The link between gratitude and performance

“You have 50,000 thoughts per day, and 80 per cent of those are negative…. We’re conditioned to see the glass half-empty.” – Scott Welle, sports psychologist

When I run, I usually feel uplifted, stronger and happier. That general feeling of wellbeing is one of the main reasons why I run. It’s what gets me out the door.

But until recently, I haven’t given too much thought to the power of positive thinking and its link to performance – both mental and physical. When I was marathon training with a niggling IT band injury, I superstitiously started to think that every second weekend I would have a “bad” run, and sure enough, it became true. My negative thoughts became reality.

When I turn up the good tunes, and positive podcasts and practise positive self-talk, I inevitably have a “good run.” Of course they can’t all be good – there’s heat, there’s discomfort, laziness and sometimes pain. But how do you push through when the going gets tough? Eventually it becomes mind over matter, and you need something to get you to the finish line.

Listening to the Runners Connect podcast on a recent run, I was really inspired to hear about growing evidence that links high performance with the simple act of feeling grateful.

According to author, marathoner and sports psychologist Scott Welle, who works with professional athletes from the NBA to the MLB, studies show high performers almost always have the highest amount of gratitude.

Welle told podcast host and elite marathoner Tina Muir that 50 per cent of our happiness comes from genetics and 10 per cent comes from our surrounding environment. The rest is based on “intentional activities.”

He says being grateful can help your health, your sleep and performance – both personally and professionally.

Welle suggests writing down two or three specific things you are grateful for every morning.

 

“You will look at life differently, and you will attack it with a different level of positivity and contribution than I think move people do when we live in a mindset of lack versus a mindset of abundance,” he told Muir.

When I’m out for a peaceful long run, and the endorphins are flowing, my mind is often bubbling with happy thoughts. I love my little family, I love living on the East Coast, and I’m so proud of this life I have built with my husband. I’m so grateful we are all healthy and have everything we need. Then, I think about something that was ticking me off a few hours ago, and it seems so inconsequential. What a waste of energy.

Who is up for a gratitude challenge? For 30 days, write in your journal every morning, two or three very specific things that make life good. And let the positive vibes flow.

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I’m grateful for the warm sunshine on a beach just a short drive from my home, and the sound of my son throwing rocks into the waves as the tide rolls in.

 

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A running update

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We are loving our new jogging stroller. It feels so great to get out and push my boy through the neighbourhood or local parks.

But man, this summer has been hot! Even here in Saint John, where it’s usually temperate along the coast. It’s been humid too, and I can’t remember the last time I went for a run and didn’t return home just drenched in sweat.

The past month, I have been working on gradually building up my mileage again with the aim of running a fall half-marathon. I recently signed up for Maritime Race Weekend in Eastern Passage, NS. Very pumped to run this race for the first time on Sept. 17.

I’ve also been making more of an effort to improve my speed. I’ve been attending the weekly track nights at the University of New Brunswick Saint John (Tuesdays at 5:30 p.m. if anyone is interested!) led by the venerable Coach Daryl Steeves.

When I told him I have been disappointed with my speed ever since running the marathon, he said training for speed and distance are completely different, which made me feel so much better.

Although I’m usually the slowest runner in attendance, I have found it very helpful and I already feel stronger and faster.

Here’s an example of the workout from the last track night I attended. Added up to 7.5 km.

  • 400 m warm-up
  • 400 m easy, 400 m moderate, 400 m hard (20 s. rest between laps) x4 (1 min rest between reps)
  • 1 km with 3 fartleks

I’m finding my speed on the track is so much faster than I thought I could run – even thought it’s just short bursts – so this is encouraging.

Other highlights from the past month include getting in some long runs with my friend Jen. It always seems so hot, so we take our time, but it’s nice to put the miles in together.

It was also great to run with Alicia through the Irving Nature Park during her visit from Ontario. There is something so wonderful about running with one of your best friends who lives far away.

I also stocked up on shoes before Alex Coffin closed up his West Saint John shop. We will miss him here in the ‘hood but he will still sell shoes from Ken-Val Rehab. And, he is now the general manager of the PotashCorp Civic Centre in Sussex. “You know me, I’m always around,” he told me.

