in Self awareness and improvement

“Do you think today is just another day in your life?”

Just another day?

Another day.

How do you start each day?

When I wake up, I almost instinctively reach for my phone. I go through email and my calendar, check social media, and I think about things I need to do or should have done. Usually, I find reasons to be irritated or unhappy before I’m even fully awake.

It’s a terrible way to begin the day. Recently, though, I started practicing a better way.

Everyday miracles

I began thinking things could be different when a friend introduced me to Thich Nhat Hahn’s books. (I listed one of them in last year’s holiday post.)

One passage in particular has stayed with me:

“Life is filled with many wonders, like the blue sky, the sunshine, the eyes of a baby. Our breathing, for example, can be very enjoyable…But many people appreciate the joy of breathing only when they have asthma or a stuffed-up nose. We don’t need to wait until we have asthma to enjoy our breathing.

Awareness of the precious elements of happiness is itself the practice of right mindfulness. Elements like these are within us and all around us. In each second of our lives we can enjoy them…Wherever we are, any time, we have the capacity to enjoy the sunshine, the presence of each other, the wonder of our breathing. We don’t have to travel anywhere else to do so. We can be in touch with these things right now.”

I wondered: “What would life be like if I could appreciate everyday miracles like breathing, seeing, and walking?”

The science of being present

The reason I don’t appreciate them, I discovered, is that it’s hard. Our brains are wired to wander, to look for threats and issues, rather than to focus and appreciate everyday things.

To better understand this, Harvard psychologists Matt Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert created trackyourhappiness.org. They collected data from tens of thousands of people in over 80 countries about what they’re doing at specific, randomly selected moments throughout the day, how they’re feeling, and whether they’re thinking about something else at that moment.

They found that people reported thinking about other things 47% of the time. (That percentage varies considerably whether you’re showering, commuting, or making love.) Most of those times, people’s minds tend to wander to unpleasant things and they’re considerably less happy compared to when their minds don’t wander. Even when they’re thinking about pleasant things, they’re still less happy.

The title of their talk summarizes their findings: “Want to be happier? Stay in the moment.”

Real people. Real stories.

Still, despite the inspiration and the science, being present was proving too difficult for me and I was thinking I’d never improve. Then, in one week, I listened to two people whose stories made me redouble my efforts.

I listened to Janine Shepherd, a cross-country skier, describe her recovery from a horrific, paralyzing accident. And she described a moment that reminded me of the quote in Thich Nhat Hahn’s book:

“After 6 months [in the spinal ward], it was time to go home. I remember Dad pushing me outside in my wheelchair, wrapped in a plaster body cast, and feeling the sun on my face for the first time. I soaked it up and I thought how could I have ever taken this for granted?”

Later that same week, I listened to Richard Mangino, who lost both his hands and forearms in 2002 and recently underwent one of the first hand/forearm transplant operations. Asked how it felt to have hands again, he said:

“Touching somebody is like electricity going through my hands…it’s just wonderful, just when you touch everybody and they touch you back and they hold your hand.”

The interviewer wanted to know “What’s the next mountain to climb?” and Richard’s response was striking:

“I don’t really feel like I have a mountain to climb…What I want is what I have now…Today is the future. Right now.”

A new morning ritual

I may never become truly mindful. But I can take a step. And I’m starting with my morning ritual.

Instead of waiting for asthma or an accident and looking back at the miracles I’ve missed, I’m trying to gradually train myself to experience every day miracles. Instead of reaching for the phone, I take a deep breath, I smile, and I think of this beautiful passage I heard recently. It includes a wish – something I want for myself and for everyone I know. And thinking about it is a beautiful way to start the day.

“Do you think today is just another day in your life?

It’s not just another day. It’s the one day that is given to you today. It’s given to you. It’s a gift. It’s the only gift that you have right now. And the only appropriate response is gratefulness.

If you do nothing else but to cultivate that response to the great gift that this unique day is. If you learn to respond as if it were the first day in your life and the very last day then you will have spent this day very well.

…I wish you that you would open your heart to all these blessings and let them flow through you that everyone who you will meet on this day will be blessed by you. Just by your eyes, by your smile, by your touch. Just by your presence. Let the gratefulness overflow into blessing all around you.

Then it will really be a good day.”

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  • http://thingsthatresonate.wordpress.com Frank G

    Nice post John! And very timely for Christmas.
    Have a Merry Christmas and an enjoyable 2013.
    Frank

  • Sam G

    Hey John nice post – I started using this app yesterday that is pretty cool – you record your moments of gratitude (max 140 characters) – www dot 1thingapp dot com

  • Sam G

    And you can see other’s comments (that they choose to make public) and voting on each one. The app is 99 cents or there is a public free website as well.

  • Pravin Patel

    great article! only thing I would like to add is inspiration is temporary, dedication is forever… Just do it

  • Justine Stevenson

    John – as always a gererous and reflective Post. Thank you. And wishing you a happy festive season and a healthy, happy and productive 2013.

