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05

Nov

Michael Grab – Stone Balance Demonstration

Michael Grab balances stones. Perhaps you have seen a stack of stones in the woods, at the beach or on a mountain? These are nothing like that, or rather, they are just like that, but look like they are a CGI trick. They are not. Just to prove that they are not computer generated, but are actually just one man stacking some rocks, Grab has released a video demonstration of him balancing some rocks. In his words “the process boils down to contemplative stone arrangement; involving patience, adaptation, slow-breathing, steady hands, and a plethora of other practiced skills.” This is nature as spiritual practice as far as I am concerned, and both the process and the results are beautiful and inspiring.

You can learn more about Michael by checking out his website Gravity Glue

 This man is AMAZING! Wednesdays are for AMAZING MEN Find More Amazing Men by clicking HERE

Stone Balance Demonstration by Michael Grab (Gravity Glue) – 1409 – September 2014 from Michael Grab on Vimeo.

04

Jun

Play the Tape

play-the-tape

Michael Phelps has won more Olympic medals than anyone else ever. I have heard a number of stories about how he achieved this. Some people cite his natural physique, his arm span, the size of his feet, his height or the fact that he is double jointed. Some talk about his diet, his workouts, his unwavering commitment, his attitude, his bong hits (really). Some say it was his coach.

As a coach myself, sure, I want to think that his coach had a positive impact in some way. Confirmation bias somewhat aside, one thing that his coach taught him struck me as absolutely brilliant and Phelps has said many a time just how big an impact it has had on him over the years.

Michael Phelps coach, Bob Bowman, taught him how to “play the tape”.

Playing the tape is a catchy way to refer to his use of visualizations to prepare himself for races. In years past many assumed that the best (and perhaps only) way to prepare for an activity was to do it. Practice makes perfect became a truism we all believed. Don’t just sit there, get up and do it! Well, not so fast the science now says. Back in 2002 a psychologist named Alan Richardson studied how visualizing free throws compared to actually shooting them. The results were clear. Those who spent 20 minutes per day visualizing improved almost as much as those who physically practiced. We learn by doing, but we also learn by imagining doing.

Now I am not suggesting that you couch potato your way to success. Clearly the best results come when you combine the two methods. Go out and work your but off, but then, when you are not on the court, or holding your instrument, or in the office or doing anything that you want to excel at, you should learn to hold a vision of exactly how you want this pursuit to go in the future.

Another key element of visualization is relaxation. Anyone who has been in the zone, who has stepped into a FLOW state, knows that we can only drop fully into the moment when we are free from any concerns about the future or the past. Anxiety is our enemy when it comes to performing at the highest level. To this end, it is incredibly useful to practice deep relaxation while visualizing things going perfectly. But this is not only about visualizing a perfect world. Visualizations are also incredibly useful for preparing to overcome obstacles you may encounter. As Phelps once said about his visualization practice, “I do go through everything from a best-case scenario to the worst-case scenario just so I’m ready for anything that comes my way,”

Picture the high pressure situation you would like to conquer. Can you see the ideal unfolding of events? This is the first step. This is your “tape”. Once you know what is on the tape, it is great to “play the tape” before bed, upon waking, or just before your big competition, test, interview, performance, presentation etc. But once you get that down, once you have written the tape and you can play it at will, you are ready for the next step. Now, can you allow yourself to CALMLY see something going horribly wrong, but then also see yourself overcoming this obstacle and being massively successful regardless. This is the expert version of visualizations. The goal is not to leave yourself stranded with the difficulty, but to sink deep into a relaxed state and experience yourself overcoming any and all obstacles. Here is where playing the tape really becomes powerful.

Philosophers have said for years that our minds can not tell the difference between what is real and what is only inside the mind. Dreams are real until we wake up. The mind works in mysterious ways. Some have postulated that dreams are actually a way for us to practice life before it happens; to re-live events that did not go as planned and to play with possibilities that the future holds for us. This is pure speculation, but what is abundantly clear is that people who are masterful often have a clear vision of how they want things to go long before it happens. This is not about being attached to outcomes. This is about resonating with and stepping into the reality that you want to create for yourself.

