How I Have Been Wrong – Post Revisited

About five years ago I wrote the post How I Have Been Wrong to cover some of the mistakes that I had made up until that point during my time in the fitness industry.

The 5 mistakes I admitted to were:

  • Believing that nutrition is more important than food.
  • Believing that the program is more important than consistency.
  • Believing that by creating an emotional response a transformation has occurred.
  • Believing that EVERYONE should workout and become more healthy.
  • Believing that what gurus said was more useful than what I knew.

I can confidently say that I did not make those mistakes again, which is a good thing, so I have decided to take another run at the same topic to cover some of the other mistakes that I have made. This list has less to do with the fitness industry specifically, although some of the lessons could be applied to it, and you may notice that some of the items were actually the fuel for realizations outlined in the first list. I’m also going to alter the way I present the mistake by stating the lesson first and then unpacking the error. The list is by no means complete and will be added to in future posts.

Most of our thinking is unconscious. The brain is always active even when we are not doing much. Whether it be the passive assessment of sensory information for signs of threat, the reprocessing and consolidation of memories / experience, the interrogation of memories in order to reveal patterns or connections, the triggering of mental processes that help the brain make sense of the world along with the reprocessing of the output of these processes, the control of thousands of physiological processes, or the moment to moment adjustment of biological functioning required to maintain homeostasis in order to maintain vitality and life, the brain is always busy doing something. We have very little awareness of these things and are generally only aware that they exist as a consequence of their output or when they don’t work the way they are supposed to. At best we can only influence the input that the brain receives in terms of content and volume by directing our attention in varying degrees to specific things in the physical or mental environment, and be aware of the output of whatever processes yield information that can be moved into consciousness. For example, when asked what two plus two is we become aware of the answer but we have no awareness of what is involved with generating that answer.

We should always keep in mind that consciousness is another one of these automatic and unconscious process for which we only have access to its output. This is a big one because it doesn’t seem to make much sense given that we are conscious. But take a moment to consider the experience of being awake and alert and try to determine why you are not aware of something that you know but are not thinking about. What comes to mind is not everything that you have ever experienced. It is in fact only a tiny portion of what you know and not necessarily the most useful part of it. In order to bring to mind more information, we need to spend more time thinking about a subject. And on two different days, our initial thoughts about a subject might surface two completely different things. Sure, both things will pop up if we spend 20 seconds thinking about it but for some reason what appears in consciousness is not consistent. Something big is going on under the hood that is determine what comes to mind and we have almost no access to the inner workings of these processes.

Human beings are meaning making machines. We need coherency and order and are more than willing to make things up just to ensure that we have these things. Facts are less important than narrative consistency and we will ignore them when they are in conflict with our existing world view to ensure that we remain “right.” The reason we do this is to conserve the mental energy associated with maintaining open loops. This is a survival practice that allows us to close off experiences and move forward having more complete access to our cognitive capacity. It is safer to be wrong and energized than it is to be unsure and drained. Uncertainty is exhausting, so a false certainty, while not accurate, was actually a safer bet in terms of survival in our ancestral past. It isn’t an ideal trait for living in the modern world but it’s deeply coded into our operating system and requires deliberate effort to suppress.

Human beings automatically answer every question they hear. What is remarkable is our ability to come-up with answers to questions we cannot possibly know the solution to. This happens because our default course of action is to solve problems quickly so we can go back to burning as little energy as possible. Most of our answers will be centered on addressing “why” something occurred in an effort to gain the illusion of control in the future. Cause and effect relationships between stimulus and response are understood to be an essential part of the universe, so we gravitate towards uncovering / making-up these types of things. When we do not have any specific information, we will make-up whatever is required or generalize based on binary pairings that are of the “us” vs “them” flavor.

The longer we believe something or the longer a belief goes unquestioned, the more confident we become in its truth or factual nature. The reason for this have to do with the organic nature of the brain. Memories and mental processes are stored in neural networks – rich interconnected collections of brain cells. It is tissue that is made-up from the food we eat and has been laid down in response to the sensory and mental stimulation the brain has been subjected to. The structure of these networks is completely dependent upon the stimulation meaning that it will only be impacted by what happens. Given that most of the mental functioning exists below the level of conscious awareness, we have no idea about the true amount of stimulation that occurs, all we can know is what we were aware of.

However, what we pay attention to will shape what happens afterwards and the more we pay attention, the greater the impact on the cellular structure. By focusing very intensely on something, we dramatically increase the impact on the brain because it saturates the sensory input buffers with data / information of a particular type, which will result in a greater stimulation and force a higher level of adaptation.

This is not an innately dialectical process. What goes in is what gets processed and assimilated. The brain doesn’t spontaneously set about trying to figure out if it is correct or not. In fact, correctness, truth, and rightness are not even things that the brain is in a good position to understand let alone seek out. It deals with “what is” and more specifically, taking its experienced “what is” and making an internal representation of it so it can be better equipped to make predictions in the future. It has no relationship or coding for something that isn’t experienced – the neural networks that make error identification possible will only exist if the brain has had sufficient experience with the subject matter. It cannot interrogate perceptions against information it doesn’t have, and since the information is not there, the brain just moves forward with what is has.

This is the reason why errors MUST be identified as quickly as possible to ensure that the error is not rehearsed into long term memory. Once the tissue has been laid down to code for the error, it’s going to be much more difficult to correct it. And the longer the organic tissue resides in the brain, the more sticky the information it codes for becomes.

Consciousness is the last thing to deal with what has just happened. Reality is objective in so far as the physical material of the universe exists and is moving in a particular direction. Subjective reality does not exist in the same sense physically. In fact, what each one of us is aware of is just the output of a reality simulation that is running in our brains. This simulation is based on a stew of sensory data, long term memories, perception, and thousands of other unconscious mental processes that come together to serve up consciousness from moment to moment. For example, the thing we look at and experience as a tree is something that is out there, but the “treeness” of it is only something that exists in the brain of the person who is looking at or touching it. This is to say that we do not experience the tree directly, we experience mental activity that is interpreted consciously as tree. This conscious awareness is just the final step in the entire process and there is a lag of between 100ms and 500ms between the sensory data that trigger the sensory cells and our experience of that triggering.

Most people are completely enamored with their perception of their own brilliance. Obviously, given that we manufacture a meaning that is coherent and void of any innate error correction. What goes in and is stored is not viewed through a lens of probability of being correct, it is just brought in, processed, and stored as an internal representation of the external world. Since we cannot process what isn’t there, there isn’t ever a reason for us to actually believe that we are not completely correct, at least not an automatic or spontaneous reason to believe it. This leads us to have a growing level of certainty about almost everything that we have any experience with. Since there is no process for review, we move forward knowing we are correct and much better than other people at most things.

The reality is a lot more average than that. We might have some skills or talents in a particular area, so maybe a brilliance of a particular flavor in one or two things. We might be good at a few others that we have worked at. At everything else, we are at best average at but given the nature of statistics, we are probably below average at most things. Even being average at something isn’t actually all that good. Based on the distribution of skills, someone who is at the mean level of capability might only have between two and ten percent of the abilities of the most capable person. It’s understandable why we believe we are brilliant but we aren’t and should probably stop pretending so we can actually get better at things.

