Do these things

Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try” – Yoda

Try Hard

In the scene in “The Empire Strikes Back” on Dagobah, Yoda admonishes Luke for stating that he would “try” to lift his X-Wing out of the swamp. The audience is given the impression that “trying” is not good enough and Yoda expects nothing less than a winning performance from Luke. This is not entirely the case. Yoda is teaching Luke a lesson about “right effort”.

Yoda was not admonishing or challenging Luke Skywalker. He was showing him that the Force did not require effort and anger to be harnessed. A small amount of focus and concentration could direct the Force to do anything Yoda desired including moving an X-wing out of the swamp. Luke was trying too hard and getting flustered and frustrated before giving in.

Anakin had used anger to direct the force but it was clumsy and ugly. There was no need to “force” the Force. All Anakin and Luke had to do was relax and just do it.

Yoda was not a perfectionist. Unlike Anakin and Luke he had reasonable expectations of himself and others. Yoda saw no point in forcing things. Yoda knew that slow and steady wins the race. Living by a philosophy of life is like that. It is easier than we realize. We just have to do it and do it easy.

 

Do it Easy

Having a philosophy for life need not be hard or even complicated. When we embark on a journey of self improvement we often want to change everything about ourselves. We throw ourselves in to the work and try our hardest to put in to practice the things that we have learned. It becomes difficult to keep a track of all the precepts, principles and rules that we set for ourselves. As we stumble and fail we get frustrated and start to force change, making things only worse.

“What” you say, “but I thought right effort was everything”. Right effort need not be over-effort or making earth shattering changes. Let us not forget that none of this is about trying to save the world or changing others. We are only improving ourselves so that perhaps we can in some small way make a positive difference in the lives of others. Through self betterment we lead to world betterment. There is no need to break ourselves getting there. We should apply the “easy does it” or rather the Pareto principle in our lives.

Sometimes  just doing a few things well makes all the difference. Not just in our own progress but also in positive outcomes for others. Applying the Pareto Principle often works in our favor.

 

Pareto

The Pareto principle, also known as the 80/20 rule, is a theory maintaining that 80 percent of the output or success from a given situation or system is determined by 20 percent of the input. The idea was proposed by an Italian economist who noticed that 80% of property was owned by 20% of the population. People started to notice the same 80/20 rule appearing everywhere.

If we apply approximately 20% of the effort towards change we will get 80% of the way there. The Pareto principle works everywhere, in business, physical training, study and nature. For example:

  • 20% of clients produce 80% of a companies turnaround
  • 20% of effort produce 80% of a target output
  • 20% of exercises and habits produce 80% outcomes in physical training
  • Natural systems are efficient with energy and default along a line of “least resistance” effectively the Pareto principle demonstrated in ecology
  • Going over the key points in a subject (20% of the volume) will cover 80% of the material required to pass an exam
  • Trying too hard when attempting to attract the opposite sex ends in them losing interest resulting in a 80% strike out rate.
  • 80% of mistakes are caused by 20% errors. 80% of accidents are the result of 20% hazards.

 

Work Smart

What all this means is that we should strive to work smart not hard for change.  We can get by with little. Yes change can be difficult but we do not need to hang ourselves on a cross to get the optimal results that we seek. Instead of going over the mountain we can sometimes go around it or through it. 20% of the effort will get us 80% of the way there so there is really no excuse for not doing something. We don’t try, we do, but we do it easy not hard.

 

Low Fruit

Having a philosophy for life by definition means we want it to serve us in some tangible and practical way. Jedi philosophy like the 12 Steps is not meant to be something that we memorize and commit to in such a way that it makes our lives inflexible, difficult or complicated. It is not a book on the shelf outlining unreachable goals that we exhaust ourselves trying to reach. A practical philosophy for life can be applied without much effort if we are willing to do the work. The benefits of doing so can be immediate and significant.

The idea is to harvest the low hanging fruits. Take away the key ideas and points of our chosen philosophy that are easy to remember. Use them in such a way that they accord with your internal value system and set of personal principles. Nothing could be easier than that.

