Mindset, Community, Sleep, Nutrition, Movement - Building Your Well-being Pyramid

Everyone defines their priorities differently, but there are a few elements of our well-being that almost everyone can agree upon. However, the ranking of these in order of importance are specific to each individual.

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Sleep, movement and physical activity, nutrition, community/connection, and mindset are all important to the physical, emotional, and mental well-being of humans. If we imagine a pyramid and place those of greatest importance at the bottom of the pyramid and those we don’t place as much stock in at the top of the pyramid, we have our personalized well-being pyramid.

Each of these elements is important for our long-term health, and the order of importance will likely change throughout our lives in accordance with our priorities. For example, several of my friends and clients have young children, and their pyramids drastically changed after having children. Whereas many placed physical activity and movement at the base of the pyramid prior, sleep is now at the base of their pyramids.

For those who are undergoing an emotionally traumatic or stressful time in life, ensuring their mindset and community/connection needs are fully met will likely stronger priorities than making it to the gym. For those training for a specific event or competition, physical activity, nutrition, and sleep are likely going to be at the bottom. The other elements are still important, but these are currently fundamental to the base of their well-being.

Why is it important to understand this concept? Because our priorities are reflected by how we spend our time, and we can save ourselves a lot of frustration if we get really clear on which elements have the greatest impact on our well-being. Additionally, focusing on the items at the base of the pyramid often leads to having more time and energy for the remaining items on the pyramid, as we have established a solid base. For example, when my mindset, sleep, and community needs are met, I have much more mental and physical energy to focus on my nutrition and fitness.

Discovering what our own personal pyramid of priorities looks like takes some trial and error. I have come to understand that spending time checking in with my internal landscape and focusing on cultivating a strong, positive mindset is imperative for my overall well-being. When I’m present and connected, it’s much easier for me to make choices that are in alignment with who I am, my body, and my goals. 

I had to forgo this practice several times to really understand the impact. I become disconnected to my body and therefore my food choices, become easily stressed and agitated, and I lean towards a victim mindset.  Meditation or some other form of mindfulness practice is now a non-negotiable each day, even if it’s five minutes in silence drinking coffee in the morning. Spending time outside and in nature is another one of my favorite ways to cultivate presence and connection.

When I take care of the base of my pyramid, the rest falls into place more easily.

The remainder of my pyramid, with mindset at the base, is noted below, and I will walk you through how I determined where each element currently belongs.

  • 2nd Tier – Sleep – I need a solid 7-8 hours of sleep or my emotions aren’t as stable, I can’t think clearly, I don’t move well, and I make poor food choices. However, I believed for many years that nutrition and physical activity were the cornerstones of my physical well-being, and I was often under-slept as a result.  (Let’s be real; it’s also much easier to survive off of four hours of sleep when we’re 20 years old). This is a close second behind mindset, as it’s much easier for me to stay connected to my internal landscape when I’m well-rested. However, connecting with myself and cultivating presence and awareness leads to greater focus on sleep, and I’m still able to establish this connection without sleep. So, mindset remains at the base of my pyramid.
  • 3rd Tier – Community – Community and meaningful connection with others is often overlooked in the health and wellness industry, but it’s vital to our well-being as humans. During my days of food obsession and body, my only concern was becoming leaner and more fit, and I gradually withdrew from others as a result. I slowly began to feel the effects of not experiencing frequent, meaningful connection with others, and this led to a lack of motivation and purpose in my daily life, in addition to a life that was centered around myself.

When my sleep and mindset are solid, I’m able to connect with and show up for others more easily, as I have a strong connection to myself. When my sleep and mindset waiver, I’m a deflated version of myself. Mindset and sleep are the equivalent of “putting on my own oxygen mask first”.

  • 4th Tier – Nutrition – my mood, energy levels, physical performance, sleep, and hormones rely on adequate and proper nutrition, and I feel a huge difference in my quality of life when it falls to the wayside. This is why meal prep is such a consistent and important part of my weekly regimen – it’s an act of self-care that allows be to show up more fully in other areas of my life. While physical activity and movement are certainly important, implementing consistent, healthy nutrition habits has a greater impact on my overall well-being.

It took some time for me to understand how to prioritize nutrition and community for my 3rd and 4th tiers, but I learned that I’m better able to make decisions around my physical health when my emotional needs are met via meaningful connection with others. I used to choose a workout or a strictly “clean” meal in lieu of meaningful time with friends and family, and my overall well-being suffered as a result.  Nuance is important though when making daily decisions. Sometimes a meaningful conversation with a friend is more worthwhile than spending the energy and time on a healthy meal, and other times, I need to really focus my time and energy on my nutrition as opposed to a night out with friends (**This choice is made when my connection needs are met and this would simply be icing on the cake). However, I rarely sacrifice my physical well-being for superficial connection (i.e. a night out drinking with people I don’t connect with on a deeper level). Sometimes, but rarely.

