Shortcuts to possibility

Sometimes upside-down is the right side up.
(Image source: 123rf.com)

Just over one year ago, on October 12, 2011, I turned my world upside-down. Literally.

It was a Wednesday. Mid-way through a week that saw me living 28 hours volunteering on amazing events with incredible people, spending a day training for a new job, making time for some quality catch-up with 5 wonderful friends, and conspiring with an incredible travel agent to lock down the details of my two-month “trip of a lifetime”.

I don’t remember what exactly possessed me to do it. But on that Wednesday, after my twice-a-week at-home mini-workout (so endorphins, maybe?), I did.

I walked over to face the wall and planted my hands on the floor. My head followed suit, making a tripod with my hands. I took a breath and pulled myself into a teddy-bear headstand. Then I went that crucial, uncomfortable step further – I worked my legs straight up.

Headstand.

It was probably far from graceful, hardly controlled, and likely too precarious to have an audience that would be able to stifle a laugh. It was supported by the wall.

But I didn’t care. Over 10 years of saying “I can’t” – overcome. Just like that.

Cheeks flushed, elated that I’d done it, I bounded giddily to tell anyone that would listen. I got a “aw, that’s so cute” reaction from my sister. A confused-yet-affirmative smile from my mom. And this “I can do anything” glow from within me. I may as well have jumped out of an airplane.

There are those little things in life that are symbolic of something much bigger.

A wedding ring. A candid photograph. A hard-earned degree. A cherished book. They are symbols of process; of promise; of possibility.

This momentous headstand, alone at home on a Wednesday, is one of mine. For me, it was the tangible start of a new chapter – one in which I challenge long-standing, unquestioned “that’s just the way it is” notions with gusto and a curious “why not?”.

Today, I hardly go a day without inverting. If I miss it, I catch myself thinking “I haven’t been upside-down yet”.  A headstand, a handstand, hanging upside-down from monkey-bars, cartwheels… a little something to shake me, flip things, change my perspective, and get my blood pumping. A reminder of what I can do.

A reminder of possibility.

Humbly, ~ H

The big dots of the post

Do it. Remember that once, that used to be an “I can’t”. Celebrate.
Do it again. Celebrate again. Build a little habit.
Use it as a foundation. Extrapolate. Feel awesome.

What are your shortcuts to possibility?

It’s never easy. But damn, is it ever worth it!

Image source: randomblahblahblahs

This quote by Paulo Coelho, visualized, is my current desktop background. I see it, smile, and silently agree – each and every day.

There are those times in life when something comes at us at just the right time, resonating so loud & clear that we can’t help but latch on. A friend had posted this to my Facebook wall on August 29. A clean, simple, innocent visual; an incredibly fitting representation of the lessons my life was teaching me at exactly that time. There was no way it would slip into faint memory (thanks, David!).

At the end of August, I was at a pivot point, struggling with thoughts & feelings of “I’m not doing anything”. Today, I’m on the flip side, struggling (and loving it!) to “keep all the balls in the air”, as it were.

Both states of being are incredibly difficult. Each has it’s own glory points, perks, pitfalls, dark days, and lurky gremlins.

And hell, am I ever thankful for all of it – the whole beautiful, ugly mess. It has brought me to where I am today, has made me as ‘strong of will’ as I like to think I am, has taught me how to deal with things I never even knew would be a challenge.

I feel like I’m finally growing up (“Mommy, wow! I’m a big kid now“). More and more, I find myself immersing in the uncomfortable, disquieting, uneasy parts of life – stewing in them, feeling whatever there is to feel, understanding myself through them – instead of running away by throwing myself into things I could control in one form or other. (Cue: perfectionism; pride in the self-proclaimed & publicly-supported ‘busy bee’ label; achievement addiction; title-chasing; …etc. Standing still slaps all of these things in the face.)

Life has many ways of testing a person’s will, either by having nothing happen at all or by having everything happen all at once.

Mr. Coelho: so poignant, so right. We will always be tested. In one form or other, in at least one of multiple given aspects of life we are striving to ‘attain’ or ‘master’ – we will always be tested. My thoughts and actions have finally synced in with the “so why not use challenges as sharpeners?” mentality.

My inner No. 2’s are being whipped into fine-tipped shape, one struggle at a time. Bring on the scantron, life.