 

Take Homes

Let’s break it down. What are the few things that we should strive to do? What are the take home jewels that stem from all this talk and contemplation of philosophy? I have boiled it down to five key areas for consideration:

  1. Treat your body like a temple; it’s the only one you have and you need it to function on this plane. Science has not yet offered replacement bodies that you can trade in your old one for in order to keep living indefinitely. In practical terms this means being mindful of what you put in to your body. It also means we should exercise regularly, meditate and rest when we need to.
  2. Respect your self and others; treat others as you would want to be treated with respect and dignity. Give others the love and compassion that they deserve. Work for the common good. Strive for synergy and cooperation.
  3. Be objective and rational in all things; defer to reason where opinions differ. The truth may be a matter of opinion but accept only what is true as you believe it. Accept that the truth can change and we must change too. Don’t hold on to ideas or beliefs so tight that you can’t let them go when they are proven wrong.
  4. Embrace your full spectrum of emotions as they make you fully human; but take charge of how you respond to your emotions moment to moment. Let emotions go that do not serve you.
  5. Learn what is in your control and what is not; align your wants and needs to that. Be ready to accept the things you cannot change and learn to let go of attachments including people, things and circumstances. All things eventually return to the Force. Embrace change, do not fear it.

 

Progress not Perfection

Remember we are not here to be perfect people or perfect Jedi or to achieve a level of spiritual perfection. We want continuous and incremental progress that never ends. Aiming for perfection is likely to lead to disappointment while deciding to coast along will ultimately see us regress and slide backwards. The objective is to trudge slowly uphill but without getting worn out. There should always be enough gas in the tank and fire in the belly to keep going.

 

A Journey

Follow your heart and whatever code you call your own, be it the Jedi Code or 12 Steps or anything else. This is your journey and no one else. We all have free will and we make of our lives as we see fit. There is nothing we have to do. No one is judging you but you and if there is a God it does not mind. You are already forgiven, you were never not.

You accept the consequences of our decisions as the natural order of things determine. By learning from our mistakes, we can only resolve to do better and not repeat or regret them. The ball is in our court and it is our game till the day we die. So let’s make the most of it and enjoy this grand adventure of life. We really only do get one shot at it so don’t waste 80% of your time when 20% will do. Do not “try”, just do it but do it easy.

Micro Habits

You must unlearn what you have learned” – Yoda

 

Want Change?

So you want to change. You have reached a point where you have decided this is it. The time has come and you are committed. There is a clear vision of the person you want to be and even a plan on how to get there. It’s a massive undertaking, probably the biggest challenge you have every faced. That’s OK because you are going to take a deep breath and steam right in. Right? Are we ready? Let’s do this. Wait for it, wait for it…

Something happens and we balk. Our best laid plans are scuttled. The best of intentions are not enough. There was right intent and right motivation but the bar was set too high. We couldn’t do it. What happened?

 

A journey of a thousand miles beings with a single step” – Lao Tzu

 

 

Fail to Launch

Some years ago I embarked on a fitness campaign that was meant to go for months. It lasted precisely one day. I had a program written and had received good advise from a fitness expert. Because I was desperate for fast results I set off at break neck speed on a program that was way above my limitations. The next day I was too sore to move. I tried again and the work load was so high I could not complete the routine. The experience was anything but enjoyable. Motivation lost I decided to drop it and I never returned to the gym.

 

I never explain myself, it’s a bad habit” – Han Solo

 

Change is rarely an easy endeavor particularly when old habits must be replaced by new habits. We have to overcome entropy and inertia. It is easier to sit and watch television than it is to go for a run. Buying and eating fast food is easier than taking the time and effort to prepare a wholesome and healthy meal. Even if we decide to get up and go for a run we may set off at sprint committed to five miles and gas out at 200 yards, turn around and go home, defeated and deflated. Our brain resists our best intentions and we quit because we lose confidence.

