Tag Archives: meditation

Small Change. Consistent Change. Larger Results.

I remember it just sitting there and staring at me.  That pile of clutter on my kitchen counter that probably sat there for a few weeks.  It wasn’t literally staring at me or else this would be the start to one of the stranger horror stories to date, where an unsorted collection of mail, notebooks, charger cords and random nonsense achieved a sentient state and was sizing me up.  Not good times.

Anyhoo, I was definitely looking at it with a touch of frustration because I really do hate when things get all out of sorts if I have complete control over them.  Given that we’ve established that the clutter was not some kind of fairy tale monster, I definitely should have been wrangling it.

Yet, I had not.

The clutter on the counter was actually symptomatic of something larger that had been nagging away in the back of my brain – that I had let a bunch of things go for any of a number of reasons.  The reasons all seem good in the moment (I’m just too busy right now, I have a lot going on, I’m tired at the end of the day, etc.), but which total up to a neat little stack of excuses.

So why had this happened?  And why had I gotten bad at taking time to meditate?  Or to read more consistently?  Or to do more writing?  Or get to bed at a decent hour?  Or, or, or…

The answer was actually pretty simple – When I would inevitably hit that point of shouting unto the heavens “Damn it! This will ALL get fixed!” while shaking my clenched fists of fury, that’s what I would try to do.  Fix ALL of it.  At once.  Not one or two things.  Oh gosh no.  In that moment I was sick and tired of being sick and tired, so I was gonna get cracking on changes, my friends.  Ohhhh, the changes I would undertake.

It was only when I was recently reading the excellent book “Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength” by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney did the folly of my efforts become so apparent.  The question was never being an undisciplined slob or somehow being weak in my principles.  It was really that I wasn’t giving myself a chance to succeed because I wanted everything fixed at once, instead of taking a more methodical approach.  One of the interesting pieces of that book is how clearly it lays out how to build and what easily erodes willpower.

Seeking to spread your finite willpower thinly across a multitude of worthwhile improvements results in not achieving any of them.  And getting frustrated for the umpteenth time. And repeating a mind-numbing cycle… again.

How did I finally address all of this? (Notice I did not say fix, since that clearly implies it is all good from here on out and y’all know that ain’t the case).

Step One: Make The List

I made a short list of 4 things and called it my “Willpower Development List”.  Very official, I know.  It’s as follows:

  1. Straighten up my house in the moment. No waiting around.
  2. Pray/meditate daily.
  3. Read/write every day.
  4. Get to bed by 10PM.

Step Two: Assign Each Goal a Month

I picked a month for each step and to focus on getting good at that task.  So, I started with straightening up for August.  Each day I would see to be REALLY good at keeping my house super tidy.  Nice and simple.  Then in September, I added the prayer/meditation as a 2nd task of the day, after already developing the good habit of straightening up the house.  Then in October, the reading and writing.

Step Three: Automate

Because everything that needs to be done in this world can now only be accomplished with a super snappy app, I found the Streaks – Daily Habit Tracker app for my phone which would remind me every day about the tasks (there are a variety of apps like this out there for whatever phone OS y’all are rocking).  The goal would be to string together longer and longer streaks of completing everything.  I’m not always perfect, but I am WAY better.  And if I find myself not being consistent in the habits I’ve developed, I will not add something new until I have the first group down solid.

Step Four: The Bigger Lesson

All of this is a pretty simple approach, but one where I began to see momentum and ended the feeling that I was an undisciplined goober with little prospect of success in sight.

It also made me feel more keenly a larger point: that my inability to effect the changes I wanted was not a failing of personal character as much as it was the use of a flawed method.  I urge everyone to keep that in mind in their own lives.  Human beings are capable of soaring achievements that continue to take my breath away on a regular basis, but we also all bear an innate ability to personalize our shortcomings as hard-wired genetic limitations.  We’re supremely gifted as beating ourselves up for seemingly everything we do not do well.  Just remember that maybe… just maybe… that getting a perspective check may be all you need to shift the view.

And that’s better than any habit streak I know.

Getting My Namaste On: A Weightlifter’s Journey Into Yoga

One funky octopus
Downtown Yoga in Hartford, CT. Namaste, y’all.

Good Lord… the BURN.  I couldn’t believe the fiery sensation starting in my shoulders and flowing into my upper arms. Despite my best efforts and intentions to fight it, I had to drop to my knees, try not to audibly curse my instructor as being a closet sadist and somehow “find my breath”.

Yup – I was in the throes of learning that yoga was laying a first-rate beat down on my seriously inflexible self.  But let’s not get ahead of ourselves and take it back to the beginning of the journey.

The Start

I like to be a bit transparent on this blog, at least the best I can.  I had been mulling over doing yoga for some time based on two critical facts: (1) I am about as pliable as structural steel; and (2) I tend to hold onto stress way more than I should.  I’m no yoga expert, but those have always appeared to be the big value propositions for yoga practice.  On a side note, you know you’ve been working in Corporate America way too long when you write about “value propositions” for something like yoga… the least corporate thing you could possibly imagine.  See?  I need yoga even more than I admit.

The flexibility piece only became more important to me as I’ve gotten closer to, and now, just north of 40 years old.  And honestly?  I think it has less to do with age and more to do with my daily work state (seated at a desk and working on a computer) combined my chosen exercise style (lots of weight training).

