Be epic.

Sometimes I try to live really safe. To keep a lid on the version of me I’d really like to be. Afraid of what people will think.

I worry a lot that if I let the world see my “awesome,” they won’t think it’s awesome, and somehow that will ruin my life.

Connecting is dangerous. Loving is dangerous. Dancing is dangerous. Shining is dangerous. All the things are dangerous.

So I choose a lot of times not to be bold. Not to be boldly me. Boldly epic.

But here’s the thing . . . you only live once.

So f*** it. Be epic.

3 Unique Suggestions for Connecting Deeply

One-on-one. A group of friends. An audience watching you on stage. Whatever the context–truly, deeply connecting is the key to making a difference, to getting your message across, to building trust, to leaving a lasting impression, to inspiring good.

And I don’t think the ingredients in genuine connection differ too much from context to context.

So how DO you truly connect?

These aren’t the “top 3 ways.” There are lots of top 3 ways. But here are 3 ways that I found EXTREMELY useful in crafting a recent speech for my Toastmasters club:

1. Don’t describe your history. Use stories that give them the chance to feel your history.

Stories are said to increase your audience’s memory by twenty-two times what they’ll retain from the rest of your words. Stories are powerful.

I think where we can go wrong with stories, though, is telling people everything we think about our stories–how we felt about them, how we understood them, how everything fit in. Those aren’t bad things, but they’re not what’s memorable. What’s memorable–what really connects–is taking your audience’s hand and walking them through the story for themselves. It’s okay if they fill the story in with a few different colors and shapes than you. Let their imagination do its thing. All you need to do is put the audience right there. To put them through the experience as bluntly as you can.

I will understand you far better by reliving a couple crazy moments from your childhood than by hearing all the philosophizing you want to do about it all.

2. Get weirdly specific.

I wish I could take credit for this idea. I have learned to use it a lot, but I learned its value from an interview with a comedian. I’m pretty sure it was John Mulaney. Might have been Mike Birbiglia. It may have been John Mulaney talking about what he learned from Mike Birbiglia–who knows. Either way, here’s the gist: It’s easy to assume that the more broadly shared your experiences, the more people will get you. Well actually, it turns out that people get realness, not generic-ness. Even if their real was a little different than yours–they can feel your realness. People’s own lives aren’t generic, they’re extremely specific. So get very, super, weirdly specific.

For example: “When I was 18 I used to covertly bypass our burglar alarm at night so that I could sneak out later to take walks . . . alone . . . in the dark . . . in my trench coat.”

I could have told you all about how sheltered I felt my childhood was, the lack of freedom I felt, my desperation to get away, my loneliness and what a lifesaver my loneliness actually was to me, my fear and my need to keep my deepest needs sacred, my imagination and its strangely confident sense of my cool self, and the future version of me I expected to be. But those are ideas–concepts–concepts you may have experienced in your own ways in your own life. And making you listen while I analyze all those ideas through my own lenses requires a lot of attention. It requires a lot of you accepting and translating my interpretations. I don’t need to do all that work with you. And you may not have the time or patience. Instead, I can just give you a few really weird details. Details that make you go, “Oh yeah, I also have a weird life,” and then leaves your imagination filling in the blanks in my story. “What kind of kid wears a trench coat?”

3. Make it a roller coaster.

Don’t stay funny. Don’t stay happy. Don’t stay sad. Don’t stay serious. Don’t stay positive. Don’t stay hopeful. Don’t stay negative. Don’t stay bitter.

Life is a roller coaster. A crazy, spicy, ridiculous roller coaster.

Emotional roller coasters get people right in the feels. And getting people right in the feels is what sticks with them.

So lift your audience up. Then dash their hopes. Then show them the beauty in the ashes.

I bet that is an experience they can relate to.

Good luck!

Let’s use our stories to inspire hope and love in each other every chance we get. We’re all in this together!