How many times have you made a new years resolution to learn a language, exercise more, spend less, eat better or quit smoking and after a few days have found yourself back in your default routine? The problem is not intent or motivation it is strategy. If we are trying the same thing over and over again and not getting the desired results, it is time to change tact. Micro Habits may be the solution.

 

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then is not an act but a habit” – Aristotle

 

One small step

Every marathon begins with a single step. A strict muscle up starts with an assisted pull up. One single push up done often enough will eventually build up to many. A major change in our character or habits starts with small and incremental changes. Each drop of water adds to the bucket of gains over time.

 

Easy does it

 

Micro habits are baby steps. Psychologists call it behavioral momentum. Once you start something and keep chipping away at it over time eventually it becomes a habit. This can apply to both good and bad behaviors. For example, we can form a positive habit of reducing sugar intake over time and reap the benefits of weight loss. Instead of cutting out sugar completely we reduce it slightly and cut back a little every day. Eventually our sugar intake is minimal.

 

Bad Habits

The same principle applies in reverse. We can form bad habits incrementally. At one stage in my drinking career I got in to the habit of having a glass of wine in bed as I watched television. This turned in to two glasses and eventually a bottle. After a while I was passing out after consuming two or three bottle of wine while sat up in bed. I developed hypertension and put on about 20 pounds. The ramp up was gradual over a couple of months. That is how fast habits can become ingrained and reinforced. Eventually the habit becomes an addiction.

As an alcoholic I am painfully aware that I have an addictive personality and form habits very quickly and find breaking “pleasurable” habits difficult. If I were to try controlled drinking the experiment would likely backfire and I would soon find myself in full blown abuse as the habit reestablished itself.

 

“Whenever you are angry, be assured that it is not only a present evil, but that you have increased a habit.” – Epictetus

One Day

Getting sober in the beginning was a “one day at a time” endeavor for me. Alcoholics Anonymous asks a new comer if they can go one day without a drink. Not forever, just a single day. Most alcoholics can go one day without a drink. That’s all that is asked, just one day and let tomorrow take care of itself.

The next day we ask the same question and “God Willing” we get through another day. These baby steps get us through the early days. Eventually the days without a drink pile up. At this point we can start to plan ahead and turn our short term gains in to a long term program of recovery. Micro Habits become life long habits.

“One Day at Time”

 

Future Shock

Micro habits can be used to counter every day habits. For example many people will automatically reach for the smart phones if they are idle for more than a few seconds. The trigger to reach for the phone is that moment when our attention is not drawn to something or we are not deep in thought or reverie. Who rolls out of bed in the morning and instinctively checks their messenger and social media feed? I do!

Rather than mindlessly follow those mental urges we can stop ourselves and apply self awareness. Having a moment to do nothing but breathe and take in the moment we find ourselves in is a far better use of time than peering at our Face Book feed* (see foot note). Instead of defaulting to social media as the primary form of interaction with other human beings we should seek to connect with those around us in some meaningful and tangible way.

 

“You leave old habits behind by starting out with the thought, ‘I release the need for this in my life” – Wayne Dyer

Rewire

Micro Habits can also be used to address anger, depression, anxiety and resentment. We can identify triggers that cause us to react in ways we would rather not. If bad drivers cause us to rage at the wheel or rude people raise our ire and resentment we can work towards accepting that they exist and only we can choose how we react to them. Instead of acting out negative emotions we can form habits that convert challenges in to opportunities to practice principle. We can turn patience and equanimity into a habit. Instead of getting angry and snapping at someone, try smiling and offering some kind words. It might be hard at first but eventually it will get easier and there is real pleasure in disarming an unpleasant person with a sincere compliment.

 

“It is easier to prevent bad habits than to break them” – Benjamin Franklin

Micro Habits may not be the cure to addiction or serious psychological issues but when we are focused on a positive habit we crowd out a bunch of negative one’s. We can get drunk while in recovery but doing so with a head full of program is a miserable proposition. Small, incremental and constant changes in our habits re-wire the brain. Through repetition our responses change and over time so does our character.