Humbly, ~ H

The big dots of the post

The “nothing happening” state is a quiet battle, every bit as difficult as its “everything happening” counterpart.
Facing both – living, breathing, feeling them – that’s what the big kids do.
Reveling in the struggle, not running from it, makes the most room for learning.

Which do you find more tests your will – the “nothing” or the “everything” scenario? What do you do to make it great for you regardless?

Related:
• A few weeks ago, I was feeling so guilty about falling off the “post regularly on Sundays” routine-wagon. It’s funny how things shift when I manage my expectations – the fact that I’m posting on a Monday instead this week barely bothers me (perfectionist H is still in here somewhere, after all). The difference? I made a very conscious decision about where my time was going this past week and weekend, and decided not to post on Sunday. It was an intentional, above the line choice. #happy

• I’m big on inputs. What you surround yourself with shapes you – some things obviously, others covertly (sometimes insidiously). Whatever the case, I think we’re fooling ourselves if we say that our environment does not have a very appreciable impact on who we are and what we do. (Try it yourself. If you usually hang around a low-key, home-body group of friends, get yourself into a high-energy, always-getting-out-there-and-doing-things crowd – or vice versa – for 3 weeks. Observe your behaviour, where your energy goes, etc. Changes? How so?) This quote is one of my daily visual inputs. What are yours?

• “The grass isn’t always greener on the other side, it’s green where you water it.”

“Less talk, more walk”: on ninja habits & gratitude.

A visual aggregate of 365 days’ worth of reflection, using Wordle.

It’s Canadian Thanksgiving tomorrow! In the spirit of celebration, I dug through my personal archives for a very precious (and unintentional – hence the “ninja”) project, that became a defining piece of me for a time. The below is based on the daily practice from January 26, 2011 – January 26, 2012 (365 day span) that I kept up on Facebook. Each day, I would physically type out something positive that happened / something that I was grateful for, always starting with “Today I…”.