The stress piece has always been a lingering thing.  It’s one of those things where it’s easy to become so accustomed to it, you forget what it feels like to be perfectly mellow and content (save for vacation and sitting on a beach with nothing in particular to do).  But despite my growing generally accustomed to high stress levels, I knew it wasn’t a good idea to just let that be.  It was time to get some change, pronto.

Into The Fray

I’ve tried yoga before, most notably bikram yoga.  If you’ve not familiar with bikram, it’s a 90 minute program comprised of 26 postures… done in a sweltering hot room and designed with the sole purpose of making you hate life and question your ability to make intelligent decisions on what is “good for you”.  I walked out of classes a few times feeling like I had been beaten with a blunt object and my eyes completely bloodshot from the heat.  So if you want a yoga style that makes you look akin to a meth head, then hey, this is totally for you.  (Obviously, your results may vary and a few of my friends really like bikram… but they cray-cray).

In looking for something that would balance out the full-tilt style of my lifting and conditioning program, I came across Downtown Yoga in Hartford (you can find them on the Web here and on Facebook here).  What was so appealing about them was their accessibility and the fact that every class could be scaled to your individual abilities.  Plus, their interest in being connected to the community also interested me – as easy as it is for locals to rip on Hartford relentlessly, I’ve always had a bit of a chip on my shoulder about it having grown up around here.  That and the fact that I have zero patience for people who bitch, whine and moan without even making a modicum of effort to see what the city may have to offer.  (Here’s a hint: More than you would think)

Plus, I liked their snappy promo video:

Downtown Yoga – Happy, Healthy, Hartford. from Downtown Yoga on Vimeo.

So down I went to Downtown Yoga about a month ago and gave it a whirl for their “Un-rush Hour” class.

My first class was with Mike and I had little idea what to expect.  I was the first person to the class and my goals were simple: try to relax and pick a spot at the back of the room so my lack of yoga-tastic skills would not be on display.  I set up up where I thought would be a good spot in the back corner.  Turns out I had no idea how the room was used… annnnd I was in the front row.  Sweet mother of God.

Needless to say, based on this blog post, I survived.  Heck, I even went back and have been on a two-times per week roll.  So why would a meathead like me get so hooked on yoga?  Lots of good reasons.

Performance.  Since I’ve started yoga, I’m already starting to move a little better and feel a little better.  My insanely tight hips are now just super tight.  That’s a big win.  I look forward to them now improving to wicked tight, then pretty tight and then to kind of tight.  One day?  I dream of decent and in my wildest dreams, I hope for them to be loose and fluid.  But for now?  Small steps.  Also, I am finding my shoulders are feeling more stable and solid.  I may have all that downward dog to thank for that… which is probably the only time you will hear me give any kind of positive remarks on that posture which provided the delightful burning sensations described at the outset of this blog.Plus, when I do things like squats, I am more comfortably able to get lower.  That’s huuuuge.

Yoga studio
It’s… about… to go… down.

Challenge Without Competition.  I’m naturally competitive.  If you have ever seen my Foursquare check-ins for yoga, they tend to be things like “I’m totally going to win at yoga tonight.”  Obviously, there really isn’t any “winning” at yoga (although yoga competitions do exist) and I’ve actually enjoyed that.  I’m a little surprised with how much I’m not comparing how I’m doing against my classmates.  Oh sure, I do check a bit out of curiosity – no one is perfect on this.  However, I don’t do it that much because I’m more concerned with I am doing personally and… well… I’m probably battling hard on whatever posture I am attempting and don’t have the inclination to see what everyone else is up to.So, you’re profoundly challenged, but it really doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing.  There are no points in yoga.  No score.  No playoffs.  Just you, your instructor’s direction and your breath.  Simple.

Dat Good Feeling Doe.  Every time I’m done with a yoga class, I feel good.  No, I feel really good.  Without question, the physical movements, concentrated breath-work and stretching of the yoga itself gets the bulk of the credit for it.  However, there were at least 2 truly unexpected factors for this feel-good buzz as well.  The first is that yoga gets you so involved in what you’re doing for the entire time you are practicing, you don’t tend to think of much else.  Honestly, how nice is it to shut your brain off for 90 minutes from the 1,001 things you usually have bombarding it?  It’s glorious.The second piece was even less expected – how the instructors close the class.

Let’s take Jenny (the delightful head instructor at Downtown Yoga) as an example.  You finish all of your poses and postures, take some time to lay in Savasana (the only pose I am good at – lying flat on my back with my limbs spread out like I just got knocked out) and then come to a seated position to finish.  Then you know what Jenny does?  She thanks each person in class for the fact they decided to come and share their practice with her that night.

It’s simple, sincere, warm and always leaves me with a smile to see that someone is actually grateful for my sharing my less-than-graceful yoga practice with her.  In turn, this makes me feel grateful.  It’s infectious.

So this full-time meathead had expanded his horizons, gone out of his comfort zone and taken his overly competitive mindset to the much more serene, flowing world of yoga… and come out the better for it.  I have a really long way to go and, actually, I’m OK with that because that also means I have a lot of opportunity to get even more benefits.  I can’t say if every tightly-wound athlete/corporate warrior would enjoy this like I do, but it’s clearly worth a shot.  I’m still finding I’m learning a lot about myself with each class, especially from the mental toughness standpoint (which is actually more like being non-resistant versus rigid).

Plus… I know I can still win at this yoga SOB.  Somehow, damn it.