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The Power of Ten

The Power of Ten

by Mercedes McLaughlin, CMSW, LCSW

“Ten more steps, just ten more steps… Five breathe in, four, three breathe out, two, one now exhale. Ok just ten more steps again, you can do anything with the power of ten.” 

These thoughts rang clear and loud in my head as I ascended my first strenuous hike in over a decade. Flash backward to the beginning of the pandemic, I was feeling overwhelmed, overworked, and under-excited. My workload as a therapist had exponentially increased, coupled with the adjustment to being virtual, and the collective trauma of daily life being disrupted with no real sense of homeostasis. I had international trips planned for holidays that came to a screeching halt due to travel bans, fear of the unknown of the pandemic, and the urge to fulfill my duty to not spread the virus. After several weeks of exploring socially distant activities, we decided to hit some local hiking trails. One trail led to the next and we glided into a routine of weekend hikes. When local hikes ran out we sought more trails through the North Carolina State Park system. Upon beginning our hiking with the state parks, we quickly found out about the Passport Program. I thought to myself, “if I wouldn’t be getting stamps in my real passport I could in my NC State Park passport!” Throughout the year we ended up going to over 20 of the 41 parks, with ambitions to complete all 41. Somewhere on park 15 I was hiking up the mountain mentioned in the beginning. As a collegiate athlete, I vividly remember my coach telling me you can get through 10 of anything. Whether it be seconds, minutes, strokes (I was a rower), or the steps in front of you. This mantra I’ve carried with me through life. 

As someone who teaches mindfulness on a daily basis to clients, I often remind clients to come back to their breath. In distress to find your breath, be aware of it, and count it. Our breath is constant, and never leaves us. As I ascended that mountain I not only counted my steps, but my breath was inline too. This metaphor of ten is not lost on only summiting mountains, or rowing boats down the Charles River. It is a call that encompasses the challenges in life but also the illustrious. When we are separated from our center, from the link between our thoughts, feelings, and actions, this is a call to ground. In the span of 10 seconds (possibly even repeated many times) we can ground ourselves, our emotions, and our thoughts. We have time to choose to not act habitually, but rather choose our reaction intentionally. We have the opportunity to become mindful, and bring our full awareness into our thoughts, feelings and body sensations. 

An easy way to start practicing is to simply count your breaths to ten. Focus on the sensation of the breath coming in. Trace the air through the nostrils, into the lungs, notice the slight pause before the exhale, and then as it travels back out through the mouth. As you continue to breathe, focus on the temperature of the breath as it crosses your tongue or nostrils. Notice where you feel it most, possibly on the inhale or exhale. Try to remain focused on the breath, the object of your attention, as long as possible as you ascend your way to ten. This can be repeated as many times as necessary.
When using this idea “the power of ten” I will dub it, it can be translated to many areas of your life. Feeling anxious or panicky? Use this to ground yourself back down. Feeling the weight of depression and the burdens of life? Tell yourself to only focus on the next ten seconds, ten minutes, ten hours, or whatever interval you need until you find relief or things become manageable again. Looking to achieve a life goal, start some type of personal development, or grow in some way? Start with the first 10 actions “steps” towards what it is you are trying to achieve. Maybe something marvelous just happened in your life, and you don’t want that moment to pass too quickly? Focus on being present for 10 minutes and feel the sensations in your body, soul, and mind to keep with you on another day. This practice also works to tackle tasks you have been avoiding. Let’s say you have laundry, exercise, or even writing a blog post to undertake. Set yourself a timer for ten minutes, tell yourself you can do anything for ten minutes, and start the process. You can tell yourself you will stop after ten minutes. But once you are in motion you are likely to continue in motion, and that task will be in the process of being totally completed. 

For me I am reminded that using this practice was not only left to the days I gave it my all on workouts, but through many challenges like when I lost my home due to Hurricane Florence, and was managing clients dealing with this trauma as well as my own. For me it wasn’t ten minutes or ten days then, it was just to get through each 24 hours. Maybe ten doesn’t work for you. Maybe the weight of the pandemic, mental health, physical health, or a wealth of other life stressors makes the idea of ten of anything seem insurmountable. To you I want to let you know I see you, I hear you, and I recognize that weight. Maybe make this “the power of five” then. Whatever your time interval is, whatever your need, I want to remind you that you have the talents, strengths and abilities to persevere and be resilient to the challenges of your life. I hope this practice, and post has been helpful as you ascend whatever mountain you have before you. Just remember that you have the power to complete the longest hike we all go on, life, and you can do anything for 10 seconds.