Jimmy Neil Smith - connection of storytelling

Canadian Rockies Adventure

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Hello again! It’s been a while! I was away on an adventure and now I get to share it with you, which is almost like getting to relive it again! :)

My wife and I drove from Minnesota (home) up to the Canadian Rockies in Alberta and stopped through Glacier National Park in Montana on the way home.

Road trips are our favorite, and it was an exciting one! We had a week and a half of hiking on the agenda. Life had a different adventure in store, and we spent the first several days visiting the emergency room and recovering due to an infection that randomly turned up in my wife’s wrist. It was a little scary, and it meant we had to throw our whole schedule out the window. But it also meant we got to relax more on our vacation than planned, so–silver lining. ;)

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It also meant we had time to explore the hip little town of Canmore, Alberta (with all its extroverted little bunnies). Great place to book your lodging if you’re visiting Banff and its neighboring mountain ranges!

Bunnies were just one of the adorable species we spied on our adventure.

When we finally did make it out for some mountainous adventures, it was EPIC.

Here are some highlights for you. Enjoy the views, and I hope you’ll drag yourself on ridiculously extravagant and exhausting and make-it-up-as-you-go-along adventures! There’s a whole big world to explore out there. :)

KANANASKIS, ALBERTA

Highway 40 down through the Kananaskis mountain range south of Canmore was our first easy excursion after a recovery day off.

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Mostly just drove the Kananaskis–the views couldn’t have been much better. We stopped halfway down south for a little scenic walk in the Kananskis village. And we stopped several more times to wait for crowds of moulting bighorn sheep chilling on the highway. And they just couldn’t be bothered. They had no time for all the traffic. Didn’t even notice us. Until we finally made it past, when without fail they’d suddenly whip their heads up and glare at us as we drove away as if they couldn’t have been more just disgusted with us. They were legit hilarious.

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Watching storm clouds roll in at a surprising speed.

BOW LAKE, BANFF NATIONAL PARK, ALBERTA

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Bow Lake was our first stop in Banff, just off the Icefields Parkway, north of Lake Louise. That day we drove in and out of sunshine, rain, clouds, and even snow. Amazing how quickly and dramatically the weather changes in the mountains.

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Haunting.

PEYTO LAKE, BANFF NATIONAL PARK, ALBERTA

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The iconic Peyto Lake is a little ways north of Bow Lake and was our second stop.

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Our first attempted hike was down steep switchbacks from the Peyto overlook to a flat rock surface by the water’s edge. We turned back halfway down to be responsible and not overdo it with Alyssa’s recovery. Good call, but what a spot to miss!

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My favorite little adventurer :)

LAKE LOUISE, BANFF NATIONAL PARK, CANADA

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SENTINEL PASS, BANFF NATIONAL PARK, ALBERTA

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Our first big hike was about 5.5 miles up to Sentinel Pass from the trailhead at Lake Moraine. This was just incredible. 360° views of the grandest looking mountains.

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Up in the alpine tundra–snowy hiking with icy lakes and the occasional nervous marmot.

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Sometime when we’re not recovering from a medical scare, we’ll hike the rest of the way up the switchbacks and snowy rock scramble to that final peak on the right.

MORAINE LAKE, BANFF NATIONAL PARK, ALBERTA

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The shocking turquoise blue of the glacier-fed-lakes in the northern Rockies is one of the most breathtaking sights in the world, I think.

TENT RIDGE HORSESHOE HIKE, PETER LOUGHEED PROVINCIAL PARK, ALBERTA

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Tent Ridge Horseshoe–our most challenging hike, finally feeling better enough for a pack and some serious uphill. Still a bit of a stretch for a recovering hiking warrior.

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After the first mile or so we came to a clear valley in the middle of a horseshoe-shaped mountain ridge. This shot was just after crossing a deep snow-packed area with downed pine trees where an avalanche had crossed the trail.

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So this rock scramble was possibly the most intense we’ve done yet. Half a mile of steep (and sometimes wobbly) rocks to pick your way through. Not for the faint of heart. But also there’s only one way to become not-faint-at-heart–come try!

