In a garden as in life

IMG_4839I walked in my garden yesterday. I noticed some early spring buds pushing through.

A tree grows a millimetre at a time. A leaf unfolds little by little. A great gardener trims a little here, a little there. All relative to what is in front of him. He deals with reality. Takes an action then steps back and observes the effect before deciding on the next step. To do it any other way would result in a mess.

We however set lofty goals. Goals that stretch us. (remember the slogan “If a goal does not scare you then it is not worth having as a goal” or something like that). Often these goals are just out of reach, just that little bit too far. We tell ourselves that this is cool. Certainly our friends applaud us for this.

We become over committed publically and personally, (sometimes financially even) and hence we resort to shortcuts. Take running races for example. We overtrain because race day is just around the corner. We take pain killers because we are not up to the task.

Is it not better to look at what is and consider the next step, whatever that may be.

Thanks to James Clear for your inspiration here

Swimming – A case for Life Coaching

swimSix years ago I could not swim. Well actually I thought I could swim. To my best knowledge I could do it.
‘I certainly was not as good as those pros but I can swim’ I kept telling myself. 
I had learnt from my dad who had learnt in the Namibian desert. Go figure.
He called it farm dam swimming: breast stroke with your head well above the water line. ‘What is the problem?’ I thought.
I was in my mid 30’s when I started dating a swimmer and was exposed to a whole bunch of ‘pro’ swimmers. Guys and girls who were successful and did tumble turns and all that.
Suddenly what I had been trying to wish into reality (that I could in fact swim) was shown up for the illusion that it was.
The problem with people who are good at something however is that they often don’t know how to pass that knowledge on.
So I sought the help of a coach. Somebody who had studied how to teach. The Total Immersion drills felt awkward at first and it took  me ages to master them. I studied notes, got videos, watched on line…
In fact after the initial weekend intro course I religiously practised at the Sea Point Pavilion.
I did not have access to any other pool as I was not a gym bunny so logistics were an issue.
One afternoon at the start of winter Ryan Stramrood and some of his ‘pro’ buddies arrived in the lane next to mine. I was super excited to share the pool with real heroes who had swum The English Channel and stuff. My excitement did not last very long after I got out of the water as I got quite hypothermic on the drive home due to the cold.
I migrated to warmer waters at the Long Street Baths before I finally got a Virgin Active membership. At this stage I was still just doing drills. Not real swimming. I can’t remember when I actually managed to swim a whole length of the pool non stop. I was ecstatic and I was determined.
I knew this was the way. The only way for me to get it right. I would come home and proudly state that I had done 20 lengths, then 30, then 40. The point is I made progress. I was working on technique quite hard and just generally relaxing in the liquid environment. I was working on the skills that allowed me to progress. The same way building a foundation looks pretty boring and unimpressive until at some point the concrete sets and the walls shoot up above the ground. So too there was a time when that was not enough. I would have to work on fitness. Finally I joined squad. I was put in the slow lane, next to the wall. This was quite welcome as I could grab it in panic.
The point is I slowly improved and Viv gave me great pointers. My swimming volume increased dramatically and a new norm was laid.
I started doing the Clifton Mile and got comfortable in the sea. with a wet suit of course. The point is I was trying to become a triathlete so there was no need to endure the cold.
I sought out Neil Macpherson’s endless pool of hell. The drills he gave me lifted my stroke like nothing else. If you want to ever bring yourself down to reality then I can highly recommend a splash with Neil. The drills WILL lift your game if your ego can take the beating that is.
Learning is all about accepting where you are at and having the determination to improve from there, no matter how small the improvement. As long as you are going in the right direction, you are going in the right direction. Those improvements stick.
One of the first triathlons I did was in Durbanville at the start of winter. The ‘warm up’ was a disaster as it had the opposite effect. The water was far too cold. Finally we swam our one lap and I got out the water and promptly fell over as I was not accustomed to the change in body position. Ear plugs sorted that out. They were a crutch that I used willingly but deep down inside I knew that I would have to learn to cope without them at some point. many years later I left them behind too.
We were well on our way to training for the BIG DANCE when we did a training weekend in Fisherhaven. The swim across the lagoon was supposed to be 2 – 3km in total. It turned out to be that distance to half way! The worst was I swam by myself. It was not fun to be left way behind by my wife and paddler at the time but the lesson was a good one. If I could survive that then I would survive the swim at Ironman.
Each new level of competence brings a plateau. We have the choice to enjoy it and wallow or challenge ourselves to a new level, whatever form that may take. As we gain more competence we have the option to learn new things and constantly be challenged. Or we stagnate.
I am not singling out any one intervention as a game changer. It was putting the right thing in at the right time. The  fact that my stimulus was just the right intensity every step of the way led me to cope with each challenge rather than hit overwhelm.
I could not have gotten to where I am now if it had not been for a coach (or every single coach I have had actually) to guide and steer me in the right direction. Constantly giving insight and reflection. I took everything on board and took what I could use and discarded what I could not.
[I still remember being asked to practice tumble turns on the lawn. At the time a stimulus too far (by no fault of my coach at the time!!) I just hate water up my nose and as such I don’t tumble turn.]
What if we embraced the same growth mindset in life issues? How much better could we perform? Who do you have to reflect you accurately, to point out areas of improvement, to push, to prod?
Post script:
I am now swimming in lane 2 with Gary. He still gives me pointers in more sessions than not. I know where I am at and I continue to seek. I know I am on a plateau with swimming. I am OK with that only because I am doing huge growth in other areas of my life. I will get back to actively looking at my stroke in the future. There is no rush.
Now when we get a warm up of 40 lengths it is not something completely out of the ordinary.