  • Petra

    John
    Wonderfully inspiring thoughts. The basic ideas you shared reminded me of a book I read years ago called “Buddhism for mothers” which somehow got lost in a move. Thank you so much for reconnecting me with those insights land throwing a different perspective on them. Now is a great time to start appreciating each day as a gift. Hope yours comes back to you hundredfold.

    Merry Christmas

    Petra

  • http://donaldhtaylor.wordpress.com/ donaldhtaylor

    John – great post. The app seems similar to the twitter #3things hash tag where people note at the end of their day three things to be happy about. By the way I stopped taking my iPad and phone into the bedroom earlier this year and feel much better for it. Have a happy holiday season and New Year. I look forward to returning to your blog in 2013.

  • Cheryl

    John, thank you so much for sharing your reflections. “Being present” is the ultimate adventure, isn’t it? On one hand it’s the easiest thing in the world, and on the other, it’s the hardest thing. Best wishes to you and your family in this holiday season and the coming year!

  • http://johnstepper.wordpress.com John Stepper

    I love these comments. Thank you. I’ve received suggestions for apps and blogs and other resources that can help on the “ultimate adventure” of being mindful (as Cheryl aptly puts it). I’ll try them and write about the ones I like in a future post.

    Looking forward to 2013. But happy that today is not just another day. :-)

  • Thom Fisher

    Got me inspired my friend, and as the year closes, and there are perhaps many things for us not to be present about…..the glass is at least half full. I wake each day at between 4am and 5am….excited to find out what happened in the rest of the world while i was sleeping(over rated) ! I feed my dog(tazra) who is wagging her tail and excited about her breakfast, and the 2 mile brisk walk we are about to take. Some solitude, while listening to my music(a great way to be in the music moment) as the world(in japan) begins to awake. The sunrise can be spectacular…in the land of the rising sun! It doesnt actually rise but sounds poetic.. A walk thru the park, ducks and fish in the pond, as i sing to my music….singing is good as well. Back at home, a quick coffee, shower, dressed in traditional suit and tie, which i like. I like to get dressed sharp, and it makes me feel in the moment of what i am about to do in my important role(sounds corny….thats what my boys say). To the office, i look out my window to see if i can se mount Fuji today, before everyone else arives, check my messages(john)……and then i am in the work moment”…….perhaps that is where we need to go here! Choose the moments that you like, and put them in your order. How would you prefer it to be….? Anyhow…..it is not easy and i will say i drift out more than i would like to admit….but i have found that early morning to be my in the moment to get ready for the rest of my in the moments!

    Love reading your stuff john……see you here next visit Thom Fisher , mobile 8190-8800-5948, or 8180-2225-1973

    • http://johnstepper.wordpress.com John Stepper

      What beautiful comments, Thom. Thank you. We’ll have even more to talk about the next time I see you in Japan.

  • Thom Fisher

    We have all heard this one, “yesterday is the past, tomorrow the future, today is a gift, that is why we call it the present”

    Thom Fisher , mobile 8190-8800-5948, or 8180-2225-1973

  • Thom Fisher

    Each year we are given a bank account to use as we please. It is our discretion to do what we want with it! That bank account is filled with 8760 hours…..24 x 365. We sleep 3000 of those……now 5760 We work 2000-2500 of those…..now lets say 3260 We eat 1100 of those”……………now 2160 Sure there are lots of other things of lifes realities, but it is important to spare some For you……..2 hours per day…..800 hours of the remaining 2160…..leaves you with 1360 hours………assume 3 hours per day commuting to work……assuming 220 work days per year…..so 660 hours traveling back and forth to work……leaving you with 700 hours, in your bank account……or almost 2 hours per day Have a go at your spread sheet, on this bank acount…..each day it goes down by 24…..and what can we do about it……do an assessment of what we do with it….. In our daily work we are being constantly asked to reduce costs, be more efficient, so we are the experts at it…….. I have fun each year re-adjusting my schedule, re-aligning my day. I still do waste hours, but they are mine to waste……enjoy every minute……be in the moment, and every once in a while…..give some of your hours to someone else…the return on investment is in what i call heart dollars…….a new kind of swap……hours for heart dollars……for every hour, you get 5 heart dollars…. Happy New Year

    Thom Fisher , mobile 8190-8800-5948, or 8180-2225-1973

  • http://twitter.com/ITSinsider Susan Scrupski (@ITSinsider)

    While I was away for the holiday visiting my daughter, I watched a segment on the National Geographic channel on the Pirahã tribe in Brazil. They’re a linguistics wonder because their language does not include a past or future tense. They live entirely in the moment. Imagine the implications of that… no fretting about the future, no agonizing over the past. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pirahã_people

    Happy New Year John. Thanks for all the inspiration you give your faithful readers.

    • http://johnstepper.wordpress.com John Stepper

      Thank you, Susan. That *is* fascinating.

  • http://www.udbav.com Balakrishna Shenoy

    John, Wonderful blog. Enjoyed reading the blog and the comments as well. Wishing you and your family a superb 2013.

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