Deliberance

I always abhor those articles that extol various life “hacks” that preach small effort techniques delivering huge results.

So it’s with trepidation that I share this advice with you, as it carries a similar message.. but it’s by no means a shortcut. It’s more a method to refocus your perspective on everything you do, which produces the result of keeping you in a mindful state.

Think about everything you do on a daily basis. No, not the tasks, work, or the “big picture” stuff: instead, I’m talking about the little things that fill in the gaps. When you’re walking, place each foot with deliberation, when you put a carton of juice away in the fridge, slot it into it’s place mindfully, don’t just drop it into place.

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Tightrope walking is a great example to apply to deliberate activity: each step is done with careful placement and purpose: balance!

The easiest task to try this activity is with the way that I got into meditation in the first place: washing the dishes (which is now one of my favorite activities). Pick up each plate carefully, slide it into the water with care. Each careful swipe with the sponge or cloth should be deliberate and done with attention to detail, with purpose. This behavior translates into rinsing, and placing each item into the rack. At first, all this effort will feel unnatural, perhaps even mentally taxing.. But as it becomes a measured, practiced effort, you’ll fall into a rhythm. You’ll start to appreciate the feel of the hot water on your hands, the suds running off the plate, the rainbows dancing in the soap bubbles, the lemony scent of the water.. This is what it is to be present in the moment, each moment.

As you start to understand the calm that these moments hold, you’ll catch yourself applying this same behavior to other banal tasks.. Each step you take, every keyboard key you type, the notes in the music that fill your ears: every activity will anchor you in each moment as it comes and goes.

It’s important not to let this active deliberation stress you out. It should use minimal effort. If you’re doing multiple things at once, let your attention drift from one activity to the next, taking delight in each as you dwell in it.

Mindfulness is not a chore, it’s a simple process of living purposefully. Not only will this sort of mindset improve your mood, but it will also create a sense of confidence, of conscious existence in the world that surrounds you.

Winding Up

When I talk to most people; friends and strangers alike, mornings are often a shared bone of contention  – It’s common to grumble and complain, and since it’s a common phenomenon, something to share with others in its distaste.

It’s easy to get into the habit of hiding under the covers, waiting until the last possible second before rushing through a shower, a hastily swallowed breakfast, then rushing out of the house to miss the bus or to waste more time trying to get the car started.

This process sets the tone for the whole day: arriving to work flustered, taking up to an hour to become focused. An attitude of always lagging behind that’s near inescapable. It doesn’t stop once we’re home either: often worrying about what we didn’t get done, and trying to shoehorn in as much relaxation as we can, going to bed way past our bedtime, or unable to sleep due to an inability to put our phones down.

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What if you could recapture your day, frame it in a positive light? Wind it up at your own pace?

There’s only so many hours of daylight, but chances are you are not using them all to the fullest. Waking up earlier gives you the flexibility and room to enjoy your morning. Get up, stretch for half an hour while you make a nice pot of tea or coffee. Sit on your mat and meditate, or in the rocking chair on the porch, hugging the mug in your hands and watching the sun rise.. A relaxed cadence sets your pace where instead of being behind, you’re ahead of your schedule, getting the chores, work, and tasks you need to on your own time.

Try just going to bed 10 minutes earlier, and waking up 10 earlier than you normally do. Then every week, wind it back another 10. 3 months from now you will have reclaimed 2 full hours of the day. It will take a few weeks not only to add sufficient time to your day to reap the rewards, but also to experiment with what sort of things you want to add to your new morning routine. Enjoy the process and set an unhurried pace.  What’s equally appealing about this process is that you’ll end up in bed much earlier, but you’ll find it much easier to wind down in the evenings after work – your quality of life will be better, you’ll leave more stress behind, and it will leave you relaxed.

Slow Down, You Move Too Fast

I’m driving to see a client this morning, and I’m bubbling along happily in the right hand lane. Around me are other commuters, drivers – all of us travelers, but most are rushing around me, impatient to get to their destinations.

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I can’t assume, but I can only guess they are all running late, or otherwise just eager to be somewhere else than they already were.  Completely oblivious that their current presence in the now is inescapable – another great comparison to how many of us lead our lives. But this post isn’t just about the analogy to slow down and enjoy your life. I could wax philosophical about enjoying the cool breeze from your open window, the panoramic view of the clouds, the sun peeking out from behind a skyscraper..

But I’d rather be far more direct, simple, for you see, this post is one of those extremely rare ones where I’m urging you to do the bare minimum.

