Category Archives: Spirit

Posts related to the spirit, the heart and those intangibles elements of the human experience that make life worth living.

The Forever Student

There’s a technique of framing arguments (which is really a bit of a cop-out) by dividing THE WORLD into 2 camps. You’ve probably seen it before and used it as well – Lord knows I have.

There are two kinds of people in the world, man. People who totally understand why pineapple on pizza is amazing and then there’s barbaric heathens, destroying the foundations of Western civilization with their disdain of this culinary delight.

It’s dramatic and eye-grabbing. I mention it because of how tempting it was to use here for this because here is something I do wonder about whether there are two camps:

People who seek to learn for life and those who mail it in once formal schooling ends.

There’s definitely shades of interest and intent between these two positions, but sometimes it doesn’t seem it.

Now, as I title this post “The Forever Student”, I don’t mean this as that one guy you knew from college who seemed to be trying to figure out a way to never graduate, much to the chagrin of his parents or eventually his credit rating as he amassed a student loan debt that would rival the gross domestic product of many first world nations. (Side note – Why is there always talk about first world and third world countries, yet no one even mentions second world? These things bother me… and yes, bother me way more than they should).

All of this swirled in my head a little bit yesterday as I attended a strength training seminar at my gym.  Two exceptional coaches/lifters in Swede Burns and Greg Panora came through for a 7+ hour seminar covering any topic you wanted to throw at them, as well as hands on coaching on the “big 3” lifts of the squat, bench press and deadlift.  It was the second time I’ve been to a seminar they put on and it was exceptional – they could not have been more generous with their time, knowledge and teaching.  I’m a better lifter today for having been part of this.  Without question.

The reason this idea of the forever student jumped out at me was noticing the people who weren’t there versus those who were. Why, you undoubtedly ask?  Simple – there are plenty of lifters in that very gym who could have gotten a ton out of this somewhat rare opportunity to pick the brains of two of the best around while having them give direct feedback on the finer points of their lifts. But they weren’t there… and that baffles me.  Because they absolutely needed to be… which isn’t an insult to any of them (unless they are one of those people who actively thinks they are better than the coaches who came… and they absolutely are NOT).  It’s just stating a fact – none of them hold all-time world records and the funniest thing is that those who do will admit to all of the top-notch coaching that allowed them to get there.

I just don’t understand the mentality of “No thanks…I’m good as-is and have it all figured out.”  You know the types.  The ones who cannot accept any advice, no matter how learned or proficient the person providing it because…hey, I cannot imagine fixing anything.

Now, before I get accused of virtue signaling (a term that gets trotted out… and incorrectly… way too often), it’s quite the opposite.  This isn’t me giving myself a self high five – I just cannot imagine anything but being a student because I know that there’s mountains of things I don’t have figured out in any way, shape or form.  Why wouldn’t I want to listen to pros and hope to get even incrementally better than yesterday?  I will be the first to admit I need work in any of a number of areas.

I think at a fundamental level that a big reason for my position on this is I refuse to think of myself as a static person where everything is sit, never to change… which also means to never improve.

Hence, I hope genuinely hope I kick my silly ego out of the way as often as possible and embrace the fun of not knowing how much more there is to learn… but giving the effort to try and find out.

Disconnect To Reconnect

As the sun shines and the wind blows on this chilly Sunday in Connecticut, I stand at the cusp of Day 5 of Lent and my social media diet. This diet is comprised of no Facebook, Instagram or Twitter for the 40 days of Lent…and I will confess that list clearly does not include Snapchat since I find it silly, fun and not nearly the level of distraction that those other apps prove to be. It’s my social media diet, damn it and I will do it how I wanna.

This isn’t my first ever foray into doing this kind of social media clear out for Lent since I also did this with just Facebook several years back. Not surprisingly, the first few days are the most interesting and the most telling.

It’s funny to begin to truly notice how often when a moment of delay, boredom or small time gap in my days occurs, I reach for my phone for instant distraction before even realizing I’m doing it. It’s only as the phone effortlessly slides into my hand from my pocket and I get read to click the Facebook app do I then realize… ohhhhh, right. I deleted that sucker on Fat Tuesday.