  • 5th Tier – Physical Activity/Movement – this doesn’t just include strenuous workouts, as some form of physical movement, even a 20-minute walk, has a large impact on our physical and emotional well-being. Emotions are energy, and we need to move in order to effectively process them. This is especially true for me during times of stress and overwhelm. However, if I’m going to sacrifice something, my workouts and physical activity are going to fall to the wayside in favor of connecting with myself and others, solid sleep, and adequate nutrition.

Each of these elements is important to our physical, emotional, and mental well-being, but the reality is that there are times when we can’t do it all. As such, it’s important for us to become clear on the elements that are most impactful and the amount of energy utilized. Additionally, we each have unique priorities, lifestyles, bodies, and energies, so our needs will vary as a result. For example, extroverts may place connection with others closer to the base of their pyramid, while introverts like myself can get away with it being closer to the middle.

If you haven’t done so already, I strongly encourage you to spend some time in reflection to better understand which elements of the well-being pyramid are most important and essential to your overall health and well-being and to adjust your time and energy accordingly. In a perfect world, we would be focusing on each, but that’s often not a reality for us at all times.

Double up where you can (i.e. walking with friend or while calling a loved one, spending time hiking in nature, cooking or enjoying a healthy meal with friends), do your best through trial and error, and be cognizant of sacrificing your own well-being for the sake of fleeting, superficial distractions.

You Want to Be More Confident? A Better Body Won't Get You There

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Confidence is a hot topic in the social media world, and in my opinion, there is a rather large misconception about its source and the various types. There is superficial confidence, which is based on, you guessed it, superficial measures. And there is true confidence, which is meaningful, deep, and unshakeable. Superficial confidence is the most widely touted form, and it seems to be the most widely sought after too. True confidence, on the other hand, may not present in such a grandiose or obvious manner as the former, therefore causing few people to pursue it.  We live in a world heavily focused on external validation, and we’re conditioned to define ourselves by such measures, so it’s no wonder most of us are lost when it comes to developing an unwavering sense of self.

When I was studying at the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, one of the most powerful lightbulb moments for me was when we were discussing deeper, underlying goals of clients.  Many women are in pursuit of a better body in order to gain more confidence, and this makes sense given the world we live in. A leaner body means being noticed by others, perhaps being approved of or validated by them, therefore leading to increased levels of confidence.  But what if Joe Schmo or the girl you’re trying to impress doesn’t notice? Or doesn’t care? Or another girl walks in with a better body? Or worse, they still have something negative to say about your appearance? Confidence is then completely shattered. This sense of confidence was superficial and was never real to begin with, so it inevitably comes crashing down.

What if, instead of working towards a goal of “I’ll be confident when…”, we can focus on being confident right now?  This requires confidence being based off of something other than our appearance, which can be very challenging in the beginning. As women, we’re taught from a young age that our value is derived from our appearance, and for men, it’s often based on financial/career success. But the only way to build true and lasting confidence is to define yourself by who you are as a person, not anything outside of yourself.

For many of us, due to our focus on our appearance (or another superficial metric), we have neglected putting in the work on ourselves as human beings. And this person is fairly easy to identify, although they can present in various forms. A typical case is one who is always insecure about her body, is always focused on improving her appearance, is never content with the way she looks, judges and criticizes others based on their appearance or another superficial metric, and is either lacking in boundaries (i.e. the pushover) or is unkind, judgmental, and gossipy towards others.  Sure, her body might look good, but she’s either an asshole or let’s others treat her like an asshole due to not having spent time developing a strong sense of self or values.

Those who are focused on pursuing superficial confidence often judge others by the same metrics they’re striving for. They like to be around the attention-seeking and often loud types (there’s nothing wrong with being loud as long as it’s authentic!), because they perceive that as a marker of confidence. They like to be around physically attractive people, as this is what they find valuable in themselves. They’re often confused by those who are physically attractive but present with a lack of confidence, as they can’t understand someone not basing their worth off of their appearance.  I know this, because I used to be one of these people.

It wasn’t until I started working on myself as a person and really focusing on who I wanted to be that I began to develop a true sense of confidence. One that isn’t dependent on the way I look or the opinions of others. Sure, I’m certainly human and my feelings are hurt by mean comments, but I don’t strive for the approval of others anymore.  Rather, I ensure I am acting in alignment with the values I hold dear and then let the chips fall where they may. If others don’t resonate with me as a result, then it’s no loss to me, as I’m not pursuing their approval. I’m pursuing my own.  

