“Obstacles are the raw material for great accomplishment.” – Tommy Newberry
We have an opportunity ahead of us. The body of humanity is literally, and perhaps spiritually, sick, but we have a profound ability to find and realize healing. There have been so many examples in history of obstacles becoming our greatest boon to something bigger. During the great plague of London in 1665, Cambridge University shut down. Meanwhile, Sir Isaac Newton used his gift of time to invent calculus. Thomas Edison’s lab burned down on the evening of December 10, 1914, torching years worth of labor and discovery. His reaction? He called his family together to enjoy the spectacle as a fire of this magnitude was a rare sight. Over the course of the next year, he rebuilt everything and his revenue was multiplied tenfold.
Our entire society has an opportunity today to make something beautiful and new. We have an opportunity to trim the fat off old priorities that never really served us anyway. We have a chance to burn down the facades of false fulfillment, to burn down the substitutes that we’ve been relying on to fulfill a deeper need.
Redefine Healthy Boundaries
Use this time to pour into your family, to talk about topics that so easily slide below the radar, covered by a blanket of busyness. We often go months and years in relationships where we self-sacrifice for the name of giving, but sometimes, we’re asked to give things we do not have to give. Reevaluate your boundaries and what makes you you. Are you being asked to fill needs you weren’t designed to fill? Are you holding back something you do have to give but out of self protection, have a hard time pouring that out?
Healthy relationships require both a pouring out and a filling in. In order to pour into someone else, we must be full to begin with. Filling ourselves means we don’t have to rely on another person to meet our needs. Rather, it means we have dedicated time for ourselves during the day to cultivate our unique talents, to find refreshment that does not depend on another human acting to fill you up. Then we can go out and give even more of ourselves without near the risk of burnout.
Refine your Routine
When we don’t prioritize our time, someone else will. Part of setting good boundaries means taking control of how you spend your time. In order to give more of your love and talents to your community, it’s important to incorporate habits that speak to your unique gifts. To start, write out what a perfect morning routine would look like for you. Use this excess time at home to practice this routine. What would it look like to not get flustered by unforeseen demands during the grind of the week? What would it look like to start your day with a calm mind and charged body rather than a desperate mind and a drained body?
Society’s “high performers” all incorporate some version of a morning and evening routine that anchors their day. They know that during the demands of a workday, things change, they must be adaptable always, they have to know when and where to direct their creative energies. This ability is cultivated through routines that bookend a productive day. The routine will look a little different for everyone, but take a few moments this week to write down something your can anchor all your days on. Perhaps do the exercise with someone you share a home or your life with so you’re both on the same page.
“If you win the morning, you win the day.”
Establish a morning boot-up sequence that you have agency over, instead of micro-stressors booting you up.
Ten minutes of silence:
Is there a time, perhaps as the coffee is brewing or before others are awake in your house, that you can take a peaceful moment just for yourself? Adding just a few minutes to yourself at the beginning of the day for meditation, reflection, intention setting, prayer, or inspirational reading can set the tone of your moods and behaviors the rest of the day. Instead of training your brain to be in reactionary mode by immediately checking your phone as you roll out of bed, train your brain to be in a contemplative mode. Habitually checking your phone or updates in the morning decreases your focus the rest of the day. Setting an intention by taking a few quiet moments to yourself could be a game changer in how you handle the stresses that follow.
Make your Bed:
This small step can psychologically set you up for a far more productive day. Making your bed is a very simple thing you can do that signals to the unconscious that you have agency in the things you’re doing. When you de-clutter the external, the internal becomes de-cluttered as well. Having a well made bed is like having a productive bookmark for the beginnings and ends of your day.
Prime your Nervous System:
Exercise is a far more powerful antidote to depression (or mild symptoms therein) than medication. Movement in general triggers powerful body signals that refresh us and invigorate our body and mind in ways a pill never can. Incorporate some movement other than walking to the refrigerator and bathroom in the morning. Take five minutes to linger outside when you check the mail. Move through a full body range of motion sequence like this one. Climb up and down your stairs a couple of times to get your heart rate up. Pick up a kettle-bell or dumbbell and give ‘em a few swings. Just about anything will do. By priming your nervous system for movement through light mobility and strength work, you’ll shift your mental state to seek solutions over problems.
