As uncertain as the days have been for the last five months, it has brought an extreme sense of clarity about what is vitally important in life. It’s been a time to bring things back to simple health so that we can protect ourselves and the people around us. It’s been a time to stay present, see each day as a gift and an opportunity…something that as I have said countless times, maybe that is always as it should have been. I’ve been at shaping this optimists outlook for awhile, I know it’s trainable because I have trained my own. Learning to reframe life’s challenges as opportunities for growth when things get heavy is a key to greatness, longevity, and the best life. Through my own training and writing I have developed a platform that I call Active Optimism. So often, optimism is seen as naive or blind, like we can just wish something into existence. Active Optimism is a set of skills, simple but consistent, that train an optimists lens through life’s challenges. These are the pillars that change wishing through rose colored glasses to a wellness platform that shapes an optimists perspective and gives us the energy to transform our lives and go after our goals. Optimism is the backbone of resilience and I’ve realized that when times are tough, these are the basics that always bring me back to center. As with anything that you want to make great, it starts with small and simple steps of consistency that we have a desire to build on.
1. Sleep Enough
2. Hydrate Well
3. Eat Green
4. Celebrate with Music
5. Connect with Yourself & Others
6. Practice Faith & Gratitude
7. Just Breathe
8. Move Everyday
Week by week I want to break these pillars down, using stories and habits from my life that have brought me to the understanding I have today about why each of these things is a pillar of strength and optimism. This week I’m starting with sleep. I’ve always been a fan, my kids know that difficult decisions are left to the morning and that by 9pm, I like to have most things wrapped up and done…and whatever is left, is written on a list to tackle the next morning. Knowing when to say when, knowing that when we are too tired, we lose massive amounts of efficiency and that clarity comes with a rested mind, we can start to understand our circadian rhythm better. Not everyone is a morning person like me…some of us are night owls. When my kids were little, and even with teenagers who love to sleep in, my strategy has always been to get as much done before they get out of bed. I have friends though who were the opposite, putting kids down at night and then relishing the quiet of the evening and checking things off one by one after they sleep. Whether you are a night owl or a morning person, here are some keys to get your sleep right so that you can awaken to your best life. Sleep affects everything - from hormones, what foods we crave, what things we remember, how our muscles repair (or don’t) to the quality of the relationships in our lives. Without it, our optimists lens gets fogged up fast.
Set a consistent sleep and wake time. When we go to sleep and wake up at the same (or close to the same) time every day, our body is able to maintain it’s internal clock, or circadian rhythm. This makes it easier for us to fall asleep and wake up unassisted.
Seek the morning light & the evening sunset. This is another sleep/wake habit that I practice regularly. The morning light coaxes your system awake. Walk outside within minutes of getting out of bed and you will find your mood and energy for the day lifts easily. Watching the sunset adjusts allows your body to begin processing that bedtime is near.
Skip the blue light at least two hours before bed. Blue light blocks melatonin, the hormone that helps us fall asleep. This is by far the hardest one to stick to for me. With the presence of our phones and laptops in life, it’s hard to stay away from blue light for two hours before bed. But if we do, we sleep better and have a better shot at getting ample REM and deep sleep that are key for learning and recovery.
Skip the late night snacks - Intermittent Fasting taught me about how much better I sleep when I don’t have food in my stomach that needs to digest. If we make our last intake at least three hours before going to bed, our heart rate lowers quicker and we get a sounder nights sleep.
Skip the alcohol - My Oura ring (best sleep tracking device ever!) has taught me what alcohol does to our sleep cycle. When we drink, our heart rate lowers later in the night, preventing us from getting enough Deep and REM sleep. We may feel like we fall asleep faster or even “pass out” but the sleep in this state is not restful.
Skip the snooze button, or the alarm altogether. I have always hated the alarm clock and the sleep that we get after we hit the snooze button isn’t quality sleep. Since college, I have left my curtains or shades slightly open so that the morning sunlight will come through and gently wake me. Only if there is a plane to catch at an ungodly hour do I set an alarm.
Deep health through Active Optimism is the answer to the uncertainty we are all feeling these days. We all leave an imprint, big or small, we make an impact on the people we connect with. Active Optimism is the way to make your impact positive. As the power structures in the world get more complicated and feel more broken to me everyday, embracing Active Optimism is a way to make your day, and the day of everyone around you, better. It’s a commitment to consistency, growth, and vulnerability about our story that over time will become second nature and create deep connection with the people we love and have the honor to do life with.
