I’m one of those people who tends to like to mull over questions, problems and issues for a while as I try to sort them out. This is both blessing and curse in that I enjoy the thinking process, but it’s obviously pretty easy to slip into a mode of over-complication. Thinking is great, but not if all you do is think and never act – that’s the great corporate maxim of paralysis by analysis.
Perhaps the greatest issue of overthinking problems is you get brutally self-involved, something I view as a borderline high crime for myself because it’s inherently selfish. I’m a firm believer that we were meant to live our lives interacting with our fellow man… and that we should do our best to make that successful.
I think that’s why during a particularly stressful run of late, I did something to remove complication and do something so incredibly simple:
Stopped what I was doing and had dinner with my Mom.
And suddenly, life got a lot more simple. I chatted with her earlier in the day, she talked about how Dad was going to be at a golf event having dinner and then a few hours later it hit me… why don’t I just take her out to dinner?
While I am tempted to go into some kind of deep review of our dinner, what we talked about, how good the food was (it was awesome, quite frankly) and such, I’m not going to do so. Because that’s not the point and would cause me to slip back into the overanalysis world anyway.
Instead, I urge anyone who feels in the midst of their own drama (whether external or self-created) to stop what you’re doing, find someone you care about and just share a meal where you try to listen more than talk (I was only semi-successful in this regard, but I tried hard). That’s it. No fancy self-reflection. No working through a success matrix from your favorite improvement web site. No matter how busy you are. Stop. Get out of your own way. Focus on someone else.
The seemingly unending amount of political nonsense currently occurring in the U. S. of A. this election cycle is just… punishing. I can really think of no other word to describe it better than that. I suppose this isn’t terribly different from any other major election year, but it just feels like all of us are being forced to repay some horrible debt or penance by watching all of this unfold. I don’t think I did anything to deserve it… sooooo… yeah, I’m blaming you. Had to be done – please just accept your responsibility, apologize and let’s move on together into a bright new future, mmkay? Sweet.
A great term of this political season… and truly of any moment within which soap-boxing and pontificating are taking center stage… is “the echo chamber”. While our friends at Merriam-Webster take the more traditional definition of echo chamber as “a room with sound-reflecting walls used for producing hollow or echoing sound effects”, I am using it in a slightly more recent sense. In this case, an echo chamber would be where people preach their views only to the like-minded who, in turn, repeat it to others of the same mind, thus amplifying to the view to the point it seems like a God-given truth. In reality, it’s just an echo amongst the willing and truly nothing more.
That’s the challenge of the day for all of us, I think. Elections are actually proving to be a really helpful reminder of how we can each avoid our own personal echo chambers. I mean, come on… we all have them. I know I do. “What’s that? Someone made fun of weightlifters?!?!? I’m totally going to stomp over here, call upon all the people who think exactly like me so we can smugly hang back and mock everyone who does [INSERT DIFFERENT EXERCISE METHODOLOGY HERE].” Why do I do this? Well frankly, because I want to feel right and dammit, I want to be with other people who feel that way too because we are all just SO DAMN RIGHT! Look at us! All in agreement and whatnot! It must be true… I mean, hell… look at ALL OF US agreeing! Oh who cares if we are but 3 out of 7 billion.
Let’s join together, brothers and sisters of this noble fight, and make something useful out of every ugly, pandering political ad tossed out way. Each one can remind us a little more of our own warm, snug cocoons of agreement. Let’s get uncomfortable every once in a while, people.
Let’s chat for a minute about improving yourself. Sure, that’s most of the theme of this blog in general, but let’s talk about it in a seemingly unique and obvious concept. Yes, unique does not often go with obvious, but damn it, tonight it will.
Suppose for a moment you wanted to improve your health, fitness, well-being or some other part of your physical being. Would you just sort of amble about through the day and hope that after a while, you were better off than when you started? Wait… you wouldn’t? Come on… seriously?
Seems pretty straightforward. You don’t tend to get better by accident. There is effort, focus, determination, planning and execution of that planning. It’s not even that complicated – it just takes actually putting into motion a half-decent plan. Not even a great plan necessarily – just something semi-good that you give strong effort to.
Everything you’ve read up to this point is the obvious part. Here is what is a little unique: Why is it so damn few people, including me, take that same approach when it comes to their “inner” development? It’s as if the path to being a better person lies in just saying one day, “Hey, I want to be get better…” at some positive personal quality (listener/thinker/more caring/more resilient/better empathy/stand up for themselves) and one day, BOOM! There it is! Glory, glory hallelujah! Sing unto the heavens for I have raised myself up to new heights! Can I get an amen? AYYYYYYY-MEN!
