Plasticine

It’s the second law of thermodynamics that everything moves toward entropy; so you know that things aren’t going to remain static and things are going to be changing. And no matter what you are trying to accomplish in your life, you need to learn how to not only learn how to cope with change but actually how to harness it and leverage it.

-Dr. Norman Doidge

Most of us grew up thinking that our personality and inclinations begin the calcify process when we are about 7 years old and are solidified when we are in our early 20s. But that myth has been absolutely disputed and proven wrong–if you change your mind, you can change your body and transform the quality of your life. We’ve heard countless stories of what seem like anomalies of people getting over incurable disease or other disabling health issues with a thought–one thought–that they could be a better version of themselves.  When we think a thought over and over again, it begins to harden into a belief and our beliefs become our personality which determines the intensity and consistency of our moods from day to day. However, we are merely one thought away from growing, from healing, from becoming a new and improved version of ourselves, and neuroscientistfocus meme.jpg like Dr. Norma Doidge (quoted above) is demonstrating this in spades. They are showing that these beliefs literally rewire our neural connections and, indeed, we are plasticine in nature, with these new ideas shaping our bodies, ergo our reality as well with new synapses being constructed and old ones being pruned. This is a wonderful and simple explanation of your fantastic plastic brain explained, giving a lot of insight into how your brain changes.

Jean Piaget, one of the most influential cognitive psychologists of the 20th century, suggested that one’s intelligence is essentially knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do, implying discernment of our experience and wagering a risk to grow. Carol Dweck adds to this definition by reminding us to keep an open mind to meet challenges and put in the effort to overcome them as the essence of evolving one’s vision and developing life mastery. Her research on “growth mindset” vs. “fixed mindset” is catching on in schools and businesses, and is having a significant impact on changing the way people learn and companies conduct business. It has given license for people to take risks and make mistakes because doing so literally grows your brain and develops you cognitively.

On a personal level, earlier this year, I decided to apply the 2 minute rule to cultivating change in my physical health. I made it a daily goal to get some exercise and agreed that I could spend at least 2 minutes a day towards this goal. I believed that this small investment of time would be worth the effort and could create change. What’s interesting is that, over time, what appeared to be drudgery has now turned into a natural desire. My 2 minutes has easily turned into 20 minutes. And what is fascinating is how it has improved not just my physical state, but also my mental state. I am beginning to not just feel more emotionally content but my attitude has shifted to agreeing that I’m worthy of something better. In other words, I exercise because I’m worth it, and this self-improvement has made a great contribution to my quality of life. I’ve had to detach from who I have been in order to give birth to who I can become. The change in my waistline is just an inevitable outcome of these new physical and mental habits. And it all started with my thought that 2 minutes, well spent, could have health benefits. Now I believe this with every fiber of my being.

This is just one example, but this shift in one area of my life has cultivated momentum in transforming other areas of my life–a snowball is in motion, as I wonder what else do I think is impossible for myself which might actually be a probable outcome if I change my beliefs around it. I double dog dare you to experiment with this concept yourself–change a thought, repeat the new thought over and over again, make a new habit around it and observe the results. I think you will be surprised at you uproot long held beliefs and recreate yourself in a relatively short amount of time.

Remember, you are plasticine.

Awareful

That’s not even a word, so my spell-checker tells me. And it doesn’t even have any suggested alternatives but I swear it’s real. I’m going to attempt to define it through this post.

Have you ever heard about the Dhamma Brothers?  Years ago, I watched the documentary about these high-security prisoners that were taught Vipassana meditation and how much it changed them, inside and out. It’s profound, but you can hear about its synopsis in the TEDx talk below.

 

I think what I love most about this story is that they learned to not be victims anymore, to take personal responsibility for their lives (past and present), and recognize that they have a choice. Even in their environment of violence and despair, they can take a moment to reflect on how they feel, what thoughts they are having and the quality of their relationships. We all have that opportunity–we all have that choice, to recognize how our actions, words, and deeds can impact, not only ourselves but others. This is how I am going to define this word: AWAREFUL

I believe that most of us going through life thinking that we are victims of circumstance-someone did something and now we all are paying the price for what THEY did to US. Maybe it’s the politicians or the bankers or the teachers or the lawyers or our neighbors or our families. It doesn’t matter who you think did what when you blame another, you give away your inherent freedom of personal choice. Even in the most oppressive environments, one has the power to choose. Choose what? Your attitude!

