"We cannot simultaneously hold up the banners for both victim and victor. We must choose which one we will be." ~Unknown
A couple days before departing for Thailand I was getting a pedicure and could hear a talk show on the television in the back room. I'm not sure which talk show it was or who the guest was, by I heard her say the quote I placed above, and it really hit home for me. Her words sat with me for several days; in fact, they're obviously still resonating today. What a fantastic way of phrasing the glass is either half empty or half full and applying that well-known phrase to the struggles of our own lives. We cannot be both the victim and the victor. We must choose. Profound!
Why am I writing about this now? I sat down this morning to write about my first day in Bangkok, which by the way felt nothing short of magical. I set out to go see one of the temples I had heard a lot about and was stopped by a tuk-tuk driver who told me that today was the day of prayer in Bangkok and all taxis and tuk-tuks charged half price to take people to the temples, something the government rewarded them to do he explained. All I thought was oh what luck! as I enjoyed an almost two hour tour around several of the temples in which I paid only $2 USD for. I was also taken to the Thai Gem Export building because it was the final day of the special sale that happened only once per year where gems were sold at wholesale without the 195% retail mark up, or so I was told by my tuk-tuk driver and a fellow "chance" foreigner from Singapore whom I met at one of the temples. I was encouraged by both men to purchase a complete jewelry set (as it was explained that I would only be allowed to buy three pieces so I could return through customs without looking like I was exporting gems to my country), and then return to the states to sell them to the jewelers for a substantial profit. I enjoyed looking at the beautiful pieces of jewelry (what female wouldn't), but didn't make any purchases as that was not what this trip was about for me. I'm not here to profit. I'm here to heal and find myself again.
My final stop in my tuk-tuk tour was at the canals where I could hire a boat to take me on a ride through the canals to the final temple. My driver told me he would negotiate the price of my ticket for me so I was paying the thai price and not the tourist price which seemed awfully nice of him. Thinking nothing of the price I was subsequently charged, I jumped in the boat and enjoyed the peacefulness of the ride thinking how cleansing nature's gifts of wind and water are as they both rushed by. By the end of the day I felt almost as if I had been witnessed by the universe, as if whatever being watching over us sent a message ahead of me saying hey guys, this girl is on a mission to heal; be kind to her and help facilitate that healing for her however you can. The entire day felt magical walking through the temples and standing in the same place hundreds of thousands had stood before me in worship.
As I sat down to write about all of this I looked up the name of one of the temples I was taken to, which I only knew as the Lucky Buddha, because I wanted to call it by its Thai name. To my surprise, I discovered tons of articles about the Lucky Buddha scam describing basically my entire day including the half priced tuk-tuk ride, the gem export building, and even the chance foreigner from Singapore that I met. Since I didn't play into the scam and buy anything, the final attempt to get money from me was the ride through the canals where I read I was severely overcharged for the trip.
Reading about this stopped me in my tracks, and I didn't know how to feel about it. Suddenly I realized my confusion came from the fact that despite reading that I was involved in a scam attempt, and knowing my past self would have been saddened or angered by the knowledge, that wasn't at all how I felt and none of the magic of the day had been taken away from me from in the slightest. That scam attempt was the best first day in Thailand I could have imagined, especially for this trip in particular.
Even better, I was given a very enlightening reminder that we cannot be both the victim and the victor. We must choose. The saying that the glass is either half-empty or half-full is so much more than simply choosing an optimistic or pessimistic viewpoint. It's about choosing to be the victim or victor and not allowing life's circumstances to take anything away from the innate magic and beauty that is life itself. Due to the unfortunate turn of events of my last trip here, I left feeling like I was a victim in need of healing. I struggled the following nine months with post-traumatic stress that affected everything including my sleep, my health, my friendships, and my career. However, in reality, while that was a very traumatic and stressful event, I accomplished some amazing things while learning some priceless lessons about parts of myself I had never met before. I saved a man's life by choosing love over hate, something I have yet to explain fully, and that is an extremely powerful lesson.
I returned to Thailand to heal and in the very first day of my trip I was provided the exact lesson I needed to do so. A gift wrapped in a scam attempt. I could have chosen to hold up the banner for victim and allow my entire experience to be ruined, but instead I remained in the victor stance knowing that the scam attempt didn't change my emotional experiences throughout the day. Standing in the places of worship surrounded by healing energy, riding on a boat with the wind in my face and the water rushing past, and the pleasant conversations I had with my driver and the chance foreigner outside of the scam attempt were all still very real and very pleasant experiences. I don't need to heal, I just need to polish my memories a bit and remember the identity of victim or victor is nothing more than a choice.
What provoked me to begin a career in combat sports almost seven years ago was a deep need to make a difference in this world by sharing the joys and struggles of my story with others in hopes that doing so might serve as a lighthouse for someone sailing through their own storm. To serve this purpose, I have always kept my social media pages public and have shared my life quite authentically. I try not to hide the shadows when I'm facing them, just as I don't hide the light when it's shining either. To do so would defeat the entire purpose of why I do what I do. So when I share joyous stories, they're authentic. And when I share my struggles, those too are very authentic. Neither is ever exaggerated in an effort to earn likes, clicks or followers. I'm just plain and simply me.
However, through the course of my experience with social media, public profiles seem to garner a sense of entitlement in some individuals. We forget that it is a privilege to know someone or be invited a look into the lives of others. Sometimes we see so much of a person's life through social media we even feel like we know them personally. It's easy to forget that no matter how authentically that person shares his or her life, we are only seeing the snapshot version, and we actually have no clue as to the moments between the social media updates that link it all together to comprise that person's full life. And yet judgments and criticisms begin to form in our minds based on what we're seeing through the lens of our own paradigm, and some of us even reach out to share those judgments as if we have the right simply because we've been granted access to that person through social media.
During (and since) my last trip to Thailand, various people who don't actually know me thought it was their place to reach out to me and tell me they felt I was a terrible mother for going and leaving my sons behind. Memories of those unsolicited opinions are of course circling in my mind as I prepare myself to leave on another trip. Any good parent, I think, feels guilt over pretty much any decision they make that involves taking care of themselves because our children become our first priority. I am certainly no different. I also remind myself that just because my career is a cool one (and one that quite frankly most hecklers don't have the courage or tenacity to pursue) it doesn't make my business trips any different or any less valid than the business trips I would take as a sales rep, executive, or IT tech for a large company, and they don't make my children any less of a priority.
As I get ready to board my plane to Thailand tomorrow morning, I have a lot of contradicting thoughts and emotions running through my mind. Voluntarily returning to a place where tragedy struck is a very difficult thing to do despite the beautiful tropical-vacation picture many people may paint in their own minds. My "fight, flight or freeze" system is screaming at me to stay put because that part of my brain has connected Thailand with scary events. A part of my brain has whispered to me every night for eight months now that if I go back there, something horrible is going to happen to someone I'll have to save and I'll be separated from my sons to do so. This isn't a vacation for me; it's therapy and quite honestly, work. I want to heal from what happened; I want to come out of retirement; and I'm doing everything I can to make both of those things happen. The thought of being away from my kids twists my heart, but I know I'm doing exactly what I need to in order to not only provide for them as best I can through my career, but to provide for them as best I can as an emotionally healthy mother. My career has always been a family decision between the three of us and this is the choice we have made together.
My gentle request is this: Don't share your unsolicited (and unwelcome) opinions about someone's life, especially if you don't even know that individual personally. Do not share your judgments or criticisms that were formed without knowing anything about the moments between the status updates, because you don't have enough information to form an accurate and educated opinion. Of course, this won't stop an opinion from forming because that's what we naturally do in an effort to understand what we're seeing in the world, but it's important to remember that opinion is not a fully informed one and THAT is why you should keep your opinions about people you don't actually know to yourself.
