In the book “Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself”, Dr. Joe Despenza talks about rehearsing how you “want” to react to a particular situation. Just as you may visualize yourself performing a physical activity or mentally rehearsing a race or sport, you must rehearse your communication and/or responses to an emotional trigger situation. Dispenza says that if you want to be or act a certain way, create it in your mind and rehearse it.
I will use myself as an example. I have a very bad habit when someone challenges my opinion or disagrees with me to get VERY defensive and react abruptly and aggressively with a response. I don’t want to react that way, but I have been this way most of my life. Instead of giving up and saying, “that’s just how I am”, I instead assess past situations and then create a calmer, more appropriate response. I first tell myself that the person disagreeing or challenging me isn’t doing so out of hate or malice, they simply have a different opinion or maybe are simply asking for clarification. I then mentally rehearse how I would have, and will now, respond differently. I do this in my mind during a meditation and by doing so I begin to literally rewire my brain to respond better. If I just think to myself “I don’t want to snap at people, I want to/should respond better”, I am not creating dialog and a proper mental response. Like anything it takes practice, and I can tell you that it works! I have been much more successful in responding vs. reacting to situations.
Use mental rehearsal before going into a difficult meeting with a client, friend, or boss where you know you would normally be angry, afraid, etc. Create your response to other drivers on the road. One thing that helped me long ago was something my karate sensei taught us. He said “when someone reacts negatively towards you, says something rude, or someone cuts you off in traffic, instead of reacting aggressively with a counter attack think to yourself, maybe this person has had a really bad day, maybe they just found out some really bad news. Show them grace and be kind.” I have done that several times and it’s really cool how you feel after. My point with that story is CREATE your response to those situations now if that’s your trigger. Try this. The next time someone cuts you off in traffic, instead of telling them there “number one” with your special finger simply smile, maybe wave and literally say out loud “I hope everything is ok and you get where you are going safely”. Trust me on this one. It’s a really good feeling.
“You have power over your mind, not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength – Marcus Aurelius
Most of us are familiar with the concept of mental toughness and/or having an “unbreakable mindset”. I have been practicing mental toughness for years as an endurance athlete and coach, but only realized recently that what I have REALLY been practicing is mental resilience. Being able to gut out the last several reps in a hard workout, pushing through the pain during the last few miles of a race, or being able to handle difficult situations in life, like being exhausted but still mustering the strength to get through the day. That is mental resilience. Defined as“the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress”, mental resilience is something we all possess, but most of us rarely tap into.Allow me to give you a few examples.
I first really learned how to differentiate mental toughness with mental resilience at a men’s retreat last fall. A former Army Special Forces Operator came to our event to talk to us about this topic and take us through a workout. The workout was a 10 minute Sandbag Get-up test, where each man would hoist an 80lb sandbag over his shoulder and proceed to complete as many Get-ups as possible within a 10 minute time period. During the test you could switch shoulders as needed and you could put the bag on the ground BUT only for 5 breaths, then you had to pick it up and continue moving. Quitting was not an option. Each man had a partner that was responsible for counting your reps out-loud and motivating/pushing you to keep moving. This was the longest/hardest 10 minutes of my life, but I did not quit. I completed 65 get-ups. His top tier athletes complete 120 (insert big eyes emoji). After the first few minutes my lungs were on fire, my legs quivered, and I felt like my soul was dying but I did not stop. I focused on one rep at a time, pushing air in and out of my lungs, and knowing that this would eventually end. After the exercise was complete he explained to us that this was a test of our mental resilience. He said that he aloud us to take the “break” of 5 breaths when needed, BUT every break was a small version of quitting… What??!!! He then explained, in a life and death situation such as combat, you MUST possess the mental resilience to keep moving and not stop. Otherwise you die…
Former Navy SEAL Commander Mark Divine, founder of www.unbeatablemind.comsites in his book Unbeatable Mind, that the human body is capable of 20 times more than we think we are. He calls this our “20X Factor”. During the infamous BUDS Hell Week, the candidates are put through continuous training for 5 ½ days, 24hrs a day, while constantly being submerged in the freezing waters of the Pacific Ocean. During this literal hell week the candidates are given only 4 hours of sleep. Why 4 hours? Because that is the minimal amount of sleep the human body can have in that time frame without literally dying. This continuous beat down day in and out while freezing, hungry, and tired breaks the candidates physically for sure, but moreover it breaks them down mentally. It is often said in BUDS that it’s not the strongest or fastest guys that make it through, it is the guys with the mental resilience that they cannot and will not stop or be broken. In a life or death situation such as combat, you MUST possess the ability to push forward regardless of circumstance. Once the candidates realize they CAN keep going, a whole new realm of possibility and confidence sets in, and their ability to withstand mental and physical stress is multiplied 20 times over.
