Thoughts for Thursday: A Moment of Zen

“Alexa, Good Morning…”

…I said into my smartphone this morning. Once I did that, Shogun Amazon’s AI Daimyo (When the robots take over Siri, Alexa, Cortana, and whatever Google’s version’s called will all be the feudal lords, battling for control of the human chattel. Just watch and see.) set in motion a bunch of pre-programmed routines around my corner of the house. She softly turned on the Smart LED bulb in my bedside lamp on to a lovely sunrise purplish/orange hue at about 40% power. She then turned on all of the lights in my office, and began reading me my daily briefing.

I have my morning briefing set to play a Daily Zen Quotation, the weather, NPR News, the “Ripley’s Believe it or Not Weird Minute” and the Word of the Day.

I Want to Discuss Today’s Daily Zen Quote.

Student says, “I’m very discouraged. What should I do?” Master says “Encourage others.”

Dogen Zenji

This fits right in with what I’ve been writing about regarding personal power, Dr. Amy Cuddy’s research, and the individualism vs. collectivism dichotomy.

I know. Amy Cuddy, Again. Bear With Me…

First, let’s talk about the body shaping the mind, and Dr. Amy Cuddy (again). Her research, along with the research of many others suggests that your behavior – including body language, posture, and other nonverbal factors – affects our brains on a physiological level. Cuddy’s most famous example comes from her TED Talk, which I’ve also already discussed. It’s the idea that if you power-pose (i.e. stand or sit in a wide open posture) in private for two minutes, you can expect your cortisol (the stress hormone) to decrease, and your testosterone (the dominance hormone) to increase.

One of Dr. Cuddy’s soundbites that made it out of her TED Talk and into the mainstream conversation about her work was “Fake it until you become it.” What she meant when she said that is that our bodies do, in fact, have a powerful effect on our minds, and if we act like the person we expect we should be in the roles we’re given, then eventually we become those roles.

Square Pegs and Round Holes

Now, it should definitely be noted that Dr. Cuddy draws a distinction between confidence and competence. There are some roles that some people were just not cut out to fill. That’s okay, that doesn’t mean those people aren’t valuable, but they shouldn’t keep trying when their incompetence is a hindrance to the overall goals of the organization.

I say that not to discourage anyone, but as a way of encouraging you to be introspective. I’m in pretty good shape, but I can’t throw a baseball very well. I’m also 41. My prospects of becoming a professional baseball player are now nearly zero. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean I can’t be an athlete. I can compete in rec leagues, do fun runs, join a martial arts club, or all kinds of other things that will allow me to increase my personal power, even if I’ll never have the social power of being a professional ball player. I can still say I’m an athlete.

What “Fake it until you become it” Really Means

I can’t call myself an athlete, however, if I don’t start acting like an athlete first. What does that mean? Well, that means doing what athletes do. Two and a half years ago I was as un-athletic as it gets. I’m 5’6″, weighed 260 pounds, and barely moved.

Then I started pretending. I took very short walks every day for a while. Then I added a simple 20-30 minute home workout routine into my life. Those are things that athletes do. I wasn’t an athlete yet, but I know that athletes train, so I had to start training.

Sweat.

Now I consistently run two miles three times a week, and yesterday I benched 80 pounds 100 times, did 30×30 dumbbell rows and goblet squats, and did over 100 crunches. I faked it until I became it. I’m now athletic. I can do things unfit people can’t do, and I feel great. I was able to change my identity (or at least my perception of myself) by acting like who I wanted to become.

This Advice Works Across The Board

Come to think of it, a similar thing happened when I learned to play guitar. Sure, I took lessons, but I also told myself I was a guitar player. I acted the way guitar players acted. I started carrying picks around in my pocket at all times (a habit I still keep to this day). I kept my fingernails trimmed constantly, and I always rolled up the right sleeve on my flannel (this was the nineties) because it interfered with my strumming. I bought guitar magazines and hung up posters of Jimmy Page, Slash, Kirk Hammett, Joe Perry and many others. I did all of this before I could play a single note of Stairway to Heaven.

Me opening for Cracker a couple of years ago.

As soon as I took a lesson, I started considering myself a guitarist. As such, I knew I wasn’t going to get to be a good guitarist unless I played. So that’s what I did. I played. Every day. For hours at a time. In a year, I was a good guitar player – and not just for my age. I could keep up with experienced players (to a point). I identified myself as a guitarist before I could really play, and then I just acted like I thought a guitarist should act – I played all the time, and soon I was good.

The Connection

In the case of the Zen quote above, the student wanted to feel more encouraged. The master knew that by encouraging others, the student would not be able to help but be encouraged herself.

If you want more compassion in your life, start acting more compassionately. If you want more peace in your life, start acting more peacefully. If you want more achievement in your life, start acting like you’re already there.

When I faked being an athlete, it worked for me. I lost 85 pounds, and I didn’t keep it a secret. I talked about it with anyone who would listen. Then I went through a bit of a relapse where I gained about thirty pounds back (that was this winter, before I started writing these weekly posts). Then I started with one Mantra Monday post.

I fully believe that deciding to start Mantra Monday (that’s all I was going to do at first) and focus on being a fitness writer helps keep me disciplined and keeps me going. I started going back to the gym in late January, and after writing about it, I’ve been more gung ho than ever.

Growth Mindset

Every so often, we need to break out of whatever routine we’re in and try something new in order to grow. Growth happens when we push ourselves outside of our comfort zone. Remember, an acorn can’t become an oak unless it first breaks through the shell. Similarly, we can’t become our best selves without pushing our boundaries.

There’s also a connection with the individualism vs. collectivism discussion we’ve been having of late. The student was too focused on her own development and perceived lack of progress. She needed balance, so the master sent her out to be with others. I made a big point in those individualism vs. collectivism articles to insist that we must have balance between the two, and this is a great example of that.

Final Thoughts

I am stupid busy over the next week and it’s going to be rough trying to take care of myself. I’m going to try to make sure all of the posts get up on time, but there may be one or two that are a day late – don’t be surprised. In any case, though, by the end of next week there will be five new posts up.

Thanks again for reading and supporting me. Please don’t forget to share these articles with anyone you think they will help, and please follow, like, and subscribe to all of my social media pages, as well as my music profile on your favorite streaming service. Your support is essential and I greatly appreciate it!

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