Your attitude is the sum of your beliefs about life and your place in “the big picture”. Do you feel powerful or powerless? Do you feel connected or disconnected to others around you? Do you feel well being or sickness? Do you feel happy or discontent? However you feel, it makes a difference in your behavior and affects the “vibe” you bring wherever you go.

You don’t have to convince me about that–I teach 3-5 year olds! They are sponges and act like mirrors. I know that I have to get my attitude in order if I am to teach them or they get completely nutty. I may jest that “it must be a full moon or something” but I know in my heart that they are just responding to what I am projecting upon them through my energy, words, and reactions to them. They provide excellent personal data, I tell you what!

With that in mind, being awareful is a chronic habit timg_3278hat I have been developing. Throughout the day, I have these reminders on my phone that go off, suggesting that I take a moment to breathe and get in touch with my body or ask me how do I want to feel? I want to develop my focus so that I can be more mindful in my actions. It is my intention to develop proper attention. And some days I’m awesome at it, and other days…..um… I could improve. lol  But I know, I always have a choice, and if I don’t choose to be mindful, then it’s MY choice–no one else is in control of me. And me taking personal responsibility for that choice? –well, that’s a work in progress! But at least I am aware that it’s a choice of mine to make.

Getting off My “but”

Do you know that 25% of people abandon their New Year’s Resolution after 1 week? I’m not sure why this is, but I reckon that it has to do more with the confidence in its achievement, rather than the unattainability of the goal. However, I also believe that upfront planning for its success, will yield greater “stick-to-it”ness and keep a person on track.

With that in mind, as I sat down to write out my goals for this year, I remembered that no matter what I put down, I have to CHOOSE it.  It had to be so compellingjohn-burroughs and juicy that I have the endurance to meet its challenge, especially if the distance from where I am is far from where I want to be. Did you know that Khloe Kardashian worked out five to six days a week for two and a half years before she reached her fitness goals? Although I am not a Kardshian fan, I have to deeply admire her level of commitment. I get bummed out after a month of sloppy adherence to a regimen so the fact that someone can last a whole 2 years, well, I honor and am inspired by them.

However, my past does not have to equal my future, to paraphrase Tony Robbins. I just have to get off my “but” with a no excuse approach to meeting my goals. Just because I have attempted to do something in the past and have failed, doesn’t mean that I ALWAYS have to fail; it just means that the strategies I used weren’t effective at making the change that I wanted and I have to reevaluate them. I think I also have to be more honest about the time it may take to achieve that goal.

Have you ever read the Art of War by Sun Tzu? In it, he talks about the 9 situations in which one engages in combat and the propensity for retreat. He suggests that one must “burn all the boats” so that there is nothing left except for winning. And I wonder how I can apply this to my goals. I’ve thought the best way to do this is to make a list of all of my “buts” and how I will overcome them when and if I encounter them. For example, let’s say that one of my goals is to get into great shape through strength training, and one of my excuses to not workout is when I get sick or have a cold (which is a very likely “but”). So then I come up with at least 3 ways in which I can counter that:

  1. I want to get into my best shape ever through strength training but I have a cold. So I will bounce on the rebounder to get my lymphatic system going for a minute and then do 1 rep of a circuit (maybe 2 mins long).
  2. I want to get into my best shape ever through strength training but I have a headache. So I will give myself 2 pain relievers, wait 10 mins,  and then do 1 rep of a circuit (maybe 2 mins long).
  3. I want to get into my best shape ever through strength training but I have the stomach flu and feel too weak and ill to work out. So I will give myself 1 day off, but never 2 days off in a row in order to keep my momentum, and I will do a light workout the next day, even if it is for 1 minute.

Working off my BUT

Now that I have some ideas on how I can counter those obstacles, then I am more likely to follow through with my alternative plan. Planning really makes all the difference. And I do believe in the adage that “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail”, which is why I think so many of us fall short on our goals. I’ve never used this strategy before so I am looking forward to trying it out this year, and I believe that I will find more success when I approach challenges in this way. I also think that this strategy will help me to become more patient with my progress, because when we make effort and develop momentum, we are more likely to stay on track.

So good-bye “but”, and hello “so”!

 

2017: Awesome and Wonderful?!

I miss the admonishments of my British friends for my overuse of the word ‘awesome’, claiming that applying it incessantly to everyday circumstances diminished its meaning. But what if 2017 is the year of the AWESOME (and Marvelous, darling)?