In the words of Disney's adorable Thumper, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all." Well, at least not if your opinion wasn't invited into the conversation. Be gentle in your judgments of others. Be mindful that any opinion formed without the full story is most likely inaccurate. And make empathy a daily, moment-to-moment practice; always, always treat people in a manner you would want to be treated if you were in their shoes. Don't judge the path of another if you've never walked that exact same path yourself.
Much love <3
As my trip to Thailand quickly approaches (three days... Eeek!), I feel now is the time to introduce you to my newest sponsor, NuCalm, as I will be detailing my experience with them throughout my trip.
I was first introduced to NuCalm by a very good friend of mine prior to my Invicta Fighting Championships debut back in April of 2015. He explained it was essentially a brainwave audio software that would relax my body and mind during fight week. He sent me off on my trip with his audio player, and I was encouraged to listen to it before bed and upon waking every day leading up to the fight.
I highly enjoyed the audio tracks and listened to them morning and night as well as while I was cutting weight in the sauna and bathtub. I prefer relaxing music to keep me calm while I'm cutting weight rather than the hype music many fighters listen to leading up to fight day (perhaps a lingering preference from my massage therapy days, who knows), but I couldn't say for a certainty that I noticed any particular differences between my experiences with my friend's audio tracks compared to my experiences with any other relaxing music I have listened to in the past.
However, fight day arrived and I can say despite what was a high pressure fight, in a high stress scenario, I have NEVER felt more calm or at home in the cage than I did that night. I remember my coach commenting afterwards how he had never seen a fighter more at ease in between rounds or less out of breath. Thinking back on it myself, I can remember feeling almost annoyed at having to take a minute off between rounds, wanting instead to just keep on fighting. At the end of the three 5-minute round fight, I felt I could have easily fought another three rounds having never felt out of breath or fatigued.
A series of unfortunate events have prevented me from competing since then, but when I booked my trip to Thailand a few months ago I began thinking about how brutal the jet lag was after my last trip and one day after sorting through some old photos I found a picture from when I was listening to NuCalm on fight week and I began looking into them further. I reached out to them to find out if their device would help ease the stress of jet lag and it was then that I learned the full extent of what NuCalm is and how it works. I told them about my previous experience with the NuCalm audio tracks and my curiosity of whether there was any connection between the use of the audio tracks and my performance on fight night. I was told that my performance was linked to the relaxation and recovery that NuCalm induces, but that I was only introduced to a fraction of the true NuCalm system.
NuCalm is actually a three part system that combines the audio tracks I was first introduced to, with a relaxation cream that counteracts adrenaline, and micro-current stimulation patches that are placed behind the ear. After my very first use of the complete system there was no denying the powerful effect it had on my state of relaxation. It was like being conscious in a sleeping body. My thoughts wandered calmly, but my body felt heavy in a pleasant way. Once my session ended, I came out of that heavy state of relaxation easily and felt alert and refreshed with no lingering sluggishness.
While I have only just begun my NuCalm journey, I am on my fifth day of using the full system and beginning the very first night I used it and every night since then, I have experienced a notably improved quality of sleep and, even more exciting to me, a significant reduction in the time it takes me to fall asleep.
I have struggled with anxiety for several years now and it usually hits me hardest when I am trying to fall asleep. I'll toss and turn for about twenty or thirty minutes and then fall asleep for perhaps ten minutes before waking up in a state of anxiety over unknown causes that leaves me tossing and turning anxiously for up to an hour or two more. I have tried everything from natural solutions to heavy prescription medications to resolve my anxiety all to no avail. With immense surprise and relief, since starting NuCalm I have fallen asleep within minutes every night and stayed asleep with no anxiety attacks. That alone has me wanting to run through the streets hollering to the world about the benefits of NuCalm.
Since my first conversation with my NuCalm contact several months ago, I have learned much more about the system and everything it can help me with in addition to my improved sleep and jet lag. I am excited to see how it will affect my jet lag and am looking forward to seeing if I experience the same level of mental clarity and physical performance that I experienced back when I first learned about them last year. After learning the numerous benefits I am about to experience, I am almost sad that more people don't know about this system and I am beyond excited to continue using it and detailing my experiences with you in hopes that you may find some relief from their patented technology as well!
The topic on my mind lately has been the pursuit of goals, and no wonder since I have been thinking a lot lately about my own goals in the sport and whether or not I will be able to come out of retirement and return to what I love (read more about that here). Regardless of whether you are chasing athletic goals, weight loss goals, career goals, or goals of another sort, many of the keys to success are the same.
In Part I of Staying the Course, I discussed the value of community. While being a one man show is often possible in many scenarios, surrounding yourself with a community that supports and enhances your journey will only increase your odds of success and enrich your life.
Part II of Staying the Course focused on finding the right mentor to gain the knowledge necessary to achieve your goals. No goal is possible without the proper knowledge, and it is important to embrace the fact that not all sources of information were created equal. Whether you gain the knowledge you seek through books, instructors or mentors, make sure the teaching style is appropriate for your learning style and know the credentials of the person you turn to for that knowledge.
Part III and IV switched to a more fitness related focus on goals. I explained the dangers of becoming too attached to the scale, focusing on health factors instead of aesthetics, and practicing patience by adopting maintainable lifestyle changes instead of playing into the yo-yo fad diets that have become popular in today's society. However, while I discussed the scale and maintainable lifestyle changes in regards to diet and fitness, the same concept should be kept in mind for any goal. You have to become an expert at practicing patience. Yes, work hard, but cut yourself some slack if your success doesn't manifest overnight, and stop measuring your progress or comparing your success to the success of others every day. All good things take time. Patience. Patience. Patience my friends.
And finally, I would like to close out this series of articles with the best advice I can give on the subject of chasing your dreams. Embrace the journey... ALL of it. No matter what type of goal you are chasing, you are going to have extreme highs and extreme lows in the journey, and it's important (and valuable) to embrace both "altitudes". Nothing outside of my career in combat sports has better shown me that it's in the middle of life's struggles where we learn the most beneficial lessons. When I win, oh man does that feel good (SWOON), but while I try to remember that no fight, even a fight well won, was fought perfectly and there is always room for improvement, it is very difficult to see the flaws in your performance while your hand is raised in the air. On the other hand, when yours isn't the hand raised, it is much easier to see where you need to improve and thus continue moving forward toward your goals with an educated plan.
In the case of athletics, if my head is too high in the clouds after a win I have my coaching staff there to ground me and, despite walking away with the win, seeing where I need to improve for the next fight. However, not all "goal-chasers" have those people to guide them, so it's important to remember in your journey that when things are going really well enjoy that, but don't ever forget to look for where you can improve as well, and when things are getting tough and not going the way you want, learn from the lessons you are being shown. An important point to make as well is just as you can improve despite winning, there are still things you did perfectly despite losing.
You may experience some major setbacks as well. In fact, I can pretty much guarantee it. In my case, the setbacks came in the form of injuries, but in hindsight I can see those injuries were actually blessings in disguise. They helped guide me in my self-improvements. When I broke my hand in October of 2012, I wasn't much of a kicker in my fights. I was more of a grappler at the time so my interest was in getting on the inside so I could take it to the ground so I tended to "box" my way in. Muay Thai is known as the art of eight limbs though, so when I broke my hand I took that as an opportunity to improve my kicks. In fact, there is a video of me working my kicks on the bag right after breaking my hand with my arm in a sling and me doped up on pain killers to take the vibration the kicks were sending up through my body. Now, I'll admit a GREAT deal of stubbornness and unhelpful anger is being shown here. Really what I'm doing here is throwing an adult version of a three year old temper tantrum. I lost my fight because of breaking my hand in the first 15-30 seconds and I was pissed about it, so I had NO patience to wait on improving. However, it serves as a great visual that while my hand was useless that did not mean I couldn't work on improving elsewhere.
