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I run from conflict.

[Perceived personal attacks or criticisms trigger my flight-or-flight response (no, that’s not a typo).]

That’s not entirely true. Let’s be honest here. Most often, when an interaction turns antagonistic, I freeze.

[Apparently, freezing is a natural fear response to give the mammal in question (me) time to assess the situation before fighting or flighting.]

Whatever the biology… I. Don’t. Like. Conflict. Big revelation, right? I mean, who does? Except for maybe lawyers, rappers, and Jerry Springer, that is. But it’s more than just a preference for some of us. For me, it’s become something that causes me to isolate myself and avoid the kinds of long-term relationships that are important to happiness and growth. Even the potential of conflict causes an obsessive whirlwind of stressful thoughts and feelings.

I am so conflict averse that I’ve become a chronically single solo entrepreneur who earns most of his income from sitting alone writing.

Hi, my name is Curtis. I’m a conflict aversion addict. And I’m ready for a change.

Step 4 of any Twelve-Step program suggests taking a “fearless moral inventory” of oneself. Knowing and accepting who you are (the full picture, the “good” and “bad”) and why you are who you are, are prerequisites for conscious growth.

So let’s start by taking a trip to the past…

Looking to my formative years, my conflicts consisted of fighting with my younger sister over limited resources (mom’s attention, the one television, the front seat of the car, etc.) and fighting with my parents about their reasonable and unreasonable rules of behavior. A common enough childhood experience, I imagine.

I’m not aware of many (if any) “scarring” level conflicts with either my mother or sister. They may exist, but if they do, they’ve long been forgotten by my conscious mind. I was the older brother, my mom was very loving and fair, and the conflicts I do remember were resolved quickly and relatively unemotionally.

My conflicts with my father are a different story. I remember them being quite intense. Turned up to 11.

My dad’s rules seemed arbitrary, his standards impossible to meet. Conflict with him felt very unfair and defeat felt personal.

Therefore, it seems that my most emotionally-heightened experiences of conflict at that formative age were extremely one-sided and I often (always?) lost.

In that context, learning to avoid conflict seems like a necessary survival skill for my child self. The problem is applying that survival skill now as an adult in situations where it’s not effective or appropriate.

Adult Curtis: Poor, predictable Curtis. Always chooses conflict avoidance.
Child Curtis: Good ol’ conflict avoidance! Nothing beats that!

Okay, moral inventory complete. [Not quite, but this is a blog post. Move along, nothing to see here.]

So what about that change I’m apparently ready for?

The answer seems to be more exposure to people. More investment in relationships of all kinds. More structures in my life that “force” me to interact with others in messy, emotional ways. More risk taking. More vulnerability and trust. More authentic communication. More beer. Okay, not more beer. Less beer. Less emotional eating. Less obsessive people pleasing. Less thinking and more feeling. Most importantly, less hiding.

So here I am, coming out of hiding. What are your thoughts, suggestions, experiences? Conflict is welcome in the comments below. [I think. No definitely. Just be nice, okay? Or fuck it, be mean. Let’s do this. I’m ready. I think.]

Thank you.

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Singing in the Rain

After hearing a podcast interview with Randy Scott Hyde, I outlined a series of daily practices to help increase my feelings of happiness and peace. One of them is journaling about a meaningful experience, and since I haven’t decided yet where I want to record those journal entries, I’m using this blog for now.

Yesterday afternoon, my soon to be 10-year-old niece wanted to play in the rain and I jumped at the opportunity knowing there are not many more rainy days left before she’s grown too “old” to want to spend time with her “uncool” uncle anymore.

Singing and dancing in the rain in the middle of her driveway as I watched from the garage, she improvised a song and dance better than I could ever hope to compose or choreograph.

In her white rain coat with blue hood, she snapped her fingers and tapped her toes, twirling around at the end of each verse. Each chorus ended with an audience participation moment where we’d yell “Boom!” together to signal a lightning strike. The bridge went something like this: “When you’re feeling lonely, don’t look to the sun or the moon or the stars in the sky. The rain is always by your side.”

What a gift it was to witness the depth of her imagination, the carefree “dance like no one’s watching” attitude, the creative playfulness. I’m filled with so much love and gratitude as I recall this moment.

A Life of Peace?

My trip to Denmark is coming soon. And as the departure date draws nearer, it brings with it a growing uncertainty about my life. The only thing that feels certain is the sudden realization that I’m not ready to die. That thought hit me yesterday like a punch in the face.

I picture myself on my death bed, knowing the inevitable is at hand, and I hear my mother’s words the day before she died, “Please, God, I’m not ready to go yet.” Unlike her, I have no god to beg for more time; I have no god to surrender to and put my faith in. The story of me that this linguistic brain has been telling itself for all these years ends when the body expires.

