A Word About Willpower

Got big plans and personal goals for the new year? How long is your to-do list for the year?… As a graduate student, I came across research on ego-depletion and accomplishing goals, otherwise known as willpower or self-control and it is fascinating. The ingenious research studies have since been summarized in a great book titled, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney, (2011). But for those of you who don’t have the time to read it, here is some of the best advice to remember when setting about accomplishing our most challenging goals for the new year. Growing your willpower or discipline muscles relates very well to training as an athlete.

1. Willpower is like a muscle. Like a muscle, your willpower becomes fatigued with overuse but can also be strengthened over the long-term through exercise. Just like physical training, when you push your discipline muscle at your optimal limit you’ll get stronger and can endure longer with less effort, but it also needs recovery too! What matters most is the exertion. If you struggle with a temptation and then give in, you’ll still be depleted from the resisting and because you gave in. So what are some tips to maximize willpower strength and avoid depletion?

2. Keep your goal list short. You only have one supply of willpower (or energy if you like) so spend it wisely. If you want to make a big changes in your life this year like the common ones of exercising more, eating better/less, overhauling your finances, or keeping a cleaner house, remember you likely won’t have enough willpower in the bank for everything on the list. Each time you are using up willpower to start a new habit, you reduce your capacity for other activities requiring willpower. Therefore, the recommended plan is to pick one resolution and stick to doing it well, that can be enough of a challenge if you want it to last! And the good news is that after 3 weeks to a month, it takes less and less willpower as parts of your new goal work becomes habit and takes less effort.

3. Plan effectively to budget your willpower. When you can foresee extra challenges ahead in your schedule (think high volume training for an athlete), other demands may need to be cut back to get through while staying healthy, in one piece and not too cranky in the end. And more importantly a specific plan (e.g. I will run 45 minutes on Tuesday at the park at noon with Fred) that includes when and where you’ll do something is way more effective than a vague one (e.g. I want to run more this year). Specific plans also avoid what is termed the Zeignarnik effect, referring to how when you ignore unfinished tasks your unconscious mind will keep fretting about them. You may have experienced this when you hear part of a song driving or in passing and then you can’t get it out of your mind for the rest of the day! Finally, if you follow plans that pre-commit you to a strategy (e.g. a dieter that says, “If there is a buffet at the party tonight, I will only eat veggies and lean protein) you’ll have more success developing a routine that turns into a positive habit. The same applies to athletes who practice pre-committing to well-practiced competition plans and strategies, allowing for a more automatic and energy conserving (sometimes in peak performance described as “effortless”) performance.

4. Rest, Food and Cleanliness. Although it may seem obvious, a well-rested will is a stronger one. So is one that is fueled by a bit of glucose (think about your experiences grocery shopping on an empty versus full stomach). Some great studies showed that higher self-control was exerted after having some food. While enough healthy food and good sleep on a regular basis is key, so is a bit of neatness. Some studies also found people to have greater self-control after seeing a clean desk than a messy desk, or even after browsing a neat and well-organized website versus a sloppy one. Environmental cues subtly influence our brain and behavior. Ironically, if you make it a priority to make the bed, wash the dishes, and pick your socks up off the floor you are helping yourself take the strain off of maintaining self-discipline in other areas.

5. Positive Procrastination. If you’re a big procrastinator try using the power of positive procrastination to improve your discipline. For example, some experiments showed that people tempted by chocolate managed to avoid it by telling themselves they’d eat it some other time. The “I’ll have it later” trick works better than trying to deny yourself something all together, and you may not even feel like it later anyway. Don’t feel like getting up in the morning for a workout? Tell yourself you’ll sleep in another day 🙂

6. Monitoring and Rewards. The more carefully you keep track of goals through self-monitoring, writing things down, and carefully tracking your progress with feedback the more success you’ll have. While it can be tedious and boring, there are also plenty of apps and websites to do the work for you these days! On the other side, rewards are important too. Small rewards along the way, as well as big rewards can be significant when achieving a big goal (e.g. an athlete who completes their first big race like a marathon or a smoker who has quit for a full year). Rewards for genuine accomplishments are most effective for promoting self-control in yourself or discipline in your children.

