By Valerie Driscoll, Lead Coach and Coaching Program Developer for Apollo Health

We are often led to believe that becoming optimal at any endeavor is the measure of success. Still, it is actually the act of optimizing the smaller actions of our days that should be even more celebrated, especially for those who may struggle with change. Creating momentum in the right direction is as simple as looking for the opportunity to make the tiniest of tweaks and then celebrating our cleverness. Is neuroplasticity working for me? Yes, it sure is!

The Harvard-trained psychologist, writer, and teacher Daniel Goleman was recently a guest on Dan Harris’s mindfulness podcast, 10% Happier, promoting his new book Optimal, which is about sustaining excellence. Goleman’s book from the 90s, Emotional Intelligence, was a revelation for me back when I first began my coaching studies; this new book will soon make it to the top of my reading pile.

The title especially piqued my interest, as the word “optimize” has become my mantra over the last few months, and I have selected it both as my touch word for this new year and the next tattoo in my near future. My love of white tattoos began a decade ago when I decided to create permanent memo boards on my inside forearms. Each arm is now turning into a delicate, lacey sleeve. The main purpose of my tattoos is to act as reminders of love, lessons learned, growth, aspirations, and anything that must be a constant in my life. They are also an early-warning signal of observant and curious people: one must be paying close attention to notice my body art; they have started some very deep and meaningful conversations over the years.

When Goleman popped up with this newest book, I thought about changing the new tattoo; after all, who does not want to be optimal? Isn’t that what we are all striving for in life and in following this protocol? I pondered this tiny dilemma and sat in quiet contemplation with the two words and how they made me feel; this is what I noticed:

I can’t “optimal,” or when I can, it has the stability of a Higgs boson particle. The word optimal already makes me feel defeated and overwhelmed, like the dreaded goals about which I have previously written. The word feels heavy and unyielding in my body. It is an adjective, and as such, it describes me (at least in my own mindset) as being either or — I am optimal, or I am not. In addition, it feels stagnant, exhausting, and completely uninteresting. I can’t “optimal.”

I can, however, optimize my butt off. All day long. Optimize, in the Google dictionary, is to “make the best or most effective use of (a situation, opportunity, or resource).” It is an action verb, and I can take action to optimize, no matter the situation. To optimize is to stay in motion, and whereas “optimal” makes me feel like I am standing at the bottom looking up at something unattainable, optimizing makes me feel as though I am in the fight and winning. Some days, it feels energizing, and some days it feels like enough.

This year, I have become a great optimizer, and I would love to share some tips. Optimizing will start as a state you have to practice mindfully, but before you know it, it will become a habit. Ready?

● Like everything, optimizing is a skill. Your capacity to optimize is going to wax and wane, and while you will slowly grow your overall capacity to optimize as you practice, days will vary; act accordingly and be kind to yourself.

● Let your current capacity choose your target for optimization. There are days when my optimizing includes a major event — like finishing a coach training or upping my weights, and days when cleaning one shelf in the fridge counts.

● Become an optimizing ninja who is always looking for an opportunity – these babies accumulate quickly, and you will gain momentum. One optimization will slingshot you into the next!

● Aim for no zero days. Bad day? One moment; you are done. Yay!

● Notice your brain and body’s tendency to resist a good optimization. Use your mindfulness skills of non-judgment and curiosity to figure out what is going on when these moments occur.

● Celebrate an optimizing moment, no matter how small — it all counts.

●  Realize that developing the optimizing habit in any capacity is going to carry over to your adherence to the protocol, so practice with anything. This said, however, here is my favorite protocol hack:

Two more — of anything — ounces or glasses of water, minutes of meditation, squats, phone calls with friends, minutes of deep breathing, reading guides on Apollo Health’s website, colorful non-starchy veggies on my plate, exercises on Brain HQ, moments telling myself I am doing my best. One more will also suffice, but two makes me feel as though I am kicking ass.

You will be amazed at how this work can change both what you are able to accomplish and how effortlessly things start to get done. Start small, work bigger when you can, make it fun, find ways to be creative, and notice with an open, expansive heart. I may never get to optimal, but I no longer care, as I am now forever in forward motion. You can do the same.

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