Would you drop a magic pill (or at least a half?)

As we get into the year, many of the people I meet have been reflecting how to get the best from themselves this year.  It’s been inspiring to hear how the depth of winter has inspired so much personal change. For me, taking time out over New Year always inspires new direction, and this year has provided plenty of food for thought. One of the most impactful moments of my personal retreat occurred on the plane to India, listening to Bruce Daisleys’ excellent Eat Sleep Work Repeat podcast. His guest James Doty, a Professor of Neuroscience at Stamford posed a brilliant question, that challenged me and has inspired real behavioral change.  The question he often asks students is this:

“If you were offered a naturally made pill that was proven to reduce stress, decrease blood pressure, increase the production of positive neuro chemicals (such as endorphins and serotonin) and reduce the body’s production of harmful toxins, would you consider taking it? And if you were told that long term research shows no side effects and only reported positive effects (and the cost was virtually zero to produce) would you want a pill every day?”

The professor says that most students want the pill, even when told that the pill would result in you sitting silently after taking it for around 20 mins. And he poses that most businesses would want their employees to be taking it. And as it was proven to reduce healthcare costs, most governments would be knocking down the doors of the suppliers to buy it.

It’s no wonder that Jerry Seinfeld says that he sometimes feels that he wants to grab strangers in the street to extol the virtues of sitting in silence twice a day.  And it’s no mystery either why 80% of the high performers that Tim Ferris interviewed for his book Tools of Titans had a meditation or mindfulness practice as part of their daily ritual. So why does a (reasonably) well-adjusted 50-year-old who has been taught meditation practices by the world’s best teachers, and has access to the most popular and successful apps to support him, still miss out on the benefits of meditation as a regular practice?

The question inspired me to practice regularly in my time away, but then it’s always going to be easy to carve out 20 mins a day for quiet reflection on a sandy beach. How am I to ensure I turn this into a habit now I’m back in a cold dark Britain, with punishing schedules and a full-on family demanding time and attention? If Oprah Winfrey sits twice a day with all her employees to practice their mindfulness techniques, how am I to ensure I don’t let the practice slip? If I’m going to allow time to continue writing, and combine that with my London Marathon training schedule, do I really have time in my day to sit and do nothing?

Fortunately help was at hand from Robin Sharma, whose book the 5am Habit I started reading on the plane home.  While the American parable format may irritate some, I enjoyed the way it was easy to read and enabled access to some inspiring insights about daily routines that maximize my chances of success. The idea of joining the 5am club to “own your morning and elevate your life” may seem appalling to many, but as a relatively early riser, it’s only an extra 60 mins or so to me. And as he suggests that full habit installation take at least 66 days, it’s too early to say this is a lasting habit, but the impact so far has been good.

The “Spellbinder”, Sharma’s fictional Guru suggests that running the 20:20:20 formula from 5am will kick start anyone’s activity to legendary performance levels. 20 mins of brisk exercise is followed by 20 mins of reflection (where I meditate) and then 20 mins of learning. Imagine that, having learnt something, exercised, and had time to charge up your higher self, all before 6am. Reality is so far, I’m taking until 6:15 to get it all done, but its effects are outstanding, nonetheless. I can’t yet speak Spanish, but I’m on the way, I am not yet super fit, but I can do more push ups than last week. And finally, I can see that a daily meditation practice is practical, and I’m starting to see the benefits.

You’ll realise that part of my sharing this is to support my own embedding of this habit.  Yet if you are inspired to wake up a little early to embed a new positive practice into your life, let me know what you are going to start doing and I’ll do my best to support you in the process. I’ve realised over the past 30 days that I’m not serving the world as much as I can by playing small and allowing my physical and psychological limitations to manage me. Committing myself to daily learning, daily exercise and daily reflection, all before 6am, is my attempt to supercharge my capacity to make a difference.  What are you wanting to change in this world, and what are you going to do about it?

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