After we reached the first peak we turned to the right and hiked down and back up a saddle to the highest point of the hike.

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Tent Ridge to the right, Mount Indefatigable and The Fist to the left.

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From the highest peak with views of Mount Indefatigable and other nearby snowy peaks, we turned right for the long Tent Ridge walk/scramble. The initial descent may have been the most nerve-wracking part of the hike. And the wind gusts. Oh man.

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Breathtaking.

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GLACIER NATIONAL PARK, MONTANA

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On our way back from Canada we spent a day hiking in Glacier National Park, Montana. I remembered why quiet woods and rushing water is so magical to me. Good to sit and breathe it all in.

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Views from Going-to-the-Sun Road. Recently opened for the season, cleared of snow. Our day in Glacier was so overcast and rainy that we could hardly see a thing–except the couple hours we spent on the Going-to-the-Sun Road and up at Logan’s Pass. The clouds parted and we got sunshine and mind-bending views. Thank you!!

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Logan’s Pass

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P.S. Hey friends–Nature is magical and healing and inspiring, and is open to everyone. Get outdoors! :)

P.P.S. See you soon, mountains!

P.P.P.S. Thank you, Altra Running, for making hiking comfy! And thank you All Trails for great maps to follow by GPS!

How to Get Started Meditating

I don’t think I can overstate the role meditation has played in my life. It’s given me a lot of peace and hope. It’s honestly one of the healthiest things I do.

But meditation has NOT been easy to get into. And it has NOT been easy to continue doing.

Recently I wrote about 7 Ways Meditating Has Helped Me, from stress relief and managing anxiety to learning compassion and being present. When I published that post I offered to help anyone who was interested in meditation to get started. A few people have talked with me about it since then, so I decided to go ahead and put together a starter kit.

I love a number of types of meditation, but I’ve found mindfulness meditation to be especially helpful and accessible for just about everyone. So in this blog post, I’ll recommend resources and ideas for getting started with mindfulness meditation specifically.

Getting into meditation can be confusing and there is SO MUCH material out there that it can be hard to know where to start. So here are some ideas. I hope this helps!

 

BEFORE YOU START

“Meditation. It’s not what you think.”

I thought I should pass along Jon Kabat-Zinn’s warning before I go any further.

Meditation is not some weird ritual that brings you other-worldly feelings. It’s also not this quick exercise that rids your life of pain and frustration. If what you’re looking for falls at either of those extremes, meditation might not work for you.

In fact, meditation might not “work,” regardless. Actually, that’s kind of the point. One of the points, anyway. True, as meditation becomes a consistent part of your life, I’m sure you’ll find that stress, anxiety, and mind-numbing distractions hold less control over you than before. But one of the strengths of meditation is the opportunity it provides to daily practice acceptance of your whole self just the way you are and of the world just the way it is. In other words, meditation isn’t really about changing your life. It’s about accepting your life. Which, ironically, can be life-changing.

That means, if you’re going to give meditation a shot, don’t look for it to work. Don’t assess its effectiveness at the end of a session. Don’t check to make sure it’s changing or fixing you. Don’t expect it to feel good.

Actually, do expect that you’ll feel like you’re really bad at it! Do expect to feel like it’s “not for you.” Do expect to feel like giving up, to get bored, to get distracted, to feel like it’s hard work.

If you’re okay with all that, then let’s get started:

 

TRY IT OUT

Spotify has an album from the Oxford Mindfulness Centre called Mindfulness Meditations with Mark Williams. Its tracks are very simple, basic guided meditations. These are hands down the best guided meditations I can recommend for getting started.

Don’t try meditating for too long your first time around! That can lead to discouragement. Here’s a great one to try first: 10 Minute Sitting Meditation

 

LEARN ABOUT IT

Anything by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Books, lectures, interviews.

Start out easy. He has abridged audiobook versions of two books that are ideal for mindfulness meditation:

3-hour Wherever You Go There You Are. Start with this one!

And 3-hour Coming to Our Senses

Reading the full books is also a great idea! Wherever You Go There You Are is a pretty easy read and a fantastic introduction to mindfulness meditation, geared towards a western audience–not too “weird.” I like his book Coming to Our Senses even better, but fair warning–it’s a biiiiig book.

 

MEDITATION FOR SKEPTICAL DOWN-TO-EARTH PEOPLE WHO FEEL LIKE IT’S TOO WEIRD AND ARE LIKE A LITTLE BIT INTERESTED IN IT BUT ALSO WOULD FEEL SUPER AWKWARD MEDITATING AND WOULD DEFINITELY NEVER LET THEMSELVES BE CAUGHT TRYING THAT WEIRD BUDDHIST MUMBO JUMBO

If meditation just sounds way too sketch for you–too weird, too silly, too spiritual, or just–yeah–totally weird. . . . don’t worry, you’re not alone. A lot of people find their interest piqued but are either too weirded out or too self-conscious to try it.

If that’s you, check out the podcast 10% Happier with Dan Harris. The name of his corresponding App says it all: “10% Happier: Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics.”

This is an oddly specific suggestion, but if you’ve ever heard the comedian John Mulaney (or if you haven’t), Harris’s conversation with Mulaney is a really good example of how meditation works in the lives of really normal people for whom meditation doesn’t come naturally. If you’re having a hard time picturing this weird mindfulness thing as a regular part of your life, give this one a listen. You can also browse his podcast for other names you recognize. I think hearing how meditation has worked for others can help make it more accessible.

Another great episode to start with is his interview of Jon Kabat-Zinn, who also leads a short meditation demo.

 

A FEW TIPS TO HELP ALONG THE WAY

Don’t check whether it’s working.

Don’t try too long at first. Short and frequent is the best start.

Don’t get too caught up with finding just the right thing to listen to, or just the right place and time to meditate. Imperfect and unexciting meditation is meditation.

Don’t be afraid to listen to the same guided meditation again and again. Find what works for you.

You’ll get worse at it after you get better. Some days you’ll be antsy and bored and skeptical. Other days you’ll feel like a badass yogi. It’s all okay.

You WON’T be “good” at it, and that’s okay!

 

If you give it a shot and would like some more ideas, let me know! And I’d love to hear your meditation story, too!

Jon Kabat-Zinn - surf the waves

When in conflict: 1 question you HAVE to answer

Fight or flight. Adrenaline’s pumping. You’ve been pushed and you’re ready to push back.

STOP!

Remember to ask yourself one question!

It’s a question we forget about all the time, but it’s what really matters to you in a conflict. We have a tendency to make knee jerk decisions before we stop and think. And even if we do take time to think, we tend to base our decisions on what would feel good. Running away, lashing back out, proving a point, putting someone in their place, taking a stand, not backing down. Sometimes when we make decisions that feel good–that our fight or flight instincts tell us to make–we later regret those decisions. We didn’t stop to really think about the one thing that mattered:

What do you want out of this situation?

It seems so simple. And it is. But we get stubborn. We get scared. We get angry. We get vindictive. We get tired. We get embarrassed.

Especially we get stubborn. A lot of the moves we make in conflict tend to be moves we don’t really want to make, that will get us to a place we don’t really want to be, just because we’ve been pushed and we don’t like it. . . . “Don’t cling to a mistake just because you spent a lot of time making it.” – Aubrey de Grey

So before you burn a bridge, turn tail and run, or stubbornly refuse to compromise–ask yourself: What do you ACTUALLY want out of this situation?

Sometimes the way to get the thing you actually want is through boring, unimpressive, unflashy communication. Sometimes getting what you want will mean not doing conflict the fun way, the feel good way, or the badass way.

So when in conflict, STOP–before you do something you’ll regret–and ask yourself: What outcome do I ACTUALLY hope to arrive at? What do I really want out of this situation?

And then focus on that. Not winning. Not proving a point. Not defending yourself. Just on thatthe outcome you want.

Howard Baker - take emotion out of conflict