The Importance of keeping your head

This isn’t actually the post that I was expecting to post today. But it felt like something I wanted to share after the way that today has panned out.

As I said in my first post on this blog, mental strength is a fundamental part of being strong, but as I was reminded today mental strength is about a lot more than commitment to what you are doing. To be mentally strong you also have to be able to  train your mind to respond to situations in the right way. Learning how to do that is a process that never stops, as you experience more and more of the world you run into new situations which you have to learn to navigate. I realised today when I encountered one of them how true that was.

I was supposed to be driving back to London today. Getting back on the road with my little black Ford Ka Kevin along with my sister so that we could get back to work tomorrow. Things didn’t quite go to plan. After I filled up the petrol tank this morning  I realised that something wasn’t right. Kevin was leaking petrol.

I just dealt with it without really thinking about whether I was doing the right thing, I made sure that he was somewhere safe where we could keep a bit of distance from him and called the AA.

At no point did get flustered, I just worked out what to do and did it.

I didn’t realised until my sister pointed it out how huge this was. She seemed genuinely stunned that I hadn’t had a melt down and got angry with the people around me. When I pointed out that wouldn’t have helped the situation the reply was that she knew that but that was how I had used to respond when anything bad happened.

It was a strange moment, nothing had felt unnatural or different but I realised she was right. In the past, maybe not the immediate past, but certainly back when we were living together at my parents a few years ago, that is exactly how I would have responded. At the time I was deeply unhappy, I existed with a constantly short fuse, and was angry with the world generally. Emerging into the world in the midst of a financial crisis with multiple degrees but only limited work experience to find that makes you unsuitable for pretty much any job out there was rough and I didn’t mentally handle it well.

It’s amazing to think how far I have come from there. It didn’t happen overnight, and it wasn’t just one thing that got me there. It was definitely a process, and it took a lot of work, a lot of being open to trying new things, and a lot of commitment to learning how to structure my life around making me a better person.

I can’t easily separate the two things that made the most difference for me, but that is probably because they are actually two different parts of the same thing.

I first tried yoga and meditation back in 2013 a few weeks apart from each other. These days as a trained yoga teacher I know that both of these things are actually part of your wider yoga practice and I’ve come to think of them in tandem but at the time I knew nothing about that. They just seemed like things that I should try and other people seemed to do them and seemed to be getting a lot out of them, and most importantly I had found vouchers online to get my first classes in for very little.

No, I didn’t come out of my first meditation class fixed, and no I didn’t suddenly become a serene calm and collected yoga type overnight, instead I grew into both practices over time. I don’t even think I really realised it was happening. I do know that both of the practices have changed the way that I responding to the world around me.

Through my physical yoga practice I learnt to be in the moment and assess how each pose was feeling, I learnt to stop comparing what I was doing to the person next to me and eventually I learnt that it was ok to come out of a pose or adjust it if I needed to before the teacher moved us on.

As for meditation I slowly saw the benefits develop over time. It didn’t change the way that I was thinking as such, the best way that I can explain it is that it has changed the way that I interact with what I am thinking. Before if I thought a negative thought it would impact on my mood and I would respond immediately. The difference now is that I can almost take a step back, my thoughts don’t automatically need to change my feelings and my response. I can now make a choice about how I am going to respond to a thought, because I understand that’s all it is. I’m not saying I never fly off the handle and catch myself every time but fortunately that’s now becoming less and less frequent and much less intense when I do.

Powerlifting has helped me take that work a step further in a way that I never expected. I’ve learnt that I am a very mental lifter and that my mind almost always fails before my body does. I have a tendency to over think the lift and get in my head about it. I’m still learning and trying to find how best to deal with that. I’ve tried a few approaches and haven’t quite settled on one yet; trying not to think about the lift, trying to adjust my mental language to keep myself positive about the lift, even trying to take a hit of ammonia salts right before a big lift to effectively ‘turn off my brain’. What seems to be getting the best results for me right now is being honest with myself about the potential of a lift being successful, to become comfortable in that space where I know that a successful lift isn’t a certainty but is absolutely a possibility, I guess its been about becoming more comfortable with the potential of failure if I misjudge it or make a mistake and being willing to put everything on the line to try and stop that happening but that is a whole separate post in its own right!

It’s exciting to think how all of these things have come together to help to make me so much easier to be around than I used to be, and to quite honestly make me much more content in myself and how I interact with the world everyday.

I didn’t quite manage to stay serene all day today, I did get more anxious when I realised that we were going to have to change our plans and get Kevin properly repaired at the garage tomorrow and I did struggle to keep it together completely then. Even knowing that, my response today is like night and day compared to what it would have been just a few years ago.

I really am starting to interact with the world a little more effectively everyday.

I really am getting mentally stronger.

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