JK Rowling on Failure

kevin 111A fairly old adage says that the two unavoidable things in life are death and taxes.  I actually can think of two other events that fit the parameters of being unavoidable: change and failure.  Quite a list there, eh?  Death, taxes, change and failure.  Possibly four of the greatest fears most people probably have.  I know I have had them at one time or another in my own life – well, maybe not a fear of taxes, but certainly a less-than-rosy view of them.

I’ve also had my own moments of failure, disappointment and heartbreak.  It’s never a good thing to decide as a senior in high school that all you ever want to be is a lawyer… to go to college and spend so much focus on getting into law school… and then working your ass off in law school to get that first shiny job with a big firm… only to realize you despise being a lawyer.  Or to be working at a job and be part of a 1/3 of the company lay-off, move home to live with your parents at age 29 and spend 9 months out of work, all the while doubting whether you can truly make something of yourself.  That’s all happened to me and while a lot of it brought me down to my knees, I also think I learned an enormous amount about life and myself in that time.

JK Rowling spoke 2 years ago at the commencement for Harvard University and touched on what failure (as painful and agonizing as it was), did for her.

J.K. Rowling Speaks at Harvard Commencement from Harvard Magazine on Vimeo.

The point she makes that stuck me most was this:

So why do I talk about the benefits of failure?  Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential.  I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me.  Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena where I believed I truly belonged.  I was set free because my greatest fear had been realized and I was still alive and I still had a daughter whom I adored and I had an old typewriter and a big idea.  And so rock-bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

That last line is an incredibly powerful insight and mirrors my own experience.  Granted,  I was not in a place probably as difficult and dark as Ms. Rowling, but I was certainly not at the pinnacle of my powers in any sense.  And it sucked – bad.

But it shows that when difficulties come, they are very rarely terminal.  They will require an ego-check or some pride swallowing, but they are surely not the end of it all.  It’s just a another example of keeping one’s perspective when you face the inevitable difficulties of your life.

So I would love to add a fifth unavoidable to the initial list from this posting, but maybe it’s not an “unavoidable” as much as it is a near certain result when you face some ugly times:

This too shall pass.

The Failure Cushion

The month of January is the carnival of newbie-dom at gyms and health clubs across this nation of amber waves of grain and purple mountain majesty… you know, above the fruited plain and such?  Anyhoo, while I am fully one to applaud the efforts of anyone looking to get into better health and such, there are clearly some hazards.

MSNBC had an article this week on the variety of injuries incurred by those looking to get back into shape or just into shape for the first time ever.  The article itself was not terribly remarkable to me… until I got to the following passage:

In a fit of New Year’s resolution frenzy, Taryn Wright marched herself to the gym and onto a treadmill on a January afternoon two years ago. “I had never — literally, never — worked out before, ever, in my life,” says Wright, who’s 31 and lives in Chicago. But, she reasoned, “How hard could it be? All these muscle heads are doing this high on steroids. I can do this!”

At first, she walked. Then, spurred on by the imaginary scorn of her surrounding exercisers, she kicked it up a couple notches — and couldn’t keep up. She flew to the end of the treadmill, caught herself at the edge and did a weird little hop back to the front of the machine. “It lifted the end of the treadmill and sent it crashing down to the floor,” says Wright.

It’s not the fact of her tumbling onto the floor that caught me.  Believe me, I have had enough near-disasters in gyms to last me a lifetime.  I’m just thankful I’ve come out fine in all of those cases.

But it’s that one damn line…. “How hard could it be? All these muscle heads are doing this high on steroids. I can do this!”

My problem with this line and this mentality is that if people are out there looking to get in shape and immediately start off assuming that anyone who looks slightly muscular is on steroids… well… then they’re simply working from a place of failure from the get-go.  Too harsh?  Honestly, I’m not so sure.

The problem I see with this mentality (and I have heard it from several different people before) is that it is a case of seeing those who are successful and immediately jumping to they must be cheating or taking shortcuts to get where they are.  It’s the act of tearing down others who are in a place we wish we were in, so instead of using them as an inspiration or a goal or even a point of competition, it’s easier to say, “She must have had work done” or “Pfft.  He’s obviously on steroids.”

