Blogpost, posh

POSH Take Home Form on the Road

London Road has largely been a “fortress” since the return of Darren Ferguson. This is not particularly surprising considering his successful teams tend to lean heavily on their home form. This season is different than any other that these players or this manager have ever encountered. So, it may be the perfect time to buck the trend of away fixture results being in question. It’s time to take the home form “on the road.”

The home team advantage in normal seasons is far more pronounced. Crowd noise and atmosphere tend to be the major contributors to “unnerving” players on away days. Long bus (coach) trips and unfamiliar surroundings are a few of the other factors that add to the worries of the visiting team. The comfort of home is usually a combination of variables despite the fact that the crowd tends to get the focus. Parking, changing room, food, etc. can all influence the comfort level of players at home and cause worry in those away. Most of these subtle changes in the lead up to the game should be relatively inconsequential. However, they tend to stack up and cause anxiety that doesn’t exist when in familiar surroundings.

So far this season, Ferguson has done well with switching the mentality of the players in necessary ways. The first half lull has been replaced with energy and intent. The balance of certainty vs. uncertainty about places in the team also seems to have been sorted. The next hurdle is the away fixture mentality. London Road is a “fortress” and that is spectacular. The advantage is obviously not the crowd or the pitch. It is the mentality that the players bring to that empty stadium with a dodgy pitch (for the moment). Their comfort levels are higher at home that difference doesn’t need to be so pronounced. I’d love to follow the team around for a few matches in order to do a study on the differences in approach to away days. However without that ability, here’s a few simple ideas. Remember there are two things you should never worry about: things that you can control and things you can’t. Things that you can control shouldn’t get your worry/anxiety because you can control them, do something about it. While the things that you can’t control shouldn’t be worried about because you can’t control them. It’s wasted energy.

The players need to “compress the penalty area” which is my personal way of saying reduce anxiety. There are plenty of ways to do this but regarding an away fixture here are a few suggestions.

  • Cold shower! – Now I am a huge proponent of cold showers in general. It’s a part of my daily routine and many people think that’s crazy. However it has a grounding effect that I can’t fully explain. I’ve been taking 45 second – 2 minute cold shower (after hot for cleaning) for about 2 years now. It works almost like a physical mental reset button. For someone who doesn’t do this regularly, it could be a priming mechanism to add to a pregame ritual. It will engage the “fight, flight or freeze (haha)” instinct. Being able to stay calm through that experience trains the body to go to that state less readily. Anxiety is a state of being. Some people train themselves to get to that state easily. Others train their way out. (physiology)
  • The Island – The game is played between the lines, not in the stands. Think of the field as an island. At the moment, there are no fans to contend with. So the building that surrounds the pitch should not matter much at all. The pitch itself is a factor but even our own is in shambles at the moment. Our players have the ability to move past that issue. Now is the time to develop an absolute focus on only the things that happen on “The Island.” By developing that island based focus, it removes the crowd and the opposing manager as obstacles. They do not need to matter if you don’t let them. It is said that one day the Buddha was walking through a village. A very angry and rude young man came up and began insulting him, saying all kind of rude words. The Buddha was not upset by these insults. Instead he asked the young man, “Tell me, if you buy a gift for someone, and that person does not take it, to whom does the gift belong?” The young man was surprised to be asked such a strange question and answered, “It would belong to me, because I bought the gift.” The Buddha smiled and said, “That is correct. And it is exactly the same with your anger. If you become angry with me and I do not get insulted, then the anger falls back on you. You are then the only one who becomes unhappy, not me. All you have done is hurt yourself.” While I am not a Buddhist, there is wisdom to be taken here. The opposing crowd is going to dislike you based on your jersey. Don’t allow their expected vitriol to become a burden that you carry. If it feeds you, great! Use it! If not, leave it. You’ve tuned out your teacher, father, mother, girlfriend, etc. before. It just takes practice and an indifference toward the message. (focus)
I had this hanging on my wall as a teen with the caption “The definition of hell” under it. However it’s a good representation of a game on an island.
  • Phone a Friend! – The voice of the manager may not always be a supportive one and sometimes the worst voice to hear is your own inside of your head. It’s probably not possible nor practical to phone someone during the pregame or the game itself. However it is possible to have that message prerecorded on your phone or available inside your head. Choose the voice of someone who supports and believes in you almost unconditionally. Have their words of encouragement playing in your ear before the game or during. There is a reason why knights would “dedicate” their battles to ladies. Fighting for something more than ourselves adds another level of importance to the moment. (Internal Dialogue)

