5 Thoughts on burnout & how not to

I’m currently finishing up preparations for a presentation this week to a local company about preventing burnout. I’ve done many presentations...stress reduction, eating well, lifestyle...and although the content I’m putting together overlaps a lot of that, somehow this topic resonates with me the most. Perhaps because I’ve been there. I know this stuff because I’ve lived it...and still do from time to time. But as any lesson in life, I don’t know that the point is never to fall again, but to gather tools along the way so we fall less often, fall less hard and get up quicker.

One of the daily rituals I enjoy (and yet still inconsistent with), is reading something uplifting as I drink my morning tea, as the start of my day. My favourite right now is to read one or two short essays from Timothy Ferriss’ Tribe of Mentors. The questions asked of 100 experts in their field are clever and applicable to anyone wanting to uplevel. I have come to believe over the years that there are no coincidences (thank-you Deepak Chopra), and those “that’s so crazy” moments of serendipity are in fact reinforcing that you are on the right path. So today, before I revisit my presentation, I grabbed Tim’s book and opened up to the next story. The bold quote at the top of the page reads “Burnout is not the price you have to pay for success” from none other than Arianna Huffington. I won’t rewrite the contents here because I truly believe this is a book that anyone would find valuable, but there were some key thoughts she shared about life and burnout in particular that I felt to be worth sharing here...and you can bet will be included in this week’s presentation also. Keep in mind I’m paraphrasing here, but this is how her words fell into my ears...

1. Express gratitude. Remember those who supported you when they had nothing to gain. She STILL sends a Christmas card to the banker who gave her a loan years ago when she (seemed to be) out of options. 

2. Put on your own oxygen mask first. This analogy is used a ton with coaching people to put self care as a priority. Arianna (may I use her first name?) describes her oxygen mask to be sleeping, meditating, walking, working out, etc. It took her collapsing in 2007 from exhaustion for her to see how important her wellbeing was to her productivity. She views taking care of herself as an investment (as we all should) that has pay-offs for years to come.

3. Reframe perception of time. This one is huge for me. I honestly always have felt this panic around “running out of time”. Even when I graduated at 25 from Chiropractic College, I felt I was late to the game (of work) and still feel that way at times. I think a lot of this is culturally constructed. In this context, she was discussing the parameters she had placed around work vs non-work time. She began to reframe what “work” time meant, and started to include walks and meditating and unplugging as part of her “work” because those habits were what enabled her to be productive, creative, effective and...happier. And isn’t that the grand poobah goal for all of us?

4. Changing your mind about something is one thing, but sometimes it is easier to start with a small action step to move us in the right direction. She gave two tech tips I love...one won’t be brand new but when I’ve done this, I had the best sleep of my life and got out of bed with ease. It’s as simple as plugging in your technology OUTSIDE your bedroom at night. NO scrolling through social media, or last minute emails. If you must remember midnight ideas, then leave a journal and pen beside your bed. But disconnect. The second, which was a new idea for me, is to periodically scramble the apps on your phone. She describes the benefit of giving you an extra amount of time to decide if you do indeed need to use their phone or if its more a boredom or habit. I’ve also gone so far as leaving my phone in my car if I’m waiting for an appointment. I’ve noticed things around me when my eyes aren’t glued to the screen and the biggest thing is that in a room full of people, no one is even aware of the person next to them. If I want to improve my connections in this world it wont happen by looking at my screen. From a neurology standpoint though, scrambling the apps on your phone or tablet is similar to taking a different route home. It causes the brain to pay attention and gets you out of the hardwired path you take each day. Any action that has novelty is brain food.

5. OK so, sometimes we can’t always be ahead of the game and lets face it. We all hit a wall from time to time. So what then? Typically that’s when we feel we have the least amount of time and often by then are in a headspace where solutions elude us and the downward spiral continues. SO what then? Arianna mirrors my thoughts on taking five minutes to breathe. If taking five minutes away from the task will make the next twenty more productive, you must pause and centre yourself.

There is so much more I could write on this, and I likely will, but these gems stood out. Start where you are, look to where you want to go and ask yourself if your current lifestyle and habits will get you there. If so, breathe and enjoy. If not, its in your hands to take one step (or one thought) in the right direction.

