The Tough Job of Being Defending Champion, in Sport and in Life.

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By Dr. Allison Belger

You entered the race/competition/tennis match last year as a relative unknown.  You had nothing to lose and everything to gain by making your mark on the playing field. You crushed it—the “kid” from out of nowhere, creating a buzz and fueling chatter of spectators and competitors, alike. This year, you want to try again, but being in the position of defending champion feels quite different from being the underdog or the unknown.  You’re afraid you’re not at the top of your game and know for sure that others are.  The pressure of a repeat top performance looms large, and you wonder if it’s worth competing at all.

Your high school or college reunion is fast approaching, and you’re not as smokin’ hot as you were ten years ago when you last attended.  You’d worked your tail off to get fit and look great then, but now the toll of time and some significant negative life events have you looking less lean and radiant than you’d like.  You consider bailing on the festivities.

Your first child’s graduation from high school was a rewarding and inspiring experience. A gifted student, she had won numerous academic awards along with several trophies for prowess on the lacrosse field. She’d been a star in community service, as well, and she’d fallen in with a great group of friends captured in the many photographs you proudly took throughout the weekend’s events. As your second child’s graduation approaches, you’re plagued with fear and sadness. Unlike his sister, your son has struggled in and out of the classroom, and it’s a wonder that he’ll be wearing the cap and gown at all. You’re engaged in some serious internal dialogue about how you will handle this very different parenting role both in the public domain and privately, within the family.  As defending parenting champ, you feel that all eyes are on you, and you know that you must face this battle in a different way.

For the past few years, you’ve enjoyed a level of success in your field that has led to accolades, media attention, and financial rewards. You’ve been on top of your game, enjoying the fruits of your hard work and talents.  Recently, though, you’ve endured some personal struggles and your work life has suffered.  The timing is bad, as there’s a conference of big-wigs and heavy hitters on the horizon, and you’re supposed to be one of the key presenters. You wonder how your message will be received with your status of defending champ in question.

The position of defending champion requires us to rise above pressures to perform in what may appear to be two possible scenarios:

1. Win again and feel relieved that we’ve done what was expected or

2. Fail to win again and seem to prove that our previous victory was a fluke or that we don’t have the goods to stay on top.

As I’ve written before, the expectations for future performances on those who have succeeded in the past can be paralyzing. In contrast, the beauty of the underdog position is freedom from expectation and permission to go out and give it our all. Win or perform well, and we’ll be the surprise talk of the town.  Struggle or fall flat, and it’s likely nobody will even notice. We might be considered a hero just for trying.

Doing something on a grand scale one time is one thing, but having the guts to come back and go for it again is quite another. Try to remember that much of what you perceive others to be thinking is actually your own expectations projected onto the world. Keep in mind that you may have inspired your competitors to up their own game, and that your history and the mark you’ve made will not be erased, even if you don’t reach the podium this time.  As I’ve said before:

Appreciate your history of success, but don’t be trapped by its hold on you.  Be open to the effort, uninhibited by the prison of your own rigid expectations.

Like so many psychological challenges, this one is easier said than done–but not showing up at all shouldn’t be an option. Get yourself to that reunion and shine in spirit and personality. Show up for your son even if it means crying while you’re there; perhaps it’s not all sadness if you let in the rest. Enjoy your sport and compete with passion and humor. You can gracefully pass the torch if your time as champion has come and gone, and your legacy will live on in the others you’ve inspired along the way. Rock that speech at the conference by being honest about your struggles and inspiring others to overcome their own. Maybe you’ll even surprise yourself and repeat history. You’ll never know if you don’t try. Besides, often the most meaningful and memorable growing experiences come when we push through self-doubt and struggle a bit.

On a final note, I’d like to highlight a repeat attempt / defending champ scenario that is close to my heart and home.  Last summer, my then-nine-now-ten-year-old daughter, Hollis, took on a fundraising project for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. She juggled her soccer ball every day, posted videos of her daily records, wrote a blog about her experiences and why St. Jude is such an incredible place, and ended up raising an impressive $35,000. She worked like crazy to increase her juggling totals, knowing that higher numbers would attract attention, always mindful of the kids facing far bigger challenges than hers. Ultimately, she reached her goal of 400 consecutive juggles, ending last summer at 461.