Tiger Woods was taught to visualize his golf ball going exactly where he wants it to go from a very young age. Jim Carrey once wrote himself a check for 10 million dollars and carried it with him every day until he actually started making that much money. How’s that for a vision of the future? Arnold Schwarzenegger used visualization to see not only exactly how he wanted each and every muscle in his body to grow during his body building years, but also to hold a vision of himself as a movie star when his body building career was coming to an end. Each of these people learned to believe deeply that something would happen long before it actually did.

Much of what we are discussing here is about belief. As I have discussed before, belief is an incredibly potent ingredient when trying to change a habit or stimulate growth. The powerful, yet simple act of “playing the tape” will never happen if you don’t first let yourself believe that there is a possibility of being successful. So play the tape. Try it when you are in bed with your eyes closed. Let visions of your future joy and success fill your dreams and wake you from your bed. Cultivate belief in your every fiber and let these ideas, emotions and actual skills work there way into the very fabric of your body and your mind.

28

May

Creativity vs. Productivity?

iron-workers

Productivity vs. Creativity?

Have you ever considered the possibility that productivity is fundamentally at odds with creativity? A recent article in Wired by Clive Thompson looks at the intersection of getting things done and having big thoughts. His article comes largely out of the increasingly contentious discussion about working in an office vs. working from home. Likely you have heard about the memo that leaked from Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer banning all telecommuting for her employees. When she later spoke publicly about this policy at a conference she said “people are more productive when they’re alone, but they’re more collaborative and innovative when they’re together. Some of the best ideas come from pulling two different ideas together.”

This is the tension that Thompson is exploring in his article. This promises to be a topic we are hearing about for years to come as the economy moves more and more from industries that make products in a factory to those that process information with computers. The information age makes location and physical proximity to others something we have a lot of room to play with. As technology improves we might even find ways to make being at home feel a lot more like being together. For now we must decide whether to work alone or in an office with others.

First off, what do we mean by productivity? I can already hear a few of you saying that a burst of creativity feels incredibly productive and it is. What productivity means in this context is not coming up with the idea for this article I am writing, but sitting down and having laser like focus in order to complete it start to finish. Productivity is greatly improved when we have no distractions and can stay focused on the task at hand. Productivity is all about  FLOW. This is why learning to focus with meditation is such a HUGE boon to productivity, you become able to choose a single point of focus in any environment, but I digress.

Creativity, on the other hand, often thrives with disruption. The “water-cooler” effect is what we get when people wander around an office, looking and creating distraction. Two people collide unexpectedly, one lost in their own world of work, the other revolving in some seemingly disconnected sphere, when they casually collide…..synergy! (yes, that word has so much power-point presentation perfume on it that it is starting to feel gross to me too).

At the same time, I think we all know that the opposite is true.

Writing has long been my primary creative output. Some times I write music; other times words. Once in a while they both happen at once. When scoring a video or when trying to express a feeling that I can’t quite put my finger on being alone is often the best way to get in touch the very subtle thread of what I am trying to manifest. I often spend an entire day romancing myself into the state from which a song or words will arise. For hours nothing and then suddenly I get completely inspired and simply FLOW. This is what I require to still the currents of others energy and get in touch with something that is still very subtle within myself. But then there are those incredibly special moments when I find myself with someone else and we are writing together. True, this can’t happen with anyone, but when working with a songwriting partner it is primarily the space between us that resonates and calls forth sounds neither of us would have discovered on our own. This too is an incredibly creative way to work. I am sure that you can see the parallels to this in any endeavor. Some times being alone is needed, other times we need some complimentary energy.

So where does that leave us?

This leaves us in my favorite place. There are no hard rules to go by. The solution is awareness. We must each be able to know what our goals are, to witness the process we are using and be ready to change things up when we are stuck. Experiencing writers block at home? Go to a coffee shop! Can’t keep a thought in your head at the office…..go to a coffe shop! Hmmm…..might this be the perfect middle ground? Not only do we get the creative/productive caffeine injection, we get a world of sensory input from being in the café vortex of modern life. We get to be with other people and ignore them as much as we want! Perhaps there is something to working with strangers. Co-working anyone?

