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Ramblings about priorities

Before I get into my deep thought for the week, I thought I should pause and say that this past weekend is cause for reflection. I remember blogging at the beginning of lockdown thinking about when musicians would be able to perform again and what it would look like.

After the Great Lockdown and the subsequent devastation of different industries and the economy, there were flickers of the world we once knew. Gatherings. Music. Singing. Dancing.

Of course that escalated too quickly, fore-fronted by Matric Rage, and the party was declared over by Cyril at the family meeting on 28th December. I wrote about that experience because I was in the middle of it in the mountains. (Although there, everyone was being quite responsible.)

My view from our stage @ La Popote.

This last Saturday I was invited to perform at La Popote. The business owner, a wonderfully calm and collected lady named Lesley, runs this delightful boutique restaurant on The Knoll property in Hilton. Under current (level 3) restrictions, she capped the seating at 30 people. Perfect, I thought. Pretty much like the days of house concerts.

It was a sublime evening.

View from my mic @ Coffeeberry Cafe, Cascades.

Then on Sunday evening I performed at Coffeeberry Café at Cascades. It was a full three hours of performance, high turnover of tables and customers. The evening felt very much akin to the days of 2019.

Different, but equally sublime.

Of course, it takes some getting used to all this again. My usual rhythm was completely overturned after not much gigging. Late nights, disrupted routine and the lack of exercise over the weekend took their toll because other things (gigs) became “more important priorities”.

I’m always prompted by these experiences to ponder the bigger picture. That’s what The Great Deep project is all about. So hence, my deep thought for the week…

The question for me, and all of us, is really this: what are the anchors in my day?

We’re all ships at sea. Some are closer to harbour than others. But whether we’re far out or we’re closer to shore, we all need an anchor that holds, and never more so than in the last year, and into the future. In other words, we need to prioritize what is important.

I’ve found this metaphorical image helpful:

Compare your day to a glass jar. First, you put rocks in it. These are the important most things to you that you know you need to complete in a day.

Then you put in pebbles. These are less important but still necessary things to do in a day. And lastly, you put sand in. This can be mundane stuff that you expect to happen or things that are of least importance.

Sand, for me, represents requests from others to do things that I can either delegate or can be dealt with at another time. It’s not that important.

Interestingly, note what happens if you fill your jar with the sand first… you won’t get the rocks in. Too often, our days get crammed with unimportant stuff that leave little or no room for the things that DO matter to us. And that’s where problems arise: burnout, anxiety, depression, etc. The key is to put the rocks in first.

So a regular rock in my day is exercise.

I am three weeks into a training programme that is far more indepth than I’ve ever done before. I’ll only finish it in July. By then, it’ll would have been 6 months of training, specific eating and discipline.

The mental hurdle is the instant gratification one. We want results, and we want them NOW. But as I keep telling my wife, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

My day starts at 4am and I’m on the tarmac at 5am. By 6am I am wolfing down a big bowl of oats and cranberries and by 8am I have sorted my kids, smiled at folks in the morning traffic and am well on my way with productivity.

The research on the mental benefits of exercise is ever-growing. But here, I’ll briefly list five benefits.

  1. Help for depression and anxiety.
    Anyone battling the blues from lockdown-related trauma will almost certainly benefit from combatting it with some cardio and strength exercise. Physical activity kicks up endorphin levels, the body’s famous “feel good” chemical produced by the brain and spinal cord that produces feelings of happiness and euphoria. Certainly for me, it has changed my mental game.
  2. Decreased stress.
    Brain hormones like norepinephrine are stimulated during and after exercise, which not only improve cognition and mood but improve thinking. If my day has been clouded by stressful events (which is not uncommon, as I’m sure yours is too), exercise forces the body’s central and sympathetic nervous systems to communicate with one another. This improves the body’s overall ability to respond to stress.
  3. Increased self-esteem and self-confidence.
    I tell folks come home from an early morning run feeling superior. But it’s not a joke. I’m deadly honest and serious. From improving endurance to losing weight and increasing muscle tone, there’s no shortage of physical achievements that come about from regular exercise. All those achievements can all add up to a whopping boost of self-esteem—and the confidence that comes with it.
  4. Better sleep.
    I have absolutely no problem nodding off at night, and staying nodded off. But don’t take my word for it. The data shows that physical activity increases body temperature, which can have calming effects on the mind, leading to less sheep counting and more shuteye.
  5. Brain boost.
    My Ritalin is my training. Studies on mice and humans indicate that cardiovascular exercise creates new brain cells — a process called neurogenesis — and improves overall brain performance. It also prevents cognitive decline and memory loss by strengthening the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory and learning.

That’s as far as I’ll go today, but I’ll keep you posted on the progress.

If you’re not on this train, I highly recommend it. Wherever you’re at in life and whatever fitness level – my very simple take on it would be that if you’re breathing, it’s never too late to begin.

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