“Brandon, did you just go for a run?”
This was the question I got asked yesterday by our newest co-worker. While standing there in my running shoes, sunglasses, headphones, red-faced and heart rate in the upper 140’s, the “assumption” she made might have been valid. To her point, she may even have seen someone that resembled me doing that “running” thing on the sidewalk just outside of our building just a few minutes earlier. My response was “NOT AT ALL! I was mitigating…” I have a short, but growing list of acceptable reasons for me to run (I encourage EVERYONE to develop this list, or you will end up running just for some confused, perverted pleasure.)
As much as I would love to believe it, I am not even close to having my Sh$$ together. I can usually keep it corralled, for a while, but “together” is not the right word. AND, after three weeks of articles about how to put “you first” and prioritize, I want to be clear that most days I’m dealing with a lot of the same problems/distractions/time thief’s/frustrations that you are. I’m writing this on my laptop at 5:18 am while sitting at my kitchen table that has a nice collection of my 8-year-olds toys that have been in a constant state of “transition” for the past 2 years while drinking coffee out of the cleanest mug I could find in the dishwasher I forgot to start. The highlight of my day yesterday was standing in the cold watching the final 15 minutes of my son’s soccer practice because, after the crush of a Tuesday, 45 minutes late was the earliest I could get there. On top of that, I HATE SOCCER.
Regardless of what all the self-help talking-heads say, it’s okay to feel frustrated. It’s okay to feel angry. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed. It’s okay to feel. It’s not okay to act frustrated, to act out of anger, or to give in to being overwhelmed. Feelings are intangible emotions. Our choices take the next step and give life to those feelings. Giving life to our emotions is under our control.
Very early, we are all conditioned to disconnect from our feelings. If we express our feelings, we are seen as “weak.” If we wear our feelings on our sleeve, we are seen as “soft.” If we act immediately on our feelings, we are seen as “impulsive.” We cannot control WHAT we feel, but we can control HOW WE ACT in the presence of what we feel. Don’t ignore those feelings or block them out. Focus them, leverage them, mitigate them into production.
Every AT’s patience gets slowly chipped away every day by a lot of little things that gradually bring us closer to the breaking point. There rarely is one thing that is a deal breaker. Instead what gets us to the breaking point is a series of small, minor incidence that erodes away at us:
- A player that is late to the pre-practice taping.
- A coach that disagrees with your decision about a player participating in the State Basketball Tournament.
- An Administrator that is in cruise control because they are busy looking at their next career step.
- A co-worker that has asked the same question for the 59th week in a row about a physicians list of restrictions following a surgery we see every day.
- “Hey, did you know the ice machine is empty and not working?”
- An upset parent that doesn’t understand why their son/daughter shouldn’t play in their Senior Night basketball game 12 weeks after an ACL Reconstruction – “but it’s senior night…….”
- A patient that after the fact is upset at the price of your services.
- A coach that once again, 11 weeks into the season, changes the practice time and tells everyone BUT the AT staff.
- A student that has been disengaged knew it all, and never expressed a question in 2-years, but is completely confused about why they failed a comprehensive test.
- Shall I go on?
With all of that and then some, it is easy to feel surrounded and on the verge of being overrun. That is okay, but instead of reacting to the situation you need to realize that your next choice will determine your success or failure. Often we are presented with options that we are unaware of. At any point, our decision about how to act or respond can change the trajectory of what we are doing, and like all those little things that slowly add up to grind away at us, our decisions about how to respond can slowly take us closer to becoming overrun or they can keep us on track. Usually, it just takes one small, wrong decision to start us down a negative path. But, it also only takes one small right decision to move us in a better direction. Like in life, when you are surrounded you need to perform a break out move – find the weakest area of what is surrounding you then focus your attack on breaking that line. Once you are out, you have even more options.
Don’t let the emotions take control of you. Feel them, yes, but don’t become subservient to them. When we feel “overwhelmed” it’s easy to want just to sit down and turn everything off – just sit there and become detached. Bad choice. That lack of action might feel good right then, but then the next emotion kicks in – guilt. Now even more stuff has built up on top of what got you there in the first place, and you have created a self-fulfilling prophecy. Of what is overwhelming you, what is the easiest and quickest thing to accomplish? Start with that, then continue forward. Don’t retreat, because if you are surrounded there is nowhere to retreat to – only bad things can happen then.
