Get Out of the Zone!

We MUST get comfortable being uncomfortable. It’s easy to understand why we are all so tempted to park it in our comfort zones; it’s safe there, it’s cozy, our brains don’t have to work very hard, we never fail in our comfort zones.  But here’s the thing, we don’t grow in our comfort zones, we don’t learn new things, we don’t become better people, and we’re not going to achieve our goals and reach our potential by hanging out there.  

What do you really want to do? I guarantee that it requires stepping into discomfort, being willing to change, and not just for a minute, not to just try something new that feels uncomfortable, but to stick with it for an extended amount of time simply because you know it’s what you need to do to be your best self. Even if you aren’t seeing results, but you know you’re on the right path, it’s important to employ will power and discipline to stick with it. That’s hard. That’s uncomfortable. It’s way easier to just give up. But how will you do anything beneficial for yourself if you aren’t willing to get dirty and sweaty??

I have done this a lot throughout my life and career.  When I was younger I fought it. I grew up playing soccer, I LOVED it, it’s what I wanted to do forever, but one day suddenly  it wasn’t an option anymore. It was then my dad suggested I go to volleyball tryouts.  I wanted no part of it, because after all: I wasn’t good at volleyball, I barely knew how to play it! What if I got embarrassed??!! *insert eye roll here* (This might be a good time to mention that I don’t believe in being embarrassed, accepting that it’s part of getting outside of your comfort zone is essential to buying in wholeheartedly to your growth in any area. Tell me what you’re embarrassed about and I’ll tell you why you shouldn’t be.) Back to the story about volleyball tryouts… I think you know how it generally goes…. I wasn’t very good, but I fell in love with the sport so I worked really hard at practice, I focused relentlessly on rep after rep and eventually made the top team in my age group by the end of the year and we ended up winning the national tournament to top it off.

That was my first lesson on how beneficial it can be to try new things, even if they scare you, ESPECIALLY if they scare you. What are you truly afraid of? I can answer that for everyone: failure.  But what is failure except a lesson on the path to ultimate success? Failures show us the pathway to achieve our ultimate goals, they are nothing to be afraid of! 

After my second year of club I was offered the opportunity to play on a team above my age group, the top team in the club.  I would be the youngest and most inexperienced, by far. I told the club director I didn’t want to be on that team, I wanted to stay in my comfort zone with my friends on the team in my age group, DESPITE what an honor it was to make that top team at my club.  It was the ultimate attempt to stay in my comfort zone! The director put me on that team anyway, against my wishes, and it actually ended up being really uncomfortable.  I didn’t get along that well with the older girls, everyone else was better than me, the training was really really hard and the coach was extremely mean. I can’t say that I enjoyed it at all. But again, GUESS WHAT?! I can point to that year, on that team, in that discomfort, as one of the most important factors in my success as a volleyball player.  Going through that tough year catapulted me to greater success, it made me a much better player and a standout on my high school team and future club teams. It is why I got recruited to all the best colleges.  And ALL because someone made me get out of my comfort zone. To this day, one of the best pieces of advice I can give junior players is to play with and against people better than you. Yeah you might lose or feel subpar for awhile, but it is the FASTEST way to get better. 

I slowly began to catch on to this concept. In college I struggled academically the first year, so in an effort to improve my grades I committed to attending EVERY single class AND to sit in the front row. It’s UNCOMFORTABLE to sit in the front row right in front of the professor, but it MADE me pay attention. I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t be on my phone because I was too visible. The two semesters after I started doing this I got a 3.9 and then a 4.0 gpa. Pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone WORKS!!

I have done this over and over again in my life and now I crave it.  Anything that makes me scared or challenged or unsure, I encourage myself to head straight in.  Do I feel awkward sometimes? Definitely. Does it always pay off? Not always. Would I be where I am without committing to it? No way.

Another HUGE benefit of getting out of your comfort zone is learning to accept yourself unconditionally. If I take on something challenging and I “make a fool of myself”, part of the process is learning to be my best friend in those instances. To understand that it doesn’t make me any less of a person, on the contrary it just proves I am brave enough to try something I wasn’t sure I could do. The tough times should teach you unconditional love for yourself. Be gentle throughout the process, and positive in your self talk. Always reframe shortcomings as lessons and work to use them towards your future improvement and success.