I am a bit taken aback by the extent to which I swing and miss on this very point. My approach to physical training is focused, planned and borderline obsessive (I prefer meticulous, but then again, I am powerful sweet and don’t see this as a bad thing). I know I need to do certain lifts to get stronger in particular areas and I need to work conditioning to stay in shape. I know if I just blow them off, nothing happens… well, nothing good at least. But what about wanting to be less distracted and more thoughtful/focused? Don’t I need to have a plan for that? Don’t I need to spend actual time on getting better at that?
It’s as I act like these things will just be taken care of because, hell, my mind is going all day long so… umm… it must be working on something. Maybe it’s working on my being more thoughtful too! WOO!
Horrible, horrible plan. And especially galling considering how perfectly clear it is to me that a lot of work goes into my physical development. It’s borderline silly I don’t have time set aside to think about my personal development.
Until now. Finally got that booked into my calendar on a daily basis and what now becomes important is this: Will I do it? Will I guard that time and treat it with the same level of care I do my training? If I do, good things will come. If I don’t… well… then I will just be back to knowing that a very good intention married to a non-existant plan is a sure bet for a looking utterly dopey.
And this blog is not about sheepishly sitting idle. It’s relentlessly pushing myself forward. May I not just write it, but live it.
I take a lot of pride in this here blog. Every post I write very much comes from the heart – what I write here, I mean and believe.
But here is something a little funny about the blog. Friends of mine who mention the blog to others who haven’t read it will turn to me and say, “Kev, tell them what your blog is about.” And you know what I inevitably do? I pause… like, for a while. Not the thoughtful pause of a man with great wisdom who is merely taking a moment to let the listener pull closer before he unveils the truth of the universe. Oh, how I wish.
No, it’s more like a pause of, “Sweet mother of God… how do I describe the shenanigans I write on this site? Think, think, think… umm… damn it all…”
So in the interest of having a more well-constructed answer than my typical response of “Well… it’s about a lot of things…” (a real crowd-pleaser, by the way), I will seek to answer in this post.
I am a very strong believer in the idea that every person must have core principles they hold very dear which guide them through life. This doesn’t need to be a massive list – in fact, it should be purposefully brief so as to avoid conflict, confusion and doubt. This blog is a reflection of a few of my core views of life: (1)we are each made up of equal parts mind, body and spirit; (2) a lot of life is thoughtfully developing these things over time; and (3) the development of each of these can have a hugely positive impact on the other parts.
The best example I can give is the meaning of weight training to me and the impact it has had on my life. Lifting weights, especially over the last 5-8 years as I’ve gotten a lot more thoughtful and focused in this effort, has certainly done quite a bit to develop my physical capabilities, but has probably had at least an equal positive impact on my mindset and confidence. There is an inherently amazing level of self-understanding you develop when you throw a few hundred pounds of weight on your back… especially a weight you have never handled in your life… and then see if you can lift it. You begin to wonder about things like:
Will I be able to handle it? What happens if I screw up? How will I handle that gnawing fear in my gut that this lift is going to go straight to hell and take me to the floor in the process? Will I be afraid to try again if I fail? If I succeed, how do I keep progressing?
A great example is a story I’ve heard numerous times about Vasiliy Alekseyev, one of the greatest Olympic weightlifters of all time. He was stuck on one of his lifts at a particular weight – no matter how many times he tried it, he simply could not seem to complete the lift at the weight in question. So, when he went into a competition, his coach had him lift just below at what that weight was… except that’s only what he told Vasiliy. In reality, he had the bar set with the weight Vasiliy had never been able to lift. Up to the platform this giant of a man steps, grabs the weight… completes the lift.
Was he physically any different at that moment? Of course not. He was mentally stuck about what he could and couldn’t do, so it took a little trickery from his coach to get him past that seemingly insurmountable set point.
So what does all of this have to do with Fierce and Mighty? Oh, I have the answer for you (umm… which is most of the reason I asked the question – I don’t want to look like a complete maroon, ya know).
It can take the success of a physical act to get you to see new potential in yourself, not just in the weight room or the track or the pool or the field, but in your entire life. When you can demonstrate to yourself time and time again that you can break through your own preconceived ideas of what is possible, the carryover to other parts of your life is absolutely striking.
That’s what this blog is about more than anything else: my personal journey on the path to developing body/mind/spirit in equal parts, learning something in the process and sharing all of it with you in the hopes you may find benefit as well. I may give advice here, but it always comes from a place of my own steps to follow that advice too.