When determining the qualities and values I want to embody in my life, I took a page from Joe Rogan and wrote down all of those I want to subscribe to and all of those I won’t tolerate within myself.  I was then forced to acknowledge where I had some work to do and put my money where my mouth is. 

While I have added some qualities, actions, and values to this list since its inception and will likely continue to do so as I evolve, those that compose the foundation are honesty, authenticity, kindness, trustworthiness, and boundaries. That last one might seem unusual, but it’s something I struggled with for a really long time, so it’s a non-negotiable for me.  I’m certainly not perfect when it comes to living by these values, but it’s something I work towards every day.  When I do fall short, I’m able to easily identify these instances and course-correct quickly. It’s difficult to ignore something that you’ve clearly established as a personal value.

By peeling back the layers of the ego (negativity, victimhood, jealousy, laziness, gossip, etc.) and focusing on becoming a better human being, our focus on our bodies naturally reduces. Rather than breaking down over “cheating” on our diet when we eat a donut, we feel gross when we act in a way that isn’t in alignment with our values and spend our energy there instead.  Instead of focusing on cellulite and the size of our jeans, let’s focus on reducing gossip, spending more quality time with people who matter to us, speaking kindly and honestly, or acting in alignment with whatever values we hold dear.

This isn’t meant to invalidate the pressure we feel to look a certain way, because it’s very real, but we have the choice to spend our time and energy elsewhere. And how we begin to define ourselves will follow suit.  By becoming clear on what we value and ensuring our actions are in alignment, we can then experience a solid and unwavering sense of self that isn’t deterred by the perceptions of others.  This is the confidence we’re all seeking, yet so many of us have been living according to the misguided notion that our bodies are the vehicle to this outcome.

Let’s spend our time on our internal landscape; discovering what values and qualities we find meaningful and important in ourselves and others. We can then adjust our actions to ensure we’re living in alignment and, most importantly, detach from the reactions of others. By doing so, we develop true confidence that is based on a solid, unwavering foundation as opposed to superficial and transient metrics. And the best part is that we can do this TODAY, not when our bodies change. That sense of true confidence is available to us at this very moment regardless of our appearance.

Crossfit - Common Barriers to Entry & Why I Do It

With the New Year typically come a plethora of declarations related to increased activity in the gym.  For many, it’s also viewed as an opportunity to try new things we’re afraid of. I consistently hear that Crossfit is one of these activities, and it once was for me, so I’m sharing common fears, why I decided to finally join a Crossfit gym over three years ago, and the reasons I continue to show up today.

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After hearing about Crossfit from my older brother after graduating college, sometime after 2011, I was intrigued due to the challenge. I had always opted for high intensity internal training (HIIT) over steady-state cardio, and my workouts usually included some form of weight training. However, I hadn’t ever focused on increasing strength, and I certainly hadn’t been exposed to gymnastics skills. The concept sounded right up my alley, but I was still afraid of walking into a gym with an established community and without any previous barbell training. It wasn’t until I came back from backpacking abroad with a newfound desire to pursue goals/activities I had been afraid of that I decided to finally take the leap.

I completed the “elements” course, designed to introduce new members to the barbell movements, at a gym in Albuquerque, New Mexico and stayed there for a total of three months before moving back to Denver. I had a great experience at that gym, so I decided to join Crossfit Broadway after a close friend had recently joined and was raving about it.  He continued to talk about the owner’s Kiwi accent, so I was solidly convinced. Taking the first step into a new gym is the hardest part, and if you’re in the right place, you’ll be motivated to keep coming back. That first step can be intimidating though, and here are some of the most common reasons:

1.     I don’t know anyone and there’s already an established community – This can bring back memories of grade school for some people due to the presence of cliques at some gyms. The reality is that humans will be humans, and some cliques are inevitable regardless of the activity, group, gym, etc. However, that doesn’t mean that new members aren’t welcome, and if the overall vibe to the gym isn’t welcoming, then you’re in the wrong one. When I started at both of the Crossfit gyms I’ve been a member of, people of course had strong bonds and relationships already, but they were very open to getting to know me too. Additionally, there are always new members joining, so you’ll never feel like the only new person (at least for long).

2.     I’ve never used a barbell before – I had ZERO clue what to do what a barbell aside from back squats when I joined. And even then, I discovered that my form was incorrect for many reasons. Don’t let this be your barrier to entry! Consider it a challenge, and keep in mind that the majority of other new members haven’t used one before either.  The gym you join should have an introduction class, or “Elements” as it’s called at my gym, that provides more personalized attention on the barbell movements. You’ll likely be meeting other new members in this class too, and you can all laugh together about how awkward you feel with these new-to-you movements. We’ve all been there!

