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!

When on a Rollercoaster, Throw Your Hands in the Air.

Wow what a week. I was searching for a topic to write about that rang true and was having a hard time landing on one, but after all the ups and downs this week brought I think I finally have it. It’s a bit of a journal entry, however.

I attacked this preseason HARD. I was ready to take all of my experience and funnel it into scheduling the most awesome of awesome preseasons. My plan was to get after it in the weight room, be disciplined in the “kitchen”, give up alcohol, minimize social engagements, film every practice, watch video every night, keep notes on what I was working on and what was working, schedule with the best teams we could get for practice, and implement some double days which I’ve never really done before. Well, I did all that. But then life happened. I didn’t plan for that.

This week (and last actually) was a rollercoaster due to unforeseen circumstances. It’s important for us to be discreet so I can’t go into detail here, but we ended up having to cancel or modify a good amount of practices I had set up with international teams that had come over for training camps. I understand how much that sucks when you come all the way to California and don’t get the training you are counting on, and we feel really terrible about it, but at the same time we had no other option. Then there was some miscommunication and things got even worse, people got mad, and we felt even worse. It’s not a fun position to be in and I’ve never experienced it before, so I’m trying to figure out how to handle it. 

There’s a fine line between self-care, looking out for your best interests, and being considerate of other people who are affected by your decisions. Or not even decisions, but circumstances, even if you have no control over them. I feel like you still need to do your best to keep other people in mind, while not budging on what you MUST do for yourself, or your team.  There’s no way to be perfect at it. Most of the time someone is going to feel slighted, that’s just life. All we can do is learn from these situations and work to prevent them in the future, if possible. And we have to be ok with it at the end of the day. It’s really hard to avoid taking on responsibility for someone else’s feelings even after everything is said and done. Acceptance of ourselves is crucial in these situations, and we must understand that other people are responsible for their own reactions and feelings. The only thing we can really make sure of is that our intent is good, and if that’s the case we have to let circumstances outside of control go, send it with the wind on your exhale. 

It’s also really tempting to get mad and start pointing the finger at everyone else. But taking accountability for everything is a really key tenant in life and we can’t fall into that trap no matter how tempting. We focus on controlling everything we can control, view things objectively, don’t take criticism personally, simply look for the lesson, there’s always something you can take from a situation to make yourself better. 

We also had to pull out of a tournament we were really excited to go to in Brazil, which also means losing out on the $1,500 plane tickets. There were some overlaying emotional things going on for me personally this week that just exacerbated the ups and downs of the rollercoaster. I got mad, at really little things. I got really mad at the big things. I felt frustrated, annoyed, distressed at some points, I yelled at people who didn’t deserve it or have anything to do with what was going on, it was rough. The worst part was how out of character all of that felt, I didn’t like that version of myself at all. I’m glad I have a weekend ahead of me as I write this. To reflect and recover. 

Finally, the conclusion I came to while pushing the sled around the weight room for conditioning this afternoon (nothing like some leg crushing conditioning to get the brain going) is that I have been holding on way too tightly. I’ve touched on this concept before, and believe in it wholeheartedly, but it’s easy to forget and lose sight of when you want something so badly you’re willing to sacrifice so much and work harder than ever for it. That’s exactly what happened. 

I got too zealous, got way ahead of myself and my team, putting together such an ambitious schedule. I didn’t have my finger on the pulse of things that matter just as much or more than working hard. I forget that that’s a thing sometimes, lots of times actually.  I’ve lost balance in my personal life, which is by choice, but not smart. I need to work on getting that back. I haven’t allowed any room for flexibility or fun, I was becoming too serious. I firmly believe you can be too serious. I was pushing us too hard. The Universe, as it so often does, has stepped in and is making me take a step back, so that I can reevaluate and reassess and just take a breath. Time to put some joy back in the process and lighten things up a little. That doesn’t mean slack off, I don’t think that’s possible for me or Alix, but to realize that this is our life and we need to not kill ourselves in the process of chasing down this dream. So cheers to that this weekend! I hope you have a good one and thanks for reading!

Feeling the Burn(out)?