Overall, why is willpower an important virtue to pursue? I’ll finish with a quote from the book mentioned above,

“Self-control is ulimately about much more than self-help. It’s essential for savoring your time on earth and sharing joy with the people you love. One of the most heartening benefits demonstrated in Beaumeister’s experiments is this: People with stronger willpower are more altruistic. They’re more likely to donate to charity, to do volunteer work, and to offer their homes as shelter to someone with no place to go. Willpower evolved because it was crucial for our ancestors to get along with the rest of the clan, and it’s still serving that purpose today. Inner discipline still leads to outer kindness.” (p. 260)

Poor performance: physical or mental?

Ironically when a performance goes incredibly well, we don’t often hear, wow, that guy/girl/team is so mentally tough! On the other hand when  a competition, race or performance doesn’t go well, we may ask the question, was it physical or mental? When discussing an athlete’s performance I’ve heard coaches say, “It was all mental!”. I’ve broken down performances with athletes I’ve worked with as we try to pick apart any issues that could be more related to mental versus physical reasons for a sub par competition result. Here’s my opinion on some steps to take on deciphering the mental versus physical aspects of a (more often) disappointing result:

1. The Obvious Physical. It is always important to address any physical possibilities first. As a runner I’ve been truly anemic (super low in iron) twice and until I figured out why I was performing so poorly it was super frustrating. Other obvious physical reasons would be any other deficiencies, injuries, or underlying illness. If all the types of physical reasons, most of which could be detected by a medical professional can be ruled out, time to look at the less obvious ones.

2. The Not So Obvious Physical. This is the category that sometimes takes some trial and error by athletes to get right, and can be very individual. Things like getting enough sleep, coping with jet lag, over training, eating/drinking properly before, during and after (especially if doing multiple events over a day or more), and going into a competition rested and sharp enough. While many times great performances happen with less than ideal physical preparation, sometimes (especially if a pattern can be detected), it can be linked back to some of the above aspects of physical preparation, which take high self-awareness, and much practice to fine tune in ever-changing competition scenarios and lead-ups.

3. The Obvious Mental. Did your training predict your performance? Not all sports are as obvious as say track running or pool swimming. When I was a track runner, it was pretty evident what times I would be capable of racing according to the interval times I was running in practice. While other sports aren’t so straight forward, training indications over time, or consistency of your previous competition results can give you a pretty good ball park for how well you can expect to perform. Whether it is one or several competitions where a performance is way below what you’ve proven you are physically capable of doing in training or even previous competitions, perhaps a mental factor is playing a larger role. Things like confidence, focus, competitive motivation, and nerves may be getting in the way.

4. The Not So Obvious Mental. Even though an athlete may be physically ready, and mentally tough, less obvious mental factors can impact performance. For example, sometimes poor decision-making, tactics or strategy in the midst of competition can be critical to the final outcome. Or outside of competition emotional and mental management can impact performance. It is widely accepted that physical training has phases of work or stress and recovery. But what is often neglected is that intense bouts of mental intensity (e.g. period of intense focusing and concentration in or outside of sport) or emotional intensity (e.g. the excitement, highs and lows of competition, strong emotions such as anger, sadness experienced in or outside sport) need periods of recovery too, and will impact physical performance. Stress is stress – the body doesn’t differentiate the cause, or even between perceived positive and negative stress.

5. The Complete Mystery? Sometimes the preparation can go amazingly, mental and emotional stress appears to be in check, and things still don’t go as hoped. And sometimes we may have to accept there might not be any clear reason. In a post titled, “Where to Begin?” my Luna teammate, Catharine Pendrel explained a day like this well which happened for her here in her blog. She was one the favorites to medal at the Olympic Games in London this past August.

An Ironmindset?

