You work just fine.
When your brain gets fried by noon and you lose your focused mojo at work, you are fine. When you fail to get yourself out on your daily 6-mile run, you are fine. When you accomplish no true learning or memorization despite having warmed a seat in the library for six hours, you are fine.
You are not broken. You are not a misfit who needs to stretch further or push harder. You simply need to get to know you and build a world around you that works.
We are nothing but funky-shaped puzzle pieces. Externally-imposed daily schedules, demands on energies and forced productivity time blocks assume we are perfectly-formed cubes that slip right into pre-defined slots.
Though you may be zapped by 3:00 p.m. you push harder to pull high-value work from your brain. Though you’ve pounded out many morning runs this week, you resist taking a play day, replacing that run with a sunny walk, a movement class, or just a morning stretch. When we seek to meet high expectations, we create a story in our minds that doing more, longer, and harder will achieve the best outcomes. That story is fiction.
Now meet the truth.
Sit down with these parts of you and have a conversation.
- Your mind
- Your body
- Your soul
- Your environments
- Your processes
If you dig deep and listen…
…your mind may reveal: “If you take a slow morning walk and behold the sun on the horizon, I’ll fire up brain neurotransmitters that will double your output for the day.
…your body may disclose: “If you help me to do hard things, but build in playful recovery, I’ll be stronger for you on the next go round, and the play is an addictive dopamine hit that will make it all easier for you to repeat again and again.”
…the environments and processes in which you operate may offer this secret hack: “If you set me up custom-fit for you, with an optimized balance of novel and known environments and structures, I’ll make all the hard things in the day feel like a downhill stroll…”
…and your soul may say: “I am the keeper of a secret limitless source of energy and drive. If you want to tap into that source, feed me with new experiences, experiments, environments, and ways of doing things; light up all my senses and when you hit the right spots, I’ll let you know by sending you a thrilling zing up your spine. Show me new experiences and I’ll unlock energies of joy, interest, passion, creativity, drive, purpose and more.”
One day when my son was very young, he turned his bathroom into a chem lab. Bottles, bubbles, liquids, gels, purple things, blue blobs, and green-ish goo were everywhere. He said he was creating a perfume for me and I thanked him… keeping the poison control center’s number close at hand.
“Experimentos!!!” he declared with each completed concoction. I loved the spirit of my mad little scientist. This term has endured in our home as a way to play with whatever life throws at us. It carries a mindset of play when things break, a joy in testing the unknown, and an openness to simply see what comes of a new venture, not to control the outcome.
Experimentos is a way to get to know yourself and what best feeds your brain’s cycles, your body’s energies, your soul’s reward systems. Experimentos is a venture for the purpose of discovery, seeking the opportunity to scientifically observe, not to judge.
In the past I endured days and weeks that felt like a series of jolts and jagged edges. In many awkward stops and starts, I fit in all the things. I exercised at the nearest gym, always rushing to get booked for the only class on their schedule that could be squeezed into my schedule. Demands from work and kids poured into all the gaps in my day with no safety valve shut-off. I put all my energies into serving that unregulated influx of demand, rather than building up my muscle for change to redesign, renegotiate and reimagine how all that could work… and feel smooth, rewarding and right-fit for me.
I went deep on myself over many years, parsing out every element of my day into tiny experiments.
- I went deep on the science of my body and health. I researched my autoimmune diseases and the related stage three metastasized thyroid cancer I’d championed. I geeked out on multiple genetic tests and optimized my vitamins and nutrition to support the gene SNPs that were identified and had been causing deficiencies.
- I played with every aspect of my circadian and ultradian rhythms from wake and sleep cycles, to light exposure, to breathing and eye movements, to lengths of deep work windows.
- I experimented with getting up at 4:00 a.m. and loved it for months until I observed that this became a lossy battery; over time I’d lose steam and eventually bonk midday. I played around a bit more and discovered that 5:30 a.m. wake-ups are like a super power for me, enabling my mind to rev excitedly for a few hours on offense, and then being ready when the rest of the world puts me on defense.
- I experimented with workout types, places and times. I saw that although I considered workouts to be “me” time, the gyms I was using placed me as a beggar or servant to their schedules and registration apps.
- I experimented with aggregating the types of work that energize my mind and stacked my day around that. I determined when I’m creative, when I’m task-oriented, and where in the day I should cram administrivia and doctor appointments because my brain is fried anyway.
- I tried hot things and cold things, and learned to love hot yoga and saunas. I found they are fabulous for me about twice per week, and any more is overdoing it for me.
- I experimented with planning, goal-setting and task-tracking practices from online tools, to offline products, to blended methods and learned what worked for me.
