On Giving, Listening and Buttered Toast

A few years ago, a colleague at my previous job turned to me one day and said the following: “You know something? You’re probably the nicest person I’ve ever met.” Truth be told, it’s possibly one of the best compliments I ever gotten and could ever really get… you know, besides those compliments I give myself on my looks through this words of this very blog.  To channel the bards of old (The Sugar Hill Gang)… I don’t mean to brag, I don’t mean to boast, but I’m like hot butter on your breakfast toast.  Truth.toast

My response to my colleague on being given this compliment was pretty simple: “It’s just how my Mom raised me.”  That’s less of a slight on my Dad (from whom I get my sense of humor and ability to chat about seemingly anything) and more just the fact that my Mom is very genuinely focused on treating people the right way.  That deeply affected me and sticks with me every day.

What got me reflecting back on all of this during my commute into work (where seemingly 75% of my blog inspirations come from) was I was thinking over the idea of giving.  As a corollary to the whole niceness part of me, I try to give of myself when I can.  Most of my giving is focused on a more personal level with my family, friends and loved ones.  I also do a bit of volunteer work with a youth group, but the bulk of my actions take place on a much individual level because that is just where I tend to find comfort and connection in such matters.

Giving can be a bit of a funny thing.  For a lot of people, it can be a fairly difficult thing to do.  I see two basic reasons for this being the case:

  1. The fear of no return on the “investment”.  If I do something for this person, do I really know they would do the same for me in return?  Or will I even be recognized or given credit for what I did? Fair question.
  2. The fear of being taken advantage of.  If I am nice and giving to people all the time, won’t I just come across as an easy mark for people to take advantage of?

I’ll take these one at a time.

On the return on the “investment” of giving, it’s only natural to want to know if that same person would do the same for you… or at the very least, for you to be recognized for your efforts.  That’s a pretty natural reaction and one I’ve had before for sure.

My own struggle (and one I do well with at times and much less so at others) is to get comfortable with the idea of the giving being its own reward.  Sounds like insanity right?  But if you spend some time thinking about it, I think you will find this more and more to be the case.  If you are giving in a context that is meaningful for you, you are probably more concerned about the benefit that person receives than what credit you will receive for the act.  I obviously have very little (if any) scientific data to back that statement up, outside of my awesomely impressive intellect, but I do believe it to be the case.

On the fear of being taken advantage of… that’s something I wrestle with all the time.  The last thing I would want is someone kind of hovering around in my life in hopes of using my good nature to their personal advantage.  I’ve been pretty successful in this regard… but not perfect for sure.  The people I can tell who are being leeches?  Cut ‘em free.  I’ve enough on my plate without worrying about them.

But beyond that, the reason I try not to worry on this too much is that I would rather be focused internally on where I am doing the right thing than on whether someone else either thinks I am doing the right thing or is taking advantage of my doing the right thing.  It reminds me of a notion from the autobiography on Warren Buffet I am reading entitled, “The Snowball: Warren Buffet and the Business of Life” by Alice Schroeder.  From a somewhat young age, Buffet has been driven by staying consistent to what he calls his “internal scorecard” about whether he is doing the right thing.  By comparison, his mother was overly focused on her “external scorecard” and lived in order to meet the expectations of others first.

But I have seen (even just recently with a friend of mine) the after effects of those who have given so much to another only to have that best part of their nature trampled upon by someone they trusted and loved.  It’s completely devastating to see because that giving portion of us as human beings can truly be one of our best traits.  I don’t want to see that crushed in anyone.

So a piece of advice I have for those who worry about the aforementioned fears in giving… here is a simple form of giving to a try: listening.  Yup, listening.  Powerful and simple and something you can do daily with just about anyone you meet.

Listening is possibly the easiest kind of giving to do and creates a level of benefit for all involved that is amazing.  The person you are listening to will experience a moment where someone else truly cases about what they are saying.  And hey, if you really need to have a personal reason as to your own benefit, the speaker will also find you to be a more genuine and caring person.  And it’s just such a small effort to put in for someone else and hell… you may even learn something in the process.  I’ve focused on becoming a much better listener because (1) there are few things more annoying than talking to someone who just responds to everything with “mmm hmm… yeah… yup… sure” when you can tell they did not really hear a word you said; and (2) it’s just plain good karma and a great way to deepen your relationship with just about anyone.

Now take this advice and go forth and maybe you too can be the hot butter on someone else’s breakfast toast.

Got Scars?

Today I was out in the gray chilliness that is Winter in Connecticut and doing some pushes and pulls with my beloved Prowler.  I strained and struggled and fought it with all I could for a shade under 30 minutes before calling it a day.  As I completed the last push of the day, I finished and immediately dropped into a semi-kneeling position, almost like genuflecting.  However, I successfully kept my breakfast down.  But you know what I thought to myself?

“Huh… no puking yet again… maybe I’m not doing this hard enough.”

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the insanity that is my noggin.  Please keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times because I really can’t be held responsible for what may happen otherwise.

