A Lesson in Self Control

From 2010 to 2017, my husband and I owned a CrossFit gym in California. One of the skills that eluded many was double unders with a jump rope. This is when the rope travels around you twice in one jump. Trying to master this seemingly simple skill can make any grown man drop into the fetal position and cry himself to sleep.

As a coach, I tried to emphasize the importance of relaxing and smiling when learning how to jump rope, because the second a client tensed up and got angry, the rope would punish the poor athlete with whip marks. The more you fought the rope, the more it fought back. It was a marvelous built-in lesson on patience and self-control, both physically and mentally.

Fast forward to today, and my husband and I now live in Ohio with our two girls, and one more on the way. We no longer own the gym, and I am currently a stay-at-home mom. However, the other day, I suddenly found myself re-living my coaching days with my 6-year-old daughter.

Last week, she came home with a new purple jump rope that my husband got her from the bookstore. She was very excited and eager to start practicing. After changing her shoes and quickly tying her hair in a messy ponytail, she was in the backyard gleefully practicing with her little sister cheering her on. I enjoyed about twenty minutes of mommy bliss watching her play, but then suddenly, I saw it. A rain cloud forming over her head. It got bigger and darker. With each trip up on the rope, her rain cloud grew. Finally, she had enough, and her thunderstorm broke loose. The jump rope was tossed angrily to the ground, her face was red, hands clenched, and her feet stomped into the house. “I HATE THAT ROPE! It’s stupid! That rope is mean, and it won’t work, and I don’t want it!” Hot tears streamed down her face as she slumped into a chair.

I sat down next to her and allowed a long pause before saying anything. I put my arms around her and tried to gently reason on how she is brand new to jumping rope, everyone learns at a different pace, and reminded her about all our friends at our old gym who also struggled with learning how to jump rope. Like most 6-year-olds, though, she defended herself by explaining to me how she had been practicing “forever,” though, and therefore she should have gotten it by now. I quickly realized that her reality of time and space were far too sophomoric for her to understand any of my adult explanations that I used with clients at the gym. So, I had to think of something else that a 6-year-old could relate to. Unfortunately, in that moment, I couldn’t think of anything, and we called it a loss that day.

The next day, she came home from school with a newfound enthusiasm to try again. So, she gingerly picked up that rope and started practicing. It only took her about five minutes this time to reach utter despair and hopelessness. Again, I tried reasoning and explaining to her, and again, it fell on deaf ears.

Then, I remembered a t-shirt my husband used to wear at the gym that said, “Never Double Under Angry.” I reminded my daughter about her daddy’s t-shirt, and then asked her why she thought her dad would wear that. She shrugged her shoulders in annoyance. She didn’t want to think, she just wanted me to fix it for her, and I understood. So, I explained, “Well, you see, the secret of the jump rope is that it responds to your feelings. If you get angry and tighten up all your muscles like this [Clenching my fists and making an angry face] then the rope tightens up and gets caught on your feet. That’s why you kept tripping on it, because you were mad, so the rope got mad with you. But, if you relax and smile, the rope will loosen up, too. The happier you are, the easier it is to jump rope because the rope will be happy with you.”

Her eyes gazed at the floor, and I could tell she was considering my explanation. I watched as her eyebrows started to relax, and her whole face changed back to my happy-go-lucky kid. She got it.

After a few deep breaths, a big hug, and a final statement of acceptance, she went back outside and picked up the rope. I held my breath as I watched her take that first jump. She tripped, but she took a deep breath, relaxed her shoulders, and tried again. *Swish* She made it! Her face lit up, and she looked at me with accomplishment. “Mom! Did you see that?! It worked! I stayed calm, and the rope went around me!” She did it again. Then again. And she continued to jump rope for over half an hour. By the end, she was able to do ten consecutive jumps. And, more importantly, she was smiling and enjoying the entire process.

She came inside to take a break and get a drink of water. With a big, sweaty smile, she said, “Mom, I was happy the entire time, and the rope was happy with me! We’re friends now!”

The days that followed proved to be more small victories. Every time she picked up the rope, she took a deep breath, relaxed her shoulders, and conquered her emotions.

About a week later, she was trying to fold an Origami butterfly with no success. At first, she got angry, but then quickly caught herself and said, “Mom, I wonder if the paper is like the jump rope. I feel like when I get mad, the paper is harder to fold. Maybe I should smile and try again.”

Eureka! She gets it!

The attitude we choose to have determines the experience we will have.

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