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  • The Josephson Academy of Gymnastics is a children's activity center located in Culver City, California. We pride ourselves as being the best place for children to learn and grow into happy, healthy, smart individuals with good character. As such, this blog is a place to help parents achieve that goal along with us.

    8640 Hayden Pl.
    Culver City, CA 90232
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The Big Picture

It’s been a rough week.  Ok fine, month.  Well, really a year.

Nothing is really clicking and I seem to be falling down on most, if not every front, in my life.

Take this blog for instance.  I love this blog.  I love writing this blog.  Each week I fully intend to write the blog.  And then it doesn’t happen.  Other work pops up.  (Also there is reality TV and Friends re-runs).  Or I have projects to get done around the house. (Also, there is Internet shopping and playing Angry Birds)  Whatever it is, it doesn’t happen.  Result: I feel like I am failing at work.

Take my kids.  I love my kids.  I love watching them grow into the interesting people that they are.  Each week I plan to make and eat dinner with them each night, then help them with their homework, ending the evening with nice conversations.  And then it doesn’t happen.  Take out is more appealing…yes, sometimes even in front of the TV.  And homework?  Well it could be said that I am worse than they are in procrastinating on schoolwork. Meaningful conversation?  I fell asleep in front of the Friends re-run before they had a chance to finish their homework.  Whatever it is, it doesn’t happen.  Result: I feel like am failing as a parent.

Take my friendships.  I love my best friend.  I adore talking (or not talking) with her and work hard to support her goals (as she does mine), like working out consistently.  And then it doesn’t happen.  I get caught up in my own needs and emotions.  I forget to listen, and I over step boundaries.   I confuse my goals with hers.  I jump in with an opinion or a way to make things better before I was asked to.  I’m too tired to drive to the gym.  Or there is too much traffic.  Or I just don’t want to.  Whatever it is, it doesn’t happen.  Result: I feel like I am failing as a friend.

The perfectionist in me often wants to run away when periods like this occur.  Clearly I am not cut out to be a writer, parent or friend because I am making all sorts of mistakes and missing all sorts of deadlines.

But when I take a step back (preferably after an excellent night’s sleep, a nice long day at the spa and with a cool, crisp glass of white wine), and evaluate the “big picture,” overlooking the minutiae to focus on what the big objective is, I am a little kinder to myself and can even quiet that inner perfectionist.  (Well, at least turn down her volume.)

Take this blog for instance.  It’s purpose is two fold: one, to help educate, inspire and stimulate ideas regarding life, but specifically parenting and even more specifically parenting gymnasts.  And, two, to get me into a habit of writing.  Through that lens, I am not doing so badly.  While it isn’t always through the blog, I do almost daily interact with people professionally in ways that involve education, inspiration and the exchange of ideas.  Plus, while my blog posts have been few and far between recently (and by few and far between, I mean non-existent), I still have written more over this past year than I have in the past decade.  Finally, I know that at least some people (okay, fine one that I know of– thanks, Jenny!) like the blog, find meaning in it and encourage me to write more.

Take my kids for instance.  My goal in parenting is to raise healthy, happy, good kids who are passionate about life, not afraid to take risks, are accountable and have loving relationships.   Through that lens, they are on their way.  One is off in NYC studying her passion: acting.  Two others have faced personal difficulties and being different with bravery, grace and integrity that I can only hope to have one day.  And still another went off to Africa for a month to help build a school and is eagerly planning her next charitable endeavor to Cambodia.   But most importantly, they are growing into thoughtful and interesting people—they are growing into exactly who they are supposed to be: themselves.  Truth is, we do have dinner together quite often and sometimes it even comes with meaningful conversation.  And yes, while they are still teenagers who act, well like teenagers, they are better than I could ever have willed them to be.