11

Feb

Find Your Element

Costa Rica Surfing

Part 1 – What is FLOW? : Part 2- How to Create FLOW : FLOW part 3 of 3

I have explained what FLOW is and how much it is like transcendent spiritual experiences. I talked about two ways to cultivate FLOW. One by changing yourself, the other by changing your environment. Today we will look at a 3rd factor in cultivating flow.

Do you know your purpose? How about your calling? Do you know what you were born to do? Many of us dismissed this idea years ago when we had to pick a major and start thinking seriously about making a living. At some point it may have become too painful to keep thinking about you could or should be doing with your life when there are bills to pay and bosses to appease.

Ken Robinson’s new book is called The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything. In this book he says that when you step into the intersection of your natural aptitude and your personal passion you are in your element. Your element is deeply connected to your purpose, your calling, finding your “tribe” and experiences of FLOW.

We have established that FLOW is an experience of single pointed focus. FLOW happens when we merge with whatever task we are doing and have an experience of timelessness, of absolute clarity and precision of action. Our movements and thoughts arise as one, doubt vanishes and we move without hesitation. We know that you can meditate to cultivate the ability to focus on anything and therefore make yourself more likely to experience FLOW in any circumstance. We also know that you can structure your activities to be more like a game to make any activity more likely to lead to FLOW. Games have just the right balance of challenge and reward. They help us to measure our progress and see what the next steps should be. But we also know that at times we can slip into states of FLOW with no effort, no structure and no prior meditation experience. Most have experienced this at least once in their life, usually far more. These moments provide clues to finding your element.

It is easy to focus on things that we love. We get drawn in, lose ourselves and time flies. It is easy to see how doing things that we enjoy facilitates FLOW. But have you noticed the same experience happening with things that you are simply good at? I was good at math as a child. A teacher would give me a challenging problem and I just knew how to approach it. I could systematically use logic to work my way through any problem. I was good at it and I very naturally fell into a state of complete focus on what I was doing largely because the steps were accessible and getting results felt rewarding. It may sound like a stretch to you to hear me say that math was like a game to me, but it was. Unfortunately I didn’t enjoy it enough. Over the years, a love for numbers never emerged enough for me to want to spend my days calculating although I do still love spreadsheets 🙂

I spent years working in the security industry where, at first, I thought I was highly valued mostly because of my technical skills. I had a knack for understanding massive, multi-million dollar security systems. When things didn’t work I was expert at not only tracking down problems through hardware, software, networking, user error and many other levels of complexity, but also at getting that problem solved quickly. It was years before I realized my true gift and how this work was part of what I love. Solving problems in Fortune 500 companies and government agencies requires dealing with massive technological complexity but also with communicating with utter simplicity to complex people of all types. My real specialty, and why I was successful, had as much to do with relating to people as understanding security systems. A problem that might take someone else 3 months of emails and meetings to solve I could often solve by walking the halls, sitting on an unexpecting firewall programmers desk and getting favors done while getting to know about his life. Complete strangers often shared intimate details of their lives while bypassing protocol to get a job done quickly. My real skills merged my ability to communicate the essence of complex systems very simply while building relationships. It took me years, but eventually this led me to become a Life Coach.

What is more complex than an individuals life? We are each an elaborate system of interwoven elements with non-linear relationships that are never constant. My years of study of philosophy, health, nutrition, spirituality, meditation, relationships, careers and on and on all come to bear when helping others build a lifestyle that can support them through creating or managing major life transitions. What is the most crucial element when helping someone understand and transform their life? It is all about building relationships while making complex topics sound very simple and manageable. I love this work.

As you may have guessed, I quite regularly go into FLOW states while working with clients. Whether on the phone, in person, over skype or writing to them through emails between sessions my love for getting to know others on a very deep level merges with my skill (and love) for taking complexity and communicating it clearly to help create major change. I have found my element and it flows with greater ease and enjoyment than anything else I have ever done.

