I bristle every time I utter the words “new normal”. It is as if I do not want to define the life that we are experiencing now as contrary to how it should be. It is a statement that alludes to the current state as not right, not ideal. It goes against a personal principle of accepting experiences and meeting them from where they arise.
The notion of new normal seems to imply that the manner by which we carry out our lives now are sub-optimal alternatives. That these are just substitutes to how things should be. I find myself in this state of mind from time to time. Instead I would like to take on a more accepting stance so my forward movements are anchored on creation rather than compromise.
There are a lot of things that are not right in the world. But there is a whole bunch that is good and worth waking up for. I hope to continue to choose the latter even as some days are such a struggle.
My daughter has been craving for churros. She rarely voices out these wants but maybe being stuck home has made her more attuned to how her body feels. I, on the other hand, am always craving. Craving for food, drinks but mostly experiences.
I am always doing or wanting to do something. What has been interesting though is I have been happy experiencing life while being home. The cravings are not rising from a sense of being stuck. They are simply part of my strong sensory nature. I am glad that they surface and are satisfied from where I am. Surprisingly for someone who can’t keep still, this has been more than enough.
I am grateful for my cravings. It is a constant indicator of my hunger for learning, thirst for conversations and desire to live life more fully. It reminds me that there is so much to see, taste, hear, smell and touch. To crave is to want more. But we can choose to want what we have right here and right now.
I started my Level 3 improvisation class last night. We started the course with exercises that were more skewed on the physical side. It was a lesson on embodying a character and tuning in to how your body feels in this state. I have always been one who is stirred by movement. This opening of eight weeks of learning excited me.
Embodiment starts with doing. It entails the deliberate and repetitive action to initiate an internalisation process. It is through the movement that we lose ourself to a character or a condition. It is interesting though that as we embody an “other” and let go of ourselves, we discover more about who we are. The surrender of the notion of self seems to unlock parts of our inner selves.
Embodiment is also about listening. It is staying attuned to the stirrings within as well as to the offering of another. As we take on a character further we then have the space to focus on accepting and giving to our partner. This generosity springs from forgetting about the self, its beliefs and perspectives. I shall try to remember this when I get overly fixated with my agenda.
I had a conversation this morning with my younger, bright eyed, fresh-out-of-school team mate about being truly ready. I was reminded of a version of myself from decades ago. He seemed frazzled and worried about all the things that he needed to get right. He admitted to being a bit paranoid about everything. I paused before I responded.
Part of me wanted to tell him to take it easy and just chill. It is the same advice that has been given to me countless times. But I chose to tell him to accept his nature and perhaps simply channel it to suit his objective. It could be the maturity kicking in or the personal experience speaking. I ended up encouraging him instead to cease struggling with how he is and use that as his starting point.
Most of the time we voice out the most obvious solution to a problem presented. But what we miss is an opportunity to meet people from where they are coming from. We usually go with what makes sense, the logical response to a given scenario. What that lacks though are the nuances and details that may not make it applicable to this particular condition. Tuning in and meeting people and situations from where they are- these are what we are called to do instead.
Our habits are the automatic ways we operate our daily lives. These are often deeply ingrained in us and dictate our default settings. Each one though is enabled by four components – Cue, Craving, Response and Reward. The cue triggers a craving that then prompts a response that provides a reward that satisfies a craving. It is this habit loop that pretty much shapes our behaviours.
If we break down our behaviours and habits, we get to see that these are guided by the systems of our lives. We have our own operating system that dictate how our day flows. It is the scaffolding that structures the way we carry out our everyday actions. Given how important this framework is, we are called to take a look at how this foundation may be further strengthened.
It seems like such a a huge undertaking to do so. But it is possible if we apply tiny tweaks in any of the four components of habit. We can endeavor to make the cues invisible, make the craving less attractive, make the action hard to do and make the rewards unsatisfying. It starts with trying to be more aware of our actions to understand what prompts them. This is an ongoing theme that I will continue to reflect and ponder on.
I first heard about the 85- percent rule from a Tim Ferris interview with Hugh Jackman. It was originally from a study on how Carl Lewis, one of the world’s greatest sprinters consistently beat his opponents. They originally thought that his win may be attributed to his longer legs and subsequently longer strides. But when they watched closely, they realised that what truly caused his wins was the fact that he kept at a steady pace all throughout. Even as he was nearing the final stretch where most runners would be pushing to their thresholds, he kept at his own steady and relaxed pace. It is an approach that asks us to listen to our rhythm and go with this even if the circumstances outside change.
When we put so much emphasis on an outcome, we tend to think that we have to give our utmost to make this happen. But what actually happens is that the over fixation on this goal actually causes us to get tensed and stressed. Being in this state suppresses the flow that is key to optimal performance. We are called instead to trust in the process, to believe that we have prepared well and then to simply execute.
It is a form of surrender and letting go. Quite hard for many of us with control issues. But what is interesting is that we get to this point where we can just play because we took control of our training, we deliberately showed up everyday. This rigor has freed us to simply be when it is time to perform. So 85 percent is actually enough to get us going no matter what.
I woke up feeling content. It is a mixed kind of contentment though since I have a sense of choosing to be in this state instead of simply having an overall feeling of ease. Regardless, I like starting my day this way.
I am content to be home especially during days like these when the weather is unpredictable. It would have been quite taxing to prepare to go to work braving the rains, leaving earlier than usual to avoid the traffic that comes as soon as the showers start. I am content to have my family healthy and happy as they do their respective work from where we are.
Accepting things as they are and embracing reality from where they are- these are the starting points of contentment. This ease of being springs from a feeling that everything is enough. Nothing is lacking nor wanting. We are where we ought to be, right here and right now. The choice to live each day against this backdrop marks the quality of our lives.
I first heard about strategic joy when I attended an Airbnb Experience with one of the top world marathoners, Deena Kastor. It is the deliberate creation of these pockets of joy, peppered throughout your day. It can go from the mundane to the marvellous. What is important is that you intentionally breathed life into it for the sheer reason of lightening up your day.
I have been practicing this on my own way even before having such an apt term for it. I initially coined it as “from routines to rituals”. It essentially is the same act of weaving joy into the details of our daily lives. I would like to share some examples of these happiness infusions:
- Writing again on this blog and scheduling it at the exact time everyday.
- Reading my G’Morning G’Night book by Lin Manuel Miranda and the Art of Noticing
- Rumi first thing in the morning
- Yoga before I work
- Dressing up to go to work, topping off the outfit with a hat.
- Preparing freshly brewed coffee.
- Settling in before I start my work.
- Preparing a nice lunch and pondering on the wine to pair with it.
- Drinking sparkling wine for no real reason except I feel like it.
- Preparing milo dinosaur for my kids.
- Preparing cocktails for my husband
- Getting some sunshine.
- Reading fiction
- Browsing through my wine books
So many other ideas to live our days with strategic joy. The imagination can run wild just coming up with these fun and sometimes crazy practices. Cheers to joy and happiness, chosen daily.
Part of the daily self reminder is not to succumb to a frantic day. I define this kind of day as having too many tasks and things to think about. I tend to fret about these many other things. I forget to immerse myself in the task on hand, giving it my full focus. I am already moving on to the next task even as I am currently doing another.
I remind myself constantly to pay attention to the flow of each and every moment. Doing so allows a more rhythmic day. It helps to move with more ease and pleasure even as i carry out the mundane and ordinary. Punctuating each to-do with a pause as I transition to the next one has also been helpful in having a better paced day.
I know this and yet I continue to fall into the frantic trap. Sometimes because of others setting the urgency. But most of the time it is from me wanting to accomplish more and more and more. Nothing gets achieved if you want everything, all at the same time. This post is a reminder to take stock of every single task, carrying these out one at a time, a step in front of another.
“I am a creature of habit. It is how I choose to be and to act in the world.“ I say this to myself everyday as I carry out the things I said I would constantly do. It is a statement that speaks about identity and pride in being someone who tries to build good habits. I was reminded of this while reading Atomic Habits by James Clear.
Having an action tied to who we think we are provides it the reason for repetition. Even as the outcomes are not yet apparent, we keep at it because it is a reflection of who we are. For instance, we may not be seeing the weight loss but we keep exercising and eating healthy because we are a “healthy person”. Every time we act accordingly, it is a vote that adds to the evidence of this identified self.
One needs to be vigilant then with habits. Sometimes the beliefs about the self held strongly compel people to keep at it even if the doing does not suit their current context anymore. Habits are automatic actions that become a person’s default. If these are not revisited and held against circumstances that have shifted, then they may not contribute to the overall improvement that one seeks. The shifting world and uncertainty that beset us call for this revisiting of practices that may have once worked. It is an opportunity to shift gears or even find new ones as a response to the times.