Pilar Gerasimo, Experience Life Founding Editor

Revolutionary Acts

Experience Life founding Pilar Gerasimo shares her renegade perspectives for thriving in a mixed-up world.

Posts Tagged willingness

Experience Life Magazine

Revolutionary Act 3: Reclaim Your Mornings

Start the day on your own terms, and change your life for the better.

Every day, millions wake with a sense of urgency. Jerked from sleep by an alarm, we lurch directly to the coffeemaker, to our e-mail, to the day’s news headlines, or some other up-and-at-’em directive.

One way or another, we abruptly press the day’s “on” switch, and before we’re entirely conscious, long before our brains and bodies have nudged themselves into first gear, we’ve thrown them into overdrive.

As a result, we may wind up feeling frenzied, reactive — and taking that energy into the rest of our day, infusing it into all our interactions and projects.

We also miss out on a lot of insights and creative impulses available to us during the brief “twilight state” of theta brainwave activity that exists almost exclusively between sleep and waking awareness. What a waste!

So I’m making a case for reclaiming our mornings — or even some small part of our mornings — as an act of defiance against the less-than-satisfying status quo, and as a delightful and potentially transformative act of self-care.

My sister, Andrea, has this down to a sacred science. She gets up before anyone else in her house, lights a candle and a stick of incense, then puts on relaxing music. She unrolls her yoga mat, sits, and — at minimum — takes three long, centering breaths.

Generally, those three deep breaths lead her into a gentle yoga practice that may last anywhere from five to 30 minutes. At the end of her practice, she meditates for a few moments, sending loving thoughts to her friends and family, and setting some key intentions for the day.

When her mat-based practice is complete, she makes tea, has breakfast, and only then does she turn on her phone, consult her calendar and begin the active portion of her day.

Understand, this is not some idealized nice-when-it-happens thing for my sister. It’s a rock solid deal. She’s missed maybe half a dozen days in the past several years. That’s because she has a very simple, default-minimum commitment: Unroll the mat, sit, take three breaths. That’s it. The rest is negotiable.

Sometimes, things come up, of course, and when a longer practice isn’t possible, Andrea adjusts the program accordingly. But she never gives up on unrolling her mat, centering and taking those three deep breaths.

If she can get that far, she says, she almost always finds the time and willingness to do a little more. And she says these few high-value moments she devotes entirely to herself help establish a conscious tone and rhythm that carries through her entire day — and by extension, her life in general.

Then there’s my friend Brian Johnson, founder of PhilosophersNotes (insightful six-page summaries of books on optimal living, the reading of which make for a great morning practice in and of themselves). Brian starts his day with a whole series of what he calls “blissiplines” — daily disciplines he’s found to be fundamental in creating the conditions for his best, most blissful life.

Brian’s blissiplines (which he describes at about 6:50 in this fun video) include about a half an hour of meditation and movement, followed by time spent journaling and reading. Like my sister, Brian says he’s found these practices so essential for optimizing his productivity, creativity and happiness that he can no longer imagine going without them.

Of course, it does take a certain amount of willingness and discipline to establish a morning ritual, particularly if your current a.m. routine is so dull and drudging that you’ve never paused to consider it.

Happily, you don’t have to devote hours to a morning ritual in order to benefit. You just have to have a ritual and do it consistently — ideally, even (and perhaps especially) when you don’t feel like it.

I suggest keeping your ritual short, easy and very doable to start with, knowing that you can always expand it if and when you like.

When I first started doing my own morning practice (about eight years ago) it simply consisted of having a cup of coffee out on the porch, listening to the birds chirp, and pulling a wisdom card to help me start the day on a calm, conscious note. Total time: five minutes, max.

I’ve had more leisurely rituals, too. They’ve involved everything from candlelight journaling and guided visualizations to guitar playing.

Every year or so, I like to tinker with my ritual, working in various meditations and creative practices, gentle exercise, music, time outdoors, wisdom literature, poetry, or whatever appeals to me at the time.

Lately, I’ve gotten into following my sister’s example and doing morning yoga. My current minimum commitment is five minutes, but like her, I often wind up doing a bit more.

Maybe it’s the track of the Tibetan meditation music I play during my practice (it runs for about seven minutes, and it’s so mesmerizing, I can’t bear to pull away from my reverie before it ends). Or maybe it’s just that I really dig the mellow vibe I’ve created for myself by choosing to be before I do.

Whatever the case, I’ve come to love this Revolutionary Act (“Maintain a Morning Practice” is No. 52 of “101 Revolutionary Ways to Be Healthy“) and I highly recommend it to anyone hungry for a little more centering and a little less stress in his or her life.

You can learn more about why the very first (and last) moments of our days count for so much, and get ideas for how to develop calming rituals in your own life by reading these articles:

Bookends

The Things We Remember

The Morning Rush

Meanwhile, is there a small step you can take toward reclaiming your own mornings, starting now?

Do you already have a favorite morning practice of your own? If so, please share your ideas in the comments section below.

The more of us who choose to start our days on our own terms, the less frenzied this world of ours will feel. And the more opportunity we’ll all have to make the best and most conscious use of the waking hours at our disposal.

Experience Life Magazine

Revolutionary Act No. 1: Exchange Willpower for Willingness

We’ve been taught that following through on new year’s resolutions is all about willpower. But it turns out that willingness may be a far more valuable ally.

