Anything is Possible if you Stop Thinking

2016

Well dudes, 2016 is just about over. Now, I know there are lots of you who are relieved – if you pay any attention to the internet at all it seems like we’re supposed to say that it was a really bad year. Even my thirteen-year-old daughter rolled her eyes at me when I expressed that this last week of the year was kind of bittersweet. “Mom.” she said, “2016 is the one we don’t talk about.” Yeah, I know a childish megalomaniac got elected. I know a lot of cultural icons died. I know that world politics have taken a horrific swing to the right and it seems like all the love and respect and tolerance and acceptance are being stamped out…I know all that. And it’s scary as hell. But in my little corner of the universe, 2016 was pretty awesome: I figured a lot of stuff out, I learned a ton, and now the stage is set for 2017 to be freaking amazing. But before we get on with the amazingness of 2017, there is one week left to reflect on the old year, get some rest, make some plans, and generally get our heads around what we want to make happen. And that, my friends, is why this is just about my favorite week of the year.

Take a moment to consider this: what if ANYTHING were possible?

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Now, I’m not talking about sprouting wings or developing superpowers or stuff like that (although how cool would that be?), but staying within the laws of physics, what if you could do anything? Be anybody? What would you do? What kind of dent would you leave in the universe?

Fitness is a cool industry to be in, because fitness is usually the place where people go to take the first baby steps toward being a more awesome version of themselves. We seem to have this idea that once we look better, we will be better…which isn’t necessarily the case but that’s the perceived pattern in western culture: attractiveness equals success, confidence, and happiness. Really what happens in people who are successful at getting fit and strong is this: they begin to believe in themselves. They treat their bodies better and are rewarded with more energy, better sleep, sharper mental function, and a higher sex drive. They feel more confident which can translate to increased success at work and a larger paycheque. Those effects snowball. Now, I  know that as fitness professionals we get a bad rap sometimes; gym culture can be somewhat toxic and steeped in appearance-focused two-dimensional douchebaggery. I get it. But I choose to believe that we are SO MUCH MORE than that. I think we can be better and dig deeper and that with our help, the journey toward better physical fitness leads not only to increased physical strength, but to increased strength of character and convictions, to belief in a better world, to acceptance of our differences, to daring to dream bigger, to confidence in ourselves and each other, to determination and focus and optimism. Sure, it might start with the usual tired, annual, half-hearted New Year’s Resolution to lose 10 pounds, but imagine what that little glowing coal of hope could turn into given the right environment to grow and explore and learn. A freaking raging bonfire, that’s what it could turn into!

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So. What I’m going to do this week is take some time to be happy about the good stuff that happened in 2016, and think about how I can use that momentum to carry me into the new year. I’m also going to consider the roadblocks I faced this year and take inventory of what I learned from them. I’m going to sleep lots, lift heavy stuff, train some of my dedicated clients who still want to work out between Christmas and New Year’s Day, play some music, and make a plan of attack for 2017…because if it’s going to be the amazing year I want it to be, there’s no time for doubting, waffling, or second guessing – there is only time for moving forward. For DOING.

There’s a big, strange, foggy space between thinking and doing. It’s easy to get caught between the two – I know I’ve gotten lost in that weird sketchy nowhereland more than once. Tell me if this sounds familiar: you decide that you want to accomplish something. You want it pretty badly. It starts taking over your thoughts. You think about it all day, you stress about how you’re going to make it happen, you dream about it at night…and it just. Doesn’t. Happen? Doesn’t even seem to get any closer? What the hell, right? I mean, you’re working so hard at it. Why is nothing happening?

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That’s what getting lost between thinking and doing feels like. Where it FEELS like you’re working so hard at something, but really you’re not actually taking any steps toward what you want to accomplish. And it can be torture. So, how do you avoid getting lost?

The answer to that question seems obvious, but it took this girl a long time to figure it out. A chronic dreamer, I want to achieve all the big things and I can see making them happen someday. What doesn’t come naturally to me, and is perhaps the biggest lesson I learned in 2016, is to figure out the minutiae of what has to happen right now in order to turn someday into next year, next month, tomorrow…a real, tangible date. If you want to go somewhere you’ve never been, you need to a) sit down with a map and figure out the route, b) get directions from someone who knows the way, or c) all of the above because every journey is a little bit different. Once the route is planned, the whole trip becomes more realistic and less overwhelming – then all you have to do is stick to the schedule. No more thinking. And you know what? Once you get to where you just do the thing, every day, it stops being stressful and just becomes part of who you are…and that’s when good things happen.

So my challenge for you for the last week of 2016, is this: consider what you would do if anything were possible. Figure out what you would need to do to make it happen, in baby steps. Then take the first baby step.

