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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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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?

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Emotional state today: Not down

I had an amazingly productive and relatively peaceful day. I can’t remember the last time I accomplished this much. And I fit in an accidental 3-hour nap! (Yes, I laid down for what I expected to be about 30 minutes and woke up 3 hours later.

Today marks the beginning of the last 7 days of these 100 Days of Fitness. My goal is to stick to the “31-Day Fat Loss Cure” program very strictly, both diet and exercise. I did Workout D, which is 12 30-second sets of squat jumps separated by 30 seconds of rest, and I achieved my best performance yet. I did 200 squat jumps, a 12% increase from last time and a 4.7% increase from my previous best.

I also sat for meditation first thing this morning, and I wrote (!), completing my personal triumvirate for the day.

I used my iPod (listening to Alan Watts) while I walked to the post office and library, and while I made soup. The only time today that I went really negative was when I was brushing my teeth tonight. I’ll make a point to use the iPod when I brush my teeth tomorrow.

The final victory I want to report is that I’m on track to get to bed by 10:30 tonight, which is the earliest I’ve gone to bed in a while.

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Emotional state today: Not down

Triumvirate complete! I meditated, wrote, and worked out today. Three out of three!

In order to write, I had to bribe myself. I said that if I wrote for two hours, I could take the late afternoon off and read. This worked well. Instead of spending the day avoiding writing and futzing with email and other bullshit (not being productive or peaceful), I was able to get in two good hours of writing and then relax this afternoon (being peaceful and productive).

Today I received my “100th meditation” badge from the Insight Timer app I use. I will admit there’s a little ego pride showing up. I’m tempted to judge that as bad, but I’m going to choose to just let it be what it is. Regarding the quality of my sit, I’m finding it challenging to concentrate and my staying is interrupted often over the course of the 30-minute sit. But for the most part, I’m still very peaceful and light-hearted about the little mental journeys my mind goes on.

I did a second sit tonight at the meditation circle I go to. I noticed a real sense of equanimity about my experience, which I think mirrors the shift in my emotions. This whole idea of “not down” may be me discovering equanimity in my emotions.

For my workout today, I wanted to see how many consecutive burpees I could do. I did 50 in the first set (and then 2 additional sets of 25 and 15, for a total of 90). It was one of my most intense workouts. Even now I can still feel the burn in my lungs. I remember a friend of mine who did burpees in the army tell me that after a while you learn to not mind the pain, and that’s a pretty accurate description of how the second half of the 50 felt. I’d love to get to the point where I could do 100. Training with pushups and squat jumps will definitely help.

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To begin these 100 Days of Peaceful Discipline, I start with an excerpt from my upcoming book, Peaceful Productivity:

To use your systems and structures most effectively, you must be motivated by a sense of humble discipline. You must take your ego out of the equation. You don’t follow your systems because doing so makes you better or not doing so makes you worse. You don’t follow your systems because doing so is right and not doing so is wrong. You simply follow them because you’ve chosen to.

The discipline to follow your systems comes from a deep faith in the power of choice, a deep sense of personal responsibility. In that faith and responsibility is humility. By contrast, imagine a choice made from arrogance. How powerful of a choice is that? When you do something out of a feeling of superiority, you are giving away some of your power to whoever or whatever you’re feeling superior to because you’re reacting to it. In fact, arrogance is both reactive and non-present. Arrogance is a story in your head about why and how you will prove yourself better than other people by making some choice. But when you’re controlled by such stories, you can’t make powerful choices.

When you choose to commit to a discipline humbly and not arrogantly, you are choosing to have an experience. For example, in writing this book, I chose to commit to an intense writing schedule for three months. Not because it would make me better than anyone else, and not because other strategies for writing are worse or wrong, but because I wanted to have the experience of immersing myself in the writing. I wanted to find out what it felt like and what I could create at the end of that experience. And the only way to know that was to do it.

When you make the discipline about having an experience, it’s no longer personal. The choice is clear: To have the experience you must stick to the commitment. You’re not bad if you don’t. You simply won’t have the desired experience. And because you define the experience for a specific limited period of time, you also side-step the all-or-nothing pitfall.

Bring this mindset of humble discipline to your systems and structures. When you design them, do so with the understanding that they will give you an experience. Only after you’ve had the experience can you say if it served you or not. Assuming you can know what will work and what won’t before you try it is arrogant, as is assuming you know how a month-long discipline will feel after only having done it for a day or two. Be humble in your disciplines, structures, and systems. Take your choices seriously without making yourself right or wrong for those choices, and you’ll feel more empowered and committed in those choices.

Some of the disciplines I am choosing for the next 100 days are:

  • 10 PM meditation before bed
  • Monday health cleanse (fruits and vegetables only)
  • Skin brushing and affirmations in the morning
  • Daily reporting on this blog

If anyone wants to join me in adding a humble discipline to your life for the next 100 days (or some shorter time frame), please comment on this post.

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