In the weeks leading up to her Ironman Louisville event, my wife Sue was quite busy with her job. For one thing, she was out of town handling job responsibilities for a week. Then she got back with a day to spare and we rolled on down to Louisville. She performed well in the race despite some challenges from the elements, and we came back home thankful that all her training paid off.
Then she was back out on the job sites for her work for another week. We both know the responsibilities of our jobs and priorities and are grateful for them. When I have late-night meetings for my job, there is never any complaint on her part. In fact, she’s quite supportive and curious about what transpires at the community meetings I attend.
It’s very helpful to have a support system like that. When things get super busy or even go awry as they sometimes do in this world, it certainly helps to be able to call a person you trust and talk it through. The same goes when things go well. It feels good to have someone to tell, “Hey I had a great run this morning!” Or a great swim, or ride. The measuring stick of emotions is often how we progress.
I’d describe our relationship as full of ‘high expectations and low drama.’ Sue tends to be a ‘steady customer.’ She’s fairly low drama.
I’m not exactly “high drama” but there are times when the drama gets going a little bit in my own head. It used to be much worse. But one of the things I find helpful in my own mental construct is to analyze the source and nature of my thoughts. That’s been part of a long developmental process going way back to when I was thirty. That’s when I first started figuring out the chemistry and behavior of my brain. I knew there were some things that could use ‘fixing,’ and took it upon myself to figure them out. Some were simple, but others took years.
Getting to know your own brain is something I encourage you to do it no matter what age you are. Start by looking at your own journals or your life patterns with some degree of objectivity. Study where your thoughts come from. These patterns may go way, way back. Many of us are fine for the most part, but fall into negative patterns when we encounter people from our past that either had control over us, or not enough. These might be parents or friends or former spouses. If you have to, write all that shit down. Study it. Ask yourself, “Why do I respond to these people the way I do?”
To become fully (or at least mostly) actualized as a positively functioning adult requires work whether we do it ourselves or get some assistance. That help may come from friends, a trusted pastor or a professional therapist. In any case, it’s worth it. You’ve only got this life to life. Why keep fucking it up? Or if you’re already doing well, why not shoot for even more? Find a mentor. An inspiration. Or trust yourself to fall in love, and work to stay there.
It all comes down to learning to trust yourself and your thoughts. That’s what actualizing yourself as a human being really means.
Know that there is a pattern among people that have anxiety (either chronic or temporary) to let certain kinds of thoughts dominate the inner dialogue. Learning to recognize adverse or self-absorbed thought patterns can help enormously in managing states of anxiety and depression. Granted, that alone may not offer a total cure for anxiety. It is just as true for someone with an outsized ego who is subject to self-absorption, the thought pattern that puts your wants in front of others all the time.
In all cases, detecting and managing mental patterns can give one a better sense of control. And you can actualize. To become actual. Authentic to yourself and others. That’s the goal.
The first product of actualization is the realization there is a lot less drama in your life. Think about it. When you’re going to interview for a job, it is important to focus on what you can do for the organization in order to impress them.
Thus the fears that reside in the back of your mind need to be compartmentalized. If there are doubts, it is important to write them down. Build perspective. Figure out why they are occurring. Why are these old habits or beliefs of difficult past circumstances vexing you? Are they REALLY YOU? Or are you just allowing them to own you.
In some ways, we need to treat every day as if we were interviewing for the job of living. It’s just like getting a job, and it pays to ask: “What do I want from life? What do I have to offer in return?”
The genius inventor Buckminster Fuller once wrote, about himself: “You do not belong to you. You belong to the universe.” By addressing himself in the form of higher expectations, he reduced the petty dramas we all invent for ourselves.
That brand of higher expectations can turn you into a better athlete as well. Instead of viewing your competitors as something holding you back, you become “part of their universe” and allow them to pull you along to better performances. Fear is resolved, or even removed from the equation.
Because when you’ve determined a goal and start to feel doubts, typically they revolve around two basic things. Fear of failure. And fear of success.