So, if that indeed is my intention, then how I am going to cultivate a genuine Awe for my life? How can my life be more Wonder-Full? Before I go forward in any argument towards marveling at the mundane, what are the indicators of it? I mean, how should I define it so I can catch it? As I reflect on this, these are some characteristics that I think can signal that something is awesome:

  • It leaves us surprised and curious.
  • It puts us in the NOW.
  • It touches the heart and penetrates our soul.
  • It puts us in any anticipatory state, in which you feel the joy in advance of the experience.
  • It overwhelms us with beauty and attunes us to the divine.
  • The experience is uncontainable and must be shared.
  • You feel privileged to have had the experience.

Also, I think the easy yet difficult part is to CHOOSE it–choose to put my antennae up and tune into it.  I know that miracles happen every day so why wouldn’t today be the day? Of course it’s possible! I have to be disciplined enough to take personal responsibility for my joy, and not be satisfied with my day until I find something that was utterly remarkable about the day. Seek and ye shall find. 

Of course there are big things that I wish to accomplish. I love this idea and inspiration from Ray Edwards:

“In the next twelve months, what must I become or do so that I grow in every area of life—and how can I enjoy the process?” ‘What do I most want to be thankful for one year from now?’ I write the answer down, and it becomes a focus for the new year.”

So, as I look at that quote, it summons within me a desire to do things differently in the year to come. “Enjoy the process!?-since when do we humans enjoy change, you say??- this is why so many people quit their resolutions!”

Perhaps, but...

a-mans-bewilderment-is-the-measure-of-his-wisdom-quote-1I think cultivating a habit of relishing in the mundane in pursuit of beauty and the divine is a resolution that is worthy of devotion. I wonder if my dedication will wane but I am curious about the result if I were to make consistent steps towards this goal. What if extraordinary things would ensue just by virtue of my openness to the possibility that something amazing could happen today?

And at the end of the day, I’d rather say that I bore witness to something utterly astonishing, that my eyes and ears were open to the extraordinary around me, and I could experience it as awesome, standing agape at the marvels of my life. To be in that state of expectancy I imagine would bring about a peace and fascination with life that I have yet to know yet in my life. So, in this year–2017–I am now hitherto for christening it as the year of the AWESOME. It is my wish for you too, dear friend, to experience more moments of profound gratitude and joy in the year to come:

May you be happy.

May you be at ease.

May you be free from danger.

May you be loved.

 

Moving Towards Fear

I am often in awe of people who can be so deeply passionate about something–how did they turn an interest into full-blown commitment towards a problem, cause or issue? I was reading  about solving challenging math problems, and I find it incredibly inspiring and fascinating how one can dedicate years to working on a math theorem.  I know, how geeky of me, but really? — how did they overcome the anxiety, self-doubt and worry in order to explore something so diligently and deeply. Their unfailing curiosity and dedication is really something of a phenomena.

But I think that there are lots of life lessons to be gleaned from people like Andrew Wiles. And I really appreciate his nonchalant demeanor  and advice towards reaching a goal:

It’s like training in sport. If you want to run fast, you have to train. Anything where you’re trying to do something new, you have to go through this difficult period. It’s not something to be frightened of. Everybody goes through it.

-Andrew Wiles-

edison

I find his perspective refreshing, in which conquering a challenge is a skill that can be developed and mastered. However, when you look at things from his point of view, you move from fear to faith in possibility.

His belief in his ability to figure things out superseded his fear of failure due to the mindset he cultivated: just because I haven’t solved this problem today, doesn’t mean I CAN’T ever do it–I just haven’t done it YET.

I think this attitude helps you to move towards your fear, engage with it, and eventually crush it because this belief creates a feeling of certainty and compels one to keep making strides. With that in mind, thinking bigger helps one to put in more effort, to the point of success.

For example, look at these beliefs:

  • Failing at something doesn’t mean I am a failure.
  • Doing something stupid today doesn’t mean that I am going to do something stupid tomorrow.
  • I can learn from my mistakes and grow from them.

Pretty empowering, right?

If you can give yourself the benefit of the doubt, that perhaps you have what it takes right now to get started, and can acquire all the skills, knowledge and resources along the journey, then mounting an extraordinary feat seems inevitable.