Much of what I now do is help others through this same process of discovery. What are your skills? What are your passions? What do you love? What are you good at? How can your skills and your interests come together to put you in your element?

03

Feb

How to Create FLOW

Cesar Burning Man Fire Play

Part 1 – What is FLOW? : FLOW part 2 of 3 : Part 3- Find Your Element

Last week I introduced Mihaly’s research showing that happiness correlates with states of FLOW and then answered the question “What is FLOW?” I also mentioned that cultivating or creating FLOW can be approached in two ways. Today I will talk about those two ways to create FLOW by further exploring the connection between spiritual practice and becoming an expert. Both are about cultivating optimal experience.

“The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to it’s limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is thus something that we make happen.” – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Religions throughout the ages have included techniques and practices that help one to become absorbed in something bigger than ourselves. While the paths are many, one thing that all of the contemplative paths have in common is that they develop ones ability to focus single pointedly. I wrote about a couple of ways to do this before. The religious traditions often relied on prayer, meditation, chanting, ecstatic dance, breathing exercises and other techniques. What do these all have in common? Other than developing our ability to Focus, they result in FLOW states. What Mihaly discovered, is that these states can also be cultivated at work, at play and in any other activity. The key is to structure the activity properly.

There are essentially two ways to go about creating FLOW. I could call them spiritual and mechanical. I will talk about Focus and Gamifying. One changes you, the other structures your environment and the way you interact with it. Cultivating focus will transform any and all activities bringing every moment closer to being a flow state. Meditation is the best method I know of for this. I can honestly say that meditation has changed my experience of every aspect of my life for the better. I realize how bold and absolute a statement that is and still I stand behind it. The other way to create flow states is to structure an activity so that it is more engaging. The key is actually to take any project and make it seem more like a game.

Think about what a game includes. Mihaly cites 8 key points to making activities more likely to FLOW. Tell me they don’t remind you of a game:

  • Allows you to work toward a clear goal with a well-defined process
  • Provides ongoing, direct feedback
  • Is highly-challenging, but doable
  • Allows for control over the means to accomplish the goal
  • Is meaningful or intrinsically rewarding, by the very nature of doing it
  • Cultivates deep-concentration
  • Creates a lack of a sense of self-consciousness
  • Leads to an altered sense of time

I start every coaching relationship by setting goals. The ironic part is that, while my clients do tend to achieve these goals, the reason that their life improves while working with me is not just because they reach their goals. Having a clear destination actually helps make the journey more enjoyable. Setting goals helps us to pay attention to what is happening. When we pay close attention to what is happening we are more likely to become immersed in activity. When we are immersed in this we way we are more likely to enjoy immediate experience. Quite often our goals change along the way. I never let uncertainty about outcomes stop me or my clients from setting goals. Having a goal is the very thing that allows you to change plans. It is the sense of purpose, direction and engagement that a goal provides that helps to cultivate states of flow.

They key is to become light and playful with your goals like a child chasing their best friend in a game of tag. Where I often see spiritual seekers getting lost is when their desire to be present and accepting of all that arises leads them to believe that they should completely let go of any attachment to outcomes. Stillness is not enough. Alone it is boring. The key, as FLOW theory states it, is not to go limp, but to become playful. Human beings happen to enjoy being creative. Having a goal that is challenging draws forth our creative potentials and gives us a focus that is outside of ourself. One way to keep challenge from becoming overwhelming is to break a goal down into smaller, more approachable steps.

When you break your work up into small tasks it helps you in a couple of ways. One is that the next step is clear and approachable. The other is that you get rewarded for completing a step. and This provides positive reinforcement, motivation and builds momentum.

What do gamifying tasks and spiritual practice have in common? They both cultivate two things:

Single pointed focus – the ability to become completely absorbed in one and only one activity
The ability to be absolutely present in the moment – Not only are you focused on one task, you are actually completely focused on one activity at a time in that task. You are not concerned with what the next 10 steps will be, but only on the one step you are working on right now.

The spiritual path works on you. By developing the interior skills to have a single point of focus you can be completely present in the moment. The gamification approach is a method for structuring your exterior environment so that your interactions with it foster single pointed focus while being completely present in the moment.

