Harness Your Intuition

Cultivating internal tuition is an important tool for anyone who wants to lead a healthy life.

Listening to your internal cues, like hunger, is part of the intuition puzzle. But we often don’t consider the influence of mood and mind state. If we can cater to these factors not only does our performance and longevity improve, but also our experience.

Following routines is part of life but it’s important to ditch your habits when your body’s telling you otherwise.

Many people underestimate their fatigue signals and the benefits of rest when it comes to staving away illness. Why do I feel so tired, it’s only 8 and I normally sleep at 10? Instead of listening, you push through to maintain the status quo, despite the craving for rest.

Failing to listen to your intuition will cause your performance to suffer and opens the door to sickness. Also, it impacts your ability to recognise future cues making it harder to comprehend what your body is trying to tell you.

Similarly, you need to learn to adapt what you’re doing, including your physical training, based on how you’re feeling emotionally.

There are a few ways you typically respond to your emotions. You…

  • Ignore them
  • Let them dictate your behaviour
  • Use them to your advantage

You’re mostly guilty of the first two responses. However, with time and practise, you can harness your emotions. The first step: achieving awareness. If you can develop an innate awareness of your emotions you can control your reaction.

Pause, recognise then refocus – how can you use this emotive state to your advantage?

A Matter of the Mind

Ever get that feeling that you should do something but don’t want to?

Maybe it’s making a phone call or apologising to a loved one. Starting the task is challenging though once it’s done, a huge weight lifts off your shoulders and you know you’ve done the right thing.

The same is true for mindfulness practice. I’m reluctant to call it meditation as that has people thinking of monks solemnly contemplating the mysteries of life in a faraway cave.

So we’ll call it mindfulness.

Mindfulness is any practice that strengthens the mind: mental rehearsal, visualisation and focusing on keeping a quiet mind are examples. You neglect mental training despite your reliance on your brain and a lack of time is an often cited reason.

‘I can’t afford to spend 10 minutes sitting doing nothing’

If you have these thoughts, it’s time to start practicing mindfulness.

Mindfulness training is like a defragmentation of your brain. It improves clarity, clears away junk files and helps you to better organise the data in your head.

Next time you find yourself woefully short on time or your brain feels like it’s labouring, practice mindfulness even if only for a minute or two.

Be Prepared

Hope for the best but expect the worst – how many of us heed this advice?

We’re guilty of approaching life as if everything will go to plan and the trains will always run on time. When something comes up or the train runs late, we scream and curse our misfortune.

Expecting the unexpected is a paradox but we’re old enough to recognise the inconsistent nature of the world. This runs with themes I’ve discussed before – adaptability and being OK with chaos. Though, I want to explore the idea of being less obdurate.

Oftentimes, there are signals, subtle or not so subtle, that forecast change. The issue – we fail to acknowledge them and hope that ignorance will ‘magic it’ away. This is analogous to an ostrich who sticks his head in the sand.

It is utter foolishness.

In times like this, when our sixth sense warns us of a potential plight, we need to wisen up rather than falling into the safety that stubbornness provides. Doing so allows a change of mindset – shock is replaced by acceptance.

A heightened awareness allows us to plan; to make preparations that place us in a better position to manage the situation rather than being without a strategy.

Ok, you say, that’s all well and good, but what about when something comes from out of the blue? These instances are inevitable and the key is to stay calm and relaxed. Once the shock passes, analyse the situation and make plans accordingly.

Anger and frustration serve as additional roadblocks when something unexpected and unpleasant crops up. Be clever and adaptable. See the event for what it is, a challenge, and make the best of it.

Seek Distraction

We like to train and compete in optimal conditions with full equipment availability, no distractions and a clear mind.

But how often is this the case?

Oftentimes, the squat rack is unavailable and heinous music plays in the background. Meanwhile, you can’t get your mind off that damn Johnson file from work. Your training suffers and you walk out of the gym muttering to yourself about the unfairness of it all.

Josh Waitzkin in his book, The Art of Learning, makes a point of inviting these distractions. Instead of searching for perfect conditions, he recognises the importance of thriving on the chaos that the world creates.

Let’s jump back to the gym example and imagine you’re an aspiring powerlifter preparing for a meet.

Following Waitzkin’s advice, you download music that you’d normally save to torture others with and decide to train at an unfamiliar gym. Also, you give yourself a limited time period to complete the session.

Adopting this approach has benefits…

  • It makes you comfortable with chaos so you won’t be shocked when it does arise
  • It forces you to dial in your focus and block out distractions
  • You learn to keep your cool under duress rather than cursing the world and all inhabitants

Although you’re unlikely to produce your best performance, you’ll improve under imperfect circumstances. Next time something unexpected crops up, such as leaving your training shoes at home, don’t write off the session. See it as a challenge in bettering your ability to adapt.

 

We can’t expect consistency from the world so prepare for chaos.

Feedback

Tests are often perceived negatively. We build them up to something bigger than they are and we’re sickened at the thought of doing poorly, being criticised or compared to others.

There is a growing notion that exams should become a thing of the past, but we’re a long way from a test-free world. We’ll be stuck with tests for the inconceivable future so, what’s the solution?

First, we must recognise the purpose of tests. They’re not designed to make us feel bad about ourselves or to heap harsh criticisms on our shoulders. We have created these pressures.