I’ll never forget the first time my parents came to Hermosa. It was the 4th of July 2006, they hadn’t seen our new house and had never spent any time in our new summer adventureland. They had just landed from a trip to Sweden, their first trip to Europe ever, and only had a couple of hours to spend before heading back to Fresno. Fourth of July was my second favorite holiday growing up, right behind Christmas. As a kid, it was all backyard bbq’s and block parties with popsicles and swimming pools but as we walked around Hermosa with them, it looked a lot different than any other fourth that I could remember. People were shoulder to shoulder, there was margarita wrestling on the beach, and of course the famous IronMan competition had just happened as we made our way slowly down the Strand. I found myself wishing that they had come through on a different day, because this scene was not what I had in pictured. For the years after that visit, when we stayed in Hermosa just for the summer before we moved here permanently, the fourth became something that I just wanted to get through. It put me on edge, and I didn’t feel safe having babies and little kids around. Could I have handled it, and even thought it was fun when I was in college? Sure, I get it, it’s just people out having a good time, but at this point in my life, I understand certain patterns that have had major effect on my life more clearly.
So many days of my life have been affected by alcohol and it’s overconsumption. It has been on my mind a lot through this graduation, quarantine, and holiday season. It can be a sensitive subject and sparks defensiveness, but our relationship with alcohol is important because it has had a generational impact on so many families. I am continually reminded as I listen to people how many of our family histories have this common, plaguing, denominator running through them and my story is no different. So often the choices we make affect not just ourselves, but create patterns and ripple effects for the people around us.
My guard was never up when I was younger because I grew up in a home where I never saw my parents drunk. There was a beer after work, or a glass of chardonnay that I saw them have here or there when I was young. As I got older I knew there was vodka in the freezer, but I still never saw the effects of overconsumption in my childhood home. As I grew older, I found out that my dad’s story growing up was different, but thankfully, he both didn’t have the gene, and chose to not let alcohol have that effect on our home. In high school I didn’t drink because, inherently, I’m not a big risk taker so that tended to keep me on the safe side in my teens. It wasn’t until I got to college and had a few of my own crazy nights that I felt the first effects of what alcohol can cause. After a few drinks I had a carefree lack of inhibition that, for a shy kid like me, was totally new and inviting at first. Soon, I realized that as entertaining as a few of those nights were, dancing to Itchy McGuirk in downtown SLO, that if I drank too much, I’d wake up with this guilty feeling sitting in my gurgling stomach. It bothered me more than the hangover, which was also no fun.
We are all human and we make mistakes, I’ve made plenty, in this arena and many others, but learning how to evolve when we do is where the beauty and growth in life lies. One of the curses of alcoholism is the defensiveness that arises from feeling judged. I don’t tell this story because I want to be right, I tell it because I want to be free…and free further generations of the people I love because they understand the effect that alcohol has had on their life story.
There is a quality (and a stage of brain development) that comes with being young and feeling invincible. We don’t have the ability yet to accurately see the risks involved in our actions, it’s part of what makes those years so magical. That’s why the job of parenting is so hard. I have the memory of what it feels like to be them, but the wisdom of my age to know it’s my job to guide them. As a healing adult, I know that shame and guilt are no way to inspire health and freedom in our lifestyles. It’s a vicious cycle, we feel shame and guilt so we drink to numb it, and the drinking creates more shame and guilt. The pattern repeats over and over, taking down authentic relationships in its wake.
Over the years since college, I have had many more encounters with alcohol. For me, it’s something that has never had it’s hooks in my neurochemistry, but I have felt the pull socially or when the mommy wine hours would come in the evening when my kids were little to take the edge off. When they were younger, so much energy went into shielding them from overindulgent situations that were part of the social landscape. It’s a slippery slope because it wasn’t everytime that alcohol was a part of an evening that it became a problem. The trouble was that I never knew when the occasion was going to cross that dangerous line and it left me with an always nervous, walking on eggshells, kind of feeling that made every outing or social engagement less fun. From my kids perspective, I always wanted them to feel safe and connected to me whether we were out or at home, the way I felt in my home as a child. But now they don’t know the real ways their lives had the imprint of alcohol on them before they ever had a drink. Now that I have teenagers, transparency is important to try to break the cycle.
I’ve come to terms with the, “been there, done that, so I don’t judge” mentality. I was them, and I remember and I want them to be able to not feel shamed, but learn from their choices.
But now it's my turn to be sober to handle the choices and experiences that come with raising teenagers with not yet fully developed prefrontal cortexes. Bottom line, I want to be the example of where they are going, while understanding where they are now, and it’s a very fine line. My experience has been that teenagers, in most cases, will take what you say is ok and push past it a little more: it’s in their nature. So it’s on me to set wise boundaries.
