Getting Stuck AND Unstuck

Howdy Campers!  Let me show you around a bit and let’s talk about Getting Unstuck.  Take a look at the map. Getting Unstuck_illustration


Camp Comfort - This is where you start.  It is comfortable.  You are accustomed to this place. It is a good place to rest and think.  Not much challenge here, just the status quo.

Just Right Hike - This is a slight challenge for you; it gets you out of the comfort zone but not too far.  It gives you new perspective and encouragement that you are capable of just a bit more than you thought.

Out of Reach Peak - this is just a bit too far for your first time out.  It looked closer than it was, but you may not have had enough experience or training to get to this point.  So when you attempted it, you ended up in….

Got Stuck Gulch - This is in a valley, possibly a shadowy dark place between two destinations.  Perhaps it feels a bit isolated, maybe even scary.  Maybe you are injured with a twisted ankle, or you are sick from being out in the elements, or you are exhausted from trying to reach that bigger peak.  You are wondering if you are ever going to get out and how that could happen.  Most of all, you are frustrated that you are here.

Fortunately, you have have several tools (kind of like a Swiss army knife) to help you get out of Got Stuck Gulch:

  1. Go Back
  2. Stay There
  3. Move Small
  4. Fail Forward
  5. Ask for Help
  6. Get Creative

Go Back.  Go back to what worked before.  Retrace your path until you find something familiar; go back a couple of steps until you find something that you are able to do.

What step, habit or workout exercise CAN you do right now today?  

Stay There.  If you are injured or exhausted, you need to rest and recover before you returning to the path.  Hunker down, lick your wounds and heal, re-group.  Compassionate self-care will lead you forward.

Ask yourself : how can I be compassionate towards myself right now?  What do I need to regain some energy? What is the next healthy choice I can make?

(And for heaven’s sake, forget about what you should do!  “Should” is a guilt-inducing phrase that tends to increase stuckness.)

Move Small.  When you are overwhelmed, forget about a big plan that might be further overwhelming.  If you are not ready to approach a habit or workout in its whole, break it into a smaller piece or part. Stretching too far, too fast may be what got you here, so do the opposite and aim for teeny tiny steps that lead in the right direction.  Recovery is about direction, not speed.

Does eating slowly all day every day sound too challenging?  How about just eating slowly at breakfast?  

Feeling winded when you approach your workout?  How about just doing the warm-up routine of your workout for a couple of days until your stamina improves?

This tool is a firestarter… a little spark that gathers fuel and creates bigger energy.

Fail Forward. If you are already stuck, doesn’t that already count as a “fail”?  No!  Failing forward is actually another name for trying, observing the outcome and then trying again with an adjustment.

How could you try something different with your afternoon snack, your workout, your Smart Carbs?   How did I feel after I ate that, did that group exercise class, tried butternut squash for breakfast?

Failing forward is trying something different and not giving a flying fig if you fail.  Experiment and fail as much as possible.  As you are learning what not to do, what does work, it is leading you towards what WILL WORK.

Ask for Help.  Phone a friend, send up a smoke signal, fire off a safety flare.  Let someone know you are stuck.  Your coach, your coaching team, your team mates may have ideas to assist with getting out of that stuck place.  Having some company, especially an experienced trail guide, on the path back may be what you need.

Who do you know that has been down this path?  Who do you trust to give you hand?

Get Creative.  This is where opposite thinking comes in handy.  Do something unexpected, do something fun, or do something that is completely unrelated to your habits or nutrition.

Stuck in the gym?  Would an outdoor workout at the neighborhood park be fun?  Or an impromptu dance party lip-sync contest in the living room with your kids?

How long has it been since you picked up those knitting needles, oil paints, headphones, craft supplies, tennis balls?  Try an activity for the sheer joy of it.

Stuckness is like your brain has a muscle cramp, and creative fun (with perhaps a dose of joy) is the muscle relaxer.  Sometimes doing something completely different can help our brain relax while we find our way back to where we can begin again on the path to what we want.

Regression is Good for the Soul

maxresdefault “Go Hard or Go Home!” 

“Beast-Mode Activate!” 

“Be Stronger than Your Excuses!”