Learning new things is simple, but it is very hard work. Since all learning is the physical adaption to stimulation – the laying down of tissue – it takes time and effort. Organic material can only be generated at a finite pace, so regardless of our desire to learn quickly, it can only occur as quickly as biology will allow. About the only thing we can do to speed it up is to maximize the input of sensory data by working hard and paying very close attention to what we are determined to learn. This process will reduce the length of time needed to learn something but it will require a lot of mental energy and it will have a negative impact on our ability to do other things.

Direct physical experience is more important than anything else when it comes to surfacing talent and developing skills. Aside from maximizing the speed of brain growth in order to hard-wire a new skill, direct physical experience is required to trigger gene expression, which is ultimately the reason why some people have talent in a specific area while most others do not. Without direct physical experience, the genes will remain dormant and our potential will never be actualized. The biggest opportunity for human beings here is based on the fact that we seem to have way more genetic code than we are currently using. The stuff isn’t all useless as has previously been suggested. Much of it codes for traits that were previously helpful and are no longer needed to serve a survival function in modern life. But the traits are still in there because they were hard earned and helpful in determining evolutionary fitness.

Human beings have no idea why they are thinking what they are thinking in spite of their certainty that they know why. All of our explanation are post hoc and are based on what has happened as opposed to what is happening. It may not make a lot of sense to look at the world in these terms, but by not doing so we remain convinced that we know our motivations for doing things and that our conscious experience of reality is a reflection of what is actually going on. Neither of these things is true, and there is a growing body of evidence that indicate this fact. Functional MRI studies show that the decision making parts of the brain peak in activity level before the subject is conscious of the decision they have made – they will actually believe that they are making the decision after the brain has already made the decision because this is what it feels like. Given the need for a coherent meaning and understanding of the world, it is not surprising that people resist accepting the reality of what is actually going on and will instead choose to believe that their consciousness is in the driver’s seat.

Almost everything we say and think is unimportant, not helpful and serves only to distract us from the fundamental truth about life. Working backwards, the fundamental truth that people are resisting is that life is hard and it is finite. We’re all going to die and before we do, we will struggle through almost every day having to do a bunch of different things to help sustain life. No matter how satisfied we are in the moment, it will pass and we will become unsatisfied again forcing us to do more work. No one likes this fact, and most of us resist even considering it by remaining distracted by anything that will hold our attention. The end result is that we talk more than we should, about things that don’t matter, are not helpful, or cause others pain and suffering. But it feels like it matters and it feels better than the experience of reality in our own minds when we are forced to not be distracted and to actually allow life to be what it is.

If you are not sure about this, take some time to consider, on the fly as it is happening, what you are talking about in terms of it being important and helpful. You’ll very quickly notice the trend towards back biting and engaging in useless speak. Now perform the same inventory on your internal dialogue and notice how so much of it is the very boring play by play announcements or the musings of a psychopath who doesn’t have your best interests are heart and seems hell bent of ignoring reality almost completely by focusing on the very limited perspective made possibly by having a seat in the theater of your mind.

So there are a few things that I have been wrong about. There is a lot more, but I’m going to need some time to process what I have just written down and to notice the output of that processing. Maybe I should be a little less hard on myself and phased it as things I wasn’t getting right or didn’t realize but this seems like trying to put a nice spin on things. It doesn’t really matter when all is said and done. History is what it is and since my brain works hard to create a meaning that is coherent I have no doubt that I’ve already stopped feeling bad about not knowing that I didn’t know something and begun to lay down the tissue that will help me make better decisions in the future.

Mice Adapting To Being In Space

In 2014, SpaceX launched a resupply mission to the International Space Station that included mice. They were placed into the Rodent Research Hardware System with the objective to study how they adapted to micro gravity and life in space. The video below contains some footage.

Although the video has a lot of cuts and is missing practically everything, it does look like some of the mice are having fun.

What is striking is just how quickly they adjust their movements to accommodate the near weightless environment. They groom, eat, play and move around, as mice do on earth. When you look closely, you can see that they use their toes to grip the bars of the cage to remain in place and to stop themselves from floating away. You can also see how their movements become more refined during the time covered in the video – the “swimming” type movements of their rear legs that are visible during the first few days are almost completely gone after 10 days.

This is something that human beings also experience during the initial periods of weightlessness as their brains struggle to get a handle on what is happening and to learn how to move around without the benefit of friction. The movements are useless though as they do not do anything other than waste energy and increase the risk of injury to oneself and others. But after a few days, the brain figures it out and learns how to move effectively using the least amount of energy possible. It is remarkable just how quickly the brain figures this out and adjusts to the micro gravity environment of the ISS.

The amount of room that they mice have is dramatically larger than that which is available to their human counter parts have. While the internal volume of the ISS is massive at just over 32000 square feet contained within 16 modules, none of the modules contain wide open space like the mice get to enjoy. Getting wide open pressurized spaces into orbit is expensive and since there is no justifiable science reason to do it, they haven’t done it.

With the exception of Sky Lab, the first US space station, human beings have never really had much room to move around while in space. This mission was launched in 1973 and the habitable section was contained in a refitted third stage of a Saturn 5 rocket. It was basically a pipe that had a 22 foot diameter. It was 85′ long and was broken up into two rooms. This gave the astronauts 10000 sq feet of space to work, live and float around it.

It’s remarkable watching this second video because it is more or less the same as the mouse video – living beings getting used to micro gravity and then enjoying the experience that the improved ease of movement affords them. I have no doubt that it is what I would do if I was up there and it’s probably what almost everyone else would do.

Our brain, and the mouse brain for that matter, is remarkable in its ability to quickly adapt to whatever it is forced to deal with. In the case of zero G, the experience is completely sensory in so far as the internal narrative will not alter the meaning of the sensory information. There is no gravity and the body is effectively weightless. There is nothing that can be said to re-frame the raw sensory data in terms of it being anything other than what it is. The brain has NO choice but to accept what is occurring and deal with it. This lack of choice jump starts the process because no mental effort is directed towards trying to interpret the situation as anything other than what is going on. The mice of course do not have this narrative re-framing ability so their brain instantly sets about figuring how to go about living life in the new environment.

A lesson that can be taken from these space experiences is about the true cost of resisting reality. When we can and choose to see things differently from how they actually are, we delay our powerful innate adaptative processes that allow us to quickly adjust to changes in the environment. This can temporarily delay putting in the effort that is needed to normalize to the new situation, but the cost of doing so is the ongoing waste of mental energy that is required to maintain the narrative story. This loss of energy is going to continue until the environment returns to the previous normal or the decision is made to accept reality and adapt to it.

