Rituals

Daily practices for an extraordinary quality of life

The Most Important 15 Minutes of Your Life

In my practice of the martial art of Aikido, I learned a valuable lesson the other day that applies to all areas of life.  If applied, this one lesson might be the single most important principle for changing one’s life- in any area- financial, career, relationships, emotional, spiritual and physical. It is a universal law and people tend to do the opposite and therefore get adverse results in their life. 

About a week and a half ago, there were a bunch of white belts and few black belts training together. it was towards the end of a two hour training session. We thought we had really learned this particular defense. Hell, we had been working on it for almost two hours at that point. Then out of nowhere, the Sensei stops our practice and calls our attention to a very specific focal point. I’m paraphrasing, but he said something like, “what seems to be getting overlooked here is the opening movement. If you don’t take the attackers balance on the opening movement- the rest of the defense is near worthless. A great opening move, sets up for an easy throw and pin. However, without taking your opponents balance, you will never submit your opponent- I don’t care how good you are at the throw and the pin.” 

When I first heard it, it seemed simple and boring instruction. It was just about to come in one ear and go through the other, before I caught myself being lazy. Then I asked myself a better question: “What applications could this have for life?”- because I have found that Aikido is truly a metaphor for life. I have seen that all the lessons I have learned on the mat carry over to life, and this lesson was no different.

Aikido defenses typically have 3 or 4 steps in them. The opening movement a lot of the times is about “getting off the line of attack” (in order to protect yourself) as well as trying to take your opponent’s balance so they are now at a disadvantage. There is nothing sexy or exciting about the opening movement- EVER. The rest of the defense is where the exciting Steven Seagal stuff occurs. But if you don’t set your opponent up in the first step, the later (and more thrilling) movements won’t work. The opening movement sets the tone for the rest of the progression. You’ll commonly hear people say, “it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish”. Maybe  so, but the greater truth may be that a poor start sets such a terrible tone that the rest of the process often times will never fully recover. And hell, why would you want to live by that motto in the first place- it’s setting you up for a life where you’re constantly digging yourself out of holes. 

Have you ever woken up on the wrong side of the bed and that bad mood just carried on with you for the rest of the day? It was like you were doomed to have a bad day. Everything seemed to go wrong. I’m sure you’ve had days where the opposite was true too. This case of one’s mood and emotions is great place to start when talking about setting the tone. Opening your day with a practice that gets you physically, emotionally and mentally prepared to face challenges optimistically, feel confident and assertive and overall be in a positive state is crucial. Do you think a pro football player is going to show up to the Superbowl and hope to feel good? Hell no, he is going to get himself into a resource state irrespective of the circumstances and external factors. It could be -20 degrees and snowing, his dog could have died, he could have lost his starting job to a rookie. It doesn’t matter, a true professional brings the state of certainty to the field. He isn’t there looking for external feedback to tell him how he should feel or how he should play. 

With this I recommend implementing a ritual that gets you into a peak emotional state during the first 15 minutes of your day. Maybe it is going to the gym. Maybe it is jumping on a mini trampoline while listening to your favorite music. It could a could shower or meditation. Whatever gets you into a positive emotional state and gets your body moving is going to be beneficial. It’s amazing the carryover that will take place throughout the rest of the day. Momentum is an underrated characteristic within human beings. Why is it that we are blind to the fact that the littlest shit always builds to create bigger shit, an eventually monumental shit in our lives. Jim Rohn always said, 

 

“Failure is not a single, cataclysmic event. You don’t fail overnight. Instead, failure is a few errors in judgement, repeated every day.”

