Neurogenesis. The process of the brain producing new brain cells. This was believed for decades to not exist–Despite case-study evidence to the contrary. At any rate, this is the first step in reprogramming your brain.
For the Warrior, neurogenesis provides a unique opportunity to reprogram the brain. Exercise contributes to neurogenesis–it induces the growth of new brain cells. This is great because we are already training and exercising. New brain cells are already being generated. However, this is not enough.
New brain cells alone will not make things different. These are raw cells that need to learn stuff. They can learn what you already know. Or you can program them with new information, habits, behaviors, reactions.
Bottom line: New brain cells need to be programmed with something–this can be negative habits or new, positive behaviors.
Your move. You’ve got these new brain cells. What are you going to program them with? You need to consciously decide what learning, what habits, what behaviors you’re going to expose these new brain cells to.
You can pick up a new book. You can take a class. You can Meditate. Meditation, with its own effects on the brain, seems like a great way to double-down. You can continue your old, bad habits.
Confession: This post is inspired by Lauren Hanna Foster’s recent post Trust the Practice. I saw a tweet/retweet with the titled and was led to read the post, mostly by its recollection of a refrain from my past “Trust your training.” The implication being, if you’ve put in the work, when you need it your training will in turn work for you. Regardless whether you intellectually understand it, or emotionally agree–you have trained, your training will carry you through. In a survival scenario, or in a grueling race, rely on your training.
Lauren’s post isn’t about life or death, but it is about Showing Up and Putting in the Work. If you show up, the Practice will carry you through.
I encountered this yesterday. After a day of barely dragging myself through, I had a soccer practice to run in the evening. The last thing I wanted to do was go out, down to the fields, and pretend to be highly motivated for my girls. Funny thing is, though the mere act of getting there was a struggle, once I hit the fields, the sluggishness disappeared. No pretending. I was highly motivated. I left practice elated and feeling good, so good in fact I didn’t remember how shitty I felt going in, until I read Lauren’s piece.
This is how it is with Training, too. It’s on the schedule. There are always other, more pressing, things coming up. There is always a crisis, some reason to not go. But once you get there (if you can manage it), all the excuses melt away, and all the terrible things which will happen, don’t. And your sense of dragging through, quickly fades. Time recedes, and before you know it, the session is coming to a close. Oftentime, the session comes to a close too soon, and we want more.
Now, for me, Training is my Practice. My monkey mind, lower self, nafs, whatever you call it, seems to try its best to throw me off track. It’s arguments are intellectually compelling, emotionally powerful. It’s too cold, you have too much to do. But the logic and emotional power never hold up in the face of simply Showing Up.
Trust the Training.
We try so hard to change those around us. The closer we are to people, the more we try to change them. The closer they are to us, the harder they try to change us. With so much effort put into changing people, why is there so little change?
Each year we renew our resolve to change ourselves, to turn a new leaf. By March, we have a hard time even remembering what those resolutions were–Spending the rest of the year focused on what other people are or are not doing.
Therein lies the problem. We cannot change other people. All the effort put into changing folks is utterly wasted effort. We can only change ourselves. Once we can effect real change in ourselves, and maintain it consistently for a period of time (three months? two years? eight years?), only then will we see a reflection in those who around us.
Changing oneself is the classic “easier said than done”. Everyone around us is utterly invested in us being as we are. We are utterly invested in being as we are. We are utterly invested in everyone around us being as they are. Consequently, everybody works very hard to keep everybody else from changing. Pushing buttons. “Going there”. Bribing. Extorting. Doing what we must to pull us and everybody else back into familiar ruts.
If the people we interact with (love, work with, struggle against) change, then either how we interact with them must change, or we must stop interacting with them. Hence a change in them, causes a change in us, however slight.
And therein lies the key.
If your relationships suck, you must change. If the world around you needs work, you must change. If your business is not awesome, you must change. It’s your only other option.
It is imperative that you be different.
The only way to change others is to be different.
The only way to improve the world is to be different.
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9 Mindfulness Rituals to Make Your Day Better
“Smile, breathe and go slowly.” – Thich Nhat Hanh, Zen Buddhist monk
Post written by Leo Babauta.
Are you simply moving through your day, without fully living?
I did this for many years. It was as if life were just passing by, and I was waiting for something to happen. I always felt like I was preparing for something later.
But today isn’t preparation for tomorrow. Today’s the main event.
Fully live today by being mindful. I realize this is easier said than done — mindfulness is a habit that’s not easily picked up. And so I’ve decided to share with you some of my favorite mindfulness rituals to help you appreciate every moment.
