This Is Water

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In late August, 2001, I returned to the United States after 4 months abroad.  Since then, I have learned fascinating things about the way I think.  Or, rather, the way I choose to think.

I remember the moment I chose to quit my two jobs and buy a one way ticket out of the country.  A group of us was sitting under the scoreboard at Orioles Park in Camden Yards in Baltimore.  To my right was a young woman named Kristy.  I chose to engage her in conversation that could be more accurately described as a lamenting monologue about my dissatisfaction with my jobs and my life.

Her response was like a slap across the face.  “Why don’t you do something about it?”

Two weeks later, with a backpack, a passport and no real plan, I was on a plane to Ireland.  My mother’s cousin put me to work on construction sites about an hour west of Dublin.  From there, I traversed the coast of Ireland for 3 weeks, then spent 2 months exploring 11 countries in Western Europe. 

The only people I knew were new friends that I had just met on a bus, a train, or in a hostel.  One day, I would share a baguette and bottle of wine on the steps of the Basilica Sacre Coeur watching the sun set over the Parisian skyline, and the next day I would be walking over the Charles Bridge in Prague admiring the gothic architecture of one of the few cities spared in WWII.  I celebrated the 4th of July with two Aussies in Nice, France.  I slept on a park bench in Pamplona, Spain and then ran with the bulls along the infamous cobblestone streets. 

After I had conquered Europe, I joined some old friends for nearly a month in India.  Two of them were getting married and we had arranged some time to explore the country.  From Delhi to Agra to Jaipur and Hyderabad, again my senses were overloaded with the smells, sights, and tastes of a truly foreign place.

Every day was an adventure.  Every day was full of excitement.  Every day was filled with something and someone new. 

In hindsight, I can clearly see why coming back to the United States was difficult for me.  I did not adapt well.  I was confused and felt lost.  On some days, I had feelings of depression, and on other days, panic attacks.  I turned alcohol and drugs to seek comfort, which of course just makes things worse.  I was more dissatisfied after my trip than before it.  I was frustrated and unhappy that my “regular life” was so boring and routine.

Taking a lunch break from another unsatisfying job, my good friend Dave turned to me and said, “Matt, this is life.  The alarm goes off in the morning, you go to a job, you come home, do some laundry, and go grocery shopping on the weekends, and try to make time for friends.  This is the way it is for most of us and you have to find ways to be happy.”

At the time, I didn’t understand how to think.  I have reflected on my experience over and over again and have even written about it before.  But not until recently, did someone else put that experience into perspective for me.  David Foster Wallace, a renowned philosopher, writer, and teacher gave a commencement address in 2005 that has only recently come to my attention. 

His claim is that a higher education degree does not necessarily mean that we have been taught how to think.  In fact, it is not our capacity to think that is at question, but our ability to choose what to think about.

Having focused on this exact nuance for the last 3 years, I can tell you that being aware of what and how you think is probably the single greatest gift you can give to yourself and others.

I invite you to listen to the full commencement speech below which is a little over 20 minutes.  I will admit that Mr. Wallace’s intellect is impressive and at times his vernacular is a little heady.  Stick with it though – I think you will find his words thought-provoking.

I would love to hear your thoughts – please leave a comment below.

Much love and gratitude,

-Matt

 

Drownproofing

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Eleven miles off the coast of southern California, a man is submerged in water.  His hands are tied behind his back and his ankles are bound together.  It’s dark and the water is cold.  His life is in imminent danger.  He has one objective: to survive.

He has been trained extensively for this exact situation.  He knows what to do, but every muscle in his body wants to do the opposite.  Impulses of fear are flashing through his mind and are resulting in uncontrollable twitches.  In his mind he consciously knows he is under water, but his lungs instinctively want to gasp for air.  He knows he needs to conserve energy, yet his body desperately wants to thrash around violently seeking freedom.

This man is an elite US Marine in training to become a US Navy SEAL at Basic Underwater Demolition SEAL (BUD/s) training facility in Coronado, California.  He is participating in a training program called “drownproofing.”navy-seal-11

As a coach and a friend, I often hear others describe their life as overwhelming.  They use words like “drowning” or feelings of “being under water.”  Understandably, with the modern stresses of life, it is common for many to feel this way.  Perhaps you feel this way at times.