These tiny errors in judgment that get repeated everyday typically stem from our unconscious emotional patterns that habituate in our daily lives. We wake up tired and hit our snooze button 3 or 4 times. This passivity then creeps into every aspect of our existence and compounds into the failure we inevitably face. But if you change the opening movement and consciously choose to set the tone differently each and every day- it’s amazing the kind of momentum that will start to build. You will start to feel better, more energized, more assertive, more confident. These qualities will start to reward you in your work, your relationships, your finances and all aspects of your life. Pretty soon you will start to believe yourself to be a winner, a champion and someone who is a master of their own experience. It is at this point where the Tony Robbins, Richard Branson’s and Marc Benioffs built their success. They became a success through these small rituals, which ultimately created their character. The outside world loves to view their success in terms of their public accomplishments. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Stephen Covey avowed this by saying,

“Private victories always precede public victories”.

The first 15 minutes of your day is the most important. It will set the tone. If you enter your day from a place of uncertainty and passivity, are you just hoping that something will click with you and you’ll all the sudden get some pep in your step? No it’s time to consciously create the life you want. And you do this by a simple ritual in the first 15 minutes after you wake up in the morning. I suggest doing something that radically activates your physiology. Because the quickest and the most surefire way to change the way you feel is to radically shift the way you move your body. The power of physiology is a topic that has been discussed in past posts and will be discussed in the future. It is a crucial linchpin to mastering your emotional life. 

Here are some possible rituals to start your day with:

-Jump on a mini trampoline (rebounder) while listening to some music (you could turn this into a formal anchoring practice with a vision board/mandala). {This has other healthy effects, as it pumps the lymph in our bodies}

-Go for a run or bike

-Take a cold shower or contrast shower (hot/cold- back and forth)

-Yoga

-Martial Arts

-Lift weights

-Go for a brisk walk

The Ultimate Guide to the Money, the House, the Cars … oh and the Babe (and why this is not what really we’re after)

I was talking to some of my friends who are very success oriented. They attended top 20 colleges and have well paying jobs in finance, law and consulting in New York City. They’re undoubtedly in the top 1% of 25-30 year olds in the U.S in terms of intelligence, income and job prestige. They’re hungry. They want more money, more toys and more prestige. In our discussion of goals and desires, it’s pretty clear cut. They want to earn several millions of dollars, have a mansion on Long Island and a second home somewhere south by the beach. They also want a smoking hot wife, a country club membership and a couple exotic cars. Who doesn’t want this incredible life? If you were to poll America and ask them the question if they had 3 wishes and there was no limit to those wishes (with the exception of improbabilities such as immortality, flying, etc), I’m sure much of America would use their three wishes on exactly this dream lifestyle. The money, the houses, the cars and the babe. It’s what Hollywood and 5th Avenue is selling us too.  This all sounds and looks incredible. Just imagine yourself with all of it, it feels euphoric.

Self help and personal development love to prey on peoples desires and promise them this perfect life with all the toys.  The greatest irony of all is that we’re really not after these “things” in and of themselves. If you go a step deeper, and you ask yourself the better question of, “What are these things going to give me?” It cuts straight to the chase and gets at the heart of the matter. What these things give us is a state change. A new emotional state. Whether it be peace, joy, love, significance, happiness, passion, excitement, or all of them together, all we’re really after is an emotional state. There is something known as the hedonic adaptation or the hedonic treadmill. It is the observed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes.  This is the lottery winner effect in action. Lottery winners have a highly elevated level of happiness and joy for some finite period of time after winning the lottery, however they soon return to their old baseline level of happiness and life satisfaction. And ironically, they all seem to blow their winnings too. I am not trying to persuade you that the money, the cars, the home and the girl is not worth having, yet I do know that if you chase those things in and of themselves- you will be miserably disappointed once you get them. That is why you see a lot of billionaires chasing their second billion. It’s the hamster wheel. They’re chasing an emotional state that is dressed up in the costume of some external achievement (money, status, possessions, etc.) They are achieving to be happy, rather than happily achieving. You don’t have to get on the hamster wheel of success and waste your next 40 or 50 years slaving away in misery with the hopes of someday having the dream life and being able to finally relax. Hell, why would you want to spend the peak years of your physical existence doing something you hate? For what? To make all this money- so you can buy things you don’t need so that you can impress people you don’t even like? It is irrational logic, that goes over the head of some of the worlds most intelligent people. The ego in our country has grown to preposterous proportions. Hell even lower class people are starting to prescribe to the same lifestyle and they don’t have the money. Dave Ramsey said it best, “We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.”  We are literally chasing things thinking that they are going to deliver on our happiness. They might make us happy for a day, a week or maybe, just maybe a year. But after that, the feelings will be gone. What we’re really after is a set of emotions. For some people it might be love, joy and peace. For others it might be adventure, excitement and passion. That all comes down to your values. In this discussion, we’ll get to the bottom of how you can be massively successful and feel good each and every step along the way. 

