Nourish and Forge Wellness

health and life coaching for those experiencing stress, transition, and overwhelm

Category: fitness

Numbing Works

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I first learned how to numb when my mom became ill and was hospitalized when I was 13.

She went to the hospital and we went into survival mode—part of which involved numbing things to the “not-going-to-consume-me-with-raging-fire-of-the-miserable-unfairness-of-it-all” level.

So, while my mom was in the hospital, my dad, two siblings, and I watched TV. Like a lot of it. Anything to forget and distract and feel better. At least for an hour or two. We ate comfort food. All the comfort food. Ice cream, pizza, tacos, candy. When I wasn’t comfort eating or watching TV with my two siblings and dad, I was escaping into every book I could put my hands on. And let me tell you. Numbing worked.

Fast forward 23 years. A lot of shit has gone down—as it does. I have weathered soul-sucking jobs, heart-crushing breakups, leaving my entire life behind and rebuilding it overseas, my mom’s continued health issues, my dad’s more recent terminal cancer, the list goes on.

It’s both devastating and completely normal. We all weather horrible ordeals that eff up our lives; we all experience wonderful moments that make life worth living. The degree of these experiences varies from person to person, but the existence of them in each life does not.

I haven’t always navigated the hard times in healthy ways. It could be said I’ve become a master of numbing life’s pain. (I probably should make myself a certificate. Haha.) Throughout my teens, twenties, and now my thirties, numbing has been a constant companion in many hard ordeals. TV and food are still old anesthetizing friends, but I’ve added to my speed dial—alcohol, Internet, social media, and when I’m being a bit healthier, 1000 piece puzzles and podcasts (this offers literally hours of zoning out and forgeting about any crappy crap I’m trying to get through). They have always been there to distract me and take away the discomfort—at least for a little while. Numbing works.

Until…it doesn’t. Because at some point all that discomfort and yuck you’ve been avoiding is going to explode all over everywhere. It will demand your attention. It will leave voicemails and comment on your fb wall and show up at work. Because numbing works, but only in small doses and in the short term. 

When numbing is your one and only strategy to getting through discomfort and difficulty and devastation, you end up half-living. Numbing the bad feelings also numbs the good ones. It limits your ability to grow, learn, and connect with others. It leaves you feeling empty and alone.

I know this; I’ve lived it.

I’ve also come to learn that strictly cutting out my anesthetizing helpers isn’t realistic for me; there are times I need to check out for a little while. But I now know I must couple a great deal of awareness and mindfulness with any sort of numbing behaviors I take into my life. I have to do this during times of difficulty to be sure I’m not getting sucked into the “I’m-checking-out-for-a week/month/year-cuz-this-feels-awful” black hole. So, I force myself to notice when my moods and energy and healthy behaviors are decreasing and reevaluate my choices.

This has come into play during my repatriation to the US. I have had a great deal of time and a great deal of stress on my hands. Recently, I’ve noticed that my TV watching has increased as has my alcohol and shitty fake-food consumption. Not anything drastic, but enough for me to feel thoroughly like C-R-A-P. I know from experience that it’s a slippery slope, so in recent years, I’ve done my best to recognize and face those realities early on.

Here’s what I did: I decided to eliminate one thing. I stopped watching television; I know from experience that it is one of the most needy behaviors—always wanting to be paired up with a boozy bev or a crappy snack. After I stopped, I immediately found a decrease in my other unhealthy cravings. It’s also given me inertia to do other positive things for myself. I’ve spent more time outside, even when I don’t feel like it. I’ve found a gym that I love and go regularly. I’ve meditated. It all started with that one change.

 

Let me break down what I’ve learned during my serious work in this area for the last seven years or so—first, decide that you want to be more present and be willing to sit in the discomfort, face it, and decide what to do with it. Then—know your triggers, bring awareness and honesty to your behaviors, pick ONE thing you want to eliminate, substitute or shift. Do it and then notice what happens. Reevaluate and revise as needed.

It takes bravery and vulnerability and perseverance to sit in discomfort instead of distract, to face hardships instead of avoid, to have moments all over life’s spectrum, fully feeling both joy and sorrow, instead of staying only in the middle and chopping off the ends with numbing agents. It’s hard work, but worthy work. Let numbing be a tool used sparingly and notice what happens.

