WELCOME TO THE GRATEFUL DUDE WEEKLY UPDATE FOR JUNE 18TH, 2017
Three Words That Changed My Life
Chip Grossman - June 18, 2017
It’s safe to say that our culture is obsessed with the way things look. Between Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and LinkedIn there’s a lot of pressure to have, or at least to make it look like we have, all of our lives all figured out.
Having it figured out requires a lot of knowledge across a lot of different fields. Take a few life elements that we probably all can agree are important: Relationships, Exercise, Nutrition, Mental Well-being and career. Just between those 5 things, that’s a lot of knowledge you need to have in order to thrive across all of these fields. It’s not easy to thrive in all these things. That’s where the three words come into play:
“I Need Help”
I still remember the first time that I said that to myself. I was 17 years old, in the car with my Mom, and I had finally admitted it to myself after years of denying because I had felt so much social pressure to have it all figured out.
The category of mine that had gone into the red zone was Mental Well-being. I had always been a thinker, and consequently I was quite stressed. At the same time, I didn’t even have the vocabulary to describe what stress was. All I knew was that I felt on edge all the time, and that sometimes it got to a point of being overwhelming.
So I gathered up the courage and brought it up. It might not seem like a big deal to you, but that was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. It was the first time I truly opened up and made myself vulnerable.
“Mom, I think I’m really stressed and I don’t know how to deal with it”.
The moment I said that, I immediately felt better. I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I had let something out that had been building up inside me for many years. I didn’t have the solution, and my coping mechanisms weren’t doing the trick. I needed help.
My mom is amazing in so many ways, and she was so helpful in that process. She listened carefully, asked good questions, and offered resources.
We decided I should meet with a professional. So I met with a psychiatrist. And she diagnosed me with anxiety. No surprise there. It felt good to talk to someone about the way that I felt, and the Doc was quick to prescribe me an antidepressant.
The antidepressant honestly did not do much. My anxiety didn’t flare up as badly, but the underlying tone of life wasn’t much different. I still had very similar thought patterns, they just weren’t arousing the same levels of anxiety. The drugs, from a physiological perspective, were just kind of numbing.
The next 6 months passed by quickly. I graduated high school, summer flew by, and I arrived at Colby College. Despite the medication, the speed of college completely overwhelmed me. I remember having a breakdown in my dorm room (Foss Dorm for the Colby kids reading this) one Autumn day where I just started balling my eyes out. I had been holding so much stress in, and it needed to come out.
I had gotten to another “I need help” point in my life, and so I made an appointment to meet with a counselor at Colby College. I was completely embarrassed that I needed help, and I made sure nobody saw me walking into the student health center.
After an anxious 3 minutes outside the door of the counselor's office, a small woman came out and said something like “Hello, are you Chip? I’m Jing Ye, come on in”. Little did I know that this woman would become one of the most impactful mentors of my life.
I sat down in a big, comfy, red chair and had a little bit of small talk with Jing. Then, she asked if I wanted to do a relaxation exercise. She had me close my eyes, and then she walked me through a body scan (Going through the body one part at a time saying “Notice the feeling of your forehead, and relax those muscles”).
At the end of that 5 minute exercise, I felt a deep sense of calm. By relaxing my body, my mind had quieted down. I wasn’t aware at the time, but I had just experienced my first meditation (If you want to learn more about Meditation, check out my Mindfulness 101 post).
I kept meeting with Jing every other week, and things just kept getting better.
At the same time that this was happening, one of my teammates, Derrik Flahive, passed away in a tragic accident.
To me, that was a message from above. Life is literally not guaranteed. Today could be the last day of my life. As I learned more about Derrik, I learned that he was a dude who was all about living in the moment. Living in the moment was that thing I was struggling with. It was that thing that I needed help with. And it’s something everyone said Derrik was a pro at. He used to tell his friends “why are you worrying about that, dude? That’s future, you gotta focus on the now”.
Derrik had been preaching something that I myself was looking for. And while I never met Derrik (He was abroad studying in Chile when I arrived that fall), I knew that I needed to investigate his life. All his friends said that his favorite book was The Power of Now, so I picked it up.
If you want to learn how to live in the moment, BUY THAT BOOK. Don’t hesitate. Just do it.
