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Changing The Tape

Today is the final day of my month-long celebration of my sober anniversary. For my final celebration post I thought I would swing for the fences…  I’ve made quite a few references to the “committee” that used to run rough-shod in my melon (usually depicted as the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other) over the last month but a friend of mine reminded me of another favorite topic that I hadn’t hit on yet this month.

Self-doubt, self-sabotage and eventually self-destruction…  This is the other side of the coin to the committee, or what I do with the committee report.  I’ve written about this once before, here and went into great specificity about the notion.  The basic gist is this:  “The tape” is what I play back, specifically thoughts, in response to an external stimulus.  In other words, the thoughts I use to throw at life.  If the thoughts turn dark, or negative, there is work to be done because it’s impossible to live a happy life stuck in that.

Negativity is easy, and sometimes can even be warranted, especially if I’m not taking care of my responsibilities and my life is spinning out of control.  I usually refer to this as “keeping my side of the street clean”.  If my side of the street is messy, due to procrastination or laziness or some other reason, a little negativity is useful if it spurs me to act…  The reality is that negativity, if used as a motivator, is not always a bad thing.  But there’s another name for this: “honesty”.  We must be able to honestly assess ourselves if we are to grow and be happy.  Without that, we’re lost because as a response, every problem must become someone else’s fault by nature.  We become a victim of a nameless, faceless “society”.  Being a victim may be OK for you, but I have no patience for that in my own life.  It may play well for the crowd but in the end, being a victim and having a dollar will get you a cup of coffee and that’s about it.

Beyond honesty lies the baron wasteland of self-doubt, self-sabotage and self-destruction.  Practicing alcoholics live there.  Malcontents find a home as well.  Depression thrives.  How often have you thought to yourself that you don’t deserve to be happy?  Have you ever thought to yourself that a joyous and free life is just not in the cards for you?  Have you ever thought that you are not worth saving?  That you’re somehow evil?  That you don’t deserve to be happy, joyous or free?  Have you ever looked at someone else and thought that it wasn’t fair that they appear to have “it all together”, while you struggle just to keep your head above water?  Have you wondered if you are incapable of making decisions that turn out well?  Have you ever thought to yourself that you’re just “not doing this life thing right”?  Have you ever wondered if you are worth loving?  These are the tapes that must be changed.  These thoughts are fleeting.  They occur so quickly that they are almost imperceptible, and they are utterly devastating.

Those thoughts are controllable.  Malleable.  Repairable.  There is hope.  All is not lost.  You don’t have to live like that anymore.  I know this to be true, I used to have a three-story mansion built right in the middle of the wasteland of self-destruction and with some help, patience and work I tore that bitch down and built it back up where the grass really is greener.  I changed the tape.  I changed my thought pattern and continue to maintain the positivity needed to enjoy the life that I was given.  I’ve seen it work in countless others and I will do my best to pass it on, because it is not in success that I find happiness.  True joy is in passing on what was freely given to me by someone else.

In looking at replacing a negative thought pattern, it would seem that the worse off one is, the harder it will be to come back.  To an extent, this is true – the work will be more rigorous, but to an extent, it isn’t…  The more glaring the defect, the easier it is to recognize it when it rears its ugly head.  Look at it this way, if you’ve got a thorn in your thumb, it’ll be pretty easy to locate and remove…  If it’s one of those tiny metal slivers, it can be days before you locate the actual sliver – then you have to figure out how to remove what you can’t even see (try sandpaper by the way – 80 to 12o grit, go with the grain of the sliver it should come right out – with the grain means opposite the way it hurts when you rub it).

To keep this simple, I can break this down into a few simple steps:

1.  Recognize that there is indeed a problem and remove (for men) or accept (for women) the emotion.

2.  Learn to recognize when that problem is present.

3.  Change it.  Act immediately, don’t ever put it off “for a better time”.  We’re not talking about a yoga class here.

Changing the tape.

The easiest way to change a self-destructive thought pattern is through action.  I’ve rarely met a person who can be depressed and actively involved in bettering their life at the same time, but action is only half of the equation – and not the half that will fix the habit of slipping into the self-destructive thought pattern in the first place.  What is the cause of my self-sabotaging thought pattern?  What am I leaving undone?  What must I address?  What part of my “street” needs a street sweeper when it comes to how I think?