 

Are your expectations limiting you?

I recently started training with a personal trainer again. I love it. I need the accountability. I like the encouraging messages to keep me going and the fact that I have someone else to answer to if I don't follow-through. I like the variety and the push so I can just dive in and trust that someone else is keeping a finger on the pulse of whether or not I'm on track with my goals so that I can just show up. 

This morning's workout as usual involved a number of strength exercises as well as a series of three 500 m rowing sets at a "brisk pace". This meant, not quite a sprint but more than a leisurely row. Last week I had completed a 500 m "test" to see how long it took to row at my max. Based on my sprint pace, my trainer set a goal to pace myself to complete the 500 m in 2:15-2:25.

The first set felt good. I watched the clock intently to gauge the pace I was needing to maintain. I didn't want to go too fast and burn out in one set but I didn't want to go too slow and miss the mark that had been set. Knowing I had two more sets to complete after this, I tried not to give my all on this first set. I finished at 2:19.8. Sweet. I was happy, and in my head it gave me leeway to slow down if I couldn't maintain the speed and still remain in the prescribed time range. 

The second set felt surpisingly good too. It was easier to set and keep the pace, probably because I had a recent set to reference. Set two was faster coming in at 2:16.4. 

On the third set (leading up to the entire point of this blog), I hit the wrong button on the rower, so the screen showed my distance but it didn't show me my time or pace. No problem. I set out and found a good rhythm, pushed but didn't feel I was maxing out by any means. If anything, I felt like I may be slower but tuned into myself and knew I wasn't at my max yet was still giving consistent effort. Once I finished, I pushed buttons on the screen until I found the time that was tracked and I was shocked. 2:14.9. Five whole seconds faster than set one. 

So what is my point? Well there are a couple "aha" moments in this for me: 

1 - If I have a goal in the back of my mind it helps to frame my level of intensity. This can work for or against me. This is great if my goals are just out of my comfort zone and will push me harder than I would otherwise. If my goals are too low though, perhaps I'm not realizing my full potential. Perhaps I won't see the need to push myself harder to surpass the moderate and challenge myself further. As with anything, how we show up in physical challenge is how we show up in other challenges.

2 - When I wasn't watching intently at my progress, I actually did better. This doesn't negate the benefit of tracking and checking in with goals, as I did have an opportunity to touch base once I finished. In this case though, I set the goal, went after it and then checked in later. Obviously to some degree, seeing the time caused me to pace myself slower and limit my potential. I find this relatable to what I often discuss with patients regarding their progress also. Everything takes time. Sometimes checking in too frequently or expecting instant feedback can be to our demise. We may miss out on the long-term potential and more importantly our ability to be in-tune to self assess where we are. When someone is losing weight for instance, looking at the scale multiple times a day will not give you valuable feedback. If anything, this may discourage you in feeling that nothing is changing. Over the course of weeks or months though, the minor inevitable fluctuations balance out and you can see the trend of direction you are going in.

3- There is so much value in tuning into your own body. To trust your own gauge of how much you need to push it without the distraction of details. The more we are able to rely on our inborn wisdom to guide us, be it intuition in making a decision or knowing when our choice to not workout is due to needed rest versus laziness, the less we will need to rely on objective measures to change course when needed and we will be able to find that surge from within. With this in mind though, pay attention if you are playing too small. Even the fact that I scaled my pace in the first round was based on the expectation that I wouldn't be able to sustain that. What if I could though? And in fact I improved my time each time. I've noticed this during road or cycling races as well and through the years have realized how much I have scaled my start to have a fast finish. If I had that much reserve though at the end of a race, tells me more that I didn't push as hard as I could at the beginning. 

Much of the above is more self reflection, but perhaps those reading this can see where any of these observations may show up in your own life also. Are your goals big enough? Are your expectations limiting your true potential? Are you gauging your success in whatever you are focused on (work, finances, fitness) on a micro rather than a macro scale? We don't know our boundaries or max output unless we challenge those limits and it is with challenge that we improve and grow.

Bike Philosophy: 4 Lessons from my Ride

I encourage my practice members to have an outlet of some kind. Something they love to do where time passes with ease and leaves them feeling more grounded. For some that may be running, or knitting or reading...anything that allows them to unload their day enjoy themselves. For me, that outlet is my bike. My bike is my happy place.

