A glimpse of rapture, a glimpse of peace

A moment in Mexico I was walking by myself on a pristine beach in Mexico. It was early morning and the sun hadn’t quite made it’s appearance yet. Looking out to where the expansive gray-blue sky met the grayer, bluer ocean, I could feel the sand, damp and slightly chilled, compress beneath my feet as I walked.

Slowly, the earth came alive. I noticed small crabs as they scampered to the tiny holes they’d dug. I heard the gulls squawking as they came together for breakfast and a bath. The blues got brighter as the sun lit up the clouds in a way I’d seen a thousand times before but never quite like this.

And in that moment, I wasn't thinking of anything. I was just there, awestruck by the natural beauty and by a sense of relatedness to everything around me.

Time passed. The tide of my thoughts rolled back in. And I wondered, “What if I could have more moments like that?”

Riding the subway

City Hall StationA few months ago, I was exiting the City Hall subway station when I noticed a disheveled-looking woman, eyes bulging in a crazed kind of way, struggling with a shopping cart full of overstuffed bundles. The elevator was broken and I saw she'd have to haul her cart up the stairs. I purposefully walked the other way. "I don't have time to help some crazy woman."

Then I stopped. Just that week, a colleague had introduced me to the "I Will Listen" campaign, raising awareness for mental illness. I thought how I would offer assistance If it was someone struggling with a stroller or a nicely dressed older person. Why was I walking away from this woman who needed help even more?

“Can I help you?” I said.

Another gentleman was there and together we (barely) managed to haul the incredibly heavy cart up the stairs. The woman was very appreciative. "God bless you," she said. We all smiled big smiles and wished each other a nice day. And as I walked home, I felt a certain lightness. I’d exchanged detachment and judgment for connection and a blessing. I kept smiling. And though I’m not religious, I felt blessed.

Stuck in traffic

NYC trafficOne Sunday evening, I was driving up the west side of Manhattan with 3 of my kids in the car. Traffic was crawling and I could feel myself getting tense. Then I noticed the sun glinting off the Hudson River and it reminded me of something Martha Beck quoted, referring to a Navajo prayer called “The Beauty Way”.

There is beauty before me, and there is beauty behind me. There is beauty to my left, and there is beauty to my right. There is beauty above me, and there is beauty below me. There is beauty around me, and there is beauty within me.

I recited it in my head. (My kids are not quite ready to hear me say these things out loud.) And I thought more deeply about everything around me. The gorgeous river. My eldest son next to me and two of my daughters behind me. How lucky I was to be safe and comfortable in my car. The hundreds of individual lives and stories in the cars all around me.

I smiled. My frustration had turned into some kind of bliss.

Then just this week

Just this week, the exact opposite happened. I had several bits of good news and I should have been happy. Instead, I was focusing on something unpleasant, something that had been bothering me for a while, and I couldn’t let it go. I tried the techniques I learned to come back to the present, but I failed. I kept turning the thoughts over and over until they made for an ugly, bilious stew. After years of trying to tame the hamsters in my head, I was upset they were still roaming freely.

Then I thought back to that woman in the subway and that drive in traffic. And I realized I didn’t have to go to a faraway place to experience a glimpse of rapture or a glimpse of peace. So I kept practicing. I reminded myself that “today is not just another day in my life.”

And I smiled.

Touching the treadmill

Why? Are there things you want to get better at but haven’t made much progress?

Here are a few from my life list:

  • Play the piano
  • Speak another language
  • Dance ballroom-style
  • Do yoga (and have the lean, flexible body that comes with it)

Some of these learning goals have been on my list for decades, and I haven’t gotten very far.

Yet I’m optimistic that I’ll do all of these soon because I recently discovered a simple trick that’s changed how I think about change. Maybe it can help you, too.

“Touch the treadmill”

Getting started

As a life coach, Martha Beck routinely works with people who have personal development goals but feel unable to make meaningful progress.

“I want to get in shape”, for example, is a common goal. But that seemingly simple, practical goal can be problematic for several reasons. We may have negative associations with the effort required to get in shape. (“Ugh. I hate exercise.”) We may not believe we’re capable. (“I’m not an exercise person.”) We may not have the knowledge or the environment we need. (“I just don’t have the time!”)

Any of these is enough to stop us from making much progress. Combined, you won’t get off the couch. What Martha Beck taught me was to break down the goal and begin with a small step so simple that it verges on ridiculous.

Can’t go for a run 4 times a week for an hour? Try once a week. Still too much? Go for 5 minutes. Not working for you? Walk to the treadmill and touch it. Every day.

Martha’s 2013 New Year’s resolution wasn’t “Get in Shape” but “go out to the barn where the exercise equipment is sitting and go touch it.”  Here’s a 23-second video of her fulfilling that resolution. Success!

Why it works

What the brain sees when it sees change

While touching the treadmill won’t improve your cardio-vascular function, it will make it possible to bypass your hard-wired aversion to change.