The model in place from our materialistic society is achieve and you will be happy. It is inherently a do–>have—>be model. What the more effective and enjoyable model that is available to you is happily achieve or BE–>DO–>HAVE. Since the thing we’re mainly after is the emotional state, why not just experience the emotional state right now? In this moment? Then you’ll be feeling good and the irony is that it turns your probability of actually achieving the success, status and possessions from a long shot to a pretty good probability (at least a coin flip, if not greater). 

The current culture lives in the trance that in order to feel good and have positive emotions, I must have something or do something. This is the core belief that must be broken and then applied to your life. The better belief, held by the most successful and fulfilled individuals on this earth is “I don’t need a reason to feel good, I can feel good for no good reason”. They don’t look for the external environment to give them the emotion they are looking for. They bring that emotion to the environment, and therefore impact whatever environment they enter- whether it be the field, the boardroom or the learjet.  

This one distinction is the difference between a life of slavery and a life of freedom. The ability to internally manage your emotional state and create the emotional states you desire within yourself- independent of the feedback you may be getting from the outside environment. 

Now it is time to see what emotional states you’re really after. You have listed out all of your goals- which are probably resemble possessions, relationships, accomplishments- things external to yourself. Now go through each item and ask yourself the question- what emotion is this thing going to give me? Maybe it’s peace, maybe it’s a sense of significance, maybe it’s love. It might be multiple for each goal. Whatever it is, write down the emotional state next to the goal.  

Now you should have a list of several emotional states. This is really what you are after. These are the emotions- that if you lived in on a consistent basis- you would be incredibly happy and fulfilled AND not to mention, you’d be incredibly successful too. So successful that you would be able to have all the prestige, possessions and external goals on your list. 

Picture what your life would look like if you lived in all those emotions each and every day. The peace, love, passion, joy, humor, excitement, curiosity, etc. What would your life look like? What would be the quality of your relationships? How much fun would that be? 

Most people then take the logical step- if only I can condition myself to live in those emotions 24/7- then I can have the “perfect” life and really get everything I want. I’ve come to this conclusion on several occasions. The issue with making this jump is that it is kind of like trying to eat a 30 pound turkey in one big bite. It’s not attainable that way. It is going to have be broken up into smaller chunks. And these chunks will have to take the form of rituals.

These rituals are nothing more than a priming mechanisms that will get you into these “positive” and desired emotional states on a daily basis. And the more you get into these states- the easier you will access them in the future. Studies on neuro-plasticity (Rick Hanson is one guy who studies this) show that neurons that fire together- wire together. The emotions we spend most of our time living in literally form easily accessibly neural pathways in our brain. Most people have a dirt road to happiness and highway to negativity. Through these rituals, we are rewiring our neurology and creating a super highway to happiness, joy, fun, love, etc.

And then the compound effect starts to come into play. The first month or two you might not notice a huge improvement in your state. However the longer you stick with the practices, the positive emotions begin to compound and generalize to your entire experience in the world. Imagine where you’ll be after 1 year, 3 years, 5 years of such daily practice. It is just like going into the gym and lifting weights. When you go in there every day, it is no longer difficult to lift heavy weights- it gets easier and easier. What we’re doing here is building emotional muscle. 