That book changed my life. It gave me the tools to start healing that area of my life that I needed help with. I started to realize that my anxiety was coming from being so past and future oriented, and that if I could learn to live in the moment I could learn to deal with my anxiety.
Remember Jing, that Counselor that I met with? It turns out Derrik and her had been close. Jing guided meditations in the Rose Chapel every Tuesday and Thursday, and Derrik had been an avid participant. When I realized this, I immediately knew that I needed to start going to these meditations.
So I did. I went to almost every single Tuesday/Thursday meditation. As I did this, I noticed my mental well-being rapidly improving. My mind was becoming sharper, because my attention was increasing. I was developing my ability to pay attention to the sensations of the present moment (If you want to read my post about how meditation changes your brain from a neuroscience perspective, click here). As this was happening, my stress levels just kept going down. After a few months of meditation training, I decided that I was going to stop taking the antidepressants because I didn’t need them anymore I had found the cure to my anxiety, and it was the present moment (for the record, I'm not advising anyone stop taking their medication, just sharing my story. I made that decision with my psychiatrist and it involved a weaning off plan to avoid side effects of stopping cold turkey).
That is how I came to be obsessed with mindfulness meditation, my friends. Meditation allowed me to go from someone who felt like a helpless victim of life to someone who feels in control. Once I admitted that I needed help, I could start looking for the solutions to my problem. It took awhile, but I ultimately found it.
Admit it, hit it, and don’t quit it.
That’s the motto. Life isn’t easy, especially when we’re trying to figure everything out on our own. I had come to a point when I realized that I needed help. The hardest part was to admit it. Then I had to hit it hard, analyzing my problem and coming up with some sort of plan to make progress. Finally, don't quit it. You don't get to a point in fitness where you've reached your ultimate goal, and so you can stop forever. So too is the same with many things in life. We've gotta keep striving.
Admitting it is the first step. Oftentimes, the solution doesn’t come easily. For me, antidepressants were the first attempt at a solution. My answer wasn’t in a pill. This feeds my general life philosophy that we shouldn’t try to solve our problems with shortcuts. We need to attack our issues at the core root. That takes a lot of hard work, but it also puts you in complete control. Sometimes shortcuts are a part of the solution, but they should never be viewed as the entire solution. Real progress takes hard work and dedication, and short cuts only hurt you in the long run.
I believe there are two mindsets in life: Growth mindsets and Fixed mindsets. People with Growth mindsets believe there is an endless amount of growth to be had in life, and resultingly are on a never-ending pursuit of knowledge to better themselves. People with fixed mindsets believe that abilities in life are fixed and that putting in extra hard work doesn’t do you much good.
I wholeheartedly believe in the growth mindset. There are endless things we can learn to better our lives, and consequently I plan to keep learning, to keep trying to understand more, until the day I die. The more I know, the more I can pass along to others. You can’t teach others what you yourself haven’t learned, and I want to be as prepared as possible to teach the people I care about things that will help them live happy lives.
When we try to figure out everything on our own, we waste a lot of time. It's not soft to admit that we don't know everything or that we need help; it's actually true bravery.
Thousands of generations of Humans have come before us - why not tap into some of the knowledge of the people who have gone before? We have to open up. We have to be vulnerable. We have to admit that we don’t know everything.
What do you need help with?
Life is not an easy game, and it take's a lot of knowledge to thrive in many different ways. Admitting that we don't have all the answers, and that we in fact need help in some areas, is a key first step to learning how to thrive. Vulnerability is one of the hardest things to learn, but there's a lot of research supporting the fact that vulnerability is in fact a critical factor to success and growth (Read Brene Brown's book Daring Greatly if you're curious to learn more).
Once we've identified the areas in which we need help, quick fixes and shortcuts, though easy to incorporate in life, aren't usually the solution to life's problems. For me, a pill wasn't the answer to tackling my stress. I had to get to the root of the cause, and meditation allowed me to do that. That required, and continues to require, time and energy. Hit it hard!
Real progress doesn't have finish lines. Improve, reach a goal, then set the bar higher. A lot of baby steps add up to a lot of growth in the long run. Never Quit.
Individually, we don't know very much. That's why the knowledge of mentors is so important. Read and ask questions. Find people who are knowledgeable in the field you're interested in and find ways to get some of their knowledge. Life becomes a heck of a lot easier once we stop trying to figure out everything on our own.
Thanks for reading!