Mental Hygiene

Day 5:

The brainsparkers are failing me. I find myself shuffling through the cards multiple times a day looking for something to actually spark an idea and they just irritate me and make me want to write about other stuff. Which is awesome because it means that I have ideas again! Whoohoo,, it worked!!mh1

The other day I touched on a concept that I’ve been thinking about a lot: MENTAL HYGIENE. I was watching a lecture by renowned psychology prof Jordan Peterson on the topic of dealing with depression and suicide, where he spoke at length about mental hygiene. It has occupied a lot of my brain space lately, not because I’m depressed or suicidal (although I have dragged through some pretty dark periods of clinical depression in the past) but because as a personal trainer/coach I believe it’s part of my role to be able to coach my clients through some of life’s difficult passages if the need arises. People are dealing with more chronic stress and feelings of disconnectedness than ever before and exercise is (rightfully) one of the first places people tend to turn to as treatment for depression. Fitness professionals need to maintain a skill set that includes knowing how to coach, when to coach, and, most importantly, when NOT to coach and refer out instead.

Anyway. Maintaining good mental hygiene is the first defense against depression and it’s fairly straightforward: we have an idea of what *should* happen from day to day. If we do A, then B and C and D will happen. But, life is some messy shit sometimes and doesn’t turn out as planned…and when that happens someone with good mental hygiene deals with ONLY what is in front of them in a constructive way, where someone with bad mental hygiene might jump right over the isolated unexpected negative experience and go straight to general self-bashing.  My crap workout from the other day and ensuing hormone-induced mental spiralling is a perfect example of bad mental hygiene. To recap, I missed a couple of lifts that by all accounts I should have made (and probably would have made on another day) and instead of thinking “ok, no big deal – I missed those lifts because of solid reasons X, Y, and Z that are within my control” I went straight to “I’ll never get better at weightlifting and I’ll look like an ass in competition and I don’t deserve to be taking up space in the gym.”


So how do you get better at keeping good mental hygiene? Well, the same way you get better at anything:


You practice letting in the minimum amount of negative feedback when something crappy or unexpected happens. For example, (and this is one I see all the freaking time) someone who’s trying to lose weight will eat well and do everything right for a whole week, but when they get on the scale on Monday morning, their weight will have stayed the same or maybe even have gone up. SO frustrating, because after working away at it for seven goddamn days you expect to see some progress on the scale. You deserve to be rewarded with some weight loss after all that work! How to deal with this? Well, if your mental hygiene is good, and you know you’ve done everything right but weight loss can be a nebulous thing which depends on a million tiny variables, you accept that you just need to keep doing what you’re doing. You might flip off the scale on your way out of the bathroom but you know that next week your effort will pay off. Negative feedback minimized: check.mh4

Now if your mental hygiene is somewhat lacking (and this happens more often with weight loss than just about anything else) you might look at the lack of results on the scale and go straight to “I suck. I’m going to be fat forever so there’s no point in trying. Fuck it all.” and then dive headfirst into a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. If things are really awry you might go as far as “I don’t deserve love or understanding.” which is just up the street from self-harm and suicidal thoughts. Now you’ve opened the door for all the demons and snakes and nastiness to come swirling in like a snowstorm.

This is a pattern that just about everyone falls into from time to time…and it’s really easy to do if you’ve had something like a Tuesday morning where you sleep through your alarm, discover you’re out of coffee filters, get a flat tire on your way to work, almost get killed by some eighteen-year-old douchebag in a pickup truck while you’re jacking up your car, then get in to work late, dirty, and grumpy and then get a bad performance review – those circumstances would test even the most mentally hygienic of us. But by practicing minimizing the negative feedback on the little things – bad hair days, being the target of someone else’s road rage, etc. – we can clean up our mental hygiene for the days when bigger stuff happens. You know, like missed lifts.  mh3

Day 4: What Can You Leave Behind?


I had a really shitty workout today. There are a lot of good reasons why it was shitty: it’s shark week and my hormones are wreaking their usual monthly havoc on everything, it was the third workout day in a row so I was tired and sore and not moving as well as I do normally; it’s Easter weekend so I don’t have the degree of control over my diet that I’m accustomed to. So really it should have been no surprise that it was kind of a crap workout…except that I let some other mental garbage in to mess with my head; other garbage that I haven’t had to worry about in a good while.

