I laid on the gym floor, completely exhausted from the massive emotional dump that was a suicide attempt. I didn’t want to live this way anymore. Something needed to change. I had to do something significant to be a better father to my son and a better man for the other people in my life. I couldn’t be a good friend, lover or business owner in the condition I was in. At that time, I believed my best days were over and gone. I could remember a time during my military and law enforcement career where I was in an amazing state of flow. I was killing it! I built a sterling reputation as a police officer and leader during that time. I just didn’t know how to get back to it. I yearned for that feeling again. That identity again. I would have freely given up the use of my legs not to have to feel the weight of my depression. To not feel as if the only option was to end my life.
I truly felt as if I was at my rock bottom. A place that is different for everyone, obviously. For some people it’s when they find themselves in a hospital bed after an overdose. Some in a jail cell or the back seat of a patrol car. For others, like me, it is on the floor in the fetal position after attempting to end their life. And it’s in that place where each person needs to make a decision. The question then becomes, do they let rock bottom consume them and continue to live a vicious cycle of turmoil? Or do they undergo the momentous task of changing everything about their lives and overcome whatever demon is keeping them down?
I, obviously, chose the latter. So I made a couple phone calls and ended up getting admitted to a rehab facility in Tucson, Arizona.
While I was at rehab, I had to remap my life and figure out how to get back to a version of me that I could be proud of. I had to really concentrate on what I really wanted in this life. What does a happy and healthy life look like? What was going to be my contribution to the world that would make this life worth living?
In my last article, I ended by saying we go to a “simple practice of mindfulness and compassion.” That sounds very cliche for some, optimistic for others or like a downright lie for many. The word “simple” is and isn’t the most accurate word to describe what I’m going to outline today. How do we overcome this abyss of depression and self loathing by just “simply” using mindfulness and compassion to unweight ourselves from this unfathomable anchor? I mean, if it’s truly that simple, why isn’t everyone doing it and rid the world of depression? Because at first, it’s terrifying and it seems impossible. It comes down to how bad do you want it? How bad do you want to live a happy and healthy life again? How bad do you want to get back into the light of this life?
There is a famous story about wanting success, happiness and joy in your life. It goes like this… A young man goes to a guru and tells the guru he wants to be successful and wants to know the secret. The guru tells the young man to meet him at the beach early in the morning the next day. So the young man arrives wearing a suit and the old guru is standing there in his board shorts. The young man was thoroughly confused, but went along with it anyway. The guru asked, “Do you still want to be successful and happy?” The young man says, “More than anything, sir!” So the guru asks the young man to follow him out into the water. Reluctantly, not wanting to destroy his suit, the young man does what the guru asks and walks with him to the water. They walked out about chest level and the guru asked if the young man still wanted the secrets to success and happiness. The young man said, “Absolutely guru. I’ll do anything!” So the old guru walked the young man out further until they could barely touch the ground and had to begin treading water. The guru asked, “Still want to be successful and happy?” Before the young man could finish saying “Yes sir” the guru dunked the young man under water and held him there. The young man began fighting frantically but the old man didn’t let up. The guru brought him up for just one breath and then held him under water again. The guru repeated this cycle a couple times until he felt the young man begin to get weak. The guru then let up and walked towards the shore. The young man surfaced and exclaimed, “You’re fucking crazy, old man!” The guru asked, “I thought you wanted to be successful? I thought you wanted to be happy?” The young man replied, “I do! But you bring me out here to drown me? What the fuck?” The guru asked, “Son, when you were under water, what is the one thing you wanted to do the most?” The young man finally calmed down and said, “I wanted to breathe”. The old man smiled and gently said, “When you want to succeed as bad as you want to breathe, then you’ll be successful.”
How bad do you want to live a happy and fulfilling life again? Is it as bad as you want to breathe?
The process to break out of this funk is done in some very simple steps. Step 1- Decide how bad you want it. To have that life of light, beauty and happiness again. Do you want it as bad as you want to breathe?
Step 2- Find your Reasons. Those reasons must be so compelling that achievement becomes an absolute must in your life.
Step 3- Start with “Why” and define your why in life. What is your purpose and contribution in life that will bring you fulfilment that sustains you?