Take my best friend.  My objective is to enjoy fun and frivolity, support her goals and dreams, be there for her through good and bad, to be thoughtful and be willing to be honest, open and even vulnerable.  In short, nurturing what can only be described as a life long friendship, the sister I never had and grow old driving our motorized wheelchairs on our girls-only cruise.   And, by and large, it is so.  We have fun.  We can be incredibly stupid together and also deadly serious.   We understand and are supportive of each other.  Do we bump up against each other’s tender spots, occasionally irritating or disappointing the other?  Of course we do just as anyone does with his or her close friends and family.  But we owe it to each other to say “ouch,” forgive each other and know that just because we made a mistake it doesn’t mean that it is catastrophic to the friendship.

In short, the big picture often looks far better than any individual day.

This is an important reminder in judging our own efficacy as a professional, parent or friend.  It is also a good reminder to teach our gymnasts this valuable lesson.

Not every practice, series of practices or even entire seasons are going to look great.  There will be frustrations with new skills, irritations with teammates and coaches, fears, slumps and injuries.  There will be moments, even periods, when she will wonder why she is even doing this (as will you).   The important thing to remember in this moment is the big picture:  overall, how is the sport affecting her and what is it contributing to her life?

In answering that question, levity arrives almost immediately.  Remembering the pride in working hard, the self-esteem that comes from over coming a fear or reaching a goal, the people skills that come with negotiating with teammates and coaches, the ability to cope with frustration and work when work is not appealing, the friendships, the village that is part of being at a gym—these are the big picture reasons.

Does that not mean that these negative cues are not useful?  Of course not.  They are important in giving information that may in fact need to be attended to.  I do need to write more.  I could seek other ways to spend time with my kids.  I know there are behaviors that drive my best friend insane that I need to curb.  And, yes, occasionally a protracted slump is a sign to take a break or move on to a different sport.   But, quite often these blips are just the outlier moments that we falsely attribute to being the norm.

If that is the case then, why so often do I default to feeling like a global failure?  Does it mean I am inherently pessimistic when I judge myself by my worst behaviors?  Maybe.  But more likely evolution is to blame.  Our brains are hard-wired to look for danger, to recall negativity and to be on guard for signs that things are not going well.  It makes sense.   Those who survived were the ones who were on the lookout for tigers, paid attention when others died from eating certain berries and were vigilant even when all appeared calm.

It also means that these activities and relationships matter.  The things that we worry about most, for which we are most vulnerable and for which we most beat ourselves up, are the things that are most precious to us.  It is natural that we are most reflective and constantly seeking feedback to assess how we are doing.   Yes, we need to get out of our own way so as not to become neurotic or to over analyze so much that we ruin the thing before us, but being kinder about having big feelings is also okay too.

It’s like when a gymnast cries after a poor performance at a meet.  This is not a behavior as a coach that I want to encourage but, at the same time, I get it:  we cry over the things that are important to us, that are close to our hearts.   Those tears signal to me that this athlete cares, expects more from herself and, most likely, is open to working on improving.

So I will continue to worry, be judgmental of my performance (or lack thereof) regarding the things that are important to me.  At the same time, I also will learn to take a step back and look at the big picture keeping my eye on the larger goal and judging myself on how my progress is toward that goal.  Well, at least I will try.   And if share this affliction, I hope you will too.

What is the Objective?

A few things to know about me:

I love sports.

I love competition.

I love winning.

I hate the direction of youth sports.

Why?  Because more and more youth sports are being treated in the same manner as professional sports.

In professional sports, the athlete is a highly paid adult who is expected to perform consistently at a high level.  The objective is to win.  While skill development and individual achievement are nice things (think Most Improved Player or scoring titles and Most Valuable Player), ask LeBron with his numerous individual titles how he feels about not having a ring.

In youth sports, on the other hand, the athlete is a child who pays tuition and is expected to perform like an athlete who is improving.  The objectives are to develop skills and learn good habits.  So, while winning is a nice thing, it is far more important to “play the game” and therefore learn and have fun. 

My suspicion is most sane adults would agree with the differentiation between professional and youth sports.  We pay lip service to the concepts of personal best, improvement and sportsmanship.  Yet, why so often do our actions toward kids in youth sports match our expectations for professional athletes?

