A New Ritual

The first time it may be uncomfortable. You may find that the timing and the order of things isn’t quite right. The effort is perfect, in that you gave it your all, but perhaps the results are unsatisfactory. It doesn’t quite click. Your energy is too high or too low or…

Your intuition, your inner teacher, tells you it’s definitely the correct practice, but the student inside still has some learning to do.

When that happens, take a moment to reflect on what you did and how you felt. What worked and what didn’t? What might you do differently next time? Your intuition will have some suggestions. Listen, and take note. Prepare differently for the next time.

Photo of a candle in a darkened room. Decoration.
Image by Paulo Nicolello

Try again. Don’t wait until next week, next month, or next year. Get right back to it tomorrow. You will be wiser then, it won’t be your first time any more. It may go better or worse than yesterday. Your next steps are the same. Pause, reflect, and ask yourself questions. Listen, really listen, prepare and try again.

Do this until it’s not simply “a” ritual, but “your” ritual.

And know that in another season of your life, it may be time to begin anew, to create a new ritual.

Your new ritual.

Step

Me taking a step in Sesimbra, Portugal

At times you feel stagnant. That you have not gotten any closer to a goal than you were weeks, months, years ago.

Sometimes it feels overwhelming – there’s so much to do after so much nothing. And how will I ever get there from here?

The truth is, the answer is the same as it always was. The answer is to take one step.

Do not get mired in the inevitable questions: Step where? How big? Which direction? What if I don’t know which kind of step is the best step? What if I take the wrong step? These thoughts become glue, sticking you right where you are.

There is no predetermined right way for you to get from here to there. There is no other you. No other person with your experiences, your insight, your body, your vision, your heart. You are the cartographer, making the map as you go. But the going is the key.

And to get going, you must take a step.

Breathing

Sunrise in a park
(c) nicole d. collier – Views while running.

I’m learning how to breathe. Again.

After years of mindless tension in my body, and holding my own breath, I’m breathing deeper, slower, quieter, ala Andrew Weil. I’ve figured out diaphragmatic breathing and the wonders of taking air in through my nose.

Like everything else, better breathing is a habit. It takes effort and practice. Commitment.

I’ve come back to this – proper breathing – a few times over the years, but in recent weeks I’ve had more motivation to stick with it. More desire to get it right, and positive results from doing so.

I spent years blaming my stuffy nose on everything except my own breathing technique. Turns out, years of breathing through your mouth makes your nose/nose hairs less efficient. Who knew?

So far I’ve discovered more energy during my runs and increased ability to identify, regulate and reduce stress while increasing internal quiet. Taken together, I’m developing a more balanced nervous system with lower blood pressure.

It’s not a miracle cure, in that it doesn’t happen after one or two days of work. But it’s beautiful to help the body remember and work the way it was designed to.

Creating MAGIC in 2020

As I closed out 2019, I created my 2020 theme. I don’t devise one every year, but 2020 promises to be a year of serious goal attainment, and the consistent, steady efforts it takes to reach them.

MAGIC. That’s my word. That’s the thing I’m saying, thinking, and doing. Perhaps a little spellcasting, yes, but really this is about:

  • Mindset
  • Action
  • Gratitude
  • Imagination
  • Courage

Mindset. To create the outcomes I want will take the right state of mind. This is no time to be defeated by negative self-talk or disbelief in my own abilities.

Action. I’ll need to get out of my head. Taking active measures in the real world is the only way to get from A to B. Don’t think about it – be about it.

Gratitude. Don’t take anything for granted, and be thankful for everything that comes my way. The lessons, the opportunities, and the victories.

Imagination. Getting beyond where you are now means quite literally envisioning a reality that doesn’t exist. It’s easy to accept where you are because you see it, hear it, experience it everyday. But getting to the next step, the next level, means picturing something new. Creating a new image and working toward it.

Courage. Without courage, there’s no chance for meaningful action. Picturing new concepts and moving in new directions means breaking free of our comfort zones. That’s scary. Even adopting a positive state of mind and actively working with a spirit of optimism is a courageous act.

That’s my word, my focus, for 2020. I’ve officially begun a project I’ve been noodling, daydreaming and planning for weeks. Now it’s time to create some MAGIC.

Out of Gas

Forgot my pre-workout snack today.

Before I run, especially on “long run” days (5 miles or more), I eat something. Usually a 1/3-1/2 of a banana plus a scoop of peanut butter.

Today, I was a little rushed to get going, yet also focused on making sure I didn’t forget anything important. Garmin, check. Water belt, check. Water bottle, check. Running pouch, check. Towel, check. Hopped in the Jeep and hit the Greenway.

