I am grateful to have experienced another calendar year. The past 12 months represented one of the best years of my life. It was largely free of perceived drama, anxiety, and hardship. I was in good health for most of 2018 unlike the prior two years. I had no surgeries or medical scares this year. I largely chose to have a positive attitude in the face of challenges in 2018 and accomplished some really cool things. Perhaps most importantly, I made great progress toward earning my master’s degree in sport psychology, completing four more academic quarters and my first formal internship. I am in the midst of my second internship, which has only served to confirm that I made a sound decision in pursuing a career in mental performance coaching. As I look forward to the most important year of my life, I will reflect on 2018 in this space.
Calendar year 2018 was a great year for me from a physical perspective. In September 2017, I had anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF) surgery to repair three levels of my spinal column. At the beginning of 2018, I was still recovering from this surgery. I had begun to train in early 2018 to regain the strength and mobility that I had lost for multiple years prior to the surgery. My rehabilitation was remedial early on. However, I set the lofty goal of running my first marathon in 2018 despite recovering from ACDF surgery. In October, I completed the Chicago Marathon in five hours and 21 minutes. I would have been proud of this accomplish regardless of the circumstances but having had major neck surgery just about one year prior made completing the marathon that much more rewarding. Training for the marathon was a practical lesson in goal-setting. Completing the marathon was a HUGE performance goal, one that was seemed unattainable at times. I didn’t particularly enjoy training for the marathon. It was arduous, time-consuming, and just plain hard. However, I followed a training program and put in the work on a daily basis. This process-oriented approach really helped me to endure the mental and physical strain of training and achieve my performance goal of simply finishing the marathon.
About the same time that I completed the marathon, one of my professors assigned our Performance Enhancement to participate in a competition. The competition would place me in a client’s shoes as competitors. I viewed the assignment as an opportunity to challenge myself to try something new. So, I decided to train for a powerlifting competition, specifically deadlifting. Deadlifting is diametrically opposite of long-distance running from a physiological perspective. Basically, deadlifting requires explosion instead of endurance. I had about seven weeks to train prior to the powerlifting competition that I identified as being feasible. Like my marathon training, I followed a process-oriented program where I was strictly seeking to improve as much as possible during the seven-week window. My best deadlift prior to starting competition training was about 250 pounds. I set a stretch goal of 300 pounds for the competition. Thus, I was aiming to increase my personal record by 20% in seven weeks. In retrospect, this even seems a big aggressive. Well, after seven weeks of intense training and a managing a cranky back, my best competition lift was 300 pounds even. I achieved my performance goal even though this wasn’t my focus. Again, having a process-oriented goal setting process helped me to achieve the best performance result possible.
I am very proud of my athletic accomplishments in 2018. I finished 2018 at the age of 43 years and nine months. I would venture to say that I am in the best physical condition of my life after training for a marathon and a deadlifting competition within a six-month period. I’m not sure that I can top my 2018 athletic accomplishments in 2019. Frankly, I’m not sure why that would even be necessary anyway if I just keep challenging myself and putting in the work necessary to improve my physical health and wellness.
I may have learned more in 2018 than in any other year of my life prior (at least that I can consciously remember). I had the opportunity to put my newly-acquired mental coaching skills into practice for the first time this summer. I spent two weeks in California working with incoming high school freshman and young female skateboarders. My classmates and I were tasked with developing mental training curricula for these young people. This was likely my greatest single professional experience in my 20-year career. Connecting with these young people required effort and patience. Most importantly, it involved listening well and showing them that I cared about them even though I was just a stranger to them. Being of service to these young people was extremely rewarding and gave me the confidence to believe I will be successful in the mental performance coaching field. I am in midst of a new challenge working with a high school boys basketball team. My work with the basketball team places a much greater emphasis on performance, but still at the core is about establishing personal relationships and trust. I am loving every minute of it so far.
In 2018, I also had the opportunity to learn from one of the most respected professionals in the sport psychology field, Ken Ravizza. I traveled to California to participate in a professional development seminar offered by my school John F. Kennedy University. His love for the profession and teaching others was infectious. As was his reputation, he touched all of us and made us think hard during our eight hours together. I am proud to say that I have learned from such an influential person. Unfortunately, Ken passed away at the end of 2018, but his legacy as a mentor to many, including other respected sport psychology professionals and coaches such as Joe Maddon of the Chicago Cubs, will live on. In addition to learning from Ken, I also had the opportunity to attend my second Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP) conference in October. I spent time with well-respected professionals in the sport psychology field who were generously willing to counsel me on how to maximize my chances of success after completing school. AASP was an incredible learning experience and lifelong learning is one of my key criteria for professional satisfaction.
As is typically in today’s world, I spoke about all the great things that I’ve experienced and largely have ignored the challenges. However, I take pride in honestly assessing my shortcomings and areas for improvement as well as my strengths and accomplishments. So, what could have done better in 2018?
It is humbling to say that I could have been a better husband during 2018, but that’s the truth. For those of you that are married know that marriage is really difficult. Being married with kids can seem impossible sometimes. In my home, me and my wife wear multiple hats. We both work. I go to school full-time. We cart our kids to a gazillion activities. We wrestle with financial concerns. In retrospect, I was so focused on being successful in school and building my career in 2018 that I often neglected certain aspects of my role as husband. It is easy for me to take my wife for granted because she is so independent, competent, and reliable. However, this is not justification for de-prioritizing her needs. It would be easy for me to make excuses. In fact, I often did just that during this past year. However, as I am reflecting now, I must be honest with myself about what I could have done differently. Being more selfless as a husband is one of those things.
In addition to tackling “big” things like being a better husband, I want to tighten up my habits in 2019. My exercise routine is strong, second-nature even. Training is a non-negotiable aspect of my lifestyle. However, I got away from consistent meditation, daily behavior tracking, and clean eating. I am motivated to bring these behaviors back into my daily routine. I have found that daily scheduling is a great way to manage my habits. For instance, I mapped out my hourly schedule last evening for today. I planned to wake up a 6:00 am and practice mediation and movement first thing upon waking. I was successful in achieving this daily goal. I’m much more likely to maintain this practice if I continue to wake up at the same time every day and perform these activities immediately upon waking. Waking up is, in essence, my trigger for this behavior. If I don’t follow this pattern, then I’m almost certain to pass on these activities in favor of more pressing things, such as school work, work-work, and family obligations. If I meditate and mobilize first thing in the morning, then I’m prioritizing these activities at a time of day when others aren’t trying to get after me.
Was 2018 a great year for me? Yes. Could it have been better? Yes. Things can always be better. I can always do things differently to improve my situation. It would be easy to blame circumstances or other people for suboptimal results. However, I must focus on the things that I can control. Taking stock of my year is a great way to evaluate what behaviors served me well and what behaviors need to be modified to have an even better 2019. So, what does a better 2019 look like for me? A better 2019 means making better choices, handling challenging situations with greater poise, and getting the greater possible return on my time investment. In other words, I need to a better job of controlling the controllables. I want to become mentally tougher. I want to be a leader by example. If I can accomplish these goals, then I will have another great year in 2019.