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A new chapter

My very first job in journalism was to write feature stories about the Bruce Peninsula for the local tourism organization sometime around the year 2001. It was a student’s dream job: all kinds of latitude and time to write about the beautiful land I grew up in. I learned how to generate stories, how to interview, how to use the inverted pyramid, and I realized that writing, a thing I loved, could become a path to a career.

My editor was Phil McNichol, a retired journalist from the Owen Sound Sun Times. He would land in the office with his dog and a straw hat, and cut through my writing with a red pen. It hurt, but it was a necessary pain. I had to learn that I may have been a decent writer, but I had a lot to learn. I could always get better.

We grew quite close that summer, as he figured out I had thin skin but someone with passion and a drive to make a difference. I started thinking about applying to journalism school.

But he warned me, clear as day: Journalism can be amazing, but hard. It can be a grind. It’s not your job to make friends. The pay isn’t great, and you put in way too many hours with no thanks. It can take over your life and use up all your head space, hurting your personal relationships.

I heard him, and I felt a little concerned. But I grew up on a farm, and all of it sounded vaguely familiar. On a farm, there is no such thing as 9 to 5. Stress is a given. Hard work is valued. Because what you do is important. It has meaning. And money isn’t everything.

Still, I wasn’t sure I was cut out for journalism, especially in the big city. So I went to Wilfrid Laurier University and took Communication Studies. I got involved in the Cord, the student paper, and quickly got addicted to the news business. I was proud of the fact that I pulled all-nighters every week on production night. I loved running out of class to get an all-important interview with the university president. I loved challenging norms and asking tough questions of the student union. There was nothing like seeing people reading my articles in the student lounge. This felt like the most important, meaningful work I could pursue. I went on to study journalism at Western, and eventually got intern work at a handful of southern Ontario dailies.

In 2009,  when the Waterloo Region Record went through a series of lay-offs, I was not spared. Desperate to stay in the business, I sent my resume across Canada, and ended up getting a summer internship at the Telegraph-Journal in Saint John.

I drove 1,600 kilometres in a 1997 Volkswagen Jetta, bringing two cats and a few belongings (including a vacuum and my Canadian Press Style book). I found a furnished apartment and thought I’d give it a go here, for $12 an hour. It was the right time in my life for a big change. Before long, it felt like home.

Over more than six years, I’ve had the privilege to follow many stories, big and small. I’ve written about everything from stray cats to crime and city politics. I’ve interviewed mascots and premiers and war veterans and police. I’ve laughed and cried with my interview subjects. I’ve convinced them to tell me their stories, their secrets, their frustrations and fears.

Having the chance to craft and share these stories has been a true honour.

But life happens, and times change.

I still love journalism. I believe in its power to provoke, move and entertain. Community journalism is particularly important as the world gets smaller, and the channels of communication become more cluttered. We need a way to make sense of our world, and our place in it.

Yesterday morning, I clicked on my voice recorder and flipped to a clean page in my Telegraph-Journal notebook for the last time. It was a fairly typical day, but I find it fitting that my last interview as a city hall reporter was with the mayor.

In my new job at AdvocateDaily, I will still be writing and interviewing experts on a variety of legal topics. I’ll be building sources in a new way. But I will no longer be a newspaper reporter – something I once believed I was destined to do for a very long time.

Still, I’m thrilled to have a new opportunity at my feet. A chance to build new skills and put my existing ones to the test. I’m ready for a change.

To everyone at the Telegraph-Journal and throughout Greater Saint John, please know I am forever indebted to you for welcoming a girl “from away” and accepting her as your own. For allowing her to participate in the community from such an incredible standpoint. For allowing her to ask questions and trusting her with your words.

Signing off for now,

@reporterapril

He’s 1

This image is forever etched in my mind: my husband gingerly carrying our newborn in a car seat down the hall of the hospital. I carried a few bags but I kept stopping to take photos. I had only given birth about 30 hours earlier and emotions were spilling out of me. It was really hitting me that this was a huge moment. We were taking our baby home, and our lives would never be the same.

