Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Remembering 1 Question 4 Better Mental & Physical Health

       Perhaps because of the time of year it is, I have received many questions that revolve around how I was able to get started on my wellness journey without becoming overwhelmed or being filled with anxiety. Anytime I have charted a new, better path there has always been uncertainties and anxiety. I am no stranger to second guessing decisions while learning and implementing a new, better way to live.

       I have fantastic news, however! There is a simple solution to becoming overwhelmed or anxious due to plans that are new, big or that have to be changed due to unforeseen circumstances. It is to remember one word--WIN. W.I.N. is one of those annoying acronyms that stands for What's Important Now. The beautiful thing about this one is it actually works.

       I read somewhere about how one of the greatest coaches of all time, Lou Holtz, always told his players to ask themselves this question throughout their day, what's important now? I scoffed at first. It seemed childlike and too simple to actually work. Thankfully, I remembered that contempt prior to investigation is the surest way to remain in everlasting ignorance, so I decided to try it. Over the years, I've found that many of life's most profound truths are also the simplest. W.I.N. is no exception.

       I have written about how I schedule wellness activities to make sure I fit them in1, how I schedule healthy meals to ensure I eat correctly2 and how I live in day-tight compartments3 so that I can break down large tasks or objectives into more manageable pieces. Doing those three things helped keep me from getting overwhelmed or anxious. They were enormously helpful when I started my wellness journey (and they still are). Without them, I could have never made the changes I have made in my life. However, because of my conditions, there are times when they themselves can be overwhelming.  When I am starting something new, have a large project I am working on, or my plans fall apart, I have to step back and ask myself, what's important now? This question allows me to refocus and settle back into the moment. That's where I want to live, in the moment. 

       At the beginning of all the new chapters in my life, course corrections have had to be made. What I knew would work when I planned it on Sunday may have fallen apart by Wednesday afternoon. In the beginning, I don't know what I don't know until I know it. There is no reason to become discouraged, anxious or overwhelmed because of a setback or miscalculation. I have come to expect them. The only way I have found to stay ahead of discouragement, anxiety or feelings of being overwhelmed by those setbacks and miscalculations is by remembering the acronym W.I.N.

       Honestly, many of my best-laid plans have often fallen apart, due to miscalculations. My life story is full of failed plans and missteps. That is inevitable because I push myself to become the best possible version of me I can be. I want to grow and change. If I had decided long ago to remain the same, I would have been in a great deal of trouble. I have to grow. With my conditions, stagnation is dangerous.

       Growing means change, and despite what many self-help gurus may say, I have found that change is difficult. Changing paths, so that I can live a better life, is hard. If it were easy, everybody would do it. Taking the time to write out my priorities, schedule wellness activities and healthy meals so that I can experience better mental and physical health takes effort. It turns out that doing those things, and making those changes, is still much easier than staying stuck living a life I don't like. I'll never say that making changes to attain better mental and physical health is easy, but I'll always say it's worth it.

       Change is hard because with it missteps, miscalculations, and temporary failures inevitably come. But I believe what the late, great John Wooden said: "Failure isn't fatal, but failure to change might be." That has certainly been my truth.

       A wonderful example of how this philosophy played out in my life happened a few years ago. I had been training hard for a marathon for months. Two weeks before the race, I found out I had a serious stress fracture in my hip. I was devastated and overwhelmed with this new, harsh reality. Initially, I had no idea what to do. It took several days of sulking before I realized it was time to step back and ask myself what was most important at that time. In other words, what was I doing it all for in the first place?

       After several brutal days, I remembered. The reason I was training so hard and pushing myself was to improve my mental and physical health. When I remembered that, the answer to my problem became clear instantly. I knew what to do. I decided I would continue to exercise for mental and physical health by bicycling and doing circuit training on my upper body. I also decided that I would spend the extra time, not spent training, to have fun with my family and friends. I knew that doing so would give me a fantastic mental boost. I was right. Had I allowed myself to lose sight of what was the most important thing, I would have certainly been overrun with anxiety and the depression that accompanies hopelessness. That can be a dangerous place for me.

       Was I still upset that I missed the race? Yes, but honestly races are not my favorite thing. I simply love to run and exercise. I don't need the promise of a race bib or a medal to enjoy myself. Often, I have much more fun without those things! Focusing on what was important, given my new circumstances, allowed me to make the course corrections I needed to make. W.I.N. saved me from what was sure to be a horrific downward spiral. Thank you, Coach Holtz!

       When I remember to ask myself What's Important Now, the answers to the questions of where to begin or what to do next present themselves, in short order. It is truly that simple.

       I would like to point out that ultimately, I have found that for this acronym to work, I have to know what my priorities are. Knowing what my priorities are allows me to ask what's important now and actually know the answer. Knowing the answer makes it possible for me to face situations that seem daunting and to handle any anxiety that may arise from new or overwhelming situations.

       I realize that some have tried to hijack this technique to sell the idea of achieving fame and fortune. That is not how I use W.I.N. I use it to live the life I want to live by achieving better mental and physical health. I don't do that by chasing fame and fortune. Often, the most important things in my life are simple, like spending time with my family, helping others, painting, dancing to my favorite music, exercising, getting a good night's sleep or meditating. Those are a few of the things that bring joy and meaning to my life. By remembering the acronym W.I.N., and what my priorities are, I am able to keep those things front and center in my life. I am forever grateful to Coach Holtz for this simple concept.
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As always, I wish you wonderful mental health and great successes eating healthy meals. If you, or someone you love, is severely depressed or anxious, please click the link to the right and you will be directed to the International Association for Suicide Prevention. It is a fantastic resource and is staffed by wonderful people.
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