Leap, and the net will appear

Much has been written about ‘the comfort zone’, and how staying there is depriving you of the opportunity to experience real happiness. This is about taking that all important leap…

It’s ironic that we refer to that place of stasis as the comfort zone, for comfort is not what it brings. Comfort is an illusion. You don’t have to spend much time in the comfort zone before feelings of angst, discontent, agitation and even depression will get hold of you. And here’s the thing, you should welcome those feelings. You should welcome them with open arms and recognize them for what they are – it’s grace. Now, the word grace is associated with religion. You don’t have to be religious to embrace grace. All you need to do is to heed the call to action. When I speak about grace I refer to that inexplicable ‘voice’ that finds you when you’re down in the dumps. That voice that makes you realize that where you are is not going to cut it and that you need to do something to bring about change. Some people never hear that voice, those that do are the lucky ones. You don’t find grace, grace finds you.

Few people are found by grace and even fewer act on it. We have a natural resistance to grace. In many instances that resistance to act is brought about by fear. In most, it’s brought about by laziness. To act requires effort and since we’re programmed to follow the path of least resistance, we shy away from effort. M. Scott Peck writes in ‘The Road Less Travelled‘ that love is the extension of oneself for the sake of spiritual growth (of another). To extend oneself requires effort. Few people are willing to expend the effort required to maintain a relationship. Hence the high divorce rate. Same with grace. Grace is the realization that something’s wrong and that something needs to be done to change it. Few people are willing to do that something.

But for those who do heed the call to action, doors are opened. Leap and the net will appear. Julia Cameron, in ‘The Artist’s Way’ refers to this phenomena as synchronicity: We change and the universe furthers and expands that change. This domino effect cannot be brought about without us doing something first. It is my experience that when we move out (out of the comfort zone) on faith and into taking action, things (mysteriously) start to fall in place. Leap and the net will appear. It’s like opening the gate at the top of a field irrigation system. Once we remove the blocks, the flow moves in.

Heeding the call to action not only sets in motion a series of events that conspires to fuel your journey, it also changes your mood. Taking action, even if it’s just getting out of bed when the alarm sounds, drives changes in your emotional state – not the other way around. Mood follows action. On so many mornings I didn’t felt like doing the workout. I heard the alarm (and the voice for that matter), I knew that getting up and getting on with it is the right thing to do but I didn’t feel like it. I was not in the mood. Guess what, your mood’s not going to change while lying in bed. It’ll change after you get up and do the workout. Mood follows action. Don’t let how you feel about doing something stop you from doing what needs to be done. Feelings are misleading. Most of the time they’re nothing but lies that all too often get in the way, obscure our clarity and prevent us from moving forward.

Simply thinking about change won’t bring about change. You can’t afford to wait for ‘feeling in the mood’ to change behavior. It won’t happen. Instead, silence the resistance to grace, don’t indulge your low-grade emotional state and just take action. Because what matters is what you do, not how you feel about it. Take the leap, the net will appear.

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Finding Balance

Finding balance – a never-ending quest

I’ve always struggled with it and in a quest to figure out why, I decided to get to know myself better. Eckhart Tolle once remarked “It is my opinion that true change cannot happen – whether for an individual or for society – without addressing the fundamental question of ‘Who am I?’ at the deepest level.” And so I enrolled for a Life Coaching course.

And sure enough, the course starts with a series of lectures and exercises aimed at not only getting to know yourself better, but also to uncover the many limiting beliefs we’re all clinging onto. Once we know who we are, we can then begin to understand why we react to situations and challenges in the way we do. It then becomes easier to identify the pitfalls and the potential situations where we’re prone to slip up. Most of us tend to beat ourselves down. It is a common occurrence. We are bombarded with images and ideas of who and what we’re supposed to be, to such an extent that we cannot come to an alternative conclusion, other than to think we’re not good enough. Or we’re not making it. It’s like a circus elephant being tied to a peg in the ground. From being a little elephant it was made to belief that it can’t move the peg, and guess what, even when fully grown it doesn’t even try to move it because it believes it can’t. (That’s a topic that deserves a more in-depth discussion, so more on that later).