Yesterday, I went for a ride with the plan to bike to Chestermere. With path closures, and unexpected road race and detours, I decided to head back home instead where I then came across rough roads prepped for paving (bumpy and the opposite of fun on a road bike) and then almost nose-dived when my bike tire was caught in a sidewalk crack. I was in my head, negative and was spiraling because nothing was going as planned. As I was grumbling in my head I caught myself because usually I'm happiest on my bike. I reminded myself that I was choosing the dialogue and considered a different perspective. Here is what I came up with:

1. Sometimes on your bike (or in life) your path will change. This may very well be for your own well-being. Who knows what you avoided with the unexpected change of plans. It also may present an entirely new beautiful route you wouldn't have otherwise taken.

2. You may (or rather WILL) at times encounter a bumpy road. But you're still here, on it, moving forward. It may slow you down but whats the rush anyway? And when you get to the smooth parts, man do you appreciate it so much more.

3. Almost nose-diving is not the same as nose-diving..yeah core strength! The near misses remind us of how strong we really are...and there is no need to add drama where drama is unnecessary.

4. My last lesson/ reminder that came to me at the end of this ride was that I have the power to change my inner dialogue. I know this, I've done it before but there have also been many times I have chose to wallow in my negative thoughts. Like a muscle though, each time we flex a thought or behaviour (for better or worse), it gets stronger and we are more likely to do the same in the future.

I'm a huge believer that sweat, sunshine and thoughts heal. Get outside, get moving, do things that excite you.

3 Favourite Home Care Tools

My plan for regular blog posts has clearly not panned out...yet! A lot is brewing though and I will be touching on topics in my blog that I will now be elaborating on in video for those needing more clarity!

The first videos I will be releasing shortly (find them here!) will be highlighting some of my favourite tools for body maintenance. I like these because the props do not take up a lot of space (for the most part), are not crazy expensive, there are a variety of ways to use each tool and they are effective! 

Below are my list of my three favourite homecare tools:

1. A rolling ball. These come in a variety of forms but you want one about the size of an orange with a little bit of "give". The one in the pic was purchased at fitterfirst here in Calgary and has some grip to it. It is designed for rolling, but you can use lacrosse balls or in some cases a quality tennis ball may work. This ball can be used to address muscular trigger points or to help resolve adhesions in connective tissue. 

2. A yoga strap. I prefer a long one (9' minimum) to allow for greater diversity in stretches. If you are a yogi, the strap can be an amazing prop in different postures to add stability or to enable you to find a more aligned and at times deeper expression or a pose without putting you at risk. For general body maintenance, the strap can be a helpful tool to stretch hamstrings, shoulders and to help reset posture.

3. A yoga bolster. If you have ever been to a restorative yoga class, you are likely already in love with this prop! This prop is great for supported stretches, allowing for long, gentle holds. I often recommend it for chest stretches/ opening and to help take pressure off of the upper back curve. It is also great for added support below your knees when laying on your back, or just below your hip crease when laying on your stomach. 

Stay tuned for specific strategies you can use with each of these props to support your body, reduce pain and ensure you can keep participating in the activities you love!

Lessons from Triathlon Training

As the weather starts to chill I find myself daydreaming back to the summer. Ours was a rainy one, but there was one day in particular that will forever be etched in my mind. Perhaps more importantly what that day represented to me. 

I have had a long time goal of completing an Olympic triathlon. This seemed out of reach a mere 4 years ago, having been involved with running events my entire life, but only getting into cycling and swimming as an adult. My first taste of the sport was when I entered the Banff Sprint Triathlon in 2012. I was untrained (active through summer but nothing structured) and despite the water being brutally cold it was fun and the most beautiful race I've been involved in. If you asked me that day if I imagined doing an Olympic triathlon, I would have said it would be a stretch. I couldn't get through a bike ride without a fall at the time and swimming in a lake was the most daunting thing imagineable. I tabled the thought but there was always a nudge to one day attempt it. 

Fast forward four years, to a time where I was redirecting my focus to myself. I decided that I needed to commit to a race to make it a real goal, and to enlist the expertise of someone to give me some structured training. I wanted to see what I was "capable" of if I actually trained with someone who knew what they were doing.