And “I’m” not ready for that. Why? I don’t feel alive.

Imagine being on a merry-go-round but you’re distracted and unaware of the ride. Suddenly the attendant signals that the ride is over. You exclaim, “Wait, you can’t stop the ride yet! I wasn’t paying attention!”

So what does it take to feel alive? Clearly I don’t know. But I have some guesses…


Presence

A more fully realized awareness of the here and now. Vibrant sensations of my experience of life that drown out the conceptual chatter in the mind. Or as the Buddhists teach, maybe the chatter is just another sensation? [Buddhism recognizes 6 senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, the feeling body / touch, and the thinking mind.]

Enthusiasm

A passion for life and its component pieces. Respect for (and awe at) how life shows up — however life shows up, even if it’s in a way I didn’t intend or expect or desire. The word enthusiasm comes from the Greek word entheos which means “having a god within.” A Higher Power for the non-believer, perhaps? A way to feel connected to life itself?

Connection

Seeing through the illusion of separation. True empathy. The story of me isolates “me” conceptually from the rest of life. But it’s an arbitrary division. To quote Alan Watts from The Wisdom of Insecurity:

Where do I begin and end in space? I have relations to the sun and air which are just as vital parts of my existence as my heart. The movement which I am a pattern or convolution began incalculable ages before the (conventionally isolated) event called ‘birth’, and will continue long after the event called ‘death’. Only words and conventions can isolate us from the entirely undefinable something which is everything.


So, how do I make presence, enthusiasm, and connection livable? How do I feel more alive? Again, some guesses:

  • Sitting still more, chasing goals less
  • Going outside more, hiding inside less
  • Creating more space, having less stuff
  • Appreciating more (“What I love about this is…”), criticizing less (“What I hate about this is…”)
  • Surrendering more, “controlling” less
  • Noticing and enjoying synchronicity more, playing the victim less
  • Experiencing other humans more, conceptualizing them less

I acknowledge that this inquiry risks turning life into a future objective. Therefore, most importantly, I must recognize that life is now.

To feel alive is not an objective, not a destination. Maybe to feel alive is no more complicated than to feel life. As I type these words, I feel the keys against my fingertips, the laptop against my legs, my feet against the floor, the flow of air into and out of my lungs, and so much more.

As I type these words, by a simple choice to feel, I come alive.

 

My friend and “optimism mentor” posed a question to me today: Is there such thing as a selfless act?

We had a great conversation on this topic that boiled down to this…

The concept of “selfless action” is essentially meaningless. Physics offers an instructive metaphor: The device used to measure some aspect of “reality” can not be separated from the reality it’s measuring.

In a similar way, the self cannot be separated from any action because the self is what intends and perceives the action. To put it another way, we always have a reason for the actions we take. Fulfilling that reason (even if the reason is to be charitable with no expectation of reciprocity) is our “reward” for the action.

If I donate $100 to a cause I believe in, I will certainly receive one or more of the following: feelings of joy, satisfaction, integrity, charity, or even self-actualization.

It seems that the only way “selfless action” makes any sense is if we’re unaware of the action. For example, I unknowingly drop $100 on the ground and someone picks it up. That is selfless!

All of this leads to the conclusion that giving is receiving, and receiving is giving. It’s like playing tennis — you need both sides or you don’t have a game.

Abuse

Early emotional and psychological abuse taught me how to be a victim. And I became an expert at it.

I sought out abusers, and when none were available I played dual roles in a schizophrenic dance of self-abuse.

I’m learning now that my relationship with myself is where all others take their cue. Only as I learn to stop the self-abuse do I become free of the abuse of others.

Which is beautiful, because my relationship with myself is also the only relationship I have any real control over anyway.

Does that what he say?

In a conversation earlier this evening, my brain tried to say “Does he really say that?” and “Is that what he says?” but what came out of my mouth was:

“Does that what he say?”

Yup. Been putting the “best” in “dumbest” for 43 years… 😉

100-Day Game completed! Wow, lots of great experiences, results, and insights these past 100 days. I haven’t blogged much about it because I was more focused on living it, but here are some of my first thoughts and reflections:

1. My “emotions” aren’t always emotional

By bringing more consciousness to my choices, I started to discern subtleties in how I feel emotionally and physically. One example is when I’m feeling emotionally down or low. In the past I just thought this must be who I am — a sad person — because I so often feel low. What I discovered, though, is that many times it’s a physical low, a tiredness or dip in my physical energy level, that I misinterpret as emotional. And often it can be solved by a short nap or meditation.

