Practice approaching each moment with your full focus rather than allowing your thoughts to drift toward uncontrollables (e.g. other people, the past, etc). Show up and meet the specific demands of the day–race day, training day, or recovery day.

Train in the moment to race in the moment. Train your mind and body for all potential challenges that race day may bring by showing up to training with the same focus. You’ll gain confidence in your ability to make smart decisions in the moment by practicing this skill daily. Then, you have the luxury of familiarity on race day and the freedom to race as if it is “just another training session”.

Focus Pocus

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Have you ever felt that you would be so much more productive, efficient, successful, if you were able to focus better?

I have been thinking about what “focus” really is, why it might be important, and how it is cultivated. I wrote a draft of this post on Halloween, hence the themed blog title.

[Disclaimer: I am not a professional in the field of psychology. All blog posts are pure opinion from my personal coaching, triathlon, and life experience.]
What does it mean to be focused? 

I think that a person who is focused on something is able to block out distractions–to turn on their tunnel vision–during critical moments in pursuit of the object of said focus. The technical definition of the noun focus is: “the center of interest or activity” while as a verb, to focus means to “adapt to the prevailing level of light and become able to see clearly.”

The verb “to focus” as described by the above definition involves adaptation. To focus is something that is done on purpose, not at random or by accident. I also like that focus involves the unveiling of our object as it becomes increasingly clear to us.

If we want to make something our focus, we have to choose to fix our eyes on it, and to adjust our eyes to see all of the finer details. 

How can this focus be applied to athletic pursuits?

I liken my focus to a goal. I want to purposely keep my eyes on my goal. At first my goal may seem vague, but as I take each step to sharpen my line of vision and cut out the peripheral distractions, it comes increasingly into focus. Eventually it is perfectly clear to me. I must keep it in focus or risk getting off track.

The geometrical definition is equally cool– the focus is:

one of the fixed points from which the distances to any point of a given curve, such as an ellipse or parabola, are connected by a linear relation.

If the focus is an athletic goal, it becomes a goal toward which every aspect of your life must draw a line to. To me, this means that if I proclaim something to be my goal I must align everything in my life toward that ultimate goal. For example, if my goal is to finish an ultra-endurance triathlon, I have to train my body and mind, sleep well, eat well, have a plan, sign up for a race, etc.

I believe that we are all focused on something at any given time, whether it be ourselves, others, possessions, power, politics, problems, gratitude, wonder, dreams, etc, our mind grabs onto something that it can fixate on. I admit that most of the time I am in a state of mental ambiguity and distraction, or am trying to focus on multiple things at once, having no clear focus. Pure focus is difficult! But, when done right, we can enter the gloriously productive and creative “flow state” where we become so purely present with our work that we seemingly become the work itself.

I like sport because it allows us to put away other life things to be fully present with our physical task. Breathe. Step. Kick. Pedal. I like the simplicity of it. Athletic goals challenge me to improve my ability to stay in the moment even when my mind wants to run off and consider how nice it would be to be back in bed. They challenge me to make the small and seemingly insignificant decisions everyday that are connected by a linear relation to my goal: Pack your bag. Wake up. Put on your socks. Walk out the door. Dive into the pool. Kick. Exhale. Eat. Go to bed.

Now that we have a working definition…

Why is the ability to focus important?

If we can’t see our goal clearly, how will we know what our desired outcome looks like–let alone how to arrive at it? Without the ability to focus on our goal, all of the distractions of life (and there are many!) are going to get in our way. We are going to get off track. We will end up in the wrong place and not even know where the right place was to begin with; shooting at an ambiguous, ever-moving, target.

How can we improve our ability to focus?

By practicing it. We don’t suddenly end up in the most critical moments with magical laser-focusing capabilities. If the goal is clear and in focus in all of the small things everyday, it is more likely to be in focus in defining moments. If it is out-of-focus more often than not, we may walk off the course and straight to the hamburger stand in the middle of our next Ironman competition when we have no logical reason for not finishing (not to mention any names…).

Focus takes practice!

When things get blurry, look again. Change your angle. Squint your eyelids. Adapt to the prevailing level of light and become able to see clearly.