- I experimented with everything to which I expose my eyes, ears, nose, mouth, skin and mind. I figured out all the people, places and things that were great for just once, great to do on the regular, or not something I’d choose to do again.
I came out of this with a pretty little excel spreadsheet checklist of the components of my perfect day. It lays out a custom-fit daily arc that works in flow with my brain’s wiring and my body’s energies. Tiny details, like placing 64 ounces of water by my bed each night, to make it easy for me to start the day with hydration, make having my best day easy and default. Starting the day hydrated makes me feel like a rock star, and I get gosh darned righteous about having accomplished such a health act by 6:00 a.m. That feeling snowballs into an entire day of downhill-feeling productivity.
Without experiments you never prove or disprove anything. If you have always started your workday at 8:00 a.m., you do not know if your productivity could be doubled, or your work day halved, by starting at 5:00 a.m. or 10:00 a.m. And without proof of what works best for you, you’ll never go to bat to negotiate those changes with the outside world.
Experimenting ensures your daily rhythms are well-informed design choices. If you can get your rhythms right, you become a sustainably self-recharging battery. You fit the world to you, vs. the other way around.
Taste Testing at the Buffet
Over the years I amassed hundreds of change-related activities that I built for myself and am now working to publish as this thing I call KindEdge. KindEdge is about implementing big life changes via safe, easy, sustainable (“kind”) steps that push you past your uncomfortable edge. That uncomfortable edge is often something that has blocked your progress, be that avoidance of tough conversations, self-denial of ambitions, or fear of taking on a new lifestyle without control over the outcome. In short, KindEdge is about unlocking something that’s been percolating in the back of your mind, and giving you a safe path to make it happen in real life.
Experiments are important for designing a custom-fit rhythm in your day. But they are also a great way to start unlocking all the muted ideas and desires in your mind. Playing with new and novel experiences is the buffet your soul needs.
Travel is a great way to tap into new interests and ideas. I’m not hung up on travel right now. I’ve lived overseas multiple times. I’ve traveled extensively. I’ve walked down dark alleys and lonely staircases in Beijing and Shanghai alone, I’ve swum in the ocean in South Africa at night, I donned only a bra and red panties in the northernmost waters of the Scottish Hebrides.
Lately I’ve been experimenting with experiences I can fit casually into any given week. Some experiments have been duds, and others have warmed my soul. A few years back I discovered a private little community of bluegrass fans who gather on a farm in the middle of nowhere to host and enjoy the music of traveling bluegrass bands who simply need a place to sleep when they make the long trek from the Carolinas down to Miami for gigs. I relished those gatherings and they informed me on the feelings and types of people I seek to make more present in each day.
A few of the next items on my local to-do list include: riding water horses, attending a dark dance happening, doing a shark tooth dive, snorkeling lagoons and water caves, fitting in some country dance. I may also return to a naked yoga class I attended last summer at The Body Electric Yoga Studio. The candle-lit class included journaling, introspection, sharing with the eight or nine other women in the class, … and naked yoga.
All the therapy, self-help books and journaling in the world hold NOTHING to the rapid-fire self confidence one grows when in downward dog position in a class full of naked bodies. I gave birth to both of my boys at Stanford Hospital. As it is a teaching hospital, there are times when a mother in labor may have her knees spread wide, privates fully dilated, and at least a basketball team’s worth of medical students peering into the abyss. Somehow I came out of that experience still retaining bits of girlish modesty and timidity about my naked body’s appearance.
But graduates of this naked yoga class truly level up; when all your googley bits are in motion upside down, right-side up, sideways, backward and in-between, you just… get over it.
This is the importance of experimentation. It accelerates growth of your mind and mindset. It clarifies focus and desire. Many times we’ll carry guilt that we’ve delayed trying something, only to discover once we do, that we don’t like it. Check that off your list! Keep what you love, discard the others. But be willing to try a little of everything.
Experimenting in all parts of your life will cultivate the garden of your mind and good will grow all around. Wishing you a mindset of “Experimentos” in 360 degrees of the minutes that remain.
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I’m committed to sharing this project because after decades of dead ends with guru books and inspo content, I finally found what works. The the end product is a series of repeatable steps that can help everyone–including you. I went deep to pile-drive my goals through the waves of chaos that held me on hold. I could not make real progress in rare, stolen “barely there me-time” Sunday afternoons. So I built a series of 15-minute steps and decision guides that would fit into any gap in my chaotic days, from 4am coffee time, to airport flight time, to midnight camp-outs in hospital emergency rooms for my kids. These small steps daisy chained into a bridge to real change. I guided myself like I guide my change management clients and it finally worked.
Here’s to us all taking the next step on a sustainable, kind, path to push beyond that uncomfortable edge that moves us forward to the most fulfilling part of this journey.
Cheers, cin-cin & hugs,