The inaugural year of JUGGLING FOR JUDE was a huge success, and the idea of repeating the effort comes with a set of daunting emotions: can Hollis sustain the passion it took to pull off year one? Will people who donated last year want to donate again, and will new donors be found? Will she tire of juggling every day when she has so much else on her plate? Will the pressure of reaching a new goal of $40,000 and 1,000 consecutive juggles be overwhelming and make anything less feel like a failure? So far, despite the pressure, Hollis has come back fighting like a champ and is on path for a repeat performance.  On day six of Juggling for Jude 2015, she blasted past her original summer goal of 500, juggling 660 consecutive times! (video here)

The fundraising has just begun, and while Hollis has only raised a little more than $2,000 so far, she’s optimistic that people will step up in support of St. Jude, where doctors and researchers continue to treat kids with cancer, seeking cures for catastrophic childhood illnesses. If you’ve ever been motivated by my writing or are inspired by defending champ Hollis’s efforts, PLEASE CONSIDER DONATING TO ST. JUDE HERE.  Every dollar helps save a life!

THANK YOU!

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From the Mouths of Babes; Sometimes the Best Content Comes from the Youngest Minds!

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By. Dr. Allison Belger

It’s nice when you’re super busy, and your 9-year-old can do your writing for you! That’s what happened this afternoon. The article below is written by my daughter, Hollis, who worked her tail off this summer juggling her soccer ball and blogging about her efforts in order to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Hospital.  As of this post, she has raised more than $31,000 for St. Jude, and is going strong through September, which is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.  A Psychologist/Mom, I encouraged her to take some time to reflect on her experience as she prepares to head back to school tomorrow.  Below is her post in its entirety. If you’re interested in more on her summer effort, please visit http://www.jugglingforjude.com.

I’m going back to school tomorrow, and since my mom is a psychologist, she suggested that I take some time to reflect on my summer experience of raising money for St. Jude Hospital.  I’m not done yet! My donation page is still open till the end of September, and I plan to keep asking for donations!  But the daily juggling is done and now it’s time to get back to school.  Juggling for Jude has been a GREAT experience, and I have definitely learned a whole lot. I think I look at life in a different way now.

*I’ve learned that you can always make a change in the world.

*I’ve learned that small people can be capable of wonderful things.

*I’ve learned that I’m a good soccer juggler.

*I’ve learned that you can really do anything you set your mind to. It’s not just a quote–it’s really a true story! 🙂  (My mom likes this one the best)!

*I’ve learned that St. Jude is a great hospital and every kid should feel thankful that St. Jude exists. Even if you don’t have cancer, because they work to find cures, and really you never know what the future holds.

*I’ve learned that kids with cancer at St. Jude are the ones really doing the hard work. 

*I’ve learned that you should always set your sights and goals high.  The more you strive for, the more you will accomplish.

*I’ve learned that if you push through the hard parts in life, even when it feels really hard, there’s usually a light at the end of the tunnel.  You just have to keep with it.

*I’ve learned that there are amazing people in the world and many of them donated for Juggling for Jude. People can really come together to make a difference, and I am so lucky that people did that for my fundraiser.

Thank you for your support and your donations so far. And don’t forget, I’M NOT QUITE DONE YET!  My DONATION PAGE will stay open through the end of September in honor of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, so please donate if you can and tell ALL of your friends and family to donate.  I really think we can get closer to $40,000, and that would mean more help for the kids at St. Jude who are fighting every second of every day! So, let’s go for it!

Oh, and one last thing: I still want to be on The Ellen Show. I think it would be super fun (I mean she’s funny, and I’m funny!), and I could juggle, and we could raise more money for St. Jude. So if you know how to help make that happen, please help!

Thanks for your support!

~Hollis

There’s Hard and Then There’s HARD.

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By. Dr. Allison Belger

If you follow me on social media, you know that I’ve spent much of my time and energy this summer supporting my nine-year-old daughter in a fabulous fundraising event called Juggling for Jude.  For those of you who don’t know, the gist is that she has been juggling her soccer ball daily to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.  At the time of this article, she has raised nearly $30,000 in two short months, and her most recent juggling record is 461, alternating feet.  No small feat, and not your average summer lemonade stand!

