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Archive for the ‘conscious choice’ Category

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.

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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)

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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)

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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