In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell challenges the belief that some people are born under a lucky star and somewhat dismisses the idea of prodigy. Instead, he asserts that an individual driven by disciplined commitment to practice (10,000 hours), within the context of right time and place, can lead to significant success and results.
I read Outliers again during the holidays as I was outlining my 2013 goals and the concept of practice resonated. What could I practice more of in order to achieve a healthier life balance in 2013? I brainstormed a few ideas, many of which I'd tried before. Yet, what often went missing was my ability to have the patience to commit to a regular practice.
My most recent trip to Miraval Resort brought the concept of practice and its relationship to stress reduction into a realistic framework. I might not have 10,000 hours, but I had a few days in an environment that allows people to challenge themselves in various ways, primarily through exercise in nature, yoga, physical challenge courses and active reflection. I've visited Miraval numerous times in my life and always discover something new, yet often struggle to bring the new ideas home and into regular practice.
Yet, practice is harder than it sounds. When I first started to learn Spanish, I understood what was being said since I was fluent in Italian. But when I practiced with others, I couldn't respond to questions in Spanish -- I could only respond in Italian. This, of course, was helpful to no one. I briefly gave up, believing my brain would never be able to unpack the partnership between the two languages.
Through that experience -- and through the collective stressful events we all face in work and life -- I've been more mindful about practicing patience. While at Miraval this time, I endeavored to keep this at the bow of my thought. A few interesting things happened:
Tennis, anyone? Leigh Weinraub -- widely known as Coach Leigh -- is one of Miraval's many gems. Uniquely blending her professional tennis expertise with her psychology background, Coach Leigh has designed both tennis and walking sessions to help participants shape a more focused positive perspective through active movement. For me, in just one hour of mindfulness tennis coaching, I was able to practice my forehand and backhand with a new ease and simplicity, all with Leigh's helpful feedback on shifting perspectives. With a high energy, realistic and kind perspective, Leigh is all about execution and practice -- my guess is there's a good reason her classes are always packed.
I learned how to relax -- again. Space and time removed from my everyday environment relaxes me. I'm often able to do this by traveling, but it can also be done through meditation.
A year ago, I tried a new chakra meditation class, and instantly, my brain jumped around just enough to convince me that I might be doing something wrong -- even though I know logically there's no wrong way to meditate. After we finished, I asked the meditation leader if this was normal. Did I fail? Not at all, he said. You are a meditator, he told me. Just by taking the class and noticing that my mind was jumping is the first step and is 100 percent completely normal. It's part of the process.
This time at Miraval, I experimented with various meditation practices and was reminded that meditation can be simple, but also portable. I tried yoga nidra, chakra and mindfulness meditation, which were all helpful. Yet, simply put, practicing on one's steady rise and fall of breath for even five minutes can help refocus our minds on living in the present moment.
I hiked it out. Though I'm no stranger to the trail, I'm constantly reminded of my passion for hiking each time I visit Miraval. There is something about walking in the desert amidst the mountains that is both calming and invigorating in equal measure.
Each time, I intentionally choose a new route or group and ask different questions of the guides. I start out with a powerful and want to quickly finish, challenging myself to strengthen my speed and endurance. Yet, during this last hike in the Sonoran desert, I took a different approach and practiced slowing my speed and noticing nature, which can prove a challenging task in urban settings. With the guidance of three experts, I learned not just about specific plants or animals but about how we can all become "naturalists" in a way without having a degree. All it took was a moment to stop, focus and listen to a short story while taking in a few details about a type of cactus, fern, stone or artifact.
Most of us know that practice works as we're learning new things, whether it's at a special place like Miraval or at home. Once we're aware of an interest or possibility, practice simply helps us tap into inherent talents, interests or needs -- but having the patience to continue practicing seems the biggest test.
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For more on stress, click here.