So that’s Fierce and Mighty, described as best I can. Now if I can just figure out how to explain that to someone in 10 seconds or less in a conversation, I might really be onto something.
A prayer that has become increasingly popular over the last several years is “The Serenity Prayer”. It’s been used by people recovering from addiction or just people looking for a little more peace in their lives. While it has a few different forms to it, this is the most common version:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
It’s simple, clear and readily accessible to just about anyone because all of us go through moments in our lives where we scrap, claw and battle… but damn, it sure would help to know if we could even make a change on that thing we war against so fervently. Knowing that line between the changeable and the impossibly fixed would be helpful.
My last post on thinking… well… got me thinking (funny how that works) about a different kind of line – the one dividing thoughtful consideration and pointed action. As I wrote previously, I am all for taking time to think, ponder, navel gaze and whatever else you want to call it… but sweet mother of God, there will come a time when all of that contemplation needs to be set aside and action must be taken. There is certainly value to thinking for the sake of thinking, but most of the time, you are thinking over some issue or question that you then need to do something about.
This is the precise reason why on my About page you will find one of my favorite General Patton quotes – “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan next week.” Endless thinking becomes endless hand-wringing and worry over how things will turn out. You will need to reach a moment of putting into motion a plan because a good one now can take you someplace… and let’s be honest… the perfect one never comes.
So maybe that’s how I would have a new version of The Serenity Prayer. Something along the lines of:
God, grant me the discipline to think deeply,
The drive to commit fully to my actions,
And the wisdom to know the place for each.
It’s not perfect poetry, but you get the general flavor of it all. Or maybe you just scrap the whole notion and go with 4 simple words: Plan thoughtfully. Execute fiercely.
In this great, big, beautiful world of ours, there is variety of different approaches to everything in life. Some people are dark and dour – seemingly each moment of the day is spent in a perpetual state of seriousness. Other people seem to radiate joy, silliness and a joie de vivre that’s impossible not to be positively affected by. Each of us will have an approach that works best for us.
But beyond just mood, we each look at the world a little bit differently when thinking about issues and ideas. Maybe you are truly Zen, where your mind is free from influence and clear-eyed to each situation. Maybe you are harried and hassled with nary a moment to spend in “wasteful” navel-gazing.
Me? I’m a bit of a thinker and I’m here to make the case for why you should be too.
I think it’s important for me to discuss what I mean by a thinker before dashing headlong into the rest of this post. A thinker is not someone who is necessarily smarter than anyone else. It’s important to dispel this notion because (1) I don’t want your reading this entire blog post thinking “You utterly smug and arrogant son of a biscuit…”; and (2) clear definitions just make life easier. So there.
My definition of a thinker is someone who takes a bit of time to give thought and reflection to decisions, life actions and issues, whether on an intensely personal scale or affecting the world as a whole. Pretty simple, right?
I implore more people to take this path for two critically important reasons.
First, it can be very easy in an age of technological advancement and communication that borders on magical to be so busy, hassled and frantic to never stop and think. I am a thinker, but believe me, I fall into this trap at times as well.
Second, I find myself encountering far too man people these days for whom the idea of giving thought to more than one angle of a question is actually a negative. By way of example, I can think of a few conversations I have had of late where someone would remark, “Ohh, you can’t make up your mind – you would rather keep going back-and-forth…” Now, if we were talking about what toppings to get on my burger, that’s one thing. I mean seriously… there really are some delicious accoutrements out there for a delicious slab of grilled ground beef. Any combination of cheese, bacon, fried egg, grilled onions and avocado will do nicely… umm… sorry. Burgers distract me.
But the conversations where this point have come up involved more complicated affairs and the seeming lack of interest in thinking about more than one side of a nuanced issue was a bit troubling to me. I don’t know if it was general impatience or just a predisposition to settling on a narrow viewpoint and holding on tight or just a pitched battle against any shade of gray in a world someone wants to be black and white.
Hence, I urge you to think and to set aside time for thinking (although I admit I am still struggling with that latter suggestion). It will amaze how you some of your thorniest life issues will unravel a touch when you devote a little time to the endeavor. And if you find yourself getting a little stuck with a myriad of questions the more you think… just remember it’s possible (and maybe even likely) that you are experiencing it because it is a tricky question.
Dabble in the grays. There are many… not just 50 shades.
After I did yesterday’s post, the topic of potential started knocking around a lot in my brain for the rest of the day. You see, I find potential to be one of the more interesting concepts to think about because it has a lot of nuances to it, both good and bad. I think this is why I have a little bit of a love/hate relationship with potential.