By the time my hand was healed and I was released to start training again in January of 2013, I was a much more confident kicker. In fact, I had become so comfortable with setting up my kicks off my jab that I essentially quit using my hands in sparring. Plus, I'll admit after breaking my right hand I was a bit gun shy to use it. So another gift in the form of a setback was provided me just a month and a half after returning to training when I tore my LCL and hamstring when a training session turned south in February of 2013. That was a devastating setback as it took me out of training for a full year. I was allowed to do very little stationary training (upper body lifting and light mitt work as long as there was absolutely no pivoting of my lead foot), but refusing to accept a year hiatus, I trained what I could and was forced to find my comfort zone once more in boxing.
While at the time I thought those two setbacks were going to be the end of my career, they made the time and space I needed to focus on improving as a fighter so I could enter into my professional career. When I was released to begin training again in March of 2014, I was immediately offered my professional debuts in both kickboxing (with Glory World Series in May 2014) and MMA (with Resurrection Fighting Alliance in July 2014).
It took a while for me to really embrace that all things happen for a reason and if we can find the gift within the setbacks we'll both enjoy and grow from the journey that much more. Since then my journey has been fraught with many more perils and setbacks, but I have learned to embrace the lows with the highs. Doing any less will detract you from your goals, or worse simply drive you crazy. I know this is not unique to my journey, which is why I chose to close out this series of articles with this gentle reminder: All journeys are a roller coaster, and remember at some point in our lives most of us liked roller coasters.
The end of 2015 came cloaked in catastrophe and found me rushing home from Thailand with my then boyfriend after spending seven weeks by his side in a government hospital following a scooter accident that led to a series of surgeries for him. If you were following him or me at that time you would have been hard pressed not to have seen the articles that surfaced while we were there as our story went viral.
The first of the year is often a time of reflection for us all, but never had a New Year's Eve felt more profound to me. We were released from the hospital on December 30th, but were not able to fly home until January 3rd, and as I lay in our bed on New Year's Eve listening to the hundreds of fireworks erupting through the streets to herald in the new year and watching the colorful lights splash against the walls of our dark room, I felt angry and frustrated by the celebrations, which wasn't at all my typical personality. New Year's Eve has always felt magical and full of promise to me. However, I realized I was listening for my boyfriend's breathing, something I had become accustomed to doing while in the hospital because there were several periods where we weren't sure he was going to survive the trip, and the sounds of celebrating in the streets were preventing me from being able to hear those breaths.
It was at that same moment that I realized I hadn't truly slept or lived outside of fight-or-flight mode since the accident on November 17th. Before that trip I had never been away from my children for more than one week and while I was supposed to have returned home by Thanksgiving, it had been twelve weeks since I had seen my boys. The intensity of homesickness that washed over me for my children and the weight of the stress from the last seven weeks suddenly became too much and I found a rage washing over me like I had never experienced before. As silly as it sounds looking back on it so many months later, I was furious at my boyfriend for needing to be resuscitated on my watch; I was furious at Thailand for being the place where the accident happened; I was furious at my fight career for leading to the trip in the first place; I was furious at anything and everything that led to that moment and I erupted in tears that kept me awake the rest of the night thinking about how much I missed my children.
After reflecting on the amount of time my career had taken from my children, the following day I announced my retirement from combat sports. I had never really discussed the impact my career had on our family with my kids, but I assumed they must feel the same way I did and would prefer to have a more "normal" family schedule. I was sure I was making a calm and educated decision and figured if it was an emotionally charged decision based on the situation I found myself in I would experience some level of anxiety once I made my announcement. However, announcing my retirement on social media brought nothing but a soothing sensation to my heart, reducing the amount of anxiety I was in as I waited to return home to my kids.
It was a few months after I returned home that my kids asked me when I would be fighting again and I told them about my retirement, thinking they would feel relief at knowing I wouldn't be away from them anymore. Their response, however, came as a shock. My youngest son said, "But I don't want a normal mom." It turned out my kids enjoyed what I did for a living; they enjoyed witnessing the journey; they enjoyed that while the schedule often had me busy training in the evening it always allowed me to take them to school, pick them up from school, and even on the latest of nights be home in time to tuck them in before bed. When I asked my son what a "normal mom" was he explained that all his friends who had normal moms with normal jobs spent all their time before and after school in daycare and those moms rarely made it to field trips or school activities. They both agreed that while they missed me when I was gone, they much preferred my occasional trips away over the choice of never seeing me if I were working in a different industry that had me home all the time anyhow. They also reminded me that we all train in the martial arts together, so while we might not be sitting around the table playing a board game together, we were almost always all together at the same place, just on different mats.
By the time we had this conversation, the itch to compete again had already returned. I am a naturally competitive person and while I was dealing with a lot of psychological/emotional trauma from the trip that was affecting my ability to train consistently, I was missing the martial arts, my team, the larger community I was a part of, and the thrill of competition. I was already suspecting I wasn't quite done, but after that conversation with my kids a heavy weight seemed to slide off my shoulders. I realized I felt guilty about wanting to return to training full time, but hearing them say they preferred the life we had been living was like receiving permission to keep following my path. My career has always been "so much more than face-punching", or so I explained it for a few years. The deeper purpose of my journey from the start was to face the huge challenges that life throws at us and walk out the other side of the storm whole, healthy, and hungry for more. I wanted to show my kids that it was possible and that the real depth of life was found in the lessons we learn in the middle of those storms, and I wanted to extend that message to as much of the world as possible, which fighting has allowed me to do. Fighting allowed me to not only live my "What's YOUR Possible?" message, but extend it to others who needed a bit of inspiration in their own journeys as well. Retirement wasn't allowing me to continue that aspect of my journey and I quickly began to feel unfulfilled.
Some of you may have seen an article that was released a couple weeks ago that suggested I am coming out of retirement. Am I? That has yet to be entirely clear. However, what I AM doing is returning to Thailand to deal with some unfinished business and resolve some emotional trauma I experienced during my last trip. I would like to think of Thailand and remember mostly good memories instead of the memories that have caused me nightmares every single night without fail since returning home on January 3rd. I would like to see my friends again, the friends I had to leave without telling goodbye as we rushed home on an emergency flight that didn't allow time to make our rounds before departing. I would like to see more of the island than I saw of the hospital, which at this point is not the case. I would also like to focus on resolving whatever health issues I've been having that I eluded to in previous articles that are affecting my ability to return to MMA, if that is what I eventually decide I want. When I was signed by Invicta Fighting Championships in 2014 it was on a four fight contract, which because of various circumstances only ended up being one fight. While I was in Thailand, I was offered a place on the King's Cup to fight in front of the King of Thailand on his birthday, one of the highest honors I can imagine receiving in the sport, but the accident prevented me from being able to accept that offer. There are a few offers in boxing I have had to turn down as well, and this has all left me feeling like I have a lot of unfinished business in the sport. If I am honest with myself, the only reasons I have not accepted one of the many fight offers I have received since coming home are the emotional resolution I need from Thailand, and my weight plateau as I can not safely compete in MMA at my current height and weight. If an opportunity to compete in Muay Thai arises while I am there though, I can guarantee I'll take it so yes, perhaps I am sort of coming out of retirement.
