Diana Hill, PhD is a clinical psychologist, international trainer and sought-out speaker on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and compassion. I spoke with Diana just over a year ago on my podcast about healthy striving and psychological flexibility.
Diana is the host of the podcast Your Life in Process and co- author of ACT Daily Journal and works with organizations and individuals to develop psychological flexibility so that they can take wise action toward fulfilling and impactful lives. Integrating her over 20 years of meditation experience with yoga and psychological training, Diana blogs for Psychology Today, and guest teaches at InsightLA, Blue Spirit Costa Rica, PESI, Praxis Continuing Education, Yoga Soup and Insight Timer Meditation. n
In this episode, we talked about how to show up as working moms, the importance of balancing values and strengths, competition and collaboration, values-based eating, and strategies we’ve used in building our friendship.
“This is something I’m interested in these days, is the intersection of strengths and values. Because strengths, and I’ve talked about strengths with the different people on my podcast, but strengths are sort of what comes easily to you, these gifts. So maybe you weren’t called an athlete. But I imagine as a kid, you were interested in physical, the physical world, or using your body or things that when you do them, there’s a sense of ease effortlessness in our strengths. And then our values are not always easy for us. But they give us energy, they give us vitality, they give us motivation to do something that’s actually hard. And that balance of strength plus values, creates opportunities to do amazing things. And I do that in my own life in terms of, I feel like some of my strengths are working with people, right, and being really intimate with people in conversation. And I have strengths, sort of the creative aspects of experiential practices, in therapy or in workshops. And I can use those to apply my values of wanting to help people become free from suffering.”– Dr. Diana Hill
- Knowing when to do it over
- How to balance motherhood and ambition
- How I started mountain biking
- The intersection of strengths and values
- The importance of connecting to our body’s wisdom
- What is wise effort
- How to know when to grit and when to quit
- Values-based eating
- How to build a wise council
- Valuing friendship
- Why more is not always more
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Dr. Diana Hill: Okay, Sonya, this is take two of an interview that we did last week. And afterwards, I texted you saying I want to do it over, can we do it over? Because I didn’t feel like I showed up maybe in the way that I wanted to fully show up. And you were so gracious to say, yeah, let’s do it again, let’s make it be how you want it to be. This is aired on both of our podcasts, so it’s a collaboration. And thanks for doing this again.
Sonya Looney: Yeah. And first of all, it takes courage to put your hand up and say, hey, can we redo that? And I think a lot of people wouldn’t actually say that, even though they felt it. So props to you for being brave.
Diana: Yeah, well, I think it also takes who you’re asking to do that with. Because I have felt that with other people and haven’t said it. And if there’s always that question of am I just being super hyper critical and perfectionistic? And that is a good question to ask because sometimes it isn’t wise to redo something; it’s just another hour of our time, it’s more prep. And sometimes it is really wise to redo it. So hopefully, we can talk a little bit about that today, like when to choose to redo and when to choose to let it be not your best. Like it’s okay to get a C on some things and some things you want an A plus on. And that is that something that I’m interested in as well. We’re emerging friends. We’re sort of a budding friendship. I came to knowing you more from the podcast realm than from your biking background, and you sent me this video about you as a mom and identity and biking. Sounds like it won some awards.
Sonya: Yeah, it’s been touring at film festivals around the world, actually. And it’s won some awards. And it’s pretty cool to be able to make an impact on people. But it’s also weird because you don’t know what impact it’s having. And that’s something that I think about a lot, because a lot of us are working in our office, like you’re alone in your room, I’m alone in my room here. And we’re doing our best, and we’re doing things that we’re passionate about, but we don’t often see how it lands. So that’s still something that I think is a challenge in our culture.
Diana: Well, there was this line that you said in it, which is someone had sent you a text or message on Instagram, saying it’s selfish for you to ride your bike for hours while having a baby. And I don’t relate to that; I’m not an athlete like you are, but I definitely relate to that feeling of if I’m pursuing a career, or if I’m striving for something more, is it selfish because I’m also a mother? And then the flip side of that, if I’m really dedicating my time in this moment to being a mother, am I not going to achieve what I want to achieve in my career? And that’s a really difficult place to be in that I know, I imagine.
Sonya: Yeah, I mean, I think that it’s just asking, how do I want to show up? And there has been days where I’ve spent a lot more time with my kids, and maybe not worked the time that I wanted to work, or maybe cut my ride short, because I felt that pressure to come back. And I asked myself, at the end of the day, I evaluate, well, how did that actually make me feel? Did I show up as my best or was I showing up wishing that I was somewhere else? And I think for everybody that’s different. And it can also be different on a day-to-day basis. But it’s continually checking in with yourself and asking, how do I want to show up? What do I want in my life? And of course, it’s a privilege to even be able to ask yourself that question and say, oh, if I want to work part time and spend time with my kids, not everybody gets to do that. So just being aware of that too.
Diana: And that’s where values come into because you can live out your values and then different domains of your life and that the value is less attached to the identity. Because it gets a little dangerous if we start over identifying with I am this I am that. I’m a psychologist. I’m a runner. And when we over identify with those when those things go away, like there’s periods of time when you can’t exercise or you’re injured, what happens to that identity? Can you tell us a little bit about some of the things you know you’ve done as an athlete?