Types of fear
Those seem like two very different things, but the commonality remains fear. To be afraid to fail means you are actually afraid to try in the event that you might not live up to the expectations of others, or yourself.
To be afraid to succeed means you’re scared to be held to a new and more difficult standard once you have achieved your goals. How will you live up to them from then on? Can you truly keep up the quality, the effort, the concentration?
To conquer fear of success or fear of failure requires healthy management of expectations. How do you expect to get where you want to go? Have you done the training? Have you replicated the pain and effort of racing in order to understand WHAT TO EXPECT when you face similar feelings in competition?
That is how we prepare ourselves for anything. That’s reason why we rehearse questions in our mind before doing a job interview is to be prepared and anticipate the expectations of the interview. I can tell you that I once failed miserably to answer a question during a job interview, but gathered myself and when the opportunity presented itself later on in the discussion, brought the topic back up, apologized for my earlier choke and gave a very rational answer that made a good impression on them. Just because you failed temporarily does not mean you have lost.
It holds true when giving a speech or doing anything that creates fear inside us. We must learn how to manage our expectations and apply experience to match the need of the day.
Those of us with high expectations learn to talk to ourselves in a constructive fashion. As an athlete for many years, I had to learn how to control inner dialogue in advance of competition. Sometimes that process would fail, or my training journal would fill up with apprehensions and doubts in advance of an important race. I can look back at those periods and see clearly where the problems were. At the time though, it all seemed like a wall of impossibilities.
There were also many times when my head was in the right place. I think in particular of an afternoon before a cross country race in high school. I spent the hours leading up to the race reading a transcendental novel called “The Peregrine” about a wayfarer in Scotland who followed falcons to the literal end of the earth. The book was so inspiringly constructed that my mind just relaxed. I had literally no worries going into that important race. I won that day against two runners from a team that had not lost a dual meet in 33 consecutive meets.
It would be wonderful to be that inspired all the time. Some people seem to have that capacity. But who knows if that level of insight is sustainable? Sometimes the brain just needs to shut down. “All done,” the mind says on a Sunday afternoon when the projects just seem too hard to accomplish. Thus a “day of rest” makes a ton of sense too. Time to let the mind relax. Wander. Absorb into dusk. That is not a failure. That is wholesome.
But when my wife walked through the door last night after being away for two non-consecutive weeks, I was grateful to see her, but not to the point of false drama. She visited with her children and got her stuff put away. Finally, I stood next to her in the kitchen after she had changed out of her travel clothes. She had on a pair of jeans that I really love, and she was dining on the salmon I’d grilled while sharing photos from her phone. They were pictures of the projects on which she’d worked so hard. I loved the quiet sense of pride, because she’d sacrificed time all day and night to make it happen.
In a quiet moment I put a hand on her hip and it happened to brush the warm skin of her back. It was so good to have her home. To hear her voice. To see the flash in her eyes when something struck her funny. Then the kitties all came calling. All four of them, two of her own and two from her daughter. They sidled up to her stretching and purring. AS she petted little Bennie, the rescue cat with orange and white coat, she purred back: “Do you know me?” she asked.
The richness of life
Life is so rich at times, and so simple. That’s what makes it good. I’m a silly man at times, and prone to romantic streaks that border on excessive earnestness. She puts up with me in my goofy moods, and I think she actually likes it. While she was out of town, I kidded with her about how much I missed her by throwing some of her laundry over my head and shoulders and sent her a photo. “Nah, I don’t miss you at all,” I jibed.
I’d also sent her video caps of the romantic scenes between Claire and Jamie in the show Outlander. I made sure to capture his amazing pecs and arms for her. there is nothing wrong with a woman appreciating the sight of a handsome man. We can watch the real thing now that she’s back home.
And this morning she woke to hop on her bike on the trainer. It was a chance for her to get back in a bit of homemade rhythm after those two weeks away. We all have a way of grounding ourselves after time spent away in hotel rooms or traveling. She went downstairs for a spin and emerged from the shower later with a wet head of hair. “That felt good,” she told me.
High expectations. Low drama. It works for us.