First, let me apologize for the excessive exhortative nature of my industry, the fitness industry.  So many of the messages contained in Pinterest memes, advertisements and (eek!) even trainers’ Facebook posts sound like a locker room pep talk for the state championship.  Leading you to believe that if you are not working out so intensely that you either collapse when done, or limp for 3 days afterwards, it does not count.

Not true, it does count.  Lower intensity workouts have their place: they are good for your body and your soul.

Good fitness training does not mean going “all out” all of the time.  In fact, most experienced personal trainers write workout programs for their clients that include a week or a phase of pulling back and doing a bit less.  A lower intensity week gives your body a chance to recover from prior workouts, and to get stronger.

So this week, I was in the midst of a pull-back phase; I decided to regress.  Regressing, or regression, in training means to go back a step, to reduce the intensity or complexity of an exercise.  For example, a standard push-up is done on hands and toes on the floor.  A regression of a push-up would be to place the hands on an elevated surface; raising the upper body reduces the difficulty of the exercise.  It makes the exercise easier, but more importantly, achievable.

This week, my workout regressed from adult to child.  Usually I work out in the gym; this week, I took my workout outdoors to the playground.  No headphones, no bro-dudes, no sports drinks, just sunshine and an unscripted afternoon of play at the Kid’s Kingdom, a giant playscape of forts, ladders, ropes, slides and sand.

At first, I just watched the kids play, observing how they approached new challenges. What I noticed about most of the children (if they were not coached by parents):  they did not quit.  If they tried something and it didn’t work, they tried again.  If they looked silly, if they flailed about, they kept going.  If they could not achieve getting up a tall obstacle, they looked for another way to conquer it.

Almost intuitively, they did “intervals”; worked hard for a short period of time, and then rested or played.  They climbed up the side of the fort using great effort, and then stood at the top looking out, shouting in excitement to their parents who were watching below, about their accomplishment.   To the kids, though, all of it . . . the climb, the rest . . . was play.

And regression was the name of the game.  A toddler, feeling unsteady on her feet while climbing up an inclined web of ropes, instead, squatted down onto hands and knees.  Instinctively, she dropped her center of gravity and adapted to the activity by finding her ability level.  She regressed.

imagesSo I followed their lead.  I tried and tried again.  I fell down and started over.  I flailed about and didn’t care, but kept up my effort until I figured it out.  When I got done climbing up a rope and  brachiating (going hand-over-hand) on an overhead ladder, when I was just a bit breathless, my hands burning from my effort, I rested at the swingset.  I sat in a swing, pumped my legs back and forth, flying into the feathery clouds of the blue sky, and enjoyed the little tickle in my stomach as I dropped back down the other side of the pendulum.  I felt the breeze in my face, watched strands of my hair stream out beside me, and forgot about muscle building, protein shakes and PRs (personal records).

It was one of the best workouts I have ever done.  It wasn’t work, it was play . . .playtime that was deeply soul-satisfying.

Which made me think, why are we so afraid to regress, to go backwards, to go back to what works?  Although, forward seems to be equated with success, forward does not always mean progress. Progress is not an arrow-straight trajectory on a chart.  Forward can be fraught with obstacles that may take more skill and energy than we have available.

Regression can mean rest and recovery.  It may mean returning to a level of exercise that helps you build a better foundation for future endeavors.  Regressing back to what we know builds confidence, grounds us and offers us a chance to slow down, reflect and plan.    When you get lost, you retrace your path back to a place that is familiar, and then use that spot to orient yourself.

When I was about 35, after a very bad break-up, I was lost and unsure about the next step forward.  I happen to re-read my old diary about a time previously where I was content, noticing some common factors contributing to my state of peace.  They were: God, Exercise and Music.  During that happy time in my life, I was actively pursuing a spiritual relationship; I was physically active every week; and I listened to music (a natural mood elevator) daily.

Going backwards is not failure, but, at times, fortifying.  Many times over the years, I have returned to those three cornerstones, reminding myself they will give me the support to go forward.  Building strength is a life-long process of forward and back, progression and regression.  And sometimes, to make progress, we have to regress, gathering our internal strength by feeding our soul.

How could you make a workout more like play?  What are your cornerstones that you can go back to?  What feeds your soul?