3.     I don’t want to get too bulky – this is a common sentiment among many women, but this is largely due to misinformation. It’s physiologically impossible for the vast majority of women to gain muscle mass at a rapid rate, and even then, it won’t come close to a man’s. “Toning” has become a popular topic in the fitness industry, and it’s tailored to women. But what does that even mean? In order to look “toned”, you have to gain muscle, and heavy weight training is the way to get there. It’s worth noting that everyone’s body responds differently to weight training and Crossfit, but you can always adjust the weights you’re using if needed.

4.     I hear it’s easy to get hurt – Crossfit does involve some highly technical movements, such as the snatch and clean & jerk, and we can certainly injure ourselves if we’re not careful. This is where personal responsibility and solid coaching comes into play.  We have a personal responsibility to articulate when a movement or weight doesn’t feel right to us, when we’re injured, when we’re sick, etc. It’s easy to let our egos take over and use a weight that is too heavy to execute a movement with proper form.

Knowledgeable and responsible coaching is also extremely important. I have excellent coaches at my gym who are closely watching our form, and they know our strengths and weaknesses very well. They are often telling us to strip weight when it’s too heavy, and they’ll also tell us to add more when they know we can handle it. Joining a gym where the coaches take the time to really know their athletes, their capabilities, and their limitations is key.

5.     All crossfitters do is talk about Crossfit – this can certainly be true, and I find that this is more common amongst serious competitors and those who are just starting. However, for the average gym goer like myself who has been doing it for a few years, it’s rarely a topic of conversation, even amongst my friends from the gym. While there is nothing wrong with doing a deep-dive into the movements, workouts, goals, etc., constantly talking about it is less common than non-crossfitters think. We’ve just gotten a bad rap!  

Now that we’ve discussed some of the most common barriers to entry, we can focus on why I love Crossfit and the reasons it has become my go-to form of training.

1.     I’m never bored – there are so many movements, lifts, and endless combinations of these, so every workout is different. There is such a thing as too much variation in an effective program, but with the right programming, you’ll see consistent progress while still being able to experience variety. Most of my classes and standard Crossfit classes consist of a strength element at the beginning, followed by a “metcon,” or metabolic conditioning (i.e. high-intensity portion designed to improve our energy systems), so we’re always being challenged via multiple modalities in one class.

2.     Increased strength – I have a tough time putting on muscle due to my genetics and body type, and I’m not naturally strong. Like, at all. So strength training is important to me, as it should be for all women!  Experiencing the increase in weights of my lifts over the last few years has been amazing, and I feel the difference in my daily activities.  Whenever my hip pain starts to resurface, I know I haven’t been doing enough strength training, and within just one session it begins to subside. Plus, it’s just a badass feeling to be able to do a pull-up and throw heavy weight around.

3.     Knowledgeable coaches – I started doing modified Crossfit workouts in globo-gyms and at home before I joined a gym, and while I wasn’t using a barbell (mostly dumbbells), having knowledgeable coaches has made a world of a difference. Not only do they identify improper form, subsequently make adjustments, and actually provide a progressive structure to follow (rather than piecing together random movements and workouts), they push me beyond what I think I’m capable of. Think of them as accountability buddies, and ones you love to hate in the middle of a hard workout.

4.     Short(er) cardio – long, steady-state cardio is quite popular for many, especially women. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with this, but it can become quite stressful on our bodies if we’re not also combing it with strength training and adequate fuel. I used to partake in long runs, and my body simply didn’t feel well after. My joints were always hurting, I was STARVING, and I was so bored. Most Crossfit metcons (the cardio portion) at my gym are typically between 5 and 15 minutes, and the coaches here plenty of groaning if it’s over 20 minutes. The difference is in the level of intensity, so don’t let the short length fool you!  I’m the type that would rather go balls-out for a shorter amount of time than decrease my intensity and drag it out for an hour. My body appreciates the shorter duration too.

5.     Customization – My gym is top-notch at this. The goal of most gyms is to keep their members coming back for years, and this can only be done with some customization due to changes in capabilities, goals, priorities, health, and injuries. At my gym, we all use different weights in our workouts based on our unique capabilities and goals, and we’re able to modify any movements due to injuries or health after communicating the circumstances to the coaches. This gives me the reassurance to know that I can continue to show up despite any physical changes or limitations I may have.