These are far from the only options for changing away form. The match does not start at the first whistle, nor is it only played in the stadium. A variety of forces contribute to the result of each match. The key is to take control of as many of those forces as possible. Flip obstacles upside down and use them as stepping stones in order to climb to higher heights. The same humans are playing regardless of the geographical location. Don’t let something that should be incidental stand between you and that which you want most. No one can take away your ability to play at your best without your consent. Don’t stand in your own way and don’t let anyone else either!

Up the POSH!

Pete

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POSH: Numbers Alone Don’t Change Behavior

While a draw to the league leaders may be an acceptable result for the day, the continued issues with defensive set pieces are anything but acceptable. The POSH statistics on defending set pieces are anything but impressive. It is an issue that is well known to the players and coaching staff. Regardless of the statistical analysis, numbers alone don’t change behavior.

The video of Lincoln’s goal from the corner kick is difficult to watch but indicative of the grander issue at hand. The cross deflects off our flatfooted captain and goes to a player at the back post who has been left by his marker. While it would be easy to point the finger at those two players, it could have easily been anyone else. Most of the POSH players look flatfooted on the play. Although some might say that a change needs to be made in the defensive set up on set pieces, my viewpoint would be that there needs to be a change in the story the team tells itself about defending set pieces.

Image: Andrew Vaughan/CameraSport

Behavior does not change on its own, in an individual or a group. There are many ways to change behavior and one is through fear. The number of goals given up on set pieces creates a sense of fear when they happen. While fear can change behavior, it brings with it a lot of baggage. The fight, flight or freeze response can be triggered by fear and “flatfootedness” might be representative of this issue. At the moment, the players have a story running in their head about “not getting scored on.” That focus does not tap into the positive emotions that get better results. So what should be done? Flip the script.

POSH is perennially a goal scoring juggernaut. It’s part of the manager’s, team’s, club’s owners’ ethos to be forward thinking. From the type of players that we buy/produce to the school initiative, POSH is always looking to be on the front foot. So the posture of flatfooted and defensive does not suit our mindset. My suggestion is this. Whenever there is a set piece against us, the players need to get EXCITED! That’s right I said excited.

While a set piece in our end may seem like an opportunity for the other team, it creates opportunity for us as well. The field is about as wide open as it will ever be in a game. Center backs are brought forward leaving a skeleton defense at the midfield with one of our forwards. So rather than focusing on how to keep the ball out of our goal. Focus on what we’re going to do with it when we win it back. Create breakout plays from defensive set pieces to put us on the front foot. Then each player’s mindset is not, “I need to keep my mark from scoring.” It becomes “where am I putting the ball when I win it? Because we could score from this.” It’s obvious based on the pressing strategy in the final third that Ferguson has at least subconsciously sold the idea that “defense scores goals.” He’s absolutely right and the final third is not the only place that this is true. It’s true all over the field because in order to score we need the ball. Telling a different story about the situation changes the players’ internal dialogues and focus at these times of high stress.

The POSH go forward. That’s who they are as a team. This subtle tweak just puts them back on the front foot rather than being fearful and flat. Get excited because a goal at the other end is 20 seconds or less away! We have the speed and the players to do it. Now all they need to do is believe!

Up the POSH!

Pete

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All That He Can Give

Tomorrow’s match against MK Dons represents a variety of storylines that impact the approach to the game and the eventual result. The shuffling of the squad did the trick against Rochdale. Many fans have commented that Rochdale’s poor performance was more relevant than the POSH’s youthful lineup. Nothing in life or football exists in a vacuum. Assumptions can never be made about the preparation or outcome of a match. The match is won by the stacking of moments.

My ticket from my first match at London Road. POSH dismantled MK Dons!