The total cost of adaptation is going to be the lowest when we accept reality instantly, bring in very detailed sensory data and let our brain process it. This is what the brain has been doing for millions of years and it is what YOUR brain has been doing for all of your life. When we delay accepting reality we waste time and energy and we also increase the potential that the eventual cost of adapting will be larger as a result of us becoming more invested in something that isn’t real; given the relationship between the strength of a belief to the length of time we have held it and the amount of effort we have spend trying to defend it. The neural networks grow more robust over time and in response to greater stimulation that results in confirmation – even if the confirmation is a misinterpretation of the facts.

Reality is what reality is, and it doesn’t care about your feelings or beliefs. The sooner they align with it, the sooner your brain will be completely free to figure out how to best adjust to the changes to allow you to live with less resistance. Stop making things harder for yourself and let your brain do the work it unconsciously and effortlessly does to create a life of ease.

Finding Your Passion As A Fitness Professional

This article is a continuation of the post What Role Do You Play As A Fitness Professional so I recommend you read that one first and then follow it up with this one.

How will you know what type of training role you are passionate about?

This is a good question for which there are a number of different and great answers. Knowing the answer, or at least knowing AN answer, is arguably one of the most important pieces of insight a human being can have in guiding them to have a more enjoyable and fulfilling life. The reality is that most people do not ever think about the question, let alone taking the time to uncover an answer to it because they simply just follow their nose and go along with whatever comes to mind from one moment to the next. Plus, it can be hard work to take a personal inventory and dig into your life in a way that is prying and revealing. This means that for many, luck is the only way in which they uncover their passion because their life is just a big experiment of trial and error. The quality of your life is too important to leave to chance, so it is very important that you spend some time to come-up with an answer to the question “what are you passionate about?”

This article was supposed to deal with personal training but the advice about how you uncover your passion is general, so anyone can use it. “Passion” is not job or career specific, it is a technology that one uses for engaging the world that will predictably create a consistent state of mind that has some very distinct properties. Experience is necessary for knowing what you are passionate about, so if you are brand new to the field of personal training you may want to book mark this page and revisit it after a few months of full time work. No harm will come of introspection without experience and if nothing else, it will make you more self-aware that life can and should be meaningful from moment to moment and not just on pay day.

All you will need to complete this exercise is a pen or pencil, some paper and about 30 minutes of uninterrupted time. It cannot be done on a smart phone or a computer because they offer the opportunity for distraction and, more importantly, they place a layer of distance between the words that flow out of you and how they appear. It doesn’t matter if it is messy and slow, the goal is to draw out from your brain the experiences and memories that land as significant, important, and represent the answers to the questions that appear below.

There are no right or wrong providing you are doing your best to surface the information that is being call on and as long as you don’t think about “looking good.” The truth about the world and about life is that the people who look the best are the ones who are living their own life doing the things that make them feel the way they want to feel and not tearing down the journey of other people. Anyone who cares about the rightness or wrongness of your passions and choices in life does so out of self-interest and NOT because they have any compassionate feelings towards you. If you are trying to look good, you won’t to those who know and like you, so just take the time to answer the questions honestly so you can get re-calibrated and know which way is forward.

And even if you find out that being a personal trainer isn’t something you can be passion about, having a clear picture of the value you need to deliver in order to have the life you desire is only going to make your life simpler and more straightforward. Before you know what it is, the answer could be anything and is therefore massively complex. As soon as you know, the answer becomes one thing and that is very simple to deal with – achieving it will require hard work, but at least you’ll know what the work is.

Ask and write down the answers to the following questions, the rational for the questions and other comments will appear below the questions:

1) What do you like doing” or “what do you get enjoyment from” as it applies to training.

2) What are you good at doing” or “what have your clients told you that you are good at doing” or “what have your clients told you that you do differently from other trainers that is good?”

3) Have there been moments that you have experienced while training a client that you are able to bring to mind that you were lost in time and space?” Phrased another way, list all of the training experiences that you have had were your mind was completely focused on the client, their movements and creating the solution to the problem they have asked you for help to solve.

4) What training experiences have you had that have left you feeling energized or elated and what experiences have you had that have left you feeling completely drained and empty of energy?”

5) How much money do you need to make per week / months / year to have your needs met, some of your wants met, to be in good standing with the CRA or IRS, and be saving money for retirement?”

6) When you look inside, are there jobs or tasks that you think SHOULD be done and that you are put on the planet to do?”

Question 1 – Doing things that you enjoy. There is a relationship between enjoyment and passion because it is very difficult to be passionate about something when we are in a negative state of mind. Enjoyment should not be mistaken with feeling good – pleasure is a separate experience and while the two things may go together, they do not necessarily have to.

Question 2 – Doing things you are good at. Getting good at something does not happen by accident. There is a formula – paying attention completely while practicing consistently for a long period of time. It’s very simple, but it is hard work. The fact that you are good at something is an indication that you have put in a lot of the work for some reason. This reason is NOT chance or a random thing. More likely you did it because it didn’t seem like work while you were doing it. This characteristic is important because no matter what you do or how much you like doing it, following your passion in terms of work will not mean that you do not work. The opposite is true, you will likely spend more time working, and most of this work will be at a very high intensity. While it is not impossible that your passion will land on something that you have not yet done, it is best to consider the things we have already done when checking for clues. There is a lot of useful information that we’ll benefit from processing before we go off into the realm of the unknown in the event we need to go looking further.

Question 3 – Being completely present. This is the opposite of clock watching, being aware that other people in the gym are watching you, or wondering what else might be going on. Some might describe this as a flow state or a hyper awareness of the present moment. I’d describe it as interfacing with reality in such a way that your brain and body react to whatever is going on without a moment of thought or consideration.

Question 4 – Level of energy tasks leave you with. I find this question to be one of the more interesting and revealing questions that someone can answer simply because most people do not think about the world in terms of energizing experiences; although most are familiar with draining ones. This is weird given that humans spend so much of their life working. A third of your week days and a quarter of your time is spent in an activity that is aimed at generating enough money to make life possible. Consider that for a second. While is seems like maybe it’s fine if you hate your job, or just don’t like it, but if you were given the task of designing a life for someone else, would you set it up in such a way as to ensure that a quarter of their time was spent doing something that was draining, unpleasant, or the chore that “work” seems to be for so many people?

Look at it this way: Let’s say that you have a life expectancy of 80 years. Consider that while eating a chicken wing at your 60th birthday party you start to choke and no one comes to help you out. You die and it’s all over. Now imagine that no one in the world thinks there is anything bad about this. They just see it as normal and the way life goes. Lots of people die at their 60th birthday party. In fact, it’s kind what 60th birthday parties are for. Everyone just accepts that the final 25% of your life is just taken away because that’s just how it goes.

It’s a stupid thing to think about because we are raised to believe that life is precious. There is a disproportionate amount of money spent on the healthcare for those who are in the last years of their life meaning we want to prolong it for as long as possible. There’s no way anyone would agree to just cut it short by 20 years and eliminate 25% of it. Except this is very close to what most people do with 25% of their life. And it isn’t the final years when mobility and vitality are reducing, we are burning 25% of the time between 25 and 60 – 35 years of living and hating a quarter of it.

This is why passion is so important and why working at something that leaves us feeling energized should not just be a luxury, it should be a necessity. Energy is critical for engaging the world, being alert, and enthusiastically identifying and solving problems.