Taking it down a notch from military/combat situations, I have experienced and seen mental resilience at every Ironman triathlon that I have ever raced or supported. We see it all the time in athletes and has been talked about for several years now in endurance events like Ironman, yet instead of being called mental resilience, it is referred to as the “Central Governor Theory”, wherein an athlete has the ability to mentally override a fatigued broken down body and muster up the power to run faster towards the end of the 26.2 mile run of an Ironman after the 2.4 mile swim and a 112 mile bike portions of the race. I have witnessed athletes barely being able to put one foot in front of the other for 24-25 miles of an Ironman but as soon as they “smell the barn”, here the music at the finish line or sense that they are close, almost miraculously their once completely broken down legs go from doing what’s known as the Ironman shuffle into a full blown run. Personally, every Ironman I have ran I have experienced this. As soon as I reach mile 20, knowing I only have a 10k left to run my pace increases significantly. It hurts like hell, but I have the resilience to persevere through the last few miles faster than before. I could just shuffle to the finish, but I grit my teeth, literally put my head down, embrace the pain and run like hell.
The aforementioned scenarios may sound interesting, inspiring, or down right insane, and you may be saying to yourself “well that’s not me”. “I’m not a Navy SEAL and don’t ever see myself racing an Ironman”. So I give you this final example of being a new parent. Although I have not had the experience of being a new parent, the stories from friends, and clients telling of constant sleepless nights and fatigue for up to a year or more, are well known amongst this group of folks. I use this as an example of mental resilience because often times in the absence of a tiny little life to maintain, if someone were to experience that level of sleeplessness and fatigue they would surely shut down, call in “sick”, etc. Yet because they have no choice, they forge a mental resilience to push through the fatigue and carry on with life, work, and responsibilities. It is in no way shape or form easy, but remember, mental resilience isn’t about not feeling pain or discomfort, but rather diving head first into it and not looking up until you have accomplished the mission or the goal. Mental resilience is not a “want to”, it’s a “have to” mindset.
After many meditation sessions, guided, repeating mantras, and some with sound only for a year now I thought I had a pretty solid grasp on “being present” and focusing on my breath, a visualization, or something similar. Then I discovered the Muse Brain Sensing Meditation Headband; you can check them out at www.choosemuse.com. I called their headquarters for more information and spoke to one of their representatives for about 15 minutes.
I was intrigued by the ability to quantify our ability to focus on a single thing, such as breath. When wearing the muse headband during a meditation it can detect when your brain begins to lose focus and your mind begins to wander. It then gives you instant feedback based on what you are listening to. For example, if I am meditating and listening to ocean waves on the muse app, the water sounds calm like small waves washing onto the shore. When I lose focus on my breath the smooth calm waves become louder like crashing waves, nothing violent that or excessively loud, but enough to bring your attention back to your breath. After each session the Muse app gives you a diagram comparing the time during the session that your mind was calm, neutral, or active (see photo above). Your goal is to increase your calm time and reduce your active time. The ability to remain focused on a subject/object/etc. is crucial to maximize your ability to visualize during meditation. For me, I thought I was able to remain focused, but turns out my mind begins to lose focus each time I exhaled. It was quiet interesting and really made me think about how to remain focused. This has actually helped me stay focused during daily tasks. It’s pretty cool.