I have two of the greatest teams behind me and there is no reason I can't figure out how to make a safe and healthy return with the right medical staff behind me as well (which I have been slowly accumulating). Easton Training Center and Elevation Fight Team are here in Colorado with some of the best coaches and fighters in the business, and Phuket Top Team in Thailand remains my home away from home with an amazing coaching staff waiting for me. I will not make a final decision until I return home from Thailand, as I am well aware that settling the emotional unfinished business I have there may resolve more than I expect, but I have been listening to the sweet song the cage and ring have been singing to me for months now and I am itching to return to the sport. I do know for certain that I have so much more to give as long as I can resolve certain circumstances that are preventing me from giving it. I hope you'll continue to follow my journey. The count down to Thailand officially begins.
Smash the scale!
Focus on health over aesthetics!
These have been the focuses of my latest articles (read Staying the Course Part III - Smash the Scale and the follow up article Health vs Aesthetics through these links), but if you are anything like I was at the beginning of my fitness journey, you may be thinking "Well, that's all well and good, but how exactly do I stay the course in my goals without a scale to obsess over my weight with and the most recent fad diet everyone is raving about?"
The most well kept secret to success in the pursuit of any goal is PATIENCE. Many success blogs, memes, videos, etc. all praise the value of hard work and dedication, and while they might mean to include patience as well, they rarely speak of it directly.
"There is no elevator to success. You have to take the stairs." Unknown.
"I never dreamed about success. I worked for it." Estee Lauder
"Hustle until your haters ask if you're hiring." Steve Maraboli
"Success is the sum of small efforts repeated day in and day out." Robert Collier
While I too would preach the importance of hard work, dedication, sacrifice, and perseverance in the pursuit of your goals, it is my belief that we live in such a fast paced society that we often forget the value of patience as well and the truth that all good things take time. I can attest to this in the fitness industry especially, where we are constantly barraged with advertisements for the latest magic pill. "Lose 40 pounds in 30 days!" You've all heard that weight loss supplement claim, right? I plan to write an entire article debunking these ridiculous claims, but for now, I'll just refer you to my previous article Health vs Aesthetics where I discussed the woes of quick weight loss and touched briefly on the fact that it is easy to manipulate a quick reduction in weight without it being a true indicator of health or fat loss.
Success in any long term goal requires patience. Patience to devise a plan. Patience to fail. Patience to devise a new plan. Patience while you experience set backs. Patience as you coast through a plateau. Patience is CRUCIAL to success, and in regards to weight loss and fitness, it is the most important element to the whole journey if you want to reach the other side with your health (allow me to clarify I mean both physical AND emotional) intact. Success is an outcome, not a stage, and if you find your success in weight loss and fitness is a temporary experience because you keep falling off the wagon again, what you've experienced is a stage in your journey, not the final outcome of your journey. If you ever want to find TRUE success in your fitness related goals, you have to learn how to make maintainable lifestyle changes that still support happiness and success in the other areas of your life as well.
Keeping in mind that "maintainable" is a subjective term and what is maintainable for me might be out of the question for another or vice versa, here is a list of EXAMPLES of maintainable lifestyle changes:
1. Replace all cooking oils with coconut oil. Coconut oil is processed by the liver and immediately converted to energy instead of being stored as fat so this one change alone can lend significant help in reaching your weight loss goals over the course of a year.
2. Stop drinking your calories. The average person seems to drink more calories in a day than they eat. Think about all the things you drink in a day. Starbucks. Soda. Beer. Wine. Cocktails. Juice. Milk. Smoothies. Protein shakes. Many people forget that those drinks are chalk full of calories as well. Now I still drink coffee and post-workout drinks, so I'm not saying LITERALLY banish all liquid calories, but I AM telling you to bring your attention to how many calories a day you are drinking. The average Starbucks drink is 300-500 calories in one sitting. Multiply that by five (on the pretense that you order one every day on your way to work as many people do nowadays) and you are at 1500-2500 calories a week from that one drink alone. A can of regular cola is approximately 150 calories, but the average size of a drink at a restaurant is probably twice that so let's bump that total up to 300 and multiply that by five as well since many people order a soda every day with lunch. That's an additional 1500 calories per week. In comes the weekend and of course happy hour! The average pint of beer is a little more than 200 calories, but let's cut ourselves a break and just leave it at 200. Assuming we have a few beers at each get together and no other liquid drinks over the weekend, let's multiply that 200 by nine (three beers per day) and we've increased our total to 1800 calories. We are now at 4800-5800 calories PER WEEK that were in liquid form. That's 249,600-301,600 calories per YEAR. With one pound of fat consisting of approximately 3500 stored calories, that's 71-86 pounds per year. Can you see how reducing liquid calories alone could aide in your weight loss goals?
3. Drink more water. I could go on and on and on about the benefits of water, but will suffice it to say that we are comprised of 50-65% water. We have to replace the water our body uses each day for our system to run efficiently. Drinking more water will lead to a more efficient digestive system which will lead to a more efficient fat burning system. All those calories we just discussed drinking above could easily be substituted with water. Start reasonable though. Again, it's about maintainable lifestyle changes. Perhaps instead of drinking that soda at lunch, order water instead. Replacing one can of soda per day is 1050 calories per week (assuming your serving size is simply one can and not the restaurant equivalent of two cans or more), which is one third of a pound toward your fat loss goals.
4. Start exercising, but be reasonable! When you begin an exercise regimen, expecting yourself to make it to the gym every day for an hour or more is simply not realistic. However, you can get a major boost in your weight loss and fitness goals by doing two 20 minutes sessions per day of HIIT sessions (high intensity interval training), which has become a highly popular form of training and is easily done with no equipment from home using body weight exercises.
5. Time your treats! I do NOT believe in "earning" your food. That is an unhealthy mentality that only perpetuates a toxic cycle of binge eating and body image issues. However, understanding how the body uses the various nutrients can help you better time your indulgences. We're often told that sugar is bad (more on that later); however, after exercise our bodies actually need that insulin spike to better feed the muscles. So if you want that treat, why not time it for after your workout? I am sure there are plenty of nutritionists out there that would scoff at such a suggestion, but the truth is we are not going to be saints in a rigid diet. We are surrounded by treats and refraining from ever having a dessert is an unreasonable expectation. If you can better understand how the body processes sugar, you can approach those treats in a more educated manner. Spikes in insulin are not always bad.
6. Take the stairs. While going up and down one flight of stairs will only burn approximately five calories, we're discussing lifestyle changes and PATIENCE, so let's look at our behaviors in the home over the course of a year. How many times do you go up and down the stairs in your home in one day? I personally would estimate I do this at least 20 times. So that totals 100 calories per day and approximately one pound per year just from my behaviors at home. What if I extended those behaviors to work, shopping at the mall, the parking garage, so on and so forth. Again, one pound a year may not seem significant, but if we add up all of our lifestyle changes that would require little effort to turn into habits, we are quickly racking up the weight loss over the course of a year. This same principle applies to parking further away from the entrance, not cutting through the front lawn and going around to walk up the driveway when coming home, and taking the dog for a walk rather than just letting him out the back door before bed.
7. Eat more vegetables. Half your plate should be vegetables. Have the other things you enjoy too, but get full on vegetables first. This will reduce the amount of calories you eat in one sitting.