Having watched to both managers’ preview interviews, it is obvious that these two clubs are in a different space at the moment. There was a time when MK and POSH were competing with each other. Now each is competing with their own set of circumstances. POSH needs to live up to the expectation of promotion, while MK are looking to find the path back to their former glory. Russell Martin’s time under Darren Ferguson was short but in many ways seems to have been a springboard to a successful playing career. Regardless of the past or future of each club, team and manager, the match is the 90+ minutes between the whistles. All of these variable coalesce into thousands of individual opportunities. Last match Ferguson gave those opportunities to a handful of young players and they took them with great results. The past is now behind them. As many in the dressing room were recently reminded, if you don’t consistently make the best of your opportunities, they are taken from you.

All that either manager can give in tomorrow’s match is opportunities. Each individual has to do the best that they can with it. Russell Martin is a good example of a player who took the opportunities in front of him and ran with them. Players and people usually run into issues when they think that they deserve something. Being a language person, I love to break words apart. That word, DE-SERVE, meaning from service. Players who put an effort in for their teammates will eventually receive opportunities in turn because they are deserved. I refer to it as “soccer karma.” If you give a good ball, you’ll get a good ball. If everyone believes in that ethos, then the chances are much higher that good passes and opportunities will make their way around to everyone. The two cannot be separated though. You need to give first. Regardless of how young or experienced of a lineup Ferguson names tomorrow, those individuals need to take the opportunity that they’ve been given and give back with passion and persistence.

The match will be won by the team who effectively wins the right moments. Since it is impossible to know which moments are crucial, respecting them all is the only strategy. The opportunity is all that a manager can give. It is up to the player to take it! The past means nothing in those 90+ minutes.

Up the POSH!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance, SoccerLifeBalance

Climbing the Pyramid with a Parachute

It was a true pleasure to watch the US Men’s National Team dismantle El Salvador last night in their match. Although the game was a friendly and El Salvador was not at full strength, this is the type of result that one would expect from a sport obsessed nation when competing against a country one fiftieth its size. As Iceland has proven beyond the shadow of a doubt, population is not truly relevant when judging a footballing nation. However the numbers simply provide a context for available talent pool. Even with the competition from the other major US sports, more people play soccer in the US than the entire population of El Salvador. Seeing a tangible result to all of the shifts in US soccer over the past decade was refreshing. Despite my joy in seeing the young squad of US player, it has made me think about the collateral damage of a system that needs to cast aside over 99% of individuals to find those special few.

The US soccer pyramid is not truly a pyramid as it has several dysfunctions and offshoots. However due to the lack of a better term, we’ll refer to it as a pyramid. The structure itself is not completely relevant to the discussion.

The collateral damage that I am referring to is not unique to the US, nor is it new. A youth player from the Manchester City academy committed suicide earlier this year. This is the most extreme example of the ways in which young players can be affected by their fall from the soccer pyramid. Every year young players and old are given their release from a club. Sometimes it is simply a move to a different club or different level. Unfortunately when the ultimate decision is made that a player is no longer “good enough” at their particular level of the soccer pyramid, the fall can be devastating if they are not prepared.

In the United States, the academy system is in its relative infancy compared to the rest of the world. The college system used to be the route to the professional game and with it came an education which served as a “back up plan.” Even with that “back up plan” in place, I’m not sure that it deals with the most pressing issue. A player who has devoted over a decade to the dream of “making it” in soccer (however they would define it) needs to have the psychological tools to deal with that disappointment. A parachute can be a literal lifesaver when falling from high heights but it needs to be strapped on tight before the fall.

The following items are some suggestions that can be packed into the psychological parachute for players in case they fall off the pyramid.

