Sunday, November 30, 2014

Confidence Is A Choice

This fall/winter/off-season/base-training season, I've embarked on something I've decided to call The Confidence Project.  Because I feel that a lack of confidence is one of my biggest mental hurdles, I have committed to the hard (and somewhat uncomfortable) work that is required to improve it.  One of my assignments for this project was to write a piece entitled "If Confidence Is A Choice, Why Aren't I Choosing It?"  It was very difficult for me to write, but it helped me learn a lot about myself.  I thought I'd share, below.

If Confidence Is A Choice, Why Aren’t I Choosing It?

Why aren’t I choosing confidence?  I had to think about this for a long time. 

I think the first problem I had to overcome before I could consistently choose confidence is that I had to first believe, really believe that it is, in fact, a choice.  I don’t think I always perceived it as an option.  Rather I was much more apt to think that you either had confidence or you didn’t.  You were born with it or you weren’t.  It was one of the tools in your toolbox, or it wasn’t.  And it definitely wasn’t one of my tools.

When I started to understand confidence a bit more, I started to realize that with hard work, confidence could be gained.  It took me a long time to get to this point, but with a bit of research and lots of reading, it started to become more clear.  Confidence could be one of my tools.  But I needed to stop making excuses for myself. 

“I believe confidence is a choice. And I always choose to believe that I am always going to come out on top.” Max Scherzer, pitcher for the Detroit Tigers

So once I realized that confidence is a choice, why am I still not choosing it?  Perhaps the answer to this issue is a bit more complicated.  But in its simplest form, the answer is: I don’t choose confidence because it’s not the easiest option for me.  It’s not where my mind automatically goes.  To choose confidence is hard work.  And up until this point, I apparently have been choosing the easy way out. 

I think that my “confidence muscle” is weak, probably from years of not being exercised.  In the past, I had only “symptomatic confidence” which is the type of confidence that is built only on recent success.  This isn’t particularly hard to come by and doesn’t require much work from the confidence muscle.  But it’s also not particularly useful because it’s very easily destroyed.  It only takes one injury or even just a string of poor workouts to wipe away symptomatic confidence.  Instead, I need to build “sustainable confidence” that which comes from within and is not built on external events.  This is the type of confidence that will withstand the storms of life and still remain intact, but also the type of confidence that requires some muscle behind it.  It’s that muscle that requires hard work and commitment, both of which I have neglected.  I must exercise this muscle.  I must constantly and consistently correct self-doubt and negative thoughts.  This is a difficult process and seems tedious.  It’s not something I enjoy or want to do.  But in order to develop the sustainable confidence that I so desperately want, this is the type of work I must get busy doing.  Without it, the physical work that I so enjoy, is wasted.

On a deeper level, I think choosing confidence requires a strong self-worth, a trait that I’ve likely never possessed.  Or at least a trait that I never remember feeling.

“An athlete’s self-esteem and self-worth are intimately related to their self-confidence. When athletes feel good about themselves, they are more likely to perform well, especially when the pressure is on. An essential key to developing an unbreakable self-confidence is to cultivate an “inside-out” approach to confidence. This begins by teaching athletes to feel good about who they are and how they do things and ends with them feeling good about themselves regardless of outcomes.”  (Vernacchia, 2003)

Do I feel good about who I am?  That’s perhaps a question that I’d rather not discuss, or even think about.  But it is also central to this topic.  Growing up my self-worth was not high.  I ran cross country and track during those years and with success in sport, I found a reason to justify my worthiness.  But the dangerous mistake in this, is having performance so intimately tied to my self-esteem.  When one took a nose dive, so did the other.  And this is not favorable for sustainable confidence.  It easily follows why I fear failure.  With failure comes a significant loss of self-worth.  It seems to be a very tough cycle to break.

Perhaps then, building self-worth is the way out.  With a higher self-esteem, which is in no way tied to performance, fear of failure can be removed.  Even if I fail, I can theoretically still feel deeply good about who I am.  If this is the case, what is there to fear?  With the removal of this fear, pressure lifts and confidence can improve.  When I feel good about who I am, no matter what is going on around me, I am not worried about what people think or say, and I don’t depend on others to make me feel good.  Perhaps the cycle isn’t very tough to break, after all.