Or the moments where I have a thought that pops into my head, whether an observation about the day or something utterly silly to share for a mild guffaw…and I remember that I won’t be doing that.

And even more importantly than the idea of I won’t be doing that, I begin to think “Huh…why do I feel the need to always do that?”

By virtue of writing this blog post for others to read, I clearly am not against the sharing of thoughts and ideas to the world at large. Heck, that’s something I enjoy doing quite a bit…but the reasons behind all of this do matter. Am I doing it because I have something to say, regardless of whether there is a defined response? Or is there a desire to have someone validate my ideas? Like most things, it’s probably a combination thereof.

The time away from these social media platforms is spurring me to reconnect, live and in-person, with my family and friends to a great extent. If for no other reason, this alone makes it worth it. Sure, I could have done this while keeping up my steady stream of inane babble on Facebook about Lord only knows what, but there is something impactful about combining the time away from one with the concerted effort to be more connected with the people I care about. This has been lunches, dinners, phone calls and any a number of ways of being with important people and truly present in those moments without a temptation to check what else is going on out there.

And as the photo suggest, I’ve also found a lot more time to read and catch up on news straight from sources and without the argumentative precursors that have become the norm in my Facebook feed the last year.

I encourage anyone else thinking about this to try it (and this article from the always excellent Eric Barker at Barking Up The Wrong Tree has research-backed ideas). The hardest pull is a combination of fear-of-missing-out (the weird acronym of FOMO that prompts an eyeroll from me every time) or thinking you will lose touch with people. You won’t – you just adapt to a different way of connecting. (But the irony of the fact that when I post this blog it will automatically post to my Facebook page is not lost on me.)

And perhaps the greatest thing I am noticing in this period of time? That maybe… just maybe…when Lent comes to a close for 2017…that I will stop, look around and realize the fear-of-missing-out was just a fear…and I should have been far more concerned of missing out on the important things right in front of me…not on my phone screen.

The List of Love

I spent this past weekend in the Columbus, Ohio area for some lifting-related shenanigans. One thing I’ve found with traveling, is I get really reflective during my trips. There’s nothing miraculous about the fact that travel changes your perspective – it’s been written about countless times on the power of seeing other places to broaden your worldview. What’s interesting is that I think this occurs regardless of whether you travel to the other side of the planet or just a few states away… at least, if you are open to it.

During my trip back home to Connecticut, I received a Facebook message from someone that completely caught me off guard, but really in the best possible way. They hit me with a series of extremely kind compliments, just as an observation of what they saw of me and how I live my life. Now, the details of what they said are immaterial and, quite frankly, listing them out just really amounts to me giving myself a high-five for being awesome… and not in the typical snarky way I like to do in not taking myself seriously, but in a fashion that feels braggy.  (Is that a word? “Braggy”? No idea… but I’m running with it).

Upon this person telling me that “you have your shit together”, I said “I might need to remind myself of that, then, on occasion”.  This is a big understatement. Like hyooge. I am inordinately hard on myself – hell, a lot of us are.

The response – “I’ll give you some help.  Name me all the things you love most.”

OK, I am down for this – I like to have a little bit of a thinking challenge, certainly as I am sitting in an airport waiting for my next flight.  I began by thinking of this in order and working my way down.

I started typing back via FB Messenger “My family, especially my nephews and nice. My closest, true friends.” At this point I was thinking over what #3 would be… my health or the experiences I have been fortunate enough to have had in my life… what else would I put in there?

Before I could finish the response back, this note was sent to me:

“How long would it take for you to name yourself?”

I sat there for a minute or so, just looking at that message. I understood the words, how they were structured and all of that good stuff drilled into me from an early age about how English grammar operated. However, I honestly did not get what was being said.

That’s when it hit me – the notion of putting myself on that list was never, ever going to occur to me. Seriously. For all the bluster I like to create with my grandiose self-compliments in my writing, they are done so over-the-top so as to actually be self-deprecating. But to really and truly put myself on a list like that? Yeah, no… would never happen.