  • A diversified identity – Although we are all only one person, we tend to have different roles that we play within our lives. A person with a singular focus like professional athletics can tend to have tunnel vision on that identity. Developing other aspects of one’s life can not only help in the case of a fall but also allow for the release of pressure during their career. Although this identity includes how the individual interacts with the outside world, it is also extremely important that he/she recognize these other identities inside of his/her own mind. The trauma of losing a part of one’s life is much worse if it is the only part that mattered. That void will need to be filled with something and the easiest things to fill a void with are usually destructive.
  • Quality self-talk – There are many ways that this could be characterized but the heart of the issue is that there is only one person that we spend our entire life with: ourselves. Therefore it is extremely important that we make that person who is living inside of our own heads a friend. Learning how to communicate effectively with yourself is crucial to the building and maintenance of self-esteem. For some reason it seems to me that “esteem” gets overshadowed in that compound word. Esteem is a pretty lofty opinion of someone. It should be something that we can bestow onto ourselves with our words and actions.
  • Quality relationships – Again this is something that needs to be packed in the parachute before the fall. People are less likely to help when they feel that they are being used. Friends and family are key components to our psychological well being. The bonds that we have with the people that we value in our lives releases oxytocin which lowers stress (cortisol) and inhibits addiction. If these types of relationships are not well in place before falling from the pyramid, the stress of “not knowing who to trust” can exacerbate an already difficult situation.
  • Physiological hooks – The body is an amazing antidote to most things that ail the mind. While my hope would be that a player of high caliber would understand how to change her/his state for games or practices, it may be less evident to use these tools when “the walls have tumbled down.” Disappointment, embarrassment, depression and a host of other emotional states may be easier to fall into after the end of a career. Recognizing the control that each of us has over our emotional state through our posture, habitual movements, facial expressions and others is a skill that every individual should develop. This is not a sports skill. It’s a life skill! Creating our emotional state is our job because when it is left up to the world, we are bound to be disappointed by the outcome.

This list is far from exhaustive. However it does begin the conversation about the psychological tools that we all should develop. In this hyper-intense world of high level soccer, it is easy to be so focused on a singular outcome that these tools do not get developed. Unlike the college education which was viewed as a “back up plan,” psychological well being should be THE PLAN for all of us in order to make our journey through life an enjoyable one.

Go pack your chute!

Pete

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All of Kilimanjaro, Not a Quarter of Everest

Focus is more than a skill, it truly is our experience. Whether we realize it or not, there are truly a millions of things going on around us. The only things that leave a lasting impression are the ones that we focus on. Much like the lens of a camera, we can either sharpen or blur our experience based on how attuned our “equipment” is to our world. With all of this action, it’s easy to get distracted by the shiny, convenient, historic, new, expensive or controversial thing. Keeping a singular focus is difficult.

The inspiration for this post is my beloved Peterborough United’s early exit from the FA Cup. They were beaten by Chorley who are a club several leagues below the POSH. It was clearly an upset that now has Chorley in the 3rd round playing against Derby County. I couldn’t be happier! My team lost in the world famous FA Cup and I’m happy? No doubt about it and I hope that we fall out of the other cup competitions too. While I’m sure that the ownership, manager, players and other fans do not share my opinion, it is my muse today. For those of you who do not pay attention to League 1 football in England, the POSH are in third in the league at the moment. Our expressed goal for the season is to earn promotion to the Championship. As many Americans learned in the last episode of Ted Lasso, that is the league below the Premier League.

It’s possible to do two things at once. Walking and chewing gum is simple, unless your hair is on fire! While that seems like an extreme example, it is not completely without merit. Getting to the 3rd round or more in the FA Cup is icing on the cake in a normal year. At the moment, vying for promotion in a pandemic, without fans, playing a compressed schedule, while trying to make a cup run is probably too much. So I say it again, all of Kilimanjaro, not a quarter of Everest!

Each of us in our own lives needs to have a vision for our future. Focus is a key component to whether or not we get where it is that we say we want to go. Regardless of who you are, there are always going to be distractions, obstacles and other prizes on your horizon. Don’t let the “nice to haves” in your world, get in the way of what you really want. There are more than enough stumbling blocks out there, you don’t need to tie your shoelaces together. Find your true north and head in that direction with all due haste.

Up the POSH!

Pete

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Would You Know a Good Ref If You Saw One?

refereeToday my son’s game had an extremely good referee group.  The center referee and his two linesmen called the game very well.  Despite the fact that they did a great job and got the majority of the calls right (even the ones that went against my son’s team), there were still complaints from parents.  Which made me wonder if people really have any idea what makes for a good referee or if they just want calls to go in their team’s favor?  Here are some thoughts to consider.

The level matters – Recognize that the job of a referee changes as the age and the level of play changes.  At the lowest levels, the referee is part of a learning process.  Their job is more about managing the understanding of the game rather than calling “fouls”.  Often the sidelines are complaining about things that are poor body control and not actually a foul.  The higher levels require much more reading of the flow of the game.  A good referee will identify possible problems developing in the play.  Their use of cards, advantage, player discussions and fouls called/not called will depend largely upon their reading of the game and individual’s roles within in it.  So as you are watching a game, give some thought as to the level of soccer being played and what the referee’s role truly is at that level.