Does this resonate with you? Do you have times you’d like to navigate stress or pain better? Are you not fully feeling the joy and the sorrow in your life?  If you said yes to any of these, give this idea a shot and let me know how it goes!

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What I Learned at the Gym about Feedback

I haven’t worked out in 6 weeks.

I’ve been traveling in northern Thailand, repatriating from South Korea to Colorado, working on home improvement projects for my parents, and spending tons of time with family, friends, and my beautiful Colorado mountains.

So, when I walked in to my first CrossFit class four days ago, I was ready to get a good sweat on. The coach and people and facility were all nice. I received feedback and cues from the coach (in detailed English) which was something I had been missing desperately in South Korea. It was a good experience; however, I left feeling a little blue.

Here’s what I was able to pull out from the experience—the coach never told me anything I was doing well; he simply pointed out what I could improve.

Constructive feedback was actually what I’d been craving, but I realized that without the companion of positive feedback, I was a little less open to hearing what he had to say and a little less pumped when I left the gym.

What is interesting to me is that I am a seasoned CrossFitter—I know my knowledge and skill sets are solid. Even with this self-confidence, I still wanted needed a balance of positive and constructive feedback from my new coach.

I can’t imagine how defeated I would’ve felt if it was my first class. 

Let me be clear, this coach was a nice guy and had great suggestions. He was a good coach. However, as coaches and teachers, we tend to fall into a place where we focus only on what needs to be fixed.

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Herein lay that big ol’ slap-in-the-face reminder for me—speak positivity into people’s lives. All the time, ideally, but especially when you’re trying to help someone improve.

This is relevant in communication with loved ones. This is essential when in a teaching or coaching position. This is the core ingredient for people feeling connected and safe with you when they are in a place of discomfort or when they are stretching their limits.

Here are some practical ideas of how to get a great balance of positive and constructive feedback when interacting with others.

  • Prelude each constructive criticism with a specific validation of something done well. (If you forget, you can always add a positive at the end.)
  • Try using the word “and” instead of “but” to connect your affirmation and your constructive feedback. Example: “You have done such a great job practicing your sight words this week, but and if you want to get to the next level, we can work on your spelling words now.”
  • Visualize the person in front of you achieving their goals; verbalize that bright future to them whenever appropriate.
  • Don’t blow smoke up anyone’s behind. The positive affirmation can absolutely be something small and specific, but above all, must be true.
  • Finish each coaching/teaching session with a positive wrap-up statement that validates time, effort, and achievement in an authentic way.

In a world full of “not ____ enough”, we teachers/coaches/humans have the potential to spread light and possibility. As easy as it is to forget amidst the demands and details of “adulting”, it is essential that we shine light and kindness and affirmation into our fellow human’s lives.

Let this be your focus for a day, and notice the difference.

 

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3 Reasons to STOP Setting Goals Today

Let’s get real for a quick minute. Teaching is hard. Being an expat is hard. These are worlds that challenge who you are, what you do, and why you do it. Teachers and expats are extraordinary people doing inspiring things. They are brave. They are smart. They are resourceful. They are high-achievers. They are goal-setters.

Here’s what I’ve learned in my years of teaching and expat-ing: setting goals can actually set you back, especially as a teacher or an expat.

There’s a better way. Setting intentions instead of goals has changed my mindset, attitude, and ultimately my level of satisfaction and joy both at work and in my personal life.

Here are three reasons I urge you to start setting intentions instead of goals.

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When you set a goal like losing 15 pounds, you are immersing yourself in the “what”. Intentions necessitate a plunge into the “why” — they ask you to dig deeper. Why is that 15 pounds so important? Why do those 15 pounds matter?

Do they represent the first years of teaching as all your energy and time got channeled into your classroom and your health fell to a last priority? (Yes, I’ll cop to that one.)

Or is it the expat weight you gained as you dealt with the discomfort of transition and loneliness with food and alcohol and TV? (Yep, I’ll cop to that one too. Annnnd I’ll tack on another 10, if we’re being real.)

The goal of losing the 15 pounds skips over the fact that this is really about prioritizing your own health and well being again. It’s about changing your habits to be better to yourself, which in turn allows you to be better to those around you.