I must believe that self-worth is a choice too, then.  Just as with confidence, I must commit to improving my self-worth with positive self-talk and with the refusal to believe that it’s something that I cannot change.

This will be very hard, very uncomfortable work for me.  Just as with confidence, my mind does not automatically go to feeling good about myself.  Instead, I more easily hear the voices that say I’m not good enough, that I do not deserve success and that I will never measure up.  I’ve surrendered to these thoughts for a very long time.  I don’t suspect I will be able to quickly turn them around. 

Fortunately, I have never shied away from hard work.  I guess then, that it’s time to put my head down, or rather, learn to hold it up high.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Off Season

There are a couple things in life that I'm relatively good at.  Remembering people's birthdays.  Cleaning my bike.  Matching socks.  Making chili.

You may notice that "off season" didn't make the list.  Because, I'll be frank, I suck at off season.

Off season and I go way back.  We've always hated each other, even in high school when my coach would tell me after cross country season that I NEEDED to take some time off before indoor track started.  This usually resulted in tears and begging and anger and secret runs where my coach couldn't see me.  I'm a rule follower, except when it comes to off season (and speed limits while driving, but that's a whole other blog post...).  I just simply couldn't stand the thought of not getting to run for a few weeks.

Fast forward a few (okay, A LOT) of years to my current self.  I'm older and wiser now and I truly understand the importance of giving my body a rest and letting myself heal after a long season of abuse.  But that doesn't mean I'm any better at off season.  I no longer sneak in workouts that I'm not supposed to do.  I follow the rules.  But I hate it just as much (if not more) than my 15 year old self.

When Tim told me, after Kona, that I had to take 4 weeks off, I stared at him in silence.  I think I was in shock.  FOUR WEEKS?  Is this man trying to kill me?  Here I thought I was going to convince him that I should be able to do Ironman Arizona!  HA!  I had another thing coming!  Instead, a four week prescription of big fat NOTHING-ness.  Zero.  Zip.  Nada.  Oh, and I also had to gain 6-8 lbs.  I wanted to cry.  Or punch someone in the face.  Or both.

So here we are 3.5 weeks later.  I won't say that it's been pretty.  There have been a few (okay, MANY) meltdowns.  There has been begging.  I have been majorly frustrated.  And angry.  But thankfully I have a coach that is more stubborn than me and he didn't budge an inch (just don't tell him I said that!).

Because, here's the thing.  This is what it takes.  Gaining weight, getting totally out of shape, TRULY resting (unlike the off seasons I see that somehow still involve mountain biking and swim meets and 20 mile hikes up mountains - that's MY kind of off season!) and, doing a hard reset.  And for me, THIS is the sacrifice.  Many people see training hard and doing long rides and going to bed really early and skipping desert and all THOSE things as the sacrifice.  But for me, those are the things I LOVE!  That is where I thrive.  I would do that year round if I could.  Instead, my sacrifice comes when I'm asked to not do the things I love and to relax.  We are all different.  We all struggle with something.  This is most definitely MY struggle.  Thankfully, I have a coach that forces me to do it right (and I do truly believe it's the right thing) regardless of how much I complain and whine.  And thankfully, I only have half a week to go.  :)

So what HAVE I been doing this off season, other than wishing I was swim/bike/running?  Well, I've been sleeping (a lot), doing some Your 26.2 work, going to movies (Oscar and I went to 3 movies the first week I was home!), eating a lot, sleeping, eating, sleeping (did I mention sleeping?).  And spending time with friends and Oscar!  That is the best part!  So here's to doing the off season right.  Maybe next year I won't even complain about it!  (highly unlikely)

Kim and I took a trip to visit our college teammate/roommate/BFF near State College.  We played on the trampoline with her 4 year old daughter during which I split my pants (no joke) AND I learned how to do some really awesome tricks.  :)

See that cutie in the middle?  She may look innocent, but she can do a mean trampoline split!

At the Pennsylvania State HS Cross Country Championships, I tracked down these two (also college roommates/teammates/BFFs).  Great to see them as such successful coaches!

Because I was away for most of the fall, I missed a lot of Oscar's team's cross country meets.  But I made it home in time to see them finish 2nd in their district and 5th in the state!