You know you're in your zone when even the hard is fun. Training was just that. Tough physically at times, mentally at other times. But it was fun and I loved every minute of it. I found a discipline to stay on track and make training my non-negotiable commitment like I never knew was possible. It became very clear who had my back in supporting me along the journey as well, from the occasional inquiries into how I was doing, understanding when I had to leave events early because I had an early training session the next day, or the post-race texts and calls that meant more than anyone can know. 

As with other events where I've had to "dig deep", I always find some golden nugget life lessons, or sometimes just observations in the thick of the tough of it, that ultimately translate to my everyday life. 

One of the lessons I was reminded of was the concept of letting go. I've encountered this a number of times in life, when I've held so tightly to an idea, person or goal that I could not fathom why it eluded me. In the context of triathlon training, it was letting go of what I thought my gains were supposed to look like. Two months into training, I was frustrated to the point that I almost backed out of the race. I was about 6 weeks from the goal but wasn't seeing any apparent improvement despite training intensely 6 days a week. Luckily, my trainer heard my desperation and insisted we meet for a coffee. In this conversation, she shared not her wins but her struggles. It helped. It made me realize that me keeping my agreement with myself and allowing myself to see it through was the progress I needed and that everyone goes through the mud...thats how we learn. My frustrations stemmed from the fact that my 10 km times weren't better, in fact they were worse, and although I was increasing the weight I was lifting, I didn't feel I LOOKED any stronger or "better". I assumed gains would be in trimming the extra insulation and being faster in the pool, on my bike and in my shoes. This wasn't happening. I stuck it out, completed the race in the end and even then had a slower run and a mediocre swim (I did however kick as$$ on the bike). When I reflected back though, I realized I did indeed have gains and improvements with training, they just looked different than I assumed they would. I wasn't looking for them so I didnt see them. In fact, the gains I did experience were probably the most valuable.

For one, my recovery post-race was virtually nothing. Most races I would be stiff for a day or two, my biggest race, the Chicago marathon, I couldn't walk upstairs for three days. If you asked me the day after the Olympic tri this summer though? I felt 100%. My improved recovery told me that my body was less damaged in that race, I had less healing to do and that I could probably even push myself harder next time.

The second win, was my self talk. I won't lie, in most races there are moments (sometimes many) where the voice in my head is an a$$hole. I question who I think I am to be attempting that race, or compare myself to the other seemingly more qualified participants. I tell myself to just give up and save face (although I never listen to that one). This was the first race EVER I have been in that I was my biggest cheerleader. I had compassion for myself like I've never experienced. I trusted myself when I needed to walk during the run due to the massive blister on my arch. I believed I could and I did. It was progress. 

I can see now that the mental shifts that took place throughout the training were more valuable than the tweeks to my swim technique or the volume of lunges I could do. I realized that my goal was to "see what I'm capable of" with training, but the truth was, I was always capable, the bar just moved depending on how much I put in.  Outcomes may vary, but doing my best always looks the same and it starts between my ears. 

Although I had goal times for the race, my true intention was to have fun. I set this intention firmly long before the start of the race and it helped from easing pre-race jitters, to laughing it off when someone pointed out my wetsuit was on backwards (really. I wasn't even mortified although I probably should have been haha...instead I was so grateful for the woman who pointed it out before the plunge into the lake). I was chatting with another woman before the race who was also doing her first Olympic distance,  and her biggest fear was coming in last. I was almost last in the swim and minutes away from the disqualification time. I didn't expect to be, but I didn't drown or panic (so thats a win), I just took it one stroke at a time and giggled during the swim at how special I must be to have my own "personal" SUP paddleboarder and kayaker to escort me in. Even an intense thunder and lightening storm on my bike didn't phase me, in fact I was grateful to have the rain to cool me off and I saw it as Mother Nature's way of giving me a kick in the a$$ to pick up the pace. The rain and the pain came and went, as it always does, and I was proud for how I "showed up" and my event times meant far less knowing I had fun. 

You hear the common themes often among authors, podcasts and gurus...the power of thought and intention. We learn through living and being active observers and participants in our own lives, taking accountability for our role. The progress is there, it just may not look as you initially imagined.