In a recent talk at Jiveworld, Dr. Eddie Obeng described change and our reaction to it in evolutionary terms. Early in the history of human beings, major changes were a threat.  When we’d see a saber-toothed tiger, the blood would flow to the base of our brain that regulates our fight-or-flight mechanisms. And the thinking parts would practically shut off.

Even today, when faced with big, audacious goals, our bodies react that same way. Seth Godin refers to it as the “lizard brain”. Steven Pressfield calls it the “resistance”. It's a common and natural reaction to change.

The more evolved part of your brain really does want you to achieve your goals - to develop new capabilities that can make life richer (and longer). But the part of our brains we carry with us from long ago is trying to protect us. So we have to re-frame our goals in ways that make them less scary and don’t activate that fight or flight mechanism.

Re-framing anything

What change could be

Here, for example, is how I’m trying to eliminate the fear and anxiety associated with my own learning goals.

Want to play piano? Sit at the piano and play a scale each day for a minute.

Do yoga? Do the child pose (the easy one that I like) each morning.

Get better at Japanese? Sit with my daughter and do her 1st-grade Japanese homework together.

The basic idea isn't new, of course. It's why we have cliches like "Nothing breeds success like success" and "The hardest part of any journey is the first step".

But for so many of us, we never start. So if you find you're avoiding your goal, keep breaking it down until it’s simple and fear-free - even to the point where it seems ridiculous. By transforming your goals from saber-toothed tiger food into small, achievable steps that are easy and appealing, you'll greatly increase your chances of making progress.

Want to develop a new skill or habit? Touch the treadmill. Change your life.

Touching the treadmill

Are there things you want to get better at but haven’t made much progress?

Here are a few from my life list:

  • Play the piano
  • Speak another language
  • Dance ballroom-style
  • Do yoga (and have the lean, flexible body that comes with it)

Some of these learning goals have been on my list for decades, and I haven’t gotten very far.

Yet I’m optimistic that I’ll do all of these soon because I recently discovered a simple trick that’s changed how I think about change. Maybe it can help you, too.

“Touch the treadmill”

As a life coach, Martha Beck routinely works with people who have personal development goals but feel unable to make meaningful progress.

“I want to get in shape”, for example, is a common goal. But that seemingly simple, practical goal can be problematic for several reasons. We may have negative associations with the effort required to get in shape. (“Ugh. I hate exercise.”) We may not believe we’re capable. (“I’m not an exercise person.”) We may not have the knowledge or the environment we need. (“I just don’t have the time!”)

Any of these is enough to stop us from making much progress. Combined, you won’t get off the couch. What Martha Beck taught me was to break down the goal and begin with a small step so simple that it verges on ridiculous.

Can’t go for a run 4 times a week for an hour? Try once a week. Still too much? Go for 5 minutes. Not working for you? Walk to the treadmill and touch it. Every day.

Martha’s 2013 New Year’s resolution wasn’t “Get in Shape” but “go out to the barn where the exercise equipment is sitting and go touch it.”  Here’s a 23-second video of her fulfilling that resolution. Success!

Why it works

While touching the treadmill won’t improve your cardio-vascular function, it will make it possible to bypass your hard-wired aversion to change.

In a recent talk at Jiveworld, Dr. Eddie Obeng described change and our reaction to it in evolutionary terms. Early in the history of human beings, major changes were a threat.  When we’d see a saber-toothed tiger, the blood would flow to the base of our brain that regulates our fight-or-flight mechanisms. And the thinking parts would practically shut off.

Even today, when faced with big, audacious goals, our bodies react that same way. Seth Godin refers to it as the “lizard brain”. Steven Pressfield calls it the “resistance”. It's a common and natural reaction to change.

The more evolved part of your brain really does want you to achieve your goals - to develop new capabilities that can make life richer (and longer). But the part of our brains we carry with us from long ago is trying to protect us. So we have to re-frame our goals in ways that make them less scary and don’t activate that fight or flight mechanism.

Re-framing anything

Here, for example, is how I’m trying to eliminate the fear and anxiety associated with my own learning goals.

Want to play piano? Sit at the piano and play a scale each day for a minute.

Do yoga? Do the child pose (the easy one that I like) each morning.

Get better at Japanese? Sit with my daughter and do her 1st-grade Japanese homework together.

The basic idea isn't new, of course. It's why we have cliches like "Nothing breeds success like success" and "The hardest part of any journey is the first step".

But for so many of us, we never start. So if you find you're avoiding your goal, keep breaking it down until it’s simple and fear-free - even to the point where it seems ridiculous. By transforming your goals from saber-toothed tiger food into small, achievable steps that are easy and appealing, you'll greatly increase your chances of making progress.

Want to develop a new skill or habit? Touch the treadmill. Change your life.

Touch the treadmill.jpg