“I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.”

Godfather

I just revisited the movie, The Godfather, and this line shared by Marlon Brando and Robert DeNiro coincides with a recent measure I’ve enforced on myself, making myself an offer I can’t refuse. I’ve given myself no choice. I must be present, I must show up, or I fail. More and more people are doing it every year, and it’s happening across the world: We are addressing our primal need for danger and challenge.

Surfing, skiing, mountain biking, mixed martial arts, powerlifting, Crossfitting, entrepreneurship. These require your full attention. Your diligence. And once there, you find yourself in the ecstasy of presence, of productive bliss, of conquering and understanding. Of truth.

And you don’t need to go skydiving to experience this. What I’m talking about is getting focused at your task, like when the coders were “wired in” in the movie The Social Network. It’s called the flow state, as coined by psychologist Csikszentmihalyi from the studies he’s done with people. It’s a primal state of clarity. It’s simply when you flow from decision to decision, without fear, without confusion. You are wired in. You are fully present, and experiencing life.

So one way I put myself on the line is simple, harmless, but highly effective: I set a timer for 15 minutes, or 20 minutes. For each task I have: writing, a work task, reading a chapter, cooking. I click the timer and I go. I am “on the clock.” I don’t have any other options once I click that timer. And it works. There’s no time to think. Your bike crests the hill and gravity grabs you, nature takes hold, and there is no turning back.

The flow state is where we aren’t thinking of any other task but the task at hand. Anxious, fearful, impatient, embarrassed? Then you’re not in flow. Flow means we’re focused, we’re present, and we’re totally invested. There’s no time to worry. You’ve isolated a slice of your life. I’ve given myself a 15 minute mini-life. You see ‘death’ coming up, the end, and there’s no time to procrastinate. No time to think, “maybe this won’t work, maybe this will suck”. You just need to push off down that hill, you need to grab that breaking wave, and go, go, go. There’ll be time to judge yourself after you act.

The cost of not getting into flow? No bliss. Marginal levels of happiness. Imagine crawling when you could be running. Imagine a potted plant on a window sill compared to flourishing in the full sun of a meadow.

Can we soak up all the experience in our life? Can we live it like it’s going to end?

Of course we can. It’s going to end anyway, right?

Because we’ve all been given an offer we can’t refuse: Death.

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Meditating and then…cat attack!

boat in storm

I sat down to meditate and felt a whisper of a touch on the hand resting on my knee. It was the shy cat, I called her Demure Swat (about that name, I’ll tell you later). She had avoided me for days, until now, but now I was still and quiet, and she showed up. I think this is how many of the wants that escape you finally come around: When you’re still, focused, and controlling your energy from the bounding waves.

It seems then, that all you need to do is wait for what you desire. But I’m not talking about the Secret, where you visualize and think positive thoughts and hope for the best.  What I’m talking about is the discipline to stop and tune out everything else – the girlfriend, boyfriend (or the search for one!), the house that needs cleaned, facebook, and all those emails.

My meditation was the perfect way to attract a shy pet, but it’s not the way to create something, or learn to play soccer, cook a tasty meal, write a book, build a product and sell it…those things require work. However, all these things need discipline to stop running around and focus.

At a certain point, we must ignore the crashing waves of distraction, get our ass in the seat and start paddling our boat. That way, we’re controlling things, and not at the whims of everything else in the sea of life.

Recess like a child

recess revolution 3

I started my run, and it was like any other day. But when I made my way around the school parking lot this time, I heard screams. I continued jogging down the driveway, the screams mixed with a screeching sound. I kept going, and as I rounded the corner of the building, I finally caught sight of a playground full of children. The swing sets were swinging. Kids were scattered in small groups, playing made up games, while others clambered over jungle gyms. They looked like they were having fun. More fun than me. Then I thought, what happened to my recess?

I want recess back

Who took our recess anyway? Was it the high school administrators who just don’t have enough hours in the day to spare us? Or was it the colleges who don’t need you to have recess? No, it was me. High school offers arts and music. College offers the opportunity to make your own schedule and club network. But, intent on being productive, after high school and college, I forgot that the movement and unstructured socializing of recess is what keeps a person loose.

I made my way around the playground and noticed 4 or 5 kids lining up at the top of a small hill. There was some direction from the more authoritative members of the group, and then they all dropped to their knees and then their sides and rolled giggling down the hill. They were creating their own fun, maybe tired of the jungle gym and swing sets.

Recess keeps us thinking creatively. During my work day, even if I just take a walk to the coffee station and have a short conversation, I come back to my desk with more energy. More focused. Rested, and in fact more productive. Studies have shown this. The breaks during intense periods of study and work are important in resting the brain. It’s almost like the recuperation of muscle after you’re broken it down after exercise. And productivity decreases if we don’t take a recess.

The judge bangs down his gavel, “We will recess.”

We need a judge in our head, observing our actions. He is silent, patient, resolute. So when we lose our focus, when we blink our eyes and stare away from the screen to refocus them. When we raise our head and realize we’ve been in the same position for an hour. That’s when the gavel comes down.