6.     Being challenged & the competition – I participated in sports all throughout my childhood and high school, and the competition and challenge is something I missed once those days had come and gone. While our scores are written on the board for everyone to see, as cliché as it sounds, most of the competition is with myself by beating former workout times, adding weight to the bar, learning a new movement, and by simply pushing through when I want to stop (almost every class). I firmly believe that physical challenges lead to increased mental and emotional strength, and this is one of my favorite aspects of Crossfit.

7.     People/Community – I can really only speak for the gyms I have been a member of; mostly my current gym after being a member for over three years. Firstly, I previously labeled myself as someone who would never workout in a group setting. I was happy as a clam waltzing into a globo-gym, doing my own thing with my headphones in, and then getting the hell out of there.  I now realize that the group classes bring a new level of competition and camaraderie to each workout, and I’m able to push myself much harder than I am when working out alone. Secondly, I honestly had no intention of making new friends when I joined my current gym, as I just wanted to get a good workout in and get out. Much to my coaches’ dismay, I’m sure, the social aspect is now one of my favorite parts about the gym. I’ve met some amazing people who have become dear friends, and we all experience a sense of community that is difficult to find for most adults in our modern world.

So there you have it! Crossfit isn’t for everyone, I get that, but if you’re on the fence or even have a slight interest, then I encourage you to give it a solid chance for one month. And don’t be afraid to try a few gyms until you find the one that feels best to you, as every gym has a different vibe. You can always reach out to me directly via email too if you have any questions!

Priorities - Are your Actions in Alignment?

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We live in a world where we want everything at once, often without putting in the work, and our initial reaction is to complain when we don’t have said thing. Interestingly, we’re often not even aware that our actions don’t align with our priorities, and this is usually due to a lack of clarity around our priorities in the first place. In order to be clear about our priorities, we need to really be honest with ourselves about the time and effort we’re willing to put in for each competing priority.  Conversely, there is another end of the priorities spectrum, where we’re willing to sacrifice everything for one goal and the other areas of our lives suffer. For long-term success and happiness, I don’t believe in either approach: putting all our proverbial priority-eggs in one basket or having such scattered and unclear priorities that we don’t accomplish anything.

This topic has been swirling around my head since my Crossfit competition a few weeks ago, as I was frustrated about my performance in a particular movement (toes to bar). Upon reflection and a conversation with a friend, I realized that felt the same way about several other movements I don’t excel at. My initial reaction has been to play the victim and relish in my inability to be successful right off the bat, but when I reflected on the consistent work and effort I had put in to improve upon these skills and movements, it was dismal.  This dismal effort is fine if improving upon these skills isn’t a priority for me, but then I need to accept the outcome. I can’t have it both ways.

I lived on the opposite end of the spectrum with my food and body obsession for years, as I sacrificed almost every other area of my life as a result. My priority was my appearance and my subconscious self-obsession, and this was accurately reflected when looking at the other areas of my life. I isolated myself from friends and family, I turned down parties and other social occasions in favor of my strict regimen, and I neglected my health, even when my body was showing me clear signs of desperation.  My relationships, my happiness and growth as a person, my health, and my life experiences all suffered as a result of my body obsession. I’m not here to tell anyone that living their life in this way is wrong, and in some professions or in preparation for competitions these sacrifices may be necessary, but prioritizing my life in this way wasn’t right for me. And it took a long time to arrive at this conclusion.

It’s really easy to float through life without any clear picture of what is actually important to us, but this can also be very chaotic and unfulfilling, as our actions, mindset, and lives as a whole will be a reflection of this. We say we want to improve our health and lose some weight, but we actually prefer wings and beer every night in lieu of the gym and healthy meals. We say we want to be in a committed relationship, but we’re not willing to make the effort and put ourselves out there. We say we want to improve our toes to bar or double-unders (personal tidbit here), but we’re not staying after class to practice. We say we want to save money to travel, but frivolously spend our money on things we don’t need. We say we want to free ourselves of our food and body obsession, but we’re not willing to accept that our bodies may change as a result. To be clear, none of these priorities is incorrect, and they’ll ebb and flow throughout our lives, but we need to solidify what is actually important enough to act on. And then we must accept what we’re sacrificing as a result.

In order to effectively determine our priorities and how we can align our actions accordingly, I recommend the following:

1.     Make a list of everything that is important to you and any related goals. Be as detailed as possible here. For example, instead of saying “relationships” or “my performance in the gym,” list the relationships that are most important to you or the specific movements/skills you want to improve.

2.     Rank priorities in order of most important to least. This is your initial gut reaction of what you feel is most important, so don’t feel the need to edit right now; that will come later.

3.     Detail the sacrifices required for each priority: these will evolve as you continue to invest in this action or goal, so they’re based on the information we have today. Many of the sacrifices required will only come to light once we begin acting in greater alignment with our priorities and goals, so this information is based on our current assumptions.