Are there people in gyms on steroids?  Sure.  Are there people out there who have had “work” done on themselves?  Of course.  floor-cushion_main

But here is the crux of the matter: if you start in a place that anyone who is leaner  or stronger or has a better build or whatever it may be cut corners to get there, all you are doing is building your cushion for failure… because hey, if you cannot get into the shape they got into, it’s because you have ethics or morals or standards unlike them.  It couldn’t possibly be that you just didn’t want to put in the time or dedication to accomplish those goals.  Oh gosh no!  That requires accountability.

And who has time for accountability anyway?  That takes up too much time from carefully crafting that comfy velvet wrapped failure cushion.  It really does pull a room (or an enormous set of excuses) together exquisitely, don’t you think?

All About the Fundamentals

The company for which I work frames several of its most important core values in its Code of Ethics.  It’s something I genuinely appreciate about where I work because it’s something that’s taken seriously and in my current job, it’s my role to support those values and ensure they are not compromised.

vince_lombardi As part of some training today related to all of that, I began to think a little bit about things you might consider to be the “fundamentals”.  I think to some this may conjure up thoughts of some old-school football coach yelling about the need to block and tackle or your high school history teacher discussing some dusty concept from ancient Greece.  Or possibly it makes you think about eating your broccoli because your mom tells you to.  Truthfully, there is really nothing about fundamentals that seems all that sexy.  They often are cast in terms of things you have to do because, gosh darn it… they’re good for you!  Not exactly the greatest sales proposition of all time if you ask me.

But as I got to thinking about it a little more, I started to think about the lifting session that was to come this evening and everything about it just screams fundamentals.  I would be doing military presses (standing barbell presses), dips and then pull-ups.  There’s nary a “core exercise”, stability ball or fancy piece of gym equipment in sight there… but it’s actually what I love about it.  After finishing all of that up tonight, it just felt really damn good to focus on the fundamentals?

Why?

Because there is something pure about the fundamentals.  It’s stripping away all of the extraneous extra “stuff” that is often added onto things in life.  We as humans have an amazing ability to take simple concepts and make them unduly complicated because we figure we are pretty advanced creatures, so we must prove this by making things really, really confusing.  That’s how you show you’re smart!

I find myself liking the fundamentals (or values) so much because I am the kind of person who finds comfort and strength in having a firm foundation which I can always rely on, but which also allows me to get a little creative beyond it.  So here is my list of life fundamentals which you may find handy too:

Lifting/Exercise:

  • Focus on the big, basic lifts. Bench press, squats, deadlifts, military press, pull-ups, dips, lunges and such.  There is a place for more specialized stuff too, but never lose sight of these bang-for-your buck exercises.
  • Intervals for conditioning are much more effective (and fun) than being stuck like a rodent on a treadmill.
  • Play sports or do something active (like maybe go dancing if you are into that).  They’re just fun and they are an easy way to disguise exercise.
  • In the words of Connecticut native and 800 lb. bench presser Vincent Dizenzo, people need to worry less about debating minutiae of programs and just “smash f**king weights.”  This applies to more in life than it may first appear.  Don’t get caught up in paralysis by analysis.  Sometimes the enthusiasm of execution means 100X more than the planning.  Maybe if you are a runner, it’s “run f**king miles” or a swimmer as “swim f**king laps”.  You get the idea.
  • “Eye of the Tiger” is guaranteed to add 10 lbs and 2 reps to any lift.  It’s just science.

 

Eating/Nutrition

  • Eat protein at every meal.  This just seems to work for me and honestly, I just like protein.
  • Fish oil kicks ass.  Every single study you hear about seems to find a new benefit to taking it, from brain health, heart health, lower cholesterol, improved body composition, decreased inflammation of all kinds, etc.
  • Fruits and vegetables.  They are good.  Eat them.  Nobody gets fat from eating too many fresh fruits and veggies.  My Mom would be happy to read this.
  • Green tea is good for you.  Like fish oil, they keep finding out good stuff about it.  Drink some.
  • I enjoy the occasional cheeseburger, so as long as I am sticking to the above 4 points 90% or more of the time, it’s perfectly fine.  This is the part where keeping the strong fundamentals in place allows me freedom in some other areas.