Here’s what happened: I had planned to do 4 heavy snatch singles today; WITH the video camera rolling. That piece is important, not only because it’s good material for social media or because it’s a good learning tool (especially when things don’t go as planned), but because the camera makes me freaking nervous, and I wanted some performance anxiety to fight with. I’m going to have to make these lifts under pressure in less than two weeks and I wanted to practice. So, I made the first one but it didn’t feel awesome. Watched the video…and to my surprise all I could see was what was wrong with my appearance: fat on my stomach, flying squirrel arms from gaining and losing hundreds of pounds over the years. I’m not gonna lie, it got to me a little bit. And my defenses were down because I haven’t worried about that stuff for a while. Anyway, I kept going: made the second one, watched the video (same inner critic chirping the same bullshit again.). Missed the third. Started to get frustrated and wondered if maybe I’ve made a bad mistake by committing to a competition before I’m ready. (And that thought was important; I’ll explain why in a minute). Tried it again and made it, but it was seriously shaky. Missed two attempts at the fourth, then gave up and moved on.


​So. Practicing good mental hygiene is hugely important in the gym (and of course everywhere else in life), and what I mean by that is this: when something goes wrong and tears the fabric of what we had planned, we let the bare minimum of mental crap in through that hole. What I should have done is accepted that today I was worn out, that it was shark week, and that my nutrition hadn’t been on point the day before so my recovery was compromised. Instead I went to a whole new level and started telling myself that I was slow, fat, didn’t deserve to be there, blah blah blah. I let the snakes in.

That’s what I’m gonna leave behind today: the bad mental hygiene that threw me off my game. Training is way too much fun to let that shit get in the way,



Day 3: FOCUS

Take three. I’m trying this one more time. Today I committed the crime of sitting down to write three separate times, and twice I have forced out a few paragraphs, deleted them, written a few more, gotten pissed off at what shitty shit I’m cranking out, gone to do something else while I thought about where to go with this piece, then sat back down and re-read what I wrote, deleted the whole thing, and started over again with a new topic. So: this is take three and I am going back to the first topic and I’m gonna FOCUS.focus3

Sheesh. I’m actually sorry I deleted those first two pieces, because even though they were shit, there may have been a good idea in there somewhere that I could have saved for later. Oh well.

My biggest problem lately is that it seems to require superhuman force of will to stay awake while doing something quiet and cerebral, like read any serious research or write anything good. Could be that I have so much stuff going on right now that it’s pretty hard to focus on anything for too long because I start feeling stressed about the other stuff I should be getting done. Also (and I hate to admit this) I feel like my brain has softened to the point where I tend to gravitate to the stuff that demands the least of me; namely social media. So is this a sleep deprivation problem? Or a stress problem? Or is my IQ actually dropping at an alarming rate?


There’s a scary thought.

I’m gonna go with the aforementioned combination of sleep deprivation and stress, because it’s a little less alarming than the third option but also because it’s probably true: I have been carrying around a fair amount of work stress over the past month or so (what with the job change and the role change at home) as well as sleep deprivation (thanks largely to a poorly-timed and vicious man-cold virus that descended upon my husband’s upper respiratory tract two days after the actual transfer at work). Anyway, time to be proactive and do something about both counts, because enough is enough and there’s shit to get done: books to read, pieces to write, videos to make, and worlds to change! I had a long list of stuff I wanted to accomplish back in January when 2017 was a fresh new year to write on  – time to shift out of survival mode and back into drive.focus


Day 2: What mistakes are you afraid of making?



I have made a lot of mistakes. A LOT of mistakes. So the ice is broken there; I figure mistakes are inevitable and as long as I have my big girl panties on and own them and learn something from them, mistakes are not the end of the world. I mean, sometimes I think a camera crew should follow me around and document the bumbling that I do on a daily basis because I am actually supremely talented at fucking up. I don’t even regret my mistakes most of the time, although two days ago I got out of my car and wasn’t paying attention to my surroundings because I was talking to my daughters and carrying a lot of stuff, and I stepped right into a giant pile of dog shit. This wasn’t one of those incidences where you just wipe the sole of your foot on the grass and carry on, being careful not to wear your shoes in the house or the car without cleaning them off as well as you can. We’re talking ankle-deep into  a shit pit, where my shoe made a sucking noise as I pulled it out, and my entire foot was coated in poop.


