March 25, 2019

Advice on Mindfulness from one Alpha Male to Another.


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An alpha is driven.

This statement is hardwired into my being.

I’ve been described as an alpha male for as long as I can remember—fiercely loyal, protective, and competitive. We always have to do and be our best. There’s no other way than to give it all we’ve got when the whistle blows, the timer starts, or the professor says, “You have two hours. You may begin.”

To the alpha, quitting is failure. Quitting means we’ve let ourselves down, as well as those who love us.

Sign me up for a bleach tasting instead.

Win the game, but think about the missed shot, the errant pass, or the bad play and how to fix it. It’s not about the good plays, but about the next mountain—the next something we can do better.

Join the Army. Lead the pack. Go to grad school. Perform. Do better next time; you know you can.

As an alpha, I’ve missed out on a lot of life dwelling to instead focus on self-imposed performance standards.

My baby sister was once a cute toddler who would run as fast as her short legs could take her to come give me a hug after a game. She couldn’t wait for that moment, often asking how much longer before she could leave the bleachers and come see me.

But it wasn’t long before she realized I was almost always somewhere else in my mind. I’d be irritable, pacing, or fidgeting, and thinking about what I should’ve done better or what was next, and she’d quip, “I’m not running up to him—you go talk to him.”

I wish I’d been a little more mindful back then. There are no more games, she grew up, and I missed out on more than a few chances to see her joyfully bounding toward me for a hug, not because of how I performed, but just because I was her big brother.

Mindfulness is being aware of something; it is conscious awareness of the present moment. To me, it’s not perfection or never multitasking, but taking a second to be present, focusing on what it is that I’m doing, and bringing myself back to the “now.” It’s realizing when my mind is wandering off somewhere else.

After all, all we have is right now—this moment—and I used a lot of them focusing on sh*t that was in the past or things in the future that hadn’t happened yet. I can only shake my head thinking back on my old practice.

During grad school, I began trying to appreciate the journey more by focusing on gratitude and enjoying the moment.

Balancing pursuing a goal or learning from any situation and enjoying the moment seems like a simple enough idea, but it isn’t a fixed location like the pub that’s home base to you and your friends or your local library. It’s not easy. At least, it isn’t for me, but I’ve gotten better at it the more I practiced.

For me, it’s been a place I can visit or come home to when I find myself getting anxious, thinking I ought to be planning the next trip, knocking out the next chore, or checking something else off of my to-do list.

I was once given some good advice about mindfulness that I’ve tried to take to heart:

Don’t change yourself. Don’t expend the energy trying to rewire your brain. Your tenacity brought you this far and you’ve accomplished a lot so embrace that, but don’t dwell on the mistakes either. Take some time to enjoy where you are; there are others who would love to have what you have.

Being mindful and enjoying the here and now has become easier over time, but I’m still no expert. I still revert back to how I’ve always handled stress: internalizing and overanalyzing an undesired result or game planning how I’ll tackle future scenarios that have yet to occur.

When I’m doing this, I step back into the present moment by following a few steps:

>> Focus on my breathing. Thoughts will come and go; each time they do, I focus on every breath, in and out, until that’s all I’m thinking about.

>> Look around and observe my surroundings to become fully aware of where I am in the moment.

>> Laugh. I think about a funny memory or even laugh at myself for overanalyzing a situation or being anxious in the first place.

Being mindful isn’t an attempt to eliminate task-oriented performance or thinking. A goal, deadline, or task that is constantly overrunning our thoughts may be something worth pursuing. Instead, mindfulness is taking control of the present moment and focusing on the thoughts that continuously distract us from the here and now—the only moment there is to enjoy.

For an alpha, the goal of mindfulness is continuous self-improvement, while not beating ourselves up if we have a setback, a rough day, or don’t perform as well as we feel we should have. We need to take a deep breath and remind ourselves that we’re capable of taking on the next challenge and applying the newfound wisdom we’ve learned along the way.

Channeling the focus we usually place on thinking about future endeavors or past missteps into the here and now has been a worthwhile pursuit for me. My friends and family have even noticed, frequently telling me I seem “lighter” and letting me know how good it is to see my laughing again.

An alpha is driven.

I’ve chosen to apply this statement, this inner drive, to my mindfulness practice, to being more present than I’ve ever been, which has allowed me to recognize some of those moments I used to miss as they unfold.

My baby sister recently turned 21 and I got to be there to celebrate. I took a minute, stopped asking for death to take me the next morning during my hangover (I ain’t 21 anymore), and thought about how much it meant to both of us to have that fun night out. I didn’t spend any time dreading the next day or next deadline.

I was there. And it was more than worth it.

An alpha hates to lose. We’ve all lost before and we’ll lose again, but hopefully we can all take a breath. We can find something to laugh about. We can embrace the journey and choose to focus on winning more present moments than we lose.

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