In Western Canada it is Ironman week!! Many of many training buddies with CSR and elsewhere are headed to Penticton this week to race in Ironman Canada next Sunday, August 26th. I wish I could go watch with so many people to cheer for! But you know what they say, if I was to go I would likely catch the Ironman bug and get in line to sign up for next year, but I don’t think I’m quite ready for that yet, ha! However, a few weeks ago, I facilitated a fun discussion on mental preparation for an Ironman for my training group. So for everyone who was there (and those who missed it) this blog is a reminder for you!

1. State your dream performance goal. Given your current fitness, the training you’ve done, your motivation, and current capabilities, if everything comes together what is most realistic race day performance goal for you? Is your goal simply to finish? To enjoy your race day? To set a personal best time in one or all three disciplines? To finish at the top end of your age group? To qualify for Kona? Once you’ve got your performance goal(s) clear, file it/them away and focus on the next three points as race day nears.

2. Focus on your reasons to stay confident! For some reason, especially when taper time begins, extra energy starts to mount and some feel compelled to start doubting. With the normal amount of added anxiousness it is not the time to make last minute changes such as to equipment or nutrition. Enjoy the countdown and extra time to put your feet up! Trust in what you know works for you, and in what you’ve already tried and tested especially in the nutrition and equipment departments. The physical training is in the bank, race day will be a celebration of all your hard work! Reflect on your preparation and reasons to be confident without comparing yourself to others. What improvements have you made? What training limitations have you pushed? Reflect on all the hard work you’ve put in to be ready for the day with the time and commitment you’ve had to do so? What have others said about you that encourages you? What specific things have you done to be race ready? Who or what inspires you to do an Ironman?

3. Be ready for anything and everything! In a race as long as an Ironman there are going to be uncomfortable and painful moments. It is important to anticipate as well as you can what will be YOUR biggest challenges of the day and prepare for how you will respond and ultimately stay positive. Things may go way better than expected. Or way worse than expected or anywhere in between. Visualize how you will react and respond with calm to any number or scenarios that could happen….losing your goggles in the swim, getting knocked in the head in the water, a flat tire, cramps, walking on the run, blisters, equipment malfunction such as heart rate monitor….the more you can mentally prepare for any race day scenario, the less it will take you by surprise, and the more you will be able to remain calm, respond positively and keep your energy focused on getting the best out of yourself for the race! What will be your overall guiding mantra for the day (or each race segment if you prefer to have an overall mantra for swim, bike and run)? Some examples I’ve heard are “just keep smiling”, “one step at a time”, “stay in the moment”, “the more I run, the sooner I’ll be done”, “keep calm and carry on”, “this too will pass” (if going through a tough part of the race), “whatever will be will be”  to name a few!

4. Write your post-race obituary. How do you want to feel when you cross that finish line at the end of the day? What do you want to be able to say about yourself? Make a list of all the things you want to be able to say about yourself at the end of the day no matter what your end result is! In other words, focus on everything that you will have control over: your effort, your attitude, your perseverance, your composure, your grit!! You are choosing to get on the start line! You can choose the mindset with which you want to race!

Good luck to everyone I know toeing the line on Sunday! I’ll be cheering and tracking you all!!

A Little on Perspective on Sport…

Poise. Positive Perspective and Attitude. Centered. Sport-Life Balance. In my opinion athletes who demonstrate such attributes have my utmost respect. As the saying goes, sport can bring out the best and worst in all of us. In sport, like in life, “Circumstances do not make a man (or woman!), they reveal him (or her!).” (Dr. Wayne W. Dyer). In my experience and observations athletes at any level in sport can learn and develop a great sport-life perspective. My current Olympic favorite is Missy Franklin, who at 17 has already won gold in the 100m & 200m backstroke (a world record) and a bronze in the 4 x 100m freestyle in London and shows incredible composure, maturity and perspective on sport for her age.

