Out of Gas

Forgot my pre-workout snack today.

Before I run, especially on “long run” days (5 miles or more), I eat something. Usually a 1/3-1/2 of a banana plus a scoop of peanut butter.

Today, I was a little rushed to get going, yet also focused on making sure I didn’t forget anything important. Garmin, check. Water belt, check. Water bottle, check. Running pouch, check. Towel, check. Hopped in the Jeep and hit the Greenway.

Near the halfway point of today’s 5-miler, I felt great. Cool temps and lots of birds and cicadas out to cheer me on. But by the time I hit 3.5 I hit a wall. I was hungry – out of calories as I call it.

Then I remembered. No snack.

Me on IG stories, trying to explain why I’m hemmed up.

Thankfully, help wasn’t far away. On Saturdays, I plan for 5, but prepare for 6 or more. That means I take a Gu energy gel in case I need an extra push toward the end of the run.

I whipped it out, took a couple of sips of water and was on my way. Looks like I had everything I needed after all.

On Truth and Possibilities

Just told the truth about something. Risked quiet criticism disguised as questions, but told the truth all the same.

In the past I might’ve eventually gotten there. Perhaps.

It would’ve taken forever to word it the right way, couching it to ward off potential negativity. I might’ve given a partial answer, obscuring the whole truth for an unsatisfying omission. But the truth was the truth. My truth. One I’ve known for a long time, but didn’t have, or create, an opening to share it. And finally here was my chance. I took it.

Woman with red toenails, wearing a long blue dress while standing barefoot on green grass. It's a sunny day.
Me, enjoying a moment of sunshine and introspection.

I mentioned Brené’s work yesterday and I think it’s part of the reason I responded as I did. She encourages you to be courageous, and embrace vulnerability, “the feeling we get when we feel uncertain, at risk, or emotionally exposed.”

As a thoughtful, shy, introverted adult, I think a lot, but I don’t share my thinking much. Only with those who know how to listen. Really listen. And in the past couple of years, I’ve become even less inclined to share for one reason or another. But this practice of silence has resulted in a diminished quality of life – wasting time on things that don’t bring me joy, and don’t create value. Sure, there are times when such work is required, but if a few moments of vulnerability can remove hours of meaningless shit, well isn’t it worth the effort?

Not too long ago, I might’ve said no. Might’ve found that toiling away on nonsense was worth the safety, the security, the silence of certainty. But we live, and hopefully, we evolve, and when the time is right, we make new choices. And when the risky, scary moment ends, possibilities begin.

On Resistance and Work

The message I’ve gotten this week, this month, hell, this whole damn season is, “do your work.” It’s been a steady drumbeat, but because I’ve neglected my personal victory strategies while getting busy with work and life, my inner ear got cloudy and I couldn’t quite make it out. 

Or I could, but I wasn’t really ready or willing to listen. 

But just like any other alarm that goes off long enough, this one alerted me that it was time to get moving. Get back to the things that work. Back to doing my work. 

In the War of Art, Steven Pressfield says,

Resistance cannot be seen, touched, heard, or smelled. But it can be felt. We experience it as an energy field radiating from a work-in-potential. It’s a repelling force. It’s negative. Its aim is to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work.

I’ve been distracted. I’ve been shoved away. I’ve neglected my work. 

I have reading and thinking and writing to do. Manuscripts to start. Scholarship to undertake. I cannot do anything if I am foiled by Resistance. If I do other things, and, in fact, everything else except my work. 

Toni Morrison died last night. And she left us many things to think about. Her words. Her work. Her admonition on the function of racism as distraction – a clarion call these days. And much as anything else I’ve explored this week (Brené Brown’s Call to Courage, Ann Pendelton-Jullian and John Seely Brown’s Pragmatic Imagination, my own thoughts), her death, or rather remembrance of her life and legacy, have prompted me to get back to it. Back to work.

FILE — The author Toni Morrison in New York on Jan. 9, 2004. Morrison, the 1993 Nobel laureate in Literature, whose work explored black identity in America and in particular the experience of black women, died on Monday, Aug. 5, 2019, at Montefiore Medical Center in New York, her publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, said in a statement. She was 88. (Sara Krulwich/The New York Times)

Procrastination is the most common manifestation of Resistance because it’s the easiest to rationalize. We don’t tell ourselves, “I’m never going to write my symphony.” Instead we say, “I am going to write my symphony; I’m just going to start tomorrow.” ~Pressfield

I pushed my work away for a month, a week, yet another day. More often than not, it was dereliction of duty more than anything else.

But not today. Today I overcame Resistance. Today I did my work. 

