Living Life in “Next Play Speed”

Graham Betchart’s work with athletes applies to life – all of our lives

Living present – feet firmly planted in the moment – has become my life’s philosophy – my daily mission. This mantra, though, wiggled its way into my life as the whispers to live a more authentic life turned into rather obnoxious clamours! It took the worst year of my life to force me to listen and to understand the importance of mindfulness, living focused on what is happening in the moment, and loving the life I am living.

I arrived at this point out of necessity when I realized I was alive without really living. The stresses of my life were killing me, especially when I considered the way I medicated myself with food. Because I am a naturally bubbly, gregarious person, to others, I seemed to have a great life, and for the most part, I did. I was raising two amazing children who are the center of my universe, I have incredible friendships that sustain me, and I have been called to teach (a gift in itself).

What I didn’t realize, though, was that unresolved life trauma was impacting my habits – not facing them posed barriers to truly being alive. Like so many of us, I was letting life happen. And then, 2014, the worst year of my life, shoved me so violently, I realized I had to make major changes. The year began with the diagnosis of my 21-year-old daughter’s brain tumor and ended with difficult emotional trauma at work. By the end of 2014, when I went to my annual physical, I was the heaviest I had ever been, I was depressed, and I felt like the world was about to collapse on me.

I had two choices: continue on the same path or take intentional control of my life. I chose the latter.

Shifting to living in the moment – the next play speed – required me to make several key changes. First of all, I had to understand how the trauma of my childhood impacted my adult relationships and my coping mechanisms. This occurred through counseling, reading important texts by others navigating life intentionally, and journaling. I am also fortunate to have a few friends in what Brene Brown calls a square squad – the few people in my life who hold me accountable and are honest with me about my thoughts and actions.

Second, I realized only I could take back my health. I joined a weight loss program and focused on my diet and exercise. Focusing on my mental and physical health changed the game for me. The more I realized I could control my food intake and the amount of exerecise I expended, the more I realized I could also redirect my thoughts. I began to hold on less to the past and worry less about the future; I began to lead a more authentic life.

In sports, atheletes who develop the next play speed let mistakes go immediately, and they certainly don’t worry about mistakes they might make in the future. Instead, they live second by second focused on the game so intensely they can change their direction on the playing field in less than a second. They are fully present in the moment. Obviously, the future does require attention in terms of planning for our security and happiness, and learning from our past mistakes also informs our now; however, they do not have to dominate our thinking.

I have also realized that I am a work in progress, and the best I can do is live the most authentic, present life I can. For those who hope to live a more mindful, authentic life, start today. Spend 5 minutes focusing on what is happening around you – the sounds – the people – the breeze – the smiles – the purr of the cat. The more we practice these little moments of truly paying attention, they become habit. They allow us to live in the next play speed.

#MakeRoomForJoy

A Good Day

Earlier this year, I listened to a 2017 episode of the On Being podcast in which Krista Tippett interviews Dr. Atul Gawande, a practicing physcian, Harvard professor, and writer. The title of the episode, “What Matters in the End,” indicates why I might be drawn to a conversation with a doctor. In my quest to live intentionally, I find myself obsessed with reading and listening to how others make the most of their “one wild and precious” lives (“The Summer Day, Oliver, 1990).

Today, Gawande’s medical practice and writings are based on the question, “What does a good day look like?” – a question he now asks both terminally-ill and healthy people. This important question allows him to treat the whole person, and it makes a difference to his patients. Good days, after all, are moments we seek.

In the interview, Gawande recalls the pivotal moment when his philosophy of healthcare shifted. A patient, who would die less than 48 hours later, told him she was going to take her family to Disney Land. In that moment, he realized as a care giver, he had missed a critical moment. He realized the importance of asking earlier, “What does a good day look like?” With that important information, he could have helped her achieve that wish a month earlier.

This conversation reminded me of the quip I often say or post on Facebook: Today is a good day for a good day. While I often tweak the statement to reflect my own spirit with “today is a great day for an excellent day,” the message is important. Live the day you have in front of you. Don’t wait to live.

Dr. Gawande’s question is one we can, and should, each ask ourselves. If we start our days with “What does a good day look like,” we remind ourselves of how fleeting time is, and how important it is to fill our days with things that make us happy – people and events that fill us with joy.

