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The challenge of moving forward

Curved country roadEven though we know that life is continuously moving us forward, our experience of time can be more that it is stagnant rather than fluid. Especially when we find ourselves in the same jobs, same relationships, same locations etc…the lack of change almost makes it seem like time stands still, until that day we look in the mirror at a face being reflected back to us which we no longer recognize. At some point, we encounter situations that force us to change and propel us in forward moving directions that we might not have pursued on our own. How can we harness the energy of the impending change in order to guide us into life’s next phase?

The first challenge is accepting that change brings with it uncertainty that is often uncomfortable. We place so much importance on the sensory information received by our five physical senses, that we forget to listen to the inner sixth sense about our lives. Because we are looking at our immediate surroundings, whether it be within the home, job or relationship, we fail to see beyond at what might be possible. Or when we do, we think of all the obstacles and pitfalls that await us. There is no mystery why we think this way – our minds have evolved to identify threats to ensure our survival. This has been of great benefit to us, but at a cost. The single hardest thing about embracing change is our fear of what is yet to come. That even if we try to get our dream job, either it won’t work out or we’ll show up and realize it wasn’t what we really wanted. It’s the classic choice between the devil you know, and the devil you don’t.

This is a challenge that reaps huge rewards if we accept it. If we can calm our nervous system enough from the fear of change, we might benefit from looking back at our individual histories and noting when uncertainty brought us the greatest treasures in our lives. Not knowing exactly what is to come is probably life’s greatest gift to us, for it allows anything to be possible beyond our wildest dreams.

When moving forward in any endeavor that brings with it uncertainty, it is helpful to connect to those core things about ourselves we can still be certain of. For instance, no matter what situation we find ourselves in, we can be sure that we will always try to be kind to others. Or no matter how alone we feel living in a new town, we can be sure that we will get involved in the community and see what happens. In the midst of uncertainty, we can always be sure that we are worthy of love and belonging. These things, that do not change, are really all we need to feel grounded in life. Everything else that does change, just allows our wings to open so that we can take flight.

Grit will get you through

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI write a lot about our thoughts and emotions and how they affect our health. I have written about embracing our dark side, about negative experiences, and how important it is to feel and release our emotions. The truth is, sometimes life is just a struggle and it’s hard enough to get through our day without keeping all these things in mind. The same is true for me as it is for all of you. Some of my most difficult times are when I feel overwhelmed with work obligations, or am suffering with a bad cold, or just feel down in the dumps for whatever reason. During those times, following my own helpful advice just doesn’t seem to work to help me feel balanced again, which just adds to my frustration. These are my “feel good” practices, but if it seems they aren’t working during these times, why continue them?

I continue them because that’s just what I do. Sometimes, it’s not about feeling good. It’s about feeling grit.

Grit is the quality of sticking with something uncomfortable in order to get where we are going. It’s not the pretty, photoshopped quotes and phrases out there (which do have their place at times). It can often feel like no matter what we do, we aren’t making progress, but this is not the reality. The reality is that when you stick to anything that means anything to you, you are always moving forward. No matter what. Even when today’s scenery hasn’t changed from yesterday.

Grit has been shown in studies to be a better predictor of success when compared to IQ, attractiveness, upbringing and talent. It can reliably predict which kids will graduate from inner city schools to which adults will be successful in their chosen careers. It stands alone in studies as one of the most important (if not the most important) quality to cultivate to achieve success in our desired goals. If you want to reach your goal weight in one year? It’s going to take grit. If you want to work your way up the professional ladder? It’s going to take grit. If you want to maintain happy relationships? There’s grit again. Grit will get you through.

The next time you find yourself struggling with any goal, think about grit. Reflect on the times you have shown grit, and times when you haven’t. Although I am not aware of research regarding how to cultivate grit, it does seem that grittier individuals don’t believe in failure as a permanent state of being. They view it as a temporary learning experience, a condition necessary for growth. I believe that grit, like all habits, can be reinforced through practice. My coach training also tells me that keeping ourselves connected to our deep values and motivations can strengthen grit. The brain learns and adapts with our every action and thought, and cultivating grit is likely similar to cultivating gratitude. It’s not something you either feel or don’t – it’s something you choose to do.

