November 23, 2013

The Secret Recipe for Optimal Living.

I’d be willing to bet that most people reading this and probably most of the people they know too, are aware of simple consistent practices that can make their lives hum.

We know that if we regularly get enough sleep, eat well, drink plenty of water and get some exercise that our baseline health and happiness will probably be pretty good. Tack on some bonus practices—some yoga or meditation, interactions with a healthy community of friends or family, some level of community service and we’re really humming along.

Yet…how many of us can usually say, “Last night I slept long and hard and today I drank plenty of water, ate nourishing food, went to yoga class and spread some love among my friends,”?

It seems that more often than not we tell the story of staying up too late, leaving our water bottle at home, catching a bite on the run or skipping a meal altogether, spending too much time connected to the virtual world—and making a promise to ourselves to get to yoga class next week.

I am convinced that at the intersection of consistent, dedicated personal practice and all the other pieces of our lives it touches is the secret recipe for optimal living. We have all the ingredients—we just need to cook.

A number of years ago, I was a collaborator on the book Working for Good: Making a Difference While Making a Living. During the research phase of the book, my colleague Jeff Klein interviewed a group of successful, conscious business leaders.

As I tuned in to the interviews, one golden thread between all of them piqued my interest: unfailingly, each of these high achievers had a personal practice to which they were unwaveringly committed. No matter whether the practice was yoga or tai chi or kayaking, hiking, writing, meditating…they all did it and they all did it consistently.

It got me wondering…if most of us are aware that our lives would be more satisfying, productive, healthy and flowing if we commit to our own practices and do them consistently, why don’t we all do that?

Why are some people relentlessly committed to their practice while others continue to fall off the practice wagon?

And what can those who are committed share with others who struggle to help support them to rock their practices too?

To begin to unravel the mystery, I began interviewing people in my circle who I knew possessed this strong commitment to their practice and asked them each the same series of questions, things like, How did you discover your practice? How often and for how long do you practice? What gets in the way of your practice and how do you stay committed? 

The more I ask the questions, the more I recognize that there are no right answers.

Practice is something completely unique and individual to each person.

No one recipe that works for someone is exactly the right recipe for someone else. Because I need a run in the early morning to blow out the pipes and meditate on my upcoming day, doesn’t mean that’s what you need. Because someone else sits on a mat, someone else dances, and someone else serves meals at the soup kitchen every Friday doesn’t mean that you should.

No one else can do our practice for us.

But, we can take inspiration and clues from others who rock their practices to inform and motivate our own.

Though I have just begin to scratch the surface, based on the interviews I have conducted, the top shelf challenges to consistent practice and remedies come in a standard variety.

Three things that get in the way of our practices:

Travel. Changing time zones, harried schedules, delays can all wreak havoc on our practices.

Resistance, self-doubt, uncomfortable emotions, limitations we place on ourselves. Try as we may, we can’t blame this one on anyone else.

Poor scheduling. Probably a by-product of resistance, we find ourselves with too many other urgent things to do before we can get to our practice.

Three things that support us to stay committed to our practices:

Being truly committed to our work in the world, and deeply acknowledging the connection between our practice and the support it provides to show up our best selves.

Cutting ourselves some slack when it’s appropriate. Some days it’s ok to be gentle with ourselves, adopt a loving attitude. It’s recognizing the fine line between when it’s ok to chill and when we need to kick ourselves in the pants.

Surrounding ourselves by others who practice and support our practices.

And, in the wise words of saxophonist, composer, educator and member of Dave Matthews Band, Jeff Coffin:  “Willpower and dedication, and maybe a little fear, all help me get through.”

So, I challenge you now to ask yourself what the obstacles might be to your dedication to personal practice. Then, ask yourself what you’re going to do to move through them.

Towards our consistent dedication to practice!

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Editor: Bryonie Wise

 Photo: courtesy of the author

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