One popular characterization of insanity describes it as “doing the same thing over and over, expecting to get a different result.” And at no time of the year is that particular brand of insanity more evident than right now — the dreaded resolutions season.

Every January, there’s a lot of talk about the right and wrong ways to go about making change. Techniques and strategies abound (another serving of S.M.A.R.T. goals, anyone?), but most of them share a common underlying assumption: That changing your life is an act of will.

We Americans love the idea of willpower. It’s forceful, bold, intrepid. It reeks of individual determination, and it suggests just enough stalwart endurance to satisfy our stoic sensibilities.

The will speaks in a commanding voice: Go forth! Make it so! And there’s some kick-start value in that. But I would argue that the real key to creating positive change over time is not so much will as it is willingness.

Unlike the will, which is all the rage this time of year, willingness doesn’t get a lot of airtime in our culture. It comes across as too passive, perhaps, too cooperative, too eager to please, too… feminine. But I’d argue that when it comes to shifting personal behavior and establishing new habits, willingness is actually a much better and more reliable partner.

The problem with the will is that it’s one hard-driving taskmaster — but it tends to cement itself to a static idea of success and, thus, to constant reminders of the potential for failure.

The will tends to think it has all the answers and it doesn’t relish asking for directions.

Willingness, on the other hand, is full of open-minded inquiries, like: How might I go about getting started on this project? What would happen if I tried this? What would be most helpful now?

Where the will never says die, willingness is continually reborn — and it gets smarter and stronger each time around.

That’s why, this year, as my first official Revolutionary Act (a series of convention-busting experiments in changing my life for the better, and the basis for this blog), I’m putting willingness in charge of my new year’s resolutions. Currently, these include: 1) being on time more often; 2) getting outside daily; and 3) never sitting for more than two hours at a stretch. (For a busy magazine editor, all three are tougher than they sound.)

Effectively, my revolutionary shift here is asking, “What I’m willing to do differently in the service of these goals?” — rather than insisting, “I am going to do these things, no matter what it takes.”

I’m also cultivating my willingness to notice when I do and don’t succeed in these endeavors, and to pay attention to how I do or do not go about accomplishing them on a day-to-day basis. Because as Zen teacher Cheri Huber likes to remind us: “How you do anything is how you do everything.”

The great thing about seeing my resolutions as an experiment in willingness is that even if I “fail” at something on any given day, I still “succeed” in learning something valuable that empowers me to succeed the next day.

One thing I’ve already noticed, for example, is that my tendency toward chronic lateness (15 minutes, notoriously) has a lot to do with my believing I should/must/need to always do “just one more thing” before I leave the house.

Am I willing to change that? Yes, and: I’m also aware that it yanks at a stubborn, semi-conscious belief I hold about my value coming from what I accomplish, rather than who I am.

That’s a belief worth examining more closely, because it’s probably at the core of some other self-sabotaging tendencies, too. (For deeper insights on the value of challenging limiting beliefs, check out the terrific book, Immunity to Change [Harvard Business School Press, Feb. 2009] by Robert Kegan, Ph.D., and Lisa Lahey, Ph.D.)

So, am I willing to challenge that belief about my value being tied to my frenzied (and often counterproductive) productivity? Yes.

Does the idea of moving beyond my chronic lateness become more energizing and potentially powerful when I think of it in this context? And does it make me more willing to experiment with not doing one more thing? Yes, indeed! Thank you, willingness.

I am choosing to engage willingness because, in my experience, my will has not always been my best ally in creating positive change. In fact, leaning too heavily on my will often brings out the most negative and self-critical in me. And research suggests that this is true for many of us (for more on that, read this fascinating article from Scientific American on “The Willpower Paradox.”

It turns out that the will talks a tough game, but it hates losing — so much so that it is prone to walking away in a huff just as things are getting interesting. Willingness, meanwhile, sees every lost round as an opportunity to sharpen skills, strategy and awareness.

Willingness, in short, is all about learning and growing. And that’s why I’m making it the centerpiece of my Revolutionary Acts project, which is all about experiments in creating a healthier, happier, more satisfying life by doing things a little (or a lot) differently. Differently than we’ve been taught. Differently than we’ve been told. Differently than “that’s just the way things are done.”

Many of my experiments will involve challenging the dominant norms, patterns and assumptions of our society. Others will involve challenging my own comfort zones and beliefs.

I’ll be sharing my experiences in this blog and also in my regular column at Experience Life, the healthy-living magazine I’ve been editing for the past decade.

My goal with this blog, as with the magazine, is to share insights and resources that can help more of us make the most of our time and energy, enhance our well-being, and increase our satisfaction in living. Because I believe that for us to address the biggest challenges we are facing — individually and collectively — we are going to need to be at our strongest, most energized and resilient best.

I hope you’ll share your own revolutionary experiences — of challenging limiting norms and assumptions, of rejecting stale conventions, and of reinventing yourself and your life however you see fit.

Which reminds me: If you’re working on any healthy-living goals this year, you might enjoy visiting www.RevolutionaryAct.com, a site powered by Experience Life and stocked with wisdom from some of our favorite experts. You’ll find a variety of Revolutionary Resources there, including my “Manifesto for Thriving in a Mixed Up World” and “101 Revolutionary Ways to Be Healthy.”

Here’s to an all-new 2011! And may we all summon the willingness to make it great.