It’s becoming apparent it’s that time of year where our resolutions start to wane, even for the most fervent of self-motivators. I noticed last week that my yoga class wasn’t as jam-packed as it was at the beginning of the year (thankfully, to be honest) and I considered not going today until I thought better of it. I even considered not writing this blog, but here we are. 

Especially as things around us start to change, our commitments and responsibilities are not fixed and they will invariably change as life goes on and make it harder for us to keep those more daunting, yet good for us, healthy habits we all set on January 1st. Our interests change too and we can become bored with what was once novel ways to stay in shape or become healthier or increase our brain power. Regardless of how our mind or obligations wander and morph we need to stick true to what we committed ourselves to when we had our best selves in mind.

This applies to playing volleyball as well. We lose a match and come back to practice with renewed vigor and dedication to our improvement and determination to learn from our mistakes. But how long does that last? How far will that motivation carry before it starts to burn off and you resort to your old habits and mentality once again? It is cyclical and happens to everyone, however, I do believe that even through these natural cycles, if we get back on the wagon again and again and continue to strive for more knowledge and discipline in these areas we will get better at persevering through the lulls and distractions and boredom. 

The easiest way to stick to your guns when it comes to being your best self is to keep your priorities front and center and remind yourself of them often. I have a chalk board wall in my dining room where I often write motivational quotes to remind me of how I should be living and that help keep me on track. You can write messages on your bathroom mirror, put sticky notes on your fridge, or even set daily alarms on your phone to remind you during important times of why you believe it’s so important to take care of yourself or work towards accomplishing your goals. The more often you remind yourself of your true priorities the more natural it will become to simply defer to them when faced with tough choices and situations. I find a good tool to use to improve our choices when tasked with challenges in discipline is to image beforehand all the ways in which we will be tempted to fall off the wagon and constructive ways to get through these situations with success. Honoring our priorities will undoubtedly require sacrifice and we need to come to terms with those sacrifices before we are forced to make them. THIS will carry us FAR in keeping our commitments to ourselves and our dreams. 

Another huge tool to stay on track is to physically write things down. If you lose a match and are usually extremely motivated afterwards, take some time to write down how you feel in that moment. Or when you have any kind of “come to Jesus” moment and decided to make resolutions, record exactly what you’re feeling and why you are doing it so you can revisit it when your ambition starts to fade. I’m also a fan of checklists. Keep a checklist of things you need to do to be your best self as envisioned when you made these resolutions. Is it going to the gym three times a week? Is it reading one book a month? Is it meditating daily? Is it meal prepping every Sunday? Write them down.

Now, after you’ve done the aforementioned, the most impactful thing you can do for yourself is to buy a PAPER planner and physically write down your schedule for each day. Plan out everyday, down to the minute if necessary. Find time, beforehand, where you can squeeze in your workouts, mediation, or reading so that you can stay on track. I even schedule my showers and bed time.  Make sure you get your daily schedule down on paper and then plan your weeks and months in advance as well to best set yourself up for success. I swear my life took a sharp turn for the better once I discovered the power of the physical planner in college my junior year. I still depend on the one I use today and carry it with me EVERYWHERE, because plans always change and I know I need to work around the things that are really important and those are all written down in my planner. 

When we consistently schedule time for the activities and practices that are going to keep us on track we not only set ourselves up for success, but we also start creating a routine. ROUTINE is our best friend! Sometimes routine gets a bad wrap, as if it’s boring, but it is SO crucial to forming good habits! For me yoga has become my Sunday evening routine. I’ve wanted to consistently practice Bikram Yoga for it’s multitudes of health benefits, but I had a hard time carving out time consistently. I found a class I like on Sunday night and have scheduled it weekly. Everything else has to bend for this class. I make sure I’m ready mentally and physically to attend that class and it feels MUCH worse if I have to miss it because it’s something I do religiously now. Creating a routine frees up our mental space to take care of other things in life without burning out mentally on the things that are most important and that we really want to keep in our lives. Take out the discipline drain by making these things as routine as possible. The goal should to get to a point where we don’t have to think about doing what we know we should do to be our best selves and pursue our goals and dreams, we just do it.