Now for the practice. Here is one simple practice that you can begin with, and if you stick with it every day for weeks and months- your life will start to shift. You will no longer be a slave to what happens out in the world- you are mastering your own internal state. 

Select an emotion you want to consistently live in. Maybe it’s an overall sense of joy and cheerfulness. Select two 30 minute time periods in your everyday that you will work on this. Maybe it is 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the afternoon/evening. Now you can live your normal life and your normal schedule- you don’t have to go anywhere different or do anything different. All you have to do is commit yourself that for these two 30 minute time periods- you are going to focus on living in a state of joy and cheerfulness regardless of what happens around you. Take it on as a challenge. Imagine that there is no external world around you that can steal your bliss. Picture yourself with an invisible force-field around your body that keeps in all the joy and shields all the negativity. If you can successfully spend a total of 1 hour (these two 30 minute sessions) in that state of unyielding joy and cheerfulness- you will be amazed how it can transform your life. You no longer will be a slave to the erroneous beliefs that “X happened, so now I feel Y”.  This is the first step to self mastery and self actualization. Treat these sessions like workouts. Have fun with them and commit yourself to them. 

Then once you have a series of these successes behind you, it will start to bleed into your identity. You will see yourself as a joyous person. And this is where life starts to get fun. You begin to have complete 100% access to the control panel of your emotions. You show up to the meeting, the hot date or game and now have the absolute tools to kill it. You can have the money, the cars, the house and the girl- I’m not trying to dissuade you from that. What I am providing you with is the best strategy to get all that stuff and be happy doing it. There’s no need to slave over it. Hell, it’s not the money that’s going to make you happy anyways- It’s who you will become that makes you happy and fulfilled. And by mastering your inner emotional world and your internal communication- you will be very satisfied with the person you have become. This is what self actualization is all about. Plain and simple. Remember- State and Rituals, State and Rituals. Repetition is the mother of skill.  

 

A Life Worth Living is a Life Worth Recording: The Power of Journaling

It is said that we think somewhere in the vicinity of 50,000 to 100,000 thoughts a day. Some of these thoughts might be meaningless, others might be a million dollar idea or distinction.  Have you ever come up with some groundbreaking or innovative idea- maybe a business idea, an invention or some concept you thought could change the world?  And maybe you thought about it for a brief moment and then you let it pass by and you failed to take the action that would set it into motion?  And then one day while you’re watching tv or browsing the internet- that same idea you came up with a few years earlier is now the next big thing and is an incredible success?   Undoubtedly those who take massive action have a significantly greater probability of success than those who do not. However, at a closer look, there is an intermediate step in this process of creation that probably separates the truly innovative (and successful) entrepreneurs from John Doe who comes up with the same creative idea in his head.  It is their critical thinking and problem solving abilities.  How does one cultivate such an ability?  For starters- a burning curiosity, a devoted commitment to learning, strategic thinking and intense self reflection.  An invaluable way to begin to cultivate all three invaluable skills is through journaling. You look at some highly successful people like Richard Branson, Tony Robbins, Jim Rohn, Darren Hardy, etc. and they all are highly dedicated to the process of journaling. As Jim Rohn once said, “a life worth living is a life worth recording”.

What is the value of journaling?

Since our brains are being inundated with an abundance of information and other external stimuli, a journal is the very mechanism that can help us to straighten out our priorities, thoughts and emotions. It also provides an effective avenue to chart one’s progress, successes, areas of improvement and future goals. The great thing about writing (especially when it relates to ourselves) is that it tends to make us look at our lives in a more objective manner. By writing and reflecting about ourselves we can separate from our egos and look at ourselves from an independent, 3rd party’s point of view.

