Monday, September 12, 2016

the "Hard Thing Rule"

I found myself at my typical first stop of almost every road trip, on Friday. I was standing at the audio book rack at Cracker Barrel, trying to decide if I wanted a murder mystery, a comedy, or a self help book. Let me set this up for you though, I picked out three books to start, and the three genres all have some sort of  meaning for me:

1) Murder Mystery: As of late, I have found myself overly entertained by television and fictional stories. Watching TV is typically my escape, and because I find myself watching so much TV lately, I can only assume that I have been living in a bit of an escape. It used to be that I would take baths to escape, but since those are off limits these days, I've defaulted to television. Quite honestly, I wasn't really in the mood for an escape.

2) Comedy: See murder mystery explanation and then add to it that I don't like comedy. In fact, I often tell my friends that I guess I don't like to laugh (tongue in cheek). But in all seriousness, unless it is over the top satire or Dumb and Dumber (no joke, ask my friend... I made her sit through Dumb and Dumberer for my birthday IN THE THEATER!!!) I am just not entertained by comedy I think it is because I grew up on bad dad jokes or something. Anyway, I again wasn't in the mood for escape, or a laugh (or lack there of).

3) Self Help: I always like to self help myself. In fact I'm always looking for ways to be better, but see point one... I have been somewhat addicted to escape and so I was leading towards my default, even though I really wasn't in the mood for my default.

Anyway, I walked around Cracker Barrel with all three books in my hand while looking at the random items for purchase, and then realized I was broke and needed to go with the cheapest book. I was happy with this decision until I looked at the prices and realized self help was the cheapest. I mean seriously, why was that? Psychology appointments cost like five hundred dollars an hour, the book was 9 hours long, you would think it would have been upwards of four thousand dollars? Alas, I purchased the book. Need I mention that if you return the book to Cracker Barrel within a week you get a refund minus three dollars for the book? So, cost shouldn't have been a factor, but self awareness set in, and I remembered that nine times out of ten I forget to return the book and I spend a bagillion dollars on a book that only mildly entertained me.

Anyway, after making this purchase, while scratching my way to the car (did I mention I have poison ivy on my entire body?) I convinced myself that I was going to put the first disk in and if I didn't like it I would stop at the next Cracker Barrel and return the darn thing and pick up a country music CD (my least favorite type of music) and turn it on repeat for six hours over the course of the weekend, as a means of causing noise for myself.

What happened though, was a bit of a miracle... The author was the narrator and she captured me at the prologue... Talking about her dad, and geniuses, and the fact that she isn't one, and so on and so forth. I found myself laughing right out of the gate. Quite honestly, that was probably the only time I laughed while listening to the book, but instead found myself diving deep into the world of self help that I think will help me in every facet of my life.

Forget that this is the blog of a determined athlete for the next sentence... This book that I picked up Grit, the Power of Passion and Perseverance happened to be of discussion at work recently, and I found myself drawn to the one excerpt I read, but because life happens and it was a tough week both professionally and personally I quickly forgot about my interest... But what I learned is that what I exhibited that exact week, when I was introduced to the book, was the exact opposite of grit. And so my desire to reflect on that and 'work' on that at work was the first big dip into self reflection I made.

I'm not going to focus on that work stuff here though... That is for me to explore with the help of my tremendous support system called my colleagues and boss... Instead I will focus on what this means for me athletically.

Aside from the book talking through the psychology of grit, grit scales, charts, research, research, research, all which mean nothing to me because I am a believer in experience, both yours and mine, I found myself engrossed in the stories of athletes, military personnel, KIPPsters and Teach for America participants. As I listened to how we as humans can learn grit from the 'outside in' and how our experiences in life teach us how to, or how not to, persevere, I found myself realizing that although I want to have exponential grit, I sometimes rest on my laurels and simply say "I can't". In fact, I have found myself saying I can't a lot lately... I can't run in the heat, I can't have my air conditioner above 68 degrees, I can't sit outside in the heat, I can't stop scratching this stupid poison ivy, I can't, I can't, I can't...

What if my parents always let me default to I can't? Well, if they did, I would probably still be scared of airplanes, I probably would never have been on an awesome softball team with a bunch of girls I didn't know... Fast forward to adulthood. If I lived in a world of I can't, I would never have been a person to cross the starting line, or the finish line of any race. Add MS to the equation and I would never have participated in my second half ironman this summer. And so with that, I will say that I am lucky to have been nurtured by my parents, first and foremost, in exploring the I CAN in life.

In the final part of the book, the author starting talking about raising kids, and although I don't have kids, I just spent the weekend with three of my seven nephews and nieces (yeah, another one is on the way!!!) and this portion of the book was of particular interest especially because I got to watch my nephew at his first track meet, and my other nephew study for the SATs and talk to my niece about her extreme interest in cooking. One of the ideas the author spoke about is the Hard Thing Rule, that she employs in her house. There are three rules, and I don't necessarily remember what they are verbatim but they basically were: 1) do something hard; 2) finish that hard thing; 3) no one else can choose your hard thing. She also went on to say that once her kids hit high school there was a fourth rule, the fourth rule is that you have to stick with that hard thing for two full years.

I heard this and instantly had my AHA! moment...

One of the things I know about myself is that I persevere when I like something, when it gets hard depending on what it is I stick my head in the sand or I charge on... Then add some external forces and if I find that it is so hard and I'm scared, it is immediately followed up with I can't. This was both an invigorating discovery, as well as a sobering discovery... Did this mean that I lack grit? Or does this mean that I have been out of practice and I need to reemploy some of that grit? I'm going to go with the latter, because it makes me feel better, and because I know there is something I can do about it.

So, yes I have been doing triathlons for years... yes I have been enjoying the experience... yes, I believe training, starting and finishing are all accomplishments... BUT, what if I said I wanted to improve next time around? What does improving mean? How does one measure that improvement? What external forces have to be explored to determine that improvement? These are all questions for exploration, but what I do know is that I can improve, and I'm going to spend two years doing just that. In 2018, I am going to do my third (maybe fourth, if I get antsy next year) half iron distance triathlon, and I'm going to do better...

The one thing the book didn't explore was the idea that 'I can't' can sometimes be real, and then what? I would love to sit down and talk with this psychologist, especially because she captured my attention once again when she talked about how our neurological receptors, or something like that, can always be enhanced, especially considering our bodies, even in adulthood, have the ability to continue to develop a myelin sheath... Um... I'm guessing MS has not been a factor in her research? It would be of interest to me to talk through how demyelination might impact her grit scale, but does it really matter? Perhaps it does.

Anyway, I walk away from this book with the desire, the desire to improve. And so I adopt the "Hard Thing Rule."

I plan to dedicate one post a month to where I am with my experience employing the hard thing rule... I hope you will enjoy!

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