“Everything’s connected to everything else.”
As I was leaving the gym this morning, I had to think about the connection between the world of weights and treadmills inside, and the world outside.
To me, there isn’t much of a difference. It’s all about sweat, commitment and endurance. Every time I leave the fitness center, I feel lighter, stronger and more alive.
Working out is working out for me!
Some of my colleagues aren’t feeling it. Even though they don’t exercise, they sound like they’re trapped on a treadmill carrying a heavy weight on their shoulders. No matter what happens, they feel they have to keep on running the rat race.
These are people who live in constant fear that’s manifesting itself in many ways. They won’t leave home without a mobile device. They might text or check email while driving. Some will tell you they can’t afford to take a break. Others will take their home office or studio with them on the road or on vacation. Why?
Well, you never know, you know. Going to that remote B & B for some R & R might cost you clients. And once they’re gone, they’ll never come back, and that’s a fact.
GIVE ME A BREAK
Don’t build your career on fear.
Build a career on balance.
Even Go-d rested on the seventh day, so why would it be unwise to unwind and leave your work behind? Do you have boundary issues, perhaps?
When it comes to vacation, I don’t compromise. It’s not a luxury. It’s a necessity. That’s why I unplug.
And every time I go to the gym, it feels like a mini-vacation.
While I exercise, I completely disconnect from the rest of the world. I’m not thinking about what happened yesterday or what might happen tomorrow. Those are mind games anyway.
I do everything I can to leave my troubles and triumphs at the door and be in the moment.
You should try it. I dare you. It’s wonderful. It’s therapeutic.
Psychologists call being in the moment an “associated state” as opposed to a “dissociated state”. Being associated means being absorbed by and immersed in the present. It’s a state of deep and often joyous focus.
Hungarian psychology professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (the author of “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience”) describes it as
the merging of action and awareness while we narrow our field of attention
In this state of mind, something funny happens. Our sense of time is completely distorted. Some people will even tell you that time stands still.
A SAFE DISTANCE
Being dissociated is the opposite. Instead of being in the moment, dissociated people distance themselves from it. They’re not in the experience. They are observers instead of partakers. Their distracted minds drift to what has been or what may be. They are not emotionally involved in whatever is happening.
When we’re in this state, we hear someone speak but we don’t really listen to what’s being said. Someone’s touching us lovingly while our mind takes us to tomorrow’s business meeting. “Not Now,” says the mother to her attention-seeking child as she stares at her smart phone.
It’s hard to focus and enjoy what we’re doing when we’re dissociated. When the appetizer is served, we think about the main course. When we’re eating our entrée, we wonder about what’s on the dessert tray. And time is always ticking.
THE MEANING IS IN THE CONTEXT
Of course no one is completely associated or dissociated in every situation all the time. Being associated is not necessarily better either. It depends on the context. Sometimes it is beneficial to be an uninvolved, unmoved observer. In order to analyze a situation it can be necessary to set feelings aside.
Emergency room doctors have to distance themselves from the emotional turmoil in order to do what they need to do. A funeral director can’t be overcome by grief every time he lays someone to rest. A therapist can’t be a patient’s best friend in order to be effective. A war photographer uses the lens of his camera to deal with the horrors of the battlefield.
At other times, it is essential to be associated. Athletes need to destroy distraction in order to run the race. Musicians become one with their instrument during a thrilling performance. Actors merge with their character as they experience and act out a whole range of emotions.
THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES
Association and dissociation also play an important role when we access memories. Do me a favor and think about something unpleasant that happened to you a short while ago. Don’t pick the most traumatizing experience of your life. Pick something minor that still has a bit of a charge.
If you’d like to close your eyes while doing this experiment, that’s okay. Some people see more with their eyes closed.
When you go back to that unpleasant situation now, what do you see, what do you hear and what do you feel? As you’re experiencing that moment now, are you in it, looking through your own eyes, or are you observing yourself in that situation? In other words: are you associated or dissociated? Notice the intensity of the feeling.
Okay, that’s enough. Step out of it and stretch a little.
By the way…. what did you have for dinner, yesterday? And what about breakfast?
Now I’d like you to think of a pleasant memory. Pick something fun; a moment that you’d like to relive… and as you go back that moment now, what do you see, what do you hear and what do you feel? Tell me, are you part of the experience, or is it as if you’re watching a movie of yourself?
If you’re dissociated, why not step into the scene and into your body and be part of the moment. It’s easy. You can do it. Notice how different that feels. If it feels better, why not hang out a bit longer before you come back.
If you are associated, step out of your body and look at yourself having fun as if you’re watching yourself on TV. What feels less intense? Being associated or dissociated? If you like, step back into your body and enjoy the moment a bit longer before you open your eyes again. Thanks for playing along!
What did you learn?
Most people tell me that an experience feels more intense when they’re associated, and that’s hardly surprising. If you wish to relive precious memories, association is the way to go because you’re literally in the moment and your body reacts accordingly.
Some people however, are also very good at recreating less than pleasant memories because they’re fully associated. Thus, traumatic experiences are relived again and again very vividly, and can torment a person who hasn’t yet learned to dissociate from them (this is often strengthened by traditional therapy asking the patient to go back to the most horrible situations as they’re fully associated).
Observing an unpleasant or even traumatic memory in a dissociated way, can make a person feel safer because he or she is more detached from the experience.
I have known people who were consistently very good at reliving pleasant memories in a dissociated way, and unpleasant ones while being associated. As you can imagine, they were not very happy campers.
So, what does this little thought experiment have to do with vacation and fitness, you might ask.
No matter how much we might love our work, I happen to believe that it is healthy to step away and dissociate ourselves from our professional activities if we wish to lead a balanced life.
Clients come and go, but family and friends will always be there and they deserve our full attention. Otherwise you might end up like Steve Jobs. One of the reasons he asked Walter Isaacson to write his biography is because, as Jobs revealed:
“I wanted my kids to know me.” (source)
You might be a brilliant individual, but to me that’s a rather sad statement, don’t you think?
“Do you want to know what your father was like? Why don’t you read the book? I heard it was so good, they’re going to turn it into a movie!”
That’s no way to go, so here’s what I suggest you do:
BE KIND. UNWIND.
Spend time with the people you love, and when you do, be in the moment. Give them your full attention. Look them in the eye. Truly listen. Hug them (if that’s your kind of thing). Tell them how much you appreciate them.
Resist the temptation to take out that iPhone and check messages every single hour of the day. Believe me, life will go on.
Get away from your familiar environment. If you stay home, you’ll be back at your computer before you know it. Distance creates distance.
And don’t just do it for others. Do it for yourself.
If you don’t take care of this house you live in you call your body, one day it will push the alarm button and make you pay attention. When that happens, it usually ain’t pretty. And since this is the only house you have, you better take good care of it. That’s one of the reasons I work out.
Take time to recharge your batteries and inspire others. Distance yourself from work and get closer to nature and to those who are dear to you.
Don’t tell me: “I’ll start tomorrow.” You know how that goes. Every day is yesterday’s tomorrow.
Today is just perfect!
Create new memories and associations.
When you start to make heartfelt changes in one area of your life, things in other areas will begin to change as well.
That’s just the way it works.
Whether you realize it or not, everything’s connected to everything else.
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
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PS This concludes my short series on health and well-being. In the next three weeks I will review some exceptional gear you’ve probably never heard of, starting with my microphone.