Life Rules:

  • The Golden Rule of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is not some hokey notion. It’s probably the single most important lesson I have ever learned in my life.
  • Related to #1, kindness counts.
  • When my life eventually comes to a close, I want to be remembered as a great friend, brother, boyfriend/significant other/husband, uncle and son.  If no one really remembers what I did at my job, but remembers that first part, I will consider my life a smashing success.  I wish more people felt this way.
  • The more I read, the more I feel both more relaxed and sharper, all at the same time.
  • Reality TV might be the worst thing I have ever seen in entertainment.  I don’t mean reality shows like “Extreme Home Makeover” or even the ones that are on History Channel and such, but basically any of the genre which seems to thrive on the enjoyment of other’s peoples most base elements… i.e. any dumb MTV reality show, ever.
  • Every year I am amazed at how much more I realize my parents were right about a lot of things. At some point, I should probably admit this to them.
  • Every year I am also amazed at how much more ridiculously good-looking I get.  I feel a little bit bad for the rest of you slobs.

My advice to everyone is to figure out what your own core values or fundamentals are because when life gets hard (which it will) and you are not sure what is the right decision to make, at least you will be true to yourself if you rely on these values.

From Whence Shall Come Our Catalyst?

I’ve mentioned before that a lot of friends, family and co-workers will ask me variations of the question “How can I get into better shape/health?”  It’s pretty much the most popular question I get… you know, besides “Do they sell elite-level handsomeness like yours in a bottle?  Because I would totally buy that.”  The answer to the 2nd question is, sadly no.  This is just how God made me.

Truth be told, the 2nd most popular question I am asked is “How do I get started on getting healthier?”  This is a trickier and much more fundamental question than the first one entirely.  The first question assumes a level of action or momentum whereas the second question is looking for something to begin that momentum.  Essentially, the person asking the question is looking for some kind of catalyst to get things moving.

I found the following definition of a catalyst over at Chemicool:

A substance that speeds up a chemical reaction, but is not consumed by the reaction; hence the catalyst can be recovered unchanged at the end of the reaction it has been used to speed up, or catalyze.

The more detailed discussion on the definition goes on to say that a catalyst acts  to lower the amount of energy required to cause activation in a chemical reaction.

Isn’t that really what someone is asking about when they want to know what it takes to get off the couch and get going with a better lifestyle?  Some way to ease the transition from one state to yet another by lower the barriers and resistance?chemistry

I know it may seem like I am getting off into semantics here, but it’s an important point and why I think the catalyst concept is so important for people who feel like they want to change, but cannot muster up that first push.  The catalyst helps get things going by making the transition from one state to the next easier and it does not get consumed in the process.  After all is said and done, the catalyst remains.

So where does that get us for those looking to make the move?  Here are my tips and thoughts on that.

  1. Get pissed off.  No really.  There is a substantial amount of power to be tapped from a complete sense of being fed up and dissatisfied.  I am not suggesting you turn into a wall-punching lunatic, but to take some time to think about why you are even considering a lifestyle change.  Maybe you were playing with a grandchild and were getting winded easily and had to cut short the fun.  Maybe you are sick of your lower back feeling like it has daggers sticking into it every time you want to go dancing.  Maybe you think wistfully back on the days of being an athlete and wonder why you replaced quick feet for a beer gut.  Or maybe you saw your doctor who shook his head disapprovingly at your stress levels and blood work results.  Give some time to really think about whatever it is that got you thinking about making a change.  Many times, it will make you a little more restless… and that’s good in this case.
  2. Start small.  It’s not necessarily the case that you need to make a full 180 degree change from how your life was before.  That approach does work for some people, but for others it’s just a quick path to hitting huge roadblocks, stalled progress and eventually giving up.  But some action is absolutely better than none and as any high school physics student can tell you, an object in motion tends to stay in motion.  If you are even doing something small, the barriers to moving onto the next step are not going to be nearly as great.
  3. Go after things of interest to you.  I can give someone all the advice in the world about weight training and interval conditioning, but if they simply are disinterested in that, it’s of no use.  I think that points gets lost on some people providing advice – they treat it as an all-or-nothing kind of thing.  I am a strong believer in the power of a proper resistance training program, smart diet and good conditioning to make a big impact not just on your health or bodyfat, but your quality of life.  But I also know it’s not going to interest everyone, so I am not going to force feed anyone my philosophy.  I will try and seek out what is the area that someone may have an interest to seek out.  Again, the catalyst is all about lowering the barriers to make the reaction change occur.  If someone used to be a dancer, they might like to try a dance class.  Then the ball may begin rolling along and they branch out from there, but the key is to seek out that thing of interest first and make the push there.