Did you win?  What was the score?  What place did you get?   Did you make the All-Star team?  Are you trying for a scholarship?  The Olympics?  These are the questions that many well-meaning adults ask kids playing sports.  And, it’s in our language in talking about sports with our kids: is it worth continuing if you aren’t winning or don’t have collegiate/professional promise? 

It’s also not just in the questions but also the subtle (and even worse, the not-so-subtle) body language when a child strikes out, falls off the beam or misses a free throw.  Sure, we say the right things “better luck next time, son” but sometimes our actions speak so loudly we can barely hear, much less believe, our words.

Integrity is matching our actions with our words.  Being a sports parent or coach with integrity means constantly remembering the objectives of youth sports: fitness, fun, skill development and life skills.   Winning is a by-product, albeit a very fun and good feeling by-product, but a by-product nevertheless. 

 

“I Suck:” Coping with Disappointment

 

 You weren’t invited to the party.

You didn’t qualify to the championship meet.

You were rejected from your first choice college.

You didn’t get the job.

All of these are disappointing moments in a person’s life.  And I certainly know that  when you are disappointed you feel sad, maybe even a little sorry for yourself that things didn’t go your way.   After a little while of licking your wounds, you might begin the post-mortim, dissecting every possible action that led to your failure.  Then, after that autopsy, you might beat yourself up a bit thinking of all of the future bad things that your misfortune forecasts until you arrive at the unambiguous conclusion: I suck.

Didn’t get a party invite?  You have no friends and never will.

Didn’t qualify for the meet?  You must be a lousy athlete and should quit immediately for you will never succeed.

Didn’t get into your first choice college?  Clearly you are not as smart as other people and probably will never be successful in life.

Didn’t get the job?  See, you were right, you loser.

Any of this sound familiar?  If not, lucky you.  If so, you and I share a common bond.

But feeling this way is neither fun nor particularly healthy, so we are best to first try to contain it, then do a turnaround on it, and, finally, when we have a bit of distance apply the wisdom of “change one thing, change everything.”

What do I mean?

Well, let’s take the example of not qualifying to the championship meet.  After the initial disappointment begins to dwindle (you are allowed to feel sad, that’s normal) and you are getting all ramped up to make your failure bigger by extending it to not just this meet, but the season or maybe even your entire sports career, or, quite possibly even your worth as a human being (Think I am exaggerating?  Then you’ve never consoled a teenage female athlete after a disappointment like this!), stop and take the time to reduce the situation down to exactly what it is at its most base form.   It might look something like this: Today, between the hours of 8am and 12noon, I scored fewer points than the eight other competitors in the meet and, as a result, did not advance to the next round of competition. 

That’s it.  Nothing more.  Cut and dry.  Contain the negative result by describing it with no passion, no adjective or adverbs, just plain, simple, observational language.  Suddenly it doesn’t seem so enormous or forboding.  “I didn’t score enough points to move on,” is much more manageable and accurate than “I am the worst gymnast in the world, an embarrassment to my coaches and family and a complete screw up.”

Yes, the set back is still upsetting but it striped of some of its power.  It is just in its own little space, nicely contained, not contaminating the rest of your life.  Pretty Zen, no?

Another way to cope with disappointing moments is by turning it around.  The turnaround is forcing yourself to come up with reasons why the failure is a good thing.  You know, the old door closes window opens thing.  Yes it is a bit Pollyannaish and might sound like feeble-minded rationalizing, but it works. 

Here is why.