After getting a better grip on who we are, and what it is we should be believing about ourselves, we are then ready to start identifying the areas in our lives that are not in balance. Areas that need our attention. Not all of us will necessarily have the same ‘life areas’, but for most of us these 7 areas will cover all the bases:

  1. Social and Family relationships;
  2. Career and Education aspirations;
  3. Money and Personal Finances;
  4. Health (Fitness), Recreation and Leisure;
  5. Life’s Routine responsibilities;
  6. Contribution and Giving Back to society;
  7. Mental, Emotional and Spiritual Health.

I won’t bore you with what follows next, but the process of identifying that which needs attention, and then taking action to rectify or improve that area is a rewarding one. One that taught me a couple of things:

  • Everything is everything. Say you identified Life Area 7 (mental, emotional and spiritual health) as the area of priority, the minute you start ‘working’ on that area, you’ll notice improvement in all the other areas as well. An improvement in one area, is necessarily an improvement in all the others. An improvement in your mental and emotional health will lead to better decision making. This will positively impact on your relationships, career aspirations and personal finance. An improvement in health and fitness will see an improvement in how you handle life’s routine responsibilities, etc. etc. Never underestimate the impact and value of even the tiniest of improvements.
  • Balance is not a static state. Guard against complacency. As you continue to grow and see results, the impulse to pause will creep up. Yes, take a minute to reflect and pause to celebrate the small victories but don’t be lulled into the illusion that ‘you have arrived’ or that ‘you have made it’. Balance is a precarious thing. Our lives are constantly changing, our circumstances change, the challenges we face change, so no, there’s no ‘finish line’. Obtaining and maintaining balance is a constant endeavor. As long as you’re living, there’s work to be done. There will never come a time when all your life’s areas are 100% aligned with the visions you’ve set for each. Commit to a life-time of learning and growing. You’re either growing or you’re regressing. Don’t let the impulse to coast interrupt your momentum.
  • Embrace the process. Good things take time. Great things take even longer. We live in a world where we want what we want when we want it. Instant gratification dictates our actions, and in the process it wrecks our dreams. Success takes time. Stop resisting this truth and embrace the struggle. Learn from your mistakes. The true value lies not in the medal hung around your neck but in the long, hard path trodden to accomplish it. Let go of the end game. Fall in love with the process. Live in the moment. Show up for life with enthusiasm and commitment. Like I said, there is no finish line, there’s only the journey, so stay in it, be patient. It’s the journey that gives your path meaning.
  • And lastly, don’t confuse balance with mediocrity. I’ve made that mistake, it is counter-productive and even destructive. Being balanced does not mean you can’t give a 100% in each and every area of your life. Yes, you can set lofty fitness goals and still be a good dad at the same time. Yes, you can have a successful career and still be a loving husband at the same time. You can contribute towards society and still find time for personal growth. The closest you’ll ever feel to ‘having arrived’ is when you lead a balanced life.

Life is a long and often complicated walk and each one of us has our own story to tell. The obstacles encountered along the way can either trip you up or launch you onto a better path. You decide. We are capable of so much more than what we believe. Change is not only possible, it’s our mandate. It is never too late to change. If a new path is what you’re looking for, keep on looking, you’ll find it and when you do, stay patient, stay consistent and watch small steps turn into giant leaps – leaps towards becoming who you really are – who you were meant to be.

Six Months In – A Great Time for Reflection

At the start of every year I inevitably set some goals or at least do some planning in terms of what I’d like to achieve for the year. This year was no different. In fact I posted on this blog about two very specific goals for the year and elaborated on only one of them.