Sonya: Yeah, I didn’t grow up riding bikes, but I did grow up wanting to be a professional athlete. I wanted to be a professional soccer player, I wanted to be a professional tennis player. But it wasn’t until I found endurance sports that I found true confidence in myself because I was pursuing something because I liked it, not to impress somebody else, not for external validation. And I did a mountain bike race because some guys suggested that I try mountain biking and I had the confidence to try because I had run a marathon when I was 18. And I think that’s so important to explore things that you’re curious in and to show up and try things because you don’t realize what you might be saying no to if you don’t say yes to the thing that you want to try. So trying mountain biking changed my entire life. It enabled me to travel the world for 10-plus years. I’ve raced my bike in 25 plus countries. I was world champion in 2015 and 24-hour mountain biking which means race your bike for 24 hours straight without stopping, or without sleeping, you might stop to go to the bathroom or to change your lights. And being able to travel and to push myself in ways that I wouldn’t have been able to push myself otherwise taught me who I was. I was able to experience extreme highs, but also extreme lows and deciding what I’m going to do in those moments when I’m in the middle of Mongolia or in the middle of Nepal on the top of a mountain and my brakes aren’t working, how do I want to show up and how will I continue on in my life? And that experience has informed a lot of education for myself, because I want to help other people do the same things. And I don’t believe that people need to do the same types of challenges that I’ve taken on, but being brave enough to go out there and put yourself out there and try something that you’re interested in, and then learning about yourself on the way and having the grace to say I’m not going to understand how this all works. I may not even understand myself through this process. But I’m willing to learn as I go, and that learning piece is going to be enriching for my life.
Diana: Well, I see it as, and this is something I’m interested in these days, is the intersection of strengths and values. Because strengths, and I’ve talked about strengths with the different people on my podcast, but strengths are sort of what comes easily to you these gifts. So maybe you weren’t called an athlete. But I imagine as a kid, you were interested in physical, the physical world or using your body or things that when you do them, there’s a sense of ease effortlessness in our strengths. And then our values are not always easy for us. But they give us energy, they give us vitality, they give us motivation to do something that’s actually hard. And that balance of strength plus values, creates opportunities to do amazing things. And I do that in my own life in terms of, I feel like some of my strengths are working with people, right, and being really intimate with people in conversation. And I have strengths, sort of the creative aspects of experiential practices, in therapy or in workshops. And I can use those to apply my values of wanting to help people become free from suffering. So if you can find that intersection of the two, then you get someone like Sonya Looney, who’s climbing up mountains in Nepal, and then on her exercise bike with her little baby they’re watching. So it’s a cool place to be.
Sonya: I wanted to actually ask you, when did you first start thinking about what your values and strengths were?
Diana: Well, there’s sort of two ways to look at that there’s a knowing and then there’s a thinking about two different. I actually see them as two different places within my body, the knowing comes more from my belly of when I’m doing this, it feels right. And I feel energized, and I don’t feel depleted afterwards. That’s often things that are related to our values. Or values can also be related to what’s most painful to us. So ooh, I feel a twinge of discrepancy between how I’m acting and how I want to be in the world. And I’ve known that for a really long time, ever since I was a really little girl, I’ve had been pretty tuned in to that system within my body. I started thinking about it when I became an ACT psychologist, and I started reading some of this work on values. And it was something different than what people were talking about in terms of what does it mean to live a well-lived life. It had it had more of a heart, our values are so individual, and they’re unique to us. And they also can be a help us be of service in the world. And so I’ve learned a lot of ways to do exercises around how to help people identify their values, and how to live those values out in their life. But I would say most people already kind of know inside their bodies.
Sonya: Something that I thought was really interesting that you said was I felt it in my body and a lot of us are disconnected from our body. We’re up in our head, we don’t realize how our body might be reacting to something that we feel or even think. And it can be really challenging for people to feel their body and it might be scary to feel their body.
Diana: So I’m curious about that. Because as an athlete, sometimes you’re pushing you’re almost pushing your body into places that your head says you can’t go. And then you can be surprised like, wow, my body went there, even though my head said I couldn’t go there. And there can be that fine line between overtraining or under training and how do you do that as an athlete? How do you work with the body?
Sonya: Yeah, I mean, I think it can also be the other way of my mind telling me I’m doing this and my body is saying no, and my mind is gonna continue to say no, you’re gonna keep going. And I think that for me, that’s more what I identify with. But it’s really different for everybody. I mean, I think with the overtraining piece, a lot of it comes from a lack of either knowledge or lack of confidence, because we will overwork this this is this applies to anything not just training, but we’ll overwork because we are not confident or we don’t trust the work that we’re doing. So we think that if I do more, then I’m going to be better. And it’s in sport, it’s really obvious because whenever you push yourself physically, you start getting worse and worse, and you get sick, and you don’t see any improvements. But when it comes to knowledge work, it can be harder and more insidious to know that you’re overworking. And I think that that is where burnout comes into play a little bit, as overworking I’m not enjoying things that I once was enjoying before. And I’ve experienced that on both ends of the spectrum.
Diana: Well, there’s that sort of the load, allostatic load, of it’s just too heavy for your body and your poor, your brain to carry at some point and you push past it, that’s when you get the wear and tear, whether it’s physical wear and tear, or mental wear and tear. And it’ll catch up with you. It’ll catch up with you as a parent too, pushing yourself too far as a parent, how do you navigate that in terms of being an athlete and a parent and the many loads that you have to carry doing both?
