May 26th 2015: Thought of the Day

success-isnt-something-you-chase-its-something-you-have-to-put-forth-the-effort-for-constantly-then-maybe-itll-come-when-you-least-expect-it-michael-jordan

This is one of my favourite quotes from Michael Jordan (which I have to admit is basically all of them) but it was playing in a basketball game against at my high school against an Elite Basketball School from Denmark yesterday that made me instantly think of this quote.

Throughout high school I was obsessed about being known as an amazing basketball player, that would go on to be the star for an NCAA division IVY League basketball team. I was no way a selfish player or a prima dona. First and foremost I wanted our team to win championships. However, I also wanted all the accolades, and attention to come along with it. I wanted my cake and to eat it too.

However, the harder I tried to “be successful” and fulfill myself through my accomplishments the more they seemed to slip away through my fingers. Not to mention it was the least enjoyable time of my life. Even though I had achieved substantial success, I was inordinately self-conscious and anxious because I had based my entire self-concept on my basketball skills and ability. If I had a great game if I felt on top of the world, but when I played bad I felt worthless.

This whole process continued on throughout my basketball career until the fateful day in which I was cut from Boston University’s Men’s Basketball Team. It was absolutely heart-breaking. I felt like who I was had died. I walked around campus like a ghost. I was feeling a mixture of intense sadness and anger (the video below encapsulates my feelings at that time well). I could not understand how I could fail even though I worked so hard and it wanted it so bad. However, that is exactly why I failed.

I wanted it too bad, and I was constantly ignoring the beauty of the present moment (which is life itself!) and projecting myself forward to a future point in time in which I would inhabit a perfect stress free world because I was a NCAA division 1 basketball player. It is comical what I used to think as a teenager.

After I got cut I felt so embarrassed that I essentially removed myself from almost every connection with the basketball community I had (which were numerous) and stopped playing basketball (which is what I love to do the most). However, after years the orange round ball kept calling me back and I couldn’t resist.

The game yesterday perfectly encapsulates the quote above. Even though I was super sore from a very hard track workout I had done the day before, I was throwing down the classic one hand Lebron-esque dunk. I love that dunk because you can really crank it back hard and slam it hard. The crowd loved it. This was something that always eluded me back in my high school days. I got to the game and things just flowed effortlessly. It was like I was watching a movie. I knew what to do but it was as if something was flowing through me and executing the movements effortlessly.

How I felt in warm-ups.

How I felt in warm-ups.

In addition, yesterday may have been one of the most enjoyable times I have had while playing basketball. I had absolutely zero expectation about my performance. I was not out there to prove something to someone. I was just so happy to be able to play once again with my high school teammates. Obviously I have worked extremely hard over the years to prepare my body, but the primary reason for my success is my ability to live in the moment and embrace the current moment no matter what shape it may take. I used to always scowl at the refs when they called a foul on me, and now I was just joking around with them.

As mentioned in a previous post (Read More: Mindfulness in Motion) this state of intense presence is the most important aspect of excellence in any field. But how do you develop the mental tools to remain in this moment? I am sure you can guess what I am going to say, but yes it is meditation!

I just want to clear one common misconception right off the bat. Meditation does not require you becoming a celibate monk, leaving your current life and going to a monastery where you sit in the lotus position for hours on end. Meditation, is simply the act of focusing your attention completely on something here and now. They are countless ways to do this, and in an upcoming free e-book I will guide you on the best way to foray into the vast field of meditation.

Although I am sure this is an extremely effective way to meditate, you by no means have to do it in this way.

Although I am sure this is an extremely effective way to meditate, you by no means have to do it in this way.

Be Happy and Chase your Dreams,

Pavan Mehat

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PS Here are a few ways to connect with me if you have any questions or have any specific topics you would like me to address. 

Pavan Mehat’s LinkedIn

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A pragmatic tool to deal with negative emotions and set backs.

What is this pragmatic tool I alluded to in the title?  It is a very ancient and simple practice but do not allow its simplicity to belie its remarkable effectiveness. It is one of the most powerful tools to not only deal with the suffering that is an essential component of being human, but to transmute it to grow and produce positive things that would have never been possible otherwise. So what is it already?