On the other hand, for those who are still lacking poise and a positive perspective, here’s what I believe might be getting in the way…

1. You’re a sore loser. When you don’t win or perform to your (or perceived other’s) expectations, you’re good at coming up with lots of reasons and excuses as to why you didn’t perform as well as you believe you should have. Sometimes you even rattle off your excuses before the competition starts as insurance to protect your ego. Bottom line: It’s okay to admit that your best just wasn’t good enough to win or achieve your goal result that day! And that’s precisely what Clara Hughes said about her 5th place finish in the time trial event on Day 5 at the Olympics, “Yes I am disappointed…I have everything, it was not enough, but ultimately, they were better than me. That’s it.”

2. You’re even a sore winner! Even on the days you win, you’re quick to publicly proclaim all the reasons it wasn’t a good day for you, and all the things you could have still done better! While a true competitor is always looking for ways to improve, it may be best to keep such reflections to oneself on such days in respect for your competitors.

3. You believe effort guarantees results. You are sure that if you put X amount of dedication, time, energy, and resources in to achieving your athletic dreams, then you should deserve to get the results you want. Nothing is guaranteed in sport. Nor in life! Accept that fact and you can truly enjoy the journey and results! Furthermore, this type of thinking also translates in to the belief that the one who wants it the most should win. Consider this excerpt from a blog post by Maxime Boilard: (the entire blog is written in context of the the Canadian men’s 8 rowing team’s silver medal and can be found here in French)

“Many people think that the athlete who wants it the most on game day is the one who wins the Olympic medal, as if belief alone will make it happen. We need to change that way of thinking. An athlete has to be in touch with reality as well as the level of competition. The desire to win makes no difference at this level. Each athlete wants it every bit as bad as the next. The difference maker here is, to be able to free yourself from the self-imposed obstacles we have a habit of nurturing, for all kinds of reasons. Each athlete wants to have the race of a lifetime. For some, that translates into a gold medal. It becomes problematic when an athlete wants the gold medal, believing it will translate into the best race of their lives. The difference between the two cases is subtle. In the first case we end up valuing that which we control whereas in the second case we are valuing a result that we are not able to totally control.”

4. You truly buy in to the cliché: “I’m only as good as my last performance!” While competition results are by far one of the best indicators of how you stack up to the competition in your given sport, if you chose to base your self-esteem and confidence solely on how your latest performance went (in training or competition), then you’re in for a very rocky ride!

5. You put too much importance on your performance. People don’t care as much as you think. And you shouldn’t either! Even as we are in the middle of the Olympic Summer Games, during which the whole world is watching, even these performances will be fleeting memories for most of us as soon as a few months from now! This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care about preparing and giving it your best shot, it just means you keep it in perspective with the rest of life and your (hopefully many) identities outside of sport. And never take yourself too seriously! Fun and peak performance often go together! 🙂

6. The most obvious of all: you’d do anything to win, even if it means cheating.  Chris McCormack sums up the reason people cheat nicely in his book, “You can’t deal with the fact that you’re not good enough, or you can’t get past the fear that you’re not good enough, so you cheat instead of finding a solution. To me, that is a direct outgrowth of our sport’s (triathlon’s) obsession with results.” (p. 222)

So what defines a positive perspective on performance results. Again, I will quote some thoughts from Chris McCormack, arguably one of the most successful triathletes ever:

“I’ve said I love the entire process of being a triathlete and of breaking down races. That would be true even if I didn’t win the races, because I enjoy the process of becoming the best triathlete I can be – the best person I can be. I love the process of finding the secret to winning a particular race as much as the win itself.”

“Our sport should be about more than winning races. It should be about overcoming limitations, conquering fears, and inspiring other people.”

“If all that matters to you is the result, what kind of person does that make you?”

The above quotes come from Chris McCormack’s book, “I’m here to WIN: A World Champion’s Advice for Peak Performance.” Read it and learn about how this amazing athlete has developed and learned over his long career, and ultimately has the mind of a true competitor balanced with a great perspective on life!

Train with a purpose, race for a reason!