The crazy thing is that despite how narcissistic the world can seem these days with how social media creates a look-at-me environment, I think most people are in that same boat. If I may play truly amateur psychologist for a brief moment, whenever I see people going deep down the rabbit hole of self-aggrandizement, I cannot help but see someone who is putting up a brave front in an effort to convince themselves that they deserve that praise. They are trying to make themselves believe it far more than they are trying to make their audience believe it.

2015-10-24 15.42.33Hence why I post this picture, profanity and all (yeah, sorry about that Mom)… because in the moment I took this a year and a half ago, I felt what the shirt said and felt pretty-darn-fantastic about myself… without any sense of guilt over that fact. While I share it with you, the photo was really more for me and enjoying the fact I had that moment.

I will never be the person who boasts about himself – I am just simply not wired that way and I am glad for that fact. I do hope to work on that for myself, quietly, in the background and with as little fanfare as possible.

I share all of this because so much of this blog is to, hopefully, give you something to think about in my own personal challenges. In any sense where this blog is about advice or coaching or guidance or counseling, it is only that in so much as I am trying to lay bare how I am fighting to achieve the same things I speak of. I have an inherent distrust of people who speak from a place of self-claimed expertise without any sense of struggle. It feels horribly inauthentic to me.

Rather, I prefer to show you how I am putting in my own work… even if it is to allow myself an occasional self high-five.

Youth, Aging and the Comfort of Your Own Skin

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One of my favorite things at work these days is the fact that my company is in a strong hiring mode.  Times like this put me in a good mood because they’re about growth, something I always feel hugely positive about, whether personal, professional or in the business sense.  Being stagnant tends to make me feel itchy… I mean, not like literally.  I don’t get hives from it and need a soothing balm.  And yes, I went with that entire analogy just for the sake of using the word “balm” since it’s soothing on its own just to say it.

What’s been great about this hiring push is that it’s brought in so many new employees just out of college, which is a big change for how we do business (at least in many parts of our company – our engineering group regularly hires right out of college).  In my row at work there are 4 colleagues where the senior-most of them is maybe 3 or 4 years removed from college.  Honestly, it’s great because they bring new ideas, fresh perspectives and really challenge a lot of our company’s commonly-held thinking on issues.  We need all of that.

The gym I train at, when not at Fierce & Mighty, is also on the much younger side too.  Nothing quite like talking to a few of them and realizing: a) they are literally half my age; and b) one that is a Cowboys fan has no idea what it’s like for our beloved team to be… well… GOOD.

Being surrounded with people much younger than me does make me reflect a lot on my own life, where I have arrived at age 44 and what lies ahead.  Our culture definitely celebrates youth in a big way… and why the heck not?  There’s such energy and vibrancy in every younger generation that comes along.

But for me?  If I was somehow afforded the chance to become 25 again via means mystical or otherwise, I would never take it.  Ever.

For all of the things that are a downside of aging (such as the amount of mobility drills I need to do every day to battle against being in deskbound jobs for 20 years), I am such a stickler for the benefits of perspective I’ve gained, I cannot imagine ever relinquishing that for anything.

I cannot imagine giving up the level of comfort I currently enjoy about being me and living in this skin of mine, which may involve me lifting in a bright pink shirt all alone in my basement.

I cherish the things I’ve learned (which I hesitate to call “wisdom” since I am not one to pat myself on the back with such a weighty notion) that allow me to value what is truly important in my own life versus what is not, while constantly trying to give more time to the good and less time to the useless.

I enjoy a level of personal freedom to be myself, say what I think, know when to relent and know when to dig in and fight like hell that I never had 20 years ago.

Giving up those things for the sake of springier knees and a full head of hair is not a trade I would ever make.

(Although springy knees are something that should never be underestimated.  Ever.  Cherish those suckers.  HARD.)

We should continue to celebrate youth with the fresh perspectives, ideas, energy and general change-the-world positivity that accompanies each generation on the cusp of its stepping to the forefront of the culture.

Roger Daltry can sing about hoping to die before he gets old… and we can endlessly debate about what age that constitutes…but I refuse to take the value of the years and diminish them like some kind of trash or some inevitable decline in life.

I am still in the process of getting a little better than I was yesterday…and I don’t see a cap on that any time soon.  The only thing that makes you old, in my mind, is when you decide growth is over… and that’s not an inevitable consequence.  That’s a decision.