Of course, no matter how much you prepare, Gumption Traps are a major FLOW disruption.

Next Sunday I will talk about how we each have one task which is the most likely to lead us to FLOW states. Are you ready to Find Your Element?

This post is from a series called Insights that are inspired by the work I do with my clients as a Life Coach.

If you are ready to live with more joy, more passion and more purpose than I would love to be of service. Contact me to find out how my Life Coaching Program can kickstart your journey.

27

Jan

What is FLOW?

14-carnivaleup

FLOW part 1 of 3 : : Part 2- How to Create FLOW : Part 3- Find Your Element

“Being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.” – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Imagine yourself having the experience described above. Are you happy? Has this happened in your life? It has probably not happened enough. What if you could learn to cultivate this experience so it begins to happen more and more often? What if happiness is a skill you have not been taught? Would you want to learn now? According to Mihaly, “it is a circuitous path that begins with achieving control over the content of our consciousness.”

Can you control the content of your consciousness? Most of us can’t. Lucky for us people have been studying this concept for millennia; and they have been taking notes. What? You are not inclined to read sacred texts on philosophy and spirituality? Fine fine fine. Today, we have the option of studying more modern, scientific approaches as well. One such source is the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Mihaly has spent the past 50 years studying happiness and building a, now widely acclaimed, theory about how it correlates with states of FLOW. His 1990 book Flow – The Psychology of Optimal Experience details the years of research that went into his theory. It turns out that FLOW is not at all unlike the states mystics have been reporting for thousands of years. What is different is the approach. But first, what is FLOW?

“Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.” – wikipedia

You have experienced Flow. Some call it being ‘in the zone’ or ‘in a groove”. Whatever we call it, something magical happens when we become fully immersed in an activity. What you may not have realized is that this experience is one that you can cultivate.

“Happiness is not something that happens. It is not the result of good fortune or random chance. It is not something that money can buy or power command. It does not depend on outside events, but, rather, on how we interpret them. Happiness, in fact, is a condition that must be prepared for, cultivated, and defended privately by each person. ” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. (FLOW p.2 1990)

What Mihaly realized is that these states are accessible to anyone deeply immersed in a task. Perhaps the easiest place to see this is when we look at those who have mastered their craft. Musicians, athletes, scientists, chefs, entrepreneurs, the undertaking does not matter. When we immerse ourselves in an activity entirely something profound happens. In one sense, when we go deeply enough into a task we actually cease to exist in our own awareness. We disappear and only the activity remains. For those of you who are familiar with mysticism this might sound familiar. When experts experience FLOW it is not at all unlike mystical union where the goal is to overcoming the duality of self and object.

Speaking of a composer lost in the experience of creating new music Mihaly recounts, “that this is so intense an experience that it feels almost as if he didn’t exist. And that sounds like a kind of a romantic exaggeration. But actually, our nervous system is incapable of processing more than about 110 bits of information per second. And in order to hear me and understand what I’m saying, you need to process about 60 bits per second. That’s why you can’t hear more than two people. You can’t understand more than two people talking to you. Well, when you are really involved in this completely engaging process of creating something new, as this man is, he doesn’t have enough attention left over to monitor how his body feels, or his problems at home. He can’t feel even that he’s hungry or tired. His body disappears, his identity disappears from his consciousness, because he doesn’t have enough attention, like none of us do, to really do well something that requires a lot of concentration, and at the same time to feel that he exists. So existence is temporarily suspended. And he says that his hand seems to be moving by itself.” – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Ted Talk 2008)

The key to achieving FLOW lies in immersing yourself entirely in a task. You become absorbed in something other than, perhaps bigger than yourself. Starting to sound a bit more like spiritual practice? The American meditation teacher Shinzen Young describes Mihaly’s flow as “the pleasure derived from being in a state of samadhi as you do ordinary things.” In a sense, FLOW happens when you take an every day task and transform it into something overwhelming and uplifting. While it is true that FLOW can happen during any task, there are specific tasks and specific ways to approach activities that make it far more likely to happen. There are two approaches to cultivating FLOW, one is more spiritual, the other is more of a game.