Here are a couple of techniques that Navy SEALS use when they feel like they are drowning.  I think you will find it relevant to your life:

Step 1:  Acknowledge the Situation

Ignoring the situation will not help.  Putting your head in the sand is not an effective survival method.  Open your eyes, look around, and take it in. 

Step 2:  Embrace the Fear

Fear can be paralyzing or, like pain, can let you know you are still alive.  Fear is a great motivator if we harness the energy behind it.

Step 3:  Sharpen Your Focus

Often the result of embracing fear, a heightened sense of focus will allow you to see solutions that once eluded you.

Step 4:  Keep Going and Survive

Never give up.  Keep moving, keep going, keep trying.  The solution is often just beyond what you thought was possible.  It may seem obvious, but survival is paramount.  Do not let any other objective distract you.

Step 5:  Thrive

Once out of imminent danger, what has been learned through the experience makes you stronger, faster, and more resilient in the next challenge.  From fear comes growth.  Through growth, we thrive.

The US Marine acknowledges the situation.  He embraces the fear.  He sharpens his focus.  He does what he has to do stay alive.  He learns and becomes stronger and more ready for the next challenge. 

He will survive.  He will thrive.  What about you?

Happiness Through Street Food

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Greetings from Manila!

Through both coaching and teaching, one of the basic lessons we convey from the start is around practicing positivity.  In fact, just two week ago I wrote about the Tax Day Positivity and some ideas for practicing activities that bring about positive emotions.

To bring this to life, let me share a real-life example of how I am practicing positivity. 

This week, I am enjoying Filipino culture by exploring Manila and the surrounding areas.  Meeting local people, trying authentic food, and exploring historic places brings me great joy.  And sharing my experiences with others aligns with my higher purpose of “being and sharing the light, freely.”  It is very satisfying when I can bring others along with me as I learn and try new things, and it is very meaningful to actively practice my purpose.  In essence, writing this for you to read is one way that I practice positivity.

Some people call me crazy (even in the last 24 hours) for what I am willing to eat.  I enjoy pushing the limits of foreign cuisine because I know most people will never try the things I eat.  Allowing you to live vicariously through my appetite is fun and interesting to me.  Here are a few things I have tried in the last couple of days and my commentary on the experience:

Spicy Szechuan Chicken Feet I had this for breakfast, believe it or not.  It was very spicy, a little slimy, not much meat, and toes that kept breaking off – although they are soft enough to chew and eat.

Knockout Knuckles – These pork knuckles (the jointed portion of the rear legs) are slow roasted and deep fried.  They were very crunchy, a little dry, and a bit salty.

Isaw – Filipino street food is very popular, and isaw is the crown jewel.  Yes – skewered, marinated chicken intestines are delicious.  It was brushed with a savory sauce, covered with vinegar, and definitely lived up to the hype.

Dinakdakan – Another flavorful street food, this dish is a version of sisig (sour, chopped meat).  The description read:  “grilled pig head/face cut in small cubes, with addition of pork brain, and best served with pork liver.”  It was very rich, salty, and sour.  It’s good “drinking food.”

Balut – This is a very traditional treat, often devoured while drinking, but not for the faint of heart.  This is a fertilized duck embryo that is boiled and eaten out of the shell.  After cracking a small hole on one end, sprinkling some salt on it, and sucking the juice out of the shell, you peel the rest and eat the contents.  If you can get past the sight of it, the taste is quite good!

I’ve got five more days to keep exploring.  If you have recommendations, please send my way!

Much love and gratitude,
-Matt

Isaw

Isaw

 

Knockout Knuckles

Knockout Knuckles

 

Dinakdakan

Dinakdakan

 

Balut

Balut

 

The Power of Habit

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Success in life, however you define that to be, is derived from an understanding of who you are and where you want to go.  Who you are can be simply stated, but is usually a complex process of discovery. 

One part of who you are is your habits.  “We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit.”  – AristotlePower of Habit

We often underestimate the influence of our habits, rituals, and routines.  I am reading The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.  In the early pages, he describes what many of us consider to be conscious decisions (e.g. what we eat for breakfast, what clothes we wear, how we get to work) are really just the manifestation of a complex network of habits.

Have you ever driven down the road for awhile and come to realization that you’ve been daydreaming for 5-10 minutes and don’t exactly remember driving for that period of time?  Perhaps you even took a few turns, but can’t really remember it?  It’s alarming to say the least, no?  Have you ever been in the shower and about to turn off the water and towel off, but can’t remember if you washed your hair?  This happens to me more than I’d like to admit, and usually results in extra-clean hair that day.