Sonya: Well, the answer is that I’m still learning. Yeah, I have a one and a three-year-old now. And I don’t really know the answer to that. I try and assess how I’m feeling as I mentioned. I also try and look at a lot of these elements of well-being and say, am I pushing too hard? And am I not addressing, you know, spending time with friends and experiencing or looking at positive emotions that I might be having? Or am I just overworking, trying to feel a certain way, because I think that working is going to make me feel a certain way. And something that you said earlier, it was it was in regards to I can’t remember exactly what it was, it was about wise effort. And I wanted to tell a little story about this, because I’m currently experiencing a really challenging time right now. I am going to race in North Carolina in April. And it’s a five-day mountain bike race. Around the race, I’m doing some other things. But I was really excited to go to this race, because I’m taking the whole family. I’m excited to be back on the race course after not being able to do as many races because of pregnancies and pandemics. And I was so excited to have this great training going into it. But I got sick, because that happens when you have kids. And I’m working on readjusting my expectations around this. And I’m not able to train. I haven’t trained in 10 days, and it’s going to be multiple days before I can even get back. And that’s frustrating for me because I know that I’m showing up to this event without preparation, without doing the work that I wanted to do. And it’s easy to say, well, I’m not going to be perfect. I shouldn’t show up, I shouldn’t even try. Or can I find other goals and other ways that this is going to be meaningful for me. So I think that this effort can be something that isn’t just one dimensional, it can be multi dimensional, but it can be really challenging whenever you are really attached to it going a certain way. And then it’s not going to go that way.
Diana: Well, wise effort has two components to it, right? The wisdom part is the first part and wise effort, it comes from the actual term comes from the eightfold path. So we’re sort of using it in a more sort of general way. But wisdom is both the experience that we have from past experience. So you have wisdom around. If I don’t train, I’m pretty sure what my outcome would be. And for someone to come in and say, but Sonya, you’re such a good athlete, I’m sure you’ll do a good job, could feel really invalidating because you actually you may not perform as well as you could perform if you had a really healthy period of time where you could train. So there’s wisdom of knowing from our past experience. But then there’s also another form of wisdom, which is like that body-based wisdom. Another form of wisdom, which is hmm, is there actually something else for me to learn from this experience or something else, another way, in which I’m going to grow. That’s mysterious, I don’t even know yet I could be curious and open to what shows up for me on this race and may be really interesting. Maybe you somebody that you meet or something that happens between you and your partner, you and your kids, it’s really magical. And then the effort part is the sort of the dialing up and down of our energy and using our strengths to help us have ease in the areas where we can have ease and using our values to help us be strong and motivated and have some sense of like gusto in the areas where we need that. So it does feel like an opportunity for wise effort for you.
Sonya: We were talking about strengths earlier, I’ve taken the VIA character survey multiple times since 2015, when I first discovered it and I really enjoy that. And so for people listening if you don’t know your strengths, or you don’t even know where to start, that’s a great place. But thinking about those is actually really helpful for me, like my number one strength is gratitude. My number two strength is perspective. And I can’t remember the order of the top five, but zest is in there. And how can I apply those to this situation? And it’s easy for me to apply those to the situation because the only reason I’m not only going to that race for one reason; I’m going because I want to connect with community, I’m going to be doing some talks around mental performance and well-being. I want to create memories with my family. And I want my family to see Sonya, their mom, as a racer, so that I can set an example for them. And like you said, you never know what opportunities are just around the corner if you’re open enough to show up and to look for them. So this is a great example to think about those things. Because I know everybody listening has had an experience where maybe you had suboptimal preparation for something, or even something didn’t go the way that you wanted it to, but that doesn’t mean that all is lost. And that doesn’t change the fact that you might have been disappointed in some way. But both can be true at the same time.
Diana: And then the flip side of that is the times in which we’ve all practiced unwise effort, where we’ve kept at it and pushed so hard and clinged to it, whether it’s a relationship that we just weren’t willing to let go of, a friendship we weren’t willing to let go of, a job. So these things that we hold on really tightly to put a lot of effort into, and part of wise effort is also knowing when to surrender or when to let go of our grip, so that our hand is freed up. If you imagine gripping your hand really tight on something, you can’t use it to do the other important things in your life. I remember Angela Duckworth saying know when to grit and know when to quit. So that’s another thing about that. With the VIA, I use that with clients. And sometimes clients get a little frustrated, because they take the whole test, and some of the questions don’t feel like quite the right fit for them. So this is also the idea of wisdom, which is maybe go through the list first, and do a subjective analysis of which do I think are my strengths. And then take the evidence-based test and compare the two. Because there’s many forms of science, right? There’s subjective, sort of inner knowing. There’s objective science based on tests that have been replicated over time and validated over time. And then there’s also another one where you can ask somebody who loves you, what do you think are my strengths and then ask a stranger, what do you think are my strengths, and when you get all that information together, then you might have a really nice, diverse, pile of strengths to draw from.
Sonya: The question I wanted to ask you is, when do you know when to quit, because this is something that I actually really struggle with is I tend to hold on to too many things. And I’m afraid to let go of something because I don’t want to be somebody that quits at something. And I have to let go. So how did you know with that podcast, for example, that it was time to go?