Now that you have an idea what FLOW is you may be wondering How to create FLOW (read on)

 

This post is from a series called Insights that are inspired by the work I do with my clients as a Life Coach.

If you are ready to live with more joy, more passion and more purpose than I would love to be of service. Contact me to find out how my Life Coaching Program can kickstart your journey.

31

Dec

Gumption Traps

Devin Martin Spilled Milk

Have you ever been caught in a gumption trap? I am going to guess that you have. A better question might be ‘how did you handle the gumption trap?’

Put simply, gumption is your initiative, your energy to move forward and your ability to do so with commonsense and shrewdness. Gumption is the drive that pushes you to start a project and also the focus, clarity and motivation that carries you through until you finish it. When your gumption is high you will find yourself scribbling feverishly, drawing up plans, writing with acute focus, speaking with confidence and full of insights. When gumption is high you work through a project with enthusiasm and a sense of possibility. States of extremely high gumption are akin to FLOW states.

In his 1974 novel Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance Robert Pirsig coined the term gumption trap. Here he explains the power of gumption while working on a motorcycle:

“Gumption is the psychic gasoline that keeps the whole thing going. If you haven’t got it there’s no way the motorcycle can possibly be fixed. But if you have got it and know how to keep it there’s absolutely no way in the whole world that motorcycle can keep from getting fixed. It’s bound to happen. Therefore the thing that must be monitored at all times and preserved before anything else is the gumption. “

What Pirsig so clearly understood is that it is not knowing how you will succeed that drives you forward, but rather an ineffable sense that success is possible. Gumption is our ‘reservoir of good spirits’. Another word for gumption in this sense might be faith.

A gumption trap is something which saps your energy, undermines your faith or otherwise causes you to falter in your drive towards completing a project. Gumption traps can stop you cold before a project is begun at all.

Pirsig identifies two types of gumption traps. One arises from external circumstances, he calls these “set-backs”. The other arises from internal circumstances, he calls these “hang-ups”.

Set-backs come in all shapes and sizes. In motorcycle maintenance Pirsig describes going through a complicated assembly process only to realize that you skipped an early step, “What’s this? A connecting-rod bearing liner?! How could you have left that out? Oh Jesus, everything’s got to come apart again! You can almost hear the gumption escaping. Psssssssssssss.” Set-backs could also be a stubbed toe, a lost computer file or an unaccounted for expense. Basically, any circumstance that adds time, effort or expense to your project is a potential gumption trap. When you first become aware of such a set-back there is a very real sense of having the wind taken from your sails and if you are not careful the entire project is now in danger do to one simple question: Will you have the gumption to continue?

Hang-ups come in many forms as well. The key to hang-ups is that they are something that you brought to the project with you. They are your own personal kinks and shadow issues that threaten to steal your thunder when working on a project. Pirsig identifies a few: Ego, “if you have a high evaluation of yourself then your ability to recognize new facts is weakened.” Anxiety, “You’re so sure you’ll do everything wrong you’re afraid to do anything at all.” Often times anxiety is mislabeled as ‘laziness’. Boredom, “the opposite of anxiety and commonly goes with ego problems. Boredom means you are not seeing things freshly, you’ve lost your “beginners mind”.

Each gumption trap has its own unique request and getting your gumption back takes many shapes ranging from taking a break to studying more to seeking inspiration elsewhere (go to a show, make love, exercise) to doing some self exploration and facing your demons.

Many things can be a gumption trap; a bad work environment, disrespectful coworkers, cheap tools, self doubt, an accident or an unsuccessful first try. The key is to recognize that gumption is not a fixed commodity. At times you are full of faith. At others you need a break. Awareness of this dynamic can free you to choose how to use your energy more wisely and free you from beating yourself up unnecessarily for not being 100% at all times and in all circumstances. Learning to recognize gumption traps will help you to avoid them at times, but simply acknowledging them when they do arise and adjusting accordingly can save you immense effort and may be the thing that allows you to finish what would otherwise have become an aborted project. 