I only went with 3 tips because what I considered as a 4th option is not really a tip so much as a fact: it’s your own personal decision to take action in the end.  There are a lot of wonderful ways to ease that decision, but it will still be ultimately up to you to make that choice.  The trick is that when you are in a long-term state of inaction, the choice can seem massive and curling up on the couch with some Cheetos to watch Jersey Shore is a whole lot easier if that if what you’ve been doing… and if that is truly what you’ve been doing, God help you.  That show is crap.

So from whence shall come your catalyst?  Look to thine own self.

Now I need to go spend a few minutes thinking why I lapsed into sounding like the King James Version of the Bible.  Hoo boy.

What Price Greatness?

You have probably had a conversation with someone at one time or another where the other person talked about wanting to achieve some kind of greatness.  I know I have.  My first thought when someone says that to me is “Do you really understand what it costs to achieve real greatness?”  I’m not honestly sure most people do or if they did, they would still feel the same way about making a run at the mythical brass ring.

There have been a few high profile cases recently of the potential costs of going for greatness.  First, there was the leave of absence (which was later borderline retracted) by University of Florida football coach Urban Meyer.  Meyer is a tremendously successful and incredibly driven coach who has brought success to Bowling Green and then Utah and then finally Florida where he won 2 National Championships.  However, as Coach Meyer has himself admitted, all of that stress and constant pressure did take its toll on him to the point of suffering chest pains and passing out.  So, he first announced taking an indefinite leave of absence… but now it sounds like he will be back in time for next season.  Hmm.

The more recent news (and really huge news here in Connecticut) is University of Connecticut men’s basketball coach Jim Calhoun taking a leave of absence for undisclosed health reasons.  This has not been the first time something health-related has affected Calhoun, a three time cancer survivor.  I’m a UConn basketball fan and season ticket holder, so I have come to expect at least one time per season, a game where Coach Calhoun bows out part way through the game with some vaguely understood form of illness.  In fact, ESPN has a listing of all the health-related issues that have come up for him over the last 2 years and it’s not short.  Not good times, eh?

Or how about Michael Jordan?  He’s the best basketball player I have seen in my lifetime and is generally accepted as the best, period.  But you know what else?  He has quite the reputation for being a complete jerk because of his hyper-competitiveness.  How competitive?  I remember a former college teammate of Jordan’s, Matt Doherty, telling of a story where Michael came over to his house during college.  Doherty caught Jordan cheating in a game of Monopoly against Doherty’s mother.  Let that sort of marinade for a while in the ol’ gray matter.  I can wait… good and soaked in now?  OK, on we go.

So back to my original premise – at what price greatness?  When does it become too much of a single-minded piece of your life that can wreck anything else that gets in its way?  This reminds me a bit of my piece on how everyone wants happiness, but does 1,001 things that move them further away from it, like a high-powered businessman who earns great money for his family’s future… but he’s never home.

I’m not one to discount greatness at all and feel that those who shoot for that pinnacle of pure excellence in their chosen fields are really a beacon of inspiration for others.  Heck, in my own way I want to achieve a form of greatness, but in a much different regard: I want to a great life which is balanced in terms of personal and professional, as well as in mind, body and spirit.  That balance is what I want greatness in and, at least in my mind, that is something much healthier to strive for.