Using the Muse headband just before working on an important project/assignment as a busy adult, on a paper or studies if you are a student, or even prior to exams can help you retain a calm focused mind. I recently saw a news segment about meditation where a 5thgrader would meditate prior to a test to help her stay calm and focused. I think incorporating the Muse headband could help increase focus and a sense of calm presence even more. If you practice meditation or even if you are thinking of beginning a meditation practice, which you should J, I encourage you to give the Muse headband a try. In our fast paced, over-stimulated, multi-tasking on top of other multi-tasking world, having the ability to calm our mind and thoughts and truly be present for just a few minutes a day could be just what you, I, we need.
“We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflection on experience” – John Dewey
As I have mentioned in previous posts about learning from failures and facing obstacles head on, it is important in your breathing and visualization practice that you reflect on those times. Reflect on what you could have acted, responded, or chose better and learn from that moment. Also, reflect back on the good choices that you made during times of stress, doubt, or conflict and log those moments into your mental memory bank so that you can refer back to them when needed.
Reflecting back to a time or situation where you made a better choice, response, etc. and really reliving those moments can have a profound impact on your ability to make better choices in the future. Let’s say for example you had to deal with a client, co-worker, boss, friend, or relative that was challenging and negative. Reflecting back to a time where you were able to remain calm and respond vs. react to diffuse the situation, you can mentally prepare yourself for the next encounter with a similar situation with this person. As doubt, anxiety, or even fear creep into your mind before the next meeting, reflect back on your win and say to yourself, “I was able to control this situation before, that means I have the power to do it again.” Then go into the meeting confident and mentally prepared.
Daily reflection is also important and can help you not only with clients, but also with life itself. It is quite easy to do and can be done at the beginning and end of each day. Here is how it works:
At the beginning of each day ask yourself these questions…
When doubt, fear, worry, or anxiety become present today I will:
Two positive things I will do today are:
I will be mindful of my reactions/responses by:
At the end of each day answer these questions…
Today I was able to control my fears, doubts, worries, and/or anxiety by:
Things I could have done better/responded better to were:
Tomorrow will be a great day because:
I encourage you to get a notebook and write out each question from above along with your answers. Do it daily and in doing so, you are creating a reflection journal as well as creating your own roadmap to success. Look back, learn, succeed.
“Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win” – Sun Tzu, The Art of War
The Art of War, by Sun Tzu, was written in the 5th Century B.C. and the quote above is referring to being prepared for battle mentally by visualizing your enemies’ moves before they execute them. Knowing the lay of the land before you step foot on the battlefield. As your enemy draws his sword, visualize your defense and counterattack. Visualize every movement you make before engaging in battle with your mind until your body responds without thought.
Fast-forward over 2,000 years to the most recent winter Olympics. I watched athletes before the start of the Super-G downhill ski race visualizing and moving their bodies as if they were on-course for their run, or the snowboarders visualizing and mimicking the twists, spins, and flips prior to dropping in on the super pipe. Every great athlete, just as every great warrior uses visualization to prepare both body and mind. I use it before every race, and coach my athletes to do the same. Particularly in long events like Ironman triathlon. An Ironman is such a long day with months of preparation and the likelihood of everything going right on race day is slim. I coach my athletes to visualize how they want the race to unfold, but also visualize obstacles. Someone knocks your goggles off in the swim, now mentally rehearse how your will resolve this. You get a flat tire. Visualize how you will shift your gears, come to a stop, take off the wheel and change the tire. Or your body begins to cramp/hurt/shutdown. Visualize how you will calm down and overcome these hurdles. When my body and lungs begin to hurt in a race or while training, I visualize a one-eyed scarred up lion. He will stop at nothing to complete his mission. I swear to you that each time I envision this lion running after his prey, with mouth open, relaxed but focused breathing, blank but focused stare, I emulate this. And I start to run faster…. Every time…
One pretty well known experiment is the one done with basketball players shooting free throws. Thirty athletes were separated into 3 groups. Group one shot free throws everyday for an hour. Group two mentally rehearsed shooting free throws for an hour. Group 3 did nothing. The test was conducted over a 30-day period. At the end of the experiment group 1 improved by 24%. Group 3 showed zero improvement, and group two, who again only practiced by visualization improved by 24%. This test has been replicated several times with very similar results. The intense visualization created a neuromuscular firing pattern that creates motor unit recruitment and therefore response and proper performance. Read more about the basketball study here. Former Navy SEAL Commander Mark Divine tells a similar story about visualizing a college swim time in his book Unbeatable Mind.
