Want To Be A Better Person? Be A Spiritual Generalist.

Yesterday I talked about a system of fitness called CrossFit, to help make the point of General Work Preparedness (GWP). In a nutshell, you take a generalist’s view of what it takes to be successful at work, rather than a specialist’s, by not just focusing on improving your working skills, but by becoming a better all-around person (more details here).

Well, to be perfectly transparent, I’m a CrossFit addict now. I live and breathe all I can of it, because I find it more exciting than wearing a hand-buzzer at a networking convention. I’m subscribed to their journal, I frequent the message boards, and I work out (mostly) along with CrossFit’s 3-on-1-off schedule. It’s the bees knees, baby.

I read something on the CrossFit message board the other day that struck me as having great value, and not just in fitness terms. Damien Del Russo (one of the thousands of community members) wrote, on a thread about losing weight:

Keep in mind that CrossFit is not meant to be a weight loss plan. That is one of the effects of being fit, but not the point of the [program].

Because CrossFit is about creating a "broad, general, and inclusive fitness" (a hallmark tenet of CrossFit), it doesn’t focus on one particular result, but on the ability to get better across the board: speed, strength, agility, coordination, etc.

When you train this way, and follow balanced nutritional guidelines, your body finds its natural and optimal balance. If fat needs to come off of you, it will. If you need more muscle, it’ll grow. If your heart needs to be more fit, it gets stronger and more efficient. So, you train for inclusive fitness, and that’s exactly what you get.

Now, the "crossover" part…

It’s easy to get specialized when it comes to spirituality and personal development, and start compartmentalizing our goals, such as:

  • "I want to work on my anger."
  • "I want to be more patient."
  • "I need to learn how to forgive myself."
  • "I need to be better at managing stress."

And so, we launch ourselves into programs and initiatives to try to develop those aspects of ourselves. We read books and take classes to learn how to communicate from the heart, do mantras to help us become more compassionate or relaxed, do service projects to learn selflessness, and so on.And in the quest for the solitary examples of what we think will make us better at certain things, we lose sight of what we can do to make us better equipped to handle the multitudes of situations that come our way each day. We strive for compassion, for example, because we think that’s an element of being a better person. What about working on becoming a better person all-around?

Train for connection, end up compassionate

In all the spiritual paths I’ve learned about, the fundamental teaching is connection. The more you can connect to your inner self, the better off you are. The more you can connect to your fellow human being, the better off you are. The more connected you are to the natural world, to the spiritual world, to your thoughts, emotions, and body, the better off you are.Is that it, then?

Of course not; it’s way too simplistic (and wrong) to imply that one focus will do it all for you. In CrossFit, we run, because running builds one kind of endurance. But we also lift heavy weights, and do bodyweight exercises, and gymnastics, and on and on. Multiple points of focus to train your whole body. And the cool thing is, when you’re a better deadlifter, you’re a better runner. And jumper, and rower, and cyclist, and anything else you need to do.

In your spiritual/personal life, you’re also going to need to focus on a multitude of topics in order to best develop the whole of who you are. The better you are, for example, at tapping into your spiritual connection, the better you’ll be at all kinds of other personal skills.

The trick is to kick your spiritual couch-potato tendencies, and get going.

And how, pray tell, do you do this?

Well, in the words of Michael Valentine Smith (Robert Heinlein’s protagonist in Stranger In A Strange Land), "I am only an egg." I wouldn’t endeavor to be more inclusive, than say, Buddha, Lao Tzu, or any of the world’s Prophets.

Because even if you’re "spiritual, but not religious," you have to admit that the experience of thousands of years of spiritual practice and personal development can’t just be tossed aside because it doesn’t fit your paradigms.

Am I saying that you should adopt a formal religion? Heavens, no. I mean, go ahead if you want to; I’m not against them if your intentions are clean and your discernment strong. What I am saying, though, is that success leaves clues. There are teachings available from the spiritual and religious doctrines of the world that, when practiced with a certain degree of self-responsibility and awareness, can yield immense benefits in your personal development, and help you build a "broad, general, and inclusive spirit" — path or no path.

And if you don’t have a "path" already?

Then start simple: Get to know yourself. Spend time inside (your heart, not indoors). Connect; with yourself, with others, and with whatever sense of "Oneness" you perceive and/or believe in. Live responsibly. Act sincerely. Extend a hand graciously, and receive one just as amiably. Love. Love some more. Forgive. Be grateful. From there, follow your heart.