So feel free to shoot for greatness with every fiber of your being… just be sure you know what exactly you are getting in that pursuit. It can be pricey.

The Quiet Drive

I have a list of things I wish I would do (or do more often), not unlike many people.  It’s a fairly simple list:

  1. Date Scarlett Johannsen;
  2. Demand recognition of my rightful claim to the Polish monarchy; and
  3. Devote more time to thinking and reflecting.

The first one got screwed up by the allegedly dreamy Ryan Reynolds and on the second one, I just need to figure out how to recreate the Winged Hussars.  Boy, I get me some of those bad boys, it’s game over.

On the third one, I used to find myself often lamenting, “Every time I spend some quite time to myself just sort of thinking over life and whatever pops into my deranged noggin, I really enjoy it, get some good ideas and generally feel a lot more relaxed.”  But you know what?  I would almost never do it.  Genius, I know.

So in around November of last year, I was getting myself ready for my morning commute which usually runs me between 20 and 30 minutes and for some reason, I decided I would do it with no music or radio.  The result?  The quiet drive, something I have done pretty much every morning commute since.  And as you can tell from the photo below… my morning commute is not exactly an eye-popping visual treat (at least not during your typical gray New England winter day).

Generally I am a morning person and so some time to think things over before the hectic rush of the day swept over me was ideal.  The commute home is just decompressing from the day and music then is ideal.  But first thing in the morning?  Not so much.

The end result of this new practice is I feel like I am making really good use of my commute time, much more so than I have at any other point in my life.  It does help that my commute is actually longer than it used to be at my old job (since that was 7 minutes door-to-door) and I can actually allow my brain to wander a bit.  I might use the voice memo feature in Evernote on my Droid to record some random thought or get down what I want to do as a blog post.  Whatever it may be, I feel like it’s almost a form of mental stretching or warm-up before the work day begins.

If you have a commute that is 15 minutes or longer, I highly recommend giving it a try.  At first it can be odd without the constant distractions you have become accustomed to of music or talk radio… but after a few days, it becomes a great fit like a perfectly broken in pair of jeans.

And maybe… just maybe… it will be the solution to my Winged Hussar dilemma.  Seriously, I need me a Polish cavalry to wreak some serious havoc, people.  CRY HAVOC AND LET LOOSE THE DOGS OF WAR!

The Polish Winged Hussars bringing some sweet justice.

The Lemonade Stand Experience

lemon1Seth Godin is a pretty gosh-darn interesting guy.  My proof?  He’s generally acknowledged as the creator of permission-based marketing (i.e. you give someone permission to market to you based on your preferences and interests) and author of the book “Purple Cow”.  Let’s be honest people… purple cows are just de facto interesting.

Seth also does a pretty cool blog and his post from a few days ago is pretty thought-provoking.  It’s analogy of the most classic form of childhood entrepreneurial dreams: the lemonade stand.  The analogy compares two lemonade stands with profoundly different approaches to selling their cold, tart and refreshing products.

The first stand is very typical: a fold-out table and $1 to buy a cup of lemonade.  Pretty straightforward.

The second stand is a different matter entirely:

The other stand is different. The lemonade is free, but there’s a big tip jar. When you pull up, the owner of the stand beams as only a proud eleven year old girl can beam. She takes her time and reaches into a pail filled with ice and lemons. She pulls out a lemon. Slices it. Then she squeezes it with a clever little hand juicer.

The whole time that’s she’s squeezing, she’s also talking to you, sharing her insights (and yes, her joy) about the power of lemonade to change your day. It’s a beautiful day and she’s in no real hurry. Lemonade doesn’t hurry, she says. It gets made the right way or not at all. Then she urges you to take a bit less sugar, because it tastes better that way.

Pretty different approach eh?

While the first scenario was about the selling of a product, the second was clearly the selling of an experience and also a connection.  There was something that causes a connection between the person providing the lemonade and you as the person soon-to-be enjoying it.

Seth’s essential question is which of these two aspiring entrepreneurs will end up better in the long run?