Now why on earth would I think that?  Seriously.  First of all, I really hate puking.  I know that is not a penetrating insight on par with the work of Plato or Immanuel Kant, but I mean I really hate it.  Second, how can anyone rationally think that puking could be a sign of anything remotely good or positive?  It’s like those kooky powerlifters who seem to enjoy the fact they get blood shins from doing deadlifts where the bar drags along their legs.  That can’t be sane… can it?

I’ll tell you why I think this… because I often wonder, if you don’t bear scars, have you really tried hard enough?  Or put another way, have you truly found the thing you are just so passionate about that you are willing to run the risk of skinned knees or puking or falling short in the process?  Willing to run the risk of embarrassment over not coming through as a total success because you just love the process so much that winning or losing is a distant second?

I wonder this because I believe (at least in my own personal case) that for things that truly and deeply matter to me, I am willing to risk the scars or the falling short or the skinned knees or possible ridicule of polite society.  I know if my heart was not truly in whatever this “thing” may be, I wouldn’t be willing to run the risk of any of that.  Who wants any of that for something that doesn’t stir up the passion of your soul?  Not this kid right here, I’ll tell you that much.

The physical acts of which I speak and the scars that can accompany them are just one tool or expression of what any person walking this beautiful planet can be passionate about.  As you and I well know, not all scars are physical and those that are not can certainly mark you more deeply than ones etched upon your skin.  But the fact still remains… that for those things we care most about… our families, our faith, our ideals or whatever it may be… we will put ourselves out there and run the risk of the scars.

I’m still working on this all the time… the process to find my true passions for all aspects of my life.  It’s certainly not easy because it’s rare to just wake up one day and think “By Jove!  I’ve got it!” and just know what you were meant to do or who you were meant to be.  So I keep plugging away at those things I know I love and by virtue of the struggle, sweat and scars, I hope to find it.

Even if I may have to get a little sick to do it.

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.

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.

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.

You are what you track

I work for a division of a fairly massive multi-national corporation.  I guess I could have just described it as a big company, but then I would have missed out on a golden opportunity to post a photo of Number 2… and why the hell would I do that?  Come on people!

One of the pieces of my job and that of many people working in corporate America is compiling, analyzing and reviewing data for anything of value to your company.  Maybe it’s some new trend in sales data that will affect how a new product is brought to market or perhaps it’s something in the financial numbers that suggests the company is not being as efficient as it needs to be in certain areas of the business.  Whatever it may be, it’s not only an important piece of the business world, it’s a borderline obsession at times where no decision can be considered without absolute mounds upon mounds of data.

The fine folks at Lifehacker spent some time looking at how the collection and analysis of data could be of value to people’s individual lives. Interesting notion and one I guess I do to a certain degree either through my tracking of my weight training sessions or the amount I use Evernote to capture thoughts throughout my day.

So I can see there may be some value in all of this, especially if you have a goal you are shooting for where some careful tracking will help keep you on the mark.  The only thing that made me feel borderline queasy in reading the post was the idea of how some uber-geeks are looking to track everything in their lives.  Ugh.  I cannot even imagine, especially given the extent to which I sift through data at work.  Why in the world would I want to do that to such a large extent at home?

A product I saw someone mention in the article comments was FitBit, something I had never heard of before.  It’s this small little device that tracks your daily activity as well as your sleep.  It then uploads the data wirelessly to your FitBit tracking station as you walk past it.  Kind of interesting.  Now, on some of this, I would wonder what value I would get out of it.  Wouldn’t I know I was sleeping poorly when I keep waking up feeling like crap?  The daily movement tracking (how far I walked, how many calories I burned, etc.) could be moderately useful too, but again, I am not sure I would care too much if I was burning enough calories from just generally moving around in a day.  I work in an office all day long… I already know the answer to that question.  No, not so much.

So how about you? Anything in particular you track and, even more importantly, what action do you take on the data you collect?

Stuff I like: Making green fun

I’m not exactly Joe Treehugger.  Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think people should be wasteful, we should avoid polluting our beautiful planet and all of that, but I’m not going to be jump in people’s grills and scream about it.

But this here is pretty damn cool:

These are the “Efficiency Leaves” on the 2010 Ford Fusion Hybird, the Motor Trend 2010 Car of the Year.  As you start up the car, the leaves are not present and the more fuel efficient your drive style is, the more the leaves sprout on the screen.  If you start hammering the gas pedal like Lindsay Lohan doing shots of Ketel One, the leaves begin to disappear.  Simple right?

A bit of video showing this all in action:


But what really got me thinking about how this bit of snazzy technology makes being green fun was a review of the car on MSNBC.  The money quote:

Failure to drive in a way that cultivated this garden sparked howls of outrage from the back seat, where my kids complained I was killing the leaves as they disappeared. So while it would be easy to dismiss the efficiency display as a silly gimmick, it is a hard-to-ignore reminder that with just a bit lighter pressure on the pedal, the Fusion Hybrid can get spectacularly good mileage.

