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Authors: Elena Stowell

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BOOK: Flowing with the Go
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20
Toleration

“Be miserable or motivate yourself. Whatever
has to be done, it's always your choice.”

— Wayne Dyer

W
ith Lisa, my internal healing wasn't all about biochemistry. It also involved controlling my stress and anxiety so that I could level my emotional playing field. One way that we worked on this was through an exercise where you reduce your “tolerations.”

Tolerations are any and all of those things, people, activities, etc.,that create a drag on your time and energy. A toleration is tradeoff of some kind, and you may realize during this exercise that the trade is not a good one for you or possibly that it is more than good enough.

We tolerate some things because our return on the investment is wonderful, if not reasonable. But those things that we tolerate because we think we should or because we don't want to rock the boat, those are the tolerations that can drain us of our life force. Those tolerations become obstacles to having a more simple, straightforward life. In fact, Lisa proffers that many tolerations are the very things that make adults so exhausted, suppressed, and high-strung. Lisa credits Personal Coach Thomas Leonard with the exercise.

To get started, I find a quiet place to be alone with my thoughts, a pen, some paper, and a timer (this is a very important apparatus). Then I set the timer for two minutes and write down a list of all things I tolerate—nothing is off limits. You only get two minutes, or else you might write for hours and never get to the second part of the exercise. The tolerations you think of first probably are those closest to the surface and most poignant anyway. After two minutes, you are supposed to walk away. Give your list some time to gel before part two.

Part two is a cost-benefit analysis. Look at each toleration and be honest about what it is costing you to tolerate it. Write this down. Likewise, any benefits of the toleration should be recorded. Then, again walk away.

I am a big proponent of the walk-away factor. If I get too wrapped up in an emotional task, I cannot be as objective about it as I would like.

When I return to the list, then I do my analysis of the whole. This usually makes me pause and say, “Dang, I've used up a lot of emotional energy lately.” The whole experience is quite an eye-opener.

I then decide which tolerations I am willing to accept. This involves eliminating those things I tolerate because I really have no control over them. In realizing that I cannot control certain aspects of my life, I also know that I do have control over how I respond to these aspects. I have the choice to let them pain me, like a pinch of salt on an open wound, or I can shrug it off with or without a band-aid of consideration. Letting go of the things I tolerate but can't control frees up my emotional energy to deal with things I can control.

As I look at my list, I decide if the cost of the toleration is worth it or not. Costs are like lead weights holding me down. Benefits are like removing the weight. They are what you will gain from letting the toleration go.

I measure the costs and benefits of tolerating these things in my life, and then I make a plan of change. It is up to me to follow through with that plan. Sometimes I follow through and sometimes I don't. Sometimes the same toleration comes up over and over again because I can't rally myself to face it head on. But at least I have given it a name and an acknowledgment. I have given myself a place to start.

The success in this exercise is that, when you recognize the weight behind each cost and benefit, you will create some better choices for yourself. Some of those choices will include a plan for change: a plan for dealing with the toleration that will reduce its cost. For example, my jeans don't fit—again—and yet I continue to keep them and tolerate how it makes me feel every time I try them on. There are different plans for change that I can choose from: I can get rid of the jeans, I can find a gym, I can commit to walk every day, or I can buy a bigger size. I need to decide if not dealing with the toleration is costing me more than ignoring it. I decide that I will feel better not having the jeans as a reminder, so I get rid of the jeans and the weight of that toleration.

The cost of any toleration is usually, but not always, at the emotional level. Take, for instance, the coworker who talks behind your back. You put up with it because you don't want to confront her about how you feel, though you realize her actions cause you to distrust her. You don't want to confide in her because you are sure it will come back to bite you, so instead you keep quiet, possibly becoming resentful, so much so that you no longer enjoy your workspace. When you recognize that the benefit of not confronting her (the stress of confrontation) actually outweighs the cost of not being able to enjoy your work environment as much or to speak as freely as you'd like, you will be able to create better choices for yourself in this scenario. For example, you would surround yourself with trusted colleagues, or perhaps you would find a way to get to know her better. The cost of continuing to tolerate your coworker's backstabbing behavior is a tradeoff that you endorse because of the greater weight of the fear and stress it would cause you to confront her.