Taking visualization out of sport, you can visualize conflict resolution in business, preparing yourself mentally to respond to objections or criticisms. People have even healed themselves from devastating, life-altering injuries using visualization. Dr. Joe Dispenza is known for healing his broken back with fracture & compressed vertebrae by visualizing intensely without waiver for 12 months. You can read about his healing in his book You Are the Placebo. He mentally built his spine visualizing every vertebrae and every disk in exact detail and focus. Told by medical professionals that he would never walk again, he began walking 9.5 weeks post injury and healed himself. You can read more about his accident and healing here. I have personally seen quadriplegics begin to get movement and muscle firing back in once paralyzed limbs by intense visualization.
Regardless if you are using visualization for personal or professional reasons, for sport or for healing, the evidence has been abundantly clear that it works. The catch is you REALLY have to focus. You can’t simply “think” about yourself being good at a sport, or responding better at the office. You have to see it, feel it, and make it as real as possible in your mind. It will take practice and you must be patient. Begin with something simple like writing a letter of the alphabet. In your mind see and feel the pen in your hand. How does it feel when you pick it up? Which fingers are holding the pen? Which finger has more pressure than the others on the pen? What does it feel like when the ballpoint of the pen touches the paper? Get my drift here. You must be VERY descriptive in your mind in order for visualization to truly work. It may seem like a lot of work, and it is, but trust me, it will be worth it.
The air is crisp and clear, and the colors of spring are beginning to show, at least here in the southern part of the U.S. :-). This is a great opportunity to get out and fully be present with your surroundings with a walking, running, or cycling meditation. Yes, you can meditate while exercising. You will need to go a bit slower, but if you do this, and can add it into your regular training plan, you will begin to train with less stress and build your aerobic engine stronger than you thought possible. You may even begin to enjoy your training even more. Here is how it works. During your session be sure to notice the budding trees, the grass beginning to return from its dormant winter state, flowers blooming, and the sounds around you. Take in the world and let that be your “music” for your session. Don’t be concerned with a specific pace or speed. Simply run/ride and be present. Be sure to breathe nice and relaxed through your diaphragm and the moment you notice your breath becomes short and forced through chest breathing, slow down for a minute or two. Listen to the audio for more instruction on how to incorporate this into your training week.
Check out Dr. John Douillard’s book Body, Mind, & Sport available on Amazon
***If you know someone that could benefit from this information, please share :-)***
In today’s fast paced technology inundated society we have information and stimulation literally at our fingertips every second of every day. In addition, we are busier than ever with work, deadlines, family, etc. We have taught our brain to deal with the overload, we call it multi-tasking, but it has come at a cost. I see it often. We have lost the ability to be present. Even as I write this I am getting texts on my phone and watch which are distracting me from being one hundred percent present in writing. My distracted mind cannot truly focus on the task at hand. Neither can yours. There, for the time I need to write this post, I have turned my phone to airplane mode so I can be present and focus solely on this project.
