Creating An Off Ramp

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If you watched our college soccer players conditioning sessions this summer you would have noticed that the session didn’t end when they were done running. You would have seen the players take a few moments to catch their breath and then begin their slow walk halfway down field and back. Then the shoes come off followed by long slow fascial stretching movements and a few minutes of breath work.

We were completing the stress cycle and creating a transition to recovery. We often think that the recovery part takes care of itself as soon as the stress is over but if you’re going from a morning workout to a class to a summer job the stress may never really be over. It’s like racing down the freeway hoping you’ll find a quick chance to fill up before you run out gas. Instead, we build an off-ramp and come to a temporary stop. It’s hard to fill your tank while you’re moving.

Many of us are living with a lot of stress right now and it doesn’t stop when the stressor is gone. For some of us the stressors are never gone they just rotate in and out.

The advantage the players have is being part of a cohort, a culture that values the off ramp, where people are encouraged and expected to take it, where it’s the natural thing to do. We don’t want you running out of gas because we care about you and we want you to be your best.

What would it look like to build off-ramps for the people we live with or serve and create a culture where they felt encouraged and were supported to take them? What would it look like to make taking the off ramp as important as going fast?

Look Up

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It’s typical for an athlete to want to look down during a balance or agility drill. They zoom in on their feet or the obstacle they’re trying to avoid and it seems to make sense … at first.

Then you realize that we’re not really learning to move our feet, we’re learning to move our body, shift our weight, find our rhythm and coordinate the whole thing to change direction and get in position to execute a skill or avoid an opponent. We’re trying to respond gracefully to the moment to accomplish our goal. It’s like dancing. The object isn’t to get the steps right, its to engage with the music and your partner and flow.

Looking down might help a little in the beginning when we’re learning a movement ( although counting out a rhythm actually works better) but once we’re in the wild, out there on the court or the field we need to look up, need to see what’s happening so we actually know how and when to respond.

We spend a lot of time looking down these days, at our phones or our computers. We’re paying a price in terms of our posture and our health. In a heads up 0º tilt with your eyes forward, the human head weighs about 10 -12lbs. Tilt your head just 15º forward and the pressure increases to 27lbs. At 60º, the normal texting posture, the pressure is close to 60 lbs. That extra pressure takes a toll.

Researcher Erik Peper has found that the head down, collapsed posture has an effect on our mood and mental health as well, increasing helpless, hopeless, powerless thinking. He has a number of simple suggestions about how to start making changes shifting posture and mood.

Eyes on the horizon we say. We would be a lot healthier and move a lot better if we started looking up. You might be surprised and delighted to see what you’ve been missing.

How Does That Work?

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A few years ago I was pleased to get a call from an athlete who thought her lacrosse coach was wrong. Seems the coach had decided to adjust their weekly schedule to give the players a recovery day and do some team building activities. The athlete was calling because she thought the coach had picked the wrong day and wanted to know what I thought.

I was pleased was because I spend a lot of time working with athletes and clients to help them understand how the dynamics of stress and rest work together to improve health and fitness. In our no pain no gain, bigger is better culture that is often an uphill march. But, she got it and now she was thinking for herself, applying it to her situation and her teammates.

I don’t judge another coach’s strategy or tactics without hearing their thinking. And, if an athlete has a question for the coach then that’s who they need to talk to. So, I listened, asked a few questions and then told the player that it sounded like a great opportunity to have a conversation with her coach. She did and in the end it worked out great. The team had their recovery time, the player was on board and the coach had a chance to share her thinking in a positive way.

When we’re working with people, especially when we’re helping in their development it’s not enough to tell them what to do or how to do it or even why they should do it. It’s essential to help them understand how things work, in this case how stress and recovery work together to produce growth.

When someone understands how things work two things happen. First, they can apply their new learning to themselves in other situations out there in the wild. This player took what she learned in the gym and applied it to her sport and her team. Second, when we understand how something works we can ask better questions and have better conversations. This player could ask her coach a legitimate question, listen to the answer and share her own thinking. It wasn’t a challenge to authority, it was a dialogue; a way of working together and contributing.

People who keep the secret of how something works to themselves are often doing it because they either don’t know or because it gives them power. When we want the best for people, and the team, we want to give it away. The more people know how something works the easier it is to apply it creatively, work together and make things better.

Cultivating The Conditions For Growth

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If you want to grow your health or fitness or improve your performance it’s helpful to think like a gardener more than a mechanic. We don’t really make ourselves healthier or stronger or turn ourselves into better runners. Instead we cultivate the conditions out of which that health or performance can emerge. The changes and growth emerge because of the skillful application of the right kind and amount of activity at the right times balanced with rest, recovery, nutrition and the like.

Like tending a garden it’s about understanding how things grow and then learning to take out the things that get in the way: the wrong exercises, poor nutrition, a no pain no gain mentality. And then put in the things that stimulate growth: the right exercises in the right dose, good food, sleep and recovery.

We’re human beings, amazing living organisms and we flourish when the conditions are right. Are you cultivating the conditions for flourishing?

Three Keys To Growing Across A Lifetime

This guy is amazing. A few days ago I was with him in the woods behind his house watching him up in the trees where he likes to hang out ( pun intended).

What’s cool about this is that he’s 70 and this is a new interest he’s taken up in the last few years.

He’s done a few things that all of us can learn from. First he is clear about what’s important to him, his health, the people he cares about and the earth. Second, he has a team of people he turns to and trusts to stay healthy and well. He’s not trying to do it alone or figure it out by himself. Third, he is constantly learning and growing. Reading, asking questions, applying what he’s learning all the time. Our coaching sessions are always conversations about understanding the theory and then putting it into practice.