Don’t Stop Before the Home Stretch

Once the weather is a little warmer, I increase my monthly running goals from 35-40 miles a month, to 50. I set and hit 50 this March and planned to do the same for April. As it turns out, I traveled in April, and was off my usual schedule for the better part of a week. 

This was the longest run of my trip.

I embrace flexibility with my goals – not to let myself off the hook, but to adapt with changing circumstances. It’s not always practical or necessary to reach every goal “no matter what!” Especially in this case, where the purpose of the trip was to unplug from the grind and connect with my boo. Rather than Herculean efforts to rise by 5am and run 4-5 miles, we slept in most days, I ran a little here and there, and that was that.

When I returned home, I immediately adjusted my expectations and changed my goal from 50 miles to 40.  I got back in the mix and resumed my schedule. This included my usual short to medium runs during the week, and long runs on Saturdays.

This weekend’s long run was longer than usual. I crossed the finish line with 7 miles.  When I finished today’s run, my last of April, I knew I had surpassed 40 miles for the month. Imagine my surprise when I discovered my final tally was 49.4. That’s right – almost 50!

I hopped out the car, took a sip of water, and jogged a quick loop in my neighborhood to get the last little bit.  Although I don’t “stress” to get my goals, I do “stretch” to get them. To be honest, adding that additional 5 or 10 minutes wasn’t a real stretch but it was the home stretch. And I had almost missed it!

It was a good reminder to keep my goals and the progress toward them in sight. Because I took for granted that I would definitely meet the easier milestone, I almost missed my ideal.

It’s great to be flexible and make adjustments as needed, but that doesn’t mean I need to be careless or lose site of the bigger picture.

Are any of your goals are closer than they appear? Don’t sell yourself short. Take stock of your progress and keep striving. The home stretch might be just around the bend.

Monday Run Day

I got those miles in this morning.

Every now and again I consider changing my running schedule. Right now I run – outdoors – on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. I like Monday runs because most runners are off. With the exception of birds, bunnies and an occasional deer, I have the running trail almost to myself at o’dark thirty.

Monday morning sunrise miles.

On the other hand, Monday is my processing day. I think about the week, and try to get ahead on a few weekly tasks. And as much as I enjoy running and the energy I feel as a result, the timing never feels quite right on a Monday morning. I always get into my office feeling behind.

On Mondays where the load is soft and I can flex my way through the day, it’s no problem. But more often than not I seem to be a little behind my targets. Not really an ideal way to start the week.

So again, today, I find myself rethinking my schedule. Is it worth it to lose the solitude of the Monday run and gain the upper hand in timing and starting the day?

I think so.

Maybe.

We’ll see…

You Can’t Run Hills Everyday

Think of a moment when you were full of energy. You were clear, focused and productive for a time – a day, a week, maybe longer. What had you done in the hours or days leading up to that moment?

It’s likely that your clear, focused burst of productivity was after a period of rest. Or it may have come while you were working on something associated with your higher purpose. You may have engaged in something that stretched you and then turned to an easier project.

If any of these ring true, it’s not on accident. You reaped the benefits of managing your energy.

According to Loehr and Schwartz, performance, health and happiness are grounded in the skillful management of energy. They elucidate four principles for energy management:

  • PRINCIPLE 1:Full engagement requires drawing on four separate but related sources of energy: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.
  • PRINCIPLE 2Because energy capacity diminishes with both overuse and under-use, we must balance energy expenditure with intermittent energy renewal.
  • PRINCIPLE 3To build capacity, we must push beyond our normal limits, training in the same systematic way elite athletes do.
  • PRINCIPLE 4Positive energy rituals — highly specific routines for managing energy — are the key to full engagement and sustained high performance.

One can understand that elite athletes must have a reservoir of energy, must be able to call on that energy in times of need, and must be disciplined to replenish that reservoir so it’s available when the time comes. Loehr and Schwartz lend this framing to a concept they call the “corporate athlete,” – busy executives who must also perform well, consistently and under pressure. Beyond the time and the know-how, energy is the key.

Being able to recruit energy when needed is essential to attaining the ideal performance state (IPS). This is where the management of energy comes in. Managing your energy means intentionally moving between states of stress and recovery.

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As a runner, I balance long or intense runs with days of rest. True story – as I write this, my legs are burning from today’s hill workout. If I try to repeat hills again tomorrow and the next day, I risk declining performance and injury from overtraining.

I need to allow my muscles time to recover via rest and/or cross training. Moreover, I need to provide my muscles the right nutrition, including water, to aid their recovery. If I do this, I’ll be in great shape when it’s time to tackle those hills again, and I’ll have better results on my easier, flatter runs.

The same is true at work. There are always proverbial hills to run, often without the attendant moments of purposeful recovery. In fact, many of us work until we quite literally can’t work any more, akin to an athlete passing out or suffering a serious injury due to overtraining.

