Everyone Dies, Not Everyone Really Lives. What is a Really Living Moment?
At the heart of The Art of Really Living is the notion of a “really living moment” and its extreme, the “event horizon moment.” This blog post is an attempt to explain, “what does that mean and why does it matter?”
A “really living moment,” is simply this: any event, activity, moment in time, or memory that leaves a lasting impression – creates a “dent” in your perceptive memory that expands your sense of time in the temporal past. Perhaps it is easier to describe the opposite: the inverse of really living moments are the mundane hours, days and weeks of the routine – of life on “autopilot,” where these same days and weeks disappear in memory and leave swaths of time unaccounted for. In these cases it is as though you never really lived at all. From my experience, and from the research on cognitive perceptions on time, here are a few descriptions of time expanding “really living” moments.
- Uniqueness: Eye opening unique experiences that take you well beyond your current experiences: Examples: entering a convent in Greece during vespers, walking the markets in Beijing the first time, trying Pace (sheeps brain stew) in Albania, viewing the birth of your first child.
- Beauty: experiences (be they aural, visual, tactile, gustatory or olifactory). Examples: standing atop a karst in Thailand as the sun sets, the smell of jasmine in the evening, the last bite of a plate of Vietnamise lemon grass chicken, the first glimpse of the emerald waters and white sand of perfect Caribbean beach, hearing a line of poetry that resonates with you.
- Physical Intensity (adrenaline) intense physical activities – often with some risk associated. Examples: the last lap of a criterium bike race fraught with possibility (and crashes), skiing the steepest chutes in Colorado or Utah, completing a 500 lb. one-legged squat from lower than 90 degrees while leaning over at 72 degrees balanced on a 1mm wide 18 inch blade, traveling 31mph directly at a wall on ice (short track speedskating), eating a trinidad moruga scorpion pepper, splashing into the 34 degree Black Sea with friends.
- Emotional Intensity (love, desire, fear) intense emotional connections – often with some fear or risk associated. Examples: watching your daughter put her heart into a close basketball game, the first kiss, falling in love, the first “I love you,” exposing your true feelings about something important to someone close to you, the perfect father's day of "really living" adventures with your daughter.
- Flow State: strengths-centered activity relying on the myelinated circuits in your brain. These activities are recorded with a high speed camera – time disappears in the present but our brains record more data, more memories. More memories = more time. Examples: any activity (sport, hobby, relationship, music, etc.) that transports you into the hyperfocused state of flow. For me it is bicycle racing, skiing, exploring, writing, music, traveling, deep conversations with people smarter than me, creative dialog and wordplay.
These elements are all “stackable” meaning that they can all take place simultaneously. Occasionally when this happens, time itself can feel like it stands still and “event horizon moments” are born. Rather than a dent in your memory, it is an expansive experience that actually creates a sense of time from nothing. Often these moments have aspects of both positive and negative emotions associated with them. Eugene O’Kelley described it best in his great book Chasing Daylight where he described these wonderful / terrible moments when he had to say goodbye to loved ones – forever – due to brain cancer, but in so doing, created “perfect moments where time stopped.” Event Horizon moments are rare, they are intense, but they are made of life itself: of love, fear and the act of creation.
So What Do Strengths Have to Do With "The Art of Really Living?" (and, what is that anyway?)
WHAT: We all have had moments that were so intense, so memorable, and so full of life, that they created indentations in our memory. I describe these time-expanding experiences as moments of “really living.” The Art of Really Living (TAORL) is a movement and a philosophy to help people design and live strengths-focused resilient lives by designing powerful experiences that slow time and help you live (almost) forever.
"In the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years." (Abraham Lincoln)
WHY: Because TIME is the most valuable commodity we have as human beings. Life is short, and thanks to a cognitive bias in our brains that causes our perception of time to accelerate, life is actively getting shorter. People around the globe miss their chances to expand time and “really live,” while they helplessly watch their lives accelerate and race by. They are stuck below their level of capability, trapped by stifling routines and a relentless focus on weaknesses, mired in careers noted by small risks and small rewards, and leading lives of quiet desperation. They are not really living. I want to change that and through TAORL play the role of the chrysalis, breaking the clay of grey men, revealing the colors of the sleeping poet, painter, musician or hidden genius within.
Everyone dies. Not everyone really lives.
By designing our lives to reverse this cognitive bias we can slow and expand the ticking of the clock which gives us back the most precious of all currencies: time.
- S + R x T = TAORL
- Strengths + Resilience x Time = The Art of Really Living
- The Art of Really Living helps people to create these moments by:
- Aiding people in designing strengths-focused lives full of willpower, confidence and motivation to pursue these moments that often feature a state of “flow” and create memories
- Developing resiliency to weather the intensity and stresses endemic to “really living” moments
- Understanding the non-linear nature of experiential time and learning how to design more "really living moments" that will lead to time expansion
So why is a strengths-focused life essential to "really living" and expanding time? In the end it all comes back to myelin - that mysterious substance in the brain that wraps neurons and increases the speed of impulses and communications in the brain.
Living a strengths-centered life allows for two things to take place simultaneously:
- It increases resiliency and the ability to withstand stress and persevere in pursuit of those things that "really matter."
- A strengths centered life focuses your time and activity on the myelinated circuits in your brain: those that can communicate up to 1000 time faster than unwrapped circuits - meaning that the amount of data being shared and recorded is orders of magnitude greater than in areas of weakness. Translation: a strengths-centered life records more data, has more moments of "flow," records more memories. More memories = more time.
Living a strengths-centered life allows for us to design and weather the kinds of experiences where "really living” moments take place, and it ensures they are recorded in a high definition camera for a huge databank of time expanding memories.
Want to learn more about finding your strengths and designing a life for them? I would be so pleased if you would join us for our Strengths 2.0 Summit February 13th in Chicago – details below:
Join John K. Coyle and Dr. David Rendall Feburary 13th in Chicago for our Strengths 2.0 Summit, a half day workshop to use design thinking to find your strengths and design through your weaknesses. Click the link below to learn more and register.
In many ways, Matt Stutzman is just your average guy. A hardworking, married, 33-year old with three children, Matt, like many fathers, goes to work, changes diapers, hunts and fixes cars.
However, unlike most other fathers, Matt Stutzman has no arms. Born with a rare medical condition, Matt has had to learn to navigate life without the benefit of arms, opposable thumbs and everything in between.
Clearly this is a very tangible weakness that created significant adversity for Matt to overcome. Matt had to learn to do all of life’s tasks — mundane or significant — without the benefit of arms and hands. Tying shoes, opening doors, driving, feeding himself, all of this, Matt learned to do with his feet.
What is fascinating about Matt’s story is that in his case, his significant weakness is also an extraordinary and fantastic strength. In 2012, Matt became an Olympic silver medalist and he holds a world record…
How is it possible that a man without arms holds a world record in a sport for the “armed”? Matt’s legs and feet are nearly every bit as nimble as the average man’s arms and hands, but are two — or perhaps three — times as strong. So, Matt can shoot more arrows in practice than your average archer without getting tired, use a greater level of resistance on his compound bow when shooting, and hold his aim steadier than, well, anyone on the planet.
Consider this: Matt’s greatest weakness, when analyzed in a new light, is also his greatest strength.
Seeking to find your strengths? Sometimes the best place to start is in your weaknesses.
is quite different than this thing here
As it turns out, this thing
doesn't have one of these
or more accurately it has a whole bunch of these running at different speeds
Time in our brains doesn’t tick tock tick tock with equal density
Time in our brains is dependent on our experiences - and their relative intensity
The greatest innovation in U.S. Olympic History (for Olympians): No, it is not the BMW designed USA bobsled, the Lockheed Martin designed Mach 39 speedskating suits, instantaneous video replays on iPads, or Shawn White’s new frontside double-cork 1440 in half pipe.
No, perhaps the single greatest innovation for the athletes heading to Sochi is “Crowdfunding”. In case you are not familiar with the concept, here’s a definition, “crowdfunding is the practice of funding a project or venture by raising many small amounts of money from a large number of people, typically via the Internet.” There is now a suite of relatively new online social media tools that allow athletes, Olympians and potential Olympians to cash in on the largesse provided by the intersection of goodwill and need. By using the power of social media to gather a large number of small donations, athletes are able to find financial support to cover their expenses. Some examples of these sites include GoFundMe.com, IndieGoGo.com, Dreamfuel.com, Rallyme.com
Except for a small handful of “A-list” athletes like Shawn White, Apolo Ohno or Bode Miller, most Olympic athletes toil in anonymity for more than a decade in order to make an Olympics and scrape by through a combination of parental support, off-season jobs, and small stipends from their sports federations.
For well-to-do athletes or those in high profile sports (snow-boarding, figure skating, skiing) where ample funding is available a single-minded focus on training and preparation is all that is required. This is also the case for many athletes from nations that fully fund their athletes, think Russia or South Korea.
For the rest, a constant ever-present worry is “how will I pay for this?” -be it new equipment, travel, lodging or even food. At its extreme it reaches the levels that Emily Scott, newly minted Olympian in short track speedskating, has faced. With a mother and a sister behind bars and raised by a single father with a blue collar income, Emily, at one point, was forced to rely on foodstamps to feed herself.
One might think that making the Olympic team would finally put these fears to rest, but in reality that success breeds a whole new brand of financial worry. Sure, now their travel and food and lodging are covered to travel to the games, but just as abruptly parents and others who have played significant support roles are faced with massive expenses to try and get to the games.
Olympic qualifying trials are often held close to the date of the Games themselves to ensure the very best team is selected, but this then creates the situation of the parents and supporters of the Olympian having only weeks to find flights and lodging in cities that have been booked solid for months and with flights subject to the supply and demand algorithms of Sabre (the airline yield management software) and hotel pricing often reaching $1000/day or more at the Olympic site.
Even a weeklong trip to a place like Sochi can involve multi-leg flights to save money and then incredibly steep prices to find a place to stay anywhere remotely close to the venues. Craig Scott, Emily’s father IS coming to the Olympics, thanks in large part to crowdfunding, but here’s his flight plan: Kansas City to Chicago, Chicago to Washington DC. Washington DC to Istanbul, Istanbul to Germany, Germany to Sochi. Here’s how Craig Scott will get to Sochi. He will board a plane in Kansas City and go to Chicago. From Chicago he will go to Washington. From Washington he flies to Turkey. From Turkey he flies to Germany.
For middle class parents there is always credit cards, but what about young spouses, fiancés or boyfriends/girlfriends? Often those that participated or sacrificed the most are forced to watch and cheer from afar.
Crowdfunding has existed for years in various forms – be it innovations looking for startup money, patients needing medical treatment seeking support, or artists with a new idea, but this emergent social media platform is potentially at its best in supporting potential Olympians. Finally there exists a way to tap into the general support of the USA! USA! Spirit and collect large numbers of small sums to support the real needs of an athlete and their family.
Emily Scott is perhaps the most direct example. After applying for foodstamps she decided to create a GoFundMe page and at the same time had the luck of a USA Today article to lend visibility to her plight. In particular, other than feeding herself, she was most anxious that her father Craig would join her in Sochi. 24 hours later she had $30,000 in donations – most of them small, but in quantity, and by late January she had $49,000 from more than 650 donors - more than enough to ensure that her father could join her at the games.
The list of athletes receiving significant support is substantial – from Emily Scott raising over $50K to fellow short track speedskater Kyle Carr raising $14,000 to bring his mother to the games. Lindsey Van, part of the new retinue of women’s ski jumpers, raised $20,000, Sugar Todd a long track speedskater raised almost $6000 to bring her parents to the games, while teen brothers and Danny and Drew Duffy raised over $50,000 on RallyMe to cover their expenses.
Others, though have struggled with getting visibility in order to generate support. Bobsledder Elana Meyers has only raised $738 to date proving that just having a campaign is no silver bullet.
Through Crowdfunding, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been raised to ensure that those that compete, and those that sacrificed for their success have the support required to share in the experience. This is particularly important given the relatively new tradition of the “Order of the Ikkos” award where each medaling Olympian gives a medal to the one person who supported them the most. Hard to give a medal to someone thousands of miles away because they couldn’t afford to come....
Epilogue: The Post Olympic Hangover
I am particularly envious of this emergent source of funding. After graduating college I trained full time for eight years and made one Olympic team where I earned a silver medal. Along the way I used credit cards to fund my dream. As a recent college graduate I was able to apply for an receive over 50 credit cards which I used to pick up and rotate $87,000 in debt to by the time I retired from the sport. My parents also spent years paying off their visit to Lillehammer, Norway. Here's a REAL picture of the 50+ credit cards I used to fund my dream. I eventually paid them off...
For olympian Alex Izykowski, the burden fell to his parents, who are still filling in the financial hole they dug to ensure his success and bronze medal in the 2006 Torino games. “My hometown community really pulled together to help fund my family’s expenses to travel to Torino, but the 10 years of debt we accrued leading up to my Olympics is an ever-present burden they are still paying off.” Alex’s dad agreed, saying, “Its like a post-olympic hangover you can’t shake.”
Sadly it is hard to ask for crowdfunding support in retrospect so Alex and his parents have little to no opportunity to tap into this emergent funding source. However, for new athletic hopefuls, crowdfunding fuels an olympic dream while reducing the post-apocolyptic olympic hangover.
Most of my fellow journalists as well as the athletes are mystified by all the questions and press about poor accomodations, no running water, and hotel rooms without doors. Yes, everything is brand new and there are kinks to be worked out, but from one person's limited purview, for the most part everything is up and running. Here's the rub though - this incredible Olympic Park, with 8 massive venues all in close proximity, suggests that everything is a few minutes walk away - in fact no venue in the coastal cluster is farther than 400m from the other. Incredible! Amazing! All built from scratch on the beautiful Black Sea, except...
Yesterday it took me 2 hours to transit the 400 meters from my hotel to the Iceberg venue. There are 2 hurdles to go to a venue:
1) To pass security - yesterday due to opening ceremonies the line was an hour long and...
2) The Metal Barrier Habitrail - each day they arbitrarily create barriers in and around all the venues and if you don't know the few slots through them, you can find yourself walking fruitlessly toward and away from your destination, hemmed in by a silver wall of bars. Yesterday I walked within paces of the Iceberg only to find myself following the grid of steel bars farther and farther away and ultimately circling the entire compound, a full hour's walk
Still, you have to hand it to the security teams - there's just no way to know the way into the "bubble" because they change the patterns of the iron grid every few hours, so even though it is a pain to see my hotel yards away yet 1/2 mile or more, it does make us feel safe.
“Sweet childish days, that were as long, as twenty days are now.”
You are eight years old. Your eyes flicker open in the late morning to the brilliance of the summer sun streaming through the wide open window. The light warms the side of your face and your skin glistens with moisture from the humid air - no air conditioning to dry it out. But it isn't the sun or the humidity that rouses you, it is the rumble of lawnmowers and the deep green scent of freshly mown grass - the sound and smell of summer.
You fall out bed and head to the kitchen to pour yourself a bowl of cereal, then head out to the couch to voicelessly join your siblings watching cartoons. After breakfast the magic moment occurs: with the front door wide open, the brilliant shafts of the morning sun angle towards you through the screen door lighting up the entryway, beckoning. In the chiaroscuro of those golden rays you see them, those mysterious motes of dust like stars dancing against the black. Beyond the screen door your eyes travel to the driveway, the freshly mown grass, and the possibilities of sidewalks and sprinklers, bikes and forts and friends and candy bars at the corner store.
Summer calls. So you do the only natural thing, you run outside to play, screen door banging behind you. “Make sure you are home for dinner!” your mom shouts and you reply “OK!” without breaking stride. Another endless summer day of long days and short shadows awaits…
I have a vague recollection of the first time I realized that time wasn’t linear. I was 16 and enjoying summer like always before, swimming, hanging out with friends, boating on the lake, riding and racing my bike all with the August summer sun still high in the sky. Then a piece of mail arrived announcing the first day of school a few weeks hence and I remember this intense disturbance. I felt like summer and time itself had been stolen from me. Shadows lengthened school began and sense of nostalgic loss permeated my thoughts. "Where did it go?" I wondered, "what happened to the summers that used to last forever?”
Question: do you remember the first time you realized that time didn’t flow evenly? That, indeed time was accelerating?