You can do this during your 10 minutes of silence or etch out another five minutes to put to paper the rambling thoughts in your head. The act of writing out the dialogue that tends to nag at us, especially in the mornings when we’re trying to get focused, can be especially cathartic. It’s acknowledging that those concerns are real, but not letting them dictate your behavior. Think of this free form of journaling like a spiritual windshield wiper. With practice, you’ll become less emotionally reactive by short circuiting the knee jerk responses to stress. You’ll shift your immediate, reactionary response to a more response-able reaction.
Many of us know there are aspects of our diets that ought to shift. We were wrongly told that a breakfast of refined orange juice (mostly sugar), whole grain toast with jam (mostly sugar), and Frosted Mini-Wheats (mostly sugar) was not only “complete” but the most important meal of the day. Applying widespread templates to ones’ breakfast is great for the marketing teams, but not so great when we understand everyone’s needs are unique (and there is no need for a sugary breakfast).
Consider replacing that easy bowl of cheap, nutrient void cereal with pasture-raised eggs with a few handfuls of spinach thrown in. Why not pre-chop some sweet potatoes into cubes and pan fry those in avocado oil with some salt, pepper, paprika and cayenne? Maybe slice up some cherry tomatoes, saute those along with your sweet potato and top a few fried eggs with that melody? Swapping out just one bowl of cheap, sugary cereal or oats for a far more nutrient filled meal can have a lot of long term benefits.
Set a boundary for phone checking:
Social media feeds were designed to trigger intermittent dopamine releases in the brain to keep you hooked and interested. A mind that’s expecting the rewards of novelty is not a mind that is prepared for sleep. Aside from the issue of late night blue light exposure we get through our devices, trying to keep up with news feeds near bed only exacerbates the Chatter that so commonly keeps us up at night. Get that phone out of your bedroom entirely if you can. The bedroom should be for sleep and relaxation, not for indulging in our magic pocket rectangles.
Put your phone in airplane mode:
If you need your phone for your alarm, at least switch it to airplane mode before bed. That gives your brain permission to release the need to check it and will help set your morning up to be in a proactive mode instead of a reactive mode. Starting your morning by giving into the craving to check that little red dot in the upper left corner means external forces are prioritizing your time instead of you prioritizing your own time. You wouldn’t throw your money (which is a renewable resource) at every little thing that asks for it. Why would you do that with your time (a decidedly non-renewable resource)?
If you’re a book fan, let your problem solving mind take a rest in the evening by consuming light media, such as a fiction novel. Reading from an old fashion book or an e-reader that doesn’t have a backlight are your best options. Light from devices and fluorescent/LED bulbs are as disruptive to your vision as a loud siren is to your ears when you’re trying to wind down for the night.
Our brains have to cool down by 2-3 degrees at night when we sleep. You can help facilitate this process in the hour leading up to bedtime. A hot bath or a cold shower can both help facilitate this process. When you have a longer soak (10+ minutes) in a warm bath or sauna, your body will quickly shed heat once you’re finished. This can help lull you to bed. Wearing socks can also help tease out heat from your head and core, helping your body ride the wave of its natural rhythm.
Set a Timer:
An alarm at the same time every night can help you stay on target with your evening routines. You could use it as a reminder to stop eating at least an hour before bed or as a reminder to put the phone down. Perhaps that time signals the start of your wind-down sequence and anything past that timer is meant to help you sleep instead of watching just one more episode of Outlander. Keep that timer going over the weekend. Having a normal sleep schedule every day of the week can have a massive impact on your ability to sleep well when the stress is high or you have an easy Saturday morning to look forward to.
Marcus Farris is the Mission 22 Veteran Wellness Coordinator. He’s a Certified Health Coach and Level 1 Crossfit Trainer.