 

Tiny Habits

So you want to change. You have tried everything to achieve your goals but have so far stumbled and failed. Micro Habits can help because anyone can take a baby step. All it takes is that single step out of the door, one push up or one pull up attempt. Anyone can try meditating for a minute. If we were honest about wanting to learn a language we would be able to find 5 minutes a day to spend on a language app. If we are committed to reading more and browsing less we can read a page and day and work up to two. With practice you will soon be sitting in meditation for 30 minutes or more and spending more time on your exercise, language studies and reading or whatever else we want to do but keep failing to launch.

 

  1. Incorporate your activities in to current daily routine. For example, meditation can be done anywhere. If you take the train or bus to work, start doing mental body scanning and focusing on your breath. You don’t need a “meditation room’, soft music and incense to meditate. It can be done anywhere. I practice calisthenics and never have a problem finding time or floor space to do some push ups or sit ups. A bench or chair can be used for dips. A branch or sign post can serve as a bull up bar. I have Memrise on my smart phone and can complete a language lesson on the fly anywhere there is a signal. All of my readings are on a Kindle which is rarely out of reach.
  2. Don’t stop it swap it; I have a habit of drinking a coffee every night before bed and eating some chocolate. A few months ago I switched to 85% dark chocolate and organic coffee. Another option might be to have green tea and a carrot stick instead but let’s not get ahead of ourselves! The point is you can reduce or substitute. Read a book instead of click bait. Snack on a banana instead of a bag of chips.
  3. Be SMART; goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely. Decide to run a marathon? That’s a specific goal. Is it achievable? That depends. A training goal should have measurable outcomes such as incremental increase in distance ran every week in the months prior to the event. Be realistic, if you have never done long distance running there is little chance you will be ready in two weeks let alone six months. Timely; set yourself a time-frame to completion with plenty of room. Micro habits require time to show results.
  4. Journal your progress; I keep a training journal of my progress in calisthenics. A year ago my routines were basic and very modest compared to now. As I flick through the pages I can see the incremental improvements over time. Big gains take time and you may not notice them straight away because they are the new normal but they are very real. Many people do video or photos to journal their weight loss or fitness journey. Many recovering alcoholics blog their journey and the changes in their lives over time are astounding.
  5. Daily practices; daily practices such as exercise, meditation and reading can be scheduled in to our day. A morning routine of gratitude and planning, mindfulness and an evening review of the day followed by quite contemplation or meditation need not take hours. Set priorities. Which is more important watching reality TV or investing in your spiritual, mental, physical and emotional growth?
  6. Celebrate small wins; so we manage to complete our daily goal. Well done! Parents applaud in delight as their child takes her first small steps. Baby also celebrates, a little afraid but clearly proud and happy with her milestone accomplishment. We should also celebrate our small daily milestones and congratulate ourselves no matter how trivial it seems. One push up or pull up when you struggle with one is a million times better than not even trying. With small victories comes greater confidence in your ability. That’s the Jedi Spirit.

 

“Every habit and capability is confirmed and grows in its corresponding actions, walking by walking and running by running…therefore if you want to do something make a habit of it, if you don’t want to do that, don’t, but make a habit of something else instead” – Epictetus

Easy Does It

You will not find a perfect Jedi any more than you will find a perfect practitioner of any philosophy. I am definitely not an exemplary role model for either. My program of recovery also has many areas needing improvement as does my character. Micro Habits gives us the tool to make small but significant steps in the areas that we want to improve. By starting simple and easy we give ourselves a chance to get traction and gain momentum. Progress, not perfection is the goal.

In order to create habits they have to be routine, they should be triggered and there should be tangible reward for our efforts. To break a habit we must remove one of those three elements and preferably all three. Every morning I get up and drink a large glass of water. There is a trigger, routine and reward. In the past I would stop in a bar on the way home from work and have a few beers.  I stopped that habit once the cycle of addiction was broken.