But actually life demands more!

I came across this quote by Regina Brett over the weekend “No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.”

The tendency with holidays (or weekends for that matter) is that we veg. We drink just enough coffee to make it to the couch and then surf – channels. We are a victim to our OWN free time. Why is this?

Maybe we are actually a victim to our non-free time. Those five days between weekends. We feel powerless to affect the outcome of our day. We tend to float along for 9h on a stream of our master’s tide. Not caring to change much, watching minutes tick by until we are free. But strangely the cycle continues. We drown our sorrows in craft beverage and then deal with the hang over the next day with a cup of the black stuff. (Please can you add enough sugar and milk to make this lifestyle palatable?) How can we call this living?

The truth is that in the 9X5 cycle we are training ourselves to be victims. Victims to the man (whoever that is in your life, whoever you make him to be)

What if I did more than just show up?

How is that even possible?

Every morning I have a choice. I have a choice to wake up or call in sick. Yes both have consequences. Maybe I can choose my consequence? I have a choice in what breakfast I eat. I have a choice to make between instant gratification and future health. Either which way I have a choice. I choose to wear an ironed shirt. This is not expected or even suggested in an industry which revers “lifestyle” but I make that choice. I choose to dress up. Every single day. I choose how I want to shape my day. I am making a habit. I don’t get it right all the time but at least I try.

Having made that choice I show up. The choice to get up and create my day. Sometimes it is as small as being positive, other days I have grander plans. At least I have a plan.

Where in your life are you a victim?

Where in your life do you choose?

Merry Merry

Carols and various other hymns are well on their way to getting us in the mood. Christmas is only a few weeks away and we are all in dread.

So why is that?

Why is this time of cheer so stressful for most of us?

Most office parties are a time of too much booze, getting too cozy with the secretary and laughing at the bosses bad jokes. But that is just the overture for the main course come end December.

Well the aunt with the hairy chin is waiting for her kiss (it seems like she has been waiting 11 months already). We have to spend money on silly Secret Santa for people we don’t see for another year. We hang out with long lost family who we don’t actually like all that much. I wonder if the feeling is mutual.

We eat and drink way over our limit.

And on top of it all we should be joyful throughout this whole ordeal.

No wonder this all takes its toll on us and we suffer this hangover in Jan. Financially, physically and emotionally.

So what is happening that this time of joy is often a time of great stress?

We fall prey to group pressure to act outside of what is true to us. This pressure is huge, supported by family, religion, friends and the Jones’s. Then if we have kids we they are targeted by big business through advertising which has been building for months.

So what to do?

Christmas is not all bad and some traditions can be good fun (as they should be). My point is we can’t blame anybody but ourselves if we feel out of sorts during this time.

We need a really good understanding of what works for us. What our boundaries are. Sure some of our boundaries can be flexible during this time but unless we have a good idea of what they are we then don’t know which ones we can be flexible with and which ones not.

For example if drink does not make me feel so good I have the choice. Drinking ‘just one beer’ often leads to consuming more. Knowing this and knowing what works allows us to choose for ourselves what we want. We can then either drink that one beer and run the risk of sliding into more or to bring our own bottle of sparkly juice to that family braai. That is your choice. Each choice has a consequence but at least by making a choice you can choose the outcome. This does require active engagement though. And that is what most of us lack. We think we can just float along and be happy. Sorry to burst your bubble. Happiness requires active engagement with our lives and that takes work.

The other problem is that so many things are unspoken and left unspoken around this time of year.

“Last year we had Christmas with his parents, this year it has to be with mine” is just one example.

Rather than leave these traditions unspoken and for everybody to make their assumptions around them: put them out in the open.

If we say how it is for us we allow others to hear us. Maybe just maybe they have the same opinion around some silly traditions.

So where do I start?

Feelings and emotions are a good start. If something gives you a funny feeling in your stomach then that is a good indicator. Just like an indicator in the car, it gives you some good ideas as to something going on. It maybe should give you an indication as to a recommended change of direction. Maybe, just maybe we should pay attention to those indicators and actively engage in our lives.

And here’s to a merry festive season!

“John has such good values – he is such a good boy”

Well what does that actually mean?

What standard are we judging John against?

Does it not beg the question “What are your values?” Or better still “What do you value?” “Where do you place value?”

Maybe it is worth thinking about.

What you might just find is that you value things differently to your peers or even closest friends. You might even value different things. So what does this tell us?

It might just reveal our individuality, our uniqueness to some degree.

By asking somebody what they value you are really asking them what makes them unique. How it really is for them.

Maybe, just maybe we see some overlaps and that is where we see commonality, community, humanity…

But let’s not forget within our community we are all individuals with slightly different values and that is the way it should be. Both can be celebrated. Maybe they should be celebrated in ourselves and others.

Values can change and that is OK.

So

“What do you value today?”

Persistence

I started doing breathing exercises a few months ago. Every morning.

First thing in the morning. To get my day started the right way. While everybody is still asleep.

The basics are pretty easy. It is called Square Breathing.

Breathe in for the count of seven. Hold your breath for the count of seven. Exhale for the count of seven. And finally hold for the count of seven. Repeat. Seven cycles.

I was keen and wanted to prove that I could do it. However reality was quick and humbling. I started with a count of four. I got distracted often. More often than not actually. Almost always I lost my track somewhere along the line. Thoughts took over my mind while I counted in the dark.

I persist. Not because I have got it right but because precisely I have not. I persist. That is the point. I am slowly getting better. More consistent. Less distracted. More focused.

It has taken months and will continue as do I. For actually I have no choice. I must get better.

I take breathing pretty much for granted, maybe you do too. Why not spend a little time every day doing it consciously?