Let me know how it goes! I’m always listening.

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I don’t care about your biceps.

 

Actually that’s not true – your biceps are just peachy. I just, you know, care about other stuff a lot more.

I did a complimentary session with a perspective client today. We had gotten together once already, so I could get her health/exercise history and check out how her body moved, and so she could decide whether or not she could a) trust me with her well-being and b) tolerate my company enough to spend money on my time (she decided she could, on both counts). We were about two thirds of the way through her work out when she suddenly grabbed my arm. “When are we doing bicep curls?” she asked. “Aren’t we doing any of those today?”

This is a question I get a lot. I suspect it has something to do with the fact that the majority of personal training advertising features a smiling, well-coiffed trainer with bulging biceps SPOTTING a smiling, well-coiffed client doing bicep curls. Never mind that NO ONE EVER needed a spotter to do bicep curls – that’s ridiculous – but in my humble opinion, bicep curls are not usually a necessity in a beginning exercise program.

Now, I realize that there are lots of people out there who will heartily and loudly disagree with me and that’s fine. I’d also like to qualify my position here by saying that I think bicep curls are great and I do include them in lots of my clients’ programming…just not everyone’s. And I almost never put them in a program for someone who is just beginning to exercise, or who is returning after a long hiatus, unless of course growing big guns was near the top of their list of objectives. Everyone is different.

So. Since the noted absence of bicep curls is a matter of concern, let’s talk about why they aren’t really a necessity when you’re getting started with strength training. In order to do that it’s important to understand what the bicep’s job is.

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The bicep is actually a pair of muscles (hence the prefix bi-) that crosses both the shoulder and the elbow. When it you ‘flex’ your bicep, it shortens, either bending your arm at the elbow (the more commonly known function) or raising your arm in front of you from the shoulder. Therefore, any exercise that requires bending of your elbow or lifting your arm in front of you engages the bicep.

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Now let’s consider where *most* (not all) people are starting from. As a society, we spend waaaay too much time in a sitting position, shoulders rounded, neck craned forward so that we can see the computer screen/road/plate/phone in front of us. Weakened rhomboids, tight trapezii and associated pain/stiffness between the shoulder blades, neck and mid-back are all common complaints. The good news is, all of these problems can be solved in the gym – in surprisingly little time, given the right exercise program. Next we have to consider the level of conditioning in the new exerciser, which is usually not stellar…so when I’m designing their program I am going to be as efficient as possible so that we can complete the workout in the prescribed amount of time (50-55min), leaving the client feeling challenged but successful at the end. What all of this boils down to is, that first program is *usually* (again, not always) going to include a variety of pulling exercises which will not only increase circulation and build strength in the areas where it’s needed most (the back), but ALSO get those biceps fired up and working. Remember how bending your elbow requires the bicep to work? The bicep is the secondary mover for almost all pulling exercises:

In a nutshell, your arms will get their workout, I promise. But we’re not spending valuable workout time on bicep curls when you’ll get more bang for your buck doing something more efficient. Bicep curls can wait until your back is healthy and your conditioning is such that we can get more exercises into less time. And at that point I’d bet you’ll need a license to carry those guns anyway!

Be

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That’s it, my mind is blown. I have been contemplating this concept for a while and thinking about how I can work it into my coaching practice…and suddenly today it became crystal clear. Ever have those moments where your brain is circling and circling an idea and then suddenly all the pieces fall into place? That’s what happened. I was driving at the time and I seriously just about drove off the road.

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Want to hear about it? Too bad – I’m gonna tell you anyway. And at the end, you can tell me if it was worth sticking around for. And can we just take a moment to appreciate how freaking ripped Archimedes is in that picture? Clearly he wasn’t messing around.

Have you ever set a goal? And then not delivered on it? What happened? How did you feel? Why do you think you didn’t carry through? Was it not important? Too important? What would be different now if you had achieved it?

Know what I think? Fuck goals. Goals are always far away, these abstract pie-in-the-sky dreams of what we want to be – no wonder we don’t usually deliver on them. It’s HARD to get your head around making life changes; and we hem and haw and procrastinate until that arbitrary SMART goal deadline comes and goes, and then we feel guilty. Fuck goals. No more goal setting. Instead, think of the person you want to be…AND THEN BE THAT PERSON.

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I know, it’s not quite that simple. Change is hard and tricky and I’m not trying to sound flippant or smug about it because, trust me, I have walked that path and I know how rocky it is. Really what I’m getting at here is, how do you define yourself, to yourself?

