When the going gets tough

Take one day at a time. The sun always comes up the next day.

You can only connect the dots looking backward. There will be time for retrospectives later. Now is the time for action.

Over-communicate, don’t bottle it up. Sometimes verbalizing a fear is like slaying the imaginary dragon. Other people will also give you perspective and shared experiences.

Ask yourself how you will feel about this two years from now. It’ll put things in perspective.

Separate what’s out of your control but don’t ignore it.

Worry and stress about things that are certain. Don’t spend energy on worrying.

Ask for help and share the load. Family, friends, co-workers will surprise you.

Stick to your principles and maintain integrity. People will know, and more importantly, you’ll know that when the pressure was on, you dared to be true to yourself.

Take a few deep breaths and check out for a bit. Try to get some sleep and exercise. Sleep and exercise compounds and is a magic stress reliever.

Stay off the coffee and booze.

Keep moving forward and don’t put your head in the sand.

It could be worse.

The soft claw

People tend to slump over when they meditate. The head drops and shoulders slump. This posture closes the chest and throat in a moment where you want maximum airflow.

Here’s a quick tip:

Halfway through the session take a moment to check in with your posture and body position. After the check-in, if you are feeling constricted then imagine a soft claw coming down from the ceiling. It’s the same kind of claw that you see in the arcade machine that grabs toys, but the grip is so delicate that the toys end up falling.

Imagine the claw slowly grabs your head and starts lifting you up. Your neck extends, your chest opens up, and your spine straightens. Just like in the arcade the claw slips off your head and retracts away. Your posture is now open, upright and relaxed.

Exercising the flow muscle

Have you found that you can hardly get through a long news article these days? Reading a multipage document or an op-ed probably means skimming through the highlights before you click on a link, switch tabs in the browser or context shifting to another app. Reading a legal document is even more challenging. We’ve started to browse and snack through information versus sitting with it and digesting the message. It’s like fast food vs. a home-cooked meal. The home cooked meal takes longer, is more work and washing up, but it’s better for you and you understand the ingredients. Fast food with a quick bite and probably followed by a sugar high.

Concentrating takes practice. It’s a muscle. Fight the urge to context shift. Notifications on your phone are probably the most significant culprits. How many times have you been deep into something and are yanked out of the flow by a text message or a phone call? Start using Airplane mode and the Do Not Disturb function on your phone.

The stronger the muscle tissue becomes, the longer you can concentrate. This means getting more out of activities you enjoy, but it also means you can spend more time on things that don’t interest you but are essential like a tedious legal contract, safety manuals, assembly instructions.

Carve out the time and get into the flow.

Catching creativity

Creativity sometimes comes in bursts. If I hit a blocker, and there’s nothing – the key is not to get frustrated and contrive creativity. Don’t manufacture something that’s not ready to come out.

Changing my routine, shaking up rituals or meeting with friends is a great way to unblock the flow. When it finally comes, I make the time to capture the creative flow. It’s like building a dam for the melting snowpack. Don’t let the precious water go to waste.

Activation energy

Sometimes the best way to start writing the next chapter of a book is to sit down and write. That sounds obvious, but it’s scarier to do when nothing is waiting to pour out on the page. Sitting down, creating space and time is sometimes the only activation energy required to break through the writer’s block.

It’s the same with exercise or getting some long overdue work project completed. Upfront activation energy is sometimes all you need to break through. A run around the block turns into a couple of blocks. Composing a response to one email you’ve been ignoring frees up energy for other things that need your attention.

Proficiency and Joy

Work hard every day. Turn up and go deep on stuff, but don’t ignore what brings you joy and what you are proficient in. Listen for feedback. Do people want to work with you again, is it satisfying, is it valued, are you proud of the product?

Double down where your proficiency and joy intersect. There’s no point working away at something in a mediocre way that makes you miserable.

Use what talents you possess, the woods will be very silent if no birds sang there except those who sang best – Henry Van Dyke

The good night sleep recipe

Avoid caffeine after lunch. Take it easy on the wine.

Avoid screen time before bed. No Netflix, no Twitter, no email, no Book of Face, no quick flip through Instagram.

Don’t binge watch Netflix in bed.

If you wake up in the middle of the night, resist the urge to fire up your phone. Reading the news, catching up on work, looking at a picture is an adrenalin injection. Not useful if you want to get back into a deep sleep.

Read a book, even if it’s one chapter before bed. Do paper, not Kindle.

Download your brain before bed.

Don’t use your phone as an alarm clock. Get one of those old-school clock radios with a dim light.

Turn your phone on airplane mode. It removes all the vibrating and alerts.

Stick to the same routine. Get up at the same time, go to bed at the same time. Keep the schedule on weekends and vacation.

Dark rooms equal better sleep.

Keep the room cool. Your body temperature drops at night, and it’s confusing if the heat is cranking.

Stretch before bed. The ritual will get you back into your body and start the wind-down.

Exercise daily. Keep a routine.

Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dine like a pauper. Large dinner will keep you up at night. Don’t eat right before bed either. Give your body some time to settle before getting into bed.

If you can’t sleep then surrender to it. Give up, get up and out of bed.  Fold laundry, clean the house, wash dishes, write, feed the cat. Don’t just lie there and fight insomnia. You’ll only get anxious.

Crossing the border

Shawshank-Redemption-001

“I find I’m so excited that I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it’s the excitement only a free man can feel. A free man at a start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.” – Red in Shawshank Redemption on his way to The Mexican beach of Zihuatanejo, on the Pacific Coast.

What a beautiful quote from Shawshank. Red (Morgan Freeman) has stepped into the unknown. He’s excited about the uncertainty and the friends he’ll meet along the way. In a sense, he’s woken up – and crossing the border from darkness to enlightenment. Love it.

In 2003 a surf trip took me down the west coast of Mexico. I spent some time in Zihuatanejo and thought about the moment in the book where Red walks barefoot down the beach and sees Andy working on the boat.

Get busy living, or get busy dying.