If you have done all of the above and you still are feeling burnt out and have more excuses than reasons to get it done, I have one last resort.  When I KNOW what I need to do, I have previously made the decision to consistently do something for the betterment of myself, but it just seems too hard to make it happen, I use this trick that seems ridiculously simple, which is actually the key. If that couch is too comfy or you have the option to do something more enticing what you do is just MAKE THE DECISION according to your highest values. You’re supposed to go to the gym, but your friends are going out for happy hour ( and this next part is key-) WITHOUT THINKING, politely say no to your friends and go to the gym.  Don’t give yourself any other option. The more you think about it, the more you allow your inner selves to debate what you should do the more enticing the “fun” plans will become. Stop debating and go to the gym. It’s akin to ripping off a band-aid. There will be other opportunities to do fun things with your friends. It’s something that has served me well in my most unmotivated moments and, as with everything, the more I use it the more effective it gets. Give it a shot and let me know if it works as well for you!

Now go out there, revisit your resolutions, check in with your progress, and double down on your commitments to make yourself better, healthier, smarter, and achieve those goals!

My Argument for Exercise.

I really wish I could convince more people how awesome working out is once you get into a grove and it becomes imbedded in your routine. I cannot believe how many people I know absolutely hate working out and how few actually workout regularly. I find this tragic. Working out is the best!! Is it hard? Yes! But that’s what makes it great! Getting through a tough workout will not only increase your physical strength, it increases your mental strength as well! The more tough things over which you prevail, the more confidence you will have in the face of difficult situations, that you can get through them triumphantly. That to me makes up a large part of mental toughness. It’s not as though the mental strength you develop working out only pertains to working out, NO, it will transfer to other parts of your life as well. 

Another aspect of that mental toughness and confidence comes from actually getting stronger. Developing physical strength is one of the most empowering things you can do for yourself, especially for women. Strength training is so important to support your joints and keep you from injury the older you get. If you can swing it, a personal trainer would be clutch, I can’t overstate how important it is to learn how to do lifts correctly. Plus, the stronger you are the less vulnerable you are and will feel, and, as a result, the less fear you have to carry around with you. I believe this translates into confidence and even assertiveness in all areas of life.

There are a ridiculous amount of health benefits you can gain from working out too! I know you know this, but if you really UNDERSTOOD this, you’d never miss a workout again. If you go at the right pace and have sound, safe instruction it can make your body feel so much better! Sore back? Achy knees? Stiff neck? All of these can be minimized by strengthening the correct, supporting muscles and, if there’s no structural damage, aches and pains can be completely cured. I really believe it is a small price to pay to physically feel better, which is scientifically proven to elevate your mental state on top of feeling better physically. If you’re in physical pain it is easier to feel gloomy and unmotivated, it can affect every aspect of your life, which is why I think properly taking care of your body (and as a result, mind) is one of the MOST important things to make time for in life. We all know it also produces serotonin, dopamine, and and causes your body to release endorphins which are all happy hormones.

Working out is obviously DIRECTLY correlated to good health, it is one of the easiest ways to boost your immune system and keep yourself healthy. Sweating detoxifies the body and increases your heart rate, flushing fresh oxygenated blood through your organs and limbs. It also regulates the hormones in your body and brain, which is HUGE. If you hate going to the doctor or paying for doctor’s bills or taking prescription meds, get outside (put sunscreen on first and wear a hat and glasses) and go for a mile run, or start with a mile brisk walk and increase from there.  Do body weight lunges, squats, sit ups, push-ups, tricep dips, bent over flys (with a full water bottle) afterwards, follow a do-it-at-home youtube workout video.  If you do this consistently and especially if you start while you’re still healthy, it’s a great way improve and/or strengthen your health. Obviously, there are many medical conditions that cannot be improved simply by working out and I am not suggesting otherwise, only promoting the idea that general health can be improved and immune systems strengthened by regular exercise.

If you can afford it, get a gym membership and utilize the classes, they’re usually super fun and a great way to get into the rhythm of consistently working out. Spin and yoga are two of my favorite ways to get a good workout in. My personal opinion is if you do nothing else and can consistently take yoga, do Bikram yoga. I believe it’s the best thing you can do for yourself physically and mentally. If you can find a friend to bring, make it a social thing, if not, it’s likely you will meet people in these classes, don’t be afraid to say hi and work your way into the community that usually develops around these disciplines. 