4.     Note which priorities are conflicting (i.e. wanting to party but also wanting to lose weight and improve performance in the gym), and rank the conflicting priorities in order of importance. The results of this exercise will likely prompt you to rearrange the list you created in Step 2. Ensure the information gathered in this step is consistent with your listing in Step 2.

5.     Take an inventory of where you’re currently spending your time, and list your priorities accordingly. For example, if I invest most of my free time in socializing with friends and don’t spend any time practicing a hobby I want to improve, then I will list socializing at the top of my list and my hobby at the bottom. Honesty is key here, and bullshitting ourselves won’t do us any favors.

6.     Identify the gaps between what we truly want to prioritize (our list from step 2) and where we’re spending our time (step 5). Everyone, myself included, is surprised by the dissonance between our actions and priorities when we finally utilize some awareness, so you should expect there to be some misalignment.  We may even find that we spend a lot of time and energy on things that aren’t on our list of priorities at all.  Just consider it a starting point!

7.     Develop an action plan: Oftentimes, simply bringing awareness to the lack of alignment between our actions and goals is a sufficient impetus for change, but the more detailed we can be, the better. For each priority, determine your plan of action that is tailored to you and your lifestyle. You may only have 10-15 minutes after your Crossfit or yoga class to work on skills, while someone else has a full hour. This is about finding what works best for YOU, not your friend.

8.     Modify based on real-time data and feedback. Determine whether you truly want to spend your time and energy differently based on feedback from implementing your plan. This will become clearer once you start spending your time and energy on the items at the top of your list, as you may find that you don’t in fact want to sacrifice for said priority/goal.  And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s a great thing to discover the difference between what we think we want and what we actually want.

Using myself and my priorities as an example, I told myself a few months ago that I wanted to buckle down and focus on improving my double-unders. This has been a loose goal of mine ever since joining crossfit, but it crept up on my list of priorities when I realized there was a chance I would be required to do them (or at least attempt to) during the team competition I recently completed in. I decided to spend 10 minutes before or after class working on this movement, but I wasn’t willing to spend any additional time.  I became more comfortable with them as a result, but I still have a long way to go.  Would I have seen greater improvement had I spent 30 minutes a day working on them? Absolutely. But I decided to accept the outcome of 10 minutes a few times per week, as other priorities like work and my relationships are more important right now. I had to adjust my expectations according to my priorities and actions, and it really made the end result quite easy to accept.  Would I have liked to see this movement improve drastically? Yes. Would I have been willing to experience greater improvement at the expense of my work and relationships? No. Acting like the victim and complaining about my marginal improvements doesn’t serve me, and conversely, expecting myself to be great at everything doesn’t either.  We all have to pick our choose our priority battles.

"Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony."

-       Mahatma Gandhi

I wholeheartedly believe in these words, and if we really tune in and bring awareness to the alignment (or lack thereof) of our thoughts, words, and actions, we can identify where and when we need to adjust. Deep down, we know when one of these elements is out of alignment, but we usually resort to pushing through and succumbing to what is expected of us, the pressure of perfection, popular opinion, or the victim mentality. And that can dangerously become our normal; our baseline. But that’s a passive way of showing up in this world, and we can be much more impactful when we assume responsibility and take action. Do you need to show yourself some grace and stop expecting yourself to excel at everything? Or do you need to stop blaming the outside world for your own lack of responsibility and action?  It's likely a combination of both. Regardless of the circumstance, I have found that realigning actions with priorities results in significantly less stress.

This isn’t intended to make us feel like failures, but rather it can provide a great sense of relief when we finally admit what isn’t really a priority for us. I have found that life is so much more enjoyable when my priorities, actions, and thoughts are in alignment. And we might discover that some of the things we thought we wanted to prioritize aren’t really worth the sacrifices. Everyone wants the six-pack, but are we really willing to sacrifice all the things it takes to get one? There isn’t a right or wrong answer, but it’s important to find the right answer for you.

The Myth of Perfection and How to Challenge our Fear of Failure

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Within the last month, I have experienced a few public moments of failure that sent me into a tailspin of self-doubt and a serious ego-trip. One was in a team CrossFit competition a few weeks ago when I didn’t perform as well as I had anticipated during one of the movements. The other was last week, when I made a few mistakes during a presentation to business leaders in my corporate job. Now that I’ve had some time to process those events and talk to a few people about my reactions to them, I’m able to reflect on these opportunities for growth and more clearly understand my responses to them.