What keeps you getting out of bed or rolling out the door for a workout? Why do you race? Through some recent conversations, observations, personal reflections and my current streak of devouring athlete autobiographies, it seems apparent to me that the more we understand the purpose behind what we do, and have a reason to race or compete that is bigger than ourselves, the more focus, passion, enjoyment and “success” we’ll have – of course that depends on your definition of what it means to achieve success. As Andre Agassi wrote in his autobiography, Open,

But I don’t feel that Wimbledon has changed me.  I feel, in fact, as if I’ve been let in on a dirty little secret: winning changes nothing.  Now that I’ve won a slam, I know something that very few people on earth are permitted to know.  A win doesn’t feel as good as a loss feels bad, and the good feeling doesn’t last as long as the bad.  Not even close (p.167).

In other words, if we’re only striving for the next “win” or high that comes with completing our next goal, with expectations that we’ll finally feel satisfied, happy, or that its all been worth it, then maybe we’re missing the point. And if we don’t understand the purpose of what we’re striving do to on a daily basis we won’t get the most out of what we’re doing – and yes, I’ve personally learned the value of quality of training, intention, and focus, over quantity since my children have come into this world!

In my world of triathlon training the purpose behind each work usually includes one or a few simple goals. Some days I leave the numbers behind (e.g. heart rate, watts, cadence, speed, distance etc) and fully focus on listening to my body, going the pace it wants to, and enjoying letting my mind wander, or being social (a mental break as well!). On the other end of the spectrum, for some workouts, it is all about hitting the numbers with maximal efforts requiring every ounce of physical strength and mental focus. While other workouts are somewhere in between, the bottom line is that if I understand why each workout fits into the overall plan and how it is preparing me for my next race, then I will get the most out of it!

If you’ve trained with purpose, you can arrive at a competition confident you’ve done your best to prepare and race to your potential that day. But racing is often full of pain and plenty of discomforts when you’re pushing your personal limits, so why keep lining up season after season for another sufferfest? Long-term perspective on what you are trying to achieve can bring a bigger meaning to it all. On the broader perspective I race for my children, to be accountable to staying healthy and promote a healthy lifestyle, to be able to give back to the sports I love, to enjoy the outdoors, for those who can’t or don’t have the choice to compete in sport, and (half jokingly) for professional development towards my own mental toughness training 🙂

Do your acting skills help or hinder your athletic performance?

As an athlete, when you enter a competition, do you ever think of yourself as giving a performance? In a great little classic book called, The New Toughness Training for Sports, the author, James Loehr, makes the connection between great acting and “performing on demand”, a common catch phrase in sports these days.

When the best actors and actresses show up for work to do a scene, if they feel off, tired, have a headache, or are just under the weather, they still have to bring all their physical presence and emotions to the part they need to play! Great performers can act their way to the precise emotions they need to portray. There is plenty of research showing that by simply moving the muscles of your face in the direction of the desired emotion, genuine emotional responses can be elicited.

I’ve personally experienced this when mountain biking. As a beginner, I would often tense up when riding something that scared me. While I didn’t feel like it, if I forced myself to keep smiling while riding, my body would soon follow by beginning to feel genuinely more relaxed and happy and in turn ride more smoothly and more confidently! In other words, the physiological changes from acted-out or faked emotion are the same that occur in spontaneous, genuine emotion!

As an athlete, you may have many descriptions for how you are need to feel to perform your best such as confident, energetic, relaxed, excited, positive and challenged. If you are a bad actor on the athletic stage you probably just act out whatever emotions you happen to be feeling at the moment even if they are detrimental to your performance such as anger, frustration, disappointment, helplessness or high nervousness. On the other hand, if you have worked hard at mastering your “performer skills”, you can act out the positive emotions you need bring to the performance regardless of circumstances. And this takes practice, as James Loehr writes, “Emotions respond much as muscles do. The ones you stimulate the most become the strongest and most accessible.”

Just remember if you feel like doing this…

Act like this, and you will feel AND perform better…

Finally an acting quote, that highlights peak performance, regardless of the arena:

The difference between nailing a scene and turning in a mediocre performance is all about “being present in the moment” while “really being outside of yourself.”   – Judith Light, Actor and Activist

Paradoxes of the Athletic Life!

Listen to your body but don’t listen to your body. This is the paradox every one of us who strives to discover our potential as an athlete must live.