Question 5 – The amount of money you need. This question has very little to do with passion per say, but knowing the answer to it will close off a lot of open loops that the brain has evolved to be concerned about that siphon off a lot of useful mental energy. A simple fact about the brain is that it cannot focus on the present when it has doubts about the future. When it is not certain that there will be enough money to cover rent and food next month, it will get caught in a loop trying to solve the problem of getting enough money to cover rent and food. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but thinking about a solution to a problem that you haven’t really realized is a problem is not the same thing as taking the actions that are necessary to solve the problem. In fact, the brain spontaneously seeks out problems to solve even when no problem actually exists, so knowing how much income you need to cover your needs, some of your wants, and your retirement will effectively shut down 85% of the automatic problem finding and solving that the brain gets after.

Question 6 – Your unique purpose for being on the planet. This question has nothing specifically to do with training, fitness, or exercise; although the reason why you do these things might reveal a lot about the answer. Doing a job that fulfills your purpose will contribute more to the quality of your life than almost everything else.

The concept of purpose is relatively new, and is a consequence of technological improvements and the specialization of labour that have allowed us to get our needs met with incredible ease. Since we no longer need to spend all of our time hunting, farming, building shelter and protecting ourselves and our families from threats, we have the ability to expand our understanding of who and what we are past the boundaries of mere survival. This is both bad and good. It’s bad because it adds a level of complexity to life that cannot exist when one is in a constant battle for survival – when scarcity and danger lurk everywhere, remaining alive IS our only purpose and taking care of things didn’t leave much room for anything else.

This is no longer the case, there is a lot of space to fill with novel activities or things that are done for no clear reason other than for their own sake. We are now free to do almost anything, and that means that we need to figure out what that is. This isn’t as easy as it seems given the hollow and empty nature of many things. Narrative meanings are complicated and not self-evident. The level of knowledge / wisdom / understanding that is required to accurately articulate a congruent meaning is remarkably high. It can be argued that without society the notion of living a life of meaning would simply never have been considered let alone talked about.

It’s very deep. Meaning requires a system of morals / ethics along with a clear understanding of the scale of experiences ranging from bad to good and then to better. While human beings may be innately curious and are spontaneously moral in so far as we know the difference between good and bad, or good and evil, the plotting of experiences as bad, good, or better is not universally shared. Some people who love working out will consider an exhaustive near maximal piece of work to be a better experience than a warm-up that isn’t painful, hard or even remotely tiring. These same individuals would consider the same piece of work, if done to unsuccessfully make a connecting flight at the airport, to be a bad experience. When this is compared to moral rankings, reducing suffering or improving someone’s well-being are ALWAYS morally positive actions, regardless of the level of ease at which the goal is achieved and regardless of the person.

Having said all of this, we live NOW when there is both the free-time to fill with activities and the baseline level of knowledge to allow for the cultivation of a narrative meaning for our purpose to life. We are of course able to ignore this opportunity and just run through life on autopilot, enjoying and suffering whatever happens to occur. Congruence and consistency are not critical for life to continue; they don’t actually matter when we get right down to it. Life however, becomes much clearer and a lot easier when we are able to answer the questions “why am I here on the planet” and “what is the purpose of my life?”  Knowing these things gives us direction and power / energy to START and KEEP moving in that direction, which makes decisions easier and creates a strong rational for the logical trade of effort in the quest for a specific outcome.

Once you have answered the questions, reread the answers over and over again and allow your brain to track in on the patterns or realizations about the connection between all of these things. There will be something there that you will have been living by but have been completely unaware of the role it was playing on your decision making process. This step is not easy to explain given the nature of how human beings think and the impact our personal history has on shaping the specific nature of our individual thinking. But a lack of ease should not stop you from taking the time to uncover the invisible patterns in your life, particularly given the huge upside to doing it.

As thoughts start to flow into your mind, start writing them down. Spelling, grammar, and sentence structure do not matter, what is critical is capturing the thought. Most of them will not be accurate and may not have anything to do with anything important. But each one of them that you capture will be like a stepping stone that moves you across the stream. This practice can be helpful in other areas given how it serves to interrupt your automatic thinking and force you to critically review the words that you write down. Under normal thinking conditions, a thought enters our mind, it is instantly accepted as true and then we reprocess it. This is only the experience of it, the reality of it is that we have already started to reprocess the thought BEFORE we became consciously aware of it. By writing it down, we get to go back to the beginning to re-evaluate the statement for accuracy while buying our brain a little bit more time to generate other thoughts or possibilities.  

The more your write, the better your thoughts will become in general. Some of them may seem silly, some of them will be silly, and some of them will be transformative leaps forward. Just keep writing them down. The purpose of this exercise is not to end-up with a single uniform answer that reframes your entire life as a straight line between related events. That might happen, it has for some, but that isn’t the goal. The truth is that life is so complicated, that YOU are so complicated, that a uniform theory of everything isn’t really in the cards. Instead, you are trying to generate clarity about the interconnections of your choices. There is a thread that joins them all, and that is what you are trying to find and start to pull on.

At some point you will either have a flash of profound insight, run out of thoughts, or possibly be flooded with a sense of gratitude. All are fine. Exhausting your thought stream is a powerful accomplishment, one that will pay off over the days and weeks that follow. Thinking is both fast and slow. The results can be instant or they can take time to grow. When nothing more is coming out, you can be confident that you have pushed a lot of information into the brain that the slow thinking will be working on over the next few hours and days. Be aware that these insights will be revealed shortly and be ready to capture them when they bubble to the surface.

The profound insight and sense of gratitude should also be captured on paper. Both will be staggering to your thought processes and to your consciousness. Both will steal your attention and effectively hold it hostage for a period of time. Good, that’s what you want. Emotional experiences that are this powerful tell us that something very important has occurred and the emotion is the brains way of telling us to pay attention, learn, and use the information in the future to shape our decisions.

Once you reach the end – either by running out of thoughts, feeling grateful, or having a profound insight – make sure you captured everything in writing and then do something else if you can. Clear the mind and give the brain a chance to process everything that it has experienced during the exercise.

The eventual outcome will be a sentence or two that describes why you are on the planet. It will be so much more than that though. The sentence or two will contain what you would do with your time if you didn’t have anything else to do. If you won billions of dollars, after you got back from a long vacation and grew bored with eating the best foods and had grown tired of amusing yourself almost to death, you would do things that were the manifestations of the purpose statement / sentences. While you may not have the luxury of not having to work, you do have the opportunity to seek out work that allows you to live your purpose.

This is where question 5 comes in. Most of us do not need nearly as much money as we think we do. We come to need it because we don’t enjoy our jobs and the money allows us to distract ourselves from the hellish experience we are living through. When we are pursuing meaningful work that allows us to actualize our purpose, we do not need to be distracted from our life. In fact, our work will give us energy while we are doing it and it will allow us to sleep very soundly at night KNOWING that what we are doing matters, is helpful, and is a good use of time. We’ll get paid enough to live comfortably, so we won’t think about money and will be free to put our full attention into our work, which will help us do the best work we can. Our clients will notice and respond to this. They will work harder, recommend your services, and feel completely connect to you as both a service provider and as a human being. You will grow your business and your level of wealth will climb.