I thought about this one for a little while, even though it’s pretty clear which way Seth was going on his post.  Honestly, I was trying to think of whether I could refute it… not because Seth would even care, but just to see if I could.  But truthfully?  I really couldn’t because I do believe in the power of connection provided by the second example.

Perfect examples. Even though I know it costs more to shop for suits at Brooks Brothers, that’s where I went before starting up my new job to pick up a new navy suit and 2 pairs of dress slacks.  There is something about the professionalism and sheer classiness of how you are treated as a customer that makes the experience worthwhile.  It’s less a business transaction and more the feeling that you are being properly fitted for a high quality garment.  The measurements are precise and the tailor checks every fit point like a master craftsman.  I know I am walking out of that store with something that will last me an inordinately long time, it will have a perfect, classic fit and will look sharp whenever I wear it.  That’s all part of the experience they bring.

The takeaway from all of this, for me, is not simply about making the provision of an experience part of a marketing effort (although I do enjoy that concept).  For me, it’s bigger than that because what creates the experience here (even if you remove it from some kind of commercial context) is the joy, interest and passion of the person providing it.  This all works because there is someone who truly cares about the thing they speak about, whether it be the lemonade in Seth’s analogy or the Brooks Brothers salesperson in mine.  You can’t fake it.

It’s probably one of the more fundamental way to have a positive effect on others – to share your joy and your passion with them.  It’s an amazing way to connect with people because when you bring your true joy forward, most people cannot help but share in your excitement to some degree… even if they never shared that same interest in their lives.  Most people (except for you crotchety and cynical bastards) enjoy enthusiasm and find it kindles your own.

Now if I can just figure out a way for everyone else on the Interwebz to see how gosh-darn cool my blog is, THEN I could be getting somewhere.

When People Ask For (But Don’t Actually Want) Your Advice

It’s fairly common for people to ask me for advice on their workout routines or diets since they know I take such an active interest in such things.  Invariably I discover that after several minutes of chatting, my friend really doesn’t want my advice (even though he thinks he does).  Here would be a typical conversation:

Friend: Kuz, I need to get rid of this gut and get in better shape.  I get sick all the time and I just can’t stand it any more.

Me: Sure!  More than happy to help.  Well, what are you doing for exercising right now?

Friend: Not much.  I have some stuff in my basement… you know a weight bench and a treadmill, but I never use them.

Me: OK, well you at least have access to something.  That’s a start.  What about your diet?  What do you usually eat?

Friend: Oh man, I eat like such crap.  I tend to have a bagel and coffee for breakfast, although I skip breakfast a lot.  I will have like a Subway footlong for lunch and then a bunch of different stuff for dinner.  Lots of takeout.

Me:  OK… hey, what about that Coke you’re drinking?  What’s that about 20 oz.?

Friend: Yeah.

Me: Well, how many of those do you drink a day?

Friend: I dunno… probably 3.

Me: Three of those?  Every day?  Please tell me you’re joking.

Friend: Oh no way.  I need 3 of them a day.

Me: *long sigh*  OK, well, I have a few ideas on where to start.  First off, you gotta cut out those Cokes entirely or, worst case scenario, switch to diet.

Friend: Oh c’mon!  I can’t ditch those and the diet tastes like crap.

Me: Dude, one of those 20 oz. Cokes is 240 calories of pure sugar.  You are downing… just on Cokes alone… over 700 calories a day.  And you get nothing out of it!

Friend: Well, I can’t get rid of it.  What about exercises? I need to lose this gut.  What kind of crunches should I do?

Me: Crunches?  That’s not going to make you lose your gut.  You need to do some full-body lifting and actually use that dusty treadmill.

Friend: Really?  But what about the crunches?  How am I going to lose that gut?lucy doctor stand

You see my dilemma, no doubt.  People will come to me for advice in an area I have  a fair amount of knowledge and experience, but they’re really just looking for an answer that will validate them doing exactly what they’ve been doing all along.  They want the results, just not that real downer piece about changing their behavior to achieve those results.  Definition of insanity.