Micro Habits may be Baby Steps but they still move us from where we are to where we want to go.

 

All I’m saying is don’t let having the Force in your arsenal lull you into a false sense of security. Don’t get into the habit of taking more credits from your bank account than you put in.“- Bail Organa

 “Jedi don’t have bank accounts.” – Obi-wan Kenobi

Foot Note: Facebookalitis

*Face Book addiction otherwise known as Facebookalitis is on the way to becoming described as an actual psychological disorder. Social Media is addictive as the reward centers in our brain are fired sending off dopamine every time we get a notification or like.

The more we use the platform the more addictive it becomes. The perception of social acceptance through likes and comments the reward. Our social media profile and personality can becomes someone we are not in real life. A type of multiple personality disorder evolves.

Our brains are re-wired through chronic internet usage. Short term memory and attention spans are diminished and the prefrontal cortex is altered. Emotional responses can change. Human emotions such as empathy, compassion and the ability to control aggression and anger can be reduced in people who are chronic users of Face Book.

Grease the Groove

Strength is a Skill

Pavel Tsatsouline was the Russian fitness guru who popularized the Kettle Bell in the west and trained Soviet Special Forces he also coined the phrase “Grease the Groove”. Pavel argued that “Strength is a Skill” and like any skill it needs to be practiced continuously and consistently.

Greasing the Groove” Pavel argued is training smart, not hard. If an athlete such as a gymnast is trying to increase strength and flexibility one of the ways is to keep training through the day not just during routine training sessions. The Gymnast would practice moves and stretches anywhere and anytime. She may be  waiting for the bus, watching TV or having a break at work. Rather than being idle she takes the opportunity to practice her skills. This keeps the muscles activated and adds to incremental improvements over time. In addition it keeps her mind on the game.

While the rest of us in bed sleeping, the Gymnast and others who “Grease the Groove” are up before sunrise training and practicing to be better.

 

In the Fight

Conor McGregor practices the principles of “Greasing the Groove”. In the lead up to a fight he is constantly training and getting himself ready mentally, physically and spiritually. Between fights he continues to train not only in the gym and in the ring but in all other aspects of his life pushing for continuous improvement. McGregor is never not “Greasing the Groove”, his mindset is geared towards constant and incremental improvement and winning at all costs.

The author of “Rome’s Last Citizen”, a biography of Cato, Rob Goodman keeps a Kettle Bell next to his desk at Huffington Post. Goodman explains that the Stoics practiced a type of “Greasing the Groove”, every couple of hours he arises from his desk and does Kettle Bell reps. The Jedi would also train when ever they got the chance and did not wait for an opportunity, they made them.

 

Anytime, Any Place

I practice calisthenics as my primary form of personal fitness. I love it because I can do it anytime, any place. It costs nothing and it gets me outdoors and keeps me active. At the beginning I could barely manage a few pull-ups and over the months my strength has increased way beyond what I was capable of.

Through the practice of “Greasing the Groove” I have managed to improve form and fitness incrementally. I set small goals through the week and congratulate myself on achieving them. My training sessions are recorded and I make a point of doing a few dips or pull-ups when ever and where ever the opportunity presents itself. These exercises are never done to exhaustion but to about 70% of maximum effort. The break in routine to do 30 seconds of exercise makes the day go faster and keeps me motivated.

 

Anything

Greasing the Groove is a principle we can obviously apply in every aspect of our life. If our aim is to be good at something we should practice consistently. Learning a new language, a musical instrument or a sport like surfing does not come over night. It takes a lot of effort and time. When we see someone who is accomplished in those areas and ask them how they got so good, their answers is always “practice and consistency”.