This post is from a series called Insights that are inspired by the work I do with my clients as a Life Coach.

If you are ready to live with more joy, more passion and more purpose then I would love to be of service. Contact me to find out how my Life Coaching Program can kickstart your journey. – Devin Martin

02

Dec

How to Focus

Do you know how to focus? Be honest. Concentration is a skill most of us are never taught. My ability to focus on one thing has improved drastically in the past year. Allow me to explain.

The average adult can focus on an object in an unbroken fashion for far less than one minute. Some estimates put the average time at more like 8 seconds. That’s when we’re trying. 8 seconds of laser like focus and then we seek distraction; a new webpage, a different thought, shifting in our seat, looking out the window. Distractions are endless. But what does it feel like to stay focused?

Have you ever been in the ‘flow‘ or the ‘zone’? Have you ever lost yourself in sex? Sports? Reading? Work? These flow states are the product of extreme focus for an extended period of time. Take a look at a great athlete, scientist, artist, inventor or entrepreneur and you are likely to see extended periods of deep, unbroken concentration coupled with fearless action. We wield great power when we can focus. A wealth of research is starting to point to the idea that your ability to focus single pointedly on a task directly correlates with the ability to achieve one’s goals. (I’ll be writing more on this in coming weeks)

We are all familiar with the increasing number of diagnoses of Attention Deficit Disorder in the United States. There are a lot of uncertainties about the reasons for this. Some cite genetics, others the way schools are set up for a particular learning style or parenting, technology, the pharmaceutical industry, media, sedentary lifestyles, chemical imbalances, diet. The list goes on. Clearly all of these factors and many more play a role. When I talk with clients about “lifestyle integrity” we work with all of them.

What does not receive enough voice is that concentration is a skill. You can learn how to focus. Like any skill, concentration increases with practice. Yes, some seem to have an innate proclivity for extended concentration while others seem to struggle with single pointed attention. The same could be said for shooting free throws. Some people take to basketball instantly. Others are a bit clumsy. Certainly not everyone can play in the NBA. But ask any coach and I am sure they will say that everyone who puts in the work can improve from their baseline by a great deal. Practice is the key. Lucky for us, there are practice techniques that have been honed through thousands of years of testing for developing concentration. This is one of the reasons many business leaders will report having a regular meditation practice.

Spiritual practice is about a lot more than simply concentration, but there are few formal paths that do not develop this skill early on. Concentration is the foundation of prayer, mantra, koan, chanting, ecstatic dance, breathing exercises and a wide range of more subtle meditative exercises. Christianity asks us to pray with absolute focus and intention. Zen Buddhism will have you focus on a koan or ‘nothing’ at all to realize enlightenment, but first you will spend a great deal of time doing little more than counting your breath; 1-10 and repeat. When I first started attempting 1 minute of perfect focus was difficult and frustrating. Now I will do this for up to an hour at a time and enjoy it immensely. This practice is fruitful through years of effort.

Transcendental Meditation (TM) works with a mantra. A mantra, in this instance, is a sound or phrase that is repeated silently in the mind. In TM one brings awareness to the mantra and then lets the mantra go. Emptiness or transcendence is cultivated. When the mind wanders to anything at all it is brought back to the mantra with complete focus and then relaxed once again. While not as aggressive as a fixed focus, TM also cultivates an awareness of where one’s attention is as well as the ability to choose where it will rest. An increase in one’s ability to concentrate is often reported. Well over 300 articles in peer-reviewed journals cite a range of benefits in the lives of those who practice TM.

Knowing your purpose and finding your vocation will help you to be successful simply because it is easier to focus on that which you feel aligned with. None the less, enthusiasm waxes and wanes for all tasks. When we develop the skill of concentration we increase our likelihood of being productive and successful in every tasks we choose. What have you done to learn how to focus?

This post is from a series called Insights that are inspired by the work I do with my clients as a Life Coach.

If you are ready to live with more joy, more passion and more purpose than I would love to be of service. Contact me to find out how my Life Coaching Program can kickstart your journey.

02

Nov

Does Conscious Capitalism = Integral Business?