Diana: Ah, well, a couple of things. I used wise counsel. So I am a believer in having a council of people and a council of people that is different from me. So a council that is someone including my counselor, someone older than me, someone younger than me, a peer, and then also wise counsel in terms of sort of an expert kind of person. So the older than me person, and my wise counsel is often my dad, he’s just got wisdom, because he’s got life experience. He’s a Buddhist. And so I’ll ask him. Someone younger than me sometimes is my kids. And my kids being things like Mom, you seem really stressed out, or you don’t seem as happy as you usually are. Right? And so one way to know when to quit or when to not is to gather your wise counsel and present the issue to the wise counsel. And then we also have wise counsel within our own bodies of I could just tell my body was saying no, repeatedly. No, and it would show up in my sleep. I went to interview this sleep researcher, Rafael Pelayo who wrote the book, How to Sleep, from Stanford, and he said, your sleep is a reflection of your day. And if things are waking you up in the night, it’s often because they’re sort it’s like unprocessed material that you haven’t resolved and you’re kind of trying to process it in your dreams or whatever. And then it wakes you up. So that would be one way it sort of the similar idea of having many different views or information that you gather. And then sometimes it’s experimentation and trusting that this isn’t the only option for you. If you quit, there’s going to be something else like that hand that’s clenched. If you open your hand and let go of this, there’s going to be something else that you can pick up. And trust that because that’s always been the case. And sometimes you will quit things that you’ll have that feeling of like, oh, I wonder where that would have gone and that regret may show up. Or you may have that the loss, the grief that can show up with quitting, which I still have around different things I quit my life. But there’s always been something else to pick up. So, I don’t know. Do you have something in your life that you’re considering quitting right now?
Sonya: No, I mean, nothing big. I started this apparel brand like five or six years ago, and it was really fun. And I built it up into, not like a massive business, but it was a profitable business and it’s still kind of going in the background, but I don’t really do anything with it. And that’s something that I’m going to be shifting, but I always commit to a certain period of time whenever I start a project that way whenever I’m feeling like things are hard, and I want to quit, I know that it’s not just an emotion where I want to quit just because it’s hard. And after a certain period of time, I allow myself to evaluate and decide. But one thing that I did quit is I got my master’s degree in electrical engineering. And a lot of people are surprised when they hear that because they say, well, why aren’t you doing that, or you’re a pro mountain biker, and you have this master’s degree, and my entire family couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to do it. But I knew in my bones that it was not the right thing for me. And I just kept pushing myself a square peg in a round hole. And I did internships and I kept saying, this is not the life that I’m capable, like this is not the right life for me. This is a good life for somebody else. But this is not for me. And it was hard to make that decision to finish. I finished the master’s degree, but I walked away from the career completely, and I have no intention of ever going back to it. And people will say, there’s the sunk cost fallacy like you spent all this time doing that you spent all this money doing that, how can you walk away? And I think that a lot of us have that and different things that we’ve done. Well, I’ve already spent all the money; I’ve already spent the time. So now I can’t change but you can. It just takes courage to do that.
Diana: There’s also something to be said, and I think about this with you as an athlete, that belief system of I am not a quitter. I don’t quit. You’ve probably really needed to have to do things like you this race in Nepal. How many days was it in Nepal?
Sonya: It was a 10-day race on the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal.
Diana: It’s like 17,000 feet or something like that.
Sonya: Yeah, so I was the first woman to ever finish it. And it was in 2012. And it’s pretty unsupported like there is a start and a finish. But you can’t just get in a car and go home if things aren’t going well. And it culminates with on day nine, you have to go over Thorangla Pass, which is at 17,769 feet, and you have to get up at whatever time, three, four o’clock in the morning and hike your bike through the snow carrying it on your back with a headlamp. Sounds crazy, but it’s actually really fun.
Diana: Yeah, and then you did it twice, let’s just add that. And then you went back and said I want more. So there’s an element of this. I don’t quit at things that has served you and it’s the same, that mentality is also helpful as a parent, like, I’m not going to quit, no matter how long my kid is tantruming or the fifth time they’ve woken me up to go in the room, I’m not just going to leave them in there and be like, I quit, I’m done. I’m not a mom anymore. There’s some things that you don’t quit because you’re committed, you have a deep commitment to. I feel that way about my spiritual practice, I will not quit it. Some days I come down, I meditate for like two minutes. Or same thing with my physical practice of yoga or exercise, right. And if we hold on to the identity around that, it can become a self story, that then becomes inflexible. So there’s a difference there between a value and a sell story. And sometimes they get kind of entangled in each other, right. So there’s actually a value that was driving the not quitting. And if you look at that value, then it can help you determine if you can use that value in other ways, right. And sometimes it’s good to practice the thing that you…if you have a tendency to do one thing, always the same way, like I always finish things, I always am on time, I always complete my assignments, I always respond to emails, sometimes just for the sake of flexibility training, it’s helpful to not do that. Like I’ll give clients the assignment, I want you to be five minutes late to our session, because they’re always five minutes early. And they need to practice that discomfort of being late and being okay.
Sonya: I’ll give a funny example that some people that like to record their workouts can relate with. So a lot of times, there’s this website called Strava, where you can upload your rides, it’s public, like your speed is public, all these different things. But people will ride around in circles so that they get… say they’re doing like a 20 mile ride, and they get to their house and are at 19.7. Well, I’m going to go around in circles so that I can get to 20. Or I want to do 10,000 feet of elevation gain today, they’re at 9800. And they have to go, and I mean, I’ve done this. So this is why I’m like calling this out, you’ll like right up and down the hill, so you can get to 10,000. But coming back to the theme of wise effort, that’s not quality training to do that. It’s almost a compulsion I have to do this that way. It’s perfect. It looks a certain way. And that’s not going to be the best type of work that you can do to be better. So asking yourself, why am I doing this? Is this work really helping me get to my goal, or is this a compulsion that I’m just trying to fill so that I can feel a certain way?
