In 2007, when my younger brother died suddenly, one piece of advice I received stuck: Now is a time for strength. Do the things that make you strong. As I’ve watched heartbreaking events unfold this week and this year, that advice continues to resonate. When so many of us, regardless of political beliefs, are feeling helpless and soul-weary, we must find ways to stay in the conversation and back our beliefs up with action. But how? One way is to identify practices that keep us grounded, and then prioritize them.
For me, that starts with questions like:
- When am I most at peace?
- What gives me energy?
- What increases my awareness and helps me see circumstances with fresh eyes?
The answers have led me to prioritize five things, especially when family demands, work, and the political climate feel like they’re closing in:
- Meditation: Tim Ferris’ book, Tools of Titans, reports that more than 80 percent of high achievers have some type of mindfulness practice. I’ve found that taking time each morning to sit with my breath and focus my attention has a profound effect on my emotional state throughout the day. The improvements seem subtle on a day-to-day basis, so I often think about how I felt when facing a similar situation before I started meditating. Thanks to the apps Headspace and 10% Happier, I’ve discovered I have an overwhelming desire to not break a streak; so far, I’ve meditated at least 10 minutes a day for 235 days.
- Running: Even though I’ve finished a marathon and several half-marathons, when I’m not running, I just don’t feel like a runner. But recently, I read Julie Van Amerongen’s book, Every.Single.Day, about running at least one mile each day. Thanks to her (and my desire to register with the United States Running Streak Association ), I’ve got 128 days down. 237 to go!
- Yoga: For months after my brother died, the only time I felt like I could breathe was during hot yoga. Lately, I practice at home with Brett Larkin or Yoga with Adriene. I’ve learned that sometimes, consistency is the only thing I can muster as opposed to I-might-die-at-the-end-of-this-workout intensity– and that is just fine. Current Streak: 67.
- Reading and Reflection: When work and family are all-consuming, I can convince myself that I have no time for learning and reflecting. Said frankly, those periods are always a disaster ― I see myself shifting from 3D to Stepford right before my eyes. Now I know I am at my best if I read every day and build in time to think. I break my reading into three categories: inspiration, information and pleasure. For inspiration, I turn to Mark Nepo, David Whyte, Alice Walker, Mary Oliver, and Anne Lamont, tweeting when I find a phrase or thought that resonates with me. (Current streak: 365+). For information, I rely on morning summary e-mails from big news outlets, and seek out newsletters from people I respect like Adam Grant’s Granted and Maria Shriver’s Sunday Paper. (Current streak: 365+). Reading for pleasure, while one of my favorite activities, is the reading category I most struggle to prioritize. (Current streak: 0).
- Family Time: The people in my life give everything else meaning. On the over-parenting/neglect scale, I tip toward the latter, so I’m not trying to win any parenting awards here, but I’ve developed daily rituals with my daughters and husband that remind us of our connection. Maya, my 15-year old daughter, and I drive around for 30 minutes almost every night. Sometimes we get a drink or food; sometimes we just look at houses in the neighborhood. Sometimes she reveals her thoughts and feelings; often not. Always she plays the role of music mentor, trying to keep me cool. Sophia, my 10-year old daughter, and I have a bedtime routine where we fall asleep together reading or watching a show. Sometimes we talk, sometimes we hold hands, sometimes just the comfort of the ritual is all either of us needs. My husband, Patrick, and I hug hello and goodbye, make each other laugh, and try to catch up in the evening walking the dogs. Speaking of streaks, Patrick and I have talked every day since our first date in 1994.
This may sound like a lot to prioritize, but in fact, these practices are NOT about adding to the to-do list; they’re about tricking myself into recharging my own batteries. It feels daunting when you first start prioritizing your own well-being and then one day a switch flips and you cannot imagine it any other way. Primarily because you see the evidence that the people, work and causes you care about get more of you when you have more to give. Prioritizing these five things reminds me that my impact in the world is directly connected to my capacity to stay grounded and fueled. As George Bernard Shaw wrote, I want to be thoroughly used up when I die ― but I don’t want to be thoroughly used up tomorrow. Let’s do ourselves, our people and our future a favor ― and do the things that make us strong.