A while back I got engaged in a discussion on Conscious Capitalism on the Yahoo iNYCs forum. Russ Volckmann of the Integral Leadership Review was lurking in the background of that conversation and upon reading what I wrote asked me if I would be interested in writing an article for the October issue of the ILR. I was and I did.

My basic premise is that many in the Integral community, but also in spiritually awake communities at large, seem to have an allergy to for profit business. There is a shadow that lurks in many that leaves them expressing a sense of distrust with those who are running large corporations and also a hesitance to engage the world in a way that will earn them wealth. The population at large has a sense of non-profits as serving the social good and for profit companies as feeding off of society for selfish gain.

As I’ve mentioned before when talking about FLOW, if we are going to steer this ship of humanity towards mutual flourishing it seems obvious to me that large corporations are going to have to play a huge part. So, given the option of demonizing them or engaging their potential to heal the world, I choose to focus on the latter. In general, given the option to put energy into preventing what I don’t want in the world versus putting my efforts into creating what I do want, I certainly try to spend most of my time generating positive movement.

Check out my article here:

http://www.integralleadershipreview.com/archives-2010/2010-10/1010martin.pdf

15

May

Green Business Competition Awards


Last night I attended Green Spaces Green Business Competition awards at Borough Hall in Brooklyn. This competition looked to promote emerging green businesses in New York that have the ability to revolutionize their industry by working with our ecological resources while creating economic opportunities. 70 companies with revenue under $10 million entered this years competition. 5 were chosen to present their business to the panel of judges (and the audience) last night. 3 winners were then selected.

1st place: Gotham Greens

Bringing New Yorkers local, sustainable produce grown in the heart of NYC

Gotham Greens’ premium quality, pesticide-free vegetables and herbs will be grown in sterile rooftop greenhouses using clean, renewable energy and captured rainwater.

This company is now building their first 12,000 sq ft rooftop hydroponic garden in NYC. This facility will grow over 30 tons of premium quality, pesticide free vegetables each year for the NYC retail and restaurant market. They will be delivering extremely high quality vegetables the same day that they are picked. We’re not talking about genetically modified week old food shipped halfway around the world. We’re talking about something picked in your ‘back yard’ and potentially eaten the same day. They have been running a test site floating out in the river for the past three years and the response has apparently been incredibly enthusiastic, due largely to taste.

The environmental impact is also not to be ignored. Hydroponic farming consumes far less water than traditional dirt farming, as the water is recirculated continuously. They will also be capturing and utilizing rain water. The facility also uses solar panels for most or all of the energy requirements. Any excess energy generated will be fed back into the grid. Nutritionally, these crops have the potential to be far more nutrient dense than traditional crops, the vast majority of which are being grown in soil that is severely depleted, lacking many of the minerals necessary for a truly healthful crop to be grown.

So we’re talking local, organic high quality vegetables all year round. Their presentation was very impressive and everything from their business plan to logistical operations to distribution all intensely researched and ready for production.

2nd place: Environmentally Conscious Organization Inc.

Environmentally friendly pizza boxes! This company has designed, patented and significantly marketed an environmentally friendly pizza box alternative sourced entirely from recycled cardboard. With over 3 billion pizza’s being consumed in this country each year and 70% of those requiring a box that is usually made from 60% recycled material we’re talking about a great deal of avoided waste. The utility designed into the box also enables it to easily fit into a recycling bin 8” in diameter or greater, eliminates the need for serving plates and aluminum foil or plastic wrap for storage. Check out the video here:

3rd place: DBA

DBA is a New York based product development company focused on aesthetics, technical innovations and ecologically effective principals. Their first product is an ‘eco-pen’. This pen is made from 98% industrially compostable materials. They’re basically made out of potatos. We use an astronomical number of disposable pens each year. Their pen is a beautiful option that utilizes a unique ink which, unlike other pens on the market, is not petrochemical based. It is an almost food grade alternative that represents the majority of the innovation in their design.

I was at this event thanks to Sarah Pace of The Rabbit Mafia who catered the event with all locally sourced kickass hors d’œuvres. Good stuff.