The first time I learned about being present was during my nutrition school in 2007. One of our teachers spoke on the topic, and made the point of being present while we eat. Most of us are checking emails, scanning social media, watching TV, or eat during meetings. We finish a meal and have no clue how the food really tasted, and we certainly didn’t chew slowly and thoroughly enough to properly digest the food. We were given the fun assignment of a “slow eating contest” during lunch that day. We were to put our phones away, we could engage in conversation during the meal, but we had to be very mindful of our food and actually take the time to eat. It was quite enjoyable and truth be told the food tasted better. This is just one example of being present. We also get distracted during conversations, while driving, exercising, and honestly by most things in life. We are so damn “busy” that we hardly even know what being present means.
So here are my challenges for you:
The next time you are in a conversation with another person put your phone somewhere where you cannot feel the vibration of a notification and of course turn off the ringer. Look the person you are speaking to in the eyes and truly engage in the conversation. Be present
At your next meal do the same. Turn off your phone, if possible go outside or sit somewhere inside with a little music if you want, NOT a TV, and eat you food. Chew each bite at least 15 times and really taste the food. You may notice that you actually eat less. That is in part due to a hormonal release that happens when you eat that signal fullness after about 15-20 minutes. When you eat, be present
Go for a run, walk, or bike and don’t listen to music. Yes it actually is possible. Pay attention to your breath, breath rate, the sound of your feet striking the ground, or cadence of your pedal stroke. LISTEN to your body instead of distracting your mind until you complete the session. This is a big one friends, especially regarding performance. If you want to perform you have to listen to your body, and I mean actually LISTEN to your body as I just described. Think about a racecar driver listening to the car engine for the slightest little “tic” that could mean it is not running to its full capacity. Why don’t we do the same for our bodies? When you run, walk, or bike, be present
Lastly breathe… Before you talk with someone, before you eat, before you train, and really anytime you engage in any activity be it mental or physical, breathe. Take 3-4 cleansing, relaxing, diaphragmatic breaths, and say on each exhale, “I am here, I am present, I am engaged”. Give it a try and I bet that whatever you then dive into will have a better outcome J.
Now I will turn back on my phone… Wow the world still rotates and no one imploded due to the lack of an immediate response. Be well my friends, be present, and spread the word.
“There is no good or bad without us, there is only perception. There is the event itself and the story we tell ourselves about what it means” – Ryan Holiday
How often have you been sidelined by an injury in training or sport, had a work project rejected or a deal/sale fall through? How many times have you asked yourself “what if”, or said, “If things would have only been different”. I know I have. Yet every time I reflect and really look at the situation that occurred and how it could have gone better, or different, I am immediately glad it didn’t. If not for those obstacles in my path I would not be where I am today. Writing these words, working with amazing people, married to an incredible woman that shares my values, beliefs, and passions. Let me give you an example.
My journey to become who I am today began with a pretty traumatic “obstacle”. Without going into too much detail I will tell you the story. Late one Friday night in 2004 I was leaving a bar after hanging out with some family that were in town. We had a great time, and by great time I mean we drank and danced… A lot… I vaguely remember leaving the bar. The next thing I know I woke up in a hospital ER bed, with a neck collar on and my mom and sister by my side trying to wake me up. I had no idea what happened. They told me that two men had jumped me when I sat down in my truck in the parking lot outside of the bar. The orbital bone under my left eye along with my nose was shattered and both would need to be surgically repaired. As a result of this incident I have to this day, nerve damage on the left side of my face, I have a plate and seven screws under my left eye which makes me look like I have a shiner, especially after being in the sun, double vision when looking at certain angles, and my breathing is inhibited through my nose. So I have the world’s longest lasting black eye, going on 14 years, and I can’t breathe well through my nose, which is AWESOME as an endurance athlete (insert eye roll). Some, if not all, would say this was a pretty bad deal. I also have to tell you that leading up to this incident I was in the best physical shape of my life. I was training for an off-road Ironman triathlon and had just the day prior swam the best and farthest that I ever had in my life and I felt incredible! My fitness was exactly where it needed to be and I couldn’t be happier. Then WHAM! Literally… not only could I not swim, but I couldn’t run, cycle, lift weights or do ANYTHING that elevated my heart rate for at least 6-8 weeks without the risk of permanent eye/visual damage. Oh, did I mention that I also had a wicked concussion? All that hard work was gone in an instant, and I was devastated.