That was regrettable.


I think that as I get older I am more afraid of hurting myself because it takes longer and longer to recover. Some days I worry about dropping heavy weights on myself (oh wait, I did that a few years ago) or failing at a lift and dropping a loaded barbell onto my head or neck (I actually did that today – TWICE – and survived to tell about it).


Still, I figure as long as I am the one who has to face the consequences for my mistakes, then it’s okay. The mistakes I really am afraid of making are the ones where someone else has to pay for them…those are bad news. Coincidentally those are the mistakes that I flirt with all day every day at work: balancing clients’ needs within the context of achieving the results they’re after and judging just how best to push them on any given day. So far no one has gotten hurt!


But really? The mistakes I fear the most are of the parenting variety. What if I mess my daughters up so badly that they go forth into adulthood without the tools they need? What if I am not enough to protect them from the cruelties and inequalities in this world? What if they need someone better/harder/richer/more selfless/younger/smarter than me?


What if, what if. I am the one whose insides they squeezed out of so we are all stuck; may as well make the best of it. So I’m gonna quit worrying, take some Advil for my sore neck (from the aforementioned and ill-fated barbell impact) and go to bed. Tomorrow’s mistakes aren’t going to make themselves!




Step into Different Shoes

writers block

**Note: I haven’t written in a while, I know – life has taken a few turns for the crazy and every time I sit down to write I stare at a blank screen for an hour and tear my hair out. So, just to get going again here, I’m doing an experiment. I have this cool app called Brainsparker which is basically a virtual deck of cards that you can sort of tailor to your chosen subject matter, and if you’re feeling intimidated by the blank screen in front of you, you can draw a card with an idea seed or a question and write about that. I’m going to do a quick Brainsparker post every day for the next 30 days. Ready? Here’s day 1:


I bought some new Nike’s yesterday on impulse. My feet were feeling pounded from standing more than usual and training hard and my old Nike’s were starting to feel a little dead. But more importantly, there’s some re-invention happening in my corner: two weeks ago I changed workplaces (still with World Health but in another location). I’m working more hours, training to compete in a new sport, and I’ve switched roles with my husband at home. It was time for new shoes. I mean, clearly.

What’s interesting about these new kicks is that they are a perfect metaphor for how I feel about life lately: I wasn’t looking for change – not this one, anyway – but it kind of fell into my lap because I was in the right place at the right time.

So, I bought these on sale. If they hadn’t had a really attractive price tag I probably wouldn’t have even given them a second look, but I figured I’d give them a try and see how they felt. I had a couple of other pairs to try on that were my usual standby’s; I knew I’d like them and that they’d fit and that they were, well, ME. But when I took these out of the box and put them on, they felt AWESOME. They weren’t what I usually wear though, so I took them off and stuck them back into the box. I tried on the other pairs that were more familiar…but they just didn’t feel as good. I went back to the sale pair and looked at them.


I hate pink. No, I don’t really hate pink; it’s just not a colour I wear…and light grey? Blech. Nope. But for some reason I tried them on again. Yup, definitely WAY more comfortable than the other ones, and considerably cheaper. Sold. I figured if I wanted to I could always return them later…

But today I’m liking them more. They still don’t quite look like ME, but goddamn do they feel like home on my feet, and people keep commenting on how great they look.

The thing about changing and moving forward is that some discomfort is inevitable. It doesn’t mean that the change is bad (although I tell ya I have done an awful lot of flip-flopping and second guessing over the last couple of weeks), it just means that there is learning and growing happening. And the accompanying awkward collection of feels that goes with leveling up in life (including but not limited to euphoria, loneliness, ambition, hope, uncertainty, enthusiasm, and guilt) can be overwhelming. But all of that will pass, and like a new pair of sneakers, the new normal will be even better than the way things were a month ago.

So, at the end of the work day today, I’m gonna go to my locker and chuck out the shoe box that I was hanging onto just in case I decided not to keep these sneakers. They’re keepers.