It works because first it forces you to see options and opportunities.  Then, if you are particularly snarky and irrevrent and it can quite funny when you get really outlandish.  For instance, in the case of not qualifying to the meet, some good things that happened might be:  you have more time to work new skills and get ready for next season; your parents saved the money from having to travel so maybe you can convince them that you should get to go to Disneyland or buy you a pony; you know that despite believing that you would “die” if you didn’t make it you are still alive; you have so many medals and trophies already, really where would you put more; some other athlete gets to go and that made her happy; you now have time to catch up on all the math homework you’d been avoiding; one of your teammates also did not qualify, so at least she isn’t alone; your best friend’s birthday party is the weekend of the meet, now you get to go; what if giant roaches were all over the hotel you were going to stay at, you avoided that trauma, you can finally get a mani/pedi as painted digits are a no-no in gymnastics etc. etc. 

The goal of turning it around isn’t to trivialize the disappointment but to create some space in your mind to consider other possibilities, possibilities that could be good, or are at least funny, to force yourself to think of the positive side and maybe laugh a little.

The final thing to help cope is the concept that is behind It’s A Wonderful Life, the idea that if you change one thing in your life you get a different result that affects the flow of your life changing everything thereafter.  This concept is less useful with kids and teens whose perspective on time is minutes instead of years.  But for adults, this is  very useful technique. 

Remember how devastated you were when you didn’t get into Harvard?  But because you didn’t get into Harvard you went to NYU where met your best friend in  the whole wide the world.  While at NYU had an internship at a law firm where you met your spouse and you now have two beautiful kids and a dog that you adore. 

None of that would have happened if you had gone to Harvard. 

Sure, something else would have happened, you might want to argue something even greater than your life, but do you really want to tell that to your best friend, your spouse, the kiddos and Fido?

Disappointment is a natural albeit yucky feeling.  While you don’t want to tamp it down, slap on a smile, and pretend you aren’t sad, you also don’t want to surrender to it allowing it to color your perspective on a global level.  Contain it, turn-it-around, laugh at it and remember, change one thing, change everything—including you wouldn’t be reading this blog right now…how sad that would be for me! 

 

 

 

I Don’t Trust Myself

I don’t trust myself.   As a result, I consistently plan for failure.  To be clear, I don’t plan to fail, but I plan my reaction to failure and actions when it inevitably occurs.

In fact, I am a huge believer in planning for failure.  Yes, that goes against the positive thinking model that stresses thinking optimistically in order to achieve the result or goal we are striving to reach.  And, while I agree that an optimistic outlook is useful in helping frame goals and motivate change (after all, who wants to try to do something that seems out of their reach?), solely thinking optimistically makes it difficult to plan for failure.  Some pessimism is needed.

Why plan for failure?  For this reason: in the course of reaching any goal, the chances are almost 100% that there will be a point where things will go poorly.  This is where being a wee bit pessimistic is actually helpful.

It turns out that whereas optimism inspires and motivates, it is pessimism that helps guarantee success.   Quite often the key to success is managing ourselves for when things off track.  For instance, it easy to diet–when you are not hungry!  But when hunger strikes and donuts are in the staff room, it is a different story.  Knowing that you will be faced with challenges, temptations, days that lack motivation and times when you veer from your goal—yes, being a little pessimistic–and making a plan on how you will react increases dramatically the chances that you will keep to your plan or, at least get yourself back on track when things go wrong.

Does planning for failure mean that you doubt yourself?  I don’t think so.  I think it means that you are realistic that you are a human who is flawed, gives into temptation and sometimes sells short-term pleasure for long-term goals.  It isn’t self-doubting.  It’s self-soothing.

A dose of pessimism is essentially an inoculation for perfectionism.  It allows you to admit you are not without flaws, not to expect perfection and to find a way to forgive yourself when you mess up and a way to get back on track.

So, I don’t trust myself.  I plan for failure.  And it has been one of the major keys to my success.

What is the “best’?

Over the past few weeks, our USAG Optional teams and USAG Rhythmic teams have been competing in their respective state meets.  To be crowned a state champion is a huge honor and an awesome achievement, to be sure.  That athlete is crowned “the best.”  JAG is very pleased to announce that JAG athletes earned 14 said titles.  But what often strikes me when reviewing the results is the quite often the person who made the most progress or overcame the largest challenge may not be among the kids who win a gold medal or even any medal at all.