I still drink on certain occasions and I’ve been drunk many times in my life, but its been awhile, and I don’t miss it. As I get older, alcohol has moved off the front shelf and the beers in my fridge expire because I am on a quest for a healthy mind, body, and spirit, and excess drinking takes away from that goal. Along the way, I have met beautiful humans who help me see the strength of my story, like Kaitlin Delaney who I met after a yoga workshop, through divine intervention, walking up Pier Avenue. As we walked and talked, I was taken by her sober curious point of view and the glow she had as she talked about how she stopped drinking after she had three little ones.
Kaitlin told me about the stress of being a mother of a four, two, and one year old (boy do I remember) and that, despite getting sucked into the mommy wine culture and taking the edge off with a couple glasses of ‘mom juice’, she had recently realized alcohol no longer served her life in a positive way. She called herself a gray area drinker, which she explained was someone who never had to hit rock bottom to realize alcohol was having a negative impact on her life. She tried drinking on celebrations and realized she felt better when she completely abstained. You can find more of her story on Instagram @mamasayyesto.
Life has proven to me that we learn the most and are motivated to change from painful experiences. Alcohol has taken its toll on my birth family and the family that I belonged to for 20 years when I was married. Its presence in excess is usually a symptom of the deeper rooted pain of brokenness, unworthiness, abandonment, fear, social anxiety, and struggles that we encounter throughout our life and are embedded in our nervous systems. It’s ironic because we rely on it to bring calm to our lives, but that calming effect is artificial.
Alcohol doesn’t process pain, it numbs it, and then creates more.
We drink for many reasons, sometimes to take the edge off a long day, sometimes due to social anxiety or pressure to make a situation feel easier to navigate, but as life moves along, I can’t help but notice the number of middle-aged adults who quit altogether to save a relationship…whether the one they have with themselves or with loved ones. It’s a brave choice that helps us uncover the layers of who we really are by allowing us to feel our feelings. Sobriety is not meant to be white-knuckled, it must be a deep dive into self-awareness to take hold to reap the benefits of real clarity, calm, and deep health. Optimism for what life has to offer lies on the other side of that hangover. It may be baby steps, but it’s never too late, and each of our stories is best told with a clear mind and heart. There is no judgment in the path forward, but there is a clear path to deep health. When we truly know and understand our value and the power we have in this world to create connection, we have the courage to express ourselves without a drink in our hand. Life is better when our eyes are clear, we just have to get to the other side to realize it.
I had a different blog with a topic close to my heart ready to go this week but it turns out that one has to wait for next week. If there is anything that the last four months has taught us its that things can change drastically in an instant and that we have to dig a little deeper to find our optimism on certain days. Corona virus has turned political and I hate that. The effects of being digital and virtual for months on end seems to have made us quicker to react and judge through the portals of social media and even on the street. We are human and our desire for connection hasn’t changed, but our circumstances have. Our healthy outlets like sport and community have been altered or entirely cut off…more and more we’ll do anything for a sense of normalcy, even hot yoga wearing a mask and rubber gloves. Breath, movement, and the ability to stay present are at the heart of our success every day and are also the things that keep us from going down the road of having a few too many drinks or eating our weight in ice cream… which is why the last and largest blow that COVID-19 took left me speechless for a day.
Over and over again sports have trained our toughness, our discipline, and provided motivation and identity to countless athletes at every level of their game. As difficult as they feel in the moment, the 5am wake up calls, the three hour practices on countless nights, and the tenacity it takes to perform at the highest levels consistently, no matter what the other struggles at the time may have been, have been a force in our house and a building block on the path to a successful life. On Tuesday, a year to the day that Luke’s team won the 17 Open National Championship, Stanford University announced that they would cut their men’s volleyball program, along with 10 other sports. There was no warning that this was in the works, Luke committed just one year ago to the school of his dreams where he has been attending games since he was nine years old. Before he had even touched a volleyball, he raced his sister around the track by the field house and went to swim camp, coming home exhausted on both occasions but with the dream set before it had the chance to become an actual goal. He did the tailgate scene at the football games, and even threw a football with Jim Harbaugh’s wife. I say all this because it shows how institutions as great as Stanford build connections and dreams from an early age and set the determined course of action in young hearts. Even in the times we are facing, it was impossible to see this coming from a school that has never cut an athletic program in its long and storied history. The talk about the endowment, $28 billion and climbing, falls on deaf ears as it isn’t earmarked for athletics. Given the size of it, it’s mind-blowing. Tuesday was a day that we just had to sit with it, there was no looking for silver linings, no this too shall pass sentiment to get past it more quickly. Sometimes things need to be acknowledged and felt for the awfulness that they are, and this is one of them.