As one often does when being personally invested in a significant venture, I’ve learned quite a few things during this summer of Juggling for Jude.  One of the themes that has surfaced for my daughter is how to fight through the times that are “hard.”  During a recent conversation about it, as I reflected on her tenacity and hard work, it occurred to me that I’ve learned much about what “hard” means in the past couple of months.  Here’s a sampling:

*It’s hard to juggle a soccer ball hundreds or thousands of times every  day. This is especially true if you if you are nine and have a broken toe.

*It’s hard to ask friends and family to donate money, even if it is for a great cause.  It’s even harder to ask them more than once.

*It’s hard to make your kid juggle a soccer ball when she is feeling tired and has plenty of other things to do.

*It’s hard to (cold) contact celebrities and news organizations in an effort to spread the word about a fundraiser, in hopes of increasing donations.

*It’s hard to be sure your other child isn’t feeling left out.

*It’s hard to add a new project to a family’s already packed schedule.

*It’s hard to juggle a soccer ball when it’s windy.  It’s also hard to juggle a soccer ball when it’s 100 degrees outside and you’ve already been to dance camp and soccer practice.

You know what else is hard?

*It’s hard to be a middle schooler who sticks up for the kid getting bullied at school.

*It’s hard to tell someone you love that you are worried they drink too much.

*It’s hard to say no to your high school peers when they offer you a shot of vodka.

*It’s hard to take a risk on hiring an employee who lacks the credentials for a job but whose work ethic, commitment, and capacity for growth seem legitimate.

*It’s hard to not join in when all of your friends are giggling about the fat kid and what she’s wearing.

*It’s hard to approach someone who is awkward and shy and invite him to eat lunch with you and your “cool” friends.

*It’s hard to organize meal deliveries for a friend whose spouse is fighting cancer.

*It’s hard to change your lifestyle in order to improve your health.

*It’s hard to train for your sport five hours each day.

*It’s hard to ask for help when you need it but are usually the one people seek out when they are in need.

Each of us encounters hardships in our lives; it’s how we attack these challenges that comprise our character and make up who we are. Sometimes we drop the ball–we quit juggling too early or we pretend we don’t hear our friends giggling as the fat girl walks by.  We act like we don’t see the awkward student sitting alone, or we choose to hire the person who has the “right” credentials, even though our gut tells us that the other candidate might be a better fit for the job.  We accept a cup of vodka punch to avoid being teased, or we put off confronting our alcoholic family member, convincing ourselves that he will stop on his own or that it’s not our place to step in.

Sometimes, though, we gather our strength, harness our determination, and fight our battles with tenacity and perseverance.  We acknowledge the challenges, perhaps even engage in some self-pity, but move forward with the task at hand.  If we are lucky, we may be able to tolerate the time between the positive action and the reward for having done it.  Sometimes, we even have to accept the fact that the only reward we will receive is knowing we did the right thing.  There will be no trophy or medal or party.

You know what’s REALLY hard?

Being told your child has cancer and watching him or her go through a battle that makes any other battle seem like a walk in the park.  And being a child with cancer?  Harder than we can fathom.

Keep fighting when faced with your own personal hard, and always keep in mind the continuum of what challenges exist in the world.  Commit to yourself that you will push through challenges and stick with the hard times, but be sure to keep perspective.  Should you ever be faced with the unfathomable, the hope is that your training will guide you.

If you would like to donate to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital on behalf of Juggling for Jude, please do so here.

Peeking Behind the Curtain: It’s not ALL Fun and Games!

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By Dr. Allison Belger

I’ve seen some funny posts circulating social media about the discrepancy between the perception we might have of someone’s life based on their Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts and the reality of their life in true form. While there’s humor there to be sure, we might find ourselves a little bummed out if we are inclined to chronically compare our own reality to the social media version of the lives of others.

I spent the weekend spectating at the CrossFit Games, specifically as a “Filly Fan,” rooting on my good friend and business partner, Marcus Filly. When you’re a spectator at the CrossFit Games, you get to witness amazing feats of human performance by athletes like Marcus who are pushing themselves to the limits. You are privy to the “thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat,” as ABC’s Wide World of Sports used to say.