These are examples of an over-reliance on habits.  In these moments, you can become acutely aware of how habits play a major role in your life.

Have you ever worn mis-matching socks?  Forgot to wear a belt?  Forgot to brush your teeth or use deodorant.  I’ve done all of these things.  I even forgot to pack pants for a 2-week business trip to Turkey a number of years ago.  I packed shoes, socks, belts, underwear, collared shirts, suit jackets, toiletries, and every other conceivable thing I could ever need.  But my pants, arguably the most critical of all of these items, were mindfully left behind. 

These little “glitches in the matrix” are a result of a deviation from your routine or habit.  Your mind relies so heavily on habits, that if an anomaly is thrown into the equation (e.g. you’re running late, you’re staying at hotel instead of home, you’re upset or angry) we end up overlooking very basic cues to our normal activity.

At Velocity, we are passionate about awareness.  With awareness comes choice, and with choice comes freedom.  To explore this topic further, we have an assignment.  Your homework is to do a habit inventory.  Take a few minutes and do an audit of your habits.  To get started, you may think about these questions:

  • What are your habits/routines between when you wake up and when you begin to work?
  • What are your habits/routines when you get home from work and before bed?
  • What are your habits/routines when you are tired?  Or stressed?  Or upset?
  • What are your habits/routines when you are at the grocery story?  At a party?  At work?
  • What are your habits/routines on your days off from work?

Once you are aware of your habits, you can now choose which ones work for you and which ones you want to change or eliminate.  Remember, habit formation is similar to skill development.  With awareness, choice, and practice, you can get good at just about anything!

Are You Stuck With Negative People In Your Life?

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I was recently speaking with a group of young professionals on the topic of grit and resilience.  That is, the ability to both bounce back from setbacks and to stay persistent in the face of obstacles.  Grit and resilience are characteristics of successful living that we teach in Success U

Someone in the group asked how you build resilience so that you are not so affected by the ups and downs of life (particularly failure).  I highlighted the need for surrounding yourself with people that broaden and build you.  Your community, or the people you spend the most time with, matter greatly.  “Choose wisely,” was the message.

Following that brief introduction into the topic, I received an email from one of the participants that had a question.  “What if you are surrounded by some negative people that don’t broaden and build you, but rather slowly, passively, bring you down?  What if you don’t have a choice about who you spend the most time with?” 

That question is tied to another important component of success – clarity.  Clarity includes things like self-awareness, core values, life purpose, etc.  We must first address this to be able to answer the original question. 

When you feel stuck in a particular situation, like you have no choice, you may be playing victim to the tyranny of “or.”   The question is never “should I do A or should I do B?”  The question is, there are an infinite amount of choices and options and I get to choose which one best fits with my core values and life purpose.  What will I choose? 

You must reject the tyranny of “or” and embrace the genius of “and.”  The fact of the matter is with whom you spend time is entirely up to you.  You always have a choice. 

Don’t get me wrong.  I am not heartless.  You may be thinking of colleagues, a significant other, or most challenging, family members.  You may feel like you are stuck with them.  That is normal.  Completely normal, in fact.  But in reality, you have a choice, don’t you?

If your sister (for example) is a negative energy in your life, you could choose to distance yourself from her.  If the thought of that upsets you, or seems completely unacceptable, then you need to embrace the consequences of that choice by recognizing the core value at play. 

You may value familial relationships too much to cut your sister off.  Well that’s a beautiful thing!  You see, you are actually choosing to continue a relationship with your sister because family means too much for you to cut her off.  Let’s celebrate the value, appreciate why you are so committed to it, and wake up remembering that you are making a choice to have a negative person in your life – that you are willing to make some sacrifices to honor that value.  That’s wonderful, conscious living.

With awareness comes choice, and with choice comes freedom.  Freedom from feeling trapped, stuck, and frustrated. 

It’s up to you.  It’s always up to you.

 

Drunken Monkey Meditation

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I have been meditating quite regularly (almost daily) for about a year now.  I dabbled in it off and on before and have read quite a lot about the benefits and different styles and techniques.  After fully committing to it, I recommend it to anyone who will listen.