I’ve decided to keep going.

The Choice Is Yours

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With all due respect to Black Sheep for my co-opting their 90s hip-hop classic for my post title, the words of Viktor Frankl ring so true every time I read them. We can always choose our attitudes. Always. Doesn’t mean it’s easy. Doesn’t mean you won’t screw up (and Lord knows I do on this point).

But it does mean that there’s an opportunity every single day to have purpose and meaning. The most amazing part of that? It will always be our own unique creation,something no one else can take or duplicate. Who wouldn’t want that kind of powerful individuality?

Small Change. Consistent Change. Larger Results.

I remember it just sitting there and staring at me.  That pile of clutter on my kitchen counter that probably sat there for a few weeks.  It wasn’t literally staring at me or else this would be the start to one of the stranger horror stories to date, where an unsorted collection of mail, notebooks, charger cords and random nonsense achieved a sentient state and was sizing me up.  Not good times.

Anyhoo, I was definitely looking at it with a touch of frustration because I really do hate when things get all out of sorts if I have complete control over them.  Given that we’ve established that the clutter was not some kind of fairy tale monster, I definitely should have been wrangling it.

Yet, I had not.

The clutter on the counter was actually symptomatic of something larger that had been nagging away in the back of my brain – that I had let a bunch of things go for any of a number of reasons.  The reasons all seem good in the moment (I’m just too busy right now, I have a lot going on, I’m tired at the end of the day, etc.), but which total up to a neat little stack of excuses.

So why had this happened?  And why had I gotten bad at taking time to meditate?  Or to read more consistently?  Or to do more writing?  Or get to bed at a decent hour?  Or, or, or…

The answer was actually pretty simple – When I would inevitably hit that point of shouting unto the heavens “Damn it! This will ALL get fixed!” while shaking my clenched fists of fury, that’s what I would try to do.  Fix ALL of it.  At once.  Not one or two things.  Oh gosh no.  In that moment I was sick and tired of being sick and tired, so I was gonna get cracking on changes, my friends.  Ohhhh, the changes I would undertake.

It was only when I was recently reading the excellent book “Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength” by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney did the folly of my efforts become so apparent.  The question was never being an undisciplined slob or somehow being weak in my principles.  It was really that I wasn’t giving myself a chance to succeed because I wanted everything fixed at once, instead of taking a more methodical approach.  One of the interesting pieces of that book is how clearly it lays out how to build and what easily erodes willpower.

Seeking to spread your finite willpower thinly across a multitude of worthwhile improvements results in not achieving any of them.  And getting frustrated for the umpteenth time. And repeating a mind-numbing cycle… again.

How did I finally address all of this? (Notice I did not say fix, since that clearly implies it is all good from here on out and y’all know that ain’t the case).

Step One: Make The List

I made a short list of 4 things and called it my “Willpower Development List”.  Very official, I know.  It’s as follows:

  1. Straighten up my house in the moment. No waiting around.
  2. Pray/meditate daily.
  3. Read/write every day.
  4. Get to bed by 10PM.

Step Two: Assign Each Goal a Month

I picked a month for each step and to focus on getting good at that task.  So, I started with straightening up for August.  Each day I would see to be REALLY good at keeping my house super tidy.  Nice and simple.  Then in September, I added the prayer/meditation as a 2nd task of the day, after already developing the good habit of straightening up the house.  Then in October, the reading and writing.

Step Three: Automate

Because everything that needs to be done in this world can now only be accomplished with a super snappy app, I found the Streaks – Daily Habit Tracker app for my phone which would remind me every day about the tasks (there are a variety of apps like this out there for whatever phone OS y’all are rocking).  The goal would be to string together longer and longer streaks of completing everything.  I’m not always perfect, but I am WAY better.  And if I find myself not being consistent in the habits I’ve developed, I will not add something new until I have the first group down solid.

Step Four: The Bigger Lesson

All of this is a pretty simple approach, but one where I began to see momentum and ended the feeling that I was an undisciplined goober with little prospect of success in sight.