If you follow me on social media via Psychologywod or simply as Allison Belger, you know that I am currently committed to a fundraiser called Juggling for Jude. My 9-year-old daughter, Hollis, is juggling her soccer ball to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Hospital. She is keeping a blog about her experiences, and she posts videos of her daily personal bests, as well as pertinent photos. At the time of my writing this article, she has raised nearly $13,000 in five short weeks. Her juggling skills are legit, with a record of 326, alternating feet. In the photos and videos we post, she is usually smiling (case in point the photo below with her holding a newspaper article about her efforts).  While she does acknowledge the challenges of her daily efforts and the fatigue that sometimes sets in–especially after a long day of camp–her blog content is mostly positive.

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Does this mean that Juggling for Jude is an endeavor marked only by good times, wide grins, and a happy camper? No. The truth is that behind the scenes, Hollis experiences moments of doubt, of not wanting to juggle, of feeling pressure to perform, and of simply being tired. The pressure is especially significant because she knows that most, if not all, of the kids at St. Jude for whom she is juggling would trade places with her in a heartbeat; she is lucky to have her health, let alone her talent for soccer. This is quite a bit of content for the psyche of a nine-year-old to manage.

At the CrossFit Games, the general aesthetic of the athletes, indeed of the entire event, is one of human beauty in motion. We see tan skin, defined muscles, bodies that move gracefully and skillfully while taking on the most demanding of physical challenges performed on visually pleasing and perfectly constructed stages.   The Reebok apparel worn by the athletes is lovely and colorful, highlighting and neatly showcasing the physical specimens. Athletes are often smiling before, during, and after their workouts, and even when things don’t go as well as planned.  A hallmark of the Games is that it is a showcase of considerable sportsmanship; there is rarely a public display of anything but appreciation for participating.

Like Juggling for Jude, this is all something to celebrate. However, since Psychologywod is about digging beneath the surface for personal growth, I’m here to suggest that, like Hollis who is juggling for sick kids, even the graceful athletes at the CrossFit Games, the gifted soccer players we watched at the World Cup, or the elite and sponsored athletes in your sport of choice, have behind-the-scenes moments that aren’t often reflected in their social media streams and public displays.   Beyond the obvious moments we might imagine that involve draining training sessions marked by physical pain and mental challenges, there may be moments of anger, irritability, and a desire to quit. There may be feelings of having been cheated by a judge or referee and a resentment of others who weren’t. There may be self-doubt and questioning of a coach or training plan. And there’s always the possibility of burnout, when the drive and desire all but disappear. These moments don’t “sell” well in social media, so you won’t see them often. But I’m here to say that they are likely experienced at least some of the time by every one of your favorite athletes. Like you, they are human beings with complicated systems.

So the next time you’re struggling with training for a sport or your daily grind at work, or your relationship, or your fight to be fitter, keep in mind that you’re not alone.  Most people don’t post photos of their bedhead or their look of disdain when arguing with a loved one. Don’t be fooled.  You are simply privy to the parts of your own experience whose counterparts in others you don’t get to see. Like you, they must fight to be better and to persevere through tough times. Like you, they feel pressure and pain; they just might not tweet about it or post an Instagram photo expressing it. And that’s ok. Just be sure you realize that your personal, internal social media stream is authentic and complete, unlike the published, filtered versions of others you might see on your computer. Keep fighting the good fight, and know you’re not alone.

 

*If you’d like to donate to St. Jude on behalf of Juggling for Jude, please go here to do so.  Thank you in advance–every bit helps this amazing place!*

Related reading from the archives:

https://psychologywod.com/2013/11/24/how-well-do-you-really-know-those-joneses-anyway/

https://psychologywod.com/2014/04/13/hanging-in-the-here-and-now-you-cant-always-be-your-personal-best/

https://psychologywod.com/2013/08/04/face-your-dark-side-and-move-on-you-are-not-the-sum-total-of-your-imperfect-thoughts/

https://psychologywod.com/2013/03/25/had-a-bad-day-now-what/

 

 

Let it Flow: The Importance of Losing Yourself in a Pursuit.

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I tend to be someone who jumps with a vengeance into projects that interest me. Slightly obsessive by nature (thanks, Dad) and usually outcome oriented, I can bust out work with great intensity when something is important to me.  I’m currently focused on helping our younger daughter with an inspiring summer project called Juggling for Jude.  If you follow me on social media, you’ve probably seen my posts about it. The gist is that Hollis is juggling her soccer ball to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and in just over three weeks, she’s already raised more than $8,000!  No small feat for her small feet (sorry, I couldn’t resist)!

