Let me set a scene for you. It’s early in the morning. Your alarm goes off. “Great” you think to yourself, “Monday . . . again.” You roll out of bed and walk to the bathroom or maybe put on a warm pot of coffee. By this point, your mind is racing. Mentally preparing the day’s to-do list. Wondering how you could possibly get it all done in one work day. Then you hear it. The buzz of your phone. Notifications already. Emails, texts, leftover Instagram notifications that you didn’t open last night all flood your phone and you feel something inside of you spike. That’s anxiety.
Maybe this sounds familiar. Maybe you think this is normal and just the ways of the modern world. If this is you, then hear me out. It’s not normal. Racing thoughts, the constant glow of your phone showing new notifications, are all ways in which our anxiety grows. What do we miss out on in the midst of it all? True life. The present moment. Because our brains are too busy worrying about what comes next, what we’re missing, what we should be doing rather than enjoying that warm cup of coffee or peaceful morning routine.
Now I know what you might be thinking, “Wow did this girl really just tell me that I’m missing out on life because of how busy I am?” Well . . . yeah I guess I did. I think Ferris Bueller said it best: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” So let’s talk about how to center ourselves in the present moment. Because it might not be as tricky to do as you might think.
First, let’s learn a new word. Equanimity is defined as mental calmness in any situation, but especially in high-stress situations. Equanimity is our ability to avoid clinging to anxious thoughts, and instead letting them pass by without focusing on them.
The first step to mastering equanimity is being aware of what it is. So you can check that box now, you know what it means. Some people will live their entire lives without ever realizing that there can be freedom from the stress of racing thoughts and anxious ideas. You have the key now, because you are aware of a new reality that can be yours.
Simple Ways to Practice Equanimity
There are a few things you can do to practice equanimity. When you are having a conversation with someone, be fully engaged in what they are saying. Don’t let your own thoughts or opinions cloud the conversation. When you are in the gym and jumping rope, focus on the act of what you’re doing. Literally think of the word “jump” each time you have to jump. This repetition will help you dial in on the action you are completing rather than letting your mind wander.
We can even practice equanimity during mealtimes. Too often, we rush our meals or feel that they’re inconvenient. To avoid this feeling, put down your phone and put the work away when you’re cooking or eating. Focus on the act of cooking as you work in the kitchen. Focus on the flavors you taste as you’re eating. Enjoy the opportunity to sit down and be immersed in the pleasure of nurturing your body. This mindfulness will not only center you in the present moment and enhance your equanimity, but it will also do so much for you and your health. Focusing on eating helps you to feel more satisfied from your meal, and can actually keep you from overeating. This increased awareness and enjoyment will boost your ability to look forward to mealtimes, make them a priority, and even practice better eating habits.
This all sounds great, but how do you stay mindful in stressful situations? My best answer for you is to stay calm and practice being positive on a regular basis (because it’s totally OK if positivity doesn’t come to you naturally). A way to do this is to write down a couple of things that you feel grateful for each day. This is an easy and quick way to center yourself into the present moment and create a positive mindset.
Try reaching for some pen and paper each morning when you wake up, rather than immediately grabbing your phone. You could write something as simple as “I am grateful for a good night of sleep.” Or something as detailed as “I am grateful that I got to cheer for my best friend at the gym yesterday as they conquered their fears and climbed a rope for the first time!”
This mindfulness practice can kickstart your day in a positive way. It centers the mind on the great things happening in the present moment, and reminds us to be thankful for each day no matter how the course of our day may go.
Cool . . . but what does this have to do with CrossFit?
Okay if you’re still with me, you’re probably wondering why you’re reading all of this mindfulness stuff on a CrossFit website. So let me paint one more scene for you.
You’re walking into the gym. You’re not really sure why you’re here because you have so many other things to be working on. But you’re here. You look at the whiteboard and see that the workout has running in it. The last thing you want to deal with is running outside on a hot and humid summer day. But you can’t back out now, because your gym buddy has already seen you and is coming over to ask you about your workout strategy. The class gets started and before you realize it, the warmup is over and it’s time to head outside for some sprinting intervals. You’re not exactly sure how hard you should push yourself, because you were thinking about your workday when your coach was briefing the intended stimulus of the workout. So you just decide to go H.A.M. because after all, it says “sprint” on the whiteboard.
Before you get started, you realize that your heart rate is already elevated. Maybe because you thought about that hard and stressful conversation you had at work today all throughout the warm up. You get your first sprint interval done and you feel OK. But in the second interval, you start to panic. Your heart rate feels like it’s through the roof, your breathing is out of control. You stop and walk over to your coach to tell them you can’t finish the workout. The coach looks at you and says, “Well I tried to tell you to take it easier today because of the high temperatures outside, I wanted the whole class to avoid the sprinting stimulus that was prescribed. Go grab a drink of water and I’ll come check on you to make sure you’re feeling OK.” Walking off to your water, you think about how the workout could have gone differently had you heard your coach advise against your “going H.A.M.” strategy. If only you wouldn’t have been consumed thinking about work.
In this scenario, our athlete entered into a workout that would make his body uncomfortable and stressed due to the summer heat. On top of that, he was clearly too consumed and stressed out by the thoughts of his workday to handle anything else. The combination of a racing mind and a high-stress situation was more than his body could handle. Uncontrollable thoughts can cause us to miss out on cues from our coach or even spike our heart rate so that our bodies go into a “panic mode.” Here, it is clear to see how mindfulness is necessary for not only our mental health, but also our physical health. Had this athlete been more focused and aware of the necessity to let go of those anxious thoughts, then it is far more likely that he would have successfully completed his workout and had fun with his gym buddies while doing so.
Moving forward, I challenge you to practice equanimity and mindfulness. The tools to be mindful and aware of anxious or busy thoughts have been provided, and I guarantee that using those tools will allow you to live a happier, healthier, and more successful life inside and outside of the gym.