Learning How to Let Go

Do you have a highlight reel that plays in your head from time to time? Or one that you can call up when you’re feeling a little blue? Does your highlight reel just start playing sometimes when you least expect it? Or when you are just zoning out?

I have a highlight reel but my highlight reel doesn’t get as much playing time as my “lowlight” reel. My “lowlight” reel consists of clips of all the times I’ve embarrassed myself, all the times when I didn’t act as professionally as I should have, all the times that I’ve lost my cool when there really was no need to – all of my human moments.

Often, my lowlight reel starts playing without any warning. Out of the blue, a memory will pop into my head of an incident from 10 or 15 years ago. I’ll be driving along on my way to work and the memory of  an awkward incident will come up. Or I’ll be walking around in a store and the memory of a time when I was tongue-tied will flash across my mind.

I don’t know what causes this spontaneous playing of my lowlight reel. But a couple of years ago, I started using a mantra whenever those memories enter my mind unbidden. Let it go. I usually say it out loud but if I’m in public, I’ll say it in my head. Let it go.

It’s taken a lot of practice but usually when I say it, the memory blinks out. It doesn’t stop the memory from coming back but it is nice that I can banish it with three little words – Let it go.

I’ve started using my mantra for more than just banishing unwanted memories. Whenever I’m feeling uncharitable about someone or something – let it go. Whenever I’m feeling angry about a situation that I have no control over – let it go. Whenever something didn’t turn out as it should have, as I planned it to – let it go.

The thought processor churns on!

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Who Unplugged My Motivation Machine?

I have a confession to make. I haven’t run in over a week. My last run was a 5-miler in Dallas last Friday, 11 March.

That wouldn’t be so bad if I didn’t have a half-marathon in four weeks. So what’s going on? Why am I not running even though I know that I need to be? Why am I lacking the motivation to get my runs in, to log my miles, to put some time on my feet in preparation for this half-marathon? Who unplugged my motivation machine?

I don’t think my motivation machine has been unplugged. Most mornings when my alarm goes off I lie in bed and think about going for a run. My clothes are already set out. My Nike+ sensor is tucked into the pair of running shoes that’s next in the rotation. My Garmin Forerunner is charged – just in case I’m in the mood for an outdoor run. My MP3 player is charged and cued up to my running soundtrack. Mentally, I’m ready to go. In my mind, I see myself hopping on the treadmill or heading outside for a quick spin around the lake. In my mind, I can feel my heart pumping, feel my legs moving, feel the sweat dripping down my face. Mentally, I am eager to run. Physically, not so much.

This past week my excuse has been exhaustion. The leadership retreat in Dallas was exhausting. Not only was I “on” for more than 12 hours each day, I had difficulty sleeping so most nights so I ended up only getting 4 or 5 hours of sleep each night. When I finally got back home, there was a lot to catch up on both at work and at home so I ended up choosing an extra hour of sleep instead of going for a run. I know that exercise boosts energy but sleep is also an important element of a healthy lifestyle.

The other problem is that I’ve run several half-marathons before. I know that I can grind out the distance despite not having a lot of training runs under my belt. To be honest, I think the longest run I’ve done when training for a half-marathon is 8 miles. Once. So knowing that the distance is manageable is another excuse for passing on my training runs. But I also know that I enjoy the race so much more when I’ve logged regular runs leading up to the race because I know that I’m physically prepared for the race.

This week, my goal is to sync my physical self with my mental runner, to put my mental motivation into action. What’s your goal for the week?

Happy running!

When You’re With Friends

I just spent a week in Dallas, Texas on business. Whenever I leave the office, people think I’m off having fun. They don’t realize that when you’re at a conference or a retreat, which this essentially was, it’s not like being in the office. When you’re in the office, you go in at 8 (or 7:15 in my case) and you leave at 5 (or much later in my case). You get to leave the office at the end of the day and leave your office persona behind.

When you’re at an off-site, there is no end of the day. Often you’re having breakfast with colleagues before you head into sessions. Then, lunch is a group event and whether it is a formal working session or not, work is often discussed. Then you head back into sessions. If you’re lucky, you’ll have an hour or two before the group dinner where, once again, work will be discussed whether in passing or intensely as a follow-up to the day’s meetings. After the group dinner, people will either congregate at the bar or in a hospitality suite. While this is optional, a lot of good discussions and ideas pop up during the informal networking that takes place with a round of drinks in hand.

At a conference or an off-site, you wear your office persona the majority of the time. And that’s exhausting.

But, if you’re with a group that you enjoy being with, it’s exhilarating and energizing. Even though the days are long, the time flies by because you’re with people who like you despite your personality quirks, who respect your opinions even if they’re not expressed as diplomatically as they could be, who want to hear your point of view even thought they know it’s different from theirs. When you’re with colleagues who are friends, work doesn’t seem like work and the impossible seems possible.

I wish things were like this at my office. But life is a series of choices, right? Even if I can’t be energized by the people in my office, I can choose to be energized by my projects. I can choose to be motivated by knowing my work has an impact. I can choose to look for bright spots in my day wherever I can find them. And in the meantime, I look anticipate my off-site meetings and conferences and I cherish the time I have with those colleagues.

The thought processor churns on!

Mental Magic

Ever have one of those weeks when you’re happy to get to the end but wish that you were still at the beginning or the middle of the week because there’s so much that needs to be done still? It’s been one of those weeks for me.

I think I made it even worse by not running at all this week and by only going to one swimming lesson. I did do strength training this week, though. And I made an interesting discovery.

These past few months I’ve been focusing on using 15-pound dumbbells because it seemed like a natural progression. I’ve managed to work up to 10 reps with good form but after going through a cycle of exercises, would be too exhausted to do another set. It got to the point where I was dreading my strength routine. And then it got to the point where I was skipping my strength routine.

I read an article last weekend that said using lighter weights could help build strength – just do more reps. So I tried that this week. I used my 10-pound dumbbells and did 15 reps with good form. When I finished all of my exercises, I wanted to go back and do another set. I’m glad that I didn’t, though. The next day, I felt an ache in my muscles that I haven’t felt in months! So I put my 15-pound weights away and will stick to the 10-pound weights but higher repetitions.

It’s amazing to me that little tricks can fool your mind and then suddenly anything is possible. We do that to ourselves every day. One of the running motivation tips you’ll often encounter is to get dressed and tell yourself that you’ll go out and run for 10 minutes and if you’re still not feeling like running, you’ll just return home. The idea behind this tip is that once you’re out, once you’re running, your body will take over and push aside all of the excuses and negativity that your mind is creating.

Another running tip that has gained a lot of cachet recently is having a mantra. The idea behind this tip is that you can use a phrase or a word to help motivate you and push you beyond what you think you’re capable of. I’ve tried mantras before and they haven’t really worked for me. But during the last San Jose Rock-n-Roll Half-Marathon, I came upon a mantra accidentally and it carried me all the way to the finish line. I tried using the same mantra at the Big Sur International Half-Marathon the next month and it didn’t seem to work quite as well. Then again, I tried the mantra again at the first race of 2011 and ended up taking second place in my age group. Interesting, isn’t it?

The power of the mind is mysterious to me. Find the mental trick that works for you – both in running and in life – and use it until it doesn’t work anymore. You may have a different mental trick for different aspects of your training and different life situations. A mantra of “I’m a lean, mean, speeding machine” wouldn’t be exactly appropriate if you’re sitting stuck in traffic! These mental tricks will help you achieve more than you thought you were capable of achieving.

Happy running!