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How To Get Unstuck From (almost) Anything

The art of being new.

fireworksThe arrival of a new year signals new expectations. And when you feel stuck in anything from a relationship to career decisions or even family matters, you may feel more than a little blue.

It’s easy to be swept away by a whole cocktail of negative emotions. The reason for this is that most people don’t want to bring old baggage into a feeling of newness.

There are many possible ways to rid yourself of feeling like you are spinning your tires in muck. One regiment that I have found works comes from core martial arts techniques. These concepts have helped me find the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel many times over the years, and I want to share them with you. My hope is that they will serve you well.

Practice empty mind.

If you are feeling mentally paralyzed, martial arts tradition insists you begin your turn-around by emptying your mind completely. Most of us who have had older computers have experienced how nearly all functions and applications slow down in time—sometimes to a crawl—with the addition of more files and larger software. Not only does your computer lose speed, but eventually it has no more memory for new files. It simply cannot take on another thing. Its hard drive is full. And it can’t function again until you do something about it. Many people feel this way when an issue that has been “consuming” 24-7 remains unresolved—be it a relationship, employment or whatever. The next technique is at the heart of all holistic arts. If you do nothing else do this:

Pay attention to the way you are breathing.

Even as you read these words, check your breathing. If your breaths are shallow, deepen them. Try to breathe abdominally. Here’s how. Breathe in, through your nose, filling your lungs with air. Use the bottom of your lungs to pull the air in. This will force you to breathe abdominally. Most people breathe in, using the tops of their lungs and therefore do not take in enough air. Hold your breath for a count of 4 then exhale. Later try to hold your breath for longer periods—say to a count of 7, but certainly not if it makes you uncomfortable. In that case, hold it for as long as you are comfortable.

Visualize your breath pouring into your body as clean white fog, energetically charging and purifying your body (and mind everywhere). It may be a little difficult getting this in synch, but after a few practices you’ll get more comfortable with the technique. Put the whole of your attention on the sound of your breath. This should help you “get out of your head” so to speak—even for a few minutes—and free up some mental space. As a fix it is only temporary. But do it often throughout the day and especially when you are about to enter into a stressful situation.

Add in some exercise.

Martial arts teach mind over matter, as well as matter over mind. These are likened to a gate that can swing either way, yet achieve similar results—which is why many traditions hyphenate the term mind-body. The point is that no matter which way this gate opens, you are able to activate procedures that will be in synch with your goals. So you can start with a mental activity that will loosen up your body or a physical activity that will free your mind. The aim is, however, to eventually do both simultaneously. A martial master once told me that you could practice Tai Chi by simply walking down the street. He was serious. Your job was to empty your mind and synchronize your movement and breathing. With every step, you had to put your attention on the feeling of leaving one space and entering the next, of giving something (in this case physical) up with every gain. Your job was also to get lost, so to speak, in the feeling. The experience—the feeling—is everything. Once you can do that, you enter a state of flow. And once there, the point is to luxuriate in this feeling of goodness. You can employ any physical activity from walking, jogging, sport, to housework, gardening, and so on.

With much day-to-day repetition, you will literally feel your body chemistry, moods, and overall disposition changing. This change will affect your thoughts, memories, and everything you do. It will put these more in touch with imminent goals. Martial arts believe that the total effect will then become synergistic: the more you tone each of these separate areas, the more you strengthen the others until your whole system becomes stronger and more unified.

But much repetition is key. This is because you are working on raising your actions (and feelings) to the level and speed of habit. The hope is that such a mindset will transfer from the realm of simple physical movement to more complex areas of your life. According to martial Way, this will happen naturally and effortlessly.

Use your body’s reward system.

With every success, big or small, let yourself feel rewarded. This will help you build up fuel for more similar endeavors. Additionally, this kind of reward craves more.

Change your perspective about failure.

Try seeing failures to get what you want when you want it as an opportunity to sharpen your skills. There is an ancient martial tenet that involves being in flow. The idea is that every movement contains somewhere within it opportunity. You just have to locate it. Once you target it, you use a procedure (action) that will nail it. A martial arts novice sees a foiled endeavor as failure, and his next series of thoughts, feelings, memories, and actions are often guided by that conclusion. One possible explanation is that the novice is putting a lot of attention on controlling his opponent’s actions, rather than controlling (seeing, activating, and inhibiting) his own options. You can choose to see an error as indicating that you are not good at something and let that dictate your next move, or you can see it as an opportunity to become proficient at something, keep negative emotions and memories at bay, and stay focused on your goal until you subsequently put together an action that is capable of hiting it.

Visualize what circumstances will distract you from achieving your goal in advance.

Once you see what circumstances can inhibit you from achieving your goal, visualize what you can do to prevent those circumstances from occurring. Again, repetition—in this case, the visualization—is important.

Keeping your attention focused through more deliberate, conscious activities will help transfer this mindset and the reward mechanism you have established for it to other areas of your life.

Just try to stay in flow no matter what. Martial Way insists that the solutions you seek will come to you, and that when they do, you will be strong and flexible enough to carry them out.

Note: For a scientific adventure into the world of human attention see my newest book [amazon 1601630638].

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