You don’t need to do all of these, but give a few of them a try to see if they make your day better.
Ritual isn’t about doing a routine mindlessly. It’s a way of building something good into your life, so that you don’t forget what’s important. Done mindfully, a ritual can remind you to be conscious. Done mindlessly, a ritual is meaningless.
Here are a few of my favorites:
1. Sit in the morning. When you wake up, in the quiet of the morning, perhaps as your coffee is brewing, get a small cushion and sit on the floor. I will often use this opportunity to stretch, as I am very inflexible. I feel every muscle in my body, and it is like I am slowly awakening to the day. I’ll also just sit, and focus on my breathing going in and out. I’m an absolute beginner when it comes to meditation, but this always starts my day right.
2. Brush your teeth. I assume we all brush our teeth, but often we do it while thinking of other things. Try fully concentrating on the action of brushing, on each stroke of each tooth, going from one side of the mouth to the other. You end up doing a better job, and it helps you realize how much we do on autopilot.
3. Eat mindfully. Turn off the TV, put away the computer and mobile devices, even put away the book or newspaper. If you eat with any of these things (most people do), eating without them will seem boring. And yet, unless you do this, you are not truly appreciating your food. I like eating my oats (with nuts and berries — see my diet) mindfully, paying attention to each bite. It makes the food taste better, and I eat slowly and with gratefulness.
4. Wash your bowl. When you’re done eating, wash your dish immediately. Do it while paying full attention to your washing, to the water and suds. Read more.
5. Drink tea. There’s something ancient about the tea ceremony — and when you drink tea as a mindfulness ritual, you’re connecting with millions of others who have done so over the centuries. Make your own tea ceremony — prepare the tea carefully and mindfully, pour it slowly, sip it with thoughtfulness. See if you can set aside one time each day to do this, and it will transform your day.
6. Walk slowly. I like to take breaks from work, and go outside for a little walk. Walk slowly, each step a practice in awareness. Pay attention to your breathing, to everything around you, to the sounds and light and texture of objects.
7. Read in silence. Find a quiet time (mornings or evenings are great for me), and a quiet spot, and read a good novel. Have no television or computers on nearby, and just immerse yourself in the world of the novel. It might seem contradictory to let your mind move from the present into the time of the novel, but it’s a great practice in focus. Also, I love a good novel more than almost anything else.
8. Look at someone gratefully. Each day, find someone you care about. Instead of just seeing what you always see, really look at the person. Try not to do it creepily. See this person for the miracle that she is, and be grateful for her existence. If you’re feeling generous, tell that person how thankful you are for her.
9. Work with focus. Start your workday by choosing one task that will make a big difference in your work, and clearing everything else away. Just do that one task, and don’t switch to other tasks. Single-tasking is a great way to find focus. Increase your Monk Mind.
These rituals aren’t the only time you should be mindful, but they’re great reminders. Today, try a few of them to fully live and fully appreciate this wonderful day.
My favorite book on dealing with negative emotions is a compilation of meditations by Thich Nhat Hanh, Taming the Tiger Within: Meditations on Transforming Difficult Emotions (2004). He has several themes dealing with negative emotions. He continually recommends honesty and openness with your loved ones about how your feeling. (study indicating that this is a physically healthy practice). He also recommends being gentle with one self. He recommends reminding yourself, and meditating on, the things that make you happy. Much of his recommendations fall under the practice of Stalking. The practice that I touch on below is a first step in the process of Stalking.
“It is very helpful to see yourself in moments when you are angry. It is a bell of mindfulness.” ~ p. 27
“One of the main causes of our suffering is the seed of anger inside of us.” ~ p. 5
Notice that each of the above quotes asks us to step outside of our heads and observe (in this case our anger), our difficult emotions. This stepping outside of our selves is a critical step in the process of Stalking, because in doing so we create some space, however momentary, between our emotion and any subsequent reactions or impulses we display when we feel this anger.
Thich Nhat Hanh doesn’t say that negative emotions are habits, but I contend that if not the emotion, then our subsequent expression and behavior is. Further, I contend that much of our subsequent reactions are inhibitors in our life.
If we hope to restructure our reactions and impulses away from regrettable behaviors, the space Thich Nhat Hanh points to is necessary to be able to later reconstruct events and discover the lynch-pin behaviors.