Most importantly though is that you’ll be content, valuable, and completely present when you are working. Your conscientiousness will be at its peak as the right answers will just come to mind and flow out of you. There will be no need for motivational self-talk and you will have abundant energy for work and for life. And this is what living on purpose is all about, having passion for every waking moment and every action that you get to take!

What Role Do You Play As A Fitness Professional?

In the world of fitness there are many ways to contribute to the lives of the participants and matching the role you are most passionate about with the clients who need this type of help will open the doors to your most satisfying career. Sadly the opposite is true, choosing to work with clients who do not need your specific type of help will result in a boring and short career as a fitness professional.

First things first, fitness professionals serve as proxies for their clients. When a client doesn’t know the proper way to move, they connect with a trainer who knows how to move. When a client doesn’t have the appropriate nutritional habits, they’ll connect with a coach who knows the proper food and ways to eat. When a client doesn’t have the needed will power to sustain regular workouts, they connect with a coach who will act as their will power, being collaboratively forceful to get the client to do that which they lack the will to do on their own. If a client is unwilling to commit to a better future, a trainer will get their commitment by selling them a block of training. When a client gets caught-up in their stories, a coach will give them a different perspective and help them separate the truth from the fiction within the story.

Given that we act as proxies for our clients and that we have a particular passion / ability, we cultivate long gratifying careers when we are able to be passionate proxies to our clients. For example, if we love coaching movement, particularly foundation movement, we’ll be most satisfied when our work is made-up of coaching newer trainees who are open to the coaching and highly motivated to adapt. We’ll be less satisfied coaching high level athletes who know how to move efficiently and even less satisfied trying to get people to commit to a better future, as these clients have not yet agreed to be coached so there won’t be any movements to prescribe, watch, or correct. By the same token, those who love to help clients generate future possibilities will feel stifled if they spend their time engaging with people who have actually made the decision to move forward with training because these clients need movement coaching.

There is a life cycle with training spanning the range between non-trainee (A), thinking about it (B), beginner (C), intermediate (D), advanced (E), athlete (F), and relapsed non-trainee (G); this last group is distinct from the non-trainee group but only for a while – after a length of time those who are no longer working out become non-trainees.

It is not unusual for a trainer to enjoy working with people from a variety of these groups, to have a specific gift for one of them and to find the rest of them to be unappealing or exceptionally hard to work with. For example, there are similarities between B and G in that neither is actively working out BUT both are more open to it than someone who simply doesn’t do it (A). B and G just need to uncover the compelling reason why they need to start and they will begin. Person G might have achieved their initial objective and stopped why person B never found out what that objective was in the first place. The conversation with B and G will be very similar, while these conversations will have a completely different tone, feeling and intention than those with someone who has no interest in working-out or has not yet realized that they have a compelling reason to do so.

Training beginners is very different than training advanced participants, and while training advanced people has a lot in common with training athletes, athletes need more structure and planning in order for them to be in peak physical condition for their key performance dates. Athletes are very easy to train in terms of their motivation and willingness to do what they are told, a coach needs to be very specific with what they are telling them to do as there is very little room for error given that a small change in form will have a much larger impact in terms of performance.

Personally, I connect best with C and D, and moderately well with B. I have enjoyed training athletes but accept that there are better coaches for them than me, and I don’t have the innate patience to work with them effectively. I’m much better at getting people to move safely than I am at getting them to move specifically. I have coached weight lifting and power lifting and I don’t find it to be very appealing. However, I am very effective at getting someone to push themselves to their physical limit in a functional circuit or to dig a little deeper and cross into the realm of maximum intensity in a cycling class. I’m also much better at noticing and pointing out the tiny physical changes in terms of appearance or ability that are experienced during the first months of training than I am at analyzing the lifting numbers and determining an athletes rate of neurological adaptation.

All of this is to say that I am a great trainer for people who are just starting out and I am an effective sales person for those individuals who are on the fence about starting a workout program. I have the science background to design effective advanced programs although I do not have the passion or interest to take people through them on a regular basis. I just don’t engage high performance athletes because their training time is too valuable to be spent with me and my coaching time is too valuable to be spend with them. E.g. if they want to go to the Olympics or become a professional they should work with someone who is able to take the time to plot their course very specifically, while I am taking the time to move hundreds of people through the phases of not being sure they want to work out to not being sure they can work out to being sure they can work out to knowing what to do to get what they want, how intensely to do it and how to avoid injuries while doing it. When the fit is right, I LOVE what I do, just as my clients LOVE learning what they need to do, as well as what they CAN do – it will be a pure WIN:WIN. When the fit is wrong, I call my mistake and find them the right trainer. Even though no one is really losing, it is always better to exit break even situations and seek out a WIN:WIN.

Given that I like people and have a genuine curiosity about how they engage the world, it is common for me to have the enrollment conversation with people that I never end up training – either because they are a better fit with another trainer or because it was discovered that they didn’t actually want to work out and simply needed some perspective about life and their relationship with it. E.g. while most people would benefit from physical exercise, not everyone should set about trying to improve their body composition or improve their fitness. Exercise feels amazing for a lot of people who work out regularly – exercise of a specific duration and intensity will trigger the body to release reward chemicals that are pleasurable, reinforcing, and which have a positive impact on mood and psychological health. However, the intensity is rather high and the duration is relatively long, so triggering the release requires a baseline level of fitness that is fairly high. 15 minutes of movement at an average intensity of 82 percent may not seem like a lot, but anything above 80 percent is very close to breathless effort that is physically painful due to the accumulation of lactate. Until your body learns how to tolerate this discomfort, exercise is not going to be immediately pleasurable. So while the human being can be trained to make exercise feel fantastic in the moment, doing so is a skill that requires a lot of work that has all of the characteristics of suffering.

If working out is not for someone, it is better to find that out at the beginning and to completely avoid starting. Too often when a large training package is sold to someone who doesn’t actually want to improve their health and fitness, there is a large drop in the quality of their life because they are out the money, the time, they get nothing of value out of the workouts, they hurt physically, and in the end the entire experience has been a massive waste of resources. This doesn’t work for me because my main objective is to reduce suffering so if I convince someone to take a journey that they honestly don’t want to take, regardless of the long term potential health benefits, I have contributed to their perceived and actual level of suffering. It’s so much better to not start the journey than to begin one that doesn’t need to be undertaken.

I’m not saying that these people deserve to have a miserable life or that they do not deserve to enjoy the benefits of regular exercise and improved health and fitness. They do deserve to have an amazing life and reap whatever rewards they can. It is just that improving your health and fitness is hard work and not for everyone. It won’t necessarily make someone happy and in the end, the relapse rates for people who achieve a big fitness goal are very high. Feeling good and being happy are not the same thing, so when someone comes to me looking to become happier I’m going to take a straight line to the activities that lead to increased happiness and, for the record, working out and achieving a massive body transformation do not make miserable people happy in spite of the fact that they make the person feel fantastic.