It also made me feel more keenly a larger point: that my inability to effect the changes I wanted was not a failing of personal character as much as it was the use of a flawed method.  I urge everyone to keep that in mind in their own lives.  Human beings are capable of soaring achievements that continue to take my breath away on a regular basis, but we also all bear an innate ability to personalize our shortcomings as hard-wired genetic limitations.  We’re supremely gifted as beating ourselves up for seemingly everything we do not do well.  Just remember that maybe… just maybe… that getting a perspective check may be all you need to shift the view.

And that’s better than any habit streak I know.

Tough, Tougher and Toughest Critics

1891000_608271409241788_1949149654_nI remember I had a health teacher back from my freshman year of when I was in high school who sticks out in my mind for 2  distinct and pretty much unrelated reasons:

1) She was an Indiana fan while I was a Syracuse fan and our teams met in the 1987 NCAA Basketball Championship Game with that SOB Keith Smart his the game winner to down my Orangemen. (Thankfully, I’ve seen the light and I am all UConn now); and

2) She once told the other freshman health class that she thought I was someone who was extremely hard on myself, even if I kept a demeanor suggestion I was cool as a cucumber.

Why in the world she felt A-OK with describing this fact about me to 40-50 of my classmates is completely beyond me… but she was pretty accurate.

I’ve long been my toughest critic and, over time, I think I’ve only gotten harsher, in many ways.

I’ve even said if I saw someone else getting treated the way I treat myself, I would think whoever was doing that to them was a complete jerk, worthy of a smack in the mouth.

I had many years in my 30’s where I watched a few different people close to me go through the tremendous struggle of dealing with leukemia. It offered me a tremendous amount of perspective on what is truly difficult in this world versus that which is merely annoying. Funny how many people confuse those two things… well, until you see it firsthand and cannot fathom how you ever saw it differently before.

The positive of this is I complained less.

The challenge is that I probably overdid this and would never gripe or let out what was really bothering me on some issues because they paled in comparison to other struggles.

That’s why this photo (snagged from Elephant Journal) grabbed my attention to serve as a stark reminder that as much as accepting challenges with a detached sense of stoicism is good, balance is also a good thing.

It’s that funny dichotomy of that which makes you successful can also be a tremendous weakness.

To be as philosophically nerdy as possible (you know, the whole reason you come to this blog)… I need to balance out my Marcus Aurelius reading (stoicism with The Emperor’s Handbook) with a lot more Shunryu Suzuki (Zen buddhist with Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind).

Think of yourself on this point for a minute as well and I wouldn’t be surprised if you don’t find a plethora of nuggets from your day where you are a brutal self-critic.

I figure 42 is as good of a time as any to learn to be a little nice to myself anyway.

Great goal… but damn, that is a seriously lame mid-life crisis.  Thankfully that’s a myth anyway.

Judgments On Willpower

Tai Lopez always does a damn good job of making me think.  Well, that and wondering how the hell he reads so many books, but I guess that is a form of thinking as well.  Huh.  Touche, Mr. Lopez.  Well-played indeed.

A recent newsletter was about a book he recently read, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strengthby Roy F. Baumeister.  What caught my attention was his describing the two things that cause the most positive outcomes in our lives are intelligence and willpower/self-control.

The trick is that while intelligence may have certain limits to how it can be improved, you can get better with your willpower.

The challenge? Stress is the #1 killer of willpower, discipline and self-control. As I read this in his newsletter, I’m pretty sure I responded with an “A-freaking-men!” albeit maybe with a stronger choice of vocabulary.

So here is a little video I did this AM about how I’ve seen the forces of stress beat down mightily upon willpower and a reminder that you aren’t a weak, flaw-ridden person if you cannot grind through every, single, solitary hurdle upon your path.

My favorite part is probably the screen cap YouTube selected for the video. I look downright pugilistic!

 

 

Enjoy your Sunday, friends.

Expertise Is Secondary. Flaws Are First.

I think anyone who strolls around the Interwebz at any point looking for an answer to any of life’s great questions will find themselves inundated with information from those looking to help. There are a variety of levels of expertise in those looking to help out as well – everything from utter charlatans to esteemed experts with a wealth of degrees or oodles of success.

If forced to pick, you want more superstar than snake oil in who is helping you, right?  Sort of hard (and kind of bat guano crazy) to argue against that.