Now a year has passed and the thought still rings true. Except rather than a dream or an idea of being a family of three, we’re living it.

Three weeks ago, our son reached his chubby little fingers into his first slice of chocolate cake and devoured it. We sang Happy Birthday and surrounded him with family and friends. I always thought baby birthday parties were sort of foolish, but now I get it. It was as much about us as it was about him. Together, we made it through the most challenging and beautiful year of our lives.

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No one can every prepare you for how difficult it is to care for a newborn, as a sleepless, anxious new mother. But as time went on, and we got a little more sleep, it got easier.

Before long, we were going to Stroller Fit and baby massage classes. We made a grand event out of grocery shopping. Breastfeeding eventually felt normal and we would do anything to make Silas smile.

Just as we were getting the hang of this new life, we were blasted with the snowiest winter in 50 years. Silas didn’t really like to nap, except in my arms. I begged for a chance to shovel snow so I could get outside and breathe fresh air. Maternity leave was anything but a cakewalk.

But we had a lot of fun too: we’d go to playdates and swim dates and movie dates. I started running again. We made new friends and learned new songs. We finally figured out routines that worked for us, and eventually, Silas didn’t need me as much, which felt bittersweet.

We’ve watched our boy, Silas, grow into his own little personality. He is happy, adventurous and smart. Confident, yet sensitive. An old soul. A piece of us, only better.

One year is all it took to make us see the world so very differently. It’s so easy now to understand what is truly important.

And as our baby becomes a toddler, we’re celebrating that.

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Silas is one year old. Photo by Cindy Wilson.

Weaning

I can feel it, him needing me less. And it hurts a little bit.

He’s only 10 months old, but every day, he is more and more independent. The way he mimics sounds and daydreams in a corner with his blocks. The way he is satisfied with a sippy cup of milk instead of me. The way he no longer needs to feel my warmth to stay asleep.

As he reaches out into the world, smiling at strangers and cooing at cats and dogs, I am overwhelmed with pride. I am consumed with love. But there is also a little part of me that wants him to stay small and needy.

It’s almost the opposite of how I felt during his first weeks of life. I loved holding and feeding my newborn, but his need for me was sometimes stifling. I remember the first time I slept without him on my chest (weeks after he was born) and feeling like I could finally breathe.

But now, as his weaning begins, I know in my heart that what the lactation consultants said is true. It will be much harder on me than on him.

I find myself holding him a few moments longer than I used to after he falls asleep. I used to wait impatiently for his eyes to close, for his body to fall heavy. Now, as his little body relaxes into sleep, I find myself relaxing too, holding him closer and watching the peace wash over his face.

He feels bigger every day, and I suddenly feel the relentlessness of time. And how precious these moments are.

Silas and I on the day of my sister's wedding. Silas was 3 months old.  Photo by Amanda Barber.
Silas and I on the day of my sister’s wedding. Silas was 3 months old. Photo by Amanda Barber.

The cat/baby dynamic

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Ginger has been a part of my life for nine years. She was born to a house cat on my parents’ farm in Ontario, and I brought her to live with me in Waterloo the same year I finished university.

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Ginger in 2007 with my former cat, Sage.

When I moved to New Brunswick in 2009, I came with whatever I could fit in my ’97 Volkswagen Jetta. Ginger and Sage made the 16-hour trip together in a cat crate, riding in the front seat. While Sage whined, Ginger was tough, curling in a back corner and sleeping the whole way.

These two furry friends were the only living souls I knew when I set foot in this city. They were with me through some very lonely days.

Ginger came with me when I moved in with my boyfriend (sadly, Sage had some issues and found another home). And she came along when we bought a house, and became our fur-child when we got married.

She once filled my Instagram feed. I called her my practice baby. I would narrate her odd little behaviours to my sister on the phone. She has a thousand adorable nicknames like Nirmal and Buggy.

And then, I had a baby. A human baby. And everything changed.