In a way, I started off my career as a fitness professional believing something that wasn’t true and when I began to notice that people didn’t work the way I thought they did, I had to change my course. But what I learned during those fifteen years is useful, valuable and exactly what some people need. There is nothing to be gained by throwing it all away; the opposite is true, it is science and it is effectively instructions on how to engineer fitness. It’s knowledge and wisdom even though it was a mistake to believe that fitness is the same thing as happiness. Engineering happiness is a different science so I have had to learn it.

This means that I can work with a larger percentage of people, lead them to a couple of different outcomes – fitness and health and / or happiness and well-being – and direct them towards their actual desired path much more effectively than had I only one set of tools. This keeps the job interesting and it allows me to contribute to the positive life experiences of a larger number of people. Most importantly for me, I get to do what I am passionate about without having to convince people that they need something that they don’t. I have the freedom to work with the people I am best suited for and to actually reduce the suffering of both active and sedentary clients.

I will post the second part of this article, Finding Your Passion As A Fitness Professional, early next week.

Good Enough Is Good Enough, Just Don’t Say That Out Loud

Since I am a human being, I have a long track record of saying and doing some very stupid things. The trend line, however, slopes upwards so if I maintain this trajectory, I’m on course to have a few very good years in a couple of decades. Most of the dangerous and very dumb things are behind me, because I learned from doing them.

Probably the mistake that it has taken me the longest to learn from has to do with the truth and when to tell it vs. keeping it to myself. As a rule, I think knowing and telling the truth are some of the most important things for people to do. Each of us has a good brain that is capable of making sense of the world, and will do this much sooner when dealing with reality as opposed to some sort of nonsense. When we believe that something is true when it isn’t our life becomes more complicated and we make the life of other people more complicated when we choose to tell them a lie or misrepresent something as being true when we believe it might not be. I want life to be as easy as possible for everyone and there is no place for dishonesty in this.

Except when there might be.

It isn’t that there is a time and a place for not telling the truth but there is a time and a place for not saying anything. And this is where life experience comes into play. When making the decision on whether or not to say something, speak only when the statement is true AND helpful. Most things that are true are irrelevant and therefore not helpful.

Take a moment to consider your area of expertise and bring to mind a fact that relates to it. Now imagine stating this fact during every conversation you have with any one. Going in to get replacement registration for your car, ordering dinner, shopping for clothes or groceries, volunteering at the animal shelter, etc…. Okay, that’s all kind of silly, but so is talking about almost everything when it isn’t helpful. The Buddhists have a term for these types of things called “useless speak” and when you get right down to it, almost everything a person says out loud is useless speak. Almost everything we say to ourselves is useless speak and almost every spontaneous thought we have would fall under the catchall of useless speak.

For the last 10 years or so I have been a believer that I’m a little to a lot messed up. I’m not dangerous or stupid. Nor am I antisocial in a psychological way. I’m fine. I have some good qualities, some bad qualities and many that don’t really make much difference. What I am is more or less the same thing as everyone else. A human being who is doing their best to make life easier and a little better each day. Sometimes I’m successful at doing this, but most of the time my actions don’t make any demonstrable difference. It’s good that I got out of bed that morning and took whatever actions I did, but none of them will be written to the big book of life as things that mattered. And this is basically how it is for everyone and everything. Important but irrelevant. Well intentioned, a little screwy and lacking universal appeal.

So when I met Heather in 2012 and found myself completely enamored by her, I just did what I always did – thinking it, feel it, say it. But she wasn’t expecting my slightly over-the-top way of engaging the world; which might be better described as a pathological impulsive honesty. I told her what I was seeing, what it made me think and how that made me feel. It lacked any of the coy aloofness that is very common during the beginning of a relationship. It isn’t what she was used to and it can be a little hard to take.

The main reason I think I did this has to do with knowing what my brain does when it pays attention to something. I had learned from experience that whatever it was I thought about would expand in terms of what my brain did with it – if someone cut me off in traffic and I continued to pay attention to the car, I would begin to notice all of their driving errors, if someone let me merge without drama or tension, I would begin to notice more random acts of kindness or courtesy, it didn’t matter what it was, as soon as I saw it, I would see more of it. I was deliberately paying attention to the things I liked meaning that I was not noticing anything else. And since I talked about what I was thinking, all that was coming out was a growing list of the things that I thought were great. This approach makes it a lot easier for me to remain grateful and happy.

After a few weeks of dating she said to me “I don’t know who you think you are dating, but no one is as good as the person you are talking about.”

It took a moment for me to register what she was saying and when it landed I replied with “I know everyone sucks a little, that goes with out saying, but maybe I should have said it. You are going to do things that annoy me, that disappoint me, that remind me that you can be selfish and mean. I know this and I still adore you because you are….” and I returned to my observational honesty. This was what she needed to hear because it eliminated any pressure that had been building. She knew herself well enough to know she is a collection of traits and qualities and that some of them are not necessarily admirable. Sooner or later there would be a fall from grace and God only knows what would happen if this blind-sided me.

A few days ago one of my friends sent me a video titled Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person by Alain de Botton and I was reminded of the early part of my relationship with Heather. It’s a great video, both funny and a little thought provoking. He seems to have drawn the same conclusion that I have – that people are all kind of screwed-up but are, in general, fine. There are a few lines that seem a little harsh until they sink in and which point they resonate like wisdom.

He is making the point that Heather thought I had missed – that we’re good and bad, but mostly a lot of neither. There probably isn’t anyone who is perfect for us and if there is, we’ll probably never find them because we don’t know enough about ourselves to actually know that our paths have crossed. You are free to look for them if you like, but then you’ll end-up dying alone. The best we can hope for, at least statistically speaking, is that we find someone who is good enough and that we have the good sense to accept that good enough is good enough.

That is what Heather knew she had when we met. I was charming enough to spend time with, intelligent enough to be interesting, self-aware enough to know that I was a work in progress and that bigger and better things were in my future, and conscientious enough to put the work in to make them a reality. Could she have held out for more? Maybe, but there was a very good chance that all she would have been waiting for was different.

The two of us are clear that there is a huge complement in our traits and qualities, that I’m some of the things she isn’t and she’s some of the things that I’m not and that we are human beings and as such are prone to moments of being insufferable and kind of unlikable. And we’re fine with this. These moments suck, but they are worse for the person who is being the jerk than for the one observing it.

Heather was simply trying to figure out if I had the good sense to not say anything about the shortcomings or the bad sense to believe that I had found perfection in a person.

And maybe that’s the key to relationships. Realizing that you’ll partner up with someone who isn’t perfect, each partner accepting that good enough is good enough. Establishing a connection with someone who can put up with us, overlooking the ways in which we fall short and adoring the ways in which we excel. Knowing the truth and when to voice it, and maybe, most importantly, knowing what to not say out loud.

On The Mindless Menace Of Violence – Post Revisited

Yesterday was the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. so 51 years ago today Robert F Kennedy gave the speech that is referred to as “On The Mindless Menace Of Violence.”

