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How To Manage the Transitions of Your Day

Three months ago I got a Peloton bike. Overnight I went from a boring, 30 minute, mildly aerobic grind on an elliptical while listening to podcasts to getting my rear end handed to me by Peloton instructors, all in recorded classes I take on demand. 

Yesterday my instructor was Cody Rigsby, a guy with a great sense of humor who says things like “if you need to regroup, namaste your ass in the saddle.” In this particular class he let us know ahead of time that we were going to be making rapid transitions between heavy resistance, high pedal rates, and arm exercises – bam, bam, bam.

In the middle of the workout frenzy Cody announced that we all need to be good at making rapid transitions out in the real world. When I thought more about this idea after the ride, I realized that managing transitions, whether fast or slow, is a skill or a habit that can be cultivated, and mastered.

As a surgeon I used to practice this in the clinic. At the door to a patient’s room I would stop, put my hand on the doorknob, and pause, with the team standing behind me. This forced a moment for us to collectively collect ourselves and slow down before opening the door and walking in. That brief moment shifted our energy from the hectic pace of preparation to being calm and focused, so critical for the experience of the patient and family.

Before Cody I was already dialed into the idea of transitions from the Waking Up meditation app from Sam Harris. The core concept that Harris teaches is that there is only consciousness and its contents, meaning that consciousness (that weird, inexplicable process by which the 100 billion brain cells with 100 trillion connections to each other work together to create a state of awareness) is like a mental train station through which all things – sights, sounds, emotions, thoughts, everything we experience, passes.

All of his meditation exercises are focused on this paradigm, and he encourages us to take as many moments as possible during our days, even if fleeting, to become aware, like an observer on a balcony, of what is passing through our mental train station.

I took to this and as I have continued to soak my 100 billion brain cells in his meditations and lessons those moments have started to occur more spontaneously and regularly, without effort. But as we all know, our days can take over our minds, and therefore our consciousness, obliterating any possibility of spontaneous awareness of our transitions.

When I added Cody Rigsby plus Sam Harris together, I realized that it might be incredibly useful to pinpoint specific transitions in the course of a day where I could deliberately manage each transition. It’s really no different than the visualization process an athlete goes through before an event.

I made a list of some transitions that I wanted to manage well:

1. Getting on the Peloton in the morning.

2. Sitting down to write in my gratitude journal.

3. Sitting down to meditate.

4. Saying goodby to my wife and daughter when they leave in the morning.

5. Sitting down to write.

6. Greeting my wife and daughter when they come home.

7. Walking my dogs at night.

8. Going to bed.

Next I considered the key elements that would make for a great transition (the italics are to help remember the steps):

1. Pause and breathe – I used to think this stuff was corny. I was wrong. It really works to center your mind and body.

2. Get up on the balcony and take note of what is passing through your mental train station – mood, thoughts, stories swirling around, emotions, pressure from outside world, whatever is simmering in the stew of your neurologic milieu at that moment.

3. Drop it all and to commit fully to the next activity.

4. Intend – to bring the right intention to the next activity.

Setting the right intention is like the on your mark moment in a race – it creates focus. This is where the pedal hits the metal, since without the right intention, it can feel like we are going through the motions which, sometimes, is the best any of us can do some days.

Next I wrote out my intention for each of the transitions on my list:

1. To work out as hard as I can for the 30 minutes.

2. To genuinely reflect on and picture the many good things in my life.

3. To drop the chaos of my mind at the doorstep of meditating.

4. To help my wife and daughter leave with a positiveI am cared for” feeling.

5. To let go of all my doubts that I have anything worthwhile to say and just write.

6. To welcome my wife and daughter warmly to the evening ahead and to help melt the stress of their day.

7. To pay attention to being outside in nature and not lost in thought.

8. To say goodnight to my wife and to pause with gratitude that I got another day to be alive.

As Rich Roll says, “mood follows action.”

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3 Comments

  1. Amy Whitson on February 28, 2020 at 3:11 pm

    Thank you, Michael. These “micro steps” are so important to master as the muscle/habit builds to support heavier life transitions such as career and family changes. Your insightful reflections and guidance are gifts to all of us!

  2. Josi on February 28, 2020 at 3:22 pm

    Very helpful. Especially right now. Thanks Michael.

  3. Mike Maddaus on February 28, 2020 at 5:46 pm

    Well written and insightful!

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