Before I divulge that information (if you are in a real hurry skip this paragraph) I would like to flesh out how important suffering is not only for our development but as a vehicle for producing something that positively changes the world by sharing a story about Adele. The talent and skill Adele has honed over thousands of hours of deliberate practice is unquestionable. However, we all know that talent and skill is NOT enough to ensure success in a field. It requires something more that we have not yet grasped and conceptualized yet. However, during the making of her widely acclaimed album 21 she was struggling to produce any songs that connected with her audience. It was NOT until she went through a tough break-up with the first man she had seriously dated that broke her heart was she able to produce the songs that made her album such a success and allowed her to stock up Grammy awards. It was the pain that allowed her to produce something that would change the world. Without the bad break-up she would have been just another uber-talented musican without a muse or a deeper message in her songs.

However, just going through negative experiences does not automatically mean that great success will follow. We see people all the time who suffer set backs and it destroys them. It is only those people who can handle the negative emotions and embrace them and use it as a stepping stone to bigger and better things. So I have been keeping you waiting so long, and the pragmatic tool I have alluded to in the title that can help is journaling.

You may think wow what a waste of my time reading this article. I am not a 13-year old girl. However, before you let your ego jump in please take a second to pause and firstly ask have you ever tried it? They are so many benefits about journaling, which is extolled in the scientific literature but I will NOT make that the subject of this blog post. This world does not need more people regurgitating what is already out there, but does need people sharing their experiences to help people grow and become the strongest version of themselves.

So why did I begin journaling, and how did it help me? I begin journaling because one of my early great coaches, Glen Chu essentially demanded that all players journal what they learn in BOTH practice and games, so that the invaluable lessons they learn truly become internalized. This is something that immediately resonated with me; however the wisdom of his recommendation did not initially transfer over to other areas of my life and got lost as I moved to college.

It was not until I read The Obstacle is the Way that the importance of journaling really hit me. Marcus Aurelius the 16th empire of the Roman Empire, who was the most powerful man in the world at that time religiously kept a journal. During his living years he was the only one who ever saw this journal. So it was NOT a publicity gimmick or a way to build up his ego. It was a practical tool he used to allow him to develop and be the best that he could be. For those history buffs out there you would know how tumultuous times were for the Roman Empire during his reign and how gracefully he dealt with all the challenges. For me personally I completely understand why he kept up his journal. I find writing my thoughts in a venue free of judgement is so therapeutic. The pouring of ideas from your mind is surprisingly relaxing and helps alleviate the static noise of thoughts that are always running in the background of your awareness. Also, through the act of writing, new ideas and insights are able to be made once your ideas are on the page.

But what do I write about? I know this was a huge barrier when I first began journaling. The key is to just get started and write about whatever you want. It does NOT need to be insightful or deep, just need to get the process of writing started and whatever needs to come out at the time will come out. I have included a sample of a journal entry I made this morning, in hopes that it may serve as inspiration for you to begin your journaling journey. This entry is NOT edited and is myself in its raw and unedited version. As you can see from the passage below I like to write my entries as if I am having a discussion with myself.


 

02/08/2015 –I am truly so happy and grateful for the amazing learning experience I had recently experience. It really reinforced the lesson that the primary cause of my suffering is that I believe I am above that suffering. That is the absolutely worst attitude to have.

 

I need to love and embrace the suffering I am allowed to experience by God/Universe or w.e else you would like to call it. Remember that no mental concept fully encapsulate the infinite. But why should I do this?

 

Pain is the primary vehicle, if transmuted correctly, to achieving higher states of consciousness and presence. This is a very important lesson to hammer in, NOTHING external matters! What does is my internal purpose, which is to practice and learn to live in the NOW as best as I can! Why? Everything external is fleeting, ephemeraland will die. So it is impossible to attach your true purpose to something that is only temporary.

 

My primary problem is that I am seeking completion/salvation through my outer purpose, which will NEVER happen. I need to drastically restructure my life to reflect this new truth. Why? I am constantly trying to keep myself busy/build my ego to avoid this journey. The low information diet purported by Tim Ferris is NOT only very practical to achieving your full potential but is also very spiritual.