Sure, Ginger still gets attention, but it’s just not the same. She’s happy to curl up in a chair and sleep the day away.

My seven-month-old son squeals in delight when he sees the cat. The cat scowls. Silas attempts to gently pet her soft fur, but his little hands grab ears and hair. She tolerates him.

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Ginger has never once shown aggression or defensive behaviour toward Silas, and for this, I am grateful.

The trouble is that whenever I get cozy with Silas – particularly at bedtime – Ginger stirs from the warm spot she has occupied the past several hours and decides it’s dinner time.

I’ll be in the baby’s room, and he will have just nodded off to sleep, and she busts in, picking at the carpet. It’s an extremely frustrating feeling to hold a sleeping baby and listen to a cat scratch in front of you. She knows I’m vulnerable and will do anything to make her stop. Therefore, food in the bowl.

If she can’t break in the room, Ginger will linger in the hallway and make a loud gurgle-meow as soon as I emerge. I chase her away and feed her again to shut her up.

She has definitely woken up the baby a couple times doing this. And I’ve held a grudge against her. She knows it, too. There have been times when I’ve wanted to show her the door.

And then my baby will squeal and vibrate with excitement when he sees her, and she’ll relax and curl her tail around him and I’ll remember the tougher days, and how she stayed by my side and melded herself into this new life of mine that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

2014: The year I learned to run pregnant and as a new mom

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This year I learned so much about this body of mine. I learned to love it, respect it and use it to help my baby grow.

It’s pretty amazing, really, what we can make our bodies do, and what they’re meant to do.

At the beginning of 2014, I was about 14 weeks pregnant. I had just finished a December run streak, and we had just started to share the news with family and friends that we were expecting a baby.

I tried to keep running as that baby bump grew. With such a snowy winter, I continued with most of my runs on the treadmill, at the gym. I kept going until my hips started to hurt. By that time, I was about 28 weeks pregnant. I actually kept running longer than I expected I would.

After that, I tried to stay fit by doing spinning classes, walking and doing strength exercises.

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Throughout my pregnancy, I gained 35 pounds. I tried to find a balance between listening to my body and nourishing my baby and not giving in to every craving. I was really lucky to have a healthy pregnancy and a normal childbirth (although “normal” is actually crazy, intense, PAINful! And yes, I had an epidural!)

On June 27, 2014, our baby boy, Silas, was born. And oh, how our lives changed. He filled us with immense love, happiness and, well, fear.

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My expectations for getting back into running after hitting the traditional six-week mark flew out the window. Every moment was consumed by caring for our son. I don’t think I really understood how life-changing having a child would be until it happened. He needed me all the time. For months, his only naps were in the cozy arms of mom or dad. Nights were tough at first, then better, then challenging again. I had to learn that getting stuff done could wait. Baby was and is priority no. 1.

Unexpected challenges with breastfeeding ultimately lengthened my recovery time until Silas was about three months old. Only then did I start feeling like some semblance of my old self. Except now, it’s April, the Mama. And I love it. It feels like the person I was always meant to be.

My first post-partum run wasn’t until mid-September. At that point I still had nurses coming to change my dressing every couple of days. But I couldn’t wait to get outside.

Those first few runs and workouts were so hard. But gradually they became a little easier and I realized I wasn’t completely starting from square one again (probably thanks to my fitness during pregnancy).

In late October, I decided I wanted to sign up for the Santa Shuffle. It’s just a fun run, but I needed a goal. It turned out to be a good decision. The registration forced me to get out for three runs a week. Not only were those runs good for my sanity, but they helped me get some confidence back.

I’ve kind of let my running slip over the past couple of weeks, with the hustle bustle of the Christmas season. But yesterday I signed up for the first run of 2015: the 13K Lorneville Loop! So things are about to get real!

This year, my running all but came to a halt. But I’m picking it up again. I’m learning how to juggle motherhood and fitness, and admiring all those fit moms out there who manage to make it work.

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Hope you all can take time to acknowledge your own accomplishments of 2014 as we look forward to another year and whatever challenges and blessings it may bring.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!