 

Every habit and faculty is confirmed and strengthened by the corresponding actions, that of walking by walking, that of running by running.” – Epictetus

 

No Excuses

We all want to be better people for our own sake and for others. Demonstrating our principles and core values is one of the ways in which we express the person we want to be. Often we find that wanting to be a better person and actually being that person are two different things. A cognitive dissonance exists; we know we shouldn’t lose our temper or treat people unfairly but we do anyway. Our diet is poor and we know we should eat healthy still we default to the tasty but unhealthy options. We want to change and act in accordance with our values rather than just see them as pillars we aspire to achieving at some point in the future. We should as Yoda says “Do or do not, there is no try”.

 

Break and Make Habits

Greasing the groove would be taking every challenge and using it as an opportunity to practice our principles. For example instead of getting impatient with someone who is having a difficult time understanding we should remember that once we were learners too. Rather than getting angry or offended when someone insults us, we should make light of it and laugh it off. Words do not harm us unless we choose to allow them to. When we have the urge to act on impulse or emotion we should take a step back and take a moment to collect ourselves and think rationally or seek advice. Instead of grabbing a soda we can drink water, an apple can be eaten instead of a doughnut. The more often we break from old patterns and habits and act in way that is more consistent with our values the more ingrained they become. We form new habits.

 

Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs” – AA Step 12

Challenge Yourself

Epictetus (and perhaps Yoda) would challenge us to go a day without anger. Then he would challenge us to go another day and then another without getting angry. They would say “find the counter habit to our anger and use it”. That’s all it takes, find what works and apply it, one day at a time, one moment at a time.

Alcoholics also take a “one day at a time” approach to abstaining from drinking. To consider a life time without drinking can seem daunting and even impossible in early recovery. With enough sober days under our belt we form new habits and our recovery strengthens. We have to continuously “grease the groove”; even now I never say “I will never drink again”.

I only choose to not drink today and let tomorrow look after itself. When I get to tomorrow I will ask the Force to give me strength for the day to meet challenges head on. At the end of the day I reflect on the day and thank the Force for letting me have another sober day. I never forget that my sobriety is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of my spiritual condition. By practicing my principles daily in all things I am “greasing the groove”.

Being a better person and living a good life is a skill that is not acquired without effort, it is gained through consistent repetition and practice. So “Grease the Groove” where you want to change.

Commitment

A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind.” – Yoda “Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back”.

The Noble Path

In the Noble Eight Fold Path of Buddhism the virtue of commitment is inferred twice. Right Resolve is the first practice and is the act of making a conscience decision and acting on it. This may mean renunciation of a former way of life and the acceptance of a new path. Old habits and modes of thought are put aside and replaced with a philosophy and system of belief.  The mendicant would be adopting a new way of life which would involve renunciation of property, family ties and romantic love.

The second practice is Right Effort, having accepted the new way of life and training, the mendicant then applies consistently the principles underpinning their practice. This may include meditation, mental discipline, physical training, study and devotion.

Right Resolve and Right Effort both demonstrate commitment.

Commitment was crucial to the Jedi. Right Resolve was taking the vow to enter the Jedi Order and accepting the Jedi Code as the tenet governing behavior. As the Jedi progressed through training their resolve was continuously tested. The Jedi Trials were used as rituals to assess the progress of the Jedi Padawan on their journey to Knighthood.

The Trials of Life

Trial of Skill, the Trial of Courage, the Trial of the Flesh, the Trial of Spirit, and the Trial of Insight were used to test the Jedi. In “The Empire Strikes Back” Luke Skywalker undergoes Jedi Trials before he leaves his training early to rescue his friends and confront Darth Vader.

Right Effort was applied throughout the life of a Jedi to the moment of death. Every thought, word and act of the Jedi was to be in accordance with the Jedi Code. Mindfulness in every aspect of life was applied. The effort  to achieve this would require great commitment and self discipline.

Commitment to a Philosophy of Life takes effort and resolve. Being Jedi is not easy. Applying valued principles from the Buddha, Jesus and the Stoics takes self discipline. I sometimes wonder if I’m not playing some joke on myself and then I remember that one of the virtues is  also humor.

“If you commit to philosophy, be prepared at once to be laughed at and made the butt of many snide remarks. “ – Epictetus, Enchiridion 20.

