Gratefulness Challenges Days 23 and 24

My oh my! I can’t believe that I missed a day of my Gratefulness Challenge! Sometimes the day takes a turn that you just weren’t planning and there isn’t a whole lot you can do about it. With Valentine’s Day and then Family Day today in Ontario the week just caught me off guard a little more than expected. Hence the need for this double bill of a gratefulness post.

1. Determination: The past five days have been, to say the least, hard and I still have a few tough days left to get through. Some mornings I have woken up and all I wanted to do was roll over and fall back asleep. Some nights I would be heading out wondering why I couldn’t just be heading home. I haven’t really stopped much this week and it hasn’t been easy but it has brought many rewards. Sometimes you just have to get through stuff and push your body further than you ever have before.

I was determined to get to everything I wanted to do this week. I was borderline stubborn about it. I convinced myself to get up and keep going no matter how much I didn’t want to at moments. Because deep down I knew that what I was planning was important and that I would regret it if I didn’t show up and do my best.

Determination really helps keep me moving in the right direction. Being determined helps me negotiate between what I feel and need in a specific moment, and what I need and want from the future. It also gives me the strength to go against the norm and stand up for what I believe to be right. No one ever created change by allowing everyone to walk all over them and push their ideas to the side. They stood strong and determined to show an alternate perspective and make a change. I am grateful for my own determination as well as the determination of those who paved the path before me.

2. Breathing: It may sound silly to be grateful for an autonomic bodily function but next time you are stressed, anxious or just having to work hard at something take a second to think about whether or not you are holding your breath. I bet the answer  is yes. Now try taking a few deep breaths and see if you feel any better. Yep, I thought that might work.

Breathing not only feeds our body with the oxygen it needs to survive but it also helps cleanse our body of tension and toxins. There is a ridiculous amount of junk hidden deep within our tissues. Oxygen is one of the best ways to get rid of it. When we stop breathing we actually cause more tension and toxin buildup because our poor little tissue fibres are just screaming for more nutrients. Hence the raised levels of anxiety; our bodies are stressed! It’s pretty cool that just a few deep breaths can help bring our bodies closer to balance. And all of this happens without us even having to consciously think about it. A pretty spectacular  bodily function if you ask me.

3. Visualization: I am going to prefix these next few paragraphs by saying that some of the concepts I am about to discuss are still new for me, so my grasp on them is not overly firm. I find them really cool though so I will do my best to clearly share my thoughts.

Visualization is something that I have always been accustomed to. Dancers use it all the time. Teachers use it as a tool to help improve technical proficiency and performers or choreographers use it to attain a specific quality or intention from movement. I’ve always had this blind faith in the power of visualization I had experienced that it was effective. When I started to learn about the science behind it I go really excited. Factual justification for creative practice is awesome.

Whenever human beings learn a new skill our brains create a neural pathway which instructs our body how to perform the new task. There are a thousand different pathways which can be created to make the same task happen. Some of these pathways are more efficient or healthier than others. One of the hardest things to do is to change our brain’s choice of pathway if it has been using the same one for a long time. That’s why they say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. It literally is very very hard.

One of the best ways to make these changes happen is through visualization. Instead of focusing on a desired task (for example, relaxing your shoulders) you can choose to focus on a image that will help your brain create a new, more efficient pathway without distracting it from the activity it is doing. These images are especially useful for taking that desired change into a variety of situations.

Ever noticed that some things you are really great at in one situation, but in another you are incapable of making it happen? That struggle is referred to as transfer of training and educators battle with how to make this happen all the time. Something as simple as being in a different room or wearing different clothes can cause the body to work differently. Visualization is one of the most common tools to make these transfers possible. For example when I am stressed at work I tend to stop breathing and tense my shoulders. Instead of focusing on relaxing my shoulders and taking deep breaths (which only works for as long as I am thinking about it) I visualize myself in yoga class. Since in yoga my body naturally releases shoulder tension and breaths more readily keeping this image in my mind at work causes those same things to happen. I can keep the image of yoga practice in my mind without having to take attention away from the tasks that are a part of my actual job.

But here is where visualization is REALLY amazing. Scientist are now discovering that you don’t actually have to do an activity to have the neural pathway associated with it fire. Studies are showing that visualizing yourself doing a familiar activity causes the same neurological sequences to fire in your body as would if you were actually performing the task, just on a smaller scale. Furthermore, visualizing yourself doing something, but in a different way than usual can actually create new pathways for form. Ridiculous!

This means that no matter the situation you can be expanding and strengthening the mind and body. Sure, I can’t sit at home visualizing myself doing crunches and expect abs next week, but it could potentially mean that whenever I do hit the gym my body will on a neurological level be better prepared for a good workout. Amazing!

4. Teamwork: Life is just so much easier when we work together. I have spoken about my gratefulness for having good collaborators before and this is somewhat similar. The distinction for me between the two is that when I collaborate with someone we are both equal partners in the relationship, but with teams not everyone has the same amount of authority.

I think the best way to describe successful teamwork is the hive mentality. Bees are known for putting the success of the hive before all else. For humans I don’t think teamwork is quite as extreme, but there is a selfless quality to it. There needs to be a willingness by all parties to make some level of sacrifice if necessary and to think about how your actions are going to affect everyone else working with you. Perhaps something that is a slight inconvenience for you, makes someone else’s role in the group a thousand times easier. That makes the trouble worth it.

It’s also just so much easier to get things done with the help of others. When you are sitting alone the smallest task can feel ridiculously daunting. Having someone else to help carry the load makes everything seem more manageable. You have a sounding board for your ideas as well as company while you work.

I am fortunate to be a part of a few really great teams. It is actually one of the most important things to me when looking for work. I have even left great jobs simply because the team dynamic wasn’t one I felt comfortable with. It is just some much easier to build, when you aren’t building alone.

5. Celebrations: There are lots of reasons to celebrate. This weekend alone I attended a fundraiser, birthday party, and a wedding as well as helped a few hundred people celebrate Valentine’s day. Any happy occasion that brings people together is always great. It is so hard to get to spend time frequently enough with the people we love and celebrations are a way to make those long overdue get-togethers happen.

Celebrations are also a wonderful way to break the norm. I know with my friends we get stuck in this rut where we always hang out at the same places every week. I don’t know why it is so hard to get people to go anywhere new, but having some big event can generally encourage people step outside the box.

I think celebrating is important. It is an opportunity to focus on all the great stuff going on in peoples lives and to invite others to be a part of that happiness. Life is all about creating memories and that is the entire purpose of celebrations. They are moments that you will hopefully never forget and recalling them can always bring a smile to your face. I created many a great memory this weekend with the help of some wonderful friends.

6. Ice: After all the dancing and working and celebrating I partook in this weekend my body is sore! I am sitting here with a big bag of ice under my feet and my toes are thanking me for it! Ice is actually a really cool substance. I always found it intriguing that unlike most molecules, H2O actually expands when frozen. I remember being amazed when I learned that in high school. I guess I’m just fascinated by anything that deviates from the accepted scientific laws. I enjoy the unknown.

But ice’s abnormal properties aren’t why I am grateful for it. I appreciate ice because of its spectacular healing properties. RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) may seem like too simple of a first aid plan, but if used timely and properly it is unbelievably effective. The difference I see from night to morning if I ice a sore, swollen part of my body before bed is nothing less of miraculous. It is like a jumpstart to the healing process.

Even now that I understand the science behind the treatment I still find myself in awe of how wonderfully ice works. Sometimes the simplest way really is the best.

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