Tag Archives: expectations

Hey, Wait a Minute – Wasn’t This Supposed to be Fun?

From my first Aikido Yoshokai class in 2005 as a raw beginner, I knew it was something I wanted to pursue. Ten years later, I’m still training and grateful for how it’s improved my life.

Increased fitness, agility and coordination have been physical benefits, but the philosophy appeals to me too. I appreciate the emphasis on seeking harmony, of bringing positive energy to class, and setting the ego aside and training for its own sake.

Not to mention great stress relief.

Not to mention great stress relief!

And the benefits have extended beyond class. Aikido training has encouraged me to be more patient and respectful in all situations, not just on the mat. This post from a couple of years ago relates one instance where I used Aikido principles to turn a potentially unpleasant situation into a positive one.

For the first several years, Aikido was a fixture in my life. Testing for increased rank is completely optional, but I enjoyed the challenge and added it to my annual goals, with a plan to try for black belt in 2013 or 2014. From 8th Kyu up to pre-1st Kyu rank, I progressed steadily and passed every test the first time. The last rank before black belt is full 1st Kyu, and I tested for it at the end of 2012, right on schedule.

Jumping over partner.

1st Kyu test – I jump over my partner.

I did not pass. I’d felt ready and done as well as I could, but it had not been good enough.

I was disappointed but not discouraged. It’s not unusual for someone to fail a test along the way. I studied Sensei’s written feedback and began actively training for another go the following spring.

Then, as they say:

life is what happens etc

During a routine run in March 2013, I tripped and fell hard, injuring my left shoulder. I thought the pain and mobility loss would clear up but it got worse instead, and by June it was clear I would have to suspend training to let it heal.

Recovery took nearly a year of physical therapy and careful exercise. While I was often frustrated at the slow improvement, it gave me sufficient time away from Aikido to really reflect on my training. The main question I asked myself, over and over, was why I was trying for black belt. Not the flippant “because it’s there,” answer, but the genuine, deep-down reason. Why was it important to me?

I had no good answer.

Recognition and increased respect from other students? Nope. While there is a hierarchy to be followed, you’re taught to respect everyone.

To show the world what a kick-ass dude I’d become? Hardly; I didn’t feel like one. And Aikido is about finding harmony, not starting fights.

For personal satisfaction? Aikido emphasizes letting go of the ego, not feeding it. The black belts in our school are among the most humble people I’ve ever known. I’ve never seen one flaunt his or her rank. Rather, they go out of their way to help those junior to them.

All right, I could adjust my goals; Aikido isn’t about pursuit of high rank, anyway. But when I resumed training, the old spark wasn’t there. What had changed? And that’s when it hit me, so to speak; I wasn’t enjoying it anymore. Instead of looking forward to going to class, I was stressing out about it.

And the stress was mainly coming from where?

irony_alert

Yep – from my rank – what I’d worked so hard to achieve, because I’d thought I wanted it. The higher Kyu ranks carry some extra responsibilities, which is fine, but I’d thrown in some additional expectations of my own making.

A couple of examples: on top of learning my own techniques, I’d been trying to learn all those of the junior students, so I could help them prepare for their next tests. I’d been attending advanced classes and instructor clinics, because that’s what black belt trainees do. But all that extra study and training was in the pursuit of rank rather than personal improvement. I was sacrificing what I enjoyed most about Aikido to meet an artificial, meaningless objective.

Looking back, I can see how much unnecessary stress I’d caused myself for a goal I’d been pursuing blindly, automatically, rather than as something fulfilling. That fall in 2013 was truly a blessing in disguise – a temporary discomfort that allowed me to recognize, and correct, a chronic one.

And what’s next? I continue to train, but with a firm resolve not to test again until I know why I want to. So far that answer has not appeared to me. And that’s okay. I’m back to training just for the sake of training.

And it’s back to being fun.

Yes, this is fun. Trust me.

Yes, this is fun. Trust me.

Let Go of Expectations, Embrace the Adventure

THE BIG 100K is tomorrow! Training and tapering are over, and it’s time to do the deed. I’ve tested the course, my watch and headlamp are charged, and I’ve packed plenty of salted caramel Gu. No need to stress about anything; in fact, to stress about an event named “Run Woodstock” would be missing the point altogether.

So, naturally, I’m a little stressed.

Not about anything related to the course, the conditions, or anyone’s expectations of me. Instead, I’m fretting a little about living up to my own expectations. I expect to finish, and to have a decent finishing time, too. But what if, after all this time and preparation, I can’t do it after all?

No worries, man! Chill out and run!

No worries, man! Chill out and run!

As my (awesome) regular readers know, I came up short in my first 100K attempt last year. But I learned from it and made adjustments, and this year I feel much more prepared. And with a 28-hour window (we share the 100-miler clock) I can take my time and focus on finishing rather than hitting cutoff limits. Still, there’s that nagging self-wondering if I can really pull it off.

A couple of things have helped.

An article on the AirFareWatchdog site I read this week was very timely. It points out that when traveling, things often happen that are out of your control, and may affect where you go and when you get there. The article quotes author Anne Lamott, who said, Expectations are premeditated disappointments.

Gotta admit that’s profound, man. If we expect everything to go smoothly, or (heaven forbid) need everything to go smoothly, any deviation will be annoying at best. Even when we mentally prepare for changes or setbacks, we can get terribly frustrated when things don’t go our way.

The AirFareWatchdog article has this advice: Your experience has a higher likelihood of being one-of-a-kind and transformational if you let things happen. This is something Americans are often not very good at accepting but there’s a peace in letting go.

My great-uncle Albert shows us the value of this advice years ago. He traveled the world each summer, and in 1996 my wife and I were privileged to accompany him on a trip to England. He paid all expenses and we took care of his luggage and drove him around.

With no GPS back then, and the oddities of English roads, I naturally made some wrong turns. We always seemed to be heading toward South Wales, which became the joke of the trip. Albert waved off my apologies. “It’s all part of the adventure,” he said.

And then just earlier today, I dropped in at a talk on tips for running a marathon. Most of the advice I’d heard before, but one comment stood out – the need to “switch the brain off” when running a race. If there’s one thing that knocks a runner out of a race, or makes him fail to attain his goal, it’s the negative self-talk when things get tough.

There’s a physiological reason for this, we were told. The brain lives on glucose, and when supplies run low through hard physical effort, it attempts to slow the body down, long before the body is actually in danger of permanent damage. Elite athletes have learned to push past the pain and ignore the negative messages. I can run “on autopilot” for some time, but if I ever want to get to the holy grail – the 100 miler – I will have to improve here as well. So this race will be a good test.

Do I have to run this race? Nope. If I choose not to run it, or drop out partway, I will only be disappointing myself. In the end, any running race is a test of oneself. I can fret about what might happen, or I can let go of my expectations and just run. Which is what I plan to do. Part of the adventure!