In the last month, despite the fact that I actually enjoy swimming the majority of the time, I had to spend a lot less time in the pool due to a sore shoulder, it was the kind of pain that was saying something is wrong here versus just “feeling it” due to the usual muscle aches or soreness from training fatigue. After making time for some physical therapy I have been back on track, fingers crossed for a little while longer! Being sidelined, even temporarily, from my normal training routine got me thinking about the fact that no matter what your sport or your goals, if you are trying to go faster, stronger, higher, or longer than your previous best, consider that you have to be smart enough to deal with the many parts of the athletic life that are paradoxical….

1. The Physical Paradox: You need to learn and know the difference between when to push through your training and when to back off if you may be edging dangerously close to injury or illness. You need to be open to pushing your limits so you’ll improve, but also how to pace your overall progression over the long-term to avoid over training or injury. There are times when you need every ounce of focus and mental detemination to overpower your body’s screams to slow down and stop like during full out interval training or a race, and other times when you can just let your body decide on and set the pace such as recovery workout or a long, easy distance training!

2. The Recovery Paradox: You need to know how to eat well enough so your muscles can recover and rebuild after training. If you are a cookie monster like me it takes the ongoing goal to practice awareness of the difference between my muscles’ need for increased calories and my body’s craving for unnecessary fat, sugar, and salt – everything in moderation is my motto! It is also being able to read your body well enough to know it is okay to push it close to its limits for training volume, but also being disciplined enough to throw an occasional training day out in order to avoid injury or sickness and recover properly!

3. The Mental Paradox: You need to know the difference between temporary (normal!) slumps in motivation and feelings of burnout. Sometimes you just need to kick yourself out the door and get going and other times you need to be aware that you need a serious break with activities that are restorative mentally and physically,things you find relaxing and fun! And ultimately perhaps the toughest point for some athletes – being aware enough to recognize when the competitive fire has burnt out and it is time to move on to something else in life and/or change direction in some way!

4. And of course I can add The Parenting Paradox: Listen to your kids but don’t listen to your kids: give them unconditional love, listen to their needs etc but don’t give into every demand and want for candy, toys, or every outburst for attention!

Of course, navigating all of the above apparent contradictions takes plenty of trial and error, patience, and self-awareness but the better you become at perfecting the balance, the more fun you’ll have discovering your potential while staying healthy!!

Limited by your number??

When I first got serious as a competitive runner back in junior high, I remember saying to myself I would compete until the age of 30. I’m not sure why I chose that age, maybe because I’d read somewhere that runners peak around that age, or maybe I figured that was the age to stop, and focus on other things like a family. Either way, competing as a runner on the track only lasted until I was 24 years old due to an injury. With no regrets I switched to mountain bike racing, and then Xterra triathlon racing at age 29.

In my late twenties I thought I would race seriously until I felt it was time to try to start a family….of course slowing down after a baby didn’t happen thanks to the support of the LUNA Pro team….and then I thought maybe I’d want to call it quits after two children….but here I still am training and about to start another competitive season! It helps to be inspired this week at the LUNA team camp surrounded by my amazing teammates, most of us all in our thirties now, still pursuing our athletic goals, among other things!

I also read an interview with Clara Hughes, a multiple summer and winter Olympic medallist, this past week. She is about to compete in cycling in her fourth Olympic Games this summer in London just before she turns 40. In that interview she talks about being in her prime physiologically as an athlete, and how she is still improving and stronger than ever. One of her goals is to show women and girls what is possible and to “bust the ridiculous imposed limitations”.

I know now I will always have training and competitive goals as long as I am healthy enough regardless of my age because I love physical exertion, pushing my previous limits in some way, and working towards new challenges. One day when I stop competing at the professional level my training and racing goals will move down my priority list but that day will come when I stop having fun, lose my competitive fire, or my body tells me it is time to slow down. And that’s the important part – to listen to yourself, be true to yourself, and follow your dreams, no matter what your age, and no matter how many children you have – physical limitations, imposed by yourself or the status quo of society will only get in your way if you let them!