8. Order off the kids menu. Here's another one that nutritionists will scoff at, but again I'm writing this with the understanding that we are trying to make PATIENT lifestyle changes that will help us reach an OUTCOME of success, not a stage of success. If you can't resist the fast food, order off the kids menu. The portion sizes are smaller and will still satisfy your craving while resulting in far fewer calories. Indulging in your "need" for the fast food before the craving gets out of hand will help prevent a major binge eating relapse later. Of course, try to refrain from the fast food (aside from high calories there are a lot of toxins in that stuff that are literally poisoning our body), but what I'm saying here is if you find you CAN'T, go the "lesser of two evils" route. This would be the same moment that I suggest for you candy lovers, to buy the mini versions. If you are craving candy, often a piece will satisfy that craving just as well as eating a full-sized candy bar would. I am an ice cream lover myself. Instead of buying the full gallon, I buy the tiny single serving ice creams and only buy them one at a time when I want them. Not only does this reduce the amount of calories I eat in one serving, but it reduces the number of times I eat ice cream in a week. If the gallon is there you are more likely to reach for it, than if you had to get up and go to the store to satisfy your ice cream craving.
9. When possible, cook at home. Cooking at home will immediately reduce the number of calories you eat as the oils, spices and sauces used at restaurants have much higher calorie contents. You don't even have to be a saint and cook "healthy" meals. Eating a home cooked hamburger compared to a hamburger at a hamburger stand is going to result in fewer calories. On the other side of the coin, a restaurant can ruin a perfectly healthy dinner of salmon, for example, by drowning it in a high sugar, high calorie sauce.
10. Add in strength training. I've left this one for last because it does require a bit more commitment to your exercise routine, but the fact of the matter is muscle utilizes more calories for basic daily functioning than fat does. Adding a little bit of muscle mass will increase your BMR (basal metabolic rate) which is the number of calories you burn every day in an awake yet sedentary state. Basically it will increase your metabolism resulting in more calories burned throughout your day. You don't have to get crazy with your weight training either. You can go buy a single kettlebell to use at home during the commercials of your evening television show.
There are dozens of other ideas like these, but if you start with this list, you'll begin to find other ideas on your own. Don't try to make all the changes at once either, or it won't feel subtle anymore and your chances of long-term success will dwindle. Start with a few and once they start to feel like second-nature (because you adopted them as a LIFESTYLE), you can add a few more. Once you have incorporated all of the ideas you can start getting creative and coming up with ideas on your own!
After discussing a lot of calories and pounds in this article though, I feel compelled once more to urge you to get rid of that damn scale. I provided numbers in this article simply for the purpose of illustrating a point, but not because I want you to start stepping on the scale every day to track your long-term progress. Make these little lifestyle changes and you will watch the pounds in FAT start coming off. You won't need the scale to do that. A scale might only discourage you in the beginning because you will most likely drop weight fast from water loss alone, but eventually your body will return to homeostasis within your new lifestyle changes and you will replace that water. I do not want you to see the number on that scale go back up and mistakenly think you are gaining fat again because you're not. It's only water.
Start changing the way you look at your weight loss and fitness goals. Shift them into a more long-term, maintainable and PATIENT approach. Life should be enjoyable. A healthy life should be even MORE enjoyable. Pursuing and building a healthy lifestyle should not make you miserable, or make you feel frustrated and deprived. As the frequently used saying goes, life is all about balance. Small, consistent changes add up to large, maintainable results in the end.
I posted an article yesterday encouraging those on a fitness journey of their own to smash the scale, explaining that the scale is an unreliable way of tracking your progress and, in the long run, can lead to eating disorders, body image issues, and at the very least, immense amounts of frustration. The main reason the scale is so unreliable is the number of factors, having nothing to do with fat loss, that can affect the final number. In an effort to illustrate this, I posted a picture from my April 2015 weigh in at 125 pounds.
What I was attempting to explain with this photograph was that the only way I made 125 pounds with my frame and body composition, was by ending my lifting program to reduce my muscle mass, eating a highly restricted diet consisting of no more than 1200 calories worth of foods that specifically manipulate body fat loss and water and sodium levels in the body, and then by severely dehydrating myself for several days leading up to the weigh in. I manipulated my weight loss so the scale would read 125 pounds. Was it REAL weight loss though? No. Weigh ins for all weight regulated sports (and show day for bodybuilders) are essentially a trick of smoke and mirrors. The second I drank anything, my weight increased. The moment I ate salt, my weight increased even further. As soon as I ate real food, my weight increased once more. Most fighters weigh anything from 10 to 30 pounds heavier the next day for the fight. Yes, 30 pounds. This is when I really started understanding that the number on the scale means nothing in terms of fat loss, health or progress toward my fitness goals.
However, due to website links on social media displaying a photo with the link, this picture ended up leading to a lot of misinterpretations of my message. I received a lot of comments congratulating me on my physique, my accomplishment of what the person assumed was a personal fitness goal, and compliments of "Looking good girl!". While I appreciated the good intentions behind the comments, I was disappointed that my message was completely buried beneath our appreciation as a culture of superficial aesthetics. This wasn't health though. Sure some people find the abs and low body fat percentage attractive, but in this picture I was dehydrated, depleted of nutrients, and much less muscular than my normal build. The comments I received reinforced my fear that as a society we are more concerned about looks and numbers on the scale than we are about health.
Here is another example from December 2014 when I weighed in at 125 for the first time. Hopefully it will make a better point. The week leading up to this fight I was extremely sick and was in bed with a high fever for days changing everything I normally do to make weight. Come the day of weigh ins, I was still running a fever and my weight cut procedures were very obviously taxing me far past the point of what would be considered a healthy weight cut resulting in black outs and needing to be carried at certain points.
The level of dehydration for this weigh in was even more than the weigh in that would follow four months later, which you can see from the extent my ribs are showing. I had far fewer people congratulate me on this weigh in because I think the lack of health is obvious in my body, my face, and the lack of energy surrounding me. Can I make 125 pounds (the beginning weight suggested for a woman of my height)? Yes. Can I sustain that weight. No. It is a wonder I was healthy enough to compete the next day against a very game and aggressive opponent in a four round boxing fight that I was fortunate enough to walk away from with my hand raised and no brain injuries from how severely I dehydrated myself.
If truth be told though, my health has not been the same since that weight cut. It was the first of several very unhealthy attempts to compete in the featherweight division. Which leads me to another reason you should steer clear of the scale. I have lost count of the number of people that have described their yo-yo dieting attempts to reach a number on the scale that just wasn't realistic for their frame. A yo-yo diet is any way of eating that is only temporary because it is not a sustainable lifestyle. We humans LOVE to justify behaviors that aren't necessarily good for us but that result in getting what we want and yo-yo diets are just that. Once we learn we can lose a few pounds by following a temporary restricted diet, we tend to justify that week of unhealthy eating habits telling ourselves we'll just diet it off later, or we undergo a yo-yo diet in preparation to justify a period of binge eating such as over the holidays. I could write an entire article about the woes of yo-yo dieting, and perhaps some day I will, but for now let me just say that yo-yo dieting can severely affect your metabolism and hormones in a way that is contradictory to your health and goals and often result in a period of binge eating afterwards that puts all the weight lost right back on with typically a few additional pounds as well.
While I have known this for years, I have spent the last year being taught a lesson of sorts. Allow me to detail what has been going on with my body since that first unhealthy weigh in at 125 pounds in December of 2014. Following that fight, I experienced a sort of head to toe edema, where I had obvious swelling throughout my entire body. However, it only lasted a few days and I chalked it up to a possible shell fish allergy, as sushi is something I reward myself with after every fight and I love the rolls that have soft shell crab in them.
Four months later after weighing in at 125 again, I experienced a similar issue that lasted a full week. However, while it was much more severe, I had taken my chances with the same sushi rolls again and only used the experience to confirm in my own mind that I was indeed allergic to shell fish.
The following month I was supposed to fight again and while I had to withdraw due to injury, I had already made weight once more at 125 pounds. The edema that followed that weight cut was the same as the previous two experiences, but seemed to last a few weeks. I began to get a little suspicious since that time I had steered clear of shell fish and my food allergy explanation was no longer relevant. However, each time my weight always returned to normal and as the fight offers came in I quickly forgot about my weight problems.