Go the speed limit. Do not exceed it. If you need to make it easier on yourself, or you have a lead foot, use cruise control (for most cars the minimum for this is 60kph). As you drive, pay attention to your breath, to the periphery of your vision – live in this space.

Listen to music if you wish, but my caveat here is that you must dance, sing along, and bounce to the beat. Enjoy your life, enjoy the now – it’s the only one you have.

As a caveat, I will admit I do enjoy driving in sports cars, even as a passenger, and I would be a hypocrite to say that it isn’t fun to drive a little fast (keep it safe folks!). But in those situations, driving is part of the experience – a Sunday ride on my motorcycle through a set of the local twisties or taking the top down on the convertible for a weekend away in wine country is completely acceptable and understandable. Here, the car and the company is integral to many as part in parcel with the destination – just be wary not to make it a habit in daily life.

Recognition and Value

I’ve got about ten days left until this cast comes off, and then I can enjoy the burgeoning springtime.. I’ve been re-prioritizing my time, figuring out how I can live more authentically once I’m mobile again.

One thing I’ve identified in myself is this need to be known, recognized. At first I attributed this to some sort of lifetime accomplishment that would allow me to live on posthumously, but now I realize it’s much more basic, and dwells somewhere much less grandiose: recognition from others. Not for anything in particular, just for me to have some sort of value to other people – to be relied on or needed in some regard.

Naturally, we all have a little of this built-in: as humans we share social spaces, living spaces, work spaces.. Unless we hermit ourselves in the forest and chop wood for a living (namely our living.. in Ontario you’d freeze to death otherwise!), we can’t really escape this requirement to “need” other people – But I’m referring to a deeper recognition. The value that others attach to our worth as individuals. Whether it’s feedback from our peers at work, management telling us we’re indispensable, or our friends and loved ones telling us how awesome we are as people – it’s normal to enjoy this attention, but sometimes I find that without this, I have less inherent worth. Now this only really rears it’s head in any severity if I’m travelling through a stint of depression, but for me, who is regularly in a state of general malaise, that destination is always one short stop away from any current location.

The “aha” moment came to me when I read this quote by Harbhajan Singh Yogi:

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Now while this quote doesn’t directly pinpoint the question at hand, as it deals with the reaction of others as their issues versus those of our own worth, I ended up resonating as if I was the other person – Not only that, but I immediately assumed the behavior in question was poor in nature – I was the one who was troubled, and perhaps projecting that state of disturbance onto others.

Instantly concluding that the quote referred to someone reacting negatively towards me is one thing, but actually identifying as that person who’s behaving badly is one further step towards the realization that my internal value scales are well out of alignment when weighing my self value.

I’ve known in the past that poor self confidence has been a struggle for me, but I’m constantly amazed at the number of paths and ways that I end up back at this same conclusion. Sure, it’s easy and “obvious” to see the value is self-respect, but for many, changing this value from a 0 to a 1 isn’t all that simple as it is in binary terms.

On a journey from black to white, expect there to be plenty of grey: change doesn’t happen overnight, and a small setback can’t become the unforgettable pea under the mattress.. it’s just a bump in the road. As long as self-worth becomes the cornerstone, a non-negotiable priority in all situations, positive change will manifest.

Conscious vs Unconscious – Active Existence

At the end of February, I broke my ankle. It was a bad break, and it has left me to run my empire from the couch. One thing it has rather painfully reminded me of is that we cannot take anything for granted: our mobility, our independence, can be whisked away at a moment’s notice.

This also prompted me to re-evaluate conscious existence: how much of your day passes without creating any sort of meaningful memories? How often do you find yourself daydreaming, or in autopilot? How many hours are your thoughts racing without any result or direction?

Don’t panic if you often find large chunks of your day disappear without much conscious involvement. It’s actually so common that it’s considered normal. We always seek some sort of “break” from our mundane, day-in, day-out activities – some sort of distraction. Yet the departure we seek is often unreachable, or rather the state of relaxation and peace we seek feels unsatisfying. This is because we are looking to escape..from escape.

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You can’t escape a life that you aren’t consciously  engaged in. Without active living there’s no escape.. but what you’ll find, if you grab life head on, that suddenly you don’t want to run away.. because you know those little moments? When you pour a fresh cup of coffee, the steam swirling a pungent cloud into your nostrils, when you hear the first few notes of a song from your rebellious youth, when you bite into a fresh croissant as you walk from one meeting to the next? That’s what makes life worth living, makes existence so sweet. And why would you want to run away from those?