Purpose, connection and a desire to learn: three things that keep us unfolding and developing for a lifetime.

Calling Up Our Gifts

This week my five year old friend shared with me that she was sad because she didn’t know if she would remember how to make friends when she starts back to Kindergarten in a few weeks or when she finally gets a chance to take dance classes.

No amount of reassurance was going to flip her into a better mood. So, instead of trying to convince her I asked her to tell me about a time she made a new friend. Where was she? What did she do? How did it work out? When she finished I asked her to tell me about another time and then another. She shared a story about sitting next to a girl on the school bus who was by herself and then one about going over to a boy who was playing by himself and a third one about another girl at her school.

We discovered as she shared that not only did she remember how to make friends. This little girl had superpowers, a knack for engaging others who were alone and starting up a relationship. Pretty soon she was saying, “yeah I’m good at making friends.”

Two things to ponder here. The first is evidence is a poor substitute for experience. There was no way I was going to persuade her that she would be fine. Drawing on her experience though helped her connect with her unique gift and style for making friends. She hadn’t forgotten how. Like most of us it was just below the surface waiting to be called back up.

The second thing to think about is how we need each other to call those gifts and superpowers and strengths back up. When we aren’t seeing it, that simple question, “tell me about a time when…” creates the opening we need.

Dr. Melissa Peet, in her work at the University of Michigan and The Generative Knowledge institute has developed the science and the art of this approach. Please check her work out. Whether you do it as a coach, a friend, a teammate or a partner, it’s something you’ll want to learn and something we all need.

For my little friend it was enough to move her from anxious to eager.

Keep At It

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It’s really that simple … and somedays that hard.

Every summer the college soccer players come home to start their training. Every summer they come back a little de-conditioned after finals and a little time off and so the first few sessions are hard. But, slowly we increase the volume or the intensity and every few weeks back it down to let them catch up and adapt and after the second or third cycle they start to feel it; the slow accumulation of their efforts and their increasing level of fitness. By the time they leave to report back in August they are doing workouts that are twice what they started with and feeling challenged but within themselves.

The magic isn’t in the program. That’s based on sound principles that anyone can use. So, it’s not the program that gets the results. It’s the fact that they keep at it. Week after week, session after session they show up and do the work and then follow it up with sleep and nutrition and rest. Sometimes keeping at the rest and recovery is more challenging than the workouts but that’s another post.

To keep at anything over time is the real key to moving forward. And, to keep at it, it helps to have companions, other people who are keeping at it and who can lift you up, remind you it’s worth it and tell you, you got this when the commitment ebbs. ( and it will)

We also need to trust the process. When the end seems a long way off and you aren’t seeing your progress you need to make yourself vulnerable, lean in and trust before you have the evidence, that not only is this going to work – it already is working.

Keeping at it is a skill and vulnerability and trust are the muscles we build as we practice. Because, as they say, here’s the thing. Those athletes are going to have to come back again, next summer, to prepare for another season. We don’t get in shape once and forever.

The same is true for whatever quality we’re working on. Those qualities are really skills and they need to be practiced and refined and renewed all the time whether it’s strength, or kindness, speed or confidence, power or patience.

So, pick a quality and approach it as a skill.

Get yourself some good coaching, someone who can help you with a solid plan.

Find a companion or two to help you work the process.

Then lean in , trust your efforts and keep at it.

You got this.

You Are Clearly Not Average

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Average is a statistic not a person. There is no such thing as an average human being.

In 1950 the U.S. Air Force measured 140 dimensions of over 4000 pilots to help improve the design of the cockpits of their airplanes. The idea was if you could determine the dimensions of the average pilot you could design a better cockpit. A young Lieutenant named Gilbert Daniels calculated the average of the ten dimensions believed to be most relevant for the process. Daniels compared the measurements of pilots to the average and was shocked to find not a single pilot fit the average on all ten measurements. Even if you took the average of only three measurements fewer than four percent would qualify. There was no such thing as an average pilot. You would have been designing a cockpit for someone who didn’t exist.

Todd Rose has researched and written about the idea of average extensively in his work at Harvard. His book The End Of Average is well worth the read.

When it comes to comparing two different groups of people, like people who exercise or meditate regularly with people who don’t, it can be helpful. But, when we try to apply it to an individual human being like what’s the best form of exercise for you or how much stress is too little or too much for your friend it’s useless, because like the pilots in Daniels work, no one is average. Here’s where we need to take the time and do the work of coming up with the right fit, the one that helps you be the best you. Rather trying to fit the person into the program we really can create the program that fits the person. And it’s a lot more fun.

Becoming Flexible

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Flexibility isn’t about being able to bend over and put your palms on the floor or do the splits. Flexibility is just what it says; your ability to flex, to adapt, change, respond to changes in your environment.

Mobility, stability, strength, coordination, strength and stiffness all go into making us flexible and they can all be practiced and developed. One of the keys to developing them is choosing the activities that actually help you develop them. Another factor is matching level of challenge with our ability to recover, learn, and adapt or grow.

The ability to change and respond in healthy ways to the changes in our environment (internal and external) is a good measure of the health of any organism. A much better measure than whether or not you can sit in the lotus postition.

What The Optimist Doesn’t Say

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The optimist doesn’t say everything is fine or even that everything is going to be fine. The optimist just knows that we have within us and around us what we need to rise to meet the challenge and if we fail, to get back up, learn, adapt and rise to meet it again. It allows them to be curious, grateful, even joyful as they embrace the moment, put their toe on the line and say, “let’s go.”

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