Changing the thought pattern itself is a little more involved and it takes a lot of practice.  Also we will, in times of stress, fall back on the old behavior – it’s what we’re used to – so in order to maintain our happy, joyous and free life, eternal vigilance is required.  Specifically, here’s my experience on how this works:  I encounter an external stimulus, the small things are actually a lot harder by the way, for the same reason as the sliver…  I’ve come across a good example just last week that would have sent me into a drunken tailspin 20 years ago.  We had a drain water backup in our kitchen under the concrete slab.  Even though I did everything right in the situation, the insurance company found a loophole through which they believe they can avoid coverage.  We’re talking about major repairs – too much for me to afford.  This was a rough year for my company too, so I don’t have a whole lot of disposable cash that I can pull out of the company to complete the repairs.  I had to spend a portion of the money I have set aside to pay this quarter’s taxes just to get the plumbing fixed.  Thoughts of being a bleak Christmas for my girls and a torn up house for the next several months while I piecemeal the repairs as we can afford them start to creep in…  Now, this is a natural reaction to a disaster so far.  We’re not hurricane Sandy status, but it’s not good.  My thought process from this point will dictate how this situation ultimately turns out.  The old me would have sat in despair over the “unfairness” of the situation, after all, if I had chosen to cut my guy’s pay a little more (I choose to pay better than most in my industry), if I’d been a little more frugal, I would be OK right now.  From there, the thoughts would turn ugly, I’m a failure, I’m going to lose everything, etc.  Procrastination would follow and everything I feared would ultimately come to pass.  Of this, I have no doubt.

Instead, because I know that path all too well, I took action.  I shifted some cash around the company, rolled up my sleeves and got to work.  With some help I should have the repairs completed some time in the next two weeks, just before Christmas and we’ll have enough to give the girls a decent present or two.  I was able to take action though, because long ago, I learned to change the tape – the thought pattern that would have led me to inaction.  Before the negativity had a chance to fester, to become malignant and to devour my spirit, I thought better.  “I will get through this.  I will do the best I can, sobeit I still lose everything.  I’ll have my wife and kids, I’ll have my work and my bikes and running shoes”…  “What can I do to get this ball rolling”?

That’s an example.  The abstract looks like this:  Just because a thought enters my head, whether I blame that thought on “the committee” or not, I have the ultimate say in whether that thought has validity.  I can, and do, change the manner in which those thoughts flow and how much validity I place on them.  Let’s look at the “I’ll lose everything” thought, because it did enter into the fray.  I recognized that thought every time it entered my conscience and discarded it as useless just as fast as it entered.  I have that choice.  As a result, instead of stewing on that, I took the next right action.  Doing this often enough will result in the project being accomplished and my not “losing everything”.  The trick was recognizing those thoughts and deciding which needed to be relegated to the scrap heap and which needed action.  This is what took practice.  20 years ago, this situation would have taken weeks or even months to play out because it took time to see the pattern emerging.  It took mental pain to be able to work through the issues as they crept up.  Only with practice did taking control of my thoughts quicken.  Only with practice did I learn to master changing the tape that I allow to play in my head.

Let’s look at some of the other questions I posed at the beginning of this post:

How often have you thought to yourself that you don’t deserve to be happy?  Have you ever thought to yourself that a joyous and free life is just not in the cards for you?  Have you ever thought that you are not worth saving?  That you’re somehow evil?  That you don’t deserve to be happy, joyous or free?  Have you ever looked at someone else and thought that it wasn’t fair that they appear to have “it all together”, while you struggle just to keep your head above water?  Have you wondered if you are incapable of making decisions that turn out well?  Have you ever thought to yourself that you’re just “not doing this life thing right”?  Have you ever wondered if you are worth loving?

What is your normal thought pattern for each of those questions?  Have you’ve pondered one or more at some point or another?  If it doesn’t start out with “F*CK YOU”, you may want to work on that a bit.

I wrote a post about maintaining confidence the other day…  That whole post, if you read between the lines, is about changing the tape to maintain confidence.  It works if you work it.  Good luck.

50 K Run Called Off… Heartbroken I Am Not.

I got a text from English Pete yesterday calling off Saturday’s 50 k run.  It turns out his sister flew in from England as a surprise…  I wish I could say that I was disappointed, but I’d be a liar – let’s face it, I don’t need anyone else to run 31 miles, I could have done it anyway.  Instead, my buddy Marc suggested that we celebrate the fact that we won’t be running 31 miles by running 13 instead so we’ve got a half marathon on tap for Saturday morning.  This distance is much more “up my alley” as I’ve never run more than 13-1/2 miles before.

I would have done the 31, relying on a little help from my friends in getting through the rough spots, but now I’ll be able to walk on Sunday and I’m quite happy about that.  There will be a group of us running and I’ll probably stick with them and not worry about pace and time, depending on how fast the group runs.  It’s been my experience that if I run too slow it actually hurts more – undoubtedly because I alter my natural cadence, but I have yet to figure out a comfortable way around that.