Perspective matters – By design, referees are intended to be a neutral third party at the game.  So they are not carrying the bias that most of us bring to the game.  Their decisions are based upon what they see and not what they feel.  This creates another issue for most fans because their vantage point is completely different from that of the referee’s.  So it is not only possible but actually completely accurate to say that fans and referees have seen a different game.  Most of the time this is done with no instant replay, no VAR with different camera angles.  This is done live with twenty two players running in all directions and possibly screening the view.  Despite these major obstacles, perfection is the standard that many expect.

The Laws are the Laws – A good referee will call the game based on the laws of the game, not public perception of what the laws are.  There are many things that are commonly shouted from fans or even coaches about things that do not apply to the Laws of the game.  “Winning the ball” for example does not make a player immune from having a foul called against them.  If the play is deemed to be reckless, then a foul is appropriate regardless of who won the ball.  A large number of players, fans and coaches have only a cursory knowledge of the Laws that are based more on hearsay rather than actual study.

Obviously this is just a small sample but each is worth considering.  The game requires referees and the good ones need to be identified, praised and promoted.  I fear that many people involved in the soccer world would not be able to identify a good referee if they saw one.  That is unfortunate because that means that people are unable to see past their own desires.  Most of the soccer played in this country is youth soccer.  Therefore the majority of children are getting a skewed view of right and wrong.  Right means in my favor and wrong means anything else.  The ability to be objective could be lost.

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Leveraging the Dark Space Inside

High School Soccer from Senior Year

My overall purpose in this world is to help people get the best out of themselves.  Whether I do that work in the classroom, soccer field or elsewhere is irrelevant.  Most of the time it is done through helping people see the possibility within themselves and breaking through the self-imposed limits that they have.  Although my messages are usually positive in nature, I’m not against the idea of leveraging the dark space inside each of us.  It is probably the reason that I’ve been a successful coach for many years.

It was my senior year in high school and there were no big expectations for our soccer team.  There had been lots of talent in the prior year’s senior class and the season had no trophies or accolades.  My senior class had only a couple players of impact.  The junior and sophomore classes were full of talented but untested players.  As the only senior captain, I believed it was my role to help get every last bit of effort out of our team.  If we kept the idea that we were all in it together, we’d do OK.  In all honesty, we shocked a lot of people, even me.  We had an impressive record with only one loss and one tie as it was getting close to the playoff portion of the season.  Our record was good enough to win the conference title.  Against all odds in a penalty kick shootout we were able to beat a much bigger school for the county title.  We were ranked highly by the papers in the area and the number one seed for our section in the state tournament.  I’m not sure if it was one factor or a combination of things but we lost in the first round of the state tournament.

That was over twenty five years ago.  Despite that fact, it is one of the reasons that I have so much to give to my athletes from the sidelines.  Winning and losing are not actually my concern.  The reason why that is such a hole inside of me is that we didn’t give it our all.  I, as the leader, was possibly complacent and overly confident going into that game.  Sure there were other things that impacted the outcome but I know inside that it was at least partially my fault.  So I’ll have this hole inside of me forever because I can’t rewrite the past.

The only option that I have is to leverage that dark space into something positive.  That cautionary tale that I lived through is a driving force on the mundane days where no one feels like giving their best.  It is that pain that gives me the energy to work harder than others and leave it all out there.  I don’t talk about it often or even replay it in my head.  I don’t have to, it’s just there in the background.

We all have these experiences.  There is nothing particularly special or unique about mine.  The question becomes whether or not you can use it toward a future positive end.  Even the greatest lose from time to time but it is what you do with that setback that matters.  No moment is a definitive statement for the positive or negative on who you are as a person.  We are what we’ve done consistently.  With todays challenges you should absolutely give them everything you’ve got.  But if you come up short, take the lesson from it and allow it to propel you forward.  Sometime you win and sometimes you learn!

Have a great day!

Pete

 

Blogpost, self-reliance

Bio-Chemical War on Yourself

cannonI just wept in front of a room of teenagers.  It wasn’t part of the lesson plan but every once in a while, you just have to go with it.  Whenever I talk about a particular former student, it is bound to happen.  It has almost gotten to the point where the waterworks start before I even tell the story.  That’s because I’ve let it happen.  The memory does not have to be painful.   It is a combination of factors that make it so and they’re all within my control.