I have, since writing this back in February, deliberately moved away this daily habit (so some things make more sense in past tense). Regardless, most of the principles still hold to the present day.  So without further ado…

~~~

After crossing the threshold of one full year of daily updates, the data nerd in me got a bit curious. So, I decided to get *really* meta on this reflection thing. Here are some of the results, and the background info.

Top 5 “Today I…”
1.  … remembered that you don’t have to wait ’till something is gone to know what you’ve got. Realize. (July 31)
2.  … caught myself saying “I can’t”. So I stopped, and instead used “I can” & “I will”. Boom. (September 26)
3.  … left behind family, friends and the fully familiar. Adventure time. (November 19)
4.  … rediscovered the danger of a single story, and the liberation that comes with the discovery of multiple perspectives. (November 24)
5.  … experienced an inexplicable feeling of excitement, calm, gratitude, possibility… all mixed in to one. One thought that crossed my mind earlier about sums it up: “This is my life right now. And I absolutely love it.” (August 10)

BACKGROUND
“My Daily” (as I refer to it my head) is my conscious effort to focus on one positive aspect unique to the day that just came to a close.  WHY?

It makes me pause. There are days so jam packed that it’s tough to stop and really think, if even for just a few minutes. My Daily forces me out of the now, to somewhat meaningfully reflect on my past 24 hours.

It keeps me on my toes. Any man who knows a thing knows he knows not a damn thing at all” – K’naan Sometimes something happens early in the day that I think “this is it – what I’ll post about tonight”. But life happens, and reminds me to never, ever assume. The beautiful unpredictability of life is that, good or bad, unexpected can always happen: something that means more to you than what has already passed. There’s no real way to anticipate that, but being aware of this is huge for me; my Daily is a tangible reminder of this.

It is usually not easy. These posts are always authentic. Making shit up would just be me lying to myself and anyone reading.

the good Some days so many good things happen that I don’t know what to post about – that builds a ridiculous amount of gratitude. Most days, it just reminds me how obscenely lucky I am in the grand scheme of things, and that I’ve really got nothing to complain about. Instant whine-stopper.

the bad Just like anyone else, I have those days. One shitty thing happens after another / you’re hit with so much apathy that you can’t get yourself to accomplish anything / you’re hurting / tears are involved, etc. They’re tough, because sometimes it’s hard to pick myself out of that. But pain, loss, anger, frustration… just parts of life. I find confronting them / acknowledging them (or even ignoring them for the time being) and focusing on one positive thing pretty empowering.

the ninja Then there are the ‘whatever’ days. The ones that leave me feeling like “nothing really happened today. I just went through the whole day with nothing remarkable (good or bad) to differentiate it from any other.” Those days are probably the toughest; I really need to dig deep to find something to authentically post about. No matter how long it takes (once it took me a good hour+) I don’t stop ‘till I get it done.

It is a foundation. This exercise is a now-solidified routine in my life. I’ve since been able to use it as a springboard & reminder for other habits. Baby steps.

BENEFITS OF ‘GOING PUBLIC’:

1. I have an ulterior intrinsic motivation to post. Not only for the process itself, but the tangible product – a post a day; something to show the world. Also, it’s measurable data. Nerd attack.

2. Anything I’ve done that I viewed in the “just for me” silo has never stuck. Eventually something more social (work, school, family, relationships) would take precedent. Self-development on Solo Island isn’t for everyone. I now feel like My Daily goes beyond just me — but I’m still getting what I want & need out of it every day. Win-win.

3. It’s hard for me to consistently stay accountable to myself long-term without some external influence sprinkled in the mix time & again. Public posting was an easy way for me to mitigate that – even if nobody actually reads it, the mere possibility of others consuming what I put out there was enough for me to feel supported & accountable.

4. It’s become one of my ‘things’ now. I’ve always been pretty hyper-aware of others’ perceptions of me. Since I can’t be sure how many people (if any) are following the post on any given day, a neglected post could be very visibly missing. Image maintenance is a powerful thing, and I’m basically harnessing my need to be viewed a certain way into something that benefits me. Plus looking back at this consistency now makes me one happy clam.

5. My posts have become a catalyst. Whether a specific post or the “Daily” habit itself – good conversations with friends & acquaintances have come of it. Talking about pop culture, memes, food, politics, world issues… it’s all well and good. But oftentimes, more meaningful conversations for me involve the driving forces behind everything – aspirations, ambitions, hopes, fears, challenges… the ‘deeper stuff’. Everything stems from the human condition. I love it, and will happily talk about it ‘till the cows come home. This makes it that much more likely.

6. My ‘practice of pause’ has made others do the same. That’s why I keep most of my posts “horoscope-like” vague; too specific to me, and they lose personal relevance to someone else. Some of the most memorable conversations I’ve had stemming from posts involved someone’s radically different interpretation of my post as applied to their own life. If by publicly sharing something I do anyways can impact someone else positively, even remotely, then a thousand times yes. It’s pretty selfish of me to be honest – makes my life more interesting.

…I did this first and foremost for my own benefit, and honestly didn’t intentionally start it to be a long-standing habit.

POSTS
Total daily postings missed: 8
Total status ‘likes’: 464
Total status comments (not including my own): 151

PEOPLE
Unique individuals interacting: 139
Impacted enough to use this as a model for own daily reflection: 2
Things I hope to get out of this: Questions. Challenges. Conversations.

~~~

As is the unfortunate reality in many of our comfortable & privileged lives, we tend to focus on the gaps & what is missing rather than reveling in what we have – and it inevitably takes something jarring or tragic to focus on what really matters. My catalyst was a health-scare with my dad – a close-to-home reminder of the fragility of life. It started me on a different mental path, which grew into a daily gratitude practice. I can honestly say it changed my life.

Happy Thanksgiving, all!

Humbly (and with thanks), ~ H

P.S. The above was edited/added to for length & relevance. If you’re curious enough for the full, unedited version as I wrote it in February 1, 2012, it lives here.
P.P.S. It’s kind of funny, looking back, to realize that I was blogging before I gave myself permission to be a full-on blogger. Ain’t that always the way?

The big dots of the post

Constant practice will make a truly lasting impact. Ergo, be aware of what you constantly do.
Figure out your own strengths & weaknesses, and exploit the heck out of that knowledge to get what you want.
There is always, always, always something to be thankful for… It’s almost intoxicating.
Sometimes doing something for yourself is doing something for others, too. You can never quite know who’s watching, or how far your ripple will reach.
 Habitual practice over one-time shows. Every time.

How do you practice gratitude? 

Related:
Past behaviour is the best predictor of future performance (on behaviour-based interviewing)