Loehr and Schwartz recommend rituals that promote “oscillation,” which is the purposeful dance, or ebb and flow of stress and recovery.

The four sources of energy (Principle 1) are physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. In the last article of this series, we’ll explore each of these in more detail. Until then, what are some rituals you’ve tried to help you intentionally flow between exertion and rest?

Optimal Performance Starts with Energy, Not Time

Time is a precious resource. If we took a poll on Twitter or Facebook, you would find few of your friends disagree with this premise. We get mad when others waste our time. We get disappointed in ourselves when we waste our own time. We do everything we can to rearrange our day to maximize our time. We use apps, we take classes, we label tasks as urgent or important or neither or both. We set alarms. We do everything to prioritize and manage our time.

But have you ever put the same amount of effort into managing your energy?

Even if you manage your time well, you must have the energy to do what needs to be done.

We’re busy all day, trying to create work/life balance even though we check work emails on our phones until late at night. We rush to have meaningful conversations that don’t go well. We over-schedule ourselves, overstuff our to do lists. And when it’s all said and done, another 24 hours has come and gone with little to show for it. How do they do it? We ask of our uber-productive faves. They launch projects while we drown in adminstrivia. We think if only we had more time, we could accomplish more and be more satisfied.

I offer you an alternative view.

Energy is the Key

What if the issue isn’t time—or time management. What if the issue is really energy? A focus on energy compels us to reconsider much of what we’ve believed about organizing our lives.  Even if you manage your time well, you must have the energy to do what needs to be done, to think in the complex ways you need to think.

Let’s ponder two new thoughts:

  1. Energy is the fundamental currency of high performance.
  2. Performance, health and happiness are grounded in the skillful management of energy.

According to Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, in The Power of Full Engagement, the skillful management of energy—individually and organizationally—makes full engagement possible. To be fully engaged in our lives, we must be physically energized, emotionally connected, mentally focused and spiritually aligned with a purpose beyond our immediate self-interest. This is a phenomenal insight many of us haven’t fully considered.

Everything we do requires energy. As obvious as this is, we fail to take into account the importance of energy at work and in our personal lives. Without the right quantity and quality of energy, we are compromised in any activity we undertake.

Energy management is different from energy boosts.

Dragging to the Finish

Think about it for a moment. If you have everything planned out in meticulous detail, but you’re dragging with 10 hours left before bedtime, how engaged will you really be in those activities? How productive or fulfilled? How likely are you to accomplish what you’ve planned, before you give up, shut down and try again tomorrow?

No, I don’t want you to increase your caffeine as a way to “boost” your energy. But in my next post, I will offer some guidance to help you become more effective at managing your time by starting with your energy.

Until then, I’d love to hear about your strategies for managing your energy. Is this something you’ve considered in the past? What works for you?

Journaling is a Dialogue with Yourself

A great dialogue can unfold when you seek to truly understand your partner. If you go into conversation with an open mind, ask meaningful questions and listen deeply, you can come away with powerful insights about the topic (and the speaker). With this framing in mind, I offer that the most meaningful journaling is really conducted as a dialogue. With yourself.

Previously, I mentioned the importance of making journaling a routine. But what exactly are you putting on the page?

Just as there’s no singular way to engage in conversation, there are just as many possibilities for journaling.

Positives

In her 2016 Harvard Business Review article, Want to Be an Outstanding Leader? Keep a Journal, Nancy Adler suggests leading your reflection time with some positive takeaways:

  • What was I thankful for today?
  • What did I do well today?
  • What did I learn today?

Responding to questions like these helps put your brain in a positive state of mind. The brain is easily threatened. Threat dampens your creativity, decreases your understanding of options, and leads to reactive, rather than proactive thinking. When you reduce threat and increase positivity, you increase your field of possibilities, engagement and motivation. In short, you raise your confidence and productivity.

Self Awareness

  • What made me laugh today?
  • What upset me today?
  • Did I feel successful today?
  • Did I disappoint myself today?
  • What inspired me today?

Self-awareness questions give you the chance to be a truth teller. You can acknowledge the good, the bad and the ugly, and your true thoughts and feelings about it all. You can improve your emotional intelligence by assessing your responses to various circumstances. You’re not judging yourself, you’re simply learning more about yourself. Gaining self-awareness helps you to become more intentional over time.

My Leadership

  • How am I leading?
  • What do others think of my leadership?
  • Am I reflecting my personal values?
  • Am I supporting my organization’s values?
  • Were my people better off today because of me?

Questions like these allow you to assess your impact and how it can be improved. Again, this is not the time to beat yourself up. Based on your observations, interactions, gut feelings and so on, what did you notice or learn about your leadership today?

