This blog is being written while I sit looking out across the Yellowstone River in Paradise Valley MT, and trust me the scenery backs up the name. It’s close to 90 degrees but behind me I stare up at a host of 9-10,000 foot peaks, some that still have snow on them from the unusually long winter they experienced this year. Myself, my wife and some of my closest childhood friends and their spouses made a vacation out of a wedding invitation and rented a big house just a stone’s throw from the banks of the Yellowstone River where we spent a little over a week living it up out here in god’s country. We will fly back east tomorrow morning and for most of us that means we will return to the grind of work, “real life” and all of those relentless responsibilities that come with being an adult. We accomplished a lot while we were here; we hiked high elevation peaks, floated the Yellowstone by boat and tube, caught monster browns on fly rods tied with big streamers, sat in boiling rivers and watched the sunrise over the mtn. peaks, stared over 300’ waterfalls that made your stomach turn over, were in the presence of bears, deer and elk, submerged ourselves in hot springs, swam in mountain top glacial lakes and waterfalls, and watched a longtime friend marry the girl of his dreams at the base of snow covered peaks while we danced our asses off until the music stopped playing…Yeah I know, pretty fucking awesome week!
As a small business owner who rarely gets the chance for a vacation like this I am more than grateful to have the opportunity to get away from it all and just unwind for a bit. The impressiveness of the country I was in was both spiritually and mentally revitalizing and left me feeling ready to tackle the stresses of work and life upon my return. The most powerful piece of the trip however, was not necessarily the country I was in as much as the presence I was able to attain on a daily basis. It was amazing how often I found myself living within the moment and making the most of the exact place where I was at any given time…It made me realize how powerful it can be to just simply be present, and just be where you are at any given minute, to put your mind and focus wherever your feet are and nowhere else.
Being a bit nervous of bears attacking on a hike puts you on edge, your senses are keen and you are extremely aware of your surroundings at the given moment you are in. If you are anywhere else you are not going to be ready if a bear actually does attack. Sitting in a boiling river where water is 50 degrees on one side of your body and 150 degrees on the other turns on sensory receptors you were not aware you even had. You tune into what you are feeling right at that moment, you are not thinking about work or what you have to get done today to prepare for tomorrow, or some difficult customer you have to deal with…You are focused on what’s happening around you right now, the rocks you are sitting on, the sunrise in front of you, and the hot and cold of the water you are submerged in. Racing to the bottom of a hiking trail covered with rocks and stumps while your quads are screaming and you know that one wrong step will lead to a sprained ankle requires your complete focus and attention, otherwise you are on your face in a split second. Sitting on the deck watching the MT sun set across the river and valley without a care in the world, with thoughts only of the air in your face and the sunburn on your skin. This is living in the moment and being present, being aware only of what is happening around you at any particular moment and nothing else. It’s something many of us do not do enough…
I was able to be present without even thinking about it more times during this one week than I typically get in 6 months. Yes, being in a place like this, removed from the struggles of “real life” is very helpful in being present and just being at peace with yourself, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do it every day…If you are constantly living your life somewhere else, focused on what’s going to happen tomorrow or next week, later tonight or today, then I will argue that you are not living life to the fullest or getting the most out of the moment you are in…You must find a way to be where your feet are, nowhere else. If you can do this you will surely be doing a better job at the moment you are in, putting everything into where you are at any given moment in time. I will admit that I am not great at this skill, however I am going to make changes and schedule just a few minutes each day to train it and improve. Owning a small business is a constant battle to stay afloat, a never ending supply of energy is required to keep all pieces of the machine in place and running smoothly. I am always thinking ahead and trying to do two things at once, sometimes neither of which is happening in the moment I am in. What if I am training a client or athlete while my mind and thoughts are elsewhere? Are they getting the best of me? The HS athletes I train are notorious for living this way, constantly thinking about their last post on social media, the text they sent to their bf or gf, where they are going to hang out after training is done, who’s car will they take, where their phone is, did it just beep? Any coach or parent knows what I’m talking about here. We must teach them to stop and smell the roses, and put everything into the moment you are in, the place where your feet are standing. If you are not present in training or at practice you are never going to excel to your true potential. Effective training and practice in your sport requires that athletes are 100% in tune to their bodies, their coaches, and what they are doing. If you are elsewhere, even 10% of the time then you are only training at 90%...If you train at 90% you can't expect more than that in competition.
Elite athletes are able to be present far more effectively than the average athlete. They find ways to stay focused and cool in the most daunting and challenging of situations. They stay calm and focused on the task at hand, their craft, and the moment they are in, and this allows them to perform at their best when the odds are against them. Think of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls dynasty…How many brilliant performances did Michael have during times when we all thought there was no way he could do it…He shot 50% over the course of his career. 50% while being double teamed, with opponents hanging off of him, the crowd screaming, a team counting on him, injuries nagging him, and championships on the line…He did not do this without being completely focused on the moment he was in, the task at hand, and being tuned in to where his body was at any given second in time. This is what makes them elite. This is why they make the big bucks.
In the book “Legacy” author James Kerr tells the story of the All Blacks rugby dynasty in New Zealand and what they can teach us about “the business of life.” He also talks of the different strategies the greatest All Black players use to find focus and their “blue head” in times when they are backed up against a wall. The players are taught that ‘The brain essentially has 3 parts; instinct, thinking and emotion. When under pressure the thinking can shut down and you are forced to make decisions relying on emotion and instinct. This doesn’t allow the athlete to pick up the cues and information needed to make good decisions. If you become disconnected you focus on outcome instead of task and the ability to make good decisions is compromised.’ The players are taught strategies to help them reconnect, and get “back in the present.” These strategies include breathing slowly and deliberately, shifting their attention to something external such as the ground or your feet, the ball in your hand, alternating your big toes or the grandstand. They use keywords and deep breaths to get out of their own head, find an external focus, and “get back in the present.”
So how to do it? Schedule a time and place each day where you can sit, stand, or lie and just let yourself become aware of your body, your breathing, and where you are at that moment in time. To start with take just a few minutes each day, baby steps. As I stated I am by no means a pro, I am more of a work in progress when it comes to being present. One strategy I have used is to listen to the Mindful Podcast to help me, https://www.mindful.org/. You can find various different sessions of varying length to help guide you in the process. Earlier this month I listened to their “Mindful Check In”, which was approximately 4 minutes in length and gives the listener all the tools you need to “tune into the present moment and acknowledge wandering thoughts.” Whatever your strategy is be consistent with your approach each day and week and you will see improvement over time I guarantee it.
All the best,