Yet, I often get a typical response from friends, strangers, and clients:  “I can’t meditate.  I mean, I’ve tried, but I can’t quiet my mind down.  It doesn’t work for me.”

The good news is that a) that experience is normal for anyone new to meditation, and b) meditation does not require talent, but rather persistence.

“Many centuries ago, Oriental thinkers recognized that the mind is a constant mover and that it is next to impossible to stop it altogether.  But one can learn to manage it by skillful use of the handle of control.  They compared the mind to a jumping monkey.  To intensify the image, they added that the monkey was maddened; then someone got him drunk; and finally, a scorpion bit him.”  – Ervin Seale from Take Off From Within

Can you picture that?  A crazed, intoxicated monkey jumping up and down because a scorpion just bit him?  Pretty funny (or scary) when you think about it.  I don’t know about you, but that accurately describes what’s going on in my mind on a moment by moment basis.  And when I try to sit in silence, the mad jumping monkey seems to get more agitated.

Through personal experience, and from what most people have told me (if they are least open to trying meditation), they try very hard to clear their mind, essentially “zoning out,” but that it only lasts for a few seconds before a distracting thought comes into their mind.  Then, they start telling themselves a story, or reliving a conversation, or running down a list of responsibilities they don’t want to forget.

They become frustrated because they ended up way down some random rabbit hole not evening knowing how they got there.  They are also shocked, and sometimes either ashamed or angry that they only have the ability to “zone out” for just a few seconds before their mind is distracted.

Please note once again how perfectly normal this is.  Congratulations, you’re experiencing exactly what you should be experiencing!

I’d like to introduce one technique that may help you.  Yes you, even the fast-paced, type-A, high achievers in the group.

Rather than trying to “clear your mind” and “zone out,” I want you to do exactly the opposite.  Instead, I want you to become hyper-focused on one particular thing.  I want you to focus on the distracting thoughts that pop into your mind.

You’re probably thinking, “Wait…what?” 

I know, I know.  You just got done telling me that your mind is too distracted to meditate, and I’m telling you to focus on the distractions.  Here’s the deal though – once you bring awareness to the distracting thought, it tends to lose its distracting powers.

Here’s how to do it. 

Picture yourself sitting alone in the middle of a movie theatre.  It is dark and silent.  As distracting thoughts pop into your mind, they are flashed onto the movie screen in front of you.  It could be images, words, or emotions.  As you see them, say them silently to yourself.  At first, these images and words will appear rapidly like machine gun fire.  As you call attention to them, they will begin to slow down.  This may happen as quickly as 30 seconds or as long as 5-10 minutes. 

Some tips for a happy experience:

  • The key here is to not let the thoughts/ideas/images linger, but to address them and move on to the next one. 
  • Be gentle and kind to yourself.  This is an exercise of persistence.  Your attention will wander a thousand times.  It’s okay!  Just gently and kindly escort yourself back into awareness.
  • Don’t forget to breathe nice and easy.

Here’s my experience.

I take 10 slow breaths (see note below on breathing), and then prepare for “the show.”  My mind might sound something like this in the first 10 seconds:  writing the newsletter, typing, Word, PDF, topic, my wife, her friend, her father, his birthday, buy a gift, oil change, tire pressure, car wash, call a client, edit website.  Yes, this may occur in just 10 seconds!  Literally, those are the random, yet sort of connected thoughts that might pop into my head.

As you get the hang of it and notice the mind slowing down, you can choose to turn your attention elsewhere.  The breath is usually a good place to begin.  In the future, that one thing to bring into awareness may be love, or empathy, or gratitude.    

A word about breathing.

I begin my meditation with ten slow breaths (5 seconds to inhale, 5 to seconds exhale).  Breathing is a highly underrated and underutilized technique for centering and happy living.  Let’s do a quick test!  Look a clock that counts seconds.  For exactly 60 seconds count how many breaths you take (one breath equals one inhale and one exhale).  How many did you count?  Was it 10?  11?  12 or more?

For most of you, I have some shocking news.  More than 6 breaths a minute is considered chronic hyperventilation.  Yep!  It’s an epidemic and there is research to suggest that normal breathing can defeat chronic diseases.  Focus on slowing your breathing down and you will be amazed at the benefits.

Want to learn more?

Email me and let me know what’s on your mind.

Read any of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s books on mindfulness meditation and mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR).

Check out any meditation tools such as guided meditation or auditory devices like Holosync.