My day, like yours, is a series of just keeping it contained – leaning a little here and a little there to keep the train on the tracks and moving forward. Yes, that co-worker saw me “mitigating” my response to the day and confused it for running. Easy mistake. On that day, at that specific time, I needed to remove myself from the situation before I reacted. I was exercising reason #10 from “Brandon’s reason’s to run” list:
- There is something bigger and meaner than me behind me.
- There is a donut in front of me.
- I’m short on time and need to get somewhere, and ALL other options have been exhausted.
- I’m going somewhere to work out (the park, the local firehouse, the donut shop…)
- I’m on a beach and am recreating the Rocky 3 scene of sprinting with Apollo (in my mind).
- I’m on a beach and am running with my son.
- I’m on a beach, and regardless of whether I’m running alongside my son or Apollo, I have forgotten how much running on sand sucks.
- I literally have run out of mental energy to come up with a better way to occupy the next 20-30 minutes of my life.
- I hear the words “There is coffee (or bacon) over there.”
- To save others. From me. Lashing out and negatively reacting on emotion – I’m creating “reactionary space.”
- I was challenged to a race.
- This one is a former rule, that expired when I got married: when a pretty girl asked me to run. (Hey, it happened. Once. And, these are my rules.)
“Highest level of training.”
The mindset that in times of stress people will “rise to the occasion” is wrong. Completely and utterly wrong. Stress doesn’t build us up; stress breaks us down. Instead, the truth is, in stressful situations, we fall back to our highest level of training. We hear this all the time – you “play like you practice,” you “revert to your habits,” you “do what you have always done.” The connection between those three is familiarity – when stressed we go back to what we are familiar with because this familiarity makes us feel just a little bit better or more secure about what is going on.
What helps in how we respond to our feelings is getting used to those feelings; to practice feeling. That is why over the past month I challenged you to find your hobbies and your “you” time. The real goal of this was for you to explore, to engage, to feel. Positively acting on feelings -instead of reacting- requires practice:
- If you don’t know how to push ahead when you are frustrated (say, from not being good at making handles for the mugs you made in pottery class) you won’t know how to handle the frustrations of your job.
- If you don’t know how to control the overwhelmed feeling of starting a long and drawn out personal challenge (running a marathon, biking 150 miles, completing a weekend kettlebell course), you won’t know how to handle the feeling of being an overwhelmed parent.
- If you don’t know how to handle the sadness from the gut punch moment of the novel you are reading or the sad movie you are watching, you won’t know how to handle the feeling of sadness when it is real.
Finding the things you enjoyed over this past month and then making time each day to do them wasn’t a way for you to disengage from the world. It was a way for you to engage with you – to feel and then to practice your response to what you feel. Understand though, that sometimes your feelings are wrong. Again, that is where practice comes in to play. I tell my students all the time that I don’t care about their feelings, especially if their response to a situation is controlled by their feelings. Personal growth only comes when we push the limits of our comfort zone – you have to decide to get comfortable being uncomfortable.
Sometimes, we are just hanging on to the end of the rope hoping the knot holds. Sometimes, our stuff is close to being together, and other times it is spread all over the yard like a scene out of Twister. But guess what – that is normal, and we are all hanging together. More importantly, it’s okay. Who says we have to have our stuff together all the time anyway? Sometimes, putting it out there is a way to expose it and get rid of it. It doesn’t make you a bad person, a bad parent, a bad co-worker, or a bad leader. We can’t always feel like the 5-year-old on Christmas morning. And we shouldn’t always feel like that second-year grad student right before their practical comp who has a heart rate of 135. And hopefully, we don’t often feel like wringing the neck of the person that IS within arm’s reach and HAS the perfect neck for wringing……….. But, when we do feel any of those emotions, we should know how to direct them. NOT control them and NOT stifle them.
Atheltic Trainers, these last 4 blogs have been directed at you. Just remember this months tagline “Compassionate care for all.” ALL. That includes you. Like anything, it’s easy to do things when they are new an novel. For some reason, finding time for you will gradually become less of a priority. Work, family, more work, whatever, will gradually ease you back into what you were doing before: taking care of others while neglecting yourself. If you recognize this, you can prevent this. Guard your time. Protect your hobbies. Take time for you. I will bet once you begin feeling frustrated or overwhelmed, you will also realize that the time you had been dedicating to taking care of yourself has lessened or disappeared altogether. It is not a coincidence. If you fall off the wagon, dust yourself off and get right back on before it leaves you behind. It’s okay to falter and fall, but it is a choice to stay down. Choose wisely.
I hope you enjoyed and got a little something out of these ramblings. Remember to take care of you first – by any means necessary #BAMN.