Thursday, June 24, 2010

Goals (and reaching them...)

This past weekend I did the Kalamazoo Klassic 10k, which marks my 8th race so far this season (since the end of April). One might say I am a little bit addicted. There is just something about a giant group of people all coming together for the love of running. It *has* to be love, because why else would any normal human being get up at 6am on a Saturday to prep for a 7:30am 6 mile race... right?

I didn't do as well as I had hoped. Admittedly, I still did well, placing 8th out of 57 in my age group. And double admittedly, I haven't actually been racing (or even running) for very long in the grand scheme of things; really only a couple of years. So why am I so hard on myself?

I presume it's because I strive for excellence in whatever it is that I'm doing. I've always been a theatre girl, a girl who sings but isn't especially athletic. When I was doing theatre basically full-time, I threw my everything into it. Three hours of rehearsal a night, plus whatever extra time I had to devote to memorizing music, lines and choreography. And once I started getting faster in races, and then started placing in races... well, I got a taste of what it is like to be really good at something else.

For me, the chance to prove that I have another talent I didn't know I had is exhilarating! It's not just the chance to prove to the people I know that I'm not just a theatre person; it's a chance to prove to myself that I *can* be athletic. I can actually be a competitor.

So, it's true, I didn't place as high as I would have liked last Saturday. But it's also true that I am my toughest critic, I am the person who has the highest expectations of myself. And sometimes, I'm not going to place top three, and that's fine. I started that race saying to myself, "Ok. This is a big race. Chances are good, I won't place top three in age. That's okay. But I *will* place top ten in age."

And you know what? I did that. I found a good and challenging (but not out outlandish) goal for myself, and I hit it. I find that one of the easiest ways to fail when training, is to expect SO much out of yourself that you end up missing the mark and feeling dejected.

I'm not saying not to set expectations for yourself. I'm saying, don't set expectations *so* high that you can't reach them. Because frankly, you will reach them in time. But it might not be tomorrow, or the day after, or even the month after. Sometimes that larger goal takes lots of smaller goals as a step-ladder.

My larger point is, a skill takes time, devotion, and patience to develop. Even if you have a natural talent for something, it *still* takes practice to get it where you'd like to see it. Set attainable goals, and don't be too hard on yourself. Each goal reached is like a prize, something you did for yourself that you didn't do yesterday. And that, in itself, is an amazing feat.

until later...

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” ~Winston Churchill

Friday, June 18, 2010

More on the power of positive thinking....

I have found that to think positive, you have to surround yourself with positive reminders. Pictures that remind you of good times. Quotes that remind you to stay strong. Even stories about people who beat the odds. Reminding yourself that you are a good and deserving person isn't always easy, but it's necessary.

I have a huge mirror in my bathroom. Big enough that I couldn't possibly need the whole thing to get ready in the morning. So I like to put a few things up as daily reminders of the task ahead of me; to spend my day being the best me I can be. One thing I have up there is a list of "Mental Toughness Tips" that I got at a race this year. They hold true not just for athletics, but for jobs or nearly any other aspect of your life! And now, I'd like to share them with you.

* Play to your own standard of excellence, not up or down to the level of your opponent.

* Be committed, even when you are not motivated.

* Maintain positive focus and effort at all time, especially after mistakes. Being positive brings up your teammates, being negative brings up your opponents!

* Have a specific goal for every practice. Be sure to review why you are a better athlete after each practice.

* Practice how you want to play. Give full physical and mental effort at all times.

* When under pressure, define what your job is and focus on that.

* Know that competitive anxiety is normal and prepares you for battle.

* Prepare, prepare, and prepare some more. Nothing is better to build confidence.

* Take a deep breath to regain focus on the here and now.

* Your mind is built to warn you of danger; it is often best not to believe your mind when it worries.

Special thanks to Grand Rapids Sport Psychologist Dr. Eddie O'Connor for the great tips. You can follow Dr. Eddie on Facebook @ or on Twitter @ SportsDrEddie.

until later...

"Toughness is in the soul and spirit, not in muscles." ~Alex Karras

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Last night I realized something.

I'm not trying as hard as I could.

Now, I was watching that new Jillian Michaels show, "Losing It With Jillian". It's mostly Jillian yelling at people, breaking them down, pissing them off, making them cry... it's moderately fantastic, actually. But more than just yelling in people's faces, she makes them really look inside of themselves and figure out what is making them overweight, what is making them unhappy, what is breaking down their confidences, what is making them think they aren't good enough.

It kind of got me thinking.

After all, who doesn't occasionally blame their circumstances on outside forces? "I hate my job because my job sucks." "I'm overweight because exercise is boring and I have a bad joint." "I'm unhappy because he/she makes me unhappy."

Then I started to wonder what happens when you start facing the fact that your circumstances lie mostly with you and the work you're willing to put forth. Ok, I love my job, but let's pretend I didn't. What if we replace "I hate my job because my job sucks" with "I hate my job, but I love writing... so I'm going to write a book and get it published."

Replace "I'm overweight because exercise is boring and I have a bad joint" with "I hate death/heart disease more than I hate exercise, and exercise will only make me stronger."

Replace "I'm unhappy because he/she makes me unhappy" with "I love myself enough to admit when I'm letting myself wallow."

Looking around at the things I've accomplished, I realize I could do so much more if I stopped saying "I can't" so much and just do the work. It's like the mornings where I drag my ass out of bed at 5:15am and run 3 miles. I always feel so much better right out of the gate when I do that. And I think it's mostly because I've already accomplished something great before breakfast, while it's still dark even. It prepares me that much more for a successful day.

I have been saying for years, "Someday... someday I'm going to write a kid's book." I got sick of adding up the somedays a couple of weeks ago, and sat down one morning and just started writing. An hour and a half later, I had a little piece of poetic fiction that I was actually quite proud of. I wondered why I put it off for so long, why I constantly thought I wasn't ready to write it.

Challenge yourself daily. If you find yourself blaming a certain circumstance on someone/something other than your own psyche, stop. Think. I'm not telling you to blame yourself. I'm telling you to tell yourself you're better than that circumstance, and move ahead. Always forward, never back.

until later...

"We all have known good critics, who have stamped out poet's hopes; Good statesmen, who pulled ruin on the state; Good patriots, who, for a theory, risked a cause; Good kings, who disembowled for a tax; Good popes, who brought all good to jeopardy; Good Christians, who sat still in easy-chairs; And damned the general w...orld for not standing up. Now, may the good God pardon all good men!” ~Elizabeth Barrett Browning