Diana: Yeah, well, even if you go to the Buddhist definition of wise effort, it’s very interesting sometimes how this is written, but it’s described as having these qualities to it. So the first quality is creating conditions that support what is wholesome. I mean wholesome is such an unusual word, but you could say what’s helpful to me? Am I creating conditions that are helpful to my goals? Am I setting up my environment? Am I creating conditions in my own mind? And then abandoning conditions that are not helpful to you. So choosing not to put yourself in certain situations, and then choosing activities that are helpful and abandoning activities that are unhelpful. And if you’re walking around in circles, or for people that get really rigid about eating, you and I have taught had conversations about plant based eating, and I have a history of anorexia. So it’s always like, ooh, it’s a really close step into rigidity, and rules for me. And at the same time, what if they want to have less impact on the planet or feel that a certain way of eating is really good for my body and gives me energy and healthy for me. You have to have wise effort to have that discernment of what are the conditions that are helpful to me? How can I support those conditions? Without getting into the unhelpful. Let’s talk a little about eating because this is of interest to me in a specialty of yours. You’re a vegan athlete?
Sonya: Yeah, I’m plant based, like I have, you know, my cycling shoes are made of leather, for example. And I try not to buy those things. But I don’t want to like people that really are ethical vegans, I don’t want to trot on what they’re doing, or that’s not the right word, but you know, I don’t want to identify with something that I’m not doing in the way that somebody else is doing.
Diana: Yeah. Well, I’m a beekeeper and have chickens. So I can never really ever be vegan, but plant based. I imagine there’s a lot of stories that people have said about that, that that’s impossible. You’re not getting enough protein. Why did you become a plant based athlete? And what’s it been like for you?
Sonya: Yeah, so first of all, before I tell the origin story, I ate plant base for four years without telling anybody because I didn’t want people to feel like I was judging them. If I saw somebody eating something, I didn’t want them to feel like I’m that person sitting there thinking things about them. Because I wasn’t. I just did it for me. So I watched a documentary in, I don’t even remember what year, probably 2012 or 2011, called Forks Over Knives. And it was about health, and about chronic diseases and illnesses that people get sick and die from. And in the back of my mind, I always felt like, oh my gosh, I’m so scared. I don’t want to get cancer, but I feel helpless. I feel like I’m gonna get it. And there’s nothing I can do about it. And also, there’s a lot of people in my family have hypertension. And I thought, well, I don’t want to get hypertension, what am I going to do? Like I’m already doing everything right. So whenever I saw the show, I saw that there are dietary things that you can do that will help prevent those things from happening. And you can even reverse some of those conditions. And I thought, well, if this is true, then this is a really big deal. And why didn’t I know about this sooner? But I was afraid to try because at that time, there weren’t very many endurance athletes who were doing that. And I think Rich Roll was probably the only athlete I had heard of, and maybe Scott Jurek, who was actually doing those things. So I decided to try gradually. And so over three months, just started phasing out animal products, to see what would happen and I wasn’t changing my diet for performance, I was changing my diet for health. And something weird happened that I didn’t expect. I got faster. And I started doing better in my sport. And I kept asking it well, is this because of the diet is this because it’s something else. But I did that 10 years ago, and I feel great. And I’ve never had a problem with protein. And certainly there is more preparation involved sometimes, like if I’m going to erase in a foreign country, maybe the race is like… catered is a strong word. But, for example, in Mongolia, they have like a goat that they brought along, and they killed the goat and fed you the goat. So what type of advanced planning do you need to have going into this. But it’s been fun. And I’ve found joy in food that I hadn’t found before. And I don’t know if I’ve actually talked about this before, but I had disordered patterns of eating, starting when I was maybe at the end of high school, but I just had this really unhealthy relationship with food and body image. And I didn’t expect this to happen either. But after I changed my diet, that stuff mostly went away. I didn’t think about it as much. And it’s really interesting, because I spent a lot of time fixated on that. And athletes in general, endurance athletes in general, I would say, are very concerned about their body weight, and it’s gotten better, but there’s a lot of disordered eating and relative energy deficiency syndrome and lots of things that are happening. So yeah, long story long.
Diana: Yeah. So it is about the values that were driving it for you, in terms of health values, and then now probably performance values now that you’ve seen that it’s helpful for your performance, and that’s very different than what would drive disordered eating. So and that’s why for me, I don’t think I would ever identify with a category of, I’m a vegan or I’m a because for me that would create too much of a box that I feel like I’d have to stay in. And it’s been more of a natural progression of, well, it started with raising chickens, little tiny babies, we keep them in our kid’s playroom and they just fall in love with these little chicks. There’s nothing better than baby chicks, they’re so cute. And we just really get attached to them, and we name them and we take care of them. We can pick them up, because they’ve been handled so much. And every once in a while, a chicken will die for different reasons, we let them free range at our house. I believe in having our chickens just really have a super awesome good life. And coyotes can come and get them every once in a while, like a kid forgets to leave the gate open. And there was one day when I picked up a chicken, a dead chicken to bury it, and I had this like this visceral experience of holding this chicken and then the chicken holding the chicken and like the grocery store. And I was like, oh my gosh, what am I doing? It was like this, I just couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t do it. And it’s interesting, like what way they get you there around food. For someone else, I’ve done mindfulness exercises where people eat their protein bar, like mindfully with me in session, because that’s the thing they’ve eaten every single day for like 20 years, like rigid eaters. And they’ll be like, this tastes like chalk. Like there’s no taste here, tastes like chemicals. It tastes like whatever and maybe that’s what makes them change something about their eating. But it does have to come from a value system. My son when, we were in Plum Village last summer, so Plum Village is Thích Nhất Hạnh’s monastery in France. And at the end of the trip, they give kids a spiritual name, a Dharma name. And they make the kids right at what animal they want to protect, what plant they want to protect, what group of people they want to protect, and what they’re going to commit to protecting upon leaving this retreat. And so my kids wrote up this long, long list, and then based on what they write, they give them a name. And so my son came back and he’s like, Mom, they gave me my spiritual name, my dharma name. And it’s pathetic sage. Like pathetic sage. I looked at the little thing and it says empathetic sage. He was so proud of his pathetic sage. And I was like, I think it’s because you’re really empathic. And he’s like, yeah, I am no longer going to eat pigs. So anytime we go out to lunch or whatever. And so when someone offers some bacon, he says, no, thank you. I don’t eat pig. It’s the cutest thing. But I don’t hold it. You know, I, we have eaten our home. So I don’t know if it’s a journey for everyone in terms of what their choices are.