An hour a day is all you would need to follow an ideal program and really take care of everything to protect and strengthen your body. But if you don’t have an hour a day you can get A LOT done for yourself in a half an hour a few times a week. Think about how much time you spend watching TV or playing video games or staring at your phone. Consciously decide to dip into that time and use it for taking care of yourself! It’s really really really hard to convince yourself to do this sometimes. One tactic I’ve used before is to simply make the decision. Don’t give yourself the option to debate the decision, simply decide- I’m going on a run, then walk to your closet and put on your running shoes. It’s mindless. Get in your car and drive to the gym, don’t think about it, just decide and act. 

Another huge benefit of working out in my experience is that it makes you want to eat healthier! If I’m going to put in the effort to workout I’m not going to sabotage myself by eating crappy at the same time. Eating well in addition to working out makes you feel SOOOO good. Cutting sugar and simple carbs, and at least down on alcohol gets rid of so much brain fog and will give you increased, purer energy throughout the day and better sleep at night. 

I love how accomplished I feel when I get through a tough workout, and I am even prouder of myself when I’ve managed to eat clean all day as well. It’s a vicious cycle 😉 Working out makes you want to eat healthier, and eating healthier makes you feel better so you’re more likely to workout, plus you should feel better about yourself because you are setting loose a bunch of feel good chemicals in your brain and body which will encourage you to keep it up. The more you do it the easier and more rewarding it becomes, it’s spirals up. 

BUT, we all know, it is REALLY hard to start and stick with it. Create a plan, get really detailed with your schedule, down to the time and length of your showers and meal breaks, find that space ahead of time where you can get the workouts in and just make the decision to go and do it. You don’t have to PR (set a personal record) everyday, you just have to get through it. I believe in you! I used to hate working out and now I’m a convert for life, you can become one too! 

We Should All Be Feminists.

In honor of International Women’s Day I wanted to write my hope for women and girls today and in the future. I’ve learned so many lessons over the years that have made a really big difference for me; and I really just want to share what I believe based on my own experiences, take it or leave it. 

My biggest wish is simply for girls to grow up strong, and confident, and know they are capable of anything they set their minds to, and can follow whichever path sets their soul on fire AND have equal opportunity in the world throughout that journey! I hope that they will understand you don’t have to get married, you don’t have to have kids, there are alternative and just as satisfying life paths out there. It does not make you less of a woman or human to not want these things, or to choose something else besides marriage and kids. It also does not make you less strong or intelligent or driven if you do decide to get married and have kids, or get married and not have kids, or have kids and not get married. Just make sure YOU define your life.

If I could offer one piece of advice to young women growing up now it would be to start building a platform that will enable you to CREATE YOUR OWN INDEPENDENCE. You can do this by studying hard in school, keeping it a main focus in your life. Study instead of socialize, become obsessed with politics, and economics, and math and forget about boys or girls (for now). Work hard to keep your grades up for the best opportunity to get into a good college which would typically be the next step towards independence. Don’t forget to apply for every scholarship out there first though, and thoroughly weigh the benefit versus the risk before accepting financial aid, there are always other options.

Get into sports, it teaches you how to fight, fight for your team, for victory, for yourself. You learn how to overcome tough situations and develop perseverance, physical and mental strength in the process. Follow your passions, no matter how weird, the weirder they are the more unique you become and the more unique the skills you possess the more valuable you can be to the world. Start a business, start a club, organize a rally, run for school president, yeah it’s scary, but it’ll also be invaluable experience and exhilarating. 

Through pursuing these things you may encounter setbacks, but these challenges will only give you the invaluable opportunity to practice another skill I highly recommend for girls to master- positive self talk and reframing. If you get a poor grade on a test or play sub-par in a match, you may want to beat yourself up, which is a good sign, it means you have high standards for yourself. However, if you can recognize the ways in which your self talk is having a negative affect and work to change your phrasing, using verbiage that inspires hope and belief that you can and will improve and it’s all just a part of the process, and do that over and over and over again, it will pay huge dividends, I promise. 