My last weight cut was perhaps the worst nutritionally speaking and involved the most unhealthy approach yet to manipulating my weight as I was juggling too many responsibilities by trying to manage the event I was attempting to fight on, so I answered the problem of working too many hours and training few hours by restricting my calorie intake even further. I failed to make weight, but didn't fail to push my body over the edge of whatever was happening after my recent weight cuts. I weighed in on October 8th at 137 pounds and by October 12th I was 173 pounds, 18 pounds over my normal "walking weight" of 155. The amount of swelling throughout my body was so severe that my skin hurt to touch. After a month, it was painful to walk because of the pressure in my feet. I was in Thailand at the time and the edema was so bad that while accompanying a friend to the hospital, the doctors took one look at my legs and feet and immediately grabbed me to run tests for kidney failure or deep vein thrombosis (all of which came back negative). Since that day I have not been able to get my weight below 171 pounds, despite the fact that I was training three times a day in Thailand and at a low enough percentage of body fat that I was showing definition in my obliques.
While I have been working with my doctor here in Colorado to try and find out what is going on with my body, I haven't been able to get any answers yet. However, what I have been able to do is completely unchain myself from the scale and learn just how empowering that can be. I have detached from any notions of what I should weigh that have been placed on me by that archaic height and weight chart, by society, or by coaches in my past. I quit weighing myself regularly months ago, not out of defeat but in acceptance that the number means even less now until I can figure out what is going on with my health. As a result I have embraced my body and become more comfortable in my own skin than I have ever been in my entire life. I am not a petite woman. I have large legs and a large butt; my breasts are certainly not tiny; I put muscle on in my arms and shoulders fairly easy. For the sake of making a point, I weighed myself again yesterday after posting my article about smashing the scale.
As of right now I weigh 183 pounds; that's 58 pounds more than what I weighed in the picture from my April 2015 weigh in. In the past I would have panicked over this, but today I don't care aside from what it means for me in a weight regulated sport if I wish to return. When I focus my attention inward and listen to my body, I realize that while I certainly have body fat I could stand to lose, I feel strong, powerful and healthy. I feel energetic because I'm not deprived of nutrients on a restricted diet. I am simply eating and moving in a way that feels healthy while I wait to understand what else is going on with my body to cause the weight gain. Now that I am not focused on a number on the scale, I am free to set athletic goals without worrying about increasing my weight, something that has always been a concern because I put on muscle mass fairly easy. I have forgotten about the stupid scale and instead have been able to focus my attention on the reality that I was blessed with a powerful frame to chase my athletic goals with, but I am also a woman DESIGNED to store a feminine layer of fat in order to support a pregnancy. Many women seem to have forgotten this fact as they beat their heads against a wall trying to chase a low number on the scale and their own definition of "skinny".
The truth is, this is me and no number on that scale will change that.
In a society where yo-yo and fad diets are more well known than actual health facts, it is my hope that we will all start turning our attention inward and listening to our bodies and learning how we need to eat and move as individuals to feel healthy, energetic and comfortable in our own skin. It is a very empowering journey actually once you can unchain yourself from your scale and start focusing more on health and less on aesthetics. In the end, it will all work out and you'll have the aesthetic perks that naturally come along with eating and moving in a healthy way, but you'll only maintain those aesthetics if health is your main priority reached through making lifestyle changes rather than temporary changes.
As always, it is my hope that by sharing the ups and downs of my own journey, I can help others in theirs. <3
Turning dreams into attainable goals, while rewarding, is not for the feint of heart. It takes hard work, dedication, sacrifice, and belief in oneself. It also takes finding the right mentor, as discussed in Part II of Staying the Course, and, as discussed in Part I, finding the right community to surround yourself with can increase your odds of success as well.
In previous blog posts I discussed goals in general, but let's begin to move the focus to specifically health and fitness goals. No matter the goals you are pursuing in your life, health and fitness should still be at the top of your list. Numerous studies have been conducted on how increasing physical activity can improve cognitive abilities. In an article published by the NY Times, a direct link was established between exercise and academic performance in children. "Children who are more active are better able to focus their attention, are quicker to perform simple tasks, and have better working memories and problem solving skills than less active children." With these same benefits carrying into adulthood, it is clear how increasing your physical activity will help you increase your odds of success in reaching whatever other goals you have set for yourself.
As the battle with obesity and diabetes continues, health and fitness is a hot topic right now. In fact, it is so hot that recent market research has reported that the health and fitness industry is currently totaling $30 billion per year, with the supplement industry raking in $82 billion per year! Go to any bookstore or library and the number of titles trying to draw your attention to the latest diet fad is mind boggling. Watch one episode of your favorite television show and you'll be hard pressed not to find several diet and health related commercials trying to sell you the latest product whether that be health food, supplements, fitness apparel, or a gym membership. With all this coverage being placed right in front of our eyes on a daily basis, it's difficult to admit health and fitness goals aren't somewhere on our list, even if they are admittedly at the bottom of our list.
However, despite the amount of information out there, it is very difficult to find any one expert or point of reference to guide us. If you've ever tried to figure out your own nutrition, you'll know firsthand the frustration of figuring out what is right and what is wrong. One "expert" says to eat a diet high in fat and protein, while another "expert" says all that fat will give you heart problems and all that protein will give you cancer. So not only is it frustrating, but all the scare tactics used to push their individual agendas are, well, scary! And then you have the doctors, who despite medical advancements are still using a chart full of essentially useless numbers to track obesity rates, which brings me to the single most useful piece of advice I can give anyone (especially women) embarking on their fitness journey...
Smash. The. Scale! Smash it! Right now. Take one of those huge hammers you see all those fitness models banging on the large tires with and smash the shit out of your scale. If you don't have one, don't buy one. And every time you go into the doctor and they make you step on the scale to track your weight, do so with an eye-rolling attitude and forget what the number says.
Becoming too focused on the number on the scale is unhealthy. It can become very addicting and, just like any addiction, ruin your life. There are FAR too many factors that can affect our weight for it to be the most accurate way of tracking your progress toward your fitness goals. For example, if you weigh yourself in the morning on Monday, but not until the evening on Tuesday you'll have the weight of an entire day's worth of food affecting the number on the scale. Or perhaps you diligently weigh yourself every morning but Monday morning it was in your clothes before leaving for work and Tuesday morning it was before you got dressed. Or perhaps one day you weighed yourself when you woke up but before you used the restroom. Or one day you weighed yourself after you woke up and after you had used the restroom, but after you had showered as well with a head full of heavy sopping wet hair. Or what if you weighed yourself on Wednesday after enjoying a high sodium dinner for Taco Tuesday? All that sodium will make you retain more water than normal and increase the number on the scale. Or what if you ate more potassium than normal (a mineral that causes your kidneys to excrete more water) thus causing you to retain less water than normal and reducing the number on the scale... I could go on and on and on, but hopefully you get the point that none of these factors listed are an indicator of how much body fat I've lost; they're all simply factors of weight alone that have nothing to do with my health.
If I were to look at the height and weight chart still archaically used today to indicate how much I should weigh, the starting range for my height is 125 pounds. Allow me to show you what 125 pounds looks like on my frame.
The only way I was able to weigh in at 125 pounds last year was by not lifting in order to lose muscle mass, eating a highly restricted diet that left me feeling weak for my final two weeks, and by severely dehydrating myself to the point my cheeks were sunken in and I couldn't speak due to a lack of saliva in my mouth. Did I weigh what some chart said was a healthy weight for me? Yep! Was I healthy? Hell no! While I performed just fine the next day, there is no way I could have maintained that weight.
