My CrossFit-gym friend Kate asked: "Steve where do you put work on your list of importance?
I really like '1. De-stress. 2. Sleep. 3. Food. 4. Exercise.' but I'm currently getting very stressed by work and it's interfering with #1 (soon it will start to impede on #2, 3, 4 too... probably in that order).
Any tips for dealing with this?? I had no problems balancing #1-4 on my week off, but I struggle once work gets thrown in."
My answers went like this.... First, I said: "Me too. I don't really put it on the list because it is just one of a zillion things to do/balance/etc as part of #1, which, if not properly managed, will then bleed over into 2, 3 and 4, as you said. But, yeah, I can get pretty wound up about work too. And that all brings me back to the meditation thing. And I am serious that it almost annoys me how well it works for me. I mean, how can regularly staring at a wall and focusing on breathing matter so much? But it does, and I give up trying to figure out why, and just do it. Or at least I know that I *should* do it, which, ultimately, was the point of the post. I am effectively on a 30-day twice-a-day meditation challenge for January."
Then, I added: "Don't try and measure progress in meditation. Just do it. It is, unbelievably, kind of hard work. You may want to read my previous meditation post. Truly, if, early on, you can get 30 seconds of empty mind out of a 20-minute session, you are some kind of superstar. More realistic might be five seconds. Really. But stay with it, even when overwhelmed by thoughts that this is the Dumbest Thing Ever. Somewhere I once read an article entitled Zen is Stupid that made the same point. But sometime, maybe a month from now, whenever, you will realize that there has been a cumulative difference in your calm and your mood. But it is nothing at all like CrossFit. There aren't daily PRs in meditation. Then again, if you are wound tight, you didn't get that way overnight, so it figures that it takes some work to unwind out of it."
Hopefully that was all helpful, but I gave it a little more thought and figured I would continue the answer here.
I answered as I did because there are stressors that you *can* do something about by actually eliminating them from existing, and then there are ones that just come with the territory of life. If work sucks and you have the option to quit and do something else that is less stressful, then, by all means, go for it. But I was assuming -- rightfully so, I think -- that, for most of us, that isn't an option. So then what? Or, as Kate put it, where does work fit into those four categories?
Well, it doesn't. It's a stressor, and stressors are the things that #1 above -- you know: "de-stress" -- addresses. The way to get a front row seat on the rollercoaster of doom is pretty easy. Try this: let work stress you out; fail to manage that stress; get shitty sleep as a result -- waking up a lot and maybe not getting back to sleep easily when you *do* wake up; and then have diet and exercise fall apart (or add to the stress) as well.
Wheeeeeee!!! First stop: doom. Second stop: gloom. Third stop gets really ugly.
We've all been there.
Which brings me back to #1. You *must* figure out a way to dump that stress out of your mind. If you don't, it will most definitely affect #s 2, 3 and 4. And kudos to Kate for realizing that domino effect.
Which brings me back to meditation. And I say "brings *me* back" for a reason: I don't personally know any other way. You may swear that running or squatting or deadlifting or MovNat or whatever form of exercise you do empties your mind of all stress. You may be right. But it doesn't do it for me. Those activities are great as *exercise*, but exercise, for me, is not a de-stressor. It is exercise for my body, but it does not empty my mind. Exercise can be very beneficial in many ways, but, technically, it is actually a bit of a hormetic stressor itself -- a potentially really beneficial one, but it can royally fuck you up as well if you go at it when you are sleep-deprived, eating poorly or both.
Which, er, brings us back to meditation (I swear this keeps happening). Use your favorite analogy. For women, it's usually "mental floss." For guys, they tend to like the "big mental dump" analogy. (We're gross; what can I say?)
Whatever works for you, kids. But the goal is simple: empty your mind. You will then sleep better. And then when you sleep better, your body will properly absorb the nutrients that your otherwise awesome paleo/primal lifestyle is providing it. And then you will make huge performance gains in exercise.
There are always going to be things that stress you -- particularly work -- that you just don't have the option of removing from your life. Instead, you have to figure out a way to floss your brain (or take a big mental dump) to rid yourself of the anxiety that they cause. I'm sure there are non-meditation techniques, but I don't know what they are.
Which, yes, again, brings us back to meditation. Like I said, it's all I have.
In 1970, George Clinton put it a little differently, but it was all the same idea:
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