 Many of the kids who walk away from the championship meet empty handed could be considered the “best.”  Maybe that gymnast conquered a paralyzing fear of tumbling backward.  Maybe that gymnast overcame a serious injury.  Maybe that gymnast began the season with little to no hope of even qualifying to state and yet here she is.   Maybe that gymnast rides her bike to the gym everyday and teaches class to pay her tuition because her family cannot afford her to be in the sport any other way.  So maybe not all of the winners walked away with a medal or a banner.

One of my fondest memories and what I consider to be one of my greatest accomplishments as a gymnastics professional was when my then very young club, just into its first year of existence, qualified three girls to Western Nationals, a very prestigious accomplishment for these young ladies.  Two of my athletes walked away with National titles (on floor and on beam) while the third came in dead last in the entire meet.  Ironically, it was the third that I was most proud of.  You see, as proud as I was of the two national champions, those girls went out and did what I knew they could do.   But it was the third girl who was the one with the greatest progress. 

This child came to our gym with tremendous gymnastics ability, but a chronic back problem and very little confidence.   Despite her troubled back and her severe stage fright, none of us were sure we would even be able to get her qualified for State meet.  But she did qualified (albeit barely) and from the State meet she surprisingly made it to the Regional meet.  She was so proud of herself that she actually made it to Regionals that she performed calmly and did well enough to earn the final roster spot for Nationals!

Yes, she was dead last at Nationals, but her accomplishment was inspiring to me nevertheless.  She over came injury, lack of confidence and stage fright to become the 36th best level 9 gymnast in her age group in the nation.  I don’t know about you, but to be ranked 36th nationally is nothing to sneeze at.  She certainly wasn’t considered the “best” in the meet that day, though her accomplishment was among the best I have ever seen.

In my own gymnastics career, one of my greatest accomplishments was getting a 2.7 on bars.  That’s right, it wasn’t a typo, a 2.7.  Why was it an accomplishment?  Because although I fell on just about everything, I finished the routine.  Because despite other girls and coaches laughing at me and me feeling desperately humiliated, I held my head up and finished the meet (dead last, thank you very much!) and learned that day that one cannot die of embarrassment.  And because despite my terrible meet, I did turn it around at the next meet and received the highest score I ever received on bars in my life.  Was it good enough to win?  Nope.  I didn’t even place, yet I still think I deserved the label “best.”

You see, I believe there are many definitions of winning and many ways to measure accomplishments.  In fact, one of my favorite quotes from my childhood that hung on the wall of my bedroom read, “Success must be seen as the athlete achieving her own goals rather than surpassing the performance of others.”  

Pollyannaish?  Maybe.  But if we only base our success on being better than someone else, we not only allow that person to define what success is but we lose our autonomy to decide what is best road is best for us, what hopes and dreams we want to pursue and how we feel about our efforts. 

Yet, if we set our own goals, make our own rules and are open to finding what is the “best” for us, than we never can be anything but wildly successful.   Gold medals, national titles and other prestigious awards are just one way to measure success.  Wonderful ways and ways that should be celebrated, but in reality they simply are tokens that represent one’s accomplishment. 

Best is defined as “that which is the most excellent, outstanding or desirable.”  Excellent, outstanding and desirable are all subjective concepts.   They are based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes or opinions. 

So I am confident in stating there were many bests at these State meets.  Some of whom were awarded medals and others not.  Congratulations to each and everyone of them! 

15 Things I now know About Willpower

“I generally avoid temptation unless I can’t resist it.”  -Mae West

Recently, I have been doing a good amount of reading on the topic of willpower.  A couple of the book I enjoyed were The Willpower Instinct: How Self Control Works, Why it Mattersby Kelly McGonigal, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy Bauermeister and The Skinny on Willpower: How to Develop Self Discipline by Jim Randel.

My fascination with the topic is two-fold.  First, I took the VIA Survey of Character Strengths, a test designed to help you discover your signature strengths.  There are 24 characteristics, and two that relate to the concept of willpower “self-control and self-regulation” and “caution, prudence and discretion” ranked 20th and 21st in my profile—clearly, not my strengths.