It seems as though many of us have a very hands off relationship with emotions.  They are things that happen to us rather than our creation.  Emotions are the effect of some cause outside of ourselves and all we can do is point the finger at the guilty party.  As we become more tethered to technology it seems to be getting worse.  Rather than the local humans and situations that can impact how we feel, there is now a virtual world that can impact us day or night, instant by instant.  So we deflect, deny or deliberate on why we feel this way regularly.  But as is usually the case, the answer is all inside.

The chemicals coursing through our brains are there to make the feeling happen.  So in a sense, you are in bio-chemical warfare at all times.  Bringing out the big guns of oxytocin and serotonin to combat the overwhelming attack of cortisol.  It’s not the stuff that they make movies about but it is the reason that we watch movies.  Our brain and body are in a constant feedback loop with each other.  The secretion of these chemicals are what makes feelings happen but we have our hands on the release valves and need to pay attention to these things in order to influence them: physiology, focus and inner dialogue.

Physiology is the way that you use your body.  It includes movement, food, sleep and many other factors but movement is crucial.  Exercise, facial expressions, posture and any other movement that you can think of influence your feelings through your physiology.

Focus is the things that you pay attention to.  At any given moment, there are thousands or possibly millions of stimuli coming in through your senses.  We can only pay attention to a finite number.  So we either pay attention to the obvious things or we need to take control of our focus.

Inner dialogue is the things that we say to ourselves inside of our head.  For good or ill the consistent things that we say to ourselves affect how we feel.  Being mindful of habitual self-talk is extremely important.

These are the ways that we can turn the tide of the chemical warfare that we have going on inside.  It is by no means an easy fix.  Each of these component pieces takes diligence and practice but we are not by any means helpless.

You’re fighting for your life, literally!

Pete

 

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I’m Broken (The Only Mechanic Is Me)

meaningMy first car was a 1977 Chevy Nova!  I inherited it from my great aunt and it was the perfect first car.  It had holes in the floor boards where you could actually see the road below you.  It had an 8 Track tape player in it that never really worked.  It was pale blue and covered with rust spots, as you can tell from the description, I loved it!  There were plenty of reasons to love it that had nothing to do with how looked or how it ran.  And now looking back on it, I understand even better that it was the perfect first car exactly because it was a piece of junk.  At no point did I ever have to worry about messing it up.  I learned how to change the oil, replace the bulbs and change tires on that car.  At no point did I think, “If I mess this up, I’m screwed!”

Fast forward to the present day and I don’t even change my own oil anymore.  Cars have become computers and more complicated, therefore the idea of doing my own maintenance while possible is much easier to outsource.  There are so many things like that today.  Complexity of many systems within our world have changed us from capable amateur mechanics to people in the waiting room in anticipation of someone else fixing our problem.

While this may be helpful or even necessary with many of our possessions, it seems to have become pervasive to the point of a cultural norm.  Day care, personal trainers, landscapers, etc. are all examples of outsourcing things that used to be done by the amateur ‘owner’.  While these services can be helpful and possibly ‘necessary’ in a modern context, there is one thing that we can never turn the complete management over to someone else: your mind.

The best therapist in the land can be employed for multiple hours each day and still, it is on the individual to get their hands dirty and do the work.  No one can change you without your conscious or unconscious consent.  Recognizing this fact, I am amazed at how many brain owners keep waiting for the world or their life to make them happy.  That is like expecting your neighborhood to take care of your lawn without ever communicating with them about it.  And even if you did make that request, I’m sure that you’d get some raised eyebrows or questions like “why is that my responsibility?”  So in this area, we need to realize that that amateur mechanic ethos is absolutely necessary.  Help is not only desirable in most cases, it is necessary but it is on each and every one of us to maintain, diagnose or even overhaul our mind at times.  With the amount of anxiety, depression and other mental concerns that seem to affect most of the population, it is time for all of us to recognize that we are all broken in at least a small way but we are also the mechanic.  Learning about yourself, your habits, fears, triggers and so many other components of your mindset is no longer an option.  Developing the tools to navigate this complex world is not only your job, it’s integral to your survival.  So remember, you’re broken (but so is everyone else) and you’re the mechanic.

Get your hands dirty!

Pete