The positive side of potential is fairly obvious: it’s about having the chance to do much, be much and achieve much. It’s about that bright horizon of promise where so many good things await and you just want to sprint towards it with fervor. WOO! GET SOME!
On the other side of the ledger, I think about the quote from former NFL coach Brian Billick when he said, “Son, your potential is going to get me fired.” The darker side of potential is that it means someone has gifts, talents and abilities… but without the realization of those innate qualities. Hmm… that’s never good. This is when all the promise and hope bumps up against the passage of time and people begin to ask, “Umm… soooo… do you plan on actually doing anything with all of your gifts? Or are ya just gonna sit on them?” Oof. Not good.
It made me think about what analogy works best for potential. My initial thought was a glass of water. There sits a nice, cold, refreshing glass of water representing all of your potential. If it just sits there and is ignored, it’s just going to become room temperature and possibly taste a little funky after a while. Instead, you want to get into and drink deeply of it to gain all of its great benefits.
But what happens when you start to get near the bottom of the glass? When there is just sips left? Sure, you have nearly maximized everything of that crisp, satisfying potential… umm… but then what? It’s gone? Empty? Nothing left? What do you look forward to now? Is there some kind of problem with being incredibly efficient at bringing out the best of the glass of potential you have because one it’s all done… that’s it?
It was at this point I realized the problem was more with the structure of the analogy. Sure, there is something keenly appealing about the idea of the cold glass of water and making use of it instead of letting it become lukewarm and bleah… but it really hit me that our potential is never going to be a finite container. How could it be?
We can always develop and get a little better than before – mentally, spiritually, emotionally and physically. There may be some outer boundaries at some point. For instance, the window of opportunity for me to fulfill my lifelong dream of playing running back for the Dallas Cowboys is quickly closing… and shut your filthy mouths, you naysayers who say it was never open! But you see what I mean – I probably will not develop 4.2 speed and the ability to hit an inside draw for a game winning touchdown in Dallas. That’s OK.
But a lot of my other physical development? I don’t see any outer limits right now. It may all take a while, but it’s there because… why the hell not? You and I are mostly limited by our own set boundaries in the end.
Or intellectual development – does anyone seriously believe they have capped out there? Who couldn’t learn more and open up their mind to new and exciting possibilities until they draw their very last breath? I will tell you who – those who decided it couldn’t be done and stunted their own growth in that area. Them and them alone.
I think that was the most eye-opening part of doing the Tough Mudder a few weeks back. In the middle of the race, several hours in and feeling tired and beaten all to hell, I realized one important thing – as banged up as I felt, I knew I would finish. I simply knew it as sure as I was drawing breath (which was probably more like wheezing at that moment, but still a form of oxygen intake regardless). If I could push through that, what else could I do?
Truthfully, all of my physical training since that time has been markedly improved because the 6 grueling hours of that race showed me where I had limited myself in the past. It took that grind to break down my self-created walls and open up some squeaky-clean and shiny-new potential.
Flex those boundaries a bit today, my friends. They will stretch more than you think… especially because you probably created 90% of them anyway.
Are you ready for a small slice of truth to close out your Thursday evening? Good. Me too.
It’s hard to have original ideas when you are surrounded by people who all have the same experiences as you.
– Jonathan Harris
And there we have it. If you are anything like me, you want to be creative and let your mind freely expand to take on new thoughts, ideas and concepts. Heck, one of my favorite things to do is to find a connection between two seemingly disparate notions. It can be like a game or puzzle to carefully thread ideas together, to see potential connections which are not readily apparent. It’s actually quite fun. I mean, maybe not quite as fun as full-contact mah jongg, but that would also be setting the bar pretty damn high.
But what happens when you seek to expand your thinking when surrounded by people who look like, talk like, sound like and live exactly as you do? Maybe it’s who you work with every day. Think about how your department or company probably handles recruiting new members – cultural fit is always a big thing. Heck, I am HUGE believer that cultural fit may matter more than specific skill sets in many ways. If someone just doesn’t “get it”, they can possess the intellect of Newton, Spinoza or Descartes and it’s going to be an utter clusterf… umm… it’s going to be super bad. Yeah, let’s just go with super bad and move right along.
Except how do you come up with something new if everyone is the same? What causes the deviation from the norm? The bolt out of the blue? The zig when everyone zags? Unless the culture is to seek out the differences (an all-too-rare cultural trait for many groups, I find), there is nothing to inspire the new to be born. And why would there be? The group was brought together because of “like-ness” and similarity, not uniqueness and dissonance.