This leads me to a moment of gratitude…  I’ve never been as fit as I am right now.  Just last year, I would have had to train for a month just to think about running a half marathon (let alone 31 miles).  Today, with near certainty, I’ll be able to plow my way through having only run one 9 miler in the last several months (the rest were all 5-7 miles).  This is all due to cycling – a lot of it.

And cycling leads me to yet another moment of gratitude.  How often have you been able to stand in front of a mirror and say to yourself, “now that’s all good”?  That is how I greet every day.  I ran three times a week for years and still hated how I looked in the mirror.  12 months, an average of a little more than an hour a day, and I no longer think about getting my gut liposuctioned off, it’s gone.  Oh how thankful I am that I can look in the mirror and be happy.  I’m not perfect, by any stretch, but I’m pretty freakin’ good and I absolutely dig it.

Confidence, You Have It Or You Don’t?

I bumped into a great article at PezCycling News entitled Cycling Confidence.  Much of the article deals with things most people already know, that confidence (like happiness) is an inside job, but there’s more to the article…  It gets into how to improve your confidence.  As the article states:

A misconception that many cyclists have is that confidence is something that is inborn or that, if you haven’t developed it early in your cycling career, you will never have it. In reality, confidence is a skill, much like technical skills, that can be learned. Just like with any type of cycling skill, such as taking corners fast or riding in a pace line, confidence is developed through focus, effort, and repetition.

The problem is that you have the option to practice good or bad confidence skills. If you are often negative about your cycling, you are practicing and ingraining those negative confidence skills, so when you go out for a difficult training ride or compete in a race, just like a bad technical habit, that negativity will come out and it will hurt your riding. In other words, you became highly skilled at something—being negative—that actually hurts your cycling.

If you have a bad technical habit, for example, you rock your upper body side to side while climbing out of the saddle, you probably have done that for a long time, so that bad riding habit is deeply ingrained. The result is that you have become skilled at riding that way. The same holds true for confidence. You can become skilled at being negative.

To change bad confidence skills, you must retrain the way you think and what you say to yourself. You have to practice good confidence skills regularly until the old negative habits have been broken and you have learned and ingrained the new positive skill of confidence.

I couldn’t have possibly written it better myself (though I’ve tried).  I would go so far as to say that, while the article is great, it does miss something: The rest of life can follow the same principle.  In fact, not only does the rest of life follow the same principle, our confidence in our sport of choice can flow into everything else we do – after all, it’s a way of thinking.  If we’re confident in our ability to cycle or run, that confident thinking will have an effect on how we approach our work and the rest of our life.  While the negativity is infectious, so is positivity.

The article wraps up:

What separates the best from the rest is that the best cyclists are able to maintain their confidence when they’re not in top form or are struggling with the conditions. By staying confident, they continue to work hard rather than give up because they know that, in time, their riding will come around. The skill in meeting the Confidence Challenge is not getting caught in the vicious cycle and to be able to get out of the down periods quickly.

Oh how well that works with everything else.

Isabella Shows Dad How It’s Done…

My daughter, Isabella, can swim.  Not just a little bit, this kid’s got my “fish” gene plus some…  She can swim.

She was doing 25 meter repeats last night for swim class, just your typical freestyle and here are the few things I noticed:

She’s the fastest in her class.  The other kids are a grade older than she is, she’s the youngest.  Her form is amazing – it’s better than mine (I’m not playing liberal with the facts, she slices through the water).

In fourth grade, she’s beating 5th grade boys who are taking the class to get ready for the middle school (6th grade) swim team, and she’s not beating them by a little bit…  She’s beating them by a quarter length of the pool.  We’re obviously going to start looking at the middle school swim team when that opportunity arises next year and I’ll be helping her to stay with swimming.  She wasn’t too enthused about the swim team until I mentioned that she’d get her name up on the score board – now she’s all in.

She’s nine.

Congratulations to my baby, she’s not a baby anymore.  Now if I can just push her into triathlons…

Oh Yes You Can Get Fit…

Depending on whether or not I get construction going in my house by the weekend, I’ll be going on my buddy English Pete’s birthday run, a 50 k. That will be, if I choose to do it, roughly three times farther than I’ve ever bothered to run before – ever.

I’m in good enough shape to do it, at least slowly (figure 12 minutes a mile), but it’s going to hurt. A lot.

So, do I try it, just this one time, just for fun?  We’ll be doing three loops of 10.3 miles so I can pull out after 20 miles if I want, but I’ve gotta tell you, I’m really tempted to give it a go, just to be crazy and shake things up.