Near the halfway point of today’s 5-miler, I felt great. Cool temps and lots of birds and cicadas out to cheer me on. But by the time I hit 3.5 I hit a wall. I was hungry – out of calories as I call it.

Then I remembered. No snack.

Me on IG stories, trying to explain why I’m hemmed up.

Thankfully, help wasn’t far away. On Saturdays, I plan for 5, but prepare for 6 or more. That means I take a Gu energy gel in case I need an extra push toward the end of the run.

I whipped it out, took a couple of sips of water and was on my way. Looks like I had everything I needed after all.

On Truth and Possibilities

Brown skinned feet with red toenails on green grass.
Me, enjoying a moment of sunshine and introspection.

Just told the truth about something. Risked quiet criticism disguised as questions, but told the truth all the same.

In the past I might’ve eventually gotten there. Perhaps.

It would’ve taken forever to word it the right way, couching it to ward off potential negativity. I might’ve given a partial answer, obscuring the whole truth for an unsatisfying omission. But the truth was the truth. My truth. One I’ve known for a long time, but didn’t have, or create, an opening to share it. And finally here was my chance. I took it.

I mentioned Brené’s work yesterday and I think it’s part of the reason I responded as I did. She encourages you to be courageous, and embrace vulnerability, “the feeling we get when we feel uncertain, at risk, or emotionally exposed.”

As a thoughtful, shy, introverted adult, I think a lot, but I don’t share my thinking much. Only with those who know how to listen. Really listen. And in the past couple of years, I’ve become even less inclined to share for one reason or another. But this practice of silence has resulted in a diminished quality of life – wasting time on things that don’t bring me joy, and don’t create value. Sure, there are times when such work is required, but if a few moments of vulnerability can remove hours of meaningless shit, well isn’t it worth the effort?

Not too long ago, I might’ve said no. Might’ve found that toiling away on nonsense was worth the safety, the security, the silence of certainty. But we live, and hopefully, we evolve, and when the time is right, we make new choices. And when the risky, scary moment ends, possibilities begin.

On Resistance and Work

The message I’ve gotten this week, this month, hell, this whole damn season is, “do your work.” It’s been a steady drumbeat, but because I’ve neglected my personal victory strategies while getting busy with work and life, my inner ear got cloudy and I couldn’t quite make it out. 

Or I could, but I wasn’t really ready or willing to listen. 

But just like any other alarm that goes off long enough, this one alerted me that it was time to get moving. Get back to the things that work. Back to doing my work. 

In the War of Art, Steven Pressfield says,

Resistance cannot be seen, touched, heard, or smelled. But it can be felt. We experience it as an energy field radiating from a work-in-potential. It’s a repelling force. It’s negative. Its aim is to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work.

I’ve been distracted. I’ve been shoved away. I’ve neglected my work. 

I have reading and thinking and writing to do. Manuscripts to start. Scholarship to undertake. I cannot do anything if I am foiled by Resistance. If I do other things, and, in fact, everything else except my work. 

Toni Morrison died last night. And she left us many things to think about. Her words. Her work. Her admonition on the function of racism as distraction – a clarion call these days. And much as anything else I’ve explored this week (Brené Brown’s Call to Courage, Ann Pendelton-Jullian and John Seely Brown’s Pragmatic Imagination, my own thoughts), her death, or rather remembrance of her life and legacy, have prompted me to get back to it. Back to work.

FILE — The author Toni Morrison in New York on Jan. 9, 2004. Morrison, the 1993 Nobel laureate in Literature, whose work explored black identity in America and in particular the experience of black women, died on Monday, Aug. 5, 2019, at Montefiore Medical Center in New York, her publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, said in a statement. She was 88. (Sara Krulwich/The New York Times)

Procrastination is the most common manifestation of Resistance because it’s the easiest to rationalize. We don’t tell ourselves, “I’m never going to write my symphony.” Instead we say, “I am going to write my symphony; I’m just going to start tomorrow.” ~Pressfield

I pushed my work away for a month, a week, yet another day. More often than not, it was dereliction of duty more than anything else.

But not today. Today I overcame Resistance. Today I did my work. 

Don’t Stop Before the Home Stretch

Once the weather is a little warmer, I increase my monthly running goals from 35-40 miles a month, to 50. I set and hit 50 this March and planned to do the same for April. As it turns out, I traveled in April, and was off my usual schedule for the better part of a week. 

This was the longest run of my trip.

I embrace flexibility with my goals – not to let myself off the hook, but to adapt with changing circumstances. It’s not always practical or necessary to reach every goal “no matter what!” Especially in this case, where the purpose of the trip was to unplug from the grind and connect with my boo. Rather than Herculean efforts to rise by 5am and run 4-5 miles, we slept in most days, I ran a little here and there, and that was that.