Converting a weight loss goal to an intention might look like:

  • move every day
  • prioritize connection over screen time
  • eat mostly foods that energize me
  • sleep 8 hours a night

Sure, the “why” is important, but goals have helped me achieve stuff before. Will intentions do that too?

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I’ve had so many conversations with people who set goals for themselves to eat clean all week. It feels great on Monday. Tuesday, too.

But, let’s say on Wednesday, there’s a mound of chocolate on the tables during an after-school meeting. I’m tired, we think, I deserve a piece of chocolate to get me through this meeting.

So we eat a piece lot of chocolate. Berate ourselves in our heads. Think, well, I already messed up. I may as well pick up a frozen pizza and some wine on the way home. Wednesday’s missteps lead to more on Thursday, during which we decide to restart on Monday. Oh yeah. We’ve all been there: the Monday-Trap.

Goals lead to an unending cycle of Monday restarts after weeks that are 50% clean and 50% crap. Not ideal. Those goals don’t get met. And, they are mentally and emotionally stressful — yet one more reason we are not measuring up.

Ok, ok. Yes that happens. But there are times when we meet goals, too. What’s so wrong with that?

Anyone who has ever met a goal can relate to the high that goes along with achieving it. They will probably also admit (maybe just to themselves), the emptiness of a “now, what?” feeling and, almost always, a binge of some sort on whatever was being restricted or controlled.

I remember doing (and winning) an 8 week nutrition challenge. It was so hard, but I did it and was pretty damn near perfect the whole time. I won the challenge, felt great about my fat loss and energy, and then felt OVERWHELMING FEAR about how to maintain after the challenge and accountability ended. The challenge was a great way for me to experience how drastically food changes my daily moods and energy. It was a great way to experiment with new ways of being. But it was not sustainable. 

When you set an intention to “move every day”, you get to choose in what way you meet this. Some days you might want to take a long walk before school with your dogs. Other days, five minutes of stretching at lunch in your classroom might be it. And some days, you’ll effing kill it at the gym and feel like superwoman.

When you are simply doing your best to align your actions with your intentions, that are deeply grounded in a meaningful “why”, this breeds momentum. It is the epitome of sustainability.

Yeah, yeah…that sounds great and all. But what happens when you mess up?

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Goals are tough. They imply perfection (or damn near close) in order to achieve them, often as quickly as possible.

The first year I felt successful as a teacher was my 7th year in the classroom. MY SEVENTH YEAR.

Why? I could quote the difficulties of teaching in the U.S. school systems, or the drain on time and energy, or the unreasonable expectations of districts and admin, but really, my discontent stemmed from my inability to ever meet the goals I set for myself. I defined “success” as getting all my students at or above grade level, being planned and prepped every day, never messing up and saying something that impacted a child in a negative way.

Goals fed my perfectionism and left me gasping for air, drowning in a sea “not enough”.

When I begin to explore the “why” of teaching, I discovered that, for me, it was about two things:

  1. connection
  2. inspiring joy and curiosity

The goals I had set had nothing to do with my “why”. So, I did an experiment. I wrote two intentions on a sticky note and put it on my computer so I would see it multiple times a day.

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So every day, my intentions were to:

  1. get beside kids — get to know them, coach them on their writing, make eye contact, smile, ask questions, be present, listen
  2. share myself — tell stories in my mini-lessons; share my own ideas, successes, and failures as a writer and human; bring in videos, articles, and pieces that inspired me to hopefully inspire them

Some days were better than others. But each day, I aligned my actions with my intentions the best that I could. At the end of the day, I would reflect for a moment to see how well aligned I was. And, finally, no matter how “good” or “bad” the day was, I would tell myself it was enough, pat myself on the back, and go home, knowing tomorrow was a fresh start. NOT MONDAY. Tomorrow.

Because that’s the thing about intentions — they are all about PRACTICE, not perfection.

It is not about balls-to-the-wall hustle till you get that goal.

Intentions are about the consistent, meaning-driven, sustainable improvement of how we exist in the world—how we treat ourselves, how we treat others, and how we contribute.

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Limiting Thoughts: Stop Living Small

The last few days I’ve been percolating on the idea of limiting thoughts, and how these little nagging buggers have such power to negatively impact our lives and our happiness when we let them have free reign in our minds.

