Do you know how to recognize when you are in your zone? When are you most connected, to what you want out of life, to the people around you and to yourself. For me, that feeling comes in the quiet hours, when I get the time to recalibrate, breathe, and move before the pull of the world and energies from the other people in my life take up more space. The start of an unorthodox new school year, a new business, and the long term goals on my horizon have me thinking about sustainability. It’s a buzz word for sure, but it applies to so much…routines, relationships, finances, health. But consistency is the key to greatness, whatever it is we want our greatness to look like, and success comes not out of single good choice, but the good choices that are repeatable over time. Maybe sustainability is a concept we sink into a little deeper in midlife because there are so many interests and responsibilities competing for our attention. Maybe it’s because we aren’t looking for “someday” anymore but know that our best life is meant to be lived right now. By midlife we have felt the effects of aging, know the depth that our relationships have the potential reach, and understand that time, no matter how present we are, seems to slip through the hourglass quicker with each passing year.
As days pass on, it’s up to us to create the space in our lives for growth, to know ourselves, so we can be leaders in a world that needs our unique talents. The better we know ourselves, the deeper our confidence takes root, and we create a path to walk that is safe enough to walk alone but wide enough for others to join us. We can’t find this sweet spot when we are dealing with overwhelm, perfectionism, comparison or a case of caring what other people think. And that’s right where a good mindfulness practice steps in and helps us diffuse these very real tensions of modern life. As I grow and fall into alignment with what moves me as a person, where I feel most comfortable in my own skin…writing, leading through inspired connection with others, and creating calm in everyday life through breath and movement, I have a clear filter to pass my choices through. This filter has helped me come up with a few rules to create a sustainable pace that moves life forward, but encourages us to enjoy every step, be more than do more, and grow instead of grind.
Set the tone with your phone - Our phones have become second brains and first lines of communication. They are marketing devices, instant information, endless opinions and creators of comparison that will eat that time faster than a crying baby (or a new puppy!) and beg for our attention from the moment we open our eyes. It’s no mistake that the rise of the internet and the iPhone coincide with meditation and mindfulness practices becoming the fastest growing health trend in America, we have to find a way to calm our systems with this onslaught of information. This article in NY Magazine brought me back to center this week and reissued a challenge to me to slow down, and fight the the knee jerk reaction to open my phone and tap the latest headline or social media feed first thing in the morning because I have the sinking feeling that it is the #1 cause of distraction in my day. The struggle is real, the phone has turned into our second brain, but one that races from unrelated task to unrelated task as our hearts beat faster while we convince ourselves that we can handle more because of its efficiency. But with every new thing we take on, we are less equipped to handle the inner work on ourselves that creates a meaningful life. All of a sudden the pace of life feels unsustainable.
The better we understand our values and what makes us unique, the more calmly we can make decisions. Our choices should pass easily through our value filter or life will have us by the tail when it is meant to be the other way around. Are you saying yes to everything in an effort to please or feel some sense of worth? Do you look at your calendar knowing, I should have said no here? Do you deprive yourself of the things that give you joy because of a never-ending sense of duty? The closer we align with our values and our true calling, we have to say no to so many things so that we can say yes to what brings us into alignment, brings us peace, and allows us to put our best foot forward for the important people in our life. Use your filter and trust that when the answer is no, you are only creating space for the person coming behind you who is meant to say yes. We don’t have to be everything to everyone and we don’t have to do everything ourselves!
Start and end the day on your own terms - Since my kids were little, I have started most days before they got up…and the days that I didn’t, I regretted it because I felt hurried and rushed, not present for them, or clear on what I wanted to accomplish in my own day. Luckily, I’m a morning person because most days that hour needs to be pretty early to find that slice of quiet time. I have a saying that goes through my mind every morning, no matter how tired I am: “Morning is best.” For as long as I can remember, it has been the space in time where everything feels possible. But whatever it means for you, give yourself at least 20 mins of quiet before you start taking in other voices. And the same goes for the evening, create a calming ritual around bedtime. Don’t let the last thing you look at before you turn off the light be the blue light from your phone, adopt a breath work practice, or have some reishi hot chocolate, tea, or tart cherry juice to calm you and help you sleep. It only takes a little extra effort but the benefits of a good night’s sleep are huge. The restoration of your mind, body, and spirit should never be taken lightly.
Judge Less Accept More - Judgment is natural, but comparison is tiring. Mindfulness has helped me to stay in my own lane and understand that every path is different. We weren’t put on this earth to be like anyone else. The only question is what we are willing to do to maximize our gifts. Self awareness is the base of human thriving and the gift of a mindfulness practice…being comfortable in our skin is so freeing. As we learn to accept our thoughts for what they are in the moment, we learn that what feels difficult now will pass…nothing lasts forever, and if we can learn to breathe through it and stay the course we get stronger with every new challenge. Accepting the reality of the moment is just that, it doesn’t mean we have to be good with these circumstances forever, it just frees our energy to create a path toward where we want to go.
Have A Beginners Mind - I’m listening to a book called Range - Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein. One of the negative thoughts I have learned to overcome in the last few years is that I missed my calling, that it’s too late to turn over a new leaf, try new things, or chart a fresh course. But this book has made me glad that I have an open ear to a lot of different ideas and perspectives and that honing my own intuition while being open to the thoughts of others helps me lead myself and coach others with my own unique style confidently, all the while knowing that there is always more I can learn. Mindfulness teaches us to go into everything as if it was new because that’s what gives us our edge to keep learning. The minute we think we are the expert in the room, we close out on the other human potential that is present around us. Life gets boring when we think we have it all figured out and lifelong learning is the key to longevity. We only learn new things when we are able to admit that there are things we do not know and thinking we have it all figured out is the achilles heal of leadership and inspired learning.
Although these are five of my unique takeaways from my mindfulness practice, the benefits of starting a practice of your own today are many. Among them are decreased stress and anxiety, increased focus and attention, better communication and relationships, and increased follow through on your goals. Not to mention you will undoubtedly develop some of your own keen and original life principles for yourself as you sink deeper into a practice. If you are starting from scratch, start small…mindfulness is the opposite of pressure. Give yourself 2-3 minutes in the morning to sit and observe your thoughts without judgment or attaching to them. Work your way up to eight minutes, and then keep going from there. This distraction filled world is calling for your calm and quiet. Answer the call softly in the morning and watch as your days emerge with peaceful, sustainable, vitality and strength that will inspire others around you to ask where that deep calm is coming from.