It has also become quite clear that we all struggle with this on some level.  After divulging my own stories, several of my friends and family members have subsequently shared their own about the need to be perceived as perfect, and most of them revealed that they either avoid the situations altogether or they self-sabotage so they don’t have to publicly display their “imperfection.”  For example, one friend purposely performed poorly during soccer tryouts her senior year of high school, because the stakes were so much higher, and she didn’t want to fail according to the higher standard.  She would rather not play at all than have to demonstrate that she wasn’t the best. Another is currently afraid to quit a job she hates, because the people in her social circle might view her as a failure in the difficult industry she’s in.  Another avoids asking out the girls he’s interested in, because he assumes he’ll be perceived as just another guy hitting on them and will be rejected. Another is hustling so hard to achieve the perfect body and can’t reveal that to others, because she needs her self-image to be perceived as confident and effortless. All of us are plagued by the need to be perceived as perfect in some way.

I really don’t enjoy not being good at things, and I don’t know anyone who does. So many of us have been programmed to believe that we must be perfect or we’re not enough.  Based on my conversations with others, the reason behind this commonly held belief varies based on each person’s specific upbringing, but the responses are very similar. We’re all ashamed to be seen as less than perfect, and our initial reaction is to avoid situations that might reveal our shortcomings.

Using my own recent experiences as examples, I had no interest in competing in the team CrossFit competition, because I knew there would be movements in the workouts I don’t do well and some I simply can’t do.  In regards to my presentation, I have never been a fan of public speaking, and I have never sought out an opportunity to do so. Despite receiving positive feedback after most of my presentations and public speaking engagements, I always get nervous before, and I can’t stand the idea of others potentially seeing those nerves (they usually can’t, but last week they did). Maintaining an image of limited shortcomings seems preferable to actually living my life and experiencing “failure.”  At least this is the mindset I had until a few years ago, and it clearly still needs a lot more work.

Now that the initial sting of publicly displaying a few of my many weaknesses (“opportunities for development,” as we call them in the workplace) has worn off, I am able to understand that my initial reaction of never wanting to put myself in those situations again is not the right approach. In fact, it’s a terrible one. Rather, we can all do the following when faced with these situations:

1.     Talk about our fears, insecurities, shortcomings, stories of rejection, etc. with people we trust. We connect with these parts of each other, not images of perfection. It simply doesn’t exist, so how can anyone resonate with it?  As Brene Brown states, shame needs secrecy and silence to survive, so simply saying these things out loud is immensely helpful. Every time I have shared my personal struggles and fears around failure, the other person has a very similar story, and they certainly have experienced almost identical feelings. One of the great benefits of talking openly about insecurities is the ability for other people to connect with us in a deeper way, and it might be the invitation they’ve been looking for to openly discuss their own struggles too. 

2.     Consider the worst-case scenario: when we’re faced with a situation where failure is an option, think of the worst-case scenario. Imagine yourself failing, being rejected, showing embarrassment, whatever the case may be. And ask yourself if you can survive. I usually get a pit in my stomach at the thought of one of those outcomes, but yes, I will always survive. Chances are you will too.

3.     Intentionally put ourselves into more situations that will require us to face these fears: Once we have determined that we will in fact survive the situation, we need to force ourselves to do the thing that may result in failure. This has been the biggest game-changer for me, because acting in spite of our fears reinforces the belief in ourselves that we can do the things we’re afraid of. Especially when I fail and get right back at it. This creates a positive feedback loop, and the momentum is huge!  It’s a great way to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. 

Staying in our comfort zones and our neat little boxes of what we excel at makes for a really boring and stale life. It's the easy way out, it protects our egos, and it's comfortable, but it's also a sure way to keep us stagnant without any growth.  We'll never reach the level of success we ultimately want if we're paralyzed by our fear of failure or if we don’t know how to continue moving forward despite those outcomes. Additionally, we're doing everyone else around us a serious disservice if we're not willing to show our flaws and the reality of simply being human.  We can't connect with each other's images of perfection, because they're simply not real.

Imagine what would be possible if we all collectively dropped our need to be perceived as perfect. We can’t control others, but we can commit to shattering our own perfected image. A life of imperfect adventure sounds like a hell of a lot more fun to me.

Falling in Love with the Process – The Long Game

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Whenever we begin a new endeavor related to health, fitness, career, relationships, or personal development, it’s so easy to simply focus on the point of “arrival” and where we believe we need to be.  Having a goal in mind is certainly important, but the process along the way is where the magic happens.  This is where we grow and learn about ourselves, about others, identify our strengths and areas for improvement, and learn how to pivot when things don’t go according to plan.  Which is usually the case. After all, we don’t actually have control over the end result, only our actions and our attitudes.