It’s exactly 6 months to the day since I started training in earnest for reaching one of my two goals – finishing an Ironman Triathlon. It’s been a steep learning curve and at times I experienced real frustration and even fear. Frustration and fear to such an extent that I genuinely doubted whether my goal was a realistic one or not. The fear and doubt all relates to the swimming part of the triathlon. Prior to the 14th of January 2019 I have never swam the length of a pool.

Looking back at my training log, I recorded 325 meters of swimming on that very first day. It took me more than 50 minutes to complete that distance and not once throughout that session did I swim further than 25 meters without stopping to gasp for air. The very next day I recorded 450 meters (all still done in singles) in 42 minutes and two days later, 500 meters in 35 minutes. On the 7th of July I recorded an unbroken swim of 2000 meters in 41 minutes. That’s not quick, in fact is downright slow but compared to that first swim it’s a vast improvement.

The training sessions between that first swim and the effort of the 7th of July was characterized by immense frustration and constant doubt. Very seldom did I return from the pool feeling that I’ve made progress. For the most part I believed I was not making any progress whatsoever – because it didn’t feel as if I were making progress. And that’s why it is necessary to every now and then, just to pause and to reflect. To stand still and to take stock – because feelings are misleading.

Very often people, as the year drags on, gets derailed. They loose focus and enthusiasm and it is mainly because they neglect to reflect. We constantly need to remind ourselves why we’re doing what we’re doing. We constantly need to refresh, adjust and refocus. Reflection affords us the opportunity to not only remind ourselves of our goals and the reasons for chasing them, it also provides us with a true measure of progress. A measure not influenced by feelings or how we stack up against others. Using others as a yardstick will inevitably lead to disappointment. Similarly will conclusions based on feelings lead to despair.

Measuring progress should be based on the truth and factors within our control. The truth is that I have no reason to doubt myself. The truth is that I made progress and that with every passing day I’m edging ever closer towards reaching my goal. The truth is the perfect antidote for expelling fear and doubt – and a sure way to realize this is to take time to reflect.

And the same holds true for life in general. Live a life based on feelings and you’ll be up and down like a yo-yo. You’ll be unbalanced and inconsistent. Live your life based on the truth about who you actually are and you’ll become balanced and grounded. You’ll still have your ups and downs but you’ll no longer be led by your emotions. Your security will be the fact that you’re grounded in who you are which means that for others you’ll become mature, consistent, decisive and strong. Only way to discover who you really are, is to pause and to reflect. Ask yourself from which perspective do you live. Feelings or Facts? Ask yourself what changes you can make to live your life more consistently based on the truth of who you actually are?

Making time to reflect might just become the best decision you’ve ever made towards altering the course of your life from being an up and down roller-coaster ride to being on a steady path in pursuit of your goals.

Making the case for Going Green

I’ve recently picked up a book by Rich Roll, called Finding Ultra, and it provided me with the push I needed to explore what a plant-based diet has to offer. In the past I’ve experimented with a Paleo diet and for some time I followed the strict version thereof with good results. Before delving into the ‘why’ of following a plant-based diet I’ll share a few thoughts on dieting in general.

The first is that no two bodies are the same and what works for one is not necessarily going to work for the other. The second is that you should not blindly listen to or follow any health guru or expert. Do your own research, experiment with different food types and protocols. Listen to your body, it’ll tell what works and what not.

Then be clear on the ‘why’. If you can’t convince yourself why you’re doing something, you’ll give up on it. That simple. If you are going to make such a change you are guaranteed to be met with resistance and even ridicule. Funny how all your junk food eating friends (and even family) suddenly become nutritional experts the minute you mention you’re going vegan…

I have three big reasons for experimenting with ‘going green’. The first is that I’m constantly seeking to maximize my athletic performance, stave off the onset of illness and disease, and ensuring optimum long-term wellness for myself and my family. It’s about living healthy for me. I’m a long way off from finding ‘my ultra’ but I’m trying to and at the moment, relishing the challenge.