BANG

“Time for a short recess.”
“But I just need to finish this part up, it’ll just take.-“
“I said, Recess.”
“Look, if I just bust through this, I will-“
“You will finish it, yes, but will it be right? Will you do it the same way, instead of thinking of a better way to do it?”
“I guess not.”
He points sternly out the window, “Now go play. It looks like your friends need a fourth for four square.”

Occupy yourself

Don’t think and the days go by, never to be done again, except in our heads. If only I’d done this, if only I’d done that…

But doing what? I’m often busy doing things as the days go by, but not really any thing. I’m buying things. Moving things. Cleaning things. Trying to maintain a steady state of constant activity. A mind occupied by everything but my self. Activity is the appearance of production, like a big leafy top to a little carrot.

More important is YOUR thing. That which will make you happy. It will leave you smiling at the end of day. But then I think too much on my thing, and the same situation is created. Stymied by thoughts and words. The paralysis of analysis. I find the best is when I plan. Then do.

The thinking comes first, so that the doing will flow… eternal, unconscious and unrestrained.

The summer smells good

The intoxicating smell of comfortable warmth and movement and change. Of sun rays beating down, of future acts, exciting unknowns, shirtless, of liberation from consumption by creation. It smelled of possibilities.

I stopped thinking of what I had to do today. The urgent stuff that wasn’t truly urgent. I sat down and embraced this small area where I would bang out my 1000 words for the day. This would be my bunker. I put the thoughts of everything else out of my head. I willfully -albeit with quiet kicking and screaming- entered this solitary confinement. In this quiet, I stopped holding. The energy of my thoughts moved onto the digital canvas. I knew I hadn’t moved, but I was changing things. What had not existed, now did. People acting, realizing, feeling, and growing. My characters and I took turns leading. When the words were spent, I emerged from the dark cramped environment. I felt liberated. I immediately thought ahead: I must go here, and check this to buy, and then go here and have them fix this, and then I need to go the gym, and then…and then.

And then I stopped the planning. and just as I had when I crawled into my foxhole, I started thinking, “What if?” I started thinking, “Let’s see what happens.” Because life isn’t a series of situations. Life is what I choose. It’s what I create. And my creation started off quite well today.

The summer smells good.

When OK can become Awesome

This past weekend I went on a run that changed my life. I had started running a few months ago and slowly picked up advice on technique from here and there, changing my running style after getting each new piece of information. My runs had been good. Ok. But everything changed on my last run when I found my almost perfect form. And all it took was disciplined open mindedness.

Even simple things need practice

Running is a simple movement. You put one foot in front of the other. Yet, even this simple action needs practice or else you might become a fist-pumping, shoulder-rolling mass of swaying body parts that is wasting energy and causing pain and injury. In my case, my form started with arms swinging, and soft heel strikes rolling forward into a long stride. After forming this habit, I stilled my arms and tried landing on the front of my foot, almost on the balls of the feet and pushed off with my toes. As I moved through my practice, I was without a coach, but I drove myself forward to learn.

We are creatures of habit, but we need to listen to ourselves

I had made habits of the techniques, but did not think about adjusting the technique to my body. Instead, I thought about how I could force my body into the form that came from the authorities. This is a mistake. There are experts in different fields, but if we are mindful, we are the best qualified expert on ourselves. Human beings can become acclimated to most anything, good and bad: The constant stress of war, the hardship of poverty, or the work of regular diet and exercise. In my case, my running technique had resulted in a habit that provided me an ok run, and I acclimated to that, but because of my drive to improve, I realized “ok” could become awesome.

When things are ok, it’s time for some experimentation

When I started out on my run, I had done the extremes, both soft and heavy steps on the heel, and bouncing off the balls of the feet. My practice, just like the meditative practice of a monk, made me familiar with my body. I knew how it moved and how my feet felt striking the ground. On this day, I started with heel strikes, short strides, and light steps.

As I warmed up, I moved up to the balls of the feet. Less than half mile in, I settled my feet into a mid-foot strike, my heels barely touching the ground before my foot picked up again. I placed my feet like this, step after step, getting a sense of the ground, in tune to how my feet touched the earth. At mile one, I felt the usual resistance melt away, but this time it was different.

As I placed each foot on the ground, it whipped back effortlessly, gliding over the ground rather than pushing off of it. It felt as if I wasn’t in my body running, but a spectator. My mind had been evacuated and that left only my soul. And my soul was smiling.

At mile three, I was in awe. I thought, “Now this is what awesome means. Right here.” I was unfettered. It felt like I had just started my run. It was incredible. After the fifth mile, I was nearing my car, where I’d started my run,  and I thought about the comfort of stopping. After a couple of seconds, the thought faded away. I felt no anticipation for the end. My mind and its worries had surrendered to action. I was fully present running.

Immerse yourself, and after many trials, the answer will find you

Experiences like this are important in teaching me the value of immersing yourself in a task. Practice your passion. Be willing to form habits and just as willing to break them and try new ones to hone your skill.  This will help us find a new way to do something which we never thought possible: Whether it’s for running, running a business, or creating a product. We can then realize that ok can become awesome.