Reframing is a skill I learned in high school that has been absolutely crucial to my career and life in general; it is so ingrained in my thinking at this point that I don’t even have to try. Reframing, in short, is the art of taking a situation that could easily be viewed as negative and changing your perspective so that you can see the positive in it. Maybe you didn’t make the varsity team when you had your heart SET on it. You can either be bitter and grumpy and act like you’re too good to be on JV, OR you can take the opportunity to be a leader, to take on the pressure of carrying your team sometimes and lifting the level of your teammates. You can be a positive force on JV and be determined to have the most successful season possible, which will probably get you the attention of the varsity coach and provide valuable opportunities in the future. OR you could mope around all season and count on making the varsity next season, which if that’s your attitude, who knows if it will even happen then? 

How you view situations, the “frame” in which you see things, can completely transform what you thought was negative into truly positive experiences.  And always remember lots of blessings are sent in disguise!! 

The more you encounter challenges and setbacks and refuse to give in, by reframing and talking yourself through it, by building yourself up, the more you will see how strong you are, how capable you are of anything. You will see how valuable you are to the endeavors to which you commit yourself, you won’t need anyone else to make you feel valuable, you will KNOW. That will in turn create confidence, the most blissful of all feelings- authentic confidence, when you become “unfuckwithable” (my favorite word). The key is to never give up on your dreams or yourself! Work, work, work, and feel the hurt when it doesn’t work out, then get up and go after it again, you will learn and grow and improve and one day you WILL accomplish your dreams.   

If you practice these things and stay focused on the areas that matter most, you will instill a deep sense of love for and security in yourself.  My hope in creating this is that girls will not want to look for validation of self worth in relationships or from coaches or teachers or even parents, that they will be self-motivated and feel empowered to pursue their careers, if that is what they truly want, and not feel pressured by society to follow a more traditional or “acceptable” path. The world needs more unapologetically driven and high powered women, we need more voices campaigning on our behalf at the highest boardroom tables and in the highest levels of government, not just here in the U.S., but around the world. 

Yes there are many women who have broken those glass ceilings and made it easier for those who followed and who will now follow them, and to them we should all be very thankful.  However, the inequality is still there, and I’m not saying it’s anyone’s fault, but I do know that if girls and women set their minds to reaching the highest levels of their arena they can get there.  It takes a lot of sacrifice and belief in yourself which is why my advice for young women centers on creating a platform for independence and an authentic confidence in oneself, but the work is so worth it, will serve this world for the better, and should be a priority for all in our society. We should all be feminists.

It’s the Remix to Nutrition (not really.)

A lot of you asked me to talk about diet in my next blog, so voila! However, I must emphasize that I am not an expert on nutrition and what I talk about here is simply what I do and have tried in the past, I’m not suggesting you do any of the same stuff I do.  Everyone is different and has different nutritional needs.

That’s a good segue to my first point- calories! The amount of calories each person needs per day can be vastly different and, for me, it’s really important to monitor the amount of calories I’m getting, to make sure it’s not too many or too few. (A GREAT tool I use to help me keep track is the app ‘My Fitness Pal’). My goal from a physical standpoint is to be reasonably lean and as strong as possible. Sometimes when you lift a lot and workout a lot you want to eat more than you actually need, and don’t get me wrong, you do need a lot to take full advantage of the hard work you’re putting in, but it needs to be from the right sources. You can’t go crush a fatty burger and fries, or pig out on Mexican food just because you worked hard all day, first and foremost because doing that consistently is terrible for your general health and secondly, you’re just sabotaging possible gains.

This morning Alix and I went and did RMR testing, which I don’t fully comprehend, but I do know that it told me how many calories I burn a day at rest, not working out, just what I would burn if I sat on the couch and watched TV all day (which I NEVER do, btw). And I’m extremely happy to report that it hasn’t gone down since college! It actually went up a little bit; slowing metabolism, my ass. With this information I can more accurately determine the best amount of calories to consume per day. Obviously, if I have a beach practice and lifting session in a day I need a good amount more calories than on one one of my days off. And if I’m trying to lean out, and I can’t emphasize this enough, IT’S ALL ABOUT DISCIPLINE! No one wants to hear that, but I don’t believe there’s a safe or healthy way to lose fat quickly. I’ve tried it- intermediate fasting, juice cleanses, raw food diet, and it either left me feeling weak and unexplosive on the court, with no brain power, or so cranky and energy depleted I ended up losing it and binging shortly thereafter and defeating the purpose in the first place. It has to be done slowly and consistently over time.