So while it can be a rather nice (and sort of fun) little visual indicator for the driver, just think of how anyone with kids could benefit from this given the anecdote above.

It also does my patriotic heart a world of good to see a very innovative and clever idea come from an American car manufacturer, especially since it is all wrapped up in an attractive package to boot.  That’s the American dream – smarts in a sexy package… you know, kind of like me. ; )  BOO YAA!


Don’t fight the future… ’cause ya ain’t gonna win

Throughout the news these days, it’s become all too common for those who bring us the news to actually be the news.  Traditional print media is taking a complete beating these days because of a fundamental failure to evolve.  Newspapers were killed by free classified sites like Craiglist’s and never figuring out a good way to make money with their web sites, where they typically gave away the same content as their hard copies for free.

But this is interesting to me:

Sports Illustrated really looks like they could be onto something.  I mean, in terms of “WOW!” factor, this has it.  Everything you love in your favorite magazine, automatically updated to a slim device you can bring everywhere?  With video?  And sharp photos and color?  Bring it my way.  I am already ridiculously in love with my Amazon Kindle (which if you know me, you know I can hardly stop talking about it at times).

But here’s why I am talking about this in the blog.  Three reasons really.  First, I am a sucker for ideas that seek to push the envelope from what we commonly accept as “the way it is” and seek to do things bigger, better, cooler and so on.  Great ideas are endlessly fascinating to me.  Second, whether or not this device ends up panning out, it’s those who seek to bring forward these ideas that I give a ton of credit to.  It’s easy to see all the questions that go along with this tablet: What will be the price point for the device?  How about for the magazine subscription?  Will I be able to get other magazines besides Sports Illustrated on it?  What kind of competition will this bring out and will the competitors do it better, cheaper or both?  But to go ahead and push forward with a product that changes the way we understand a commonly-accepted item to take them in entirely un-thought-of directions (iPods with music, the Kindle with books, Google with search, me with dead-sexy bloggers… you get the idea) is the inspirational piece to me… even if done by a gigantic media conglomerate like Time Warner/Apple/Amazon/Google.

The third reason has to do with the subject of the post.  I think we all seek to fight the future in some ways because change can be pretty scary.  I had lunch with a good friend today and we both talked about how we struggle with that at times.  I find change both scary and thrilling… it just depends on the kind of change.  For instance, when I see chances within the workplace to tear down old ways of doing things?  I am all over it.  Love it.  Gets me fired up.  But if you suddenly asked me to do the same, but uproot my life and move far away?  That’s when you would probably hear the longest “Welllll….. seeeee…. the thing is….” ya ever heard in your life.  The change might be great for me, but my appetite for it may be in the small tossed salad with a nice house dressing zone as opposed to the 32 oz. cowboy cut ribeye zone.

The moral of the story for me?  Go for the steak, baby… go for the steak.

Stuff I like

The world is full of cool stuff – really and truly.  As I find said stuff, I plan on sharing with you, gentle readers, because that’s just the kind of incredibly awesome guy I am.  Read on and hopefully something here will be of value to you.


Evernote is a cross-platform program used for taking all kinds of notes.  Sounds simple, right?  Here is where it gets good: you can take the notes on:

  • the Evernote web site;
  • on a Windows or Mac version you download to your computer; or
  • on your iPhone, Blackberry or Android phone.

Then, your notes are synchronized across all of these platforms so you can access them wherever you are.

I have the Android version (and so I am guessing the iPhone version is about the same) and since I always have my Droid with me, I can pop in notes any time a moment of inspiration strikes.  These include text notes, voice notes or even taking pictures to create new notes.  The notes can then be tagged, places into a variety of notebooks and so on.  You can even upload handwritten documents or PDFs to keep everything you have all in one handy spot.

And guess what?  It’s free.  There is a premium version that gives you more storage and uploads, but a lot of people can make a ton of use of the free version (like I am doing, although I am giving a lot of thought to going premium).


I’ve been reading Lifehacker for a little while now and it’s one of the better sites that focuses on a variety of “lifehacks” such as better ways to organize yourself, great computer/tech tips and basically anything else that will help make your life run a little more smoothly.  It does have a bit of a techie and computer leaning to it, but not to the point of it being so nerdy that you feel like you need “Linux rulez!” tattooed on your backside.

The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth: The Surprising, Unbiased Truth About What You Should Eat and Why

I recommend this book by Jonny Bowden to everyone I know.  It’s a very easy read, well-organized by food type and with a clear explanation for why each of the 150 foods were picked for the list.  What refreshing about this book is that it’s not something with the typical agenda you find with some nutritionists (i.e. “All red meat is bad!  Just eat whole grains!”).  Also, it’s useful regardless of your eating style (vegetarian, vegan, high protein, etc.).

Absolutely Everything About This Photo:

Well, almost everything about this photo… just not the eventual tongue-lashing my girlfriend will dish out after seeing this.  Love ya honey!