Parenting Confidence?

How can I increase my confidence? This question is pretty common with athletes I work with these days. Whether it is the search for confidence in general, or striving to maintain confidence through injury, illness, poor training or disappointing competition results. Is confidence something we’re just born with or does it develop over time? Or both?

A book I’m currently reading was recommended to me by a colleague and sheds some interesting light on the development of confidence. The book is called The Self-Esteem Trap: Raising Confident and Compassionate Kids in an Age of Self-Importance by Polly Young-Eisendrath, PhD. In the beginning the book mentions a study that labels anyone born in the early 1970s through to the 2000s as the GenMe generation.The researcher of the study stated, “Born after self-focus entered the cultural mainstream, this generation has never known a world that put duty before self.” Yikes! Words like narcissism and entitlement have also been used to label this generation, I guess I have to reluctantly say this is my generation. And for many reasons, which can be found in the book, “GenMe’s” are more likely to suffer from symptoms of the self-esteem trap characterized by obsessive self-focus, restless dissatisfaction, pressures to be exceptional, unreadiness to take on adult responsibilities, feelings of superiority (or inferiority), and excessive fear of being humiliated…..hmmmmhmmm.

After an interesting history of parenting presented in this book, the author indicates that part of the problem has been the shift towards the belief that parents and children’s rights and needs are nearly equal, that parents should be friends with their children, and that children’s self-esteem should be protected at all costs. In practice, well intended parents may offer laid-back or inconsistent discipline, feel the need to show off children’s successes and accomplishments, provide excuses for their children’s behavior, want to be friends and avoid conflict with their children, unrealistically want their kids to be happy 24/7, overpraise children, over serve children’s needs, or follow the chlid-centered belief that “if you just give children the right nourishment, open affection, a lot of freedom and encourage their inner genius, they will flourish.”

So what have some parents unknowingly lost touch with, that can contribute to raising self-confident kids? Perhaps it is the exposure to a little more healthy experience in adversity as well as less interference with opportunities for children to develop autonomy. As the book explains, it is finding the right balance between the best of Eastern and Western Culture. For example, one fundamental teaching from Buddhism is that human life always includes discontent and adversity. No one can escape difficulty, pain or loss and we all need to learn how to deal with the inevitable parts of life, such as illness and death, realistically and compassionately. Part of the path to self-confidence is based on our skill to relate to and understand our interdependence with others, as well as the planet!

On the Western or Individualistic cultural side of the spectrum, we need to recognize the importance of autonomy in developing self-confidence. Autonomy is our ability to self-govern and to guide ourselves by our own decisions. So in a nutshell, the basis of this book is founded on an approach based on the above two principles, as described on page 34-35:

“Robust self-confidence, self-determination, self-compassion, and resilience are founded on learning early and repeatedly that true happiness comes principally in two ways: being able to relate to others in a caring and kind manner (since we always depend on others, we need to sustain our connection to them), and knowing how to be responsible for ourselves and our actions.”

Like most parents these days who want to give everything and every opportunity to my children, this book reminds me of the importance to let my children fail, fall down and make choices, as well as develop age-appropriate independence and responsibilities as they grow. This will prepare them to one day leave the nest, like the quote, “we have them to raise them, not to keep them.”

As for athletes, we often hear the cliché, “You’re only as good as your last race”, which I have a love-hate relationship with. All too commonly, an athlete’s confidence and self-esteem can go up and down according to how his or her last training session or competition went. But real confidence comes from finding solutions to difficult problems, persisting through setbacks, overcoming disappointments, and committing to working on the process of mastery no matter how big the ups and downs of competition go! Parents and coaches, who “run interference” with this process will only thwart the healthy growth of a self-confident and self-determined person or athlete!