For me, there’s actually something else I need along with the expertise and, in some ways, it may even be more important.

Authenticity from someone who has been through a struggle.

Maybe I’m alone in that sentiment, but I doubt it. I see plenty of people providing advice and their tact is one of “You should listen to me because I sit here oozing success out of every pore. All I do is win at everything I come across.”

C’mon now. Really?

Too. Damn. Early. I need someone with a few battle scars. Notched a few failures. Knows the feeling of getting up in the morning and, despite having a long-desired goal, has that moment of “Sweet mother of God… it’s… SO… DAMN… EARLY.”

There is a realness to showing your flaws that makes the advice to follow mean just so much more. Of course, even the highly-polished experts no doubt have had all those ugly moments… they just choose not to display them. Maybe they see it as a sign of weakness? And showing a single chink in the armor is the first step to the inevitable unmasking? I have no idea.

It’s also the fact that the person who has been through the struggles and found even a few fleeting moments of insightful brilliance has more to tell a person fighting their challenges than someone talking down to them from a place of glossy success.

It’s why I try so hard to never do this blog in any kind of way than a retelling of my own daily push for a bit more awesome and a bit less awful. Plus, it’s just much more accurate – for every moment of triumph where I let heave a battle cry, there are at least more 3 instances of stumbling and falling on my face.

And I’m good with that. My stumbles don’t embarrass me as much as they entertain.

And I’ll take that 3:1 ratio tradeoff for a good moment of victory.

Inspiration. Aspiration. Perspiration.

If you’re into fitness and you spend even a casual amount of time on any social media platform, you’ve no doubt seen a ton of things like this:

#fitspo

Inspiration posts like this flood the Internet, typically coming from well-intentioned souls. They’re usually described as fitspo (shortened for fitness inspiration) or really, #fitspo. Because, sweet mother of God, if you can’t hashtag it, what’s the point anyway? You might as well stayed quiet and keep your messaging to yourself.

I personally don’t think there’s a high degree of efficacy in #fitspo messages, partially because most of the messages aren’t particularly illuminating to me. I mean, I love me a good quote that captures my imagination – I’m all about it. But most #fitspo?  Ehh…

But the real driving issue I have with many of these is their tone of “Let ME tell YOU what’s good for YOU.” I think they miss the mark on inspiration, especially because there are few people walking the planet who can speak from a place of perfect authority to direct anyone. We’re all beautifully imperfect creatures so anything that smacks of “I know best for you…” just rubs me the wrong way. Like, every freaking time.

But aspiration? Ahh… NOW we’re getting somewhere! Aspiration still seeks to uplift while coming from a place of humility because the person offering up the guidance is on the same journey.

That’s impactful. That’s powerful. That’s compelling.

I try like hell to accomplish that in this blog because I am so very far from perfect. I know that seems hard to believe with my chiseled good looks, Adonis-like build and buttery-smooth charm, but it’s true. This blog, at it’s very essence, is seeking to help/counsel/coach others as I work through the same challenges as my readers. If you can avoid some kind of struggle based on my own missteps, then that’s a huge win for me.

And maybe the most important beyond aspiration is perspiration or the quiet act of putting in the time and work to do and be better. Great quotes or great speeches give me goosebumps, but I find the person who quietly leads by example to create a much longer-lasting effect. Don’t talk about it – be about it. I am just so intrigued by those who find their passion, put their heads down and get at it.

 

This, of course, makes me look at some of the stuff I do on social media as well. I post up videos of myself lifting in the gym, hitting some personal best, etc. I still wrestle with the notion that it can easily be a narcissistic endeavor.  “LOOK AT ME! DOING THINGS! WITH WEIGHTS! IF YOU AREN’T DOING LIFTY THINGS, YOU’RE NOT HARD CORE AND AWESOME LIKE ME!” Thankfully, I typically do it to keep myself accountable since I have a lot of friends who will critique what I’m doing if something looks off. Keeps me grounded, honestly.

So that’s my hierarchy of authenticity: Perspiration > Aspiration > Inspiration.

Hopefully it will be keep me pointed in the right direction – I sometimes need a road sign or two along the way, you know.