Thursday, December 17, 2020

Failing Well at Encouragement

I’m learning a lot about encouragement in my CrossFit journey these days. Some of it comes in a daily way, with CF peeps cheering one another on during a workout or giving a “Good job today!” shout as we walk out the door. Some of it is more precise, with particular observations shared on a particular skill-development or PR (personal record) success. There’s also the one-step removed invitation to inspiration, offered by members’ Facebook page feeds and posts. Sometimes those are about the day’s workout, but oftentimes, they are ‘food for thought’ from professional and personal lives. For me, a lot of it comes down to consistent presence and companionship, being with a community fiercely intent upon fitness. And fun. Can’t forget the silliness that crops up, like creating a ‘fake PR photo’ of one coach to goad the success of a friend. Encouragement is the fruit of all of this, in different ways.

What struck me the other day is that I myself struggle to be a good encourager in words or precise observations mirrored back to another. For a woman who can be incredibly wordy--case in point--I honestly become speechless in how to encourage precisely, with attention to specific movements or workouts. I don't know what to say, nor how to reach out genuinely like some can and do. A couple of folks in our Box are really good at it, in different ways of going about it, which is what made me notice.

One offers encouragement often, but rarely in a generic way. You know she’s been paying attention and has developed an eye for form and technique. She’s precise in naming the good she observes. Another offers encouragement in his consistent team-spirit, shared with everyone. He’ll offer feedback on a technique, if asked, and will encourage with a bit of his own story with that movement. When I receive the gifts of encouragement in this way, I find myself a bit speechless, but appreciative. So I wish I had that gift too. Until I began to feel my way into this topic, that is. It’s actually a huge celebration in my own CF journey to not be good at this, this way, believe it or not!

To be really good at encouragement like this, you have to observe others with a precision and attention to detail. For a very long time, from earliest memory, I did learn how to observe others in this way. A constant attention to the other first, even before becoming aware of my own experience. It eased things in my own home, for one. Developing a perceptiveness, even intuition, about the feeling states of my parents allowed me to feel safe, protect myself from surprise or harm. I got kudos for caring for others in this way, sometimes sensing things in their experience before they were aware of them. I learned how to hold the energy of a room full of people, heightening awareness of mood-states and potential challenges (as a professor-teacher, for instance).

The downside of this honed perception, over a lifetime, is that you can lose track of your own experience, even your own feeling life. You get so good at sensing outwardly that your muscles of inward awareness atrophy. Another binding habit is the comparative one, hoping to build your own sense of self up by achieving more than another, or doing something better than another. This is actually quite unsteadying, as your own sense of things depends upon another rather than being grounded in your own body, your own journey. 

My CrossFit journey has pretty much mirrored and healed this dynamic in me, I'm so very thankful to observe aloud. The last several years in my midlife journey have been about re-centering and re-accessing my own experience first, awakening to what I might feel about something before tending to others’ desires or wants. So much religious formation can shame this inward honoring as selfishness, but it’s not remotely selfish. One, if you lose enough of your center, you have no self to be selfish about. Surprising or not, I’ve been there, myself. But mostly, particularly for women, it’s not selfish to take up space and know your own body, mind, sense of things. In my CF journey, I’ve learned to really hone my energies and awareness in my own body in a workout, attending solely to my own movements, process, feelings. I am finally completely unaware of what another CF friend is doing, how many reps, what round s/he may be on. When I log my wko and learn how others have progressed in the workout, the numbers don’t have much meaning for me internally. There’s no comparative-shame-competitiveness in me anymore.

So while it may sound rather odd, or counter-intuitive as something to celebrate, it’s an amazing victory for me to be so bad at this, at precise encouragement. The kind of observation required to be really good at it is there in me, but I’ve had to re-learn other skills necessary for balance inside. It means that I’m not aware of others’ processes or movements while I’m tending to my own, and that I can really cheer CF peeps on without any sense of connection to my own. Given my own path in life, this is a remarkable accomplishment for me. Strange to celebrate being bad at precise encouragement, but ironically, it allows me to be encouraging of everyone without any ties, caveats, or personal motives.

Victory is a sweet sweet thing...