In the long run your willingness to step out of your comfort zone is absolutely crucial to getting where you want to go, to achieving your goals, and to succeeding in your endeavors, relationships, and personal growth. It is one of the most important concepts I have adopted in my life and I am beyond thankful for those who pushed me before I knew the benefits of pushing myself. What will you do to get you outside of your comfort zone?

Looking for the Easy Way?

I think it’s human nature to search for the path of least resistance. Sometimes, and only after we do the hard work, we can call it listening to the Universe, going with the flow, but most of the time it’s simply mental laziness and a lack of awareness. When you allow yourself to skip the gym, when you shut down and walk away from an argument or run away from a problem, if you depend on luck, or a good draw or easy travel, all of this and more is wanting “it” to be easy. 

And if you get too used to this way of thinking you might begin needing life to be easy and even expecting it to be easy, and if it’s not then you’re at risk of adopting a “victim mindset”. Nothing is your fault, the situation was too hard, the obstacle too big to overcome, you aren’t used to doing hard things, so you fold.  That’s worst case scenario, but it’s a very real risk and one that many people fall in to, don’t let yourself be one of those people.

On top of the consequences you may experience as a result of wanting things to be easy, you then also miss out on the positive effects of persevering through trials and tribulation. This is such an important concept to buy into, I can’t emphasize it enough. We all want to be successful, but in our society today, with social media to put a sheen on everything, it is easy to believe the image that a lot of people come into their success breezily, without much effort; however that polished, curated image is very misleading. NO ONE succeeds without experiencing obstacles and pushing themselves through tough situations. 

It’s really easy to quit, and a lot of people do when faced with adversity, so if you can just get through the adversity whatever it is, you will have found a certain amount of success in simply surviving. Tough times are teachers, in every trial there are numerous lessons we can learn from and take forward with us on the rest of our journey to our ultimate success. Lessons are one of the biggest gifts we can receive in this life.  If we heed them they can inform the rest of our lives and enable us to sail calmer seas on our way to wherever we want to go.  

We don’t get these lessons if we avoid challenges.  Challenges can be scary, because the bigger the opportunity, the tougher the expectations, the higher the chance of failure becomes.  No one wants to fail, our culture abhors failure, but there is always the chance of success with perseverance and hard work. Then if you don’t succeed you will learn and have another chance to do what it is you really want to do, but this time with more knowledge and experience and therefore a greater likelihood of success.

You don’t become successful by taking the easy way, you must either accept challenge that comes your way or create challenge for yourself. If you aren’t being challenged, you aren’t growing and you aren’t developing your best self. How do you challenge yourself? You say yes to big opportunities, even if you don’t think you are ready for them.  You enroll in classes to gain a better education in the area in which you want to succeed. You make the first move towards someone you have feelings for. Ask the hard questions, have the hard conversations.  Almost everything is made better by ACCEPTING and EMBRACING the hard way, the challenges, the adversity, like you asked for it, like you wanted it. 

Nothing worthwhile in this life is earned through easy endeavors. When it IS easy, ride that wave for all it’s worth, but when it gets hard approach it with enthusiasm, positivity, and belief that you WILL get through it and know that it will make you better, more knowledgable, and more experienced.  Keep your mind open and soak up every lesson like a sponge, write it down so you don’t forget it. Invite the challenges and embrace them.  And if you find yourself hoping for the easy way, check yourself and your perspective, because in the end the hard way serves us much better. 

“I am willing to take life as a game of chess in which the first rules are not open to discussion. No one asks why the knight is allowed his eccentric hop, why the castle may only go straight, and the bishop obliquely. These things are to be accepted, and with these rules the game must be played: it is foolish to complain of them.” -W. Somerset Muagham

Live with Heart, 

April

Prepare to Self-Care!

Listening to my body and making self-care a priority is a theme that constantly runs through my life. My default is to always be on the go. If I find myself with some free time my inclination is to think about how I can use that time productively, which sometimes is great, but not all the time. I don’t see watching TV as decompression, I see it as a waste of time. Even right now I could be relaxing getting ready for the week, since it’s 8 p.m. on Sunday night, but I made a resolution to post one blog a week and I’m sticking to it! And because it’s a goal and a resolution I believe it’s worthwhile to stick with it, but there are definitely other areas where I need to be a little more cognizant of what I’m sacrificing. 