But not even two days later as I write this, the question is where do we go from here? Although my heart continues to break for him, the feeling of calm that has come over me in the last 24 hours comes from my faith that the path that is right for Luke will present itself. No one can take away the skills that he has learned, both technical to his sport and, even more importantly, the intangibles of discipline, leadership, organization, and so many more that this amazing sport has taught him through his hard work. But the bigger implications for what a cut like this one means to the sport of mens volleyball are severe. When a place like Stanford drops it’s program, who is next? Who feeds our National Team and the Olympic spirit that has taken a hit during this pandemic as well. After being a part of watching players at the highest levels of club develop over the last eight years, and even opening a business to continue to be around the inspiring nature of the developing athlete and the role I know student/athletes play in shaping an optimistic future, it doesn’t feel right not to look for the avenue to change this decision. We all have a path to greatness, and for the men in the Stanford program, volleyball has been an integral part to theirs that will carry far beyond the court and create the compassionate leaders that the world needs more than ever today. Men’s volleyball at Stanford needs to find a way to fund its own endowment, and it even needs to be big enough to fund a women’s sport too due to Title IX requirements. It’s an uphill battle, but nothing unites people more than pain and purpose and we have both of those in abundance here. There is also nothing like fighting for what you believe in to the end, but knowing that no matter what you will land on your feet, because of faith and the human you have trained to be. That is undoubtably the case with this amazing program. The universal truths are being called upon to find the answers in these darkened days…as always, it’s not what happens to us but how we chose to respond. I’m not asking this on behalf of just my own son, but for the men who have worked their entire lives to earn their place at this incredible institution of higher learning. They are not just students, they are athletes, it’s part of their identity and what has created their story and, after all they have put in, it should not be taken away from them.
I’ve heard it said many times and have experienced the feeling first hand, time is something you can’t get back. My follow up to that sentiment is, well then, we’d better enjoy how our time is spent. That may make you picture laying poolside in Mexico while a tall dark and handsome man brings you drinks, and while I’ve had that experience and it can be nice, its reward is fleeting. Ultimately laying around loses is luster and the human spirit ends up craving more, if we choose to answer the call, we find ourselves on a path to understanding our purpose. We long to know why we are here and how best to use our talents. The happiest among us figure that out and sink deep into our mission. As I have experienced in the last couple of years especially, when it became apparent to me that my mission extended past my own dinner table, there are inherent risks to walking your own path. Striking out on the path to our purpose is incredibly lonely. We have to learn to trust our own gut and befriend our inner critic. In so many instances, we have to teach ourselves not to compare ourselves to others or care too much about what the masses think.
Over the past few months, my time has been spent preparing for the next step on my path for my purpose, and although I’m still writing everyday, opening a facility that not only trains sport, but trains the entire game of life, has taken a lot of my time and focus! Man there are a lot of details. But this is a place where we are building something special. I can take the conversations from the pool deck and the gyms that I have had over the years that have turned into a coaching business and have a physical space (it’s beautiful by the way!) to make greater impact on athletes and parents alike. I’m so excited about the opportunity that I have to bring Optimism & Resilience training to help us navigate the inevitable challenges of life - and boy to they seem to be varied and many these days - to find flow in our lives. The beauty of optimism though is that in our hearts, we believe that we have the power to make the next moment better, and with that belief, find the energy to work hard to make that optimistic ideal a reality.
It’s not lost on me that learning to trust my own gut, means making sure that my actual gut is healing. Did you know that your gut is considered your second brain? It is sensitive to our emotions and passes information on to our brain through our enteric nervous system. In short, when we improve our gut, we improve our entire well being. My journey to nutrition follows me from my grandmother, she was always cutting out the latest article on what vegetable was found to fight cancer or preaching the value of not eating too much sugar. When I had Matthew, and began to learn about how our gut influences our brain, and saw the benefit to his system when I cleaned up his diet with the help of his doctor and greater mental clarity was the result, I became more curious and have been learning ever sense. This podcast lead me from practical life nutrition training to getting my Precision Nutrition Coaching Certification that will help me help others not just look, but feel better. What we put in our bodies, and our relationship with food matters to more than just our looks or our waistline, it matters to our brain. Some of us seem to be more resilient than others, or have a bit more of a toleration for a less ideal diet, but all of us will reap the benefits of deep health the more we turn to nutrient dense whole foods and also lock in on the power of our habits and choices to help us feel our best. In essence, nutritional choices are no different than life choices, when we understand our why behind them and the impact that small habits can make, we undergo a powerful shift that effects our entire life. If you aren’t feeling your best, or this sounds interesting to you, let me help.
Our time and our energy are precious commodities. As younger athletes, we learn through sport how to balance and allocate our time as to get better on and off the court. As life goes on, my goal is to build efficiency in my own life by training my body and mind to be able to pull off adult life and still have time to play the games I loved as a kid. It’s a work in progress, and it’s happening. Lock in on what you want out of your day and make it happen…it’s feels like a risk at times, but I’ll take purpose over pleasure any day of the week.