The following post originally appeared on chooseyourself.me. A website devoted to the active community of people inspired by James Altucher's best-selling book "Choose Yourself". I first read Choose Yourself in mid-2014 and it completely changed my life. James's personal journey maps closely to mine--ecstatic highs, desperate lows and everything in between. And his completely transparent writing style and practical advice lit a fire deep within my heart. He inspired me to take complete responsibility for my destiny and has led to a number of critical leaps forward in my life, one of which was the launch of this blog. Anyhow, if you haven't already, I can't recommend Choose Yourself highly enough.
Wishing you a wonderful 2015. Make it meaningful!
For the record, "spiritual" does not mean "religious". So if you've had a bad history with organized religion in the past, great. You're in luck. If organized religion does work for you, that's great, too. We all need a moral compass, honesty and integrity as part of our inner being. And we can practice and improve these qualities over the course of our lives. But there are additional elements to this practice to that are important to integrate into our daily lives. Here are some basic building blocks of a healthy Spiritual Practice:
1. Be Here Now
AKA "Don't Time Travel" as James calls it. Instead of wasting mental energy thinking about what we could have done differently in the past, or fretting about what might happen in the future, try to Live in the Present Moment. We can't change the past and the future hasn't happened yet. So live in the moment.
"I give up. I can’t control the past or the future. They are empty, just like I am. All there is is now."
- James Altucher "Choose Yourself!" (p. 51)
This is absolutely fundamental to our Daily Practice. In fact, James says being "spiritual" is simply "not time-traveling".
When Tim Ferriss was asked what the single most common practice of all the people he has interviewed on his podcast (including Tony Robbins, Peter Thiel and Ramit Sethi) was, he said that nearly every single person (including himself) has a daily meditation practice. This isn't a fad. No, it's an essential part of spiritual wellness and balance. And meditation feeds and strengthens our Physical, Emotional and Mental selves as well.
Our brains are designed to process information. To think. But our tendency is typically to overdo it. Bigtime. And think, think, think. So much that we get insomnia, or anxiety or depression. Or just plain unhappy. Thinking takes energy. A lot of it. Overthinking is a lot like continuing to chew a piece of gum long after it's lost its flavor.
Meditation can be a practice that enables us to take a break from all that. And recharge. To turn off all that conceptual activity and give us mental space to be calmer, more creative and better problem solvers.
There are many types of meditation, and a great place to start is by trying breathing meditation. Here are two great sources of free guided meditations: UCLA Mindful Awareness, Mindful Muscle.
Headspace is also a really cool iOS and Android app to help you learn to Mindfulness and Meditation. Highly recommended. And fun, too!
3. Deep Breathing
Sounds pretty basic, huh? But generally we modern humans are pretty bad at it. How are you breathing right now as you read this. Are your breaths coming from just underneath your throat, high up in your chest? Or from deep in your belly. If you're in the second group, you're in the vast minority. That's the goal. Learning to breathe deeply regularly throughout our day is key to becoming spiritually (and physically) well.
The next time you find yourself feeling anxious, or stressed about family, relationships, money, etc. notice how you're breathing. You're likely breathing very shallowly and biologically you're stimulating the "fight or flight" mechanism in your body.
Stop. Take a deep breath. Inhale to a count of 5. Exhale to a count of 5. Even once will improve your state of mind. If you have 30 seconds, do this 3 times. Or 5 or 10. A surefire way to decrease anxiety, improve decision-making and generally chill us out. And we need that to be well.
"When you surrender and accept the beautiful stillness around you, when you give up all thoughts of the past, all worries and anxieties of the future, when you surround yourself with similarly positive people, when you tame the mind, when you keep healthy, there is zero chance of burnout. How do you surrender? By trusting that you’ve done the right preparation. You’ve done all you can do. All that is within your power, your control. Now, give up the results. The right thing will happen."
- James Altucher "Choose Yourself!" (p. 51)
Gratitude yields abundance. It's that simple. There is a direct connection between living in a mindset of gratefulness and creating and attracting abundance in one's life. But before that can happen, it helps to start small. James recommends waking up every day and thinking of 5 people in your life you are grateful for right now. At this moment. Doing this has many benefits. We stop conceiving of the world in terms of what we don't have. We stop complaining. We are more aware of how truly fortunate we are to be alive. Even if our lives are full of "problems".
New Year Goal: start a gratitude journal. Try this cool app.
When we get really good at this practice we can even begin being grateful for our problems themselves. Huh?! This is not crazy talk! The traffic which forces us to either 1) surrender to road rage (not a fun state of mind) or 2) develop a greater level of patience in our minds (way more beneficial to ourselves and others). Buddhists call this practice "transforming adverse conditions into the path". We all have adverse conditions--they are a natural part of life. But how we choose to deal with them, that is up to us. And yes, it IS a "choice". And an extremely important aspect of optimizing our daily practice. And truly "Choosing Ourselves".