Say for example, you want to lose 20lbs and be so unbelievably fit and hot and jacked that everyone’s (male and female) undergarments fly off when you walk by. You’ve set that SMART goal (maybe more than once) and just can’t get started on it. Instead, look at it this way: You ARE that fit, hot, jacked person. Oh yes you are – now, how does that more awesome version of you live? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say they probably do things like schedule their workouts in, and then stick to their schedule. They do whatever it takes to eat properly: maybe they use a premade meal service for when life gets hairy and they can’t face cooking, but what they don’t do is hit the drive-thru for a burger and fries.

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Here’s another example: maybe you want to be a musician but you have trouble finding time to  practice. There are just too many demands on your time and day after day goes by and you just can’t get to it. Adjust your thinking: you are a great musician. Do great musicians put their practice time at the bottom of the priority pile? You can bet they didn’t get to where they are by putting everything else first, thinking that once everything else was done, IF there was time, then they’d practice. Nope, great musicians schedule their practice time and it comes first.

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Redrawing the lines of how you define yourself is easy. Believing yourself is the tricky part. It takes practice – maybe lots of practice. But I think it’s more fun and more gratifying than feeling guilty while you watch the sand running out of the hourglass on that goal you set. It also brings you closer to why you are doing what you’re doing…and if you are crystal clear about why, you may just be able to hold onto those new habits over the long term.

Story time: a few years ago I decided that I was going to train for powerlifting. A few months ago I added Olympic weightlifting to my training as well, and in the back of my mind I have this crazy idea that I might one day train for a Strong(wo)man competition – you know, hit all three strength sports. BE a strength athlete.

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Whoa, hold up – what? Be a strength athlete? The first place my brain goes when I hear that is “Hahaha! I am NOT an athlete.” because for my entire life, I have defined myself as a chubby, geeky girl…and even though I have progressed to the point where I have all the national lifting records for my age/weight class on the home screen of my phone where I have to look at them every damn day, I schedule my training in and it is my TOP priority, I track my macros so that everything I eat will make me better at lifting (well, almost everything), I still have to work at defining myself as an athlete. I haven’t convinced myself yet…but it’s coming! And working on it is sure fun.

It comes down to two questions: Who do you want to be? and How long can you put off being that person?

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Go be that most awesome version of yourself today!

The Ignoramuses’ Code of Concert Conduct

Ok then, I know today’s post has nothing to do with my regular favorite subjects…but I wrote a shorter version of this piece a couple of years ago after being absolutely horrified at the behaviour from the audience at my kids’ school Christmas concert and have posted it around this time of year regularly since.

If you’ve been around my various blogs and social media pages for any length of time you know that I am a musician (albeit sort of part-time), I am married to an actual full-time musician, and together we made two musician kids, so I have the pleasure of going to a lot of concerts. Which is great…

BUT. The conduct of the audiences seems to be deteriorating, and it’s not just an etiquette problem (those exist too but I think they’re forgivable – we want more people to come to more concerts and I don’t want to scare people away over minor etiquette transgressions). No, what I’m railing against here is a basic lack of respect and courtesy. So without further ado or bitching, here is my annual…

The Ignoramuses’ Code of Concert Conduct

  1. Get there on time. Plan ahead and do what you need to do. This should go without saying. But, life gets in the way for everybody sometimes so if, despite your best efforts, you get there late, WAIT FOR A BREAK IN THE PROGRAM to enter.  Don’t drag your sorry butt in there and climb over people, shuffle around, get undressed, obscure other people’s views, and generally make a horse’s ass out of yourself.
  2. If you are late and you do have the decency to wait for a break in the program to enter and disturb everybody (or maybe the usher won’t let you in), while you are waiting outside the doors you still need to be quiet! This is not the time to tromp around and negotiate your divorce over the phone. Those doors are not soundproof. While the concert is going on, have some respect and…
  3. Shut up. Whether or not the person performing is related to you, they worked hard to prepare what they’re performing. The least you can do is stop your conversation.
  4. Keep your butt in your seat. It’s ridiculous that saying this is even necessary and I’m embarrassed for you. But hey, turn around – is there someone behind you? Chances are they’d like to see what’s going on instead of stare at your ass.
  5. Why are you recording? I’m serious – put your iPads and phones and toys away and enjoy your kid’s fucking concert. You’re not going to watch it again and I guarantee that anyone who isn’t there doesn’t really want to watch it on FB. I can also promise you that your kids want to make eye contact with you and they can’t do that if your mug is obscured by your iPhone.
  6. Speaking of eye contact, here’s a crazy idea: don’t wave and shout at your kids while they’re on stage. They’ve been told not to wave at you by their music teacher – it’s not that they don’t see you. Put your fool arms down and sit on your hands if you have to.
  7. The aisles are emphatically not space that’s been put aside for you to set up your camera equipment – they are there for fire safety and for people to use to go in and out. Oh wait, the emcee of the event mentioned that, didn’t they?
  8. They also mentioned that it would be a good idea to turn off anything that beeps, pings, or rings. Is there some reason that this rule doesn’t apply to you? Did I miss the memo that you are more important than the rest of us who actually do understand that phone noises are distracting to the performers? Also, here’s a physics lesson: light travels. The people around you will notice that you’re taking out your phone to discreetly return that text. You’re not being discreet. Get off your high horse and leave your phone in your pocket.
  9. Leave your food, toys, books, and anything else that can be dropped on the floor at home, or -hey!- on the floor. If it’s on the floor it can’t clatter to the floor mid-concert.
  10. Can you not go two hours without a snack? Really? This is the first world, last I checked; chances are you could go a couple of months without eating and nothing bad would happen to you. And the people around you didn’t pay for those seats for the privilege of smelling your food and listening to you chew. Be a grown up and wait until mealtime.
  11. Bring some halls if you have a cold. Sit near the exits if you have a baby or small child that can’t sit through a concert. And finally, know your limits – if you can’t sit still for 45 goddamn minutes then you probably shouldn’t leave your house.