The second reason is about changing habits. I have many bad habits that I’d like to get rid off and if I can succeed in changing the way I eat, it’ll give me the confidence and courage to change the way I live. Altering habits (eliminating the bad ones) is the first step in creating a sustainable and stable foundation for long-term wellness. It’s about becoming better (not only fitter).

The third is that by going green I contribute to making this planet better. And without boring you with statistics and data, chew on this: The population is growing and we’re not doing a very good job in feeding all the mouths. Our methods are not sustainable and they’re seriously harming Mother Earth in the process. Every day you take your animal products off your plate and replace them with plants – not only are you immunizing against the many chronic lifestyle diseases, it saves (on average) an extraordinary 1000 gallons of water, 30 square feet of forested land, 20 pounds of CO2 equivalent and one animal’s life. That’s something worth doing – at least I think so. (Animal agriculture is the the number one culprit when it comes to almost every man-made environmental ill on the planet. It accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transport sector combined. It accounts for 91% of Amazon destruction. I can go on, the stats are alarming…it’s responsible for mass extinction and buggering up the ocean. Ok, I’ll stop there.)

Following a plant-based diet does not have to be complicated. If it’s overly complicated it is not sustainable and trying something you can’t sustain is pointless. In short, eat plant-based whole foods and stay away from processed food. Look to eat all kinds of plants. Every meal, all the time. All colors and sizes and as simply prepared as possible. Try to eat organic and opt for locally produced when possible. There’s a million books on this, get your hands on a few of them and follow the advice with regard to recipes and shopping lists. It’s easier than you think. Oh, and if you’re an athlete and worried about protein, you don’t need to be. The research has been done, there’s ways to manage that and the info is available and free of charge.

When I switched to eating plants this happened: Meal prep and cooking time were greatly reduced. Chopping up an avo, a couple of tomatoes and adding veggies like oven roasted butternut and beetroot took mere minutes, leaving me with more time for reading, exercising etc. Sunday lunches used to be a big thing in our house. A leg of lamb would be placed in the oven, cooking for hours on end. Preparing Sunday lunch literally took the whole morning to do. Now instead of standing guard in front of the oven we can actually get out of the house and go do stuff.

Plant-based meals are cheaper to prepare than meat-based meals for example. I live in a country where chicken is considered a vegetable. People here eat meat, and lots of it. Not buying meat has greatly reduced my grocery bill.

I lost the last few stubborn pounds I could not get rid off while eating meals that included animal products. Weight loss was not my greatest motivator and neither should it be yours but running and swimming, and even biking is just so much easier without carrying any ‘excess baggage’. Granted, I’m training harder and longer than ever before, but I’m sustaining it on a plant-based diet. Power increased while weight decreased. The benefits are obvious and more importantly I’m feeling good. A recent visit to my internist confirmed what I was feeling. Reduced cholesterol, reduced uric acid, higher levels of ‘good cholesterol’ etc. Point is I’m fitter, healthier and stronger than ever before. And the numbers confirm it – both in terms of athletic performance and medical evaluations.

For me it was and still is much more than changing the food that goes down my throat. It’s about changing who and how I am. It is as much about long-term wellness as it is about becoming a better person. Eliminating bad habits while at the same time eliminating limiting beliefs. It is about taking on challenges I previously thought was impossible to conquer. It is about slowly but surely unlocking the deep reserves of human potential I, and each one of us, are carrying inside of us and speeding up the journey towards becoming the best and most authentic version of myself. So far so good. I dare you to give it a go.

Becoming a Happy Camper

Camping per se means that you left the comforts of home and embarked on a journey. So many people meander through life without ever leaving their comfort zones. Although death is tragic, there’s nothing more heartbreaking than being alive and not living. Note to self: Magic does not happen in a comfort zone, it happens beyond its borders.