As a self-discovery exercise, come up with a subjective “grit score” for yourself, where 1 is giving up on a task the instant it becomes difficult, and 10 is following through no matter how many times you feel like you have failed. Where would you rate yourself in general? Where would you rate yourself for specific goals you have set in your life? Whatever scores you come up with, ask yourself why the scores aren’t lower than they are. Why aren’t they higher?

If you like, you can also ask your friends and family who know you well what their honest impression of your grittiness is. Often, others have a more accurate view of our behavior than we do. How does their score compare with yours?

Once you feel like you know where you fall on the gritty spectrum, spend a few minutes in the following meditation:

Take three deep breaths. Visualize yourself struggling with some task that has become monotonous, a task at which you have failed before. How do you feel? Where in your body do you feel it? Visualize yourself persisting in the task despite your feelings of discouragement or failure. Notice how your tenacity feels in your body. Breathe deeply, allowing that feeling to travel on your breath deep into your chest and down into your toes. Visualize yourself committing to the task, despite obstacles setting you back. Accept the experience without judgement. See yourself clearly as you are right now, persisting. Become comfortable with how this feels. It may not feel “good”, but slowly find yourself easing into your commitment to see the task through. Take three deep breaths.

If you are interested in cultivating grit, I believe this meditation is an excellent way to prepare your brain for your practice. Like with any visualization practice, neuronal connections are being formed that lay the foundation for your actions. You will be more likely to persevere by visualizing yourself persevere.

Be gritty about practicing grit. It’s the best tool you could have on your road to success.

Why I stand at work (and have a bigger butt because of it)

file9271337413144Being a pathologist in private practice means a lot of long days at the microscope. Most of us have jobs that require prolonged sitting, and that takes a toll on our bodies. I’m not just talking about our waistlines, but the effects of prolonged sitting are so detrimental, that it can result in excessive lumbar curvature (lordosis), low back and hip pain, and gluteal atrophy.

Yes, you heard me right. Gluteal atrophy, or as I like to call it, vanishing butt syndrome. Unless you have a Kim Kardashian butt, my guess is you don’t want to lose whatever nice curves you’ve got back there. But if you are sitting down for hours at a time every day, most likely some of your butt cells are starting to wither away. And if there is one thing I know well, it’s cells. (You thought I was going to say butts, didn’t you?)

Not only does your butt slowly atrophy from prolonged sitting, but other muscles are affected too. The mechanism by which this occurs is pretty well known in exercise science. Prolonged sitting causes a tightening of your hip flexors, which in turn anteriorly rotates your pelvis causing the low back to curve unnaturally. This position of the pelvis also results in the hamstrings being lengthened, which by autonomic inhibition, results in decreased firing of the nerves to the muscle fibers to prevent injury. Basically, your whole lower body becomes unbalanced. If you have ever done leg extensions and hamstring curls in the gym, you’ll notice quite a difference in how strong the front and back of your legs are as a result of prolonged sitting and muscle imbalance.

In the sitting position, your gluteal muscles are completely inactive. Muscular inactivity has a whole host of negative effects, from the obvious atrophy and cosmetic appearance, to metabolic derangements that lead to a high likelihood of developing chronic illness. Combine prolonged sitting with the typical work stress most of us face, and sitting becomes downright dangerous to our health.

So what is the solution? Luckily, there are several. The one I adopted, and which I would recommend, is to create a standing workstation. While there are companies that manufacture specialized standing workstations (as well as treadmill desks), it might be difficult to get this approved by your boss. I ended up buying fifteen dollar wooden shoe racks that I assembled myself, and placed these on top of my already existing desk to create a comfortable workspace.

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If that doesn’t seem plausible in your situation, then just make sure you are getting up and walking around frequently, at least every hour. You want to activate those glutes, get your blood flowing, and break up the monotony of prolonged sitting. Better yet, run some stairs, do some pushups or get a round of squats in. The more movement you incorporate on an hourly basis, the better. Studies show that even regular exercise in off-work hours is still not enough to counteract the effects of prolonged sitting.

Butt health is an extremely important topic. If there is one muscle group you want to keep firm and strong throughout your life, focus on your derriere. Your return on investment will not only ensure you never fall prey to vanishing butt syndrome, but that you also enjoy better health overall.