 

I do NOT need anymore knowledge from books. I need to go out and live life and get in touch with my body. My body has the infinite universal intelligence at its disposal for which I am barely using any of it. Once I am able to get in touch with my inner purpose I will have access to the universal intelligence and my external reality will take care of itself.

 

One important caveat is that you can NOT fight unconsciousness. You can only bring the light of consciousness to it. Whatever you resist persists. Do NOT worry about what I am doing wrong or make myself into a problem. The ego loves that. Just focus on being as present as possible and the rest will take care of itself.

 

So yesterday my pain body did take-over but that is completely fine because I could definitely tell that I was much more aware of the negative energy field and was able to keep it at bay for longer than expected before it took over me.

 

So what is my plan of action? So firstly I need to realize that I need to take care of my body and go inwards before it can be transcended.

 

Plan of Action

  1. Complete fast for rest of day + Sauna to clear my body of toxins
  2. Attend TM group meditation
  3. Clear out extraneous material possession that are cluttering my life and give them away to people that could use them
  4. Remember all the modalities that I have that can be used when feeling pain and can transmute it into presence
    1. Tai Chi/Qi Gong
    2. TM
    3. Heart Math
    4. Bio-Energetics
    5. Walking/Running
    6. Basketball
    7. Yoga
    8. Mindfulness
  5. No books/media (especially NBA.com and espn.com) except what I need for school/MCAT/ Ekart Tolle’s audiobooks
  6. Completely get rid of any distractions keep phone on loud but turn off when I do not want to be disturbed so I am not incessantly checking my phone
  7. No Youtube/Music as the vast majority of the stuff out there is crap that is turning my brain into mush

 

So that’s it for now, the plan in it of itself is NOT that important but what is important is that I am actively pursuing my inner purpose in EVER aspect of my life. I need to practice everything that I do!


As I am sure you can guess I am currently listening to Ekart Tolle’s amazing audiobook A New Earth. I highly recommend anyone read it! It presents so many key and important ideas in such a thoughtful manner that doing a book review on it would be doing it a disservice.

 

Mindfulness in Motion

“It’s not about how much you practice, it’s about how much your mind is present when you’re practicing.”

If you follow psychology at all, you may have noticed that in recent years, the term “mindfulness” has been garnering a lot of attention. The most commonly accepted definition of mindfulness is “the intentional, accepting and non-judgemental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment.”  Mindfulness is not a trance state, it is not someplace that you can get to. It is a way of being in the present moment.  It is not some clear-minded, peaceful fantasy world.  Noticing the breeze brushing against your cheek is mindfulness, but so is noticing your desire to check that text as you drive.

Chinese Study showed that after only 20 minutes a day for 5 days a group given meditation instruction scored significantly better than a control group (given relaxation training) in:

Attention

Lowered anxiety, depression, anger and fatigue

Decreased cortisol

Increased immunoreactivity (increased immune system functioning)

Recently, researchers from Harvard have also begun to study mindfulness meditation on a regular basis.  Using randomly-assigned studies where they have taken before and after shots of the participants’ brains have shown that over the course of 8 weeks the group that practiced mindfulness meditation had significant changes in their brains.

Brain

What were these changes?

Increased gray matter in:

The left hippocampus – involved in both short & long term memory, as well as spatial navigation.  Team sport athletes – imagine being able to learn and absorb your team’s playbook more quickly than ever. Imagine being able to navigate the court knowing exactly where your teammates are, developing court vision like Chris Paul.  Individual skills and sport benefit from increased gray matter in the hippocampus as well – memory is necessary for learning, so this finding would imply that you would be able to remember and re-create that perfect forehand on the tennis court or a spot-on approach in the long jump.

The posterior cingulate cortex – link between several different regions of the brain – if your parts of your brain can’t communicate with the others, you can’t function.

The temporo-parietal junction – used to process incoming information – think of how much information you have to process during a competition – your coach, your opponent’s intention, your teammates’ intention, their location, etc.  Improved ability to do this would theoretically lead to improved skill on the field.