As I think about the year ahead and the things I wish to accomplish, I want to do things that scare me in order to gain the confidence that comes from playing full out. Perhaps you will too.

 

 

 

 

Mystification

The adjacent possible is the map of all the ways in which the present can reinvent itself. It implies a different way of looking at things. It is not held back and will not be bound by what is but is always remixing how we can transform the material world into…these delightful future possibilities and literally pull the present moment to meet it.  -Jason Silva-

I haven’t been writing much these days because I have too many thoughts in my head and I’ve been trying to put a pin on one of them. It’s like watching a leaf float on a stream’s current, except that the leaf is bobbing along on rapids rather than a lazy river. Perhaps we all have times when our minds are engrossed in a state of chaotic peace.

It seems like every moment is full of some serendipity or idea that is pulling on my heart. That makes sense since I’ve been debating whether or not to stay in Wuxi, knowing that my husband is starting his career and creating our new life in Barcelona. rwemersonI knew that
this was to be my last year in China, a place that I never expected to love as much as I do, but here I am, conflicted, to stay and work here or go with him in January. So I said a little prayer earlier this week and now every time I open a book, hear a song or listen to a podcast, a similar message pops up: Take a leap of faith! That quote over there from Emerson–that was the message on my tea bag. I didn’t even know that that brand of tea even had little adages or quotes until I began steeping my tea a moment ago! How am I to ignore this all?

So here I am, trapped with my ideas about my career, thinking about “responsibility” and “duty”, which are begging to be redefined. Believing in new things and new realities takes diligence and fidelity to this “adjacent possible”.  Inviting novelty, stretching oneself, even when the outcome is uncertain, seems like lunacy when complacency can be so satisfying and cozy (read: steady paycheck).

I listened to a riveting discussion by Dr. Norman Doidge about neuroplasticity and I found it interesting that he recommended that we use ALL of ourselves (mind), listening to yourself carefully and then obeying your dreams in order to get things accomplished so you can cultivate your best self. I am taking all of this in, thinking about the gift of mindfulness. If I didn’t have this personal practice, I wouldn’t even recognize the awe and wonder that surrounds me and supports me in embracing the unknown. This gives me immeasurable courage to let go and be willing to take a chance, even if my options seem a bit precarious.

All I know is that there is infinite potential within me–as within everyone–and I have the capacity to express it. I have to trust that what is in seed, will take root and grow. There is so much that I do not know, however, to know that my “shoots” will go towards the light, gives me calm and determination. And I am confident that this confusion is temporary.

I just have to Keep Breathing!

 

the Beginning or is it the End?

Here we go again. Another MOOC. This time has been Sit Less, Get Active which butterfly-lao-tzuis offered through the University of Edinburgh. I’m not an athletic person, in fact I think most sporty things I like to do involves sitting like biking and canoeing. I noticed about a month ago that I started to get pain in my right hip, which I later learned was caused by sitting too much. I literally have a ‘weak ass’, which causes my hip pain. Fact.

Well something like an irritation is a gift in disguise.

Recently I was listening to a talk about some of the content that is in the book Spark by John Ratey, in which he talks about the importance of exercise for our brains. Our brain is like a muscle, so when we exercise, it too gets a work out which contributes to a decrease in diseases such as dementia and ADHD. However, he explains that from an evolutionary perspective, our brain was designed for movement; so in effect, if we don’t move it (as in our bodies), we experience cognitive decline from our sedentary lifestyle.   Dr. Ratey illustrates this point with an explanation of a Sea Squirt (pictured here), which is a little piece of coral which breaks off and looks similar to a sea horse. When it does this, it develops a primitive bsea-squirtrain and neurocord in order for it to move, swimming for roughly 12 hours, until it sits down, takes “roots” , in order launch a new coral. What is fascinating is when this creature finds its new spot, it literally eats its brain, which gets reassimilated into the new growing coral structure. As I take in this example, it provides greater fodder for movement and exercise in my life.

 

So, with that in mind, I consider this revelation as a new beginning for me, in which I start to reshape my mindset to not see exercise and movement as an inconvenience but more like an opportunity to transform my mind, as well as my body. Perhaps too, it will put me on a path of self-discovery, in which I see my personal development in a more holistic way–literally re-creating who I am, cell by cell.   Needless to say, I’m excited by the prospect of transformation and hope that this too inspires you to get up and move, just as you were genetically designed to do.

Keep breathing. (And Keep Moving!)