When I returned home, I immediately adjusted my expectations and changed my goal from 50 miles to 40.  I got back in the mix and resumed my schedule. This included my usual short to medium runs during the week, and long runs on Saturdays.

This weekend’s long run was longer than usual. I crossed the finish line with 7 miles.  When I finished today’s run, my last of April, I knew I had surpassed 40 miles for the month. Imagine my surprise when I discovered my final tally was 49.4. That’s right – almost 50!

I hopped out the car, took a sip of water, and jogged a quick loop in my neighborhood to get the last little bit.  Although I don’t “stress” to get my goals, I do “stretch” to get them. To be honest, adding that additional 5 or 10 minutes wasn’t a real stretch but it was the home stretch. And I had almost missed it!

It was a good reminder to keep my goals and the progress toward them in sight. Because I took for granted that I would definitely meet the easier milestone, I almost missed my ideal.

It’s great to be flexible and make adjustments as needed, but that doesn’t mean I need to be careless or lose site of the bigger picture.

Are any of your goals are closer than they appear? Don’t sell yourself short. Take stock of your progress and keep striving. The home stretch might be just around the bend.

Monday Run Day

Monday morning sunrise miles.

I got those miles in this morning.

Every now and again I consider changing my running schedule. Right now I run – outdoors – on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. I like Monday runs because most runners are off. With the exception of birds, bunnies and an occasional deer, I have the running trail almost to myself at o’dark thirty.

On the other hand, Monday is my processing day. I think about the week, and try to get ahead on a few weekly tasks. And as much as I enjoy running and the energy I feel as a result, the timing never feels quite right on a Monday morning. I always get into my office feeling behind.

On Mondays where the load is soft and I can flex my way through the day, it’s no problem. But more often than not I seem to be a little behind my targets. Not really an ideal way to start the week.

So again, today, I find myself rethinking my schedule. Is it worth it to lose the solitude of the Monday run and gain the upper hand in timing and starting the day?

I think so.

Maybe.

We’ll see…

You Can’t Run Hills Everyday

Man running outside just before dusk.

Think of a moment when you were full of energy. You were clear, focused and productive for a time – a day, a week, maybe longer. What had you done in the hours or days leading up to that moment?

It’s likely that your clear, focused burst of productivity was after a period of rest. Or it may have come while you were working on something associated with your higher purpose. You may have engaged in something that stretched you and then turned to an easier project.

If any of these ring true, it’s not on accident. You reaped the benefits of managing your energy.

According to Loehr and Schwartz, performance, health and happiness are grounded in the skillful management of energy. They elucidate four principles for energy management:

  • PRINCIPLE 1:Full engagement requires drawing on four separate but related sources of energy: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.
  • PRINCIPLE 2Because energy capacity diminishes with both overuse and under-use, we must balance energy expenditure with intermittent energy renewal.
  • PRINCIPLE 3To build capacity, we must push beyond our normal limits, training in the same systematic way elite athletes do.
  • PRINCIPLE 4Positive energy rituals — highly specific routines for managing energy — are the key to full engagement and sustained high performance.

One can understand that elite athletes must have a reservoir of energy, must be able to call on that energy in times of need, and must be disciplined to replenish that reservoir so it’s available when the time comes. Loehr and Schwartz lend this framing to a concept they call the “corporate athlete,” – busy executives who must also perform well, consistently and under pressure. Beyond the time and the know-how, energy is the key.

Being able to recruit energy when needed is essential to attaining the ideal performance state (IPS). This is where the management of energy comes in. Managing your energy means intentionally moving between states of stress and recovery.

As a runner, I balance long or intense runs with days of rest. True story – as I write this, my legs are burning from today’s hill workout. If I try to repeat hills again tomorrow and the next day, I risk declining performance and injury from overtraining.

I need to allow my muscles time to recover via rest and/or cross training. Moreover, I need to provide my muscles the right nutrition, including water, to aid their recovery. If I do this, I’ll be in great shape when it’s time to tackle those hills again, and I’ll have better results on my easier, flatter runs.

The same is true at work. There are always proverbial hills to run, often without the attendant moments of purposeful recovery. In fact, many of us work until we quite literally can’t work any more, akin to an athlete passing out or suffering a serious injury due to overtraining.

Loehr and Schwartz recommend rituals that promote “oscillation,” which is the purposeful dance, or ebb and flow of stress and recovery.

The four sources of energy (Principle 1) are physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. In the last article of this series, we’ll explore each of these in more detail. Until then, what are some rituals you’ve tried to help you intentionally flow between exertion and rest?