Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Awareness - The Third Component of SMARTER!

Ten months ago, I committed to following a template I created for living a high performance life. I call it SMARTER, and the third component is A, for Awareness Based Practices. 

In the mornings, I take time to breathe, while I relax my body, calm my mind, open my heart and set my intentions for the day ahead. Throughout the day, I PBS - pause, breath, smile. Pause to take a breath, smile, and reset my attention, my connections and my intention. In the evening before bedtime, I take a moment to walk outside, look at the sky, and think about what I am thankful for that occurred in that day, what I learned and appreciated that I will carry with me, and what I am grateful for in my life. 

I’ve been doing each of these activities daily, with a grand total amount of time each day of sometimes less than 10 minutes, and other times closer to 30. It's less a matter of how much time I spend, and more about how consistent I am with each. It's also important that I don't feel like I am rushing through them in order to check off that box on my to do list. It’s best when I simply commit to starting, and then allowing it to naturally come to an end.

As someone that has been in the health and fitness world for more than 20 years, the idea that taking time to pause and breath and focus isn’t necessarily new, nor is it shocking that doing so would positively impact one’s health. We’ve known for a long time that doing so reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, alters our bio-chemistry, and provides a multitude of other physiological and emotional benefits. All of that just makes sense. But despite the benefits, why did I not start doing these practices years ago? And why did I think that such practices were only necessary for those who really needed them, and that I was clearly not one of them? 

I laugh at that thought now. Not simply because I am clearly one of “them”, and always have been, but because of how fundamentally different my life is today, as a result of finally taking the plunge. When I was in my 20’s, I was reading books about the power of intent, of setting goals, of visualization and affirmations. Of breathing. Taking time to sit still and meditate. But I didn’t do them. Partly because I believed my time would be better spent training my body, and partly because I didn’t believe in all the promises. I didn’t buy into the power of intentions, that simply by setting your intentions, you’d actualize the goal. 

But now, I am beginning to understand things differently. In part, because of my research in neuroscience. In part, because of my personal experience. Through my morning ritual of setting my intentions, I am consciously telling my subconscious to notice things in my environment that align with my intentions. The deliberate part of my brain is telling the automatic part of my brain what to look for. So as I am living and breathing and observing, I am simply more aware of the events, relationships, thoughts, choices and sensations that align with where I set my intentions. The same events, relationships, thoughts, choices and sensations may have been present yesterday, and they may have gone unnoticed, filtered out by my automatic brain. But today, because I set my intentions, I notice them. I feel them. I make a different choice. I take a different path. Simply because I set my brain up to do so.  

And that changes everything! And that is what the power of intent means to me. The beauty of practicing awareness. And it's worth every ounce of effort and energy I commit each morning to this ritual. 

Now, it's your turn to try!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Stop, Look, Go - A Lesson from a Gardener

This morning, while pedaling on my exercise bike on my front porch, I watched the gardener arrive at my neighbor’s house across the street, like he always does on Wednesday mornings. But this time, I noticed something I don’t recall seeing before. The driver and passenger stepped out of their clean, white truck with tools neatly organized throughout the bed of the truck, and met in front of the house. Together, they paused, and looked at the property. They stood there, assessing the landscape, quietly at first, and then they began talking back and forth, and pointing around the property. It was as if they were creating a plan of attack, outlining what tasks needed to be done, and who would do what. I was amazed and inspired, because it completely contradicted the “mow and blow” technique I was expecting to see. 

Stop. Look. Go. The gardeners were doing just that. Assessing the landscape. Deciding on what to do, what steps to take, what tools to use. And then going for it. 

How many of us simply move throughout our day, our work, our relationships, our exercise, our tasks, our moment to moment, without taking the time to stop, look and go. Without seizing the opportunity to observe, to set our intentions, to focus our attention, and to literally connect with the opportunity in front of us. Whether it’s checking off an item on our to-do list, helping our child with a math problem, playing a card game with the family, or taking a walk around the block with our dog. Imagine what life might be like if we did what these gardeners were doing!

Here’s a simple exercise that I use to begin each day. I call it PBS - Posture Breath Sequence.