Fast-forward a couple weeks. During my recovery, two of my clients that were very into holistic health and healing gifted me a session with Dr. Peter Jailet, their Chiropractic Neurologist, that practiced healing by addressing brain function first. What happened during that session and the sessions over the next several months altered my path and lead me to the place I am today. I began to study holistic nutrition and healing which lead to me attend IIN, The Institute for Integrative Nutrition. I then studied to be a Dr. of Naturopathic Medicine for two years, learned how to apply that to athletes, became an endurance coach, and on the story, certifications, public speaking, and teaching goes. You see if had not been attacked that night in the parking lot I would have never gone to see Dr. J. If I had not been attacked I would have driven while highly intoxicated and could have had an accident, been arrested for DUI, or even worse, injured or even killed another driver. That terrible obstacle that completely knocked me off of my Ironman path opened the barn doors to the world of healing. What I have been privileged to learn and share with others, especially my work with our adaptive athletes would never have happened. My going to nutrition school is what sparked the first conversation and lunch with my now wife Alix. That too would have never happened. I am exactly where I want to be, doing what I love every day, and I would not change it for the world. That terrible obstacle lead me to MY way, and my perception of that event back in 2004 has changed from anger, regret, embarrassment, and guilt, to gratitude.
This week’s mindfulness echo’s last week’s post on “Look Within”. Too often, especially in the digital age, we let our happiness be determined by “likes”. We glare at photo-shopped images comparing our bodies to others, and we let other people’s opinions impact OUR attitude and mood for the day. All of these have one thing in common. They steal our happiness, our self-confidence, our self-worth, and our joy.
In the meditation from last week we are guided to not seek approval from outside sources, rather, look within yourself to find your happiness, what makes you unique, and THAT is what you should focus on. There are also those out in the world, fire starters, who thrive on getting a “reaction” out of you. These people are thieves of your joy. If left alone, they have no power, but they poke and poke waiting for the moment you break and reply/react. You have just given them power. Think for a moment about the last time something you read or heard got you all fired up. Now think of how you then acted towards other people thereafter. Were you kind and patient, or were you short and potentially rude?
The same rule applies in traffic, where we all tend to lose it from time to time. Nothing gets under our skin more than the person that cuts us off in traffic. This is where your mindfulness practice is put to the test. We think that this jerk cut us off on purpose, and maybe he/she did, but maybe they are rushing to help someone, get to the hospital, make it to an important meeting on time and they simply didn’t see you. Maybe they did see you and they feel bad for cutting you off but don’t have time, or know how to say sorry/thanks/oops in that spit second. Whatever the case may be, don’t let traffic or people in traffic steal your joy. Again, there are folks on the road that like to “poke the bear”, however, it is up to you whether or not you react. Instead of getting angry and letting them know they are number one with that special digit, create a picture of patience and say to yourself and them, “I hope you get where you are going safely and everything is alright”. Then smile and wave. Try it, and I assure you, that you will feel a sense of happiness and peace instead of anger, and you will go through your day a bit more confident in your ability to stay calm and be happy.
I first listened to this guided meditation one pre-dawn morning sitting on a beach in Maui. My external surroundings were incredible, but the message in the meditation helped me to realize that, internally, everything I was working towards and trying to become was already present, I simply needed to be still, look within, and listen.
When we search for a goal, or aspire to be/look/perform/act a specific way we more often than not look at other people. Our thoughts become fixated on, “if I could just be like/look like XYZ, then I would reach the goal, or be happy”. This week’s focus is to set aside your desire to look or be like someone else, and to go within yourself to discover who YOU are and understand that, you are exactly who you are supposed to be, and that whatever it is you are seeking to find/become is already in you. You simply need to be still, be quiet, look within, love yourself, and listen…
For this week’s audio you will need to download the free Insight Timer app on your smartphone. Search for Sarah Blondin and listen to “Discovering Your Intrinsic Self”