Effort is Rewarded

Commitment is also tested in the real world. Our resolve and effort in staying sober is tested daily. We are assessed by our loved one’s, our friends and our employers. In the Army some of the guys I served with applied to enter in to the elite special forces community. The selection courses they completed were in many ways like the Jedi trials. They were continuously tested for their physical, mental and emotional fitness, their ability to make decisions under pressure, their perseverance and resolve and ultimately their character was under the microscope.

Those who failed returned devastated. Those who passed were moved on through their training as SF Operators and rarely seen again. When they were encountered they seemed different and they were different, they were better versions of themselves. I stood in awe and respect at what they had achieved.

I now stand in awe at what I have achieved in the last few years of recovery. My life is “a daily reprieve” and I owe it to the “Grace of God”. My effort was only to hold up my end of the bargain and not pick up a drink. I also made the commitment of “drop the rock” through Steps 6 and 7 and let go of my character faults and live in accordance with my values. This takes effort. I know what it takes and when I encounter another recovering addict I know the pain they have gone through and I stand in awe and respect.

“I believe life is constantly testing us for our level of commitment, and life’s greatest rewards are reserved for those who demonstrate a never-ending commitment to act until they achieve. This level of resolve can move mountains, but it must be constant and consistent. As simplistic as this may sound, it is still the common denominator separating those who live their dreams from those who live in regret” – Tony Robbins

One Day at a Time

Commitment starts at Step 1. The moment we admit our disease and powerlessness over our addiction is the moment we commit to taking the first step to claiming the power to recover. What does it take? Everything. Do you need Right Resolve and Right Effort? Everyday and “one day at a time”.

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. – Corinthians 15:10

The commitment required to stay sober and to live a life of continuous self improvement is by its very nature a hard slog. We trudge along in our recovery, one step at a time, one moment at a time. In our way appear obstacles and pit falls. We go down and we get back up and we keep going. Sometimes our mind is screaming for us to stop, yet out hearts and something more powerful within us keeps us going. We keep going because to stop and to quit is to die.

Go Hard

Every day we are on selection. Everyday we are working for our special forces tab. We get up, we get through the day, we thank our Higher Power and we claim renewed strength to get through another day. It takes effort and commitment all day every day.

The only limit to your impact is your imagination and commitment…there is no abiding success without commitment” – Tony Robbins
Your only limit is the boundaries that you set yourself. You are far more powerful than you know and it shows with your commitment in everything that you do. Today when you get up, own the day, commit to that and gut it.
Hooah!” – Army Slogan

Training is Life

 

Training to be a Jedi is not an easy challenge, and even if you succeed, it’s a hard life.” – Qui-Gon Jinn

Life is Suffering

Life is hard and so is recovery. Our daily practices, applying principles and proactively working on self improvement all take effort. Change was never meant to be easy. It can be damn hard. Sometimes it can take everything you have.

The Jedi had a training program which included years of Temple Study in Lore, Ethics, History and Diplomacy as well as physical and martial arts training. There were long hours of meditation and light saber combat. The Jedi student was assigned to a Jedi Knight who acted as mentor and teacher. The apprenticeship lasted as long as was required to satisfy the Jedi Council of the Jedi’s competency. There were also trials the Jedi student had to pass. Training continued for life and Jedi rose in rank as they demonstrated mastery and skill. The Jedi also realized that even after hundreds of years of dedicated training they had not learned everything there was to know.

In recovery there is no graduation day or total mastery where we claim a cure from alcoholism and the problems of life. We may be recovered and strong in our sobriety however we are not immune from life. We can never truly rarely say we are cured and then return to drinking assured that we will be able to drink normally. There is always doubt, we might relapse back in to alcoholism. We don’t know everything and we never will. There is always more to learn so even the wisest and most experienced old timer never stops learning. If one is wise he will not grow arrogant and drink again.

To claim “complete mastery” over any subject and announce that there is nothing more to learn is fool hardy at best, dangerous at worst.