Is there more?

Of course there is. Keep watching this space!

Productivity Is A Full-Body Exercise

If you’ve seen my kung fu movies page, you know I’ve got a thing for action movies. Well, let me qualify that: I like well-made action movies. And the more physical action in it, the better.

Really, it’s because I love human performance; I get the same rush out of Cirque du Soleil, gymastics competitions, and soccer/football games, for the same reason (action movies just add a little drama now and again, which is nice).

That’s a long way of introducing the idea that I watched the movie "300" a while ago (well, most of it; I skimmed through a few overly gory scenes). What impressed me the most was the actor’s physiques; these guys were chiseled. And not freakish, either; just balanced and buff.

A little Googling and YouTubeing later, and I was watching some videos online about how the actors got in shape for their roles… and lo and behold, they were following CrossFit routines — a system I’ve been following for the better part of this year, so I wasn’t really all that surprised. Haven’t heard of CrossFit? Maybe it’s because CrossFit is a far-cry from what goes on in 99% of the gyms across this country.

Rather than focus on individual muscles (the typical body-building, big-box-gym-circuit-training approach), CrossFit is all about what they call "General Physical Preparedness," or GPP. In Coach Glassman’s words (the founder of CrossFit):

From the beginning, the aim of CrossFit has been to forge a broad, general, and inclusive fitness. We sought to build a program that would best prepare trainees for any physical contingency — prepare them not only for the unknown but for the unknowable… in sum, our specialty is not specializing.

Specialization has its price

A number of years ago I was training heavy; using large amounts of weight in a very small range of motion. Why? Because it builds size. I got to the point where I was lifting over 650 pounds on a leg press machine, and I was bench-pressing over 300 pounds.

But then, I went to put my then-two-year-old in her carseat, and almost threw out my back. I thought, "Huh?" That major disconnect taught me there was something seriously wrong about my methods.

GPP to the rescue

With GPP, you are training everything, for anything. And therein lies the beauty of CrossFit, in my opinion. By doing this kind of workout, you get in better shape, period. For anything. For any circumstance you need it for. For life.

GPP -> GWP

Lest you think this is just a promo for CrossFit, let me open this idea up a bit…

What are you interested in, for example, in your work? You’re probably interested in working at your best, with your heart and spirit in tact. It means you’re interested in HOW you work, not just WHAT you’re working at (although that matters, too). It means you want to express your purpose in this world, find meaning, and find peace and fulfillment in what you do.

Can you see how you have to go beyond just getting more done? Can you see how you need to focus not just on hours worked, widgets sold, clients served, or workshops taught? Can you see how efficiency, or communication, or intuition, or stress-reduction alone aren’t going to come close to giving you the kind of life you want?

In order to show up at your best, you need to adopt the GWP approach: General Work Preparedness. Generalize, not specialize.

That means finding a way to include such factors as:

  • Productivity: organization, scheduling, eliminating distractions, etc.
  • The ability to maintain your focus: a combination not just of "arranging your work", but the mental and spiritual aspects of clarity, passion, overcoming obstacles, etc.
  • Confidence: cited as one of the top psychological factors in athletic performance, it holds true for work as well; without a positive self-image, your ability to present your best value — and stand in it with resolve — goes the way of the dodo.
  • Health: if you aren’t physically up to the tasks you set for yourself, how can you achieve what your heart yearns to achieve? Whether you need to focus on drinking enough water, eating well, having core strength (it takes a toll on your body to sit at a desk all day, if that’s what you do), learning to type dvorak so you don’t get RSI, or whatever, taking care of your health is a foundational part of working at your best.
  • Rejuvenation: don’t forget the value of off-time as well. No one can expect themselves to work at anything 10 hours (or more) a day, five (or more) days a week, week after week, and not burn out. Rest doesn’t just mean physical rest, either; you have to nurture the needs of your heart and your mind as well, which could include spiritual time, time with family and friends, you name it.

Is that it?

No, there’s certainly more. But this article is long enough as it is. hee hee

The soul of it is this: Whatever line of work you’re in, you are a human being. That means you have a heart, a mind, a body, and a spirit (the boundaries of all these are up for debate, of course… but that’s for another article). And it pays to pay attention to what all of your needs are, if you want to show up at your best.