So, as you go about your daily schedule today, start consciously  appreciating the small things. Even if you have to book an appointment with yourself.. Try sitting on a park bench, closing your eyes, opening your ears, your nose, and live within that moment. It might take a few repeat sessions, but you’ll get hooked on life – I promise.

1,2,3 Rule

There’s so many tasks that we procrastinate on, that we pass by to do “later”. I recently read an article about something called the “1,2, 3” rule, and as I absorbed it’s instructions, I found it to be pretty silly.

The basic premise is that when one of those simple chores pops up, one we’d normally dismiss, instead of procrastinating, instead of making an excuse, we vocalize the phrase “1, 2, 3, Go!” and then do it.

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See? Sounds pretty silly. But it’s simple enough that I figured I’d at least give it a shot.

You know what? It works. Since implementing the rule, the trash gets taken out on time, the puppy hair gets swept before it’s clustered in nests around the table legs, and the coffee grounds don’t have time to pile up on the espresso machine.

I think the effectiveness is connected with the habit – becoming aware of when we are procrastinating on a task is the hinge to birthing the 1,2,3 habit. Vocalizing it gears us up, mentally, to get it started. And since it’s such a small thing, it’s completed before we get distracted.

Lazy Sundays (it’s even raining here today!) are an idea time to relax on the couch, watch a movie, and veg out. When you’re heading to the kitchen to grab a snack, keep your eyes open for a quick chore you might have been putting off, and 1, 2, 3, get it done. Netflix will wait for your return

Routine and Habit: Fan the Flames

Way back in August 2013, I wrote a post about how routine was similar to armor, and have referred back to it in a number of more recent posts. When writing this article, I discovered that it had never been published: sitting as a draft for the last 2 years! Suffice to say it is now live, along with the video content I shot at the time.

Over the last couple years, I’ve come to appreciate the power and vitality of what routine provides. It is essentially the building block of what creates good habits, and it’s often difficult to try and understand just exactly what the differences are.change-old-street-sign-bigst

You need a routine, in order to build a habit. But you can’t have habits, without proper routines. Now a habit is something you do unconsciously, whereas routine is something you pay attention to. A habit can be good or bad: usually the more effortless ones tend to be a bit more self destructive or self indulgent – It’s easy to fall into the habit of having some chocolate after each meal : the habit is also a reward, and that reward (sugar) is pretty darn easy to convince ourselves to include on a regular basis! The routine of the chocolate becomes an easy, mindless habit.

Did you catch what I just said there? Obviously the important word here is mindless, and it’s also the key to unlocking the power of productive and healthy, positive routines – those that will birth habits we can be proud of. By being mindful instead, by living in the moment of each action or thought we want to turn into routine, into habit, we activate the inspiration that sparked our desire for conscious change in the first place: It sets the match to the fuel.

Let’s take a look at some tools and techniques to set ourselves up for success. Naturally, it’s repetition that leads to progress: the more often we repeat something, the easier it “sticks” – and the more out of place we feel when we don’t do it. This has been realized and implemented as “gamification” by a number of different companies and tools, where rewards as “badges”, virtual “trophies” and other such marks of distinction are awarded to those who show dedication and time vested in something that requires focus and careful patience/dedication. So we understand that repetition is important for making routines into habits, and apps like Rewire replace those huge wall calendars we’re familiar seeing in movies: the ones where the protagonist marks huge “X’s” on each day as things progress. The apps work well because they let you mark more than one “X” every day for subgoals.

So now we understand a bit more as to how to differentiate between routines and habits, how they are integrated, but also how to set ourselves up for success.

What spurs your desires to change? How can you set yourself up to success versus falling into old, easy habits?

Letting It In

Anyone who has made a conscious effort to improve themselves knows it’s an incredibly tough fight. We all understand that the exertion is what makes the progress and milestones that much more satisfying: it’s an uphill battle against convenience, against a society that, as a whole, tries to reduce the work we have to do to live our lives, to make things EASIER.

Since this only  serves to make our resolve that much easier to break, it can be exhausting to tread the dogged path towards success. Often we are our own worst enemies, beating ourselves up for eating that slice of pizza, for not lifting enough at the gym, for not getting an assignment or piece of work done on time.

We set up walls to protect ourselves, routines to ease our path, like armor we strap on every day, the habit is what keeps us strong, and keeps us protected. There’s additional comfort in learning more about ourselves, where we are weakest, strongest, how to continue to rely on the only person who has been with us through the fight: ourselves.