After a few runs through this exercise, I began to notice a similar theme to the tolerations on my list: I said yes when I really wanted to say no. After reflecting on this, I was able to admit that too often I weigh the cost to the other person as being of greater importance than the cost to myself. Saying yes when you want to say no comes up often when you are grieving. People invite you places and want to take care of you. You let them say things that irritate you, and you attend events you don't want to attend. I did this at first because I was numb, and it was easy to be led around and cared for. I also did this because I wanted to avoid confrontation. Later, as I started to stand on my own a little stronger, I was able to understand that I was saying yes when I wanted to say no because I knew it made people feel good, and I didn't want them to feel bad. I already felt blue; I didn't want to be the sadness propagator. So I tolerated this behavior in myself over and over again, until I started to resent the people who tried to help.

My toleration lists also contain BJJ tolerations. Sometimes I tolerate a training partner with bad breath. I realize that next time I might be the one who smells like the Puget Sound at low tide. The risk of embarrassing a teammate is a greater cost to me than practicing my self-assertion skills.

I long ago learned to tolerate that BJJ will ruin my pedicure. No matter how dry the polish, the kneeling will wear the polish off the tip of my nail every time. Instead of being exacerbated, I now call it my “BJJ French Tip” and think maybe I'll be a trendsetter.

When I started rolling, it bothered me that I didn't ask questions when I had them, yet I kept doing it. I felt too intimidated to ask questions, and then I would go home frustrated that I was still confused or didn't get the help I needed. Ironically, in my classroom one day, I caught myself saying to a student, “Just ask. There are probably many students here with the same question.” Hmm . . . what a hypocrite I was! But now, since I have acknowledged the toleration, I could work to fix it, and I did.

What did it cost me? Perhaps a little embarrassment at first.

What did I gain? The satisfaction of an answer, relief from frustration, and the sense that I honored my feelings.

Most of us would be amazed at the number of things we tolerate every day—things that we could can change, some very easily, with just a little communication or a little bit of time. Sure there are times when the investment is too high, and we choose instead to “just tolerate.” But most of the time, if we are willing to make the investment to unhinge the intolerable by dealing with it directly, we can move forward in our lives with a much lighter stress load.

21
Just Breathe

“Life's ups and downs provide windows of
opportunity to determine your values and
goals. Think of using all obstacles as
stepping stones to build the life you want.”

— Marsha Sinetar

D
uring the fall of 2010, I had decided that I wanted to focus on Jiu-Jitsu and myself. Before then, but since Carly's death, I had focused on lots of other peoples' kids through coaching and the sponsored activities of the nonprofit foundation we had started in her name. I had also decided that I would not return as a club volleyball coach. The club season, practices, and tournaments interfered with my competition team practice at Foster's. I didn't want to give that up.

Then I got some news that did not support my decision. In December 2010, I saw a doctor about a medical issue, who recommended that I give up any sort of weightlifting and Jiu-Jitsu and to have a fairly major surgery. After surgery, I would not be able to return to these activities because, in his opinion, they were exacerbating my condition, and so, if I did not stop after surgery, I would suffer recurrences. I was devastated. I tried to explain how Jiu-Jitsu had become integral to my newfound health and well-being. He seemed nonplussed and encouraged me to schedule the surgery for the summer. Holding back tears, I said that I would get a second opinion and try some more conservative therapies.

I spent a great deal of my winter break in pensive contemplation. And I stood firm on my original decision. I was not going to give up Jiu-Jitsu. I would go to the physical therapy appointments the doctor recommended, and I would teach myself to do things differently so I wouldn't make the condition worse.