Just a little something for all of us to remember: comfort can be a wonderful thing. It can bring a greater sense of shared understanding and it’s just a pleasant experience… but ahh… when you need something new, fresh and different? Comfort does us a disservice. We match, but we are stale. We get each other, but don’t stretch each other.
Comfort is not a bad thing and can cause a great deal of harmony. But when we seek to boldly break into new ground without a map to guide us? Take on the iconoclast, bear out the awkwardness and let new thoughts come forth.
I decided to head to church last night at the chapel of a local college as a way to cap off my evening. I used to do this in college quite a bit – 10 PM Mass on a Sunday evening was my favorite time to go. Everything was just a little bit more quiet and peaceful. There was just enough soft lighting to add to the effect of seeking to be at peace and clear my head before starting a new week. I got a little of that effect last night.
But it was also a bit different because… well… apparently they weren’t having 7 PM Mass last night. I was there with a few other confused souls who waited patiently for some sign of services beginning, but it was not to be. So I decided to wait out everyone else and have the place to myself. I kneeled quietly praying, collecting my thoughts, reflecting on the week that was and the week that would be. After 15 minutes… just me.
Now, anyone who knows me would know that I tend to view my own religious/spiritual beliefs in an intensely personal fashion. I don’t push my views on anyone else, ever. To each their own as to how they choose to follow (or not follow) a faith. So it’s not something I chat with people about… at least not terribly often. And I don’t plan on getting into it too much here. Instead, I would rather focus on how incredibly refreshing it is to be completely alone in the utter quiet of a peaceful place. It was amazing. No other word does what I felt justice.
The world is a place with a flood of stimuli vying for our attention. It can be utterly overwhelming, except I think most of us have instead become numb to it all as a means of coping. But think about how often you check to see if someone responded to you on Twitter or Facebook. Or the need to continuously look at your phone for every new e-mail and text message. Or how we always need to be doing SOMETHING. It’s as if we are afraid to be alone with our own thoughts.
I’m as guilty of this as anyone. I did take a few steps to adjust notifications on my smartphone so that I wasn’t constantly checking it to see who was reaching out to me and validating my existence… I mean, isn’t that what all of the endless checking ends up being in the end anyway? But I can be bad on this front.
So last night was such a welcome respite. I knew I needed it because I didn’t even get restless as I sat there for 45 minutes in silence. Instead, I actually had a chance to reflect for a while… let my mind work through any knotty issues that had been weighing on it… get my bearings a little bit… and then walk out feeling as good and as relaxed as I have been in a long, long time. Because for 45 minutes… the constant buzz of life melted away and my mind and spirit felt completely unburdened.
And all of this leads to a challenge for myself and my snazzy tagline of “Relentlessly push yourself forward”. It’s a simple challenge to describe, but more daunting to put into practice:
About 3 months back I wrote a post entitled “The Quiet Drive” which detailed how I was looking to make different or better use of my daily morning commute to work. The reason behind this time of reflection was that it was proving to be a dedicated part of my every day life where I allowed myself to do nothing but think… umm… and drive. I guess if I just lapsed into navel-gazing reflection while doing 65 MPH on I-84, I think this habit would end itself (and me) rather quickly. I mean, I’ve got mongoose-like quickness, but even I would not be able to leap out of a car at full speed on a highway. I do appreciate the faith all of you have in me that I have this capability – it’s quite touching.
This morning I changed it up a little bit and decided to use a chunk of that drive for a little bit of brain expansion. See, with my switch to the Evil Empire of Apple for my computing needs, I started using iTunes again. I know it seems impossible that anyone with an iPod would use something else, but seriously… I hate it. Slow and controlling and bleah. It’s a little better when you are using a Mac, but I still have that part of me that rebels against the way Steve Jobs likes to keep everything closed and under his thumb in the world of Mac.
Back to the brain expansion. If there is something that iTunes seems to have done well in the time I have been gone from using it, that may be the inclusion of iTunes U. iTunes U is a free resource for downloading a rich array of course content from a variety of schools and educational institutions. The list is impressive: Harvard Business Review, Stanford, Cal-Berkeley, Texas A&M, Yale, etc. There are interviews, lectures and even video based pieces for your perusal on a really wide range of topics. Thus far, I have not seen any you would even pay for, which is nice.
So give your brain a little morning shake up to go with your coffee or morning Diet Dr. Pepper (my choice for the AM pick-me-up). Hell, you might learn something. I did today… freaky.