Tests are a mechanism that helps us to determine where we’re at relative to where we need to be. If we want to develop skills in a field, there are benchmarks for proficiency. We wouldn’t want an incompetent surgeon handling our kidneys now, would we?

Also, tests are an opportunity to gather feedback. Finding out what we could have done better allows for progression and stops us from repeating the same mistakes.

Let’s reframe testing. Our teachers want the best for us – their intent isn’t malicious. Although at times receiving feedback can be hard, thrive on the criticism. Look forward to being singled out. You’re less likely to make the same error in the future.

Everything In Moderation, Including Moderation

Everything in moderation – good advice from every mother’s handbook.

This maxim holds true for nearly every situation…

  • Nutrition – eat a balanced diet. Allow yourself treats but in lesser quantities.
  • Exercise – train regularly and with variety. Allow for rest.

There is an innate sense that tells us what is sensible. But occasionally, it’s valuable to ignore the inner voice.

A life of moderation is a boring one as it sets constraints on what we should and shouldn’t do. We’re not robots that require rigidity to survive, we’re capable of dealing with chaos too. And while the thought of breaking routine frightens us – this is more reason to unshackle from the restraints we set.

Stray from your meal plan or try something different in the gym. You might learn something. You’ll become more adaptable by opening yourself up to disorder.

Aggressive Goal Setting

“My goal is to achieve the front splits in one year”

Stop being conservative with your goals.

You allow yourself too much freedom and leeway when setting ‘realistic’ and ‘reasonable’ targets. There’s no pressure to get things done, so you skip days and tell yourself, “Tomorrow I’ll get serious”.

Inevitably, you get to the end date and you’ve achieved nothing. Diddly squat.

Set your goals aggressively – what’s the worst that could happen? Aim to achieve the splits in two months instead of 12. Would your mindset change? Would you alter your plans?

Of course, if you wanted any chance of success. And while you may not achieve the splits in two months, you’ll have made significant progress (and torn several pairs of pants).

Don’t allow a conservative mindset creep into your goal setting. Be bold. Create a deadline that makes you nervous, a deadline that requires aggressive planning, free from any fluff.

How do you approach goal setting? Leave your approach in the comments section below.

Intangible

Many trees shed their leaves in autumn. This means setting aside time for raking; a cause of annoyance for some.

But there is satisfaction in clearing the yard – it’s cathartic. The grass is clear of debris leaving the garden looking pretty again.

As the week’s pass, leaves fall at an accelerated rate. Regular raking continues but it’s difficult to make headway, with freshly fallen leaves quickly replacing their recently cleared brethren. There is no sense of accomplishment.

Grind – this phase is temporary.

Whether clearing the leaves or chipping away at your goals, progress is not always clear-cut. There is the belief that, change must be tangible and easy to observe, but this isn’t always the case.

Long-term progress is not linear.

Practice perseverance and patience when progress becomes unclear. And just as trees survive the harsher winter months by shedding their leaves, you too will become more resilient.

What About The Mental?

Do you train your mind?

Many resources exist on how to train the physical body. It is a well-researched topic and it’s easy to observe changes – we look different in the mirror, can run further or lift more weight. This feedback is a nice way to confirm we’re doing something right.

Also planning a training program is easy. Run this amount of kilometres, lift this amount of weight and progress over time.

But do you train your mind?

Why don’t we put the same effort into developing a strong mind?

Because it’s not tangible, it’s difficult to quantify, less information exists on how to do it and there is stigma attached to ‘mind training’ –  a feeling that it should be left to Buddhist monks and Jedi’s.

Why is it important?

We rely on our bodies for many tasks and often they fall within our physical capabilities, like doing the groceries. Seldom do we do things that truly challenge our body. We’re capable of performing most activities with next to no effort. Imagine if we could get to the same level of mental ease.

We call on our brain for every task we do. Improving mental efficiency improves effectiveness – from ensuring the supermarket receipt is correct to negotiating challenging social situations.

Muscles are trained by lifting weights – with correct application and time, heavy dumbbells become light. The same principle applies to mental training and difficult mental calculations soon become easy.

How do we train the mind?

Just as the body is trained in different ways, such as strength versus endurance, there several approaches to training the brain…

Practice mindfulness

Be ‘present’.

The mind is in a constant state of flux flickering between past, present and future. By remaining grounded in the present, we do better at the job at hand and reduce unnecessary worry about the future or dwelling on the past.

Practice mindfulness with mundane tasks. Chores around the house, like sweeping, for instance. Focus intently on doing the task perfectly.

Continual learning

Without constant stimulation, the brain stagnates and atrophies just as muscles waste when not used.

Lifelong learning keeps the brain fresh. Learn about topics that interest you – read, research and sign up for courses. Take advantage of free online learning platforms like Coursera and edX.

Meditate

Meditation benefits everyone not just Yogis and progressive types who say “Yeah man,” too often.

It’s another opportunity to practice mindfulness. When beginning meditation, the mind rarely stays in one place and instead jumps from thought to thought. Learn how to meditate using techniques like focusing on the breath. These apps are useful too.

With practice you’ll be able to separate yourself from your thoughts, allowing them to float by like clouds instead of becoming attached to them. Your concentration will improve.

Mental rehearsal and visualisation are also great tools. Elite athletes, foreseeing their future success, have popularised these techniques. Create vivid mental imagery of an area of your life you’d like to improve and see yourself succeeding.

Do you put time and effort into mental training? What techniques and strategies do you use? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.