Sonya: Yeah, I mean, I think that labels can be really limiting. And also really restrictive, like you said, and that might be another reason why I didn’t want to tell anybody about the way that I was eating. Because I didn’t want to be somebody that worked under a label. But I think it’s about just doing what’s right for you doing what feels right in your body for you. It sounds like the there’s a lot of cognitive dissonance around what we’re eating versus an animal. And I think just if you’re making those choices, just knowing the choice that you’re making, and being okay with that choice.
Diana: And that can be cognitive dissonance around other things with food and with exercise. So once you start tuning in, and I think mindfulness practice, meditation practice, really helps with that. In a lot of Buddhist practices, there’s a commitment to not harming, right. And for some people, that translates into being plant based, but really, the commitment is to be aware. And once you become aware, then you start realizing like where is harm being done. And that’s different for everyone, but it can also be around technology use or how you use transportation, all sorts of things that are contributing to harm. So one of the reasons why we want to do this podcast we’ve even gotten there yet is to talk about friendship. And we’re sort of newer by being friends. And it can be hard to make friends as adults, with people.
Sonya: Yeah. That’s something that I’ve really been working on because the relationship piece keeps coming out in the data, this is so important for well-being and I think back to when I feel the best and it is when I’m spending time with friends. And I had great friends when I lived in Boulder, Colorado. I lived there for about 10 years. And I just remember thinking about a dinner that I had before I was getting married and a ton of my friends came and they’re all great friendships and I started asking myself how do I define a great friendship? And I had moved to Canada and I lived in this town for, I don’t remember exactly how long, it was probably eight years, and I didn’t have any good friends there. And it was so weird to me because I had close friendships my entire life. But after I moved, I couldn’t make close friends anymore. And I was trying and I thought, well, is there something different about me now? Is it my environment, what what’s happening here? And I felt really sad that I didn’t have those. And I was married to an isolation, but I got married when I moved to that town. So I thought was it because I’m married now that I’m not making the same types of friends. And we ended up moving in 2021 to another town because my husband felt the same way. He didn’t have any close friends there either. And it was weird, when we left we actually didn’t even have anybody to say goodbye to which sounds really lonely. So moving somewhere where people live similar lifestyles to the lifestyle that we lived, and places where people are friendly, that was really helpful. But it takes vulnerability to make friends and to ask yourself, what type of connections do I need in my life, because I think everybody’s connection needs are different, and what they need out of a friendship are different. But asking yourself, what you need, I think is pretty important.
Diana: Well, first, I just say, I think you’re a rare individual to move because you wanted to build friendships. It says it says a lot about that being something that’s important to you. And that’s interesting, because you’re a solo athlete, really the kind of individual sport, but the relationships are important to you. And it wasn’t lack of effort. A lot of people had the fallacy, the belief, that friends and they have the same belief I think with romantic relationships, that they should just happen to think it’s a sort of luck thing. And what the research shows around that is that people who believe that friendships or relationships come to you by luck, end up being lonelier, that there is effort, this is the wise effort aspect of things, creating conditions that will support friends. If you’re out in the middle of nowhere and you have no one around you, you need to like move to get to a space where there’s more people around you if you this is an important thing to you. But then the second part is okay, now I have the people around me, and how do I actually connect with them and vulnerability is that sweet, special thing that helps us connect. But we also don’t want to, like come in as a hot mess because there is an element of like, you can over disclose. You can be too vulnerable. And it can be a little off putting. So there’s a little bit of balance there, too. One of the things that I think about with you is I want people in my life that are bad asses, I want friends that are strong and things that I’m not strong at knowing that our friendships rub off on us. So if our friends are doing well, we tend to do well. If our friends are smokers, we’re going to be smokers, we’re friends are non smokers, we’re going to be non smokers. So I felt that way about you – like she’s a badass, but she has humility to her. So it’s the balance of being someone that’s interesting for people to be friends with, but also being vulnerable enough that you don’t have it all together so I can be friends with you. Because I don’t have it all together either.
Sonya: What do you mean, I don’t have it all together? I’m just kidding. Yeah, and I felt the same way about you. I thought you have so much that I can learn from you. But also you share a lot of things about your life. And to me that says you’re a confident person that you can say, I’ve had these things happen in my life. And sometimes I’m surprised whenever I hear them mostly on your podcast. And as I get to know you more, I’m excited to get to know you more offline and hopefully in person. But I think something that I did was said like, hey, alright, I think I might have said like, hey, I want to be your friend. And I immediately thought, oh, was that too much? Is that? Is that being coming on too strong. But we hardly ever tell people how we feel about them saying I like you. And because it’s scary to say to somebody, I like you. And I want to be your friend.