At the same time, I came across a series of studies that demonstrated self-control to be a better predictor of academic achievement than intelligence, a stronger factor in successful leadership than charisma and more vital to marital happiness than empathy.

Clearly, I am doomed. 

So, I did what I always do when I don’t know the answer to a question: read books.   The following 15 tidbits were helpful to me, so I now share them with you.

  1. Understand that willpower is a limited resource.  You do eventually run out of it!  As a result, don’t try to make too many changes at once and don’t expect that you will be able to call upon it in an unlimited fashion.  This helped me because I believed that my willpower should be unlimited and beat myself up for not being able to wield it at will.  Now that I understand that willpower is like a muscle, and once it has been excercised to the point of enhaustion it needs a rest, I am much more patient with my willpower recovery time.
  2. Remember why you are exercising willpower.  “I will” and “I won’t” are the two sides of self-control we typically think of.  “I will” exercise today; “I won’t” eat the box of Girl Scout cookies calling my name.  Yet, willpower is more than that.  To say no when you want to say no and yes when you want to say yes, a third power enters the equation: the “I want.” “I want” is the motivating force behind creating “I will” and “I won’t” behaviors.  So, willpower is harnessing the three powers of I will, I won’t and I want to achieve your goals.  The constant reminder to keep my eyes on the prize is helpful in navigating those tricky moments when lying in bed with those cookies sounds considerable more appealing than hitting the elliptical.
  3. Schedule willpower tasks in the morning.  Willpower is highest at the beginning of the day and gets worse as the day progresses.  Set big challenges for earlier in the day—you are more likely to achieve them.  Mornings are for projects; afternoons for meetings.
  4. Meditate.  Meditation is shown to boost your willpower.  So, find time to meditate, even if it means just sitting quietly for 5 minutes a day.   This is a tough one for me…sitting still for five minutes either makes me fall asleep or has me jumping out of my skin.  I’m working on it.
  5. Slow down your reactions.   Many of our lapses in willpower are because we perceive a temptation as a “fight or flight” moment.  When we slow our reactions down, we are able to soften the fight-flight reaction.  Respond instead of react, respond instead of react, respond instead or react…
  6. Focus on one thing at a time.  Multi-tasking can allow you to more easily give into temptation.  A Stanford study showed that students trying to remember a phone number were 50 percent more likely to choose chocolate cake over fruit when given a choice at the snack cart.  When you are preoccupied, your impulses, not your long-term goals, guide your choices.  Still guilty of this one, though instead of 5 or 6 things at a time I am down to 2 or 3!
  7. Exercise.  As little as 15 minutes a day can help boost your willpower.  True.
  8. Sleep.  People who sleep less than 6 hours demonstrate less willpower.   A short nap (just 20 minutes) is shown to boost willpower.  I tried the nap thing while writing this blog post…and 15 minutes of rest allowed me to clear my mind and finish this post.  Go figure.
  9. Keep your blood sugar even.  Exercising willpower is taxing on your brain.  If your blood sugar is low, it is substantially more difficult to preserve on difficult tasks and maintain a positive mood.  Read: don’t skip meals!
  10. Start small.  When you are trying to make a major change, start with a series of small changes so you don’t become completely overwhelmed.  Makes perfect sense.
  11. Be aware of your dopamine triggers.  Dopamine floods our brain with happy feelings that motivate us to go after what we think will make us happy (even if it is against our long-range goals!).  Understanding what triggers your dopamine (typical culprits are rich foods, sugar, alcohol and malls) and avoiding those triggers will make it easier to exercise your willpower.  Really, no mall?
  12. Find ways to reduce your stress.  Stress puts you in the fight or flight mode which makes exercising your willpower very hard.  So, stress-reducing activities are a good way to boost your willpower.  According to the APA, the most effective stress-relievers: exercising, prayer, reading, listen to music, spend time with friends, getting a massage, going for a walk, mediating, yoga, spending time with a creative hobby.  Least effective: gambling, shopping, smoking, drinking, eating, playing video games, surfing the internet, watching TV or movies (for more than 2 hours.)   Interesting as I clearly choose from the second list more frequently that from the first…sigh.
  13. Practice self-forgiveness.  Study after study shows that self-criticism is associated with less motivation and worse self-control.  It is also one of the single biggest predictors of depression (which drains the “I will” and the “I want” power).  In contrast, self-compassion is associated with more motivation and better self-control.  Forgiveness, not guilt, helps us get back on track.  Oy vey…this is a hard one for me.
  14. Use the power of The Ten Minute Rule.  It is as simple as this, wait 10 minutes before you give into temptation.  If after 10 minutes you still want it, then have it.  In the meantime, distance yourself from the temptation and remind yourself of your long-term goal.  If your willpower challenge is an “I will”, the Ten Minute Rule becomes “do it for 10 minutes and then you can quit.”  Excellent reminder of a very good technique.
  15. Instead of relying on willpower, use pre-commitment and develop good habits.  Because willpower is a limited resource it should be called upon only in the case of emergency.  Instead, pre-commitment is a great way to preserve your willpower for those emergency needs.  Pre-commitment is an action that leads to a self-controlled decision later.  For example, planning to meet a friend at the gym after work or deciding that no matter what you will not have more than two drinks at the party are both good examples of pre-commitment.  Yes, pre-commitment still uses some willpower reserves but reduces the chances of failure because you are making the choice when you are in a good state to use willpower.  In turn, with time, these behaviors become habits.  For instance, it takes me zero willpower to put on my seat belt each time I enter a car because I have automated the behavior.  Additionally, it takes less willpower now for me to go to the gym because it is a habit that is made easier by the fact I often meet my best friend there and that I always have at least one set of workout clothes in my car in case I forget my gym bag. 