My People/My Team

  • Who needs my attention?
  • What might my team be feeling?
  • What techniques/support/resources worked best?
  • What techniques/support/resources didn’t work?
  • Who has been consistently dependable / non-dependable?

Answers to these will shed light on how to manage talent better.

My Goals

  • Did I get closer or farther from my goals today?
  • What can I do differently?
  • What did I prioritize today?
  • What were the results?
  • Are my goals still appropriate?
  • What is the purpose of my work?
  • What fulfills me?

In particular, when I felt my time did not reflect my priorities or values, I reflected on questions like this quite a bit. It helped me to be more proactive with prioritizing and scheduling. It also led me to do some exploration of my values to find out how I could express them more at work.

My Day

My current favorite is the quick run down. I do a check on the day and set an intention for tomorrow:

  • What were my goals for today?
  • What went well?
  • What didn’t go well?
  • What will I do differently tomorrow?

The categories and questions here are just a guide. I recommend you try journaling a few days and then decide what kinds of questions are most meaningful for you.

If you’re stuck and feel unsure how to begin, you can simply ask yourself one question: What happened today? As you answer, really listen. Pay attention to yourself. Just as in a dialogue, you’ll naturally pose relevant follow-up questions. After a few days you’ll have a good idea of the questions that will make journaling most meaningful for you.

The most important thing is to start. 

A Journaling Habit

Journaling is a powerful practice. But like any practice, it only works if you work it. That means your goal is to do consistently, not just when you feel like it. You don’t have to carve out a lot of time, but you will need to carve out some time.

If you’re not sure how to make the time, a coach can help you rethink and redesign your day. 

As I mentioned in an earlier post, journaling allows you to document ideas and work through hunches. It allows you to keep track of otherwise fleeting, yet potent thoughts, and it also improves your thinking. These benefits accrue to the degree you can make journaling a habit.

Plan Ahead

Building a habit can feel daunting, so it’s important you set yourself up for success. Consider a consistent time or trigger that will alert you to journal. For instance, set a recurring meeting with yourself for first thing in the morning or perhaps as you close the day.  

You might also consider your work ebbs and flows. Look ahead several days, and see if you have short breaks between longer meetings. Block 15 minutes for yourself and commit to journaling during that time. Midday journaling is more difficult for some – especially those without as much control over their calendars. The important part here is to plan ahead and schedule reminders to keep you on track.

Defeat Decision Fatigue

I recommend clients go so far as to picture where you will journal and make sure your notebook or favorite app is handy at the time and place you’ll need it. As you go through the day, each decision you make takes a toll on your brain. As a result, you become more likely to do what’s easiest, rather than what’s best.

Having a clear plan of action in place minimizes your chance of being foiled by decision fatigue.  Journaling by hand is great for slowing down and processing, but digital journalingis certainly a viable choice as well. So whether a special colored pen or a stylus, select your tool ahead of time and have it ready.

Silence the Inner Critic

Journaling allows you a moment of quiet honesty. Since you’re journaling for yourself, not for a broader audience, give your inner critic the day off. This is not the time for judgments about spelling, grammar, formatting or content. Avoid editing. Really. You’re thinking on the page, and analyzing those thoughts. You’re not trying to win a contest or create a post to display on Pinterest. Don’t stifle your thinking. Just write.

This is your leadership development time. Use it to better understand and nurture the leader within.

What do you think? Are you making a routine to journal? Are you seeing benefits from journaling? Let me know what you think. 

Better Naked

I run three days a week (I cross train with weights or rest on the others).

Some seasons I go more often and once in a while, I’ll go less. Last July I decided to beg off running for a bit. I switched to short runs, or none at all, and favored heavier weights and more rest instead.

As it turns out, the cardio (plus plenty of water) helped my blood pressure more than I knew, so by winter it was time to get real miles back in the mix. I returned to my favorite discipline in December, and have been increasing my mileage since.

Greenway boardwalk at sunrise.
Snap from today’s 4-miler. Mid 30s, but not a lot of runners come out on early winter Mondays.

I’ve run for years. Almost always outside, with the exception of serious cold (below 20° F) or heavy rain. It’s beauty seeking. It’s meditation. It’s goal setting and personal bests. It’s deep thinking. It’s #selfcare. It’s me time. I love it.

Depending on what’s going on in my life, I alter the timing, types and frequency of runs. But I’m getting those miles – usually outside. With all of that, I don’t necessarily advocate running. It’s not for everyone. Instead, I advocate movement. Something sustainable and just right for you. Something motivating, invigorating, pleasurable in one way or another. That may be dance, swimming, walking, tennis, boxing, hula hooping, rugby, whatever.

Work your heart, strengthen those muscles, look better naked. 👀 At least feel better anyway. And that counts for quite a lot.