This happens all the time in life and it’s obviously not limited to the fitness context.  People will have a friend who is really successful in the business world and want to know what they did to get where they are, who they networked with and so on.  They will be told, “Well, the networking piece is important, but honestly the way you win people over is just kicking ass at your job first.  That’s how people notice you. I’ve had to work my ass off and pull some late nights.  I also took on some extra projects that I came up with to improve things around where I work.”  The advice seeker will often walk away thinking “Yeah yeah yeah, I get the hard work thing, but the networking sets you apart” and misses the whole point of the conversation.

Lest I sound all curmudgeonly about this topic, I genuinely enjoy giving people advice and helping them work through issues.  Heck, the whole point of this blog is to do just that and show how I have tried to make my own improvements.  But it’s an important lesson of life that if you are going to seek advice (and you will need to many, many, many times in your days on this earth), shut down that devil’s advocate part of your brain while listening to the advice.  Remind yourself you are NOT a genius in that topic and THAT’S why you are seeking someone else’s guidance and wise counsel.  Definitely apply some critical thinking after the fact, but do so to yourself and not just what you heard.

Just think… if we all did this a little better, it would not only give you the chance to really improve yourself, but would also improve the requests you get yourself for advice.  Crazy talk, I know.

Now please excuse me… I need to go ask someone what’s the least amount of effort I would possibly need to become the next running back of the Dallas Cowboys… and I better not hear any of that jibba-jabba about hard work.  The nerve of someone all stomping on my dream like that.

We All Start Someplace: A Few Strength, Conditioning and Fitness Tips for Beginners

There are plenty of outstanding strength and conditioning coaches in the world who are inherently more qualified than me to discuss weight training, diet, conditioning and fitness topics.  That being said, I have learned a few lessons over my 20 years (holy cow… has it been that long?) years of training.  If there is an area I feel fairly well-versed, it’s in how to help break people into fitness and assist beginners with the earliest stages of their training careers.  I leave the advanced stuff to the aforementioned experts (several of whom I have linked on the left-hand side of my blog).

So without further ado, here is my super swell lists of tips for people who are fairly new to strength, conditioning and fitness or just never got themselves into a good groove for it.

  1. Don’t over think things. I am always amazed in this modern world at the extent to which people get themselves mired in paralysis by analysis for things that really can be approached so much more simply.  While strength training requires good technique, it’s simply not rocket science.  You simply don’t need an elaborately crafted training program with uber-precise training parameters for quite some time.  You need a tried-and-true program that focuses on the basics and doing them very, very well. And by basics, I definitely mean something that involves weight lifting.  Oh and if the program focuses on “Super Shredded Abzzzz!” please avoid it.  I’m begging you.
  2. Make changes in increments. If you finally find yourself a good program (whether for your training or your diet), give it time to see how things work.  For your training, that should be at least 8-12 weeks before you start tinkering with things.  And when you do change things?  Don’t do it wholesale.  The beautiful thing about being a beginner is that you will have tremendous success early on as your body responds to the new training stimulus.  This will eventually diminish over time, but enjoy it  in the early stages.  Same kind of notion with your diet.  Do it for a good chunk of time (maybe around the same 8 weeks) to see how it goes and if things are not progressing as you may like, change one thing at a time.  If you throw out everything all at once, you will never really get an appreciation for what in particular was holding you back.
  3. Supplements are nice… but not necessary. I am a fan of nutritional supplements.  I take a multi-vitamin, fish oil and essential fatty acid capsules and use protein powders.  I find them all incredibly useful for me to be sure I get in all the proper nutrients I need, especially since my life can be a bit hectic.  But if you went without supplements of any kind and just ate well?  You would be totally fine.  In fact, the more exotic a supplement gets, the less I personally trust it.  There are just plenty of companies out there looking to get you to buy their Super Black Nitric Boom for some obscene amount of money… and if you put that same money into putting exercise equipment in your house, you would get FAR greater benefit from it all.
  4. Find one hardcore thing to do. This is something I have come to appreciate more and more over time, especially for someone who might be a little bit newer to training.  You should find one activity or exercise that is off-the-beaten path for you.  Maybe it’s sprints down at your local high school track or car pushes in an empty parking lot or even some really hard interval training.  Heck, it might be for you that you have never done barbell squats and now you are doing them.  Hardcore will be different for everyone.
    The reason you really need to do one hardcore thing is that there is something incredibly empowering for newbies to have something that makes them feel badass.  It builds confidence and lends a little to developing a swagger to your training that will really keep it moving in a positive direction.  Remember – start with one hardcore thing, not seven because then you will not be badass… just sore and overwhelmed.
  5. Eliminate your single crappiest habit. As you might be able to tell from my hints, I’m not really big into taking people new to fitness and putting them into a level of change equivalent to Navy SEAL training.  It’s just not necessary.  It’s far better to leave people wanting juuuuust a little bit more and keeping them interested when they know they can do a little bit better.  So, figure out what the crappiest and least healthy habit you have it and work on eliminating it pronto.  Smoking?  Ditch it.  A habit of mindless snacking on pork rinds dipped in sour cream?  Umm, it’s gotta go.  Insane amounts of regular soda consumption?  Switch to diet.  You get the idea.
  6. Use me as your role model. I am incredibly sexy. And I am also super smart… and humble… but mostly sexy and super smart… and not to be taken seriously very often.