Overall, my biggest take-away was most optimistic: willpower is essentially a series of skills.  As such, by getting better at those skills and coupling them with self-awareness, self-forgiveness and creating better habits, I am not completely hopeless. And if I use my primary VIA strength: creativity, ingenuity and originality, I might just find some unconventional way to achieve greater willpower.

Turning “What if…” into “What am I..”

“What if I fall off the beam?”

“What if I can’t write a book?”

“What if I look stupid and everyone laughs?”

“What if I go to the party and no one talks to me?”

“What if I don’t get into the college of my choice?”

Each of these nagging questions and fears can be quieted by replacing the “What if…” that wanders into our brains with the following phrase:  “What am I going to do about it?”

“What am I going to do about it?” is a powerful question because it quickly reveals whether we even need to continue to worry.   Take for example the “What if I don’t get into the college of my choice?” question.  If you are a senior who filed all your applications and are currently waiting for decisions, the “What am I going to do about it?” answer is NOTHING.  So you get to stop right there.  There is nothing to do, so do nothing, including worry incessantly.  Doing nothing is hard, but each time the anxiety returns, the reminder that you cannot do a thing can become oddly comforting.

If, on the other hand, you are a sophomore who is asking yourself the same question, your “What am I going to do about it?” might include getting advice from a trusted councilor, studying more, choosing challenging classes and preparing for standardized testing.   But just like your senior friend, worrying incessantly does nothing, so why would you put your energy there?

Most of the time, the “What am I going to do about it?” question allows us to take our nervous energy or even our anxiety and re-direct it toward converting the fear into positive aggression.  By transferring the control back to ourselves, instead of allowing the fear to be in charge, we are able to become proactive in solving our own problem and managing our fear and anxiety.

The key is in the face of fear (which typically is the fear of failure dressed up in one form or another) to remember to thwart the “What if…” with the “What am I going to do about it?” 

So, what if everyone thinks my blog post is stupid?

In this particular case, my “What am I going to do about it?” is nothing: it’s already posted!

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