Presence in the best and worst of times

What does it mean to be truly present? There is a misconception that to be fully in the moment, to be truly present, is to ignore consequences, not focus on the future, instead, it’s an excuse to live hedonistically. While I like the concept, and have been living a mild variation for some time, I think that’s bullshit.  Presence does not discount or undermine the importance of consequences or future, but instead implies a focus on each task taken on. No going through the motions, no waiting for something better to come along. It means seizing every moment of every day, even the downtime minutes, the minutes “in between” events. It’s those moments that can be applied to clearing your mind (as discussed a few posts ago), or just to focus and live the moment.

So my goal is to take advantage of every minute of every day, and be fully present in my tasks. This is a continuation of sorts of the focus post – i am still working on completing tasks without being distracted. I’m getting better, but to make it easier, I’m going to begin by planning out my day and expected accomplishments in the morning, and tackling my list to the best of my ability each day, focusing as much as possible on the task at hand.

MUSIC

Much of this blog’s life execution involves practice. You have to train your mind to focus, to budget, to express gratitude. These are all learned things. So with that theme, a song I wish I could play on guitar:

Smashing Pumpkins – Geek USA. I wish I could get all the way through the different parts of this song… but I suppose practice will get me there.

Budgeting.

The ever elusive budget.

I have always struggled with this. I’ve never been a money chaser, and have no problems spending money when I have it. This is a fine lifestyle when you are young, maybe in university, but as you age, I suppose, the items you are looking to buy become a bit more…expensive. Houses, cars, that sort of thing. And when you look at the cost, you think “what does a$60 here, or $100 there matter?” Well it all matters, when you look at that over a year or two. It ads up quick when you are plowing through a couple hundred bucks a month in reckless spending, and that has been my habit for years.

So, this is my vow to get this spending under control. I’m going to take baby-steps. Start by limiting my extravagant nights to once a month at most, and limit the amount i spend recklessly during the week. From there managing a food budget and being conscious of costs while at restaurants, and in fact limiting restaurant eating as much as possible. Sounds like a boatload of fun….

FITNESS

Well Insanity yesterday, but today I fail for the first time. I have nothing on the go today. I would have gone for a run, but it’s pouring rain outside (something I hadn’t counted on). So i’m confined to the apartment today. But I suppose I’ve gotten 6 days in until today, so that ‘s a good start. And we start up agani with insanity tomorrow.

TUNES

Lets break from the theme here a bit. I’m going to throw down my favourite song of all time.

Queen w/ David Bowie  – Under Pressure

If you add up all the small things…

Sometimes those small things add up to be more than the large ones. And yet we use these large events, large wrongs or rights as pivot points in our relationships and our lives, and often as landmarks to trace the success or failure of any project/event/relationship. But more often than not, it’s a combination of the little things that truly determine the course of events.

This post is about gratitude. More specifically; expressing it. There are a great number of people in my life that do great things for me on a daily/weekly/monthly/yearly basis. Sometimes, I get quite wrapped up in my life that I forget to say thank you when others act in kindness towards me. Dinners out, dinners cooked, chores, invites, or just general effort, I’m going to focus on expressing that gratitude, and not just take these acts of kindness for granted. So if you have been generous to me in the past, Thank you. And if you are kind to me in the future, I promise to try my best to recognize it.

MUSIC

In keeping with the grateful theme – A song that reminds me of someone important

Bruce Springsteen – I’m on Fire

Take Charge.

The art of assertiveness…I’m always at a loss with this one. By nature, I’m not the bloodthirsty type. I try to live my life in such a way that I impart as little negative impact on others as possible.  For me personally, assertiveness (or lack thereof) isn’t a function of self esteem, but instead of my laissez-faire attitude. I’m a firm believer in letting things happen instead of forcing things to occur. I find myself more satisfied (and occasionally surprised) when I simply let events occur than when I try to force a good time.

But the unfortunate reality of life is that conflict is inevitable, and oftentimes necessary. It’s through conflict that collaboration can become success, whether in art, business, sport, or relationships. But conflict management and resolution is, itself, an art. How do you approach conflict situations, and ensure that you get what you need while not damaging valuable relationships? I’m not trying to increase assertiveness in order to be an asshole, I’m doing it to avoid being taken advantage of. I believe this to be an altruistic reason, but the truth is, along the way, you are going to come across people that are assertive for the sake of being assholes. So how do you effectively manage these conflicts, while not over-compromising and giving up the needs you require?

I did a lot of digging on the web for an article that could help. There are lots based around conflict resolution, but not many that help in my specific requirements. I did stumble across one on ehow.com – How to Increase Your Assertive Skills. The first tip is a basic one, but one that I find myself struggling with: Saying no. Sometimes, it’s tough to say no – you don’t want to disappoint, you don’t want to appear condescending or that you are undermining, in the case of a superior. But by saying no, and factually backing up your reason, you develop that assertiveness, while maintaining your dignity – not saying yes just to say yes.

How will I move forward?

Well, the list goes on to discuss improving casual relationships, achieving goals, staying motivated. I’m going to start from step 1 though. I’ll spend this week focusing on not jsut blindly agreeing to things, but be prepared to defend why I’m saying “no”. From there, the next step involves asking for what you need factually and succinctly. From there, the steps are moving forward.

RECAP FROM LAST WEEK

Fitness – ran Friday, Ran saturday morning, walked sunday (yes, lame, I know). Tonight is hockey, and then insanity every night this week.

Focus – Well, I’ve been working on spending 5 minutes a day mentally picturing one object. I’ve used my guitar, my phone, my wallet, to varying degrees of success. I’ve also been focusing 5 minutes a day on clearing my mind. Also, way harder than it sounds. I will update again, hopefully with some more tangible progress.

Calm under fire – A couple of stressful incidents came up over the weekend. One I tried to consciously stay calm, but the other I wasn’t as successful….Work in progress.

MUSIC

Lets go with a song that gets me excited – since we are talking about motivations and assertiveness.

The Police – Next To You.

Take the Heat, Stay in the Kitchen

I’ve always handled stress well, I think. I may get a little short with people, but it’s generally when I’m trying to dodge the distraction (see previous post) and get the work done.

That being said, I do find it difficult to stay calm and focused when emotions are hot. And this affects my critical thinking skills in the moment, and afterward, I often think of other ways to approach the situation – ways that would have led to a more effective solution.

Well, Askmen.com says that stress becomes elevated when defensiveness and personal offense increases. Often, under time pressure, we may react bluntly or in a manner interpreted condescendingly. I definitely become more “efficient” with my words when I’m under pressure, and this can be construed as rude or accusatory. What I cannot control is how others around me interpret the words I have said. However, I can choose the words I say in a conscientious manner. Askmen.com suggests being the “Steadfast soldier”. I believe this is an ideal that everyone strives for, but it is difficult to stay levelheaded in the heat of the moment.

So how do I improve my “calm under fire?”

Well lets start with recognizing the triggers that set off those emotions. I will make a conscious effort to acknowledge that I’m getting worked up and frustrated, and take a moment to mentally calm myself down. It’s not perfect, but it’s a start. From there, I will try and focus on the solution, and the facts, and not let the emotions take over the situation. Wish me luck.

FITNESS REVIEW

Run yesterday, run today, Insanity tomorrow perhaps.

MUSIC CHALLENGE

Well I suppose the way to go here would be a song that calms me down. Easy.

Band of Horses – Window Blues

Where Does the Day Go?

To say that I am easily distracted is an understatement. In fact, I’ve found recently that it’s getting worse. I have reason to believe that my current difficulties with focus go hand in hand with my lack of motivation overall, but more on that later. Clearly though, I’m not the only one suffering from a strong case of “hey-look-at-that-button/ad/penny/iphone game/key/etc” syndrome – this seems to be a number-one complaint for many, but usually this easy distraction also gets in the way of solving the problem. The great, unfortunate cycle.

I’m aware of my focus troubles – they’ve followed me around since my youth. And it’s never really held me back much, but now I feel that my potential is being severely limited by the fact that my mind wanders down these bizarre train of thoughts, where one word from the thought earlier leads to a new thought, and down the chain we go. For example, about 10 minutes ago, I switched the song on my itunes to “Don’t Come Around Here No More” by Tom Petty. This immediately triggered a memory of the concert last year where my buddy Ryan was hit on by this girl, so we told her he was engaged. Stef’s engaged now, wedding in August. Gotta remember to book the time off, and while I’m at it I should book off for an extra day on the Canada Day long weekend so that we can go to Point Roberts, we eat like kings down there. Last year we had slow cooked ribs in a home made bbq sauce…..

See what I’m saying here? it doesn’t take much. I got from Tom Petty to home made BBQ sauce in one thought train.

So what do I do about it? 

Well, http://www.betterlife-seeker.com has a whole “how to” article they posted in June 2008 called “How To Improve Concentration: Mental Exercises to Improve Your Focus.” This seems like a great place to start. They have broken it into 3 tasks.

  1. The first is to just focus on one object for 5-10 minutes a day, and to chase all distractions from your mind as you do it. Apparently it gets easier the more you do it…We shall see.
  2. They suggest setting aside 5-10 minutes a day to “quiet your mind” and clear it of all the random thoughts that shoot through your mind.
  3. Last, they say to visualize the end goal of any task. Visualization can act as an effective practice session that helps you master anything. In this case, I suppose, I should visualize being a more focused individual as a whole, but bring that down to each task, imagine the roadblocks and anticipate how to break through them.

Further, I’m going to start small. Each day, at the office, I will try to complete each task through completion (as much as possible), while not succumbing to distraction. I will use the time between tasks to indulge my distractions. As the month progresses, I will try to indulge those distractions less and less – in week 2, I will try to do 2-3 consecutive tasks without indulging distraction. Week 3, I will attempt 5-8 tasks before giving in to distraction. For me, Week 1 will be difficult enough. Starts tomorrow morning.

FITNESS REVIEW

Last night was insanity, tonight will be a 30 minute jog after the hockey game…We will see how it goes.

SONG OF THE DAY

Music has been the one area of my life, always, where I don’t get distracted. Playing or listening to music, when I want to, can hold my complete attention for hours. As music is always playing in the background at my desk through the day, I can, for the most part, tune it out and work. Sometimes, though, a song comes on that I cannot ignore – a song that commands my attention for it’s full duration. When I’m working, this can occasionally instill a type of guilt in me – I know I should be working, but this song requires my attention. So, today, A song that makes me feel guilty. While there are a few that could qualify in this category, I must pick only one, and I will.

Let Wander Your Restless Hearts – Attack In Black

Time to Get My Ass In Shape.

Let’s start with the inspiration for this whole shebang. Fitness. As I said, my goal is to lose 7 pounds in 23 days. This is about a pound every 3 days. That means that every 3 days, I have to burn about 3,500 calories more than I consume. This is a pretty big gap. And I like to eat. Lots. And I like to eat poorly. I also like to drink beer. So this will require focus and commitment. Here’s how I’m going to get there. I can’t fail now – the internets know about it and will tell on me if I fail.

1.) Exercise. Sweat once per day.

And I don’t just mean sweat. I mean really, really work it out. I’ve taken up doing “Insanity” with Jay. Yep, I thought it was stupid at first too. But this is a crazy work out. While I can’t do this every day, as much as I’d like to, I will do it 3-4 times per week. However, on days that I have hockey, I will skip insanity in favour of a hockey work out. Lastly, weekends, we don’t have access to the fitness room. So this will be an opportunity for a bike ride or good run.

Once per day, I will get a good work out in.

2.) Booze.

Gonna have to have less of it. Way less. I have one wedding to attend this month, this weekend. There will be booze involved. However, I will keep my drinking, other than that night, to very limited social beers.

3.) Food.

I eat out a lot. I don’t like cleaning up after myself. I also really like a good pizza or burger. Not a healthy lifestyle. So for this month, I will try to eat a home-cooked dinner 6 times a week, but never less than 4. Lunches will be selected with a strong eye towards healthy, non-fried foods. This is gonna be fucking torture.

Every post, I will give an update of the fitness activities that I did the day(s) prior. Get some accountability in there.

SONG OF THE DAY

Well let’s work with the theme here. Number 9 on the list – a song you can dance to. Well, lets change it around – A song that I like to work out to.

Get Up Kids – Central Standard Time.