Step 4- Check in daily with yourself by going through an exercise I’m going to outline for you and note your progress. Celebrate all the little victories and signs of progress and show yourself compassion to keep moving forward!
Why do we track our progress and show ourselves compassion? Because as humans, we are addicted to progress. People get addicted to combat sports and CrossFit because they have tangible results and progress in short order. There is mass celebration by the community you are surrounded by for those achievements. We get this mad rush of dopamine from those accomplishments and it makes us feel great. We even take note of progress so small that anyone outside our community wouldn’t understand why it’s such a big deal to you. Of course, if others don’t celebrate with you, they aren’t worth sharing it with.
First you need to define what you want your life to look like. What do you want from this growth and evolution? For the sake of this writing, I wanted to be free of the dark and bitter cold of depression and anxiety. I wanted to learn how to live with it and manage it better. You have to define what it is you want for yourself. What does a good life look like to you? What do you want so that you don’t feel so alone and cold in the dark? Paint that picture in your mind of what a happy and healthy life looks like for you. Don’t go overboard with “I want a mansion and 12 dogs and 3 sport cars etc etc etc.” How about something simple, like, “I want to be able to get up everyday, laugh and feel loved. I want to be able to go out and socialize with friends and see the beauty in the things around me.” I say simple, but for those that are in the depths of depression, this may seem insurmountable. Don’t worry. It is very much attainable.
Just because I say it’s simple doesn’t mean it’s easy or even fun. At least not when you are first starting. Think about the first time you learned to drive. What we consider a simple task now was confusing, scary and frustrating the first time behind the wheel. Over time, we’ve learned how to whip our cars around, back in, parallel park and talk on the phone while drinking coffee and checking social media. Not saying you should do that, but look at you now! At first, two hands tightly gripping the wheel and idol speed was more than enough for a lot of people. Then came residential roads followed by main arterial roads, then the freeway and then the confusion of driving in the one way grid’s of downtown. It was a step by step process. Then add in rain, sleet, snow, ice, wind and all of the other obstacles mother nature can throw at you. We didn’t learn to drive in our first session. It took time and a lot of practice to get to where you’re at today. So when I say this practice is simple, understand I’m speaking from years of experience and practice. I’ve simply been driving longer and can teach you how.
Once you know your mission, next comes asking what is your “why”? And this is where we break down the golden circle. Author, Speaker and Leadership analyst, Simon Sinek talks about The Golden Circle in a TED talk he gave in 2010. Picture three circles, two smaller ones inside a large one that looks like a bullseye target. In the center is our “Why”. The middle circle is our “How” and the outer circle is our “What”. The Golden Circle was even studied by and confirmed by Neuroscientist, Dr. Peter Whybrow who found it overlaps perfectly with the biology of human decision making. I highly recommend listening to his TED talk in the link above.
Most people define themselves by talking about what they do or how they do it. Yet very few understand WHY they do it. And I’m not talking about it from an objective logistical standpoint. I’m talking about the life fulfillment they get from what they do. Simon points out that the most successful companies and people start from their why and then work outward. My personal why is X, and how I accomplish that is Y and I do that by doing Z. I highly suggest watching his TED talk and really examine it in defining your personal golden circle.
My Golden Circle looks like this: Why- “I believe it is my mission to leave people in a better condition than I found them”
How- “I do this by pouring myself into others. By not giving up on them even after they themselves and others have given up.” What- “I do this by helping people get in the best shape of their life with Muay Thai and Krav Maga. I push people beyond the limits they have in their mind of what they can physically do. I coach people and I show tough love, forgiveness and compassion and hold them to a high set of standards.
Now it is time for you to take the first couple steps away from your box and rope.
Step 1- Envision a life where you can live happy and healthy. How bad do you want it? Do you want it as bad as you want to breathe?
Step 2- Define your Why in the Golden Circle. You don’t need your How or What yet. Just start with your “Why”!
Step 3- What are your reasons that are so compelling you stay with it even in the hard times?
Write it down. Because next week, I’m going to introduce you to the system that I created to make me a better man. I’m going to introduce to you a practice that was used for hazing, abuse and destruction, and how I flipped it around to become one of the best checks and balances for my life. I’m going to introduce you to three simple rules and 14 simple principles to help you crawl out of your personal hell.
To be continued