On Friday night, I was getting ready for bed and mentally preparing for the big CrossFit Competition the next day. I had qualified as an individual, but opted to compete with my team to continue to build the friendships started with my teammates. About 8 pm, my coach (Teddy) messaged me asking if I’d like to compete both for the team and individual.

My first thought? My elbow. Is it healed enough? Can I handle five workouts in one day, even though they are short and pretty lightweight? What if I injure something else? What if I can’t give my best to the team because too much energy goes to individual events? In other words, my first reaction—fear and worry.

My second thought? What if I make a fool of myself? I used to be great at competing, but that was before Korea wreaked havoc on my routines, diet, and exercise. What if I suck? What if I start but can’t continue due to reinjury? Will everyone view me as weak? What if I don’t live up to what they all think of me? My second reaction—fear of feeling vulnerable or not measuring up.

How often in life do we let these sorts of limiting thoughts keep us from achieving, or beyond that, keep us from even trying something outside of our comfort zone? For me—many more times than I’d like to admit.

Here’s the thing: having the courage to live more in our edges, to risk vulnerability, to occupy new space…that’s where the vibrancy of this life resides.

One of my fails, captured for posterity. (I nailed the next attempt, though!)

One of my fails, captured for posterity. (I nailed the next attempt, though!)

No matter the outcome (win or lose or epic fail), when we push into new spaces of life and ourselves, we enrich our minds, increase our understanding of ourselves and the world, and begin to build up a resilient and courageous spirit. Not only will you grow, but those around you will too. Because you know what? Courage is contagious.

Friday night, I almost didn’t do it; I almost chose to bypass the individual competition and stay safe, stay comfortable. But, a friend and a whisper in my head pushed me forward. Do it. Try. Why not? 

So I did. And it was the most energizing, scary, fun, triumphant day so far this fall. I felt so alive. I can’t believe I almost missed this experience because of limiting thoughts—nasty little voices that are better ignored (or acknowledged and released for what they are—just thoughts) than heeded. As a friend said recently, “You can’t have the win if you don’t risk the loss.”

What are you missing out on due to limiting thoughts? What can you say “yes” to this week to move into your edge, to practice courage, and to occupy a new space in this world or yourself?

Shocked and happy to be on the podium at the end of the day.

Shocked and happy to be on the podium at the end of the day.


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What I’ve Learned about Movement

Movement is something I often take for granted. But then there are times like today, seeing a post from my friend (paralyzed by a freak accident a couple years ago, and continuing to thrive in life: coaching, opening a new gym, breaking new ground) slide into view on facebook, when I stop and acknowledge the true wonder of my body and all it’s able to do. In those moments, I look up or close my eyes, look within and whisper, thanks.

These bodies of ours are pretty miraculous things. They serve us well. And the better we serve them, the better they will serve us. One way that we can treat our bodies with the respect and love they deserve is with movement.

wallballMovement can come in all shapes and forms: walking (functional, meditative, restorative), running, stretching, swimming, lifting weights, playing sports, yoga, chores, gardening…the list goes on and on. I find that my 35 year old body thrives on a balance of intense and restorative movements. I like to do CrossFit or strength training 3-4 times a week, 1-2 of those being very high intensity. The other days, I’ve committed to moving my body in restorative ways, most often gentle yoga, long walks along the river or hiking. What I’ve found is that I recover more quickly from soreness and have far fewer tweaks and injuries when planning my movement this way.

Movement does more for me than just keep my body healthy; it keeps my tornado-brain at bay. Most of us spend our days in our heads—thinking, reflecting, planning, worrying, remembering, to-do lists, paperwork, what’s for dinner…ahhhhh!!! What a relief to move out of your head and into your body—intentionally and daily—through movement.

CrossFit is meditative to me, because my energy is fully engaged in the task at hand. There is no room in my head for past or future or worry—only room for the present: the next rep, the next breath. It is a rock during tumultuous times that I know will ground me (even for an hour of my day) in the now. It will move me from the tangled mess of my mind to the purposeful movement of my body.

Walking, swimming, and hiking are the times my mind gets to wander like clouds through the sky, hopping from one thought to the next. Or focus in on the wonder around me—the dust on the leaves on the trees or the feeling of rough bark under my fingertips.

Movement serves me if I make it a priority—it makes my life better; it makes my body stronger and healthier; it gives my mind a rest.

What purpose does movement fulfill for you? How does movement serve you in your journey? 


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