Too often, the narratives that run through our heads or the messages society offers us force us to feel obligated stay in relationships or positions we don’t enjoy. We stay in social circles that don’t excite us, we continue to work in unfulfilling jobs, or we continue in unsatisfying marriages without fixing or ending them. Days slip by, and we crawl into bed unhappy, or worse, without emotion.

I am not advocating we bail on our friendships, quit our job, or end our marriages. Each of us has our own journeys and way of approaching things that do not fill us with joy. What I am urging us to do, however, is really rather simple. Before we get out of bed in the morning, we should consider envisioning what a good day looks like. What is on our agenda for the day that will make it a good day or even an excellent one? If there is something on the day’s schedule that doesn’t serve a specfiic purpose or will not contribute to our overall happiness, can it be removed or modified?

If we take a few minutes to ask these questions and monitor our progress towards creating a “good day,” we will experience a shift in the way we think about our lives, about the people with whom we interact, and about the world around us. The time to ask ourselves “What does a good day look like?” is now, while we still have time to make all of our days good ones. #MakeRoomForJoy

Readers can find the podcast on which this post is based at the On Being web site: https://onbeing.org/programs/atul-gawande-what-matters-in-the-end/

I’m joining an open community of writers over at Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog. If you write (or want to write) just for the magic of it, consider this your invitation to join us. #sosmagic

Get Yourself a Square Squad

Throughout the journey of untangling myself – of making meaning of how the ebb and flow of my days impact my life – of understanding my purpose in this world, I have leaned into the uncomfortable act of learning to love myself. I have always had solid self-esteem, and I tend to quickly release negative thoughts. At times, I have observed that I don’t care what people think or their opinion doesn’t impact my decisions.  I have actually said out loud, “My Christmas card list is plenty long” or “love me or leave me.”  The obvious problem with those statements, however, is that I truly DO need people. I need people who allow me to be vulnerable and love me none-the-less. Like everyone else, I need community.

Brené Brown, a social scientist who has spent decades researching shame, vulnerability, and authentic living, believes we need people in our lives whose opinions do matter.  These aren’t the casual acquaintances who like a post on Facebook and with whom you share the occasional cup of coffee. Instead, these are people who truly understand who we are. These are the few people in our lives whose opinions matter in such a way we can be truly vulnerable.

Brown encourages us to identify a few key people we trust, we love, and who don’t need us to be anyone but our authentic selves.  Once we identify these people, we should write their names or initials on a 1” square piece of paper.  The people on this little piece of paper are the people in our Square Squad.  They are the ones who don’t run from our vulnerability, and they are the ones to whom we can turn when we need to process thoughts or ideas. They will offer opinions, but they will not randomly criticize. Instead, they allow us to be brave – to be courageous along this journey.

For me, the people on my square squad also hold me accountable.  They encourage me.  They make me want to be better today than I was yesterday.  They are the ones who show up – repeatedly – even when I don’t realize I need someone.  My square squad has carried me through some pretty dark times in my life including a tumultuous time at work, my daughter’s health battle, and the ending of a 30-year marriage.  Individually, they check in on me, but more importantly, their opinion matters, and when they share it – solicited or unsolicited – I take it seriously.  They offer their opinions, and I’m not offended. If their observation butts up against my own perception, I have to sit with it for a little bit, but the way I process their words is important.  I don’t take their advice as critical.  Because I value their opinion, I step even deeper into being my best self.

The idea of putting names on a 1″ square piece of paper we can tuck in a wallet or other safe place means we don’t need a lot of people in our inner space. We need just a few who love us unconditionally, and who are comfortable with our relationship that they know their opinion matters. Along this untangling, they impact the direction and depth of understanding of our journeys. Ultimately, the members of our square squads reflect the dearest elements of community, love and acceptance. They make all the difference in the world. #MakeRoomForJoy

If you are interested in learning more from Brené Brown, check out her new podcast at https://brenebrown.com/unlockingus/

I’m joining an open community of writers over at Sharing Our Stories: Magic in a Blog. If you write (or want to write) just for the magic of it, consider this your invitation to join us. #sosmagic