Being and/or becoming an elite level athlete, be it in high school, college, or beyond, takes a huge toll on our bodies.  And even if it doesn’t feel like it, recovery plays a big part in enabling us to maximize our potential on the road to accomplishment. Recovery means discipline, sacrifice, and learning to listen to our bodies. This past week of training involved a decent increase in volume and I was exhausted by the end of it, but I had a big weekend planned and I was determined to make the most of it… wrong choice. I ended up going home early Saturday afternoon before the festivities were over to curl up in the fetal position, order in food and watch a movie. My body had had enough and told me NO! I didn’t listen the first time it said no, but I heard it loud and clear that second time. Still trying to catch up before the clock strikes midnight and it’s officially a new week requiring fully replenished energy.

So how do you make sure you’re spending ample enough time taking care of yourself? I mean where’s the line between hermit and party animal that’s right for you? That’s the hard part and we’re always going to be guessing a little bit.  In my experience it really depends on what your goals are in the immediate future and where you are in your life. Trying to qualify for the Olympics? Err on the side of shuttin’er down. And I find that there are many more instances where erring on the conservative side serves us better than letting it all hang loose. Even though letting loose is important as well.

One of the best ways to become, or stay, in-tune with our bodies and minds is to find time to sit and just be. Lots of people call this meditation, but it can be whatever works for you. Find some time, even just five or ten minutes; if you can get out in nature I believe that works best, or throw some headphones on with some classical music and transport yourself somewhere peaceful. Take the time to feel what’s going on in your body. Notice where you’re holding tension, where you feel stiff, if there are any noticeable imbalances where one side feels different than the other.  Try and release any tension that you’re feeling, pay special attention to your jaw. 

Any stressful thoughts you’ve been suppressing or trying to mask with distraction will pop up during this time too. This is helpful, because carrying those thoughts around can be a detriment to our physical health and this is a chance to face them head on, to simply sit and get comfortable with them. I find it helpful to take myself outside of the thought and just observe it, like it’s not happening to me, a lot of times this allows me to find perspective and realize it’s not as big of a deal as I’ve been making it in my head. I also believe it’s really important to withhold judgement about the thought. Try to accept it and make peace with the thought, the more you can do this the less it will bother you. After you’ve worked on getting more comfortable with the thought and have diffused it of some meaning then let it go and focus on your breath. If it comes back, don’t judge it, just see it as if in third person, and let it float out into oblivion again and go back to your breath. 

If too many thoughts come up at once during meditation I like to write down a list of things I need to go back to. Then I can call those thoughts back to the forefront of my mind and deal with them one by one until I’m done.  In many instances the thoughts that arise will be things that I need to get done in the 3D world so they don’t take up mental space that can be used for other more important endeavors, endeavors that will get me closer to my goals and dreams. So I write those things down in a to-do list and get them done after my mediation. This is one of the best self-care practices there is, make time for it. (I’m telling myself this as much as I’m telling you.)

Another part of the self-care/recovery spectrum is what has newly become known as JOMO. Embrace JOMO. JOMO is awesome.  It’s the opposite of FOMO and stand for the “joy of missing out”. Sometimes you just need to say no to social plans and sometimes you just have to straight bail on your friends. Will they be mad? Sure. Will they get over it? Yes. (Or else you’ve just been given the gift of discovering who your fair-weather friends are.) Skipping social plans, as emotionally painful as it can be, can be huge for recovery and self-care. If you’re constantly out with your friends, when are you doing the extras that are going to get you that competitive advantage? Are you going to be more or less energetic at practice the next day? Are those days going to add up over time and cause you to be less masterful at your craft than the person next to you who does say no in some of those same situations? It is a clear sacrifice and there is no shame in picking your social life over your other goals, but don’t claim you want ‘such and such’ more than anything if you’re not willing to take care of yourself the way you need to in order to accomplish said goal. Get ready to have JOMO!