I firmly believe the only diet worth adhering to is one consisting of whole natural foods that don’t come in plastic (where possible) and are mostly grown from the ground or from animals that eat that stuff that grows in the ground. When I’m really on a healthy eating bender, like I am now, a day typically looks something like this:

Breakfast

-1 or 2 slices of sourdough toast

-1/2 an avocado

-3 egg whites

-Trader Joe’s Dragon Sauce

Lunch

-1/2 c. brown rice

-1/2 c. black beans

-1/2 avocado

-Raw spinach, onion, cilantro, hot salsa

-6 oz. carnitas

OR

– Large salad with mixed greens and spinach

– All the veggies you want

– 4 to 6 oz of protein

– 2 oz. medium calorie dressing, I like balsamic vinaigrette.

Snack

Lifting day:

-Gatorade protein bar & shake

Non-lifting day:

-Greek yogurt, berries & honey

Dinner

-4 to 6 oz. of protein (salmon, chicken, beef, ground turkey)

-1/2 c. Carbs (sweet potato, brown rice, quinoa, pasta)

-Unlimited veggies

If I feel like I need dessert, my go-to is a 70%(at least) dark chocolate bar with almonds and sea salt, yum!

Another big thing I focus on is the timing of my meals.  I want to make sure I’m eating the right things at the right time so my body has enough time to digest and process the nutrients before I need to use them. It’s important to get your protein within thirty minutes of completing your lift/workout. You also want to have some carbs post workout to help with full adaptation and recovery of your muscles.

Right now I’m not drinking any alcohol either, it’s hands down the worst thing you can put in your body when you are trying to lean out, or honestly, when you are trying to live your healthiest life. Instead I drink sparkling water with lime, I also drink lots of coffee and tea, a ton of regular water, and I’ll mix gatorade with my water at practice.

As a side note: I don’t use any supplements. USADA (United States Anti-Doping Association) scares the living daylights out of us when it comes to taking supplements and accidental cross contamination of banned substances to which you will be held fully accountable even if you were only honestly trying to make sure your iron and vitamin D stores aren’t depleted for your general health. (ok rant over.) But I do believe supplementation is important for a truly healthy diet.

Nutrition is one of my least favorite things to talk about because I find it so boring, I find it boring because it’s so simple. I believe most of you know the answers, it’s just about being disciplined long term to reap the benefits of eating purposefully and healthily.  Don’t do anything extreme; don’t cut out carbs, don’t try to exist in a state of ketosis, don’t refuse yourself your favorite foods, it’s ok to splurge every now and again to maintain your sanity. My biggest piece of advice would be to pay attention to your body, it will give you most of the information you need. How are your energy levels? How is your skin? How is your mental clarity? And what is happening to your body composition? You can feel and see and make the proper adjustments. You can also always hire a nutrition coach, which I am not, so again, please don’t take any of this as professional advice, it is my opinion based on MY experience in MY body. Happy fueling!

Defeat (or at least manage) Fatigue.

They say write what you need to read so I will be focusing on recovery in this blog, it’s literally ALL I’ve been thinking about for the past week. Alix and I just finished our first five-day practice week going full speed, plus it was our peak lifting week (where we lift the heaviest weight with more reps and are expected to lift it faster than during any other week of our program). USA Volleyball recently hired a new strength and conditioning coach for the beach program and he’s awesome, but I haven’t been this fatigued and sore in a long long time. And I’m really really excited about it! At the same time it means I have to step up my recovery game.

Physical and mental recovery is so important because it’s a compounding factor. If you don’t have a plan for it and don’t have a routine you can count on everyday you’re going to end up one day down the road feeling like crap, or worse, broken, and it’s going to take you longer to get out of that place than it took to get into it. Some practices are daily, some are depending on how I’m feeling, and some are once in a while because I know that if I don’t use them I’ll burn out. The most important thing about recovery, though, is that you have to make time for it, the time it takes does not magically appear everyday, so it’s usually a sacrifice, but a sacrifice well worth it. 