What I’m saying here is that it’s easy to get bogged down in the monotony, tripped up by our own rules, to drown in our own resolve.. So just like you opened yourself up to the possibility of change, so, too, must you remember what it’s like to smile. To dance like no one’s watching, to take a chance on new friends, new opportunities.. to let in the love, happiness, and joy.

Cracks

It’s in the cracks between everything: it’s the masonry that holds it all together. It’s OK to forgive yourself, and it’s OK to be vulnerable, and it’s even OK to get hurt again. You can’t block everything that’s bad, and expect to only encounter pure positives. As Ehssan said “Life is like a piano; the white keys represent happiness and the black show sadness. But as you go through life’s journey, remember that the black keys also create music.” ― The good and bad are equally cyclical: it’s our perspectives on them that define their severity. By letting in the light, we remember what it’s like to be human again – to hope.

Analog Lifestyle – Part I: Analog Bedroom

I’ve noticed a habit that’s slowly gotten worse.. Lying on my bed around the time I should be going to sleep, but interacting with my phone for (sometimes) hours after I should have closed my eyes.. This not only leads to groggy mornings, but to grab my device as the first thing I do when I awaken.

It’s a cascade of bad habits, all stemming from the casual use, then dependence, on digital devices to provide some sort of structure. That’s the thing about structure: it’s an amalgamation of habits (both bad and good) that creates a framework for the day. It only makes sense that one bad habit begets the next, and before you know it, your entire schedule is rife with unhealthy behavior.

Alarm-clock_2093184bThe end of one day is the starting of the next. It’s a cyclical process. You often hear the phrase “Tomorrow is a new day, a fresh start”.. The promise of a clean slate is appealing, but for me it starts in how you end the day before. Removing dependence on digital devices at least an hour before sleep: cutting out “screen time” (as a friend of mine coined it when referring to how her kids consume digital content) lets your body start to naturally slow down – bright lights from displays (TV’s, phones, laptops, etc) all interrupt our circadian rhythms and disrupt our bodies from falling asleep when they need to.

If you’re someone who is on a device “for work” or are having difficulty with the sudden eradication of devices so abruptly before bed, try installing flux, available free of charge for PC/Mac, Twilight for Android devices, and jail-broken iOS mobiles, all of which “warm” the color profile of your displays, letting your body get tired naturally: mimicking sunset.
I rarely watch much TV, as I haven’t had cable since 1996, so there’s not much self control needed in regards to taking my flat screen out of my bedroom, however, I do now charge my phone downstairs in the living room, and have banished my Kindle to daylight hours, eschewing the convenience for the handful of regular books that I haven’t yet read. I’m on the lookout for a decent analog alarm clock: one that’s battery powered is fine, but I’d prefer actual hands versus a digital display: if you can recommend one, leave me a comment.

I’ve also set an alarm on my phone, but it’s not to help me wake up.. (I actually only have an alarm clock as backup: 90% of the mornings, I wake up before it sounds) Instead, it’s to alert me to a permission to start using my phone again. It lets me enjoy my mornings, unfettered.. Have a walk with Lucas, a cup of tea, go through my planner.. frame the day before I see what’s in store.

It’s been a couple nights, but I’m already asleep by 11 and awake by 5:30 – a behavior I haven’t seen in about 3 or 4 years – and honestly? It’s great to be back.

Offering Help vs Offering to Help

I’ve noticed a bit of a pattern in my own life, and how I frequently offer advice or help unasked. When friends, family, or others choose to open up, or to vent about something that is bothersome in their lives, I seem to see it as an opportunity to provide solutions.

A few friends have called me out on this, but it’s gone fairly unabated until recently, when I chose to not help a moth that was fluttering, struggling, with wet wings outside my apartment. I realized that the assistance might actually hinder, or create further problems with its wings.

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Choosing to let others’ paths and lives unfold as they would, unaided or unaffected by my own influence is empowering and eye opening. In fact, it only further lessens my social anxiety and need to feel like I “fit in”. By letting others live their own lives, I am free to live my own, unfettered by their judgement or perspectives. I see it as boats in a stream.. we all idly float by each other, and choosing not to cause ripples at a strangers bow only further lets me focus on what’s ahead of my own boat.

Conversely, I want to defend and strength this philosophy. Naturally it’s not absolute. There’s still space to offer to provide advice or help without actually doing so. It shows willingness and compassion: just don’t be insulted if you’re rebuffed. You also should be wary about re-extending the assistance on the same/similar topics. Even if your friend or loved one chooses to stumble and fall over the same obstacle repeatedly, all you can do is to be there to help pick them up when they open up.