I was fortunate to have the time and flexibility in my life in 2018 to ingrain two daily habits. The first is a short routine of Active Isolated Flexibility, AIF, which I learned from Phil Wharton. The second is simply twenty minutes of silent meditation each morning. The AIF work takes me less than ten minutes, though it should take longer, as I rushed through the routine most days. For the meditation I use a free app called Insight Timer that has a starting and ending bell, so the time is set. Finally, I use an app called Streaks, which costs five dollars, that was no doubt helpful as I can track these two habits.
I started doing the AIF work in December of 2017. My guess is I did it twenty to twenty-five days that month, with the obvious goal being to establish a habit of doing AIF each day in 2018. What happened? I was able to do AIF 358 days out of 365 in 2018, so ninety-eight percent of the time. I missed seven days.
The first point to make is that four of the seven days were in January. I put on two clinics, one for high school coaches and one for marathon runners, in Boulder, Colorado. A combination of long days and not having the habit ingrained were the biggest reasons for missing days, but I hadn’t had enough days of doing AIF and feeling better after having done it. Most people see great improvement in their range of motion within three to four weeks of AIF, yet that wasn’t my experience. By April, I definitely had great range of motion and enjoyed doing the work.
The other three days I missed are instructive, as well. I went camping near Leadvillle, Colorado on the summer solstice and barely got my tent set up in an area with a ton of mosquitoes. I got in my single person tent and realized I hadn’t done AIF. I made the choice not to do it that day.
The sixth and seventh day I missed I don’t have a clear reason as to why, but I do know that the massage table that I had set up in my basement for the first part of 2018 was folded up. I had to clear out my office as there was some water damage that had to be addressed in that room, so the massage table wasn’t out. As Phil Wharton says, you want the table to be somewhere in the house where you almost have to trip over it.
I’m a numbers guy, so I’ll close with this. From February 1st to December 31st of 2018, I missed three days of AIF, meaning I did the work ninety-nine percent of the time. Not quite the “No Days Off” that many athletes and coaches aspire to, but a good start.
Why share this? Because I expect serious athletes to do AIF daily. I hadn’t done the work daily for a year, but now that I have, my range of motion is dramatically different. Couple that with the curiosity I have most days as I’m about to begin — ”I wonder what my flexibility will be like today?” — and I feel lucky to have had someone like Phil Wharton, through both his videos and in-person training, help me learn AIF.
Switching gears to meditation…
First, I’m somewhat hesitant to talk about meditation, as I’m a neophyte. That said, a meditation habit, or meditation practice as many people call it, is something I’ve tried to establish dozens of times over the past twenty years. Only in the past few months have I been fortunate to have this practice be part of my day. There is so much research on the importance of mindfulness and the positive benefits of daily meditation, which is why I want to share my experience.
I mediated for twenty minutes in the morning the last sixty-seven days of 2018. At roughly forty days, the habit was ingrained. I looked forward to this twenty minutes most mornings. I can’t remember finishing the twenty minutes without a sense of gratitude for having had the time to meditate.
This habit was relatively easy to establish for a variety of reasons. I didn’t have a sick child to care for any of those mornings, I’m single and don’t have a significant other whose morning may be disturbed by this practice. Perhaps more importantly, I had tried to establish this practice starting in April of 2018, taking a half-day seminar, and talking to friends who have a solid meditation practice. For most of April and May, I did some sort of meditation, yet I deceived myself into thinking that the help sleep meditations on Insight Timer could count as having meditated for that day. As my college coach would say, “Never underestimate the human capacity for self-deception.” So true.
My experience is that when I do twenty minutes of silent meditation, my day is better. I’ve also done a ten-minute guided meditation via Sam Harris’s Waking Up app twenty-eight times. He’s fantastic, and there are times when I’m a bit lost with his instructions…and that’s a big reason why I like it.
Three more points.
What do I do when I meditate? I simply try to focus on the in-breath and the out-breath, and come back to that when my mind wanders. If that isn’t working well and my monkey mind is loud and rambunctious, I use a technique called box breathing. Navy Seals use it and my understanding is it’s being used in the corporate world for people going into tense meetings or presentations. I’ve been lucky in that a few cycles of box breathing, I’m able to get back to focusing on the breath.
I had a chance to do a day-long meditation retreat, where everyone is silent from 9 am to 3 pm. A man who has done Transcendental Meditation for thirty years say that he has days when his mind is clear and days where it is a mess. That was so liberating to hear and has helped me greatly. Knowing that, it would be arrogant to beat myself up for days when my mind is like a little league baseball game and a bunch of ten-year olds are yelling, “hey batter-batter, hey batter-batter.” It’s like being a runner and expecting to feel well on every recovery run.
I think the reason that I was able to ingrain this habit in less than the sixty-six days that James Clear says is the average it takes for most habits is that the benefits came so quickly. Within two weeks, maybe sooner, the way I went through my day has a subtle difference. For instance, I was able to listen to my daughters in the car, driving home from school, with more clarity. The traffic was the same as always, and I would soon have two hungry kids in need of dinner, but dinner felt less pressing and the traffic wasn’t as frustrating. Again, I’m new to this, and maybe I’ll have a different experience than my friend who has been meditating for thirty years, but my guess is that the benefits of meditation aren’t going to come in the twenty minutes in the morning when I’m sitting in the dark, but in the rest of the day, when I’m out in the world.
I wish you the best with your habits in 2019. AIF is a game changer for the serious runner. Meditation has been a game changer as a forty-three year old single dad, but that’s not likely you, so I’d go with AIF as habit number one. I’ve read much of James Clear’s Atomic Habits and it’s great. Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit comes highly recommended by people I trust, who read a great deal, so that book is probably worth a look.