I could probably make a longer list, but in keeping with the general theme above, it’s best not to overwhelm people.  Manageable chunks… and my uber sexiness.  It’s all you need.

Giving Good Ideas Their Proper Credit (Even If They Make You A Bit Sad)

One of my absolute favorite memories growing up were Saturday mornings – shocker eh?  I had my own little routine of coming downstairs, popping on the Superfriends and pulling out my big bag of Legos to spread out on the floor and create whatever came to mind.  As corny as it sounds, it was kind of magical and just one of those moments that puts me in a good state of mind whenever I think back on it.

Today, my primary outlet for Legos is through my nephews who have inherited the obsession with these fantastic building bricks from Denmark.  I tell ya, if something’s rotten in the state of Denmark, it ain’t Legos.  I will confess a certain amount of jealousy about how freakin’ cool the new Lego sets are, especially the Star Wars stuff (which my nephews go bananas over).

But Legos are going in a bold new direction in the very near future, one that I am both fascinated and a little saddened by.  Lego Universe is coming and the little bricks will never be the same:

I first saw this over on Gizmodo, a really cool tech and gadget site.  Lego Universe is basically the idea of virtual Legos wrapped up into a MMO (massively multiplayer online game – think along the lines of World of Warcraft, but more for kids).  You create characters, adventure through the game to earn all sorts of bricks that you take back to a creation area and build whatever you want.  According to Gizmodo, there may even be the option of getting your creations delivered to you in real life so you can go old school and play around with physical Lego bricks.

Believe it or not, I’ve actually been giving this concept a lot of thought as to whether I like it or not.  While it makes me a little wistful to imagine kids not playing with Lego sets all spread out on their family room floors, I’ve come to the conclusion that this new development can only be a good thing.  It’s interactive nature will only serve to deepen the entire Lego experience for kids (and for adults too… oh right, like I was not going to get in on this when it comes out – COME ON!).  Plus, kids who want to play computer games are going to play them anyway and I think this is a smart move by Lego to keep itself relevant in an increasingly virtual world (at least for entertainment).

Personally, I cannot imagine that Lego bricks will just completely go away anytime soon.  As great as video games can be (and I’m certainly a big fan), there is a completely different experience with building something with your own two hands.  I think of Lego Universe being an extension of that experience and not a replacement.

The lesson from all of this is that it’s not just pointless to shake your cane angrily at the young whipper-snappers with their crazy new ideas, but it’s also the surest way to miss out on something new, creative and mind-expanding.  I can tell my initial reaction to this of “Whaaaaat?!?!?!?  Why would you replace real Legos?!?!?!?” was the classic fear of change.  I mean, I loved it when I was younger… they are doing something different with it… and different must be bad.  How can you improve upon something I love and cherish so much?  Well, maybe you can.

One way or the other, none of this will ever change those wonderful memories I have from growing up.  Now please excuse me… I have a sudden urge to go lay on the floor with Bioncles and play DVDs of the Wonder Twins.