The first time I ever heard the speech was sometime in early 2011 and I found it very moving. Some of my feelings were covered in the June 1, 2011 post On The Mindless Menace of Violence that has a link to a YouTube clip of an audio recording of the speech.

The first half of 1968 was a particularly bad time in America and early April was a low point of an excessively brutal year. News about MLKs murder traveled quickly and seemed to be the spark that lit the powder keg which was the growing level of dissatisfaction among the coming-of-age Baby Boomers and pretty much every race of people that wasn’t white.

The rage which was justified, could no longer be contained and riots erupted in many U.S. cities. These brought about swift reactions from the authorities. The first reaction was to try an put an end to civil unrest using force, and the second was a shift in the political climate that added a lot of momentum to the movement towards more equal rules and policies.

RFK had been a big advocate of civil rights and had a strong following among ethnic voters and within these communities. That spring was a time when the democratic primaries were being held to choose their candidate for the Presidential election later that year. Against the advice of his advisors, he made a single campaign stop in Cleveland, Ohio the day after King was killed. This was not the first time that he disregarded the security advice of his campaign staff.

He did not have a death wish but he also knew that the there was an important job to do and that fear would only get in the way of completing it. He was very aware of what was going on all around the country we he stepped in front of the crowd of 2200 people at the Sheraton-Cleveland Hotel and gave the speech.

When you listen to it, and you really should because it is powerful and dissimilar to the speeches we have grown accustomed to from modern politicians, it is striking that he does not give anyone a pass. The thrust of it is geared towards the perpetrators of violence and how they are taking actions against people who simply want to live their life and make things a little better for themselves and their families. He tries to paint a picture that we are all the same race – the human race – and that any action of unnecessary violence against one of us is an act of violence against all of us.

He knew full well that what happened the day before in Memphis, Tennessee was going to happen again, and again, and again, but that it could not go on forever because we would not let it. Two months and a day later we was killed and a lot of the optimism and belief that the human spirit is good and that it would eventually outshine evil seemed to evaporate.

He was right however, it just took a lot of time. The world is very different now than it was half a century ago. Most younger people don’t care about race, religion, sexual orientation, or any of the things that were historically used as wedge issue to trigger the us / them or in-group / out-group thinking. In every way life is better today than it has ever been. Sure, it’s not perfect, violence is still a fact of life, there are a lot of people who are suffering and not everyone enjoys the same advantages or head start. But it is better and improving.

What is less talked about is what RFK did on April 4, 1968, which is in a big way, much more impressive and it goes a long way to explain why he took the stage the following day and why he campaigned fearlessly until early June.

Kennedy had learned about Kings death as he boarded a plane to fly to Indianapolis for a campaign rally. He had some time to amend his speech and prepare some remarks to talk to the severity of what had just happened, what MLK represented and meant to the world and to speak to the void that his murder created. He cared about the people, but could not directly relate to how they might be feeling. There was a concern that into the void would flow more and a dramatic escalation of violence, which would cause more death and suffering which would serve as the fuel of a chain reaction that would be nearly impossible to stop.

This concern is legitimate given the tendency for people, and all living things, to be driven to action right as hope evaporates into helplessness. This is a very dangerous time given the feeling that there is nothing to lose, nothing to gain, and the window of opportunity to do massive harm to those you deem as responsible for everything that is wrong with your life. It is not rational yet there is a certain flavor of wisdom in it, which is why Kennedy took the chance to try and walk the country back for the edge

When he spoke, the first thing he told the crowd was the Martin Luther King Jr. was dead. This was news to everyone who had gathered to hear him speak. He conceded that many might be filled with hatred and a lust for retribution. There was no judgment in his words and many regard this act of empathy and compassion as being a source of peace and stability in a moment when the country was beginning to explode into chaos.

“What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness, but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice towards those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.”

That night there was no rioting in Indianapolis and the following day he gave the On The Menace of Violence speech.

The world never got to enjoy the actualization of his vision. Nixon won the election in November and became president the following January and while he is regarded as having been remarkably liberal and progressive, especially for a Republican, he had some flaws that took him down along with a lot of his administration.

The 1970’s were like a decade long hang over for the turmoil of the 1960’s and the Vietnam war. The public was divided and did not have a lot of trust in their elected officials. There were no leaders like JFK, MLK or RFK and the global economy was in rough shape and a dramatic increase in the cost of oil in 1974-75 created an energy crisis that further suppressed optimism.

RFK was right though. Human beings are two sides of the same coin. We can be evil, violent and thoughtless towards other people. But we can also be kind, compassionate and responsible. The side of the coin we happen to find ourselves on is determined by what we are taught as being appropriate and socially acceptable. When we learn that our fellow citizens are our brothers and sisters, different but the same as us, we learn to treat them more fairly and act towards them with kindness. This is what generation X learned from their caregivers and families, and these are the lessons we pass on and try to teach.

His speech is a relevant today as it was back in 1968 because treating people fairly and with compassion will never be the wrong thing to do.

“This Is Water” – A Little Bit Better Each Day

David Foster Wallace was an American author who also taught English and creative writing at university. He won many awards including a Pulitzer Prize in 2012. Like many people, he suffered from mental illness – depression – and took his own life on September 12, 2008.

Three years before his death, Wallace accepted an invitation to give the commencement speech to the graduating class at Kenyon College. The speech was a very good one, regarded as the best commencement speech ever given by Time Magazine. It was recorded, transcribed and was used as the foundation for a book titled “This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life.”

When you listen to the speech, his tone is flat and the delivery is very “matter of fact.” This is a bonus because it forces the listener to pay attention. When you spend any amount of time viewing and listening to these types of speeches you quickly develop a sort of immunity to the flowery platitude rich messages, presented in such well rehearsed oratory fashion that it’s easy to forget the venue and who the actual audience is. This Is Water isn’t like that, and that’s why it is so easy to hear what he is saying.

Life is hard, boring, and every day is almost exactly the same. There are so many people that we cannot help but constantly be in each others way. While we all have the same basic needs, each one of us has a unique struggle to meet them. We need food, so that means we need money, so there are jobs. These jobs are, for the most part, pointless experiences of repetitive nonsense performed for its own sake. Few of us do something that has any higher meaning or that contributes anything to the future history of humanity. The experience of life is awful for most people. Endured for too many decades and ending with no fanfare. It peaks too soon, and from around the mid twenties, we physically decline. Vitality is replaced with aches and pains as our lust for life fades, substituted with a growing sense that maybe the entire thing has no point.

Whatever sense of meaning we had at the beginning of the journey is revealed to be a mistake or a lie, as the only thing that ends up being real is the growing amount of work we have to do.

And this is true. Life is not easy. Staying alive requires constant effort to find food, shelter, security, connection and purpose. And it is this final one that we innately get wrong. Maybe we were raised to believe that we would change the world, that our birth would mark a new end and beginning point in human history. And while that is true, it isn’t very true. We matter, just not very much. There are too many people for any one person to matter. Our species has effectively reproduced itself into the position of devaluing any and every single individual. Your value is one seven and half billionth of the collective worth of the human race.