I’ve been thinking on my journey to becoming fit lately.  I tend to be a bit of a hard-ass when it comes to excuses, mainly because I don’t have much of a defense against them so I can’t have them.  In fact, I’m no different than a full-on couch potato except that I possess one trait:  The ability to think beyond my laziness (and the excuses) and focus on the ramifications of succumbing to it.  This is the trick to maintaining my fitness (and my sobriety).

This goes beyond simple self knowledge – knowing myself and a dollar will get me a cup of coffee.  It’s all about action.  When my wife and I were struggling through the decision to ride, run or sit on the couch this past Saturday, because it was cold outside, we ended up agreeing that we’d be happier sitting at the dinner table if we went out on our ride rather than sit on the couch.  The question is whether or not I could have afforded to take the day off…and how I answer that question makes the difference in whether or not I succeed.

Being an ex-drunk, I’m an all or nothing kind of guy.  I’m either 100% sober or drunk off my ass, there is no middle ground.  My step father-in-law asked me this weekend after congratulating me on hitting 20 years sober if there was any way that he and I could just head out to a bar and sit down for one beer and then leave…  I chuckled and said that it would depend on whether or not he wanted to carry me home or not.  There is absolutely no chance I can have just one beer.  I’ll have a case – and then I’ll do it again tomorrow because now that I pissed away the last 20 years I might as well do it again.  That will go on until I lose my wife, my kids, my house, my car, my job and my life.

If I apply that same principle to skipping a workout, what happens?

This is why most people fail to reach their fitness goals.  One skipped workout can turn into an infection of the spirit over night.  If that weren’t bad enough, it becomes easier to make the choice to sit it out after every time we choose the “easier, softer way”.  In other words, once you’ve opened Pandora’s box, it’s tough to put the lid back on.

So the statement, “Oh yes you can get fit”, is not some cheap political slogan, it’s the truth.  Anyone can if they put the time and effort into it – at least until you allow that first excuse to fester into a full-blown infection of your spirit.  If you allow that to happen, it’s all over but the shouting.

Interval Training – For Sanity…

I started interval training a couple of weeks ago, and today I started using the interval training timer included in my Endomondo Pro app for the same reason that most people turn to interval training – to take my cycling to the next level over the winter for next season.  There are a few added benefits to it as well…

Last week I tried a 10 minute warmup followed by 10 reps, 15 seconds full on/15 seconds recovery.  I got that one from another blogger that I followed.  Today I did one from Endomondo, only I altered it a little bit:  5 minute warmup followed by 6 reps 1 minute full on/1 minute recovery followed by a 5 minute cool down.  I’d say the 15 second one was quite a bit tougher, heck one minute to recover seemed too short.

My legs are feeling pretty squishy after today’s workout though and that’s a good thing.  What I found in doing the workouts was a little surprising…  With little time to recover between hard efforts, the overall workout goes really quickly and I’m absolutely loving it.  All last off-season I’d spin at a decent clip (some days harder than others) and before long it got incredibly boring but with the interval training days thrown in there, it really breaks things up.  It’s so much less boring.

So yeah, intervals help to get us to the next level, but much more importantly – at least for me – they break up an otherwise boring spin.

Fast Food Loses Its Luster…

For anyone who has known me or followed my blog for any amount of time, you know that I’ve always enjoyed fast food.  This past summer I even needed it to balance out the crazy amount of calories that I was burning on a daily basis on my bike – or maybe it would be fairer to say that the high calorie fast food made balancing my diet easier.  Indeed, that’s the ticket.

Lately we’ve had some troubles with our house that have made eating out a necessity and I’m coming to my wits end…  It all started with a couple of Happy Meals that I bought for my girls that had new reduced size fry cartons and about 10 fries in them.  I noticed that the trend applied to my fry portion as well.  Surprisingly prices didn’t go down with the 33% reduction in fries, imagine that.  From there I started noticing just how low the quality of the food actually is – that became apparent after having to choke down a burger for lunch yesterday on the way home from the in-law’s house.

I never thought I’d see the day, but I’m tired of fast food.  It’s lost its luster as fuel.  That’s the big hit.  I’m not going to go as far as saying I feel worse for eating it, because I really don’t, but it’s just starting to “feel” a little less than  useful.  Add to that the clear ripoff it’s becoming and it’s just too much.  I won’t say that I’ll be swearing it off forever, but I’ve made the decision to drop it, at least for now.

To look at this in terms of “why”, the more I’ve put into getting and staying in shape, the less fast food has made sense.  I suppose I’ve evolved.  Imagine that.