If we really think about it, the end goal or point of arrival is an arbitrary concept we have in our minds, and we feel as though the work will suddenly cease to exist once we get there.  “If I can just get there, then everything in my life will fall into place.” We work hard to lose weight and get the body we’ve always wanted, and then what?  We have to continue to put in the work to maintain it.  We want the promotion or to start your own business?  Once we get it, we have to work just as hard, if not harder, to stay there.  We want the dream relationship or family?  We have to consistently put in the work to grow together and independently while navigating curveballs in life.  We want to cultivate new meaningful friendships?  We have to continue to show up and put in the effort once the relationships have been established.  If we’re not in love with the process, which is actually where we spend 99.9% of our time in life, then we’re going to be constantly disappointed and focused on the next best thing.

I’ve read and listened to this concept SO many times, but it didn’t really click for me until I found myself wrapped up in starting my own business and needing to reach a certain level of success by X amount of time. And then it dawned on me: what happens when I get there?  I still have to show up in the same way I am now, with hard work and dedication.  Additionally, what am I supposed to do with all of my time until I reach that point, whenever it may be?  Am I going to be ungrateful for my life now until I reach that point, waiting for the days to tick by?  Hell no.  I’m going to focus on what I can do today and learn as much as I can about my work and myself and enjoy the shit out of the process along the way. 

This concept applies so distinctly to goals with our bodies.  We get so attached to reaching a certain aesthetic, only to realize that nothing outside of looking different has actually changed. And now we’re tasked with maintaining a body we may have obtained through hatred, loneliness, low self-esteem, or any other negative emotion. If we’re making changes to our bodies via a miserable process, mentally or physically, then not only are we not going to be able to maintain the results, but we’re going to be just as miserable internally, if not more so, once it’s all said and done. A better approach that is more sustainable and enjoyable is as follows:

1.     Identify what you want to learn and/or gain throughout the process: These items should not be related to anything outside of our control or based on an outcome (i.e. opinions of others, fitting into a dress size, achieving a PR at the gym, etc.) Rather, these need to be intrinsic motivators or factors we enjoy about the actual process. Examples include learning more about our relationship with food, making ourselves uncomfortable in workouts and pushing last limiting beliefs, demonstrating self-respect by putting our well-being first, or simply committing to a challenge.

2.     Detail why the items in Step One are important: becoming clear on the benefits we will experience as a result of the items in Step One is important, otherwise we won’t be able to connect the short-term discomfort we’re bound to experience to the long-term benefits. For example, if I am journaling and practicing awareness with my eating habits because I want to improve and gain a better understanding of my relationship with food, then I will clearly explain via journaling why increasing my awareness of this relationship is important to me. In my case, I wanted to improve my relationship with food because I wanted to free up my time and energy for things I find more important in my life.  Essentially, I wanted freedom from the obsession, and that became my north star when I started to experience doubt, laziness, or discomfort during the process.

3.     Detach from the Outcome: While striving for a specific outcome can certainly be motivating, the outcome is usually outside of our realm of control.  And failing to achieve said outcome can be a source of frustration, self-criticism, and eventually giving up.  We can only control our mindset and our efforts through action, so there is great freedom is letting the rest go. By releasing the outcome and simply focusing on the process, we remove any reason for “giving up,” as we can’t actually fail when the process never ends and we continue to put one foot in front of the other.

4.     Revisit Steps One and Two Over and Over Again: We need to remind ourselves why the process is important to us. It’s easy to lose sight of what we gain throughout the process, as changes and shifts are usually small and often unnoticeable, in addition to them being downright unenjoyable at times.  The process is where the growth happens, and in my experience, growth is uncomfortable 90% of the time (Jessie statistics). So, we need to constantly revisit the details in Steps One and Two.

5.     Re-do Steps One and Two When Goals and Priorities Shift: What we want to learn and gain throughout a particular process is inevitably going to shift at some point. This can be due to shift in priorities, changing interests, or simply needing an additional challenge after experiencing sufficient growth. When motivation starts to wane, even after revisiting the details of Steps One and Two, then it might be time to revise those details.

This mindset is relevant to aspects of life, including physical or aesthetic goals, relationships, career, and personal development.  Want to develop a better relationship with food and your body image?  Or build muscle?  Or work on your relationship with a friend or family member?  Or get promoted at work? Or improve something about yourself? All of these things take time, and the moment we achieve them is simply that: a brief moment in time.  And then we’re on to chasing the next shiny object.  We can’t neglect the journey while in pursuit of our dreams, or we’re essentially missing out on life itself.  While it’s still very much a work in progress for me, I’ve experienced a huge sense of relief and so much more enjoyment from the moment I decided to start relaxing into the process of life and focus on what I can control: my effort and my attitude.