Diana: Yeah. Well, you know what, we used to do that in third grade. And we had lots of friends like that. That’s what third graders do. If you look at third and fourth graders are even smaller than that, you know, little six year olds, you can throw them in a playground, and they can make a friend. Because they say, hey, do you want to play with me? Do you want to use my shovel? And we stopped doing that because our egos get in the way? Because if I say that I like you, then in some way, it kind of means like, maybe I need you in my life. Maybe I need friends. And most of us, probably, I would say most of us feel that way, like yeah, we need our friends. Like a lot. I think I didn’t know that until later on in life, how much I needed friends. And now I see them as my greatest wealth is my relationships with like good friends in my life then when the disasters that are going to strike, strike, I know that I have support. And then I also know that being of support to others, probably on a weekly basis, one friend or another is got something going on, and being of support to them gets me out of my own self importance, or that my life is so bad because I start to look like oh, I can be of service to this person that I care about. So we’ll get there. We’re not quite at the point in our friendship where we’re calling each other when we’re crying. We’re not there yet. But it takes a little bit to build that.
Sonya: Yeah, it does. And I mean, also understanding that along the way, you might feel insecure in your friendship just like you would in a relationship and an example, I don’t feel that way in our friendship, but I made a friend with one of my neighbors, and I really put a lot into the relationship and I really like her a lot. But sometimes I worry that she doesn’t like me the way that I hope she likes me. And it sounds really ridiculous to be 40 years old saying, oh, I hope my neighbor likes me. But I think that it’s important to say those things, because we all have felt that way.
Diana: Oh, my gosh, we’ve all felt that way. And it feels like dating in some in some ways. I have I do this lunch duty with all these moms for my kids’ school. And I see myself positioning next to I’m like, oh, I like her. And I like her. I’m like, I’m like dating them. I go, and I position myself next to them in the lunch line, and I start a little conversation with them. And I feel anxious. And then and then on days when I’m not having the greatest day, I’m like, oh, it’s gonna be hard to go do that lunch duty. Hard to do lunch duty to school? Why? Because I care about relationships, right? Many of us feel that way inside. And then we have this apparent competence that we put on the outside, which actually, I think keeps people away. Because it’s like, oh, she’s too cool for me, so maybe she doesn’t like me back. Yeah, that can happen too. Like you’re way too cool for me, Sonya. Way too cool. Definitely way out of my league.
Sonya: I’m definitely not too cool. I’m a dork. And I’m happy to be one.
Diana: Other things like this that would help. What have we done? Like how did we make this happen? Let’s operationalize it a bit. Because I think other people want some of this.
Sonya: Well, we’ve tried to talk on the phone. Our schedules are a little bit different with our kids and that type of thing, but we’ve made an effort to have phone conversations. And that’s been really fun. And I feel like those phone conversations were ways that I really got to know you better.
Diana: We’ve also shared some of the things that haven’t gone so well for us. We had a conversation, but I think I was running on that one, where we talked about the people that rejected us on the podcast. We both shared, who rejected me, and then you’re like, wait a minute, he rejected me too. And then I felt so much better because we both been rejected by him.
Sonya: Yeah, it’s like common humanity.
Diana: Common humanity like we both lost that one. So that’s the other part is not only putting your best foot forward, but also showing the parts that are like, this is kind of embarrassing for me to say, or I feel a little shame around or things like that can be helpful in bonding.
Sonya: I think it takes confidence though to do that.
Diana: Yeah, to find confidence.
Sonya: Oh, well, I mean, I guess that could be situational. But it’s feeling like you can be yourself. To me, I mean, I know that confidence is looking back at past things that you’ve done and building self-efficacy. But feeling like, I guess authenticity is confidence in some ways, because I feel like I can be myself in front of you. And I’m not worried about I guess I’m not embarrassed to be myself in front of you. And you may or may not like what I’m just sharing, the rejection thing, or things that I’ve shared, but I don’t know, I think authenticity is important and vulnerability, you have to be confident in yourself, you have to have a strong self-concept, maybe, and maybe some positive regard towards yourself.
Diana: And I would add to that, that it also is safety, that the safety that the other person creates, right. So this goes to Stephen Porges’ work around how we co-regulate each other. You know this with your kids, if your kid is really, really anxious, and then you as a mom get really, really anxious, and now you’re both just translating or you have a transaction of anxiety with each other. Versus if your kid is really anxious and you stay really centered and calm, you can watch your kid’s nervous system start to settle down, right? And so within friendships, we’re constantly co-regulating safeness, just with the tone of our voice, with the speed in which we speak to each other, with our eye contact, all of those things, those little tiny little micro responses from another person. So for example, a safeness for you, when I and this was even, like over text, I think it was over text. When I was texting you after the last time we did this interview. And I was saying my insecurities about it. The way in which you responded to me, made me feel really safe. And then I was like, oh, I’m gonna do a better job the next time because if we do this again, I feel even safer with you. So there’s the self-confidence which comes from your own sense of self-worth. But then there’s also the leaning into the other person’s conditions that are creating for you. And if you don’t feel safe around someone, then that’s maybe a sign to back off a little bit that’s like know when to grit and know when to quit. Sometimes it’s also I need to back away from this relationship because I’m consistently getting cues from them that they’re an unsafe person to me whether they’re critical, or they’re judgmental or whatever.
Sonya: Yeah, the judgmental piece sounds like something that is important when it comes to safety because if you feel like you’re saying something, and you’re always being judged for it, then you’re probably never going to feel safe in that relationship.
Diana: Can we talk about something that you did a podcast on, and I’m super interested in and it relates to friendship, because this is often my Achilles heel and friendship?
Sonya: Yeah, let’s hear it. I’m intrigued.
Diana: Which I hope doesn’t ever come up between us, which is competition. Competition, you’re super competitive, obviously. And competitive isn’t necessarily a good thing or a bad thing. But yeah, what are your thoughts on competition? And then the I can tell a little bit about my pitfalls of relationships for the first 30 years of my life that had to do with competition.