Remember, typically in a habitual sequence of behaviors, there will typically be a point where we shift from mindful to auto pilot. I discuss this sequence in my earlier post. After an argument, or a rough weekend, or some other set of negative emotions, once the sting has subsided, it is important to retrace events in our mind and find the one behavior or reaction which if we didn’t do, could have turned the tide. Or once we did do, things went down hill.
A couple of weeks ago I had an especially hard day. In looking back I can see that I had several opportunities to meditate and organize my thoughts and game plan, but I always felt rushed and put the planning off. Had I taken five or ten minutes to make a couple of lists, when the crisis of that day peaked, I could have fallen back on those lists. Going forward I have resolved to remind myself to set down and scratch out a couple of lists when the though occurs, and not put it off. Since that weekend, I have had one such opportunity, and I didn’t make great lists, or give myself quite enough time, but I was able to better organize my thoughts, and operate with a better game plan. Things still didn’t work out as well as they would have if I had focused more, but not as bad as they would have had I only the seat of my pants to work with.
Similarly with anger. I have had a couple of chances to practice creating some space, and interrupting my impulse to escalate arguments, even when clearly invited to do so by my fellow antagonist. This issue of escalation is interesting. Often, in an argument, our fellow antagonist is more comfortable with an all out irrational confrontation instead of calmly addressing the points actually on the table. We must be careful of this desire, and resist the temptation to bait people into it, and to take the bait when so deliciously offered. Some space and observation is required to see the bait coming and to resist taking it (or resist throwing it out there).
There are several specific techniques we can use to build more productive habits surrounding negative emotions.
- cognitive restructuring
I will not go into detail here. It is most important to first practice being the observer to our emotional expression and reaction. This simple (not easy) act of creating space and observing will often point the way to what action we can take next.
Your comments are welcome below. . .
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Hard days, are . . . well–Hard. By extension they are generally unpleasant. By extension we generally try to avoid them. The irony is that these are the days we can grow from. That make us better. That make more Hard Days less likely. By extension we should actually seek out more Hard Days.
This is a major principle in training, particularly when it comes to endurance sports. But this is true to all aspects of our lives. Hard Days give plenty of fodder to analyze our stalking (the process where we monitor our own behavior, step by step, from a detached point of view). Stalking is a key activity in growth because it provides the vision to see, in this case, the small things that made the day hard, and which can be changed.
The principle in stalking is to detachedly dissect our internal reactions, and find the key reactions that a particular sequence of behaviors pivoted on. Sometimes, these reactions and choices were several days before the experience of hardship.
Stalking can be applied to Easy Days or Successful Days as well, except we are usually not motivated to dissect and change these outcomes as much.
Hard Days are uncomfortable, unpleasant, painful, agonizing, miserable–take your pick. The trigger our inherited survival avoidance mechanisms. And they need to be absolutely sought out.
Please feel free to comment below.
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Tuesday Twitter was abuzz with the first Winter Solstice Full Lunar Eclipse in 372 years. It was the first time this even came on my radar. That night, about 2 am, I woke up the whole family and marched them outside to watch the event. People were tweeting about it. As we watched the Earth’s shadow move across the face of the moon, it began to dawn on me that this was the Real New Year, that today (then Tuesday) was the last day of the year, and tomorrow (now Wednesday) the first day of a New Year. I decided it was time to do a little goal review.
These issues of the Lunar, Solar, Gregorian calendars, the dates and timing of Christmas and New Years (1 Jan), are all very interesting, but subjects for several other posts.
My friend describes very well how goals change over time and how one needs to allow intuitive responses to grow and evolve on their own, outside of the constraints of a pre-thought out goals list. Often these lists are produced in a single session, and artificially represent what we think we should want to accomplish. Nevertheless, I have found the process useful. As an aside, I would emphasize that it is the process (contemplation, reflection) much more so than the product (the list) that holds the value.
Each year I review my list from the previous year. I page through my journal, and I check off the things I accomplished, the things I forewent, the things I still need to work on. The most interesting items are the goals I set and accomplished, but never added to my list (@ChristineMillan could appreciate that one).
Throughout the year I meet with good friends and we discuss our goals, provide advice, and some accountability. Many of these notes make it into my journal and become more immediate, intermediate goals. Some are just action steps. Some are brand new goals.
The whole process is very organic for me. I have no real system. Many of the items in my list I never really see again until the end of the year (today). It is always a delicious surprise to see items I accomplished, but forgot I had even listed. I also enjoy seeing items listed, that I discarded, and decided for whatever reason, weren’t goals I actually wanted to accomplish.
As the title says, Random Thoughts.
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