Writing also takes something (a thought or idea) that is intangible and make it concrete- literally, you are taking an abstract concept and through the stroke of a pen, it is physically real and tangible- engraved on a sheet of paper. When we write we are also sharpening our strategic thinking, logic and reasoning abilities. Writing can also help you let go of an unhealthy obsession, attachment or resistance to something.  Yes, journaling is an incredibly therapeutic activity. Next time your frustrated, fuming or raging over something or someone- write about it or write that person a letter explaining how you feel. Then let it be and look at it the next day or a week.. You will likely see how irrational and overly emotional you were probably being in that moment. Heck, it might even give you a good laugh.  Hindsight tends to have that effect. If all you did in your journal was express your most intense emotions and events in your life- the benefit would be unbelievable. Your internal communication with yourself and your inner emotional world would be completely different after 6 months of this simple activity.

Journals are great for listing your daily rituals and holding yourself accountable for living these practices. This exercise is great because instead of evaluating your progress toward a goal based on whether or not you achieved the grand plan- you are able celebrate your small successes of completing all 4 or 5 of your daily rituals in that given day. And after a year of doing that- imagine where you’ll be.

Journaling is also a great tool for breaking the habit of being yourself and gaining a greater degree of self awareness. If you log everything you do in a week (and by this I mean down to the very minute), you can see where you are spending your time. You’d be surprised how much of your time is spent in dead end activities and unnecessary endeavors that aren’t progressing you toward your ultimate vision.  I know for me I haven’t turned on the tv in the past 9 months and the reward has been incredible. To take this one step further- log all your emotional states you live in during that given week. Really see where you live emotionally. This is a great indicator of how effective you are in living your life. Because our quality of life is directly determined by the quality of emotions we experience on a minute to minute and day to day basis. If you’re not spending the vast majority of your time in emotional states that empower you and move you toward your ultimate destiny then you have to make a massive change in your life (which I’ve probably detailed in past posts or will detail in the future).

So what you should you be writing in your journal?

1. Everyday outline your daily practices (musts) and other clerical and odd job tasks you need to complete for that day. Get into the habit of checking off every item from that list throughout the day when you complete it. This builds serious psychological muscle. When you do this you are teaching your brain- I GET SHIT DONE! and it also massively shifts your identity from a procrastinator to someone who takes massive action. You can list these practices the night before.

2. Finish each day with a set period of time 15-30 minutes of journaling. In this time I like to reflect on the day and answer specific questions. Here is a list of questions that are really good to not only create some closure for your day but also really highlight some key emotional states and the progress you have made (to shut up your ego who is always looking for bigger/better/more):

1.What have I given today? How have I been loving today?

2. What bad habit did I break today? How did I break the habit of being myself today?

3. How am I better? What did I do today that improved myself?

4. How can I improve in the future? Where did I not be my best self?

5. Were my intentions and actions congruent and just today? Am I living consistent with the man I want to become?

6. What did I learn today? (hopefully this is an extensive answer) What do I want to learn/study tomorrow?

7. Who did I touch today?

8. What is the life I want and demand of myself? How did I work toward that today? How did I live that life today?

9. What emotions did I live in today? What emotions must I live in tomorrow?

10. What fear did I face today and stand up to?

11. What did I do today to contribute to my happiness?

12. What detracted from my happiness today?

13. What problems did I solve today? How was I resourceful?

14. What do I want/need to work on in the future? tomorrow?

15. What was funny about today? What made me laugh today?

16. What am I truly grateful for in my life?

17. What is the one little thing that if I change/do tomorrow could transform the quality of my life and redirect me in a completely new direction?

3. Track your long term progress. Reflect back often and see the incredible progress you made over the past year or the last 6 months- really look at how far you’ve come. So many times we only focus on how far away we are from where we want to be and forget about how far we’ve come. This is a recipe for disaster because you are letting your ego win and training your brain to always be unsatisfied- so that if someday you ultimately do achieve that goal- you will be unfulfilled, looking on toward the next goal and likely ask yourself the question “Is this all there is?” This gets back to the whole gratitude piece, but if you are constantly focused on not being cool with where you are in the process, and needing results- you will never actually get the results. I know this sounds weird, but in order to get to where you want to go, you must be comfortable with where you currently are first.