Take for example, this past Friday night, I was beyond fatigued, physically and mentally, and even emotionally. I had invites to go out, I had tasks I needed to check off my to-do list, I had books I wanted to read, but I couldn’t muster energy for any of it. I recognized how I was feeling (easy to do at that point) and just shut it all down, I literally laid in bed and stared at my phone for three hours then fell asleep. That was all I could do at that point, sacrifice those other things in the name of recovery because it was necessary after letting it get that far.  Then I got to thinking- what could I have done better throughout the week to ensure I didn’t end up feeling like this at the end of it?

I realized I need to create a daily check list of recovery methods. Even if I don’t feel fatigued that day it would be smart to get ahead of the curve (when I actually have the energy) because, like I said, fatigue is compounding. I know generally what I should be doing on the daily to feel most optimal, but I’ve found from experience, unless it’s written down on paper and there is some form of accountability, it’s pretty easy to skip a few steps. Here’s what I’ve come up with thus far:

Physical recovery: (which actually starts before any physical activity)

Minimum Daily

  • Make sure I’m properly fueled- eat balanced portioned meals before, after, and in between workouts.
  • Roll out and warm up well
  • Warm down afterwards- a couple of minutes spinning on the bike and a good stretch.
  • Drink lots of water, always have a gatorade with me and electrolytes if I expect to be sweating a lot. 
  • Replenish muscles with a Gatorade protein bar or shake after workout.
  • Go to bed before 11, or with enough time to get 8 hours of sleep, whichever is earlier.

If Time Allows

  • Normatec- it’s those spacesuit looking pants that fill up with air starting from your feet going up to your hips that essentially push out lactic acid from your muscles.
  • Epsom salt bath- everyone is different, but I’m beyond sold on these for recovery and detoxification. If I have an ache or pain or I’m just sore, nothing is as effective for me as an epsom salt bath.
  • Savasana- or a form of it, for 10-15 minutes. You can lay with your legs up the wall, or with your spine lengthwise on a long roller letting all your limbs flail out to the sides, or just lay flat while completely relaxed.

Weekly

  • Bikram Yoga- nothing makes me feel better than this form of yoga.
  • Physical Therapy with Tony Poland (the BEST massage therapist EVER)

Monthly

Mental Recovery: (now this starts to get personal, there are some general practices good for everyone, but you’ll need to find what works for you in a lot of instances)

Minimum Daily

  • Coffee, as much of it as you want. (This one might be personal ;))
  • “Me time” to do something just for myself, whether it be write, read, put a face mask on, or take a nap (on a really good day)
  • Meditate for 6 minutes minimum (can be combined with ‘me time’)

If Time Allows

  • Watch a favorite movie or binge a little on Netflix
  • Bikram Yoga
  • Grab dinner with a friend

Yearly

  • Go on a non-volley vacation and don’t work out.

There’s definitely an emotional component to fatigue as well. If something is going on emotionally, it’s key to address it for full recovery, along with the mental and physical aspects. How each person deals with this part of fatigue is very personal so I won’t pretend to know how anyone else should go about it, but I wanted to share some of my own practices for defeating emotional fatigue.

Emotional Recovery

Daily

  • Take a moment to check in with yourself to see what you’re feeling and why, and how it’s manifesting in your life.
  • If you know why you are feeling a negative emotion or are just run down and you can do something about it, do one thing to help yourself move in the positive direction.
  • Be gentle with yourself and accept that sometimes you’re going to be hangry, apologize.
  • In moments of emotional discrepancy, check in with your grounding values, are you acting in line with them? You can feel however you feel and still treat people well.
  • “Me time” applies here as well, big time.

Weekly

  • Hang out with someone you can be completely honest with and share what might be going on that has you on edge, anxious, or sad, etc, if anything. If nothing, listen to them vent.
  • Bikram Yoga
  • Journal- explore the feeling surrounding what’s going on in your life, sometimes solutions appear just from this and more often than not just the clarity you gain is enough to help deal with emotional overload.

If Severe

  • Call a professional.

I encourage you to try out some of these methods for yourself and see if practicing them regularly has a positive effect on you like I know it does for me! Let me know if you have any suggestions for recovery in these areas in the comments, I would enjoy learning some new ones, thanks!