The physical therapy sucked—too much time doing exercises I could easily do on my own time in my own home. Three weeks of that and I was ready to move on. I knew that what I needed to do was strengthen my core and learn to breathe differently. When you have what is essentially a hernia, you can't hold your breath when you exert yourself. When I returned from my holiday, I did three things. First, I found a trainer in the area who would help me with my breathing. Second, I committed myself to core work. Last, I called the surgeon and said, “No, thank you.” Whew, huge step. A year ago I would have felt sorry for myself and given in. I would have thought that I don't matter so why would something I wanted matter? When something horrible happens in your life, there's this part of you that thinks you deserve more bad things to happen because life already has you down. It's easier for life to keep picking on you than to start on some fresh, strong person. At least it seemed that way sometimes. Lots of times.

I started working with JoAnn on my breathing. JoAnn is a member of a small but special group of people I like to call my Wellness Team. They are people I met along my journey who helped keep me in one piece, and they represent many fields of expertise. JoAnn is a retired ex-sky goddess turned personal trainer, massage therapist, Pilates instructor, and manual ligament therapy practitioner. She lives ten minutes from my house so she is convenient assistance. Dr.Z is a sports-centered chiropractor who was my rehab man after my shoulder froze and I had my wrist broken. Like Chuck, he shakes his head in wonderment when I arrive a bit banged up, but he never stops encouraging me. If I am the rusty Tin Man, then Dr. Z is the guy who picks up my oil can—my tune-up man. Lastly, there is Louise, an Ashi massage therapist who works on Coach and Brick. I figured that if she can handle those big guys, then I'm a walk in the park, and I mean that literally: an Ashi massage therapist walks on your back and uses her body weight to dig into those tight and sore spots.

Okay, so I went to JoAnn for breathing lessons. I know you are snickering. I realize the thought of “breathing lessons” sounds silly, but I worked hard at it, and I saw results. JoAnn would put me into some challenging positions—for example, a reverse plank with a ball on my stomach that wasn't supposed to fall off as I inhaled and exhaled for so many counts. These moves worked my core, and I would have to time and control my breath as I moved from one position to another. Initially, I found it very difficult. I had been practicing bad breathing for most of my athletic life. That's probably why the prescription to calm myself down through breathing never really worked for me.

Before breathing training, on the mat, my breathing had been the butt of many a carping critique. At first I was instructed to simply stop holding my breath, because I would do this while I executed moves or had to scramble. I didn't even know I was doing it. I heard that my lips would turn blue. Looking back, I can compare then and now. When I started I was such a spaz that it was all I could do to figure out where all my limbs were and tell my left from my right. I kid you not—turn yourself upside down and have someone yell, “Move your left hip out to the right and take your right arm and reach your opponent's left pant leg . . .” C'mon, that part is still hard. Anyway, can you see how adding “remember to breathe” can get lost in the shuffle?

My work with JoAnn and my subsequent improvement of Jiu-Jitsu skills eventually led to better breathing. Better, not great. I have always disliked breathing through my nose, but I concur that it does help to slow your breathing down. Sadly, I never feel like I can get as much air through two little holes in my perky little nose as I can through the large aperture of my mouth. My compromise to the commands of “Breathe! Breathe through your nose!” had always been to breathe through my mouth. The problem with doing that: discretion is tricky. Let's just say that everyone always knew where I was rolling.

The carping shifted to, “Quiet your breathing.”

“At least you know I am breathing!” was my reply.

Since then, I have made great strides in the breathing arena. I have learned that when I am confident and in better shape, I can focus on quiet, controlled breathing and not be a spaz. Breathing is a skill that athletes must consider seriously for optimum performance.

Breathing is also a useful tool off the mat. I tell myself to breathe when I feel that I am going to think myself into a panic attack. I tell myself to breathe before I react to things people say that upset me. I tell myself to breathe when I need to quiet my mind and reconnect to the Earth. It does take practice!

BOOK: Flowing with the Go
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