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Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect

Let’s rewind the clock about 20 years to when I was studying music in university. I would hide my vitamin D-deficient self in a practice room for hour after hour, angrily hacking away at scales, etudes, and recital rep with feverish intensity. I’d make the same mistakes in the same places, over and over again, and get frustrated when I didn’t see the progress I wanted to.

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I was young and stupid and had a lot to learn. At that point it wasn’t entirely my fault, because all my life people had been telling me that practice makes perfect – that all you have to do is put in the hours and you’ll get better.

Now I’m old(er). I still have a lot to learn, but if there is one thing I have figured out, it is that practice doesn’t make perfect. That’s an archaic bullshit idea. It’s actually counterproductive, and here’s why: if you practice making mistakes, guess what you get good at? You guessed it: making mistakes. And those mistakes, once they’re cemented into your muscle memory, are hard to undo…which is why it’s important to get it right the first time.  Or at least to catch your mistakes so that they don’t hold up your progress.

This is not easy to do, especially if you have impatient or overachieving tendencies. Trust me, I know – you want to make shit happen, like, yesterday, and it *should* be coming together! Right?

Nope. That’s your ego lying to you and blinding you to what truly needs to be done. It’ll make you think you can cut corners, that you’re smart/strong/capable enough to move past the basics before you’re ready. Or hey, maybe at one point you were ready but then you added a dimension to what you want to accomplish, and now you need to go back to those dratted basics to move forward. Stupid basics, your ego will say. Well, I have news for your ego: the basics are your friends. When you hit the wall with something, they are always there for you. And 99% of the time, returning to the basics will solve whatever problem you’re up against.

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Case in point: I’ve been struggling through a plateau in the gym lately. See, a year or so ago I started dabbling in olympic weightlifting – I figured it would broaden my horizons, make me a better powerlifter…which was right. But olympic lifting also has the same addictive properties as OxyContin, so the dabbling didn’t last long. In September I decided that it was time to actually commit and get serious. My ego was right there for the ride, telling me that I am a reasonably strong individual, that I have some experience with strength sports, and that I should progress pretty easily. Never mind the fact that olympic weightlifting is unlike anything else I’ve ever done; it requires skill, finesse, and finely-honed technique as well as beastly strength. Or that it requires a highly developed energy system that I have never trained, ever in my life.

So off we went, my inflated ego and I…and here’s what happened. I did make relatively quick progress at first – my ego wasn’t entirely wrong in that it actually is good to start with some strength and some experience.  But I hit a wall in pretty short order; mostly due to the fact that I let misguided ideas about what I *should* be lifting blind me to what actually needed careful, attentive work. So I wrapped up my ego in duct tape, shoved her into a closet, and went back to the beginning.

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This time though, I have my cool cucumber-flavoured big-girl panties on. I’m practicing mindfully and attentively so that I don’t develop bad habits that will take for freaking ever to undo…because here’s the thing: when you’re learning new skills, mistakes happen. That’s inevitable, and you have to let yourself make them so that you know how to correct them on the fly. The important part is that you DO correct them in short order so that you can get on with the important business of fucking up in other ways.

The take-home message here is that ego is the enemy of awareness, and getting better at any new skill requires (you guessed it) awareness. If you approach a practice session with the mindset that you’re just going to put the hours in, you will not see the results you want. Know why? Because practice doesn’t make perfect – PERFECT practice makes perfect.

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