In the runner-up book in the Canada Reads 2012 contest, author and famous NHL goalie, Ken Dryden finished his book The Game with this poem, titled, I am a player…

I want to win

It matters to me if I win or lose

It matters to me how I play the game

I want to win without injustice or bad luck or regret

I want to own every pleasure and disappointment

I want to get lost in play

I want time not to matter

I want to do something more important than me

I cannot win alone

I need my teammates and my opponents to make me better

I trust, because I have to trust

I forgive, because I need to be forgiven

I play a game, not only a game

I try because that matters to me

I try because it’s more fun that way

I don’t quit because it doesn’t feel good when I do

I play with others, but I play against me

I learn when I play

I play when I learn

I practice because I like t0 be good

I try what I’ve never tried before

I fail to fail smarter

I want to be better than I was yesterday

I dream

I imagine

I feel hard and deep

I hope, because there is always a way.

12 hours in 3 days: Grumpy but not too Grumpy!

Every so often at strategically timed intervals, which come around again amazingly fast, Coach Cal puts our triathlon training group through a short volume push. For myself, it is putting close to the same number of hours I usually train in a week into three days.

On Friday we started the weekend with a group video ride at the Olympic Oval. While most of the group did some epic vertical snowshoeing near Banff on Saturday, I opted to stay home and cross-country ski at COP, swim, and trail run in order to get more family time and not be gone all day – sometimes I’ve found I have to find the best alternative options to keep my personal athlete-mom balance in check and still get in the necessary training! Sunday we finished the weekend off with an epic 5-hour Brick back at the Olympic Oval – a final test of mental and physical endurance mixed up with bike sets, running, stairs, and swim band pulls.

Coach Cal in the centre to the left leading the 5h Brick

The weekend got me thinking about how physical and mental endurance builds in increments, and that I am way better at handling training volume than I was when I first switched to being a cyclist and then a triathlete. Since I’ve spent half of my racing career so far specializing in the 1500m run on the track, I remember thinking a 90 minute bike ride was long when I started mountain biking while injured one summer. After about my third mountain bike race that same summer at Nationals in Ottawa, I couldn’t believe my brother had the energy to go out on the town with friends, while I was so wasted tired!

When Coach Cal first told me to run 2h and then 2h30 at one time, I thought that was nuts, the longest I’d done as a pure track runner was about 80 minutes! Or to run zillions of mile repeats as fast as we could go! Or when I had to do my first ride longer than 4 hours. what ride for 5-6 hours, that is crazy?!…still a rare occurence but now I know I can do it! Or gradually building up swim mileage and speed in the pool, or even to race a half marathon, and then half-ironman, nuts and too crazy hard…but of course I got to thinking each time maybe I’ll try it…and so on. Though I still think of doing an Ironman as a little crazy, ha, I’m not there yet!

As our bodies learn to handle more training over time, we learn how to better mentally embrace it, prepare for it, and have strategies for how to get through it. The same for mental intensity. As on a typical Tuesday night last week, we finished a long night of speed work on the track, and I was done like dinner at the end, but somehow finding the mental focus to get through it has become easier over time with practice, I’m better at just breaking it down to focusing on one interval at a time!

The Olympic Oval with a running track around the outside of the Long Track ice, perfect for indoor winter track sessions, and Bricks with plenty of stairs to  up the hurt factor!

And now I can finish a weekend like this and not be too much of grumpalufagus with the family, and even have a little energy left over each day to enjoy and play with my kids – not like I have a choice on that matter anyway – ha! And of course, I always like to reward some solid training with a little sweet treat – today it was quinoa chocolate cake – try this somewhat healthy one for some good protein recovery…:) It was a hit with my entire famille ce soir!

Moist Chocolate Quinoa Cake

Bring 2/3 cup quinoa, 1 and 1/3 cup water to boil, simmer for 10 minutes, turn off heat and leave to cool. Combine 1/3 cup milk, 4 large eggs, 1 tsp vanilla extract in a blender or food processor. Add 2 cups of the cooked quinoa and 3/4 cup melted butter and continue to blend until smooth. Whisk together 1 and 1/2 cups white or cane sugar, 1 cup cocoa, 1 and 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp or baking soda, and 1/2 tsp salt. Add to blender and mix well. Divide batter into two  8-inch, greased pans and bake at 350 for 40-45 minutes.