Living Brave Reflection 9: Learning to Pay Attention (and Making Space for Good Habits)

One of the bad habits I developed in working out is holding my breath. When you run you can’t do this, but when I lift weights or do pushups I have a bad habit of holding my breath until I need to gasp for air and then I hold it again as the bar or my body goes up and down. The proper technique would be to breathe in while you are letting the weight come down and to exhale while the weight goes up. Holding my breath may give me a temporary boost, since I’m less concerned about breathing and form, but for any type of endurance proper breathing is essential. The muscles rely upon oxygen to convert sugar into energy and when they are denied sufficient energy they begin to utilize a process called anaerobic glycolysis which is a very efficient way of transforming sugar into energy, but there is a cost. This process generates lactic acid which will eventually slow your performance and lead to cramps and other symptoms of your body telling you to slow down.

One of the bad habits I never developed, thankfully, was smoking. Smoking would be genetically a very bad decision for me, lots of history of lung related cancers in my family, but something I learned while in the military was an unexpected benefit to smokers. Smokers are typically allowed several smoke breaks throughout the day where they get to break from their work and one of the added benefits was a couple minutes of deep breathing. Deep breathing, even though they are inhaling a harmful substance, lowers the heart rate, reduces anxiety and it also probably reinforces the behavior. As a person who doesn’t drink coffee or smoke (the two acceptable reasons for breaks in most business environments) I tend to work non-stop. Yet, I know that I’m more effective when I can find times to take breaks. I know I am calmer when I take time to pay attention to things as simple as breathing.

Since 2009 (and those who are interested in the significance of 2009 can read more about that here) when I crashed emotionally and my body began to fail after years of chronic stress, I’ve become much more aware of my emotions and the signs my body gives me. Some things are the result of the wisdom and challenges of getting a little older (the body just doesn’t respond to things the way it did at 22) but it is also the gift of learning to be more mindful. Of becoming curious about the emotions I might feel, particularly the emotions in the anger and sadness spectrum, and what is going on. I often discover that when I am feeling angry or sad or frustrated there is some place where I have begun pushing through things and not taking care of myself. Working at a short term pace on a long term project. Not taking the time to do simple things like read or watch a movie that provide me a recharge as an introvert or, on the other hand, seeking out the connections that are beneficial to me and spending time with people and activities that bring me joy.

I’m wondering what it would look like to have a non-smoker, non-coffee break. Some intentional time where I force myself to take 15 minutes away from my work to pause, reflect and wonder. To breathe deeply and pay attention for a few minutes before re-engaging what I do with my usual fervor. To make more space for some of the good habits that would be beneficial to me in my life and work.

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