It is an old cliche, life is a journey and if you want to experience the magic of truly living you’ll have to leave your comfort zone and wander bravely into the unknown. In order for your journey to have purpose and a realistic chance of success you’ll need a good and proper base camp.

The Oxford Dictionary defines a base camp as ‘a camp from where people start their journey when climbing high mountains.’ Another (wikipedia) definition specifically refers to a base camp as ‘a place of preparation’. I like both definitions. The first implies that a base camp is required when chasing lofty goals while the other suggests that a base camp is where you prepare yourself before setting off for the summit (your goal).

It’s therefore clear that your base camp needs to be well stocked with whatever provisions, tools and equipment you’ll need on your journey to the summit. It should be a place where you’ll receive nurture and rest before tackling your objective. It should provide you with shelter while waiting for the perfect opportunity to push for the summit. It should be a place where you receive encouragement and advice from people sharing the same values and goals.

Your base camp should be inhabited by the right people. Pick the wrong people to man your camp – negative personalities – and you’re setting yourself up for judgement and criticism that will most probably deflate your spirit and derail your progress. It is of crucial importance to pick the people you confide in wisely. In other words, the strength of your base camp community will ultimately determine your success.

They say that you’re the average of the five people with whom you spend the most time. Take control of your inner circle and if necessary upgrade. Actively seek out positive and inspirational people and spend time with them. Seek their counsel and advice. Look for those who share your values and values your dreams.

If you are currently surrounded by people who drag you down, who constantly questions your actions and bombards you with criticism born out of jealousy, its time for some tough decisions. These decisions will be even tougher if these nay-sayers are the ones closest to you. Excising them completely from your life might not be an option or even possible but you can choose what you share with them. You can de-escalate the intimacy of the relationship. You can deny them space in your head by carefully choosing what you share and what you don’t share with them. Sounds selfish? Self-respecting people won’t tolerate negative relationships and neither should you. Maintaining such relationships might be sign of poor self-esteem. You might think that you don’t deserve better relationships. Discard that limiting believe. You owe it to yourself to surround you with people that inspires you, that elevates you and most importantly that believes in you.

Banish the negative, pessimistic personalities from your base camp. Time spent with them is time wasted. It is that simple. Making it into base camp already shows that you’ve committed yourself to a hero’s journey. It is time to stop being the supporting actor and act like the hero.

Another thought about the people in your base camp is this: The overall health (or strength) of the camp depends on the health of the individuals and the health of the individuals depends on the health of the camp. Successful mountaineers know that they must spend as much time, if not more, in tending to their base camp as they do on actually climbing mountains. Devoting too much time on reaching summits will lead to the deterioration of the base camp. That’s why a man constantly climbing the corporate ladder might return one day to find his house in shambles and his spouse gone. The other side of the coin also holds true. The wife thinking that just being in base camp is her summit cannot understand or empathise with her husband’s need for achievement and reacts to them with jealousy and never-ending demands that he must devote more of his energy to the home. Sooner or later the husband will suffocate and flee the camp.

The ideal is then for a community or relationship to exist for the primary purpose of nurturing each of the individual participants for their individual journeys towards their own goals. Genuine love not only respects the individuality of the other but actually seeks to cultivate it, even at the risk of separation or loss. The ultimate goal (in life) remains the (spiritual) growth of the individual, the solitary journey to peaks that can only be climbed alone – for it is the sacrifices made on behalf of the growth of the other that result in the the equal or even greater growth of the self. It is the return of the individual from the peaks he or she has traveled to alone which serves to elevate the base camp community (or the relationship). In this way individual growth and that of the people you surround yourself with are interdependent, but it is always and inevitably lonely out on the (summit) growing edge…

Getting your base camp right (well stocked and manned by people that inspires you) will not only launch you onto those growing edges but it will make the return from those edges the highlight of your journey. Similarly, so will the summits reached by those around you fill you with the same gratitude and purpose as the summits you conquered yourself.