In a society too focused on weight and not on actual indicators of health, it's a shame the number of people (women especially due to society's influence on what is considered attractive) who start training and, when they see the number on the scale increase unexpectedly, stop training out of fear and/or frustration. Tracking your weight isn't necessarily a bad thing, and can be helpful in the grand scheme of things, but using it as the only reference of progress is doing yourself a major disservice. Besides, unless you are competing in a weight regulated sport such as I do, why does that number on the scale really matter anyhow? If you are eating and moving in a way that feels healthy, your clothes are fitting looser, and you can SEE the fat coming off your body simply by looking in the mirror, who cares if that means you're 150 pounds or 185 pounds? 30 pounds may sound like a lot, but once you've competed in a weight regulated sport where manipulating your weight is a necessary evil, you'll realize 30 pounds is actually nothing.
Like I said, weighing yourself constantly can become addicting and create a whole host of body image issues and eating disorders. I believe you will do yourself a disservice if you weigh yourself too often, especially without understanding the extensive list of things that can affect your weight without having anything to do with your body fat. Instead of weighing yourself all the time, I encourage you to find out what your body fat percentage is and track that monthly. Most gyms have body calipers and can help you find out what your body fat percentage is. Learning this number will give you a clearer picture of your obesity rate and any resulting health risks you are susceptible to as a result, and tracking your body fat percentage through your fitness journey will give you a more reliable idea of how much progress you've made.
If you were to do a quick search on YouTube for motivational speeches, you would find any number of videos discussing the importance of dedication, hard work, perseverance, sacrifice, and focus. All these traits are certainly crucial to achieving you goals, but are such qualities the ONLY factor in the success of your goals? I personally don't believe so. You can have all the drive and dedication in the world and still fall short of your goals without the necessary supporting roles along your journey.
In Part I of Staying the Course, I discussed the value of community in the pursuit of goals. Community often lends an invaluable hand in sticking to the chase. When we feel unmotivated or defeated, we can surround ourselves with our community to help us take that next step. Now, I don't mean to say you can't achieve your goals without community, because you certainly can, but finding your own tribe within your pursuit tends to make the journey that much more enjoyable and increases your chance of success by decreasing your chance of self-sabotaging your goals.
Whether or not you have found a healthy community or feel you don't have the need for community in your life, there is a supporting role that I believe is crucial in the ability to reach your goals and it comes in the form of knowledge. Whether you find that knowledge through instructors, mentors or coaches you must build the knowledge base necessary to find yourself on the other side of accomplishment. The unfortunate thing about this is when we seek out that coach we often do so with a sense of innocence believing that person to be the expert in the field, or at the very least more of an expert than us, so we do not seem to equip ourselves with the permission of questioning what we're told.
In 2009 I taught the massage therapy program at a local college and I remember sitting in on another instructor's class as I listened to a student ask a question about the modality being taught. I don't recall the question, but I do recall watching the instructor's face as she quickly fumbled through her mind for an answer that she clearly didn't have. Instead of saying "I don't know; let's look that up.", she made up an answer and the student nodded and took the answer for gold, and of course he would! Why would he suspect he was paying thousands upon thousands of dollars for an education just to be given false information? And now that student is somewhere out in the field today perpetuating the cycle of that false information he was given, unless he has had the opportunity since to question what he was told and learn the truth.
While it was a shame the instructor felt she had to make up an answer, I have empathy for her. Instructors, mentors, coaches and all people in an authoritative position over adults are constantly walking a fine line to maintain that authority. One slip and you might permanently lose that student's respect for you as a person of knowledge within your field. That is one of the many reasons for the no fraternization rule you see in colleges. Instructors have to maintain this almost otherworldly authority and knowledge which can be jeopardized if students are able to start relating to them as a peer with regular human problems.
Do you remember the first time as a child when you saw your teacher outside of the school building? I do! I saw my kindergarten teacher at the grocery store in regular street clothes and I vividly remember the shock I felt to discover that she didn't live and sleep at the school! And I admit, while it obviously didn't jeopardize her authority over me, it did remove a certain "magical" element about my teachers from then on.
We've all heard of similar situations where instructors are handing out false information. It can feel dangerous as an instructor to admit they don't know something about their field, which is why I encourage all people seeking knowledge to not be scared to fact check what you're being told. However, remain open minded to the possibility that there is more than one right answer as well! I was teaching someone how to wrap their hands once and overheard someone else scoffing at my technique explaining that he was taught a completely different way and I obviously had no idea what I was talking about. As I watched the "scoffer" wrap his hands I saw there wasn't anything wrong with what he was taught, and actually wasn't too different from what I taught except for a couple little details, so I commented on how he wrapped his hands and pointed out the benefits of both styles in the hope that I would be able to both maintain my authority as a coach to the student who was caught in the middle of differing styles and regain my authority as a coach to the student who questioned what I was showing. There is often more than one way to accomplish the same goal. Collect as many ways as possible! While you will probably find you have your favorite method, keep the others in your "tool box" so you have other options in case you find yourself in a situation one day where your preferred method doesn't apply. Frances Clark once said "There wouldn't be a sky full of stars if we were all meant to wish on the same one."
So don't be afraid to fact check and be open to the reality that there is probably more than one method that leads to the same result. Also, before choosing your mentor (or writing someone off as a fraud) keep in mind the concept of learning styles and understand that, just as there are various learning styles in the world, there are also various teaching styles. Someone once told me, "A really good teacher will know how to say the exact same thing in ten different ways in order to incorporate all the various learning styles in the room.", and I agree that this would indeed make a great teacher. However, I think that also is a skill that takes practice and just because someone might not know ten different methods doesn't mean they don't have wonderful information to share with the world. They will just have a smaller demographic of people who will be able to learn from them until they further develop their teaching skills because they will have to find students whose learning styles are in sync with their teaching style.
In my athletic journey, I have had to really search for the proper coach. I've had my fair share of bad luck with finding one beginning with my high school track coach who told me at the age of 13 that if running hurt my shins I needed to quit and find a sport that didn't involve running because there was nothing that could be done about my debilitating shin pain. I was 13 and he was the coach, so I listened to him and carried that "fact" with me into my adult life where until recently, I refused to run with the idea in my mind (despite firmly believing that we dictate our own possibles and impossibles) that I simply COULDN'T run because of what some "expert" in the field told me when I was a child.
My first boxing coach told me I was so bad that I should give up striking and just stick to grappling which I had seemed to take to much easier. Instead of embracing the teaching challenge, he just wrote me off.
My first muay thai coach laughed at me when he told me to kick the pad with 100% effort and all I could generate at that time for power was what he considered 25% of any professional fighter, at which point he also told me I should consider a different form of martial arts. Instead of embracing the reality that everyone's journey starts at a different point, he felt I should quit simply because my starting point was further back than the other students he had worked with in his coaching experience.
My first cross fit coach would roll his eyes in annoyance any time someone would ask for clarification on a technique he was showing because he was more of a visual learner (he would see something and then be able to do it) and so focused his instruction with an emphasis on visual learners and didn't seem comfortable with breaking down the movement in a step by step method that catered more to the auditory and kinesthetic learners in the room.
I also had a coach who basically felt I was too old to make much progress in the sport and perpetuated the false knowledge he must have been given in his life that you can't teach an old dog new tricks. He was happy to work with me, but he would quickly put down any hopes I would express of making it to a world level in boxing or kickboxing. He just didn't see the possibility in that and so was only willing to invest as much effort in helping me as he would invest in anyone with a "bucket list" wish to fight. While at the end of the day, you should really only care about what YOU think of yourself, having a coach behind you who believes in you definitely makes you feel more confident in your efforts and it can be very difficult to believe in yourself when "the expert" standing behind you has made it clear that he or she doesn't have faith in your ability to succeed.
