Ode on a Grecian Urn Part 2: Reforge Your Willpower and Actively Relieve Stress
Reforge Your Willpower
In Part 1 of this article, we discussed how to identify the current stressors in your life, and revealed the low-quality stress-relief activities that suck up time and hinder happiness. Low-quality stress relief reduces the liquid in the “stress urn” by mere drops — distracting you just enough to survive the day, before pouring in more stress tomorrow.
How can we bail ourselves out of a stressful lifestyle and siphon energy back into our willpower? In this article, we examine holistic techniques for positively responding to stress. Conveniently, we need to look no further than actual Grecian urns! Using Arête as our guide, it’s time we regain the joy of living a stress-resistant life:
Physical activity, sports, and social games abound in ancient Greek art. Since we know exercise is good for us, let’s focus on the types of exercise that are particularly restorative and energizing, keeping in mind that 30-45 minutes a day is recommended.
Walking or Meditative Walking
Low-intensity jogging or swimming
Yoga, martial arts, or dance
Natural Movement practice
Foam rolling or stretching
Casual, low-impact physical games or sports with friends
Indian clubs, light kettlebell work, low-to-moderate intensity resistance training
Any cardiovascular activity done at a low-to-moderate intensity.
In general, moderate-to-vigorous intensity is about 60-80% of your maximum heart rate, but 40-50% of Max HR (low-to-moderate) may be the sweet spot for particularly restorative effects. A great gauge is to work at an intensity that is energizing and invigorating, rather than tiring. You should stop the activity before you reach fatigue or exhaustion, and ask yourself if you feel better than when you started. Furthermore, pay special attention to the positive or pleasurable aspects of the activities, and adjust intensity to reduce any negative sensations.
Restoring the body reforges willpower by reducing injuries, increasing blood flow to tissues and organs, regenerating worn-down tissue, increasing cognition, reducing anxiety and depression, and improving body image. In short, restorative exercise makes your body feel great, so you are more likely to want to take it on an adventure!
Many of the above activities have a common element: mental stimulation. They either require coordination, social interaction, or meditative practice. However, sometimes the body really does need a break. Gazing once more upon the ancient urns, what do we see?
Music, either with an instrument or through song.
Writing poetry, prose, or journaling.
In-person, quality social interaction with friends and loved ones (perhaps dangling grapes above their faces?)
Low-activity skills or games, such as archery, bowling, chess, board games, etc.
Drawing, painting, crafting, or other creative activities.
These activities can quickly replace the time spent on screens or sitting on the couch. They have social, creative, and flow-state elements that produce greater feelings of satisfaction and genuine pleasure. The key to using these activities for restoration is to focus on the process, not the result. Do not be intimidated by your lack of ability, rather enjoy the creative and pleasurable sensations that arise from the activities themselves. You aren’t playing music for anyone other than yourself. And if you don’t feel confident in drawing, buy a coloring book. Keep in mind that the intention is to calm the mind and experience joy, not to produce a work of art.
These mental activities reforge willpower by actively entertaining the mind in satisfying and restorative ways. These can used for boosting confidence, controlling your thoughts, inducing flow-states, problem-solving with others, improving learning and memory, reducing anxiety, improving sleep, and stimulating the imagination. Your mind will feel energized and sharp, rather than dull and lethargic.
The final themes illuminated by the timeless pottery represent the spiritual nature of our ancestry. There was once a time when we lived with the earth, and not simply on it. Goddesses, gods, spirits, and strange creatures eternally inhabit these clay canvases, embodying the interaction between man, nature, and myth. There is also a fair and arguably gratuitous amount of sexual content on the urns, illustrating the importance of sexuality in ancient holistic health. These themes can manifest in our modern age in the following ways:
Engage with nature. Perform activities, or simply be, outside.
Explore and hike local parks or your neighborhood.
Quietly observe, appreciate, and study the flora and fauna around you.
Meditation and/or prayer, especially outdoors.
Form healthy sexual relationships or practices.
Identify and appreciate 3+ positive or thankful aspects of your day.
Identify and appreciate 3+ people that you are thankful for or could use some good vibes.
Affirmations. Identify and say 3+ “I am” statements that embody the traits, characteristics, and person you want to be.
Remember your friends. Utilize the gifts of technological age and reach out to an old friend or distant family member. Let them know you are thinking of them!
Remember your ancestors. Appreciate 3+ memories or experiences with a deceased loved one.
These spiritual practices reforge willpower by fostering a positive attitude and sense of purpose. Connecting with nature, friends, and ancestors brings feelings of belonging, love, and wonder. Appreciation and affirmation reduces anxiety and depression, and improves self-confidence. These alter your perspective in a way that promotes a “can-do” attitude and enthusiastic demeanor.
It makes sense that willpower is highest at the beginning of the day. Most of the events that add stress to our lives have not occurred yet, and we are (hopefully) rested. As such, the beginning of the day is a great time to build new habits or work on goals. Complete the activities before the daily distractions occur, and not later in the day, when stress is highest and energy is lowest. In a cyclical fashion, successfully working towards goals makes you more motivated to work towards goals! Start the day by feeling accomplished and your whole day may change for the better.
Stress relief has a cumulative effect. Relieving stress the previous day will leave you feeling more energized and rested the following morning. This creates more willpower to spend towards achieving your goals. Strike while the iron is hot and utilize this newfound energy to make progress!
With practice, you can begin to stack these beneficial behaviors. Sing a song while walking in nature. Identify 3 thankful aspects of your life while lifting weights (also outside)! Or, in true Greek fashion, invoke the gods while playing the pan flute and having sex!
As always, the keys to a healthy future rest among the treasures of the past. The activities detailed in this article are high-quality substitutions for poor coping strategies. Start small! Identify one restorative activity above that you can easily and confidently implement in your life. The next time you catch yourself endlessly scrolling through social media, grabbing a sweet or fatty food, or collapsing on the couch, make the choice to swap in your new restorative activity. Upon completion, notice how you feel, and take a second to appreciate that you chose to truly relieve some stress and reforge your willpower.
And don’t get me started on what you can learn from the ancient Scythians!