A lifetime ago—or so it feels—I was an actor. I took some classes in which I would perform scenes from plays or movies for my teacher and classmates: one day I was a troubled teenager, the next day Hamlet, then a nitwit soldier, a stuffy artist, an insecure thespian, and on and on. It was fantastic! I got a wonderful charge out of stepping outside of myself for a moment and trying on someone else’s personality. It was enormously liberating. It was also very educational. I learned a lot about how it felt to have characteristics that I don’t really have, or at least that aren’t dominant in my personality. And even though some of those traits may have rubbed off on me a bit and leaked into my daily life temporarily after the play or class was finished, without repetition over the long haul, it became clear that this this tiger doesn’t change his stripes too easily.
Over the last week or so, I have been reading two books that have me quite captivated and, I dare say, feeling an urge to make a change. The first book is my fourth journal, written in late 1997 and early 1998. The dates that I have been reading lately cover a sort of spiritual zenith for me, a time of extreme bliss and near-communion with the Divine. I was in a zone of amazing peace, and reading about it now is a real education for me. The other book, which I am about halfway through, is Roland Merullo’s Dinner With Buddha. The story takes us on a roadtrip across the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains with a Buddhist master and his brother-in-law, a middle-aged New Yorker who narrates the journey and shares the insights he gains as he tiptoes between the two worlds of his own jaded, worrying nature and the peaceful, present-centered nature of his companion. I am fascinated by the way the narrator envies the mind of the master and how he battles with his own natural cynicism about the world, pondering whether he could actually achieve such mindfulness himself. I have had my own longings in this direction over the years, so it resonates deeply with me.
So, what does my acting experience have to do with my blissful, 25-year-old self and roadtripping with a Buddhist master? Answer: they remind me that there is always a chance to try to be something different today than I was yesterday. Something better. Little habits of the mind—thought patterns—could shift and, in the process, change my entire life.
After all, as happy as I am now, I am well aware that I could be much more so. I don’t have to look beyond my own history for a good example. I look back to those days of my fourth journal, and I see a guy whose mind was beautiful. I was in such a state of Peace and Gratitude. I can see from the daily entries that it was about the lenses that I viewed the world through—my thought habits—and the little things that I did. I certainly wasn’t doing anything cool and exciting that an outsider might take notice of and copy. Quite the opposite: it was an extremely simple, uneventful existence.
There are, no doubt a few more complications in my life these days—a wife, kids, bills, etc.—compared to those fourth journal days. I cannot just set those aside. There are also no acting classes or plays that give me a free pass to escape myself and pretend I am the guy who has it all together and knows that same deep Peace I once knew.
There are, however, the lessons from both of those eras, if only I am open to them. And there are books, like Dinner With Buddha, that serve to remind me that there is always an opportunity to learn, to kick old habits, to think a little differently, to transform myself into a better me.
These books and memories have stirred me up. They have me thinking I need to make some changes. I want to feel more of those better parts of me. I want to know that deeper connection to the Divine again, to feel that sublime Peace more frequently.
But, since my life is hectic, and since I have come to better recognize the pitfalls of committing 100% to huge lifestyle changes all at once, I have come up with something more modest. I figure if I can just dip my toe into the deep current of self-improvement rather than diving in headfirst, maybe I would be more likely to feel some success and thus stick with it longer. Success breeds conviction, right? So, instead of signing up for a 30-day yoga course or committing to reading all of my books on spirituality again, I am going the other way.
I am calling it “The One-Day Challenge.” Catchy, eh? The idea is to act like your best self—and think like it—for an entire day. It doesn’t mean you have to apply for medical school or announce you are quitting your job—or even go skydiving or knocking off some major bucket list items—but just take on the mindset and the manners of the version of you that you long to be.
For me, I suppose that would mean being more quick to offer a smile to the people I pass (e.g. at the gym) and more willing to strike up a conversation with an intriguing stranger. I am usually so short and eyes down that I squash any interaction before it has a chance to develop. I know that I miss out because of that. I might also send a few personal notes of greeting or encouragement to loved ones. I am terrible at keeping in touch—this year more than ever, it seems—and it would make me feel better to shore up the most important ties that bind. I would also be a little more openly kind and attentive to my wife, who often gets the short end of my focus in favor of the kids.
But mostly–and this comes straight from the two books I have been reading—I would just try to stay completely in the moment. I would give up worrying about the future, especially tying my emotions to it. If I have to do some planning (e.g. at work), I will do it without getting stressed out about what might come. Staying present, taking my time, enjoying my company, breathing—those are the key elements to my success at The One-Day Challenge. If I could combine them with being more open and affectionate, sprinkling on a touch of bravery, my recipe would be complete.
Of course, I would like to say I am committing to being all of that every day at full capacity forever, but that would doom me to failure. But how about for a day? I could start with that. It is realistic. And who knows where it might lead? I am game! Improvement is not such a bad thing to aim for. I have certainly had less productive challenges. I am grateful for the opportunity to try, and grateful for the benefits that will undoubtedly stem from the attempt. It’s all good to me!
How about you? Are you up for The One-Day Challenge? Open up your journal and knock around some ideas that you might aim at for one focused day. How does the “Better You” think compared to how you normally think now? Is the Better You more kind? More patient? More focused? More generous with praise? More (or less) ambitious? More playful? More present? More honest? More open? More loving? More forgiving? More optimistic? What else? All of these characteristics might sound appealing in theory, but how many of them could you reasonably shoot for in your One-Day Challenge? One or two, maybe? Even though I tend to get greedy and want to improve in all of these areas at once, if I am being honest with myself, I think just trying to be completely present for a whole day would be more than enough of a challenge for me. And really, that one task might just take care of most of the others without even thinking about them. That is how valuable mindfulness is to me. What is your big one? Are you like me and had a pretty good grasp of it once but then let it slip away, or have you never had the thing you are aiming for? Are there so many things on your list that you could easily pick one per day and do, say, ten One-Day Challenges? That might be kind of fun! You could really try to see which ones stick and which continue to be elusive. Do you believe a person can change her life by changing her mind? Do you believe YOU can do it? Do you want to? Leave me a reply and let me know: Are you up for The One-Day Challenge?
Claim your power,
P.S. If you think there might be something to this challenge, share it with a friend. Challenges are usually better with a support system, whether that is a cheerleader or someone who is willing to do it alongside you. Good luck and blessed be.