No, purpose is not something we are born with, it is not an innate trait. When we mistakenly assume that by meeting our needs for food, shelter, security and connection that we will be living a purpose filled life we are setting ourselves up for disappointment, at best, or a life of struggle, torment and confusion as the more likely.

That is what I take out of “This Is Water” and I believe that is the essence of Wallace’s message. Life is meaningless. Being alive is not, in and of itself, sufficient enough to make living worthwhile. But we need meaning and purpose as much as we need food, and shelter, and safety, and connection. It is too easy, almost automatic, to become nihilistic a few years after we leave school and have begun our careers. Being an adult is a daily reminder of the utterly pointless nature of being alive.

Except that is only the truth when we choose to not put the work in to see it any other way. Meaning is a completely abstract thing while also being very real at the same time. Like water to a fish, it is necessary for survival, but rarely do human beings take the time to see meaning and purpose as so essential to our survival that we spontaneously and unconsciously manufacture them out of absolutely nothing just to make sure it is there.

Being alive is not a purpose, getting your survival needs met is not a purpose. These things are essential for living a life of purpose, but are insufficient at creating and sustaining the will to continue to work hard, day in and day out, to make life a little bit better each day. When we lean completely on them to give our life meaning, we park our progress in the bad part of town only to wonder months or years later why everything of value has been stripped away and sold as scrap.

Living a life of meaning will only happen on purpose. It requires conscious effort that is focused and sustained over time. It is mindful and deliberate. It is the consequence of looking at the world, your life and LIFE in general and then making the decision to see that you have the choice on what body of water you are going to live in, and then doing EVERYTHING you are capable of doing in order to get there. Even if you never make it, your life will have had meaning simply because you did the things that give it meaning.

Meaning cannot and will not happen by accident as the only automatic is the unhappiness associated with ONLY meeting your survival needs. You will get by, and that is all you will get.

Living a life of purpose and meaning is not easy. It requires clarity and constant effort. It is work. But so too is living a meaningless life. The only difference might be the moment to moment experience. A life thoughtlessly lived on autopilot is the soul crushing existence described in Wallace’s speech. A life lived with care and deliberateness is, if nothing else, a life filled with distraction from the day to day tedium.

Life is going to be hard. It will be work regardless of what you do. Find out what you want, and direct that effort towards the things that make it a little bit better each day.

Demystifying Depression Article – The Cumulative Effect Of Stress

A number of years ago my brother sent me an article called Demystifying Depression – Part I by Name of Feather – Name of Feather is the username under which the article was originally posted in May 2005 . Over the years the article has disappeared and reappeared on a number of occasions as the websites it was hosted on have changed owners or simply just shut down.

The major thesis of the article is that depression is a physical disease and, more specifically, a disease that is the manifestation of an inability to recover for the day to day stress of being alive.

In general, human beings have a finite ability for cellular repair and depending upon the amount of stress, stimulation and tissue damage they experience they will require a specific length of time to fully recover. For example, a person may have the ability to repair 48 units of damage per day, or 2 units per hour. If they have an easy day that causes 12 units of damage, it will take them 6 hours to recover. A much tougher day that causes 48 units of damage, will, assuming no further damage occurs, require a full 24 hours to restore things to normal.

Something that is less than helpful is the nature of recovery. Unused potential simply evaporates and cannot be stored. If it was not used when it was available, it is just no longer available. Which is a problem when we consider the following example: Someone has an exceptionally stressful day and generates 96 units of damage, mandating the need for 2 full days of recovery. Not a problem, so long as the time is taken to recover and allow the body to return to baseline, the individual will be fine – think about someone taking it easy on the weekend or going to bed a few hours earlier for a couple of days. Now what happens when to the recovery queue when, on the day following that 96 units of damage, the person has an average day of 48 units?

96 – 48 + 48 = 96.

After a full day or recovery they remain in an un-recovered state; effectively in the same position there were in when their day ended yesterday. It is this cumulative characteristic that creates the possibility that the recovery queue will grow larger and larger over a period of days and weeks.

The body is generally able to keep going for a while when it is over stressed or overworked. This resilience is a survival trait allowing us to push hard when we need to and recover once the work is done. In fact, our ancestors lived in a time that alternated between scarcity and abundance, which favored individuals who were able to carry-on under suboptimal circumstances. Sooner or later things would improve and the opportunity for recovery would present itself. Baseline functioning would be restored after the required period of time.

Human beings run into problems when the opportunity for recovery is never given or not sufficient enough because our ability to continue to function normally is dependent upon the ability to spend adequate amounts of time in a fully recovered state. When this does not happen there are metabolic and physiological consequences. Initially the negative impact is small – a person might have a more difficult time regulating emotions, maintaining skin health, falling or remaining asleep, concentrating or recovering from physical exercise – but after a short period of time the effects will begin to grow – changes in body composition, personality changes, increased susceptibility to infection, or reduced cognitive functioning – and eventually the body will begin to shut down impairing digestion and immune functioning allowing disease to take hold, which will eventually lead to death.

The article outlines all of this, but most importantly it details how to avoid it from becoming a problem in the first place and how to adjust your behavior in the event it you have dug too big a hole to recover from with a few days of rest, some extra sleep or a couple of weeks vacation.

This to me is the most valuable part of it. So much is known about optimal or normal physiological functioning that it is very easy to miss some of the more critical parts of it. The experience of anxiety and its associated stress response are completely normal and very predictable BUT only as long as the processes that support them have the adequate opportunity to recover. The moment they start to get impacted will mark a change in how the organism will handle any stress. These impairments will have a cascading effect on seemingly unrelated systems, which will cause further negative effects. The example recovery potential of 48 units per day will, once a threshold has been crossed, begin to drop and will not be restored to normal levels until the body has the chance to fully recover. It becomes 47 units, then 46, and it continues to drop until the person consciously takes recovery, breakdown occurs which forces recovery, or the person dies.

The dose is the poison here. The higher the stress, the longer the recovery. The longer one spends in a non-recovered state, the greater the level of physiological impairment and the longer it will take for normal functioning to return. In fact, it is both possible and likely that extended periods of time spend running at a diminished capacity will result in permanent changes to many metabolic functions including the ability to recover from stress.

Consistently receiving nominal amounts are fine, as are occasional periods of time with very large amounts as long as there is the opportunity to completely recover. The potential problems begin when recovery capacity is not able to keep up with the damage and when this damaged state is sustained for periods of time. At this point, the individual will begin to show diminished capacity and this will include their long term resilience.

Which brings us to the actual problem with stress. We handle it very effectively and for a while, until we don’t, and at that point it is already too late. We have created a lot of damage that we need to recover from, and some of that damage is to the recovery processes and to the processes that create stress resistance. But we are blind about this simply because dealing with stress is so natural and doesn’t have a lot of symptoms.

If you haven’t read the article before give it a read and consider making a copy and saving it on your computer. It is very useful and given its tendency to disappear without warning, there is no guarