Currently, I am sitting outside in the bone-chilling cold. Well, it’s 11C (51F), but as a Floridian who has lived in Singapore for the past 6 years, I can barely feel my fingers as I type on my keyboard.
We are in Kentucky right now at the Red River Gorge for 5 days of rock climbing.
It has been such a change of scenery after being in NYC and Milwaukee for the past week and a half.
NYC was amazing to get to catch up with some incredible people I get to call friends and colleagues. We got to explore the city, eat great food, and share in an endless supply of laughs.
Then we moved on to Milwaukee which was really special because I got to see my step-sister get married. She is one of the most amazing people I have ever met and there was nothing that made me happier than to see her truly happy.
Truth be told, it was the first wedding I have ever cried at and I have been to dozens and dozens of weddings. Actually, there are two things that bring tears to my eyes: my step-sister getting married and the ending of an Undercover Boss episode. I know, I know. Don’t judge me.
In Milwaukee, we stayed at a very interesting Airbnb. It was a giant house that was built in 1895, and originally was a neighborhood for the rich and famous. The entire third floor was used as a ballroom for entertaining.
Unfortunately, the neighborhood changed over the years and most of the houses are really run down but there is still a lot of charm in the house we stayed in. Our hosts were wonderful. They picked us up from the airport and even drove us around a few times throughout our stay.
Not much has been done to the house in the last 100 years. The floors look original and creak every step you take. The foundation is slanted so the doors shut on their own. There are multiple pianos, Christmas decorations up in April, and the house appears to be a shrine to countless visits to garage sales.
It definitely built more character than staying at a generic chain hotel.
Now, staying in the Red River Gorge is a major change of scenery yet we continue to meet wonderful people.
Yesterday, we were purchasing some more rock climbing gear and found a couple of guys at the shop whose car broke down. They drove all the way down from Canada and they had no way of getting to the climbing areas. We offered for them to spend the day climbing with us and we had a fantastic time. We will be exploring more of what the Gorge has to offer today with them.
I was really skeptical about climbing in the USA because the climbing we did in SE Asia was so spectacular, but it has only been 2 days and I am blown away. The quality and quantity of the climbing here is incredible.
As this journey continues, I find more and more that fulfillment in life comes from connecting with and contributing to people.
Sure, doing things for yourself is fun for the moment, but lasting fulfillment comes from contributing to other people’s lives. It comes from connecting with other people. It comes from learning from other people’s lives and backgrounds that are different from your own. It comes from looking for ways to make someone else’s life better.
We don’t grow when we stay in our own little bubble.
We grow when we step outside of our comfort zone and connect with old friends as well as make new ones.
Give that old friend a call. Join the club or organization you have been putting off. Volunteer at a homeless shelter and look for ways to add value to the people around you.
I promise you. If you find enough ways to add value to other people’s lives, other people will find ways to add value to your life.
– Matt Westheimer
Injured and Abroad in Vietnam
Ever since I can remember, there are two qualities that stand out a lot when I think of myself.
Ever since I can remember, there are two qualities that stand out a lot when I think of myself.
These two qualities are not ones I am especially proud – anxiousness and perfectionism.
Ever since I started traveling about 10 weeks ago, I never realized how distracted I was from just being present in my “old” life.
Sure, I would meditate for 10-20 minutes in the morning but what about the other 1,430 minutes in the day?
Much of it was filled with work and other obligations and activities. Feelings of uncertainty, anxiety, fears, and doubts could fairly easily be drowned out by the noise of daily life.
It is different when you are traveling long-term.
There are many times of boredom and nothingness. Questions begin to arise about whether it is ok to just relax and do nothing or am I just “wasting” my time?
Being still in the moment and just “being” is a challenge for someone who has had such a strong experience with anxiousness and perfectionism. Some moments I look out into the corner of the world that I happened to be experiencing at the moment and possess a deep sense of gratitude. Other times I am filled with stress and anxiety and questions of doubt.
What I am realizing more and more is there is no perfect reality out there. There is no scenario in life that is going to make all of your problems go away. Every scenario and permutation of life has upsides and downsides.
Unfortunately for me, whether it is nature or nurture or a combination of the two, I tend to obsess about the downside or challenges associated with things. There are advantages and disadvantages to this approach.
This usually isn’t so bad if it is something within my control.
Where I really run into trouble is when I am dealing with something outside of my control.
Many times I obsess and obsess until it drives me crazy.
For example, I have an old hip injury that has been acting up on me recently. I hurt it about 5 years ago and from time to time it still flares up pretty bad. I have literally tried just about everything I know to get this thing resolved but nothing seems to completely resolve it.
What is funny is that I help so many people resolve their health issues, but the hardest patient I have ever had is myself.
This issue acted up on me again right before our last big rock climbing trip to SE Asia. My mind started racing like it usually does. What if this thing keeps me from climbing? What if this never really goes away? How am I going to be able to climb hard and do all of the adventures and sports that I love to do? What is going to happen if this gets worse and I have to give up on so much of what I love?
Once I am able to see past the immediacy of the emotional trauma that I am feeling and somewhat self-inflicting through the questions I am asking myself, I do what I do best.
Take massive action.
I take massive action in regards to my physical health by reaching out to practitioners and experts in my life that could help me. I spend hours doing myofascial work, stretching, mobility, and muscle activation work.
I then work on my emotional wellbeing through meditation, writing, and asking myself better questions.
This is the most challenging part for me.
The technique that I find helps me most is this: What if what I fear most happens? What if I am limited in physical sports and adventure for the rest of my life? What would I do and how would I still find happiness and fulfillment?
I love these series of questions because if you can still find fulfillment and purpose even in the worst case scenario, then what you fear most loses its power over you.
Then I can get back to doing the real work. And the real work is taking massive action on everything that is within my control and working on the emotional aspect of accepting, and maybe even embracing, the things that are outside of my control.
I am still learning to let go more and more and lean into discomfort.
What I believe is that happiness should not be the goal. It is too dependent on our emotions in the moment.
And let’s be real. If you are really trying to experience a truly extraordinary life, it takes a lot of struggle. But the key is to struggle through the things that are worth struggling through and are most important to you.
The goal should be fulfillment, growth, and contribution. It should be finding peace and presence and curiosity in the moment. Sometimes those moments feel like crap and other times they feel great.
Either way, lean into it.
- Matt Westheimer
Rob Lilwall is a former geography teacher, turned internationally acclaimed adventurer, author and speaker. His two most epic expeditions to date are the three-year 50,000 km Cycling Home From Siberia expedition, and the six-month 5,000 km Walking Home From Mongolia expedition – both were commissioned as television series for National Geographic. Rob’s unsupported and human-powered travels have taken him across the frozen plains of the Gobi Desert and Siberia; through the thick jungles of Papua New Guinea; and over the lonely passes of Tibet, China, Pakistan, Japan, Switzerland, Bolivia, Peru and Afghanistan.
He is the author of two books which have been translated into five languages, and has given his acclaimed motivational talks to more than 40,000 people in over 20 countries around the world.
Asides from his expeditions, Rob has spent over 14 months of his adult life as a volunteer on educational and humanitarian projects in Africa, Central America, and Asia. His expeditions have raised over 100,000 USD for charity. Between 2010-2015 he and his wife Christine founded and ran the Hong Kong office of the children’s charity, Viva. Rob received his education at the Universities of Edinburgh and Oxford, and most recently has been taking a MOOC course in Positive Psychology with UC Berkeley.
You can reach Rob at www.roblilwall.com
I share 3 very powerful strategies in this episode to help you overcome stress and anxiety.
I have been on the longest holiday I have taken in over 7 years.
It was stressful and uncomfortable to be away from the office for almost 3 weeks.
Thoughts about how my staff and my patients were doing were constantly running through my mind. I was letting it really affect me.
That was until I received a phone call.
I received a phone call by someone close to me who was really stressing over money and a student loan that was hanging over their head.
My advice was simple: Even if you have the money, don’t pay the loan off yet.
My advice was to find out why this was causing him so much stress first.
Then pay off the loan.
Most people think it is the adults teaching the kids how to live a great life but the opposite is also very true!
I have spent the last week with my 10 month old nephew, Grayson, and he has certainly taught me many lessons in living a great life.
In this podcast, I share some of my favorite stories from the few days I have spent with him. These stories are great reminders on how to really enjoy life.
Thanks Grayson! I love you.
We all have fears but very few of us have things to truly be fearful about. Dr. Ana Echeveste is an exception. For years, she has had to live with the fear of debilitating seizures striking her at any moment. There is no time or activity that is immune to the event occurring. She went on a journey to overcome being a victim to seizures. It was a process that lead her on a path of self-discovery and finding happiness and fulfillment.
Throughout this journey she moved from one of the most beautiful cities in the world in Spain to the USA to pursue a new path in her life. She had no friends at the time in the USA and did not know any English. She then had a devastating injuring when she moved back to Spain and was growing her practice in which there was uncertainty whether she would ever walk the same again.
Over these challenging years, she grew a thriving business, made unshakeable relationships, and lives with a level of joy, happiness, and connection to others that we can all learn from.
I hope you enjoy this interview!
It was a beautiful Sunday morning and we were just driving back from a powerful leadership development weekend in the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains in northern Georgia. The three of us in the car were reeling after 2 days of growth and transformation. I was the co-founder of a leadership development organization and one of our projects was bringing a group of 30 people to a larger luxurious cabin in the mountains for a weekend of personal development. It was a perfect weekend and everything went off without a hitch; until that point.
As we were driving down the road with myself in the driver’s seat, my good friend Ana in the passenger seat, and our friend Matt in the backseat, I looked over at Ana and knew something was wrong. Her eyes rolled into the back of her head, she started shaking, and every muscle in her body contracted. I knew at that moment, Ana was having a seizure. I was astonished at how calm I was in the moment. I would’ve expected myself to freak out but I calmly told Matt that Ana was having a seizure and to please support her head and make sure she didn’t bite her tongue. Matt swiftly moved in to support her as I pulled the car over to the nearest gas station. We sat there calmly supporting her for what felt like an hour but was mostly likely just a few minutes until she finally came out of it.
I learned a lot from that experience.
I learned from Ana that we all possess a strength that we may not think we have. The fear that Ana must have felt all those years battling seizures and knowing that the next one could strike at any time must have been terrifying. Her seizures could literally hit her at any time and in any moment. Nothing was immune to it. It could have hit her in the middle of an exam, walking through the grocery store, or taking a shower. The strength and commitment that one must possess to overcome a challenge like that is extraordinary.
Ana taught me that when we have a challenge that seems insurmountable, we can all dig a bit deeper and persevere even when there doesn’t seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel.
Ana taught me to be present and live in the moment. If she lived in anything but the moment, the fear of when a seizure would come would be an unbearable mental hurdle, but living in the moment is the only antidote for the mental virus that is worry.
Ana taught me about self-acceptance and love of thyself. She is extraordinary at seeing the perfection in the imperfections. She embraced her challenge as a gift to transform herself and transform the lives of those around her.
Ana taught me that our greatest opportunity is living in service to others. Every time I speak to her she is most passionate about using her lessons, life experiences, and unique challenges to elevate the people in her life.
We all want to know when we are going through a challenge that there is meaning behind the pain; meaning behind the suffering. Meaning can come from two places: from the individual experiencing the pain and the individual observing the pain. I think we both created an extraordinary meaning from that day. At least I know I did.
All the best,
Dr. Matt Westheimer
I used to think that finding calmness in the chaos was impossible. I used to think there was a correlation between our physiology and our circumstances. I used to think a peaceful mind was the result of an easy life.
I find more and more that paradoxically the opposite to be true. I find that the people that have the most peace and calmness in their lives are the ones that have had to overcome the most adversity. I find that finding calm in the chaos is the path to resilience, and resilience is like a suit of armor against suffering.
As the ancient Buddhist proverb says, “Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.”
I find the greatest gift we can give ourselves when we are going through a challenge, stressful event, or personal chaos is to get back to the breath. Our breath directly effects our physiology. Typical breathing we do when we are under stress is short and shallow breathing. This breathing activates our sympathetic nervous system and drives us deeper into a state of stress. This detrimental feedback loop continues until we break it. A simple way to break it is to come back to our breath. Take deep and intentional belly breaths. This takes us out of sympathetic dominance and into the parasympathetic zone.
When we get back to our breath, it accomplishes 2 things:
Number one is it takes us out of sympathetic dominance and relaxes our physiology.
Number two is it breaks our focus on the challenge and centers us in a present state. It is impossible to focus on two things at once. When we think we are focusing on two things at once, what we are really doing is bouncing back and forth between the two so quickly it only seems like we are focusing on both at the same time.
For example, right now in your mind, I want you to describe the room you are located in vivid detail. At the same time, I want you to think of your “to do” list for the day.
Next time you’re going through a challenge and think there is no way out, get back to the breath.
As Albert Einstein said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking used when we created them.”
You still have to do the work, but this is a great start.
Dr. Matt Westheimer