After spending a couple of hours yesterday blasting various social media channels and emailing influential people hoping to help Hollis take this effort to the next level, I realized how quickly time had passed and how unaware I was that I was doing “work.” It was more like my brain and body had been on autopilot; while productivity was great, conscious effort was minimal.

Last week I read a book called The Rise of Superman, which had been given to me by my friend, Steve Crane, whose story I’ve told before. Steve is an ultra runner who has extensive experience with various mindsets that allow him to do amazing things.  The Rise of Superman describes how extreme athletes, whose lives are risked in their pursuits and who accomplish physical feats that seem impossible, access a state of “Flow.”  Flow, a term originally coined by psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, is defined as a state of being marked by total focus and complete absorption leading to an emotional experience of joy, pleasure, and something approaching ecstasy.  Notably, during “flow,” there is a lack of self-consciousness and a lack of awareness of the passage of time.

While achieving a true state of “flow” might be a beneficial goal for the intense or elite athletes among us (a topic for another article), my focus here is how that same lack of self-consciousness and self analysis can also benefit us in our more mundane, less risky pursuits. We may not be scaling mountains, surfing killer waves, or competing at the highest level of sport, but our efforts are still important and meaningful.

When we are caught up in self-criticism, self-doubt, or simply a high degree of self-awareness, we may limit our capacity for productivity. By analyzing our every move (considering, for example, what our co-workers will think of us and our work), we are unlikely to think as freely or with as much focus as we could without these concerns. Similarly, if we consider how we move physically when others are watching us learn a new skill, versus how we might move when we feel confident and uninhibited, the analogy is powerful.

I’ve written before about the downside of conscious processing when it is utilized after it has served its purpose.  The idea, in a nutshell, is that when we are learning new physical skills, we learn best by engaging in a conscious and deliberate analytical process with each step of the movement.  However, once we have achieved a certain level of competency, we need to just let our body do its thing.

This week’s message is to apply this construct to all of our endeavors: In the midst of the deliberate and well-thought-out work we do, we should allow ourselves–at least occasionally—to lose track of time and of our self. This is not the same as getting lost in a great book or an exciting movie; I’m talking about losing yourself while simultaneously being productive in some important way. If you don’t have moments in your life where your passion for a project, work, or an endeavor of some kind takes you away from self-awareness, deliberate analysis, and the passage of time, it might be time to search for something that will.  It’s a powerful thing to experience what it’s like to be inspired–to immerse yourself so fully in something that only later do you realize how involved you’ve been and how much time has elapsed.  Trust in the process, enjoy the “work,” and the positive outcomes will follow, maybe even in ways that far exceed your expectations.

If you’d like to help Juggling for Jude raise money for St. Jude Hospital, please donate here.  Every bit helps!  Thank you!

Related reading from the archives:

https://psychologywod.com/2013/07/28/passion-find-it-live-it-just-dont-confuse-it-with-success/

https://psychologywod.com/2013/04/28/have-an-audience-how-do-you-handle-the-pressure/

 

The Next Generation of Philanthropy

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By Dr. Allison Belger

In lieu of an article this week, I’m instead highlighting a fabulous fundraising effort called JUGGLING FOR JUDE.   This summer, my 9-year-old daughter, Hollis, an avid soccer player, will be using her soccer juggling skills to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Hospital.

For as far back as I can remember, I’ve always been touched by the St. Jude “commercials,” chronicling stories of children with cancer and how they and their families found solace and top-notch medical care at St. Jude.  I would make sure that my parents donated to St. Jude every year; somehow through their donation, I felt I was doing a little something to help those incredibly brave kids I saw on the television.

Now a mom of two girls, I can’t fathom the challenges faced by parents whose kids end up at St. Jude.  Helping my daughter take on this fundraising effort is, once again, my small way of doing what I can.  Encouraging our children to make use of their skills, talents, and other resources for the benefit of those less fortunate is a great parenting act.  It’s not always easy in our very busy and full lives, but the smallest efforts can sometimes make the biggest differences!

I hope you’ll join Hollis this summer via her JUGGLING FOR JUDE fundraiser.  Please spread the word on Facebook and by sharing the link to her blog, where she explains what she’s up to and where her St. Jude personal fundraising page can be accessed.

Thanks for your support!