Why you MUST make your bed every morning so you can make your Dreams a reality

May is an absolutely amazing time of year  because of the plethora of convocation ceremonies taking place all over the country. My favorite part about the convocation ceremonies are the keynote speeches. While I appreciate all of the speeches a lot of them are just idealistic platitudes such as “follow your dreams” or “be happy” which make you feel good but are not helpful in guiding a newly minted college graduate in taking his/her first steps in the “real” world.

That is why I LOVED the speech given above by Admiral McRaven above. It gives you a very concrete action item one can take to become the best they can be. You may think that making your bed is a trivial task and why does it matter? It is NOT the specific task that matters but it is a tangible and relatively simple task that YOU HAVE control over to complete each and every day. I mentioned this in a previous post about the power of habits and this posts builds upon that.

I may sound like your mother but making your bed is important business.

I may sound like your mother but making your bed is important business.

It is absolutely essential to make sure that you complete a small task NO MATTER what on a daily basis because it helps corrects an inappropriate locus of control. Broadly speaking yon can categorize an individual’s locus of control  as either:

1. External – They attribute both their success and failures (the events of their life) to external circumstances.

2. Internal – They attribute their successes and failures (the events of their life) to their OWN actions.

When these two loci of control are spelled out so clearly it is readily apparent that an internal locus of control is needed to maximize ones potential. But why would one have an external locus of control? It is something that primarily results from a phenomenon called “learned helplessness”. There is a multitude of sophisticated research studies that delve into this topic that I highly recommend you check out if you are intrigued by this topic. However, the basic crux is that as an individual becomes to feel overburdened by the stresses and pressures of life, to help them cope they then default towards adopting an external locus vs. an internal locus of control. It requires constant work and vigilance to maintain an internal locus of control.

What can you do today to ensure that you are maintaining an internal locus of control? You need to commit to completing small tasks on a daily basis that will cause you to push your limits and comfort zone just a little bit (but not too much). Making your bed is a great first step in reprogramming the internal locus of control so that you take responsibility for BOTH your successes and failures.

Be Happy and Chase your Dreams,

Pavan Mehat

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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How to make long-lasting positive change in your life?

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” – Mark Twain

(Note: This is a relatively long article, if you don’t have that much time skip right down to bottom for the “Spark Notes” of this article.)

Why is it that you struggle to make long lasting positive impact. Why is it that the fudge sundae at the diner seems irresistible and you can’t control ourselves from eating it? Why does it seem like some higher power takes control over you and makes you do things you will regret and you know will not contribute towards achieving your goal? Why is it that some days you are easily able to follow your discipline and others you can’t? This post will answer these perplexing questions.

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Understanding Will Power 

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There is this serious misconception that when you do not follow through and succumb to temptation you’re just a jelly fish and that you need to be more disciplined. So every time you falter you beat yourself up, and promise next time will be different. But it never is. This paradigm is a loser’s strategy and is the main reason for the questions above that may ruminate throughout your heads on a daily basis.

Will power is NOT a fixed trait but is very dynamic. Comparing will power to a muscle is a very illuminating analogy. While you can have the strongest muscle in the world, it will not function well if it is overtaxed. Have you ever noticed that you are much more likely to reach for candy instead of vegetables at the end of a hard and stressful day then at the beginning of the day after a great night of sleep? But how can YOU leverage this knowledge to improve your adherence to positive changes you wish to make in your life?

Firstly, make no more than one or two minor changes to your daily lifestyle at one time. Any more will just overburden your will power “muscles” and cause you sooner or later to revert back to your old patterns and give up the positive changes. Secondly, it is vital that throughout your day that you remain cognizant that your will power is a limited resource and that you don’t indiscriminately use it. Perfectionism (speaking from experience) only leads to heart ache. Embrace your imperfections and set up as much fail-safes to prevent temptation from being present. For example don’t have any junk food in the kitchen, so at the end of a long hard day you have nothing to do but eat that delicious whole food meal.

This understanding will help dramatically improve your compliance with making positive changes. But it begs the question: if willpower is a “muscle” how can we improve it? There are two main ways in my experience that have worked wonders in improving my will power. Firstly, you need to constantly push your will power just a little bit each day. For example, declare that you will make your bed every morning. But, one very important caveat if you are going to do this is: whenever you decide you are going to make a change you need to follow through NO matter what. Otherwise you will develop the habit of failure and you will teach your brain that you never follow through so what’s the point of adhering to the disciplines you set forth in the first place. Secondly, as Sam mentioned in an earlier post, mindfulness practice or meditation will dramatically improve your will power, and it has to do with something regarding the habit loop (discussed below).

Habits – “Why we do what we do.”

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As discussed above, how does meditation/mindfulness help improve will power? What meditation and mindfulness practice does it causes the pre-frontal cortex to short circuit this habit loop temporarily and delay the time between cue and routine which can prevent the negative behavior for occurring. For example, instead of instantly grabbing that cupcake to assuage your worries you will more likely pause and reflect if that is really the course of action you wish to take.

To any readers of the Power of the Habit this diagram above will be very familiar. Over 90% of our daily lives are habits that occur due to a specific cue. This helps explains why will power alone will always fail when trying to make long-lasting positive changes in your life. Even if you can will yourself to not automatically complete the routine in response to a specific cue, there will be a moment when your will power becomes overtaxed due to extenuating circumstances and you will falter and revert to your old behavior. This explains why alcoholics/smokers have a high tendency to revert back to old patterns. There are two very important keys to make sure that you follow through with making positive change and create new and empowering habits.

1. You need to develop a new routine that will replace your old one. For example when you feel overwhelmed and stressed out from work do not instantly grab for that bag of potato chips but, for example, every time you have that craving get out your favorite pack of gum and start vigorously chewing. A lot of times you’re just craving a distraction and not the actual calories.

2. You need to have a belief in something outside of yourself that you can and will follow through and sustain this positive change. In the power of habit they completed a case study of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and were trying to determine the “secret ingredient” to their success. They found out that the emphasis on introducing religion into their participants lives was the key component that allowed some to never touch a drink again while others would falter. At first you may be skeptical as a lot of people who go through the AA program are, but sooner or later everyone will experience an significant event, such as a parent dying that will push them over the edge and cause them to revert back to their old disempowering habits if they don’t have a belief in something bigger than themselves that will propel them through. The key scientific principle that helps supports this principle is that old neural pathways never disappear but only get weakened. That is why an alcoholic can never drink again. If he tries to drink in moderation his brain will instantly being firing up the addiction pathways.

If you find this topic of understanding and changing habits interesting, I would highly recommend you read the Power of Habits. One of the top five influential books I have ever read.

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Summary (“Spark Notes.”)

1. Will power is a limited resource. Use it wisely!

2. Don’t overload your will power by trying to make more than two changes to your lifestyle at a time (one is best, and it should be a small change)

3. Understanding habits and the habit loop is vital to understanding why you do what you do.

4. Need to use cues to propel you into completing empowering routines instead of disempowering ones.

5. A belief in something bigger than yourself is vital to sustain positive change through adversity.

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.

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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?