Cultivate Presence

The last 5 months have a been a whirl-wind. Since January 1, 2014 I’ve founded a corporation, attempted to launch a 500+ person workshop in the Bay Area, failed to publish a book, begun ballet and achieved triple pirouettes, spoken at Stanford University, UCSF, and Ignite SF, and more.

Today I’m going to look at something I’ve been exploring as a part of all of these projects, and probably the single biggest factor that keeps me sane. I have been cultivating presence. First, though, let’s look at this presentation which I gave to a group of professional runners.

So much of our day-to-day is spent in a state of judgement. As an example, just one time bend down and touch your toes. About 98% of the population has self-judgements about not being flexible enough. When I ask almost anyone to bend down and touch their toes, they immediately begin to judge themselves for not being flexible enough.

Every one of the runners I was working with in the video noticed differences after doing the second series of exercises. Why? Simple: they were much more present during the exercise. They were curious about what they were doing. Without former knowledge of the activity they didn’t have as many pre-held judgements. I gave the instructions slowly and carefully. And I gave very different instructions the second time. I had participants notice themselves and pay attention to their environment. We did a lot of variations. But most of all I didn’t put the runners in a situation that triggered all of those self-judgements they had about their flexibility. I had them put their hands on your knees and round and arch. This isn’t a series of movements that most people have ever trained, and it certainly isn’t one that most people have judgements around.

Being present is a seemingly simple concept with vast implications. People who practice being present have more (to quote Martin Seligman) self-reported well-being. Athletes who take presence to an extreme in flow states are exponentially more effective. I write better.

What Worked?

In the movement sequence above, here are some of the aspects I employed to help people notice a difference:

Why do these elements impact the runners’ flexibility? Simple. They are some of the simple building blocks that allow for increased presence. By slowing down the nervous system, reducing fear and stress, and allowing time for learning, change happens much more quickly. But what are specific ways that we can use being present in our daily lives?