The Best School in the World

I like to say that the only alma mater that matters is the “school of hard knocks”. After years of formal study and training in various professions my greatest life lessons have come out of the hard experiences in life. The let downs, the disappointments and rejections, the failures and falls. The Buddha said that life is comprised of 10 000 joys and 10 000 sorrows. We shed a torrent of tears in a life time. We all experience the suffering of life. The experience makes us smarter and stronger. We learn from our mistakes and our misfortunes. In doing so we grow.

Some of these times in our life truly sucked, they were hard and tough but we got through them and they made us a better person. An old Martial Arts instructor once told me that anyone can wear a black belt. They cost a few dollars but only the person who has poured heart and soul in to their training can claim any meaning to that milestone. Its not the belt, but the pain, suffering and perseverance that it represents which matters. The black belt takes years to earn through dedicated training and application but only a moment to lose through poor choices. The Sensei can take it away at anytime, it is a distinction not an entitlement.

You only get out of life what you put in. Hard work will always pay off in the end.

In the same way I view sobriety. My sobriety is a “daily reprieve contingent to the maintenance of my spiritual condition“. What exactly does that mean? To me it means I must work daily to ensure that I get through each day. My aim is to improve with every day, to rise each day a better person than I was yesterday. I do this through Training and practical application of what I have learned. I know that if I become complacent and drop the ball I may backslide, I can end up back in the hole I put myself in all those years ago.

Daily Practice

My daily routine is a simple one but it does take effort. The benefits cannot be understated. Very often what we most need is routine and a set of goals. The best way to set goals is to break them down. With simple and achievable targets that challenge you, you will progress. Over time you ratchet up the effort a little. Always start slow but be consistent and work to improve.

My daily routine comprises of practices I have adopted from the 12 Steps, the Jedi Path and the Stoics. Feel free to come up with your own program and stick to it for a while, then modify if required to suit your lifestyle, limitations and needs.

Morning

  • On rising, practice a short period of gratitude. Remind yourself of one or two things you have to be grateful for as you come in to this day.
  • Welcome the  day. A new day means new opportunity. Be thankful for it. Every morning I try to greet the sunrise in its splendor. Otherwise I take a quiet moment and imagine the sun coming up over the horizon. I take a moment to contemplate the grand scale of the cosmos and infinite time and to remember that I choose life.
  • Spend a minute as you get ready for work or your days activities to plan the day. Set in your mind or on paper three things you aim to achieve today.
  • Consider the things that may go wrong. Remind yourself that through the day you will encounter people who are rude and obstinate and your plans may get derailed. Resolve not to let them beat you down.
  • Do my daily Readings.

During the Day

  • Do one act of kindness every day to someone. It can be anything, random or predetermined; an offer of assistance or help to someone struggling with a load, giving up my seat on the bus, a simple courtesy such as opening the door. A smile or kind word or an act of charity.
  • Deny myself something nice or practice some form of denial to remind myself not to get too attached to comforts and ease. I practice periodic intermittent fasting on occasion. In addition to reminding myself that food is a precious resource not to be taken for granted I find that occasional fasting makes me feel better. I may decide to leave my jacket at home on a cold day. Run the occasional cold shower!
  • Take a moment to undertake negative visualization. Consider a realistic scenario that might occur which could ultimately change your life or at least make it unpleasant. This could include ill health, unemployment, poverty, ridicule or hate from others, betrayal by friends or colleagues. Imagine yourself dealing with the situation and overcoming it; see yourself practicing acceptance and equanimity.
  • Do at least 30 minutes of exercise or physical training (this can also be in the morning or evening). Remember to have rest days to avoid over training (Stretch / Yoga on off days).

Evening

  • Spend at least 20 minutes in meditation (this can also be during the day or in the morning).
  • Review the day, what went right, what went wrong and consider how I can improve.
  • Journal my thoughts.
  • Take some quiet time, relax.
  • Thank the Force for another day.