Another example: I’ll notice that I’m feeling anxiety and can’t figure out why. It’s not like there’s something specific I’m worried about. Then I remember that I had caffeine earlier and realize that the “anxiety” is actually a physical experience that I’m misinterpreting as an emotional one.

In short, I’m tuning into my physical triggers that create emotional-ish experiences.

2. The best thing to do is nothing (a.k.a. Full-stop for inquiry)

One of the biggest lessons I learned during this Game was that I don’t need to tolerate bad feeling thoughts. If I’m writing, for example, and I start to feel negative about it (I’m judging the writing as bad, or I’m telling myself I won’t meet the deadline, etc.), then more of the same is not going to make me feel any better.

The solution is to simply stop. But not stop and avoid the feelings. Stop and listen to the feelings; experience them so that I can understand them. It’s what I’ve started referring to as a “full-stop for inquiry.”

The path to a better feeling thought is not to tough out the bad feeling thought. The solution is to stop, inquire, listen. Then when I do feel better, I can resume what I was doing from that better feeling place.

3. Redefining “difficult”

One day I found myself avoiding/procrastinating a writing job, and it was creating a lot of suffering for me. So I did my full-stop for inquiry. I put everything on hold, I turned off my phone, and I sat and meditated on what I was feeling to discover the beliefs that were fueling that pain.

I discovered I had a series of beliefs that were causing these uncomfortable feelings. I’ll call this my Old Belief Sequence:

  1. If something is difficult, it means I’ll fail
  2. If you know you’re going to fail, don’t do it (that’s only logical)
  3. The process itself has no value; only the result has value

This was quite shocking, actually, because I think of myself as a person who really values process. “Life is a journey” and all that. So no wonder I was suffering. I had this belief system causing me to feel and act in a way that was in direct contrast to one of my deepest values.

So as a result of this inquiry, I chose to rehearse a new set of beliefs that are more consistent with my values. I’ll call this my New Belief Sequence:

  1. If something is difficult, it means there’s an opportunity to learn/grow
  2. It’s my choice to decide if I want to learn or grow in this way
  3. If my choice is yes, the task is worth doing for its own sake

This feels so much better, so much more open. I have options, possibilities. If I choose to do something challenging, it becomes an exploration, an experiment.

And as you might imagine, after I made this mental this shift during that first inquiry, I couldn’t wait to write! 🙂

4. Small actions repeated consistently produce big results

Part of the reason I included a physical challenge in this 100-day experiment was to test my theory that small actions repeated consistently will produce big results over time. My favorite illustration of this is how water carved the Grand Canyon.

Even after just 100 days, I can see a change in my body shape. The pushups and pullups have given my chest and back some nice definition. If I were to add some exercises that worked my shoulders, I’m sure that would make the change even more pronounced. [My intention is to maintain and build on these physical gains with a new Game I haven’t defined yet. I’ll post here when I do.]

On a longer time frame, I’ve also seen a shift in how my mind operates. Through weekly conversations with a good friend and weekly support group meetings, I’ve spent the past 2 years rehearsing a more optimistic outlook on life. And within these past 100 days, I experienced a qualitative difference in how I’m perceiving the world.

For example, my mind spontaneously anticipates positive outcomes. And if multiple outcomes are possible, my mind spontaneously defines them all as positive so no matter what happens, I feel like I won.

For someone who thought he was doomed to be a sad person his whole life, this is both exciting and terrifying — like the Kingda Ka at Six Flags! I find myself wondering, am I becoming a happy person? And if so, what does that mean? I’ve gotten quite comfortable being sad. Giving up that comfort is scary.

This all brings me back to the theme of these 100 days: conscious choice. I choose to continue, physically and mentally, on this uncertain path. Despite the fear, life feels so much better than what was. And I trust it will feel better still.

Summary of Physical Challenges

Here’s the final tally for the 100 days:

10020/10000 pushups (100% of target)
starting max: 41
ending max: 60

1002/1000 pullups (100% of target)
starting max: 4
ending max: 10

1500/1500 burpees (100% of target)

5/5 hrs plank (100% of target)
starting max: 220 seconds
ending max: 240 seconds

3.6/20 hrs sitting meditation (17.9% of target)
This was the weak link in the chain. I’ll give it more attention in my next Game.

Half-way!

It’s tempting to concoct some major breakthrough or benefit I’ve gained from this 100-day experiment so far. The truth is the benefits have been subtle.

For example, I bought at box of donuts last night, and I ate just one. I consciously savored every bite. And I was content. The old me would have binged unconsciously, eating 3 or 4 donuts and tasting just a few bites at best. What’s most surprising though is that this new way of eating was not an effort. It was simply a conscious choice.