Sonya: I mean, I think that our relationship with competition can be different in different areas, and it can change over time. So initially, competition was an evaluation of how good of a person I was. So whenever I was at my first races as a pro mountain biker, and I became a pro very quickly upon starting the sport, so maybe I hadn’t had time to emotionally mature enough to be on those start lines. But I would be crying in my bike races. I wouldn’t be I wouldn’t be at the front, I would be in the back of the race crying because I was so embarrassed. And because I thought I sucked. And so competition wasn’t a good place for me. And then I was at a place where I had to go get all my own sponsors. And there’s very limited resources, especially for women in my sport. So women were caddy, and not nice to me and made comments about my body and things like that, that just was really upsetting to me. And that made me want to pull back and not feel very good. So competition was zero sum. It was, I don’t want somebody to get my piece of the pie. And my husband was actually really helpful in this. He said, hey, it’s not about making the pie smaller, because you’re taking it’s about making the pie bigger, so how can you help other people. And that’s something that I always think about. And that doesn’t mean that I don’t feel a restricted feeling whenever I am helping somebody. Maybe they’re more successful at the same thing that I’m working at and that happens, but I have to ask myself, what type of person do I want to be? And so when I think about competition, I ask myself, what kind of person do I want to be? Do I want to be somebody that brings everybody else up around me, even if that means I don’t gain like somebody else? And again, that is really challenging place to be. But that has helped me so much. And that is how I now approach competition because I compete in everything that I do. But competition is an opportunity for me to put myself among the best, and maybe I’ll get the best out of myself from it. So that’s how I know of you competition, but it hasn’t always been that way. It’s been a genesis.
Diana: Oh my gosh, I want to just cut that out and listen to it everyday; it was so good. I love the concept of making the pie bigger, making the pie bigger. And that comes from just a different mindset. Not having a scarcity mindset, but more having a mindset of mudita of sympathetic joy, happiness when other people succeed and happiness when you succeed as well, that there’s that we can be happy for both. And where competition is led me astray, when in my own friendships was just for a lot of years, I didn’t really think I needed to be friends. And I was so focused on being at the top, whether that was like my disordered eating rigidity, or that was academically, I like always wanted to be the very, very top of the class and have the organic chemistry, the organic chemistry award in college for the top organic chemistry students and the top biology student and the top psychology student. And how did I get that? I had to have no friends, and a really gnarly eating disorder. So yeah, I had all these awards. I remember going up and getting that getting the award for organic chemistry, I wasn’t even going to med school anymore. Like all those med students, I just stopped on to get it. And I remember getting it and it felt like it had no weight to it. Because inside I knew that I was binging and purging in that chemistry building to get that, and I didn’t have any friends. So fast forward to now where maybe I don’t have all those awards, but I have friends. I would trade that any day for good friends. And also the recognition that I can do well, and you can do it. We both had podcasts. May this podcast reach many people on your end and on my end and the more people are reaches the better, that we can both be really successful and then it’s not that we’re sharing one piece of that pie. And that is such a liberating way to view relationships and friendships that we can both succeed, whatever success is, as defined by us, and I think our success may be even defined differently around what that looks like.
Sonya: Yeah, that was going to be the next thing I was going to ask was about success, because maybe you are defining success is I have to win this award. And if I don’t win this award, then I’m not successful, but success didn’t feel good. So what should success feel like? And what am I doing to get there? And that’s a question that I ask a lot, because the question of what do I want to achieve versus what do I want to feel, sometimes those aren’t the same thing.
Diana: Yeah. More is not always more. Sometimes I just look at my life. And I’m like, do I want to have more than this? Like, why would I want to have more than this? Really happy with my little garden and my kids and what I have. So much suffering comes from wanting what you don’t have, and not wanting what you have or not seeing what you have. And so for me, success is first and foremost, seeing what I have like being clear in my awareness of the abundance that’s available to us right here and right now. Like right now I have Sonya is my friend. This is awesome. I mean, you and I have talked about like, we should do a workshop together. And this is me, I’m such a generator, like, let’s do a workshop together. And let’s do this. Let’s do a podcast. And so let’s have to slow down enough just to be like, well, wait a minute, isn’t this good enough? Like this is kind of cool. This is enough. This is good, right here and right now. And not always having to keep on adding on.
Sonya: Something that’s been liberating for me, is telling myself that it’s never going to be enough. Like, it just won’t. And maybe that’s something that I need to work on. But the acceptance that I’m always going to be reaching for more, thinking that that’s now going to make me feel like it’s enough, it helps me not reach for more if I tell myself, more like what you said more is not more, it’s never going to be enough. And that’s okay.
Diana: Well, thank you, Sonya. This has been really fun. We’ve gone in and out of so many different topics. And I hope that this is helpful to others. There’s something called the dedication of merit, which sometimes if you’re in a sangha, you often read the dedication of merit at the end of the group, and it’s intended to sort of dedicate your efforts of what we’ve done here to be about something more than just you or just about us. And in the dedication of merit, they say things like, may all places be held sacred May all beings be cherished. May all injustices of oppression and devaluation be fully righted, remedied and healed. May all beings everywhere delight in whale song bird song and blue sky, beautiful lines like that. And I hope that that’s what this podcast is for many others who listen not just about for us because it was kind of fun to talk to a friend for two hours, not just one.
Sonya: Oh, we’re already out of time. No.
Diana: Take care. I look forward to continuing to follow you and talking to you.
Sonya: And building our relationship.
Diana: Yes, building a relationship.