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The Brain

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This has been another interesting Whole Life Challenge. I always seem to learn something and this Challenge wasn’t any different. To share with you what I learned, let me give you a little background.

Both Andy and I have done some personal development work. While we both started in somewhat the same kind of place, our focuses diverged at a point. Much remained similar, but we became kind of a yin and yang to each other. While my training went deeply into accountability and creating concrete results, Andy’s work became very personally centered. Something that really acknowledges the soul of a person.

In a couple of words, I’m “neck up” and Andy is “neck down.” Brain and heart.

Being intellectually centered, I always kind of chuckled when Andy would bring up heart and spirit. His processes were weighted towards patience – process oriented. “But what’s that got to do with getting things done?” Mine, as you might guess, were weighted towards actions – results oriented.

Don’t misunderstand, we both had some of both, but our centers of gravity were very clear.

As we coached players in past challenges I would hear a lot about “letting yourself off the hook.” “WHAT??” I would think – “What’s ‘off the hook’ got to do with accountability?? Do or do not! There is no try!!” But I trusted Andy’s coaching. I backed him up and continued to look for the answer in my own life.

Then during this Challenge, a little light peeked through. During this Challenge, I started to understand that “off the hook” wasn’t about making excuses. They are two totally separate things. And it certainly didn’t have anything to do with shirking accountability. I discovered that it is something else entirely.

Letting myself off the hook, I discovered, meant not punishing myself for failing to meet deadlines or fulfill promises. That doesn’t mean that it works not to meet deadlines or fulfill promises, it just doesn’t mean I suck. There’s always something to look at, given I’m not interested in not fulfilling promises, but I’m not a terrible human.

I’ve found that this idea actually dovetails very nicely with accountability. It brings humanity to it. Holding someone – or myself – accountable, means standing up for who they are as their greatest self. Making sure they know that for their sake, and because they asked for it (important!), I won’t accept that excuses or reasons fulfill on their greatness. The side that was missing, while standing for greatness, was leaving room for humanity, vulnerability, and forgiveness. For them or for myself. Forgiving meant giving up.

I’ve learned that the only way to develop the whole self is to acknowledge the whole self. Even the parts that need more generosity or just want to have some fun. If my workout needed to be a long walk, that’s what it was. I wasn’t not being accountable to my fitness by doing something that wasn’t super intense. I was being accountable to my whole self and discovering how to fulfill on promises in ways that were sustainable and made me want to participate.

I guess I’m not surprised. Show me a brain that can live without a heart, or a heart that can beat without a brain. It doesn’t happen. They need each other. If it does happen it’s all creepy, and in a jar, and science fictiony, and blech.

I think I can summarize this way – Plan like you’ll live forever – the accountability part – and live like you’ll die tomorrow – the “off the hook” humanity part. Identifying with humanity allows for the gift of belonging. Said by Rumi, a 13th century Sufi poet:

Come, come wherever you are,
Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving;
Come, ours is not a caravan of despair.
Though you’ve broken your vow a thousand times,
Come, come again.

So often, “breaking my vow” left me feeling in exile from myself and from people who knew how “guilty” I was. This was self-inflicted punishment. What I learned was it was up to me to grant myself the acceptance I needed to feel whole. It was never out there. No one can give it to you. It couldn’t happen until I let myself off the hook.

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Michael Stanwyck
Michael Stanwyck is the co-founder of The Whole Life Challenge, an idea that developed during his seven years as a coach and gym manager at CrossFit Los Angeles.

He graduated from UCLA with a BA in philosophy as well as a degree from the Southern California School of Culinary Arts, and feels food is one of the most important parts of a life - it can nourish, heal, and bring people together.

Michael believes health and well-being are as much a state of mind as they are a state of the body, and when it comes to fitness, food, and life in general, he thinks slow is much better than fast (most of the time). Stopping regularly to examine things is the surest way to put down roots and grow.

He knows he will never be done with his own work, and believes the best thing you can do for your well-being starts with loving and working from what you’ve got right now.