And while it's far behind me now, I've also had my experience with the scam artist coaches as well. The sad reality is there are scammers in every industry; however, there seems to be a lot of fraudulent coaches out there. You can find any number of videos out there of coaches demonstrating nonsense techniques, of martial art systems that have their students flying across the room with the supposed use of chi, and flashy stunt work that would never apply in a real situation. While the martial arts is a beautiful culture, there does tend to a lot of bruised egos walking around seeking validation through false claims. I have heard of an unfortunate number of martial arts gyms that are run by false black belts or have under-qualified coaches running their classes in an effort to just monetize the program and drain students of their money in membership fees. While I have mentioned that not all false information is spread with ill-intent, it would be wise to remember that the world does have its scammers as well.
I spent YEARS learning from someone who turned out to have a very questionable reputation in the industry for being a scam artist, and in hindsight the writing was on the wall. The turn-over rate of students was extremely high, with few staying for more than a year. Additional coaches that were hired never stayed long. And the school always seemed to be defending its reputation in one way or another. Students at that gym were also HIGHLY discouraged from cross-training anywhere else under the pretense that it was disloyal. Any students who were caught cross training elsewhere were publicly shamed to the rest of the team and/or physically punished by the coach in sparring. After cutting ties with that gym, I later suspected the reason for not wanting his students cross-training elsewhere was because they might discover the falsehoods of what they were being taught. At the time, and with my limited understanding of how the martial arts world really worked, it didn't seem questionable that we weren't allowed to cross train elsewhere, but in hindsight I can see the wisdom in being wary of any instructor, mentor or coach in any field who discourages you from cross-training or cross-referencing what you're being taught. New information should be welcomed into any niche of an industry and where that is discouraged a red flag should be raised.
Don't be afraid to question credentials, or in the case of martial arts, the lineage of the instructors. Especially in the case of martial arts, we're a tribal culture where our team feels like family. Most schools are very proud of their lineage and are not offended by the opportunity to discuss where they came from. This will also give you the opportunity to discover the pool of knowledge that is available to you at the school in question. There is nothing wrong, for example, with a purple belt instructing at a school, but if that is the highest ranking belt in the entire school when other schools are run by numerous black belts, you have to question whether you are at the right school, not because what you're being taught isn't applicable of course, but because you're putting a learning cap on your journey if the highest level of knowledge is still two levels below the black belts of the surrounding schools. There are a plethora of great jiu jitsu schools in Colorado, for example, that are all run by black belts and the belts they have promoted beneath them, so there is no reason to cap your learning journey by choosing a school that doesn't have a black belt on its mats. Developing the knowledge to help you toward your goals, regardless of the industry those goals lie in, should be a task you prioritize in your life. Don't ever feel like you have to settle when it comes to knowledge.
A wonderful solution to all of the possible pitfalls in finding a proper coach is to go somewhere that has a network of knowledge that is built with a team of instructors with a solid history of knowledge behind them. When you have a network of information, not only will you decrease your chance of receiving under-qualified instruction, but you will also be able to learn numerous methods of reaching the same goal, find someone who has a teaching style that fits your learning style, and find someone who can support you by believing in your journey. The massage program at the college I taught for consisted of six instructors all with different areas of emphasis in their background, and they were overseen by a program manager that monitored the accuracy of the information they were delivering. While blunders still happened, obviously, the chance was much lower with a full network of instructors compared to a program that was taught entirely by one instructor.
Once you have the proper network of knowledge behind you, and you have found a community to thrive in, you can then revert to all those motivational speeches that discuss the important mental traits you need to have as an individual in order to achieve your goals. Keep an eye out for future posts about staying the course in your fitness journey specifically!
Coffee. Anyone who knows me on any level, whether personally, professionally or only through social media, knows how much I adore coffee. My favorite meet up with friends is over coffee. My favorite place to write is at a local coffee shop. My favorite activity to do alone is go to Barnes and Noble and, with coffee in hand, browse through the hundreds of books on the shelves. Coffee seems to facilitate creativity for me, creativity in my writing, creativity in my coaching, creativity in my podcast ideas, and general creativity in my day. Whether it's a hot summer morning or a chilly rainy afternoon, warm coffee is my drink of choice. As a dear friend accurately put it in describing her own connection with coffee, "Coffee is romantic to me."
With my immense adoration of the drink, you can imagine my surprise when a few nights ago a couple fellow coffee-loving friends expressed there is actually a time in their lives where they DON'T appreciate coffee.
We were sitting around discussing the topic of anxiety actually, because all three of us have experienced the uncomfortable emotion to one degree or another at some point in our lives. I have been collecting ideas from non-clinical friends of mine lately for an upcoming blog post I would like to write on coping with anxiety, so we were sharing our individual strategies for dealing with the uncomfortable emotion. As our conversation shifted to what aggravates our anxiety, one of my two friends mentioned he cannot have any caffeine when his anxiety is flowing in a high state, and my other friend laughed and agreed, while comically sharing her own disaster experiences of mixing caffeine and anxiety.
Listening to their accounts, I found myself staring at the two of them in confusion wondering who they were and how they had inhabited the bodies of my dear, coffee-loving friends, while quickly running through my mental list of exorcism options. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. They proclaimed themselves coffee-lovers and yet were also claiming there was a time when coffee wasn't a welcomed, soothing experience in their lives. I couldn't relate at all! This was a concept that was completely outside of my paradigm.
I clearly had to defend the honor of my most favored drink, so I shared my own experience with mixing coffee and anxiety. For me, coffee is a soothing ritual. In fact, it is the most soothing of all my rituals. In the morning, making time to sit quietly sipping my coffee keeps me from feeling hurried and frantic about the start of my day. When I fail to make time to include that in my morning routine, I notice I will spend the rest of that day in a higher state of anxiety feeling rushed and scatter-brained. When I'm actively experiencing a high level of anxiety, coffee acts as a time out for me to sit with whatever is causing the anxiety and sort out my thoughts. Perhaps it is simply the act of quietly sipping a warm drink that I find soothing, because I also enjoy Valerian tea in the evenings, but either way, drinking coffee is a grounding strategy of mine, and one I couldn't imagine coping with anxiety without using.
Despite understanding that caffeine can make some people feel jittery, which would be a most unpleasant experience indeed in a high state of anxiety, I just couldn't seem to wrap my mind around NOT drinking coffee when my anxiety is high, which brings me to the actual point of this article. While I could write ballads about coffee all day long, that isn't what this article is about. This article is about empathy.
Psychology Today defines empathy as "the experience of understanding another person's condition from their perspective", commonly referred to as walking a mile in their shoes. However, this can be difficult to do if you are stuck within your own paradigm. It had never occurred to me that coffee could increase someone's anxiety. This made me realize that while I tend to pride my ability to have empathy for others, empathy is a constant practice. To truly practice empathy it seems, we must always be open to the idea that our paradigm might not match up with the paradigms of others. This simple realization made me wonder, how many problems in the world, both large and small, could be cured, or at least soothed, with just a touch of empathy? Since these thoughts on empathy were facilitated by a conversation about coffee, it is my intention while sipping my coffee every morning from now on, to consciously welcome empathy into my day in the hope that it will broaden my perspective and weaken the hard lines I have drawn around my paradigm throughout my life. What could we accomplish in the journey for world peace, if each of us started our day out with a daily practice of empathy?
Much love <3
A lover of words, magic, and the idea of changing the world by encouraging the pursuit of one dream at a time. Living the dream myself as a professional boxer, kickboxer, and MMA fighter.