The cerebellum – this piece of the brain has a large role in motor control, i.e. coordination.  Damage to the cerebellum has been shown to mess with motor skills and posture among other things.  As an athlete, you need this area in tip top shape!!

, in the body, stress markers such as cortisol were proven to have become significantly lowered – cortisol is implicated in disease and overtraining, among other things.

Chris+Paul+2012+NBA+Star+Game+6uqjeaJ_fY7l

But wait…aren’t these meditators sitting the whole time staring at the floor?  How do these changes in brain structure apply to performance in a sport?  It’s a fair question.  Let’s bring it back to the Kobe Bryant quote at the beginning.  You cannot improve without being present.  If you aren’t paying attention, or are otherwise putting in poor-quality work, it is not going to be of the same benefit as high quality work.  You can’t even know if you are putting in high or low quality work if you aren’t present and paying attention!  Being present is a skill.  Some people are better than others, and these people generally learn faster than the rest of us.  However, like any skill, you can practice it.  Just like training for strength in the weight room can benefit an athlete on the track, training in formal mindfulness can benefit an athlete by helping them stay focused.  Formal practice is helpful, but you can also practice it without sitting. It can be walking to class or brushing your teeth, an everyday moment.  I used to use segments of collegiate practices throughout the week as specific times to hone my focus – warming up, cooling down, during downtime.  I would try to stay as much in the present moment as I could.  By doing this I noticed two things: first, that I would become more aware during the rest of practice as well, and second, I would notice a lot of things that I had never noticed – feelings and thoughts that were there all along were brought to light.  Simply using your mind to pay attention to whatever may arise in the present moment – worries about the upcoming test, regret that you didn’t say more to your crush in the dining hall a few minutes before, the sensation of sunshine on your face, whatever might be swirling around in that head of yours– is practice.

A key to mindfulness practice is being there for anything that comes up – often we like to run away from thoughts or feelings that we don’t like, and often make our situations worse for ourselves by doing so.  Procrastinating is an example – the work does not go away, and the anxiety only gets worse with each passing moment.  While mindfulness practice does not mean that you must resolve anything, it requires courage to face it.  It takes effort to be with suffering without running to a social media feed or whatever we like to use as a distraction when we would rather be someplace else.  One must be there for our sensations, thoughts and emotions in the present moment like we are there for a loved one – unconditionally, through good times and bad, without judgment.

On the playing field, this means that we are not only present with thoughts and emotions that we like – the sound of the ball hitting the back of the net, the thrill of a big hit – we are present with things that we do not like, like our self-judgment after a mental error, or the butterflies in our stomach.  By harshly condemning our response to our errors, we make a mistake in the way we handle our mistake.  The first step is to stop digging, to accept what is, and to move on from there.  Mindfulness’s contribution to sports psychology is not in that it changes our thoughts and emotions as much as it changes our relationships to our thoughts and emotions.  They may change as you really face them, examine them, hold them up to the light – but they do not have to.  It may be enough to understand that we can tolerate fear, embarrassment, anything.  In the same way that the thought that “this is going to be a great game” doesn’t always turn out to be true, by staying present and accepting of the opposite thought (i.e. this is going to be terrible), we do not have to trap ourselves in the self-fulfilling prophecy that that thought often leads to.

at mark  Throwback…Monday?

As a track & field athlete, some days, practice was pretty painful.  However, as both my mental ability and meditation practice developed, I was able to stay with my dislike of workouts that I wasn’t good at, and shift my attention back to what I needed to do to get better.  Many track runners, and other athletes as well, mindlessly blow through repetitions without realizing that every step is an opportunity to perfect their form, their speed, even work on their attitude as they practice.  So although the workouts still hurt – and I still didn’t look forward to them – when I left the track I could honestly say I was better than when I arrived.  Had I tried to avoid those negative feelings…I would have completed the workout, sure, one way or another…but I would have missed the opportunity to improve that my new acceptance in the present moment gave me.  Sport is all about small improvements. In track & field athletes train for months to get fractions of a second faster.  In team sports as well, an inch will often separate a basketball from a defender’s outstretched hand.  Every little thing matters – the question is, are you going to be present to improve?