The other practice I consistently use in this vein is yoga.  I used to hate yoga, now I don’t go a week without it! Especially bikram yoga, specifically designed for your health and recovery. During yoga I can pay attention to my mind and body while it’s being pushed through something strenuous that IS NOT volleyball. Because I’m not outcome oriented in yoga, I am better able to notice what thoughts pop up when it gets hard, when I want to quit.  How am I talking to myself? Is it positive and uplifting or frustrated and critical? I can also practice perseverance. Do I want to quit when it gets so hot I can barely see through the sweat blurring my vision? Of course! Am I going to let myself quit?? No. Way. 

Through yoga I can also pay close attention to my body.  Not only do I notice where the tight spots and imbalances are, but I find my weakness as well, which is such an ASSET! Once I know what and where my weaknesses are I can get to work strengthening them. This will strengthen my whole and make me less prone to injury.  And obviously this can be applied in all areas of life- on the court, in our relationships, in our academics, and everything else.  Finding our weaknesses is a blessing. 

Now all of this is a practice. Doing it once or twice isn’t going to do much.  Finding a way to incorporate it consistently in our lives can pay huge dividends, but like every practice it takes a lot of discipline and commitment.  And those are both muscles that get stronger with use, so take a step today by doing one of these things and get to work strengthening those muscles that will help you turn this practice into a lifestyle! 

Beach or Indoor, how to choose.

It’s time to commit full time to one discipline, how do you choose between beach and indoor??

I didn’t have the opportunity to make that choice since there was only indoor when I played club and in college, so I can only tell you how I would go about making that decision if I had to make it now.  Both disciplines are really fun with lots of opportunity, it’s simply a matter of which path is best for you personally. 

I believe the number one deciding factor should be- does one or the other get you into the college of your choice? Or get you a scholarship to a college that offers you a degree you would otherwise not be able to afford? If you don’t hate the discipline that would allow you one of these options, do that.

College is a great opportunity to gain a competitive advantage when going into the work force, but you really want to balance that with how much student debt it might take to get that degree. You don’t want to carry around a bunch of student debt when you graduate, so shoot for the most quality degree you can get for the least amount of student debt it would require of you to graduate. There’s a happy intersection of the two somewhere in there that’s right for you. This is not a fun thing to think about and can be awkward to talk to parents and guidance counselors about, but it’s a reality and I firmly believe it should be a focus when choosing a college. If volleyball, one way or another, can help you offset costs of getting a college education, that has to factor in heavily when deciding which to play full time.

Now, say you feel like you’ll have similar opportunities in both disciplines, the next factor I would take into consideration is the amount of potential you believe you have in each.  Is your skill set and physicality more suited for the indoor game or the beach game? If you’re of an average height and competent in all skill areas maybe beach is a better path, whereas if you’re height is an asset and you feel more skilled in a certain position indoor, or specialize in a certain position like libero or setter, maybe indoor is the right decision. Mentally, are you resistant to authority and extremely self-motivated? That’s a little more suited towards the beach game.  Or are you better with a very structured environment and value outside encouragement? Maybe indoor is better in that case. 

If you aren’t sure which kind of player you are, I would suggest asking a trusted coach and/or parent for some honest feedback, but be prepared to think objectively about what they say.  If their answer comes back different than you were hoping, remember it’s not personal and it’s just their opinion. No matter what anyone says you can do whatever you put your mind to.  And sometimes, simply asking someone what they think can clarify your decision because you realize their answer is not what you wanted to hear. You don’t have to do what they think is best for you, it’s only to get a better idea of what YOU want to do.

If you STILL don’t have a clear answer, the last (and, still, really important) factor I think you should consider is which makes you happier? Which culture do you enjoy more? To figure this out you need to know what makes you happy.  Sometimes figuring out what brings you joy is a lot deeper than it seems on the surface and can take some effort.  When I’m faced with questions like this I prefer to sit with my own thoughts, some pen and paper, and journal what comes to mind when I mull it over. Does being on one big team make you happy? Or does being out there with one other person allow for deeper bonds? Are you happier outside? Or in a gym? Do you have better relationships with your indoor or beach coaches? These are just some ideas for you to build on. Hopefully this exercise will give you a little clarity and direction when making this decision.

And try to remember that most decisions aren’t final.  If you decide you want to focus on beach and then later think you made the wrong choice you can always switch back.  There are many different pathways to success and happiness, don’t pressure yourself to make a perfect decision.  Take all of this into consideration and just make the best decision you can right now. I hope this helps, and good luck!