Another example: All week I’ve been working on a writing job. At the beginning of the week I was lost. My first draft was shit and I had no idea how to make it better. But again, I made a relatively simple and conscious choice. This time it was the choice to believe that if I put in the time every day, the writing would have to improve. And here I am, approaching the end of the week, and the draft I have now is so much better. I can even envision it being great.

It would be misleading to say that change is just a matter of choice. What I’m learning is that change and choice go hand in hand. As you make new choices, you begin to change. And as you change, new choices become easier.

Update

Here’s a tally of the first 50 days:

5010 pushups (100% on track)
460 pullups (92% on track)
766 burpees (102% on track)
2.5 hrs plank (100% on track)

When it comes to making conscious choices, the question arises: What standard will I use to guide my choices?

The one I’ve currently been exploring is the “follow your excitement” model. (Joseph Campbell’s version was “follow your bliss”.) In other words, I strive to choose the option that brings me the most joy.

But by that standard, wouldn’t we all just choose pizza or masturbation most of the time? As attractive as those options might be in any given moment, that’s not the kind of life I want. So I need go deeper than simply immediate gratification / hedonism.

Consider this phenomenon: I sometimes find that I resist doing certain things that, once I’m doing them, I genuinely enjoy. Just a few examples:

  • Writing
  • Going for a walk
  • Meeting up with friends
  • Working out
  • Sitting in meditation (especially near water)

I genuinely enjoy these things, yet I resist doing them. For example, it’s very rare that I find myself saying, “You know what I’m really excited to do? Write!” Yet, not 10 minutes into a writing session and I’m typically enjoying myself and happy I made the choice.

How do I explain that? Where do those options fit into this model of “follow your excitement”?

I think it comes down to one’s answer to the following question: Do you think of your options as events or paths? Or to use a mathematical metaphor, do you think of each option as a data point or a vector?

If you think of your options as singular events that are unconnected to what comes next, then following your excitement could likely mean choosing the most hedonistic options that bring instant gratification.

But if you think of your options as paths or vectors, then following your excitement means choosing options you may or may not enjoy initially, but you do enjoy from a wider frame of reference.

The question that remains is this: Why in the world would we resist things initially that we ultimately enjoy?

I think it has to do with one’s current belief system. In other words, I may have an unconscious rule or judgment that makes the idea painful when the actual experience is enjoyable. Thinking about doing it is harder than actually doing it.

In the case of writing, the rule could be something like “I should only write when I feel inspired” or the belief something like “I’m not a good writer.”

I find that I can get around this resistance with the question, “Have I ever regretted making this choice?” For most of the things on my list above, the answer is an emphatic “No!” I’ve never regretted writing, going for a walk, meeting with friends, working out, or sitting in meditation.

Now back to the question of how to follow my excitement…

I think the answer is in the word “follow.” It implies a path, not an end point.

So my standard to guide my choices is this: Follow the path of joy.

Update

Here’s my tally as of June 10:

4107 pushups (100% on track)
324 pullups (79% on track)
619 burpees (100% on track)
2 hrs plank (98% on track)
1.37 hrs sitting meditation (17% on track)

Starting today, I will be Facebook-free for the rest of June.

It’s not like I was on Facebook all of the time. I don’t get notifications on my phone or anything like that. But I noticed that time was leaking out of my day. An hour here, an hour there. For what?

Then yesterday while driving to spend a sunny afternoon at the pool, I caught myself three times in a 10-minute span thinking, “I should post that to Facebook.” WTF?

What’s amazing is that it hasn’t even been half a day and I’m already experiencing a higher level of energy and focus. There’s also a greater awareness of life. It’s as if my brain is always asking “What’s going on?” but robbed of social media’s virtual “reality” to answer that question, it’s starting to look at the physical reality that surrounds me.

It’s also affecting my sense of identity. Now when I’m alone, I’m simply me. I’m not friend Curtis, I’m just Curtis. I’m no longer seeing myself in the context of how I’m reacting to what others are doing or posting about. I’m seeing myself in the context of how I’m responding to my physical surroundings.

That’s what has surprised me the most so far: How different life can feel when you change the context.

I’m loving this conscious choice to step away from social media for a few weeks. It will be fun to see what my perspective is on July 1.

Day 37: Happy and sad

I’ve been thinking more about how much my relationship to the question “How are you?” has changed…

A year or two ago, I was wondering aloud to a friend just how much a person could expect to change. What if people just are who they are? What if I’m sad because I’m a sad person? Maybe I should just accept that and stop fighting it.

My friend thought for a moment.

“Well, then be the happiest sad person you can be.”

The irony was liberating. What are these definitions of happy and sad anyway? So I chose to be the happiest sad person I could be.

And now as I start to notice how much I’ve changed, it makes me wonder… Am I becoming a happy person after all?

The possibility excites me.

Day 35: How are you?

I greeted a friend/client today with a sincere “How are you?”

She commented that she was surprised to hear me ask that question. For a moment I was confused, but then I remembered. A few years ago she and I had talked about how uncomfortable I was with that question, especially when it was directed at me. I so often felt sad, lonely, and/or stressed that I didn’t like to even think about how I was, let alone admit it to others. And I didn’t like to lie with a superficial, “I’m good. How are you?” It got to the point where the question caused me actual anxiety in social situations.

Today I suddenly realized I’d changed. Personal growth sometimes happens so slowly, it’s invisible. It takes a friend who maybe we haven’t seen in a while to mirror the contrast back to us.

I’m amazed. The me back then would have never believed that I’d be at peace (relatively so) with how I am. I write this blog post today to document this change.

Update

Here’s a tally of my first month (as of May 31):

2832 pushups (91% on track)
181 pullups (58% on track)
465 burpees (100% on track)
1.56 hrs plank (101% on track)

I expect to be caught up on pushups in the next week or two, pullups by the end of June. I’ve also begun sitting for meditation, which will become a greater focus in this second month. I rock!

Day 22: Loneliness

In my research on weight-loss, I discovered that loneliness is one of the biggest risk factors for weight gain. So it’s no surprise to me that when I feel lonely (often), I crave comfort foods (often).

What prompted me to write this post today is that I was just now feeling low energy and a bit discouraged with my lack of progress on some projects. So I chose to let myself feel those feelings. And a sadness came over me to the point of tears. Why am I crying? And the answer was clear. I’m lonely. And my next thought was: Go get junk food and/or beer. But I know that’s not a sustainable solution. Fuck it, who cares anyway? It doesn’t matter.

And so loneliness becomes hopelessness. Loneliness is my trigger for hopelessness.

The other side of this is that even when I’m with people, I often struggle to be present with them. Some people are very easy for me to engage with, to feel connected and present with. But with others, I get lost in my head no matter how strong my intention to be present is. I feel separate from them, and lonely even in their company.

On a related note, I’ve been neglecting the sitting meditation component of this 100-day experiment. Until today, that is. I sat for 10 minutes this morning. It’s time to emphasize my practice of presence, by myself (through sitting meditation) and with others.

I will also make an effort to socialize more regularly. And I will schedule more of my writing sessions outside of my house, at the library or at the coffee shop.

Update

My focus is clear and I’m doing well. Physically, I have a plan to get current with my goals. I’m all caught up with burpees (225/225) and making great progress with pushups (1100/1500), pull-ups (81/150), and plank (26 min / 45 min).

I haven’t practiced a whole day of “What if I…?” yet but I’m using it periodically throughout any given day to widen my perspective. I do intend to schedule a full day of inquiry soon.

Riding the Wave

Monday and Tuesday were doosies. For much of that time I was lost in a fog of hopelessness. All that seemed real was how far I am from where I want to be. An illusion, of course, but it held me under its spell for almost two full days.

I have practices I know I can use to create different states of being; I have people I know I can reach out to who support me unconditionally. But that’s the mind-fuck of hopelessness. What’s the point of any of it? Nothing matters, yada, yada, yada.

Wednesday I woke, and the fog had lifted. I didn’t “do” anything to cause that change. My feelings simply evolved to a higher state.

The sense of relief was two-fold. First, the weight of hopelessness was gone. I felt free and flowing. My actions had meaning, life had value again. (Also an illusion, by the way.)

Second, I felt free of the responsibility for my state of being. I didn’t have to do anything to feel better. I simply waited for a change: This too shall pass.

Yes, I can make choices that affect how I feel — and I do believe we are powerfully creative creatures that can control how we experience life. I value responsibility in the most empowering sense of the word: response-ability, our ability to respond. And at the same there are waves that we ride, up and down, and sometimes we don’t need to try so hard.

Sometimes it’s enough to be patient. Just as suddenly as it disappeared, hope can suddenly and magically reappear.

The trick, of course, is remembering to appreciate this period of peacefulness, this time of hope — while it lasts. This too shall pass…

In a session with a client yesterday, we were talking about the value of “leading with love.” The idea is that strategies are secondary; if you lead with love, whatever you do will be stronger and more effective. Furthermore, when you don’t lead with love (and lead with fear or selfishness or anger or whatever), your actions will be weaker and less effective than they could have been.

So I was thinking about this and how it might help me with my relationships. Sometimes people experience me as cold, detached, judgmental, and even arrogant. What they perceive is actually insecurity. Insecurity makes me quiet, reserved, inhibited, careful with my words, slow to act or react, less likely to laugh, etc. So my insecurities manifest the very thing I’m insecure about: people keeping their distance.

What if I led with love?

Take me being quiet, for example. Is that in and of itself enough to put people off? If it’s a quiet that’s rooted in fear, yes, because I’m likely to be perceived as cold and unapproachable. But if it’s a quiet rooted in love, that’s different. In that case, I’m likely to be perceived as gentle, maybe even inviting.

A fun synchronicity happened last night at my meeting. One of the readings included this passage: “Everyone deserves love — even those who have treated us badly.” It was a nice validation of this idea, and a reminder of the challenges involved.

I’m going to start with the simple practice of listening with love. When someone is speaking, whether I agree with them or not, I am going to practice loving them.

Day 7: What if I…?

Update

A Day 4 sore throat put me out of commission for the past few days in one sense (re: the physical goals), but I used it as an opportunity to practice the spirit of these 100 days and consciously chose to frame things positively — specifically, my dietary parameters had started to slip this weekend, and this illness refocused my intentions.

I’ll admit, the compulsions to eat and drink are strong. And it’s too easy to “forget” what’s important when those compulsions kick in. I think I could benefit from a mantra. Something like “This is my choice.” Or maybe a question like “What do I choose now?”

What if I…?

In a conversation with a client yesterday, I suggested an exercise to him that I think could serve me very well, too. It’s an inquiry exercise where you ask yourself, “What if I…?” The point is to expand your sense of what’s possible beyond your every-day thought patterns and beliefs. So one day this week (probably Saturday), I’m going to focus on that inquiry.

Here’s the really important part: I don’t need to act on any of these new possibilities; that’s a different experiment. For now, I want to get my mind opening up to new options, outside-the-box options, even crazy options. Just to see what happens to my perspective on life.

I’m going to capture these new options in a notebook, and I’ll report back here.

Just today, this spark of inquiry prompted some good ones:

  • What if I only wore my glasses when I needed them?
  • What if I left my phone at home whenever I went out for a walk or a trip to the grocery store?
  • What if I deleted my Facebook account or didn’t check email for a week?
  • What if I was out of the loop on the latest trends in technology or media?
  • What if I allowed myself to sleep whenever I’m tired?

After a bit of a binge, this 100 days begins.

Yesterday, I had some cookies, an alcoholic drink, and some pizza. Goodbye, crap! It was a nice contrasting experience, though, because it helped refine my focus for these 100 days. I can be quite compulsive when it comes to things like eating, drinking, self-pity, anxiety, and more. That compulsiveness operates at a pretty low level of consciousness. So…

My focus for these 100 days will be the practice of making conscious choices. Which will involve slowing down, checking in with how I’m feeling and what beliefs are behind those feelings, assessing my options, and choosing the option that feels most exciting and authentic to what’s most important to me.

For some recurring situations, I can prepare some options in advance. For example, afternoons tend to be a lower energy part of the day for me. I can make a short list of things to do instead of my compulsion to feel low or worry about something: things like going for a walk and listening to Alan Watts podcasts, sitting in meditation, singing to positive music, working out, taking a nap, etc. Having this list available to me will focus my choice.

Speaking of working out, I want to make that part of these 100 days too. As a conscious choice, I am going to focus on doing 10,000 pushups, 1000 pull-ups, 1500 burpees, and 5 hours of plank pose.

I’m also going to focus on accumulating 20 hours of sitting meditation. That’s the equivalent of a 12-minute sit every day.

It will also include a practice of moderation. I’m good at doing things 100% or 0%, but I struggle with moderation. For example, instead of eliminating Category 4 foods from my diet, I’m going to allow for conscious choices of moderation. I will define these parameters in a future post.

Okay, here we go…

Tomorrow I intend to begin a new 100-day focus. I don’t know what I will call it just yet. Words that come to mind are self-love, integrity, conscious choice.

I do know the focus will be on the living of it, not on the blogging of it. I will blog about the experience from time to time, I’m sure. But I am not putting a requirement on myself to do so. This will be different than previous 100-day experiments. Which is totally in line with the idea of experimentation, right?

I do know that I’ve gotten lots of value from returning to this blog to review previous entries. Plus I’m very much embracing the life of a writer. We will see what unfolds.

I feel the electricity of anticipation…

Emotions, another look

The typical way of understanding emotions is as states of being or feeling. But on my meditation seat this morning, I was struck by another perspective. Let me try to describe it here.

Think of an emotion as a cause that has an effect. Or even more specifically, an action that has a desired result.

Wait, what? Emotion as an action?

Consider this: If my desire right now was to release adrenaline into my system, it would be impossible to will it in the same way that I can will my hand to open or close. And lots of things that we (i.e. our bodies) do are equally impossible through will. But if I were to suddenly become afraid of the grizzly bear that just smashed open my front door, adrenaline would flood my system immediately.

This is the difference between voluntary and involuntary responses.

Now what’s interesting is that I can will my mind to conjure thoughts—including thoughts that cause me to experience the emotion of fear. In other words, I can do fear, in the same way that I can do physical actions like opening or closing my hand. In that way, so-called “involuntary responses” are accessible to us.

This perspective opens me up to new answers to questions like “What should I do today?” I can do peace, I can do enthusiasm, I can do love, I can do joy.

21 Days

Last night I started a 21-Day Game to support a client of mine who is playing her own 21-Day Game. This will be a way for me to explore some ideas for my next 100 Days. I think I want to do something around energetic peace, which will mean an emphasis on sleep habits in addition to diet, exercise, and meditation. Maybe I’ll also work in something about appreciation.

Here are my game rules for the 21 days:

  • Begin getting ready for bed at 9 PM (done with dinner, home)
  • In bed by 10 PM (no computer, reading is okay, better would be meditation)
  • Up by 7 AM, sitting meditation completed before 8 AM
  • Eating guidelines: emphasize vegetables and fruits; no meat, alcohol, dairy, sugar, wheat
  • Exercise: Vic Magary workouts; max sets of pushups on non-Magary days
  • Exceptions: moderate deviations on special occasions only
  • Feeling intentions: To feel the power of choice and self-love in these rules

I will not report daily on this blog. I may report from time to time as I get clearer on what my upcoming 100 Days might look like.

Emotional state today: Up

Today is the final day of these 100 Days of Fitness. What began as a question (“Can I really do this?”) was answered in the affirmative by simple day-by-day persistence and commitment. To celebrate, I’d like to summarize in today’s post what I’ve learned and achieved.

Diet & Exercise

My intention when I began was to create a new, healthier relationship to food and exercise. I believe I have indeed achieved this. Most of the time I don’t miss the foods that I’ve cut out of my diet, and when I do miss them there’s a clear emotional need behind the craving. I only remember 4 “cheats,” all of which I’ve documented here: naan and a lassi at an Indian restaurant, homemade chocolate and bread that was a gift, a single beer (also a gift), and the 1 pretzel nugget and 3 jelly beans I had the other day.

I can feel that there’s been a shift in my eating habits, and I’ve decided that I want to continue eating this way at home. When I go out to a restaurant or friend’s house, I will have the option of loosening my guidelines, but I want that to be a conscious process. I believe this is a healthy next step for me.

Regarding exercise, I focused primarily on Vic Magary’s 31-Day Fat Loss Cure “Beginner Home” workout. I did not advance to the later workouts like I thought I would. I’m okay with that because even after 100 days, there’s still room for growth for me with this first workout routine. My intention is to stick with it until I complete the maximum sets/reps for each exercise. Then I will move on to the “Beginner Gym” routine.

Here’s a quick tally of various stats:

  • Weight lost: 6.6 lbs.
  • Burpees, max: In one workout, 92; consecutive, 50
  • Body squats, max: 125
  • Body lunges, max: 90
  • Squat jumps, max: 200
  • Pushups, max: 197
  • Workouts completed: 5 out of 7 (all but Workouts A and C)

I also learned that my capacity for intensity is a lot higher than I thought it was. The lesson I take from this is that I am capable of giving (and getting) more than I think I can, as long as I’m willing to do what’s uncomfortable.

Emotions

Underlying my intention to create a new relationship with food and exercise was a desire to confront some of the painful thoughts and feelings that lead me to make unhealthy choices. This was probably the biggest victory for me. I feel so much more capable of identifying what I’m feeling and why I’m feeling it, as well as how to shift that feeling to something “better.” By “better” I mean more aligned with my values and goals.

Just today I had two experiences that I noticed were sending me into a downward spiral of mood. One involved an interaction with a stranger that I was giving too much meaning to. I recognized this, asked my sister for some help to support me, and together we turned my mood around 180 degrees in probably 15 minutes or so. The second instance involved an interaction with someone very important to me. I noticed what was happened and chose to look at the situation differently and to play a different role, and all of the “problems” vanished as a result.

I’m also seeing just how closely productivity and mood are related to me. I define productivity as “the feeling you get from making progress on the things that are most important to you.” When I spend my time on things that are not important to me, I don’t feel good about life. I feel like I’m avoiding life, just like how I’ve avoided life by resorting to comfort foods. All of this stuff is connected, and I’m seeing those connections so clearly now.

Emotional State

Since I started tracking my emotional state, I’ve had 15 “up” days, 7 “down” or “very down” days, and 17 “not down” days. This blows my mind. 82% of the days were “not down” or “up.” This is a great life! And a stark contrast to the sad story I’ve been telling myself about my life. I think the key was realizing that the old story was based on the assumption that if a day wasn’t “up” it must have been “down.” This isn’t true. With that old story, I would have experienced 61% of my days as being “bad” days, versus 82% as being “good” days. That’s a huge difference. This tracking of my emotional state is an important tool that I plan to keep using.

In fact, the three most valuable tools I’ve discovered that will further my growth here are tracking my emotional states, using my “positivity playlists” on my iPod, and sitting meditation.

Sitting Meditation

Another one of the most important lessons from these 100 days is that sitting meditation is my clear priority in life. It’s the single most important thing I can do for my personal growth. And I’m starting to believe that by extension, it’s also the single most important thing I can do for the benefit of others.

I will keep sitting first thing in the morning. I’d like to create a habit of a solid 7 AM start time, but I’ve been struggling with getting to bed early enough for that to happen consistently. That’s my edge, and I’ll continue to focus on it.

A quick tally of my sits: I added sitting meditation to these 100 days on Day 65. In those final 35 days, I sat in meditation 35 times. There were days I did not sit, and there were a few days I sat twice.

Conclusion

I am so grateful for all of the people (including me!) and opportunities that have conspired to make this 100-day experiment possible. I’ve done this many times, and this has been the most valuable one yet.

Emotional state today: Not down

I felt drowsy during my sit this morning because I stayed up late last night. I must remember that the quality of my sit is affected by how much sleep I get. My practice of meditation does not live in a vacuum. This is a holistic perspective of my life.

I did not workout today. I had an opportunity early this evening to do some pushups when I got home from my meetings, but I got distracted from that thought, and so half forgot and half blew it off.

Emotional state today: Up

Triumvirate complete: Sat for meditation, wrote, worked out. Stark contrast to yesterday. I felt good about things today.

Today was Workout E, seven sets each of 10 lunges and 10 burpees. I completed the full workout in 21 minutes, the same amount of time as last time. But this time it felt easier. I probably could have pushed myself to a higher level of intensity, but I was being very attentive to my knee so that there would be no pain.

I had a very intense conversation (argument?) with a friend today. What was great about this is that I usually avoid conflicts like this at all costs. And when I can’t avoid them, they make me extremely uncomfortable, to the point where I get flustered and can’t think straight. But today I was able to maintain an intensity of style without the intensity of emotion. I felt relatively detached. I still cared very much about my argument and felt it (and the relationship with my friend) was worth the intensity and energy, but I didn’t feel that my sense of self was being threatened. This is maybe the first time I’ve ever experience conflict like this.

I can’t help but think that this experience is the result of the shifts I’ve made in these 100 days.

Emotional state today: Down, ending not down

No meditation, no workout, skipped yoga class, no writing. Lots of anxiety, verging on panic. The feeling of “the day is getting away from me” kept getting stronger and stronger, and I almost stayed paralyzed and did nothing all day.

At about 3, I went for a walk with my iPod and cleared my head. I got back and was productive for an hour or two, and my mood went up.

My mood is definitely affected by my feeling of productivity, which is really a subjective assessment of how focused I am on things that are important and meaningful to me. And I’ve noticed that I seem to experience a mood/productivity momentum for the day. If things get going on a productive path, they seem to continue to get better from there. If things get stalled early, they get harder and harder to jumpstart as the day continues. Or so it seems. Today was an example of just how quickly I can turn things around.

The whole idea of a “day” is a story anyway. There’s no such thing as a “productive day” or an “unproductive day.” There’s just the question: How productive am I being right now?

Emotional state today: Not down

I noticed during my sit this morning that much of my suffering is the result of imagining conflicts with people over things that may never even happen. I can get lost in these negative fantasies for 5, 10, 15 minutes. And at the end of it, it feels almost as if I’d actually had the argument or fight. It’s total insanity. At least now, though, I seem to be able to smile at this mental process after I’ve caught myself doing it. And I have a strategy (using my iPod) to preempt these negative fantasies during certain “risk” activities (like washing the dishes, brushing my teeth, etc.).

I wrote today!

I also fit in a short pushup workout, 4 sets totaling 100 pushups. (I also sat for a second time tonight at my meditation group.) Triumvirate complete!

But I deviated from the diet slightly. I ate a pretzel nugget and 3 jelly beans at my nieces’ neighborhood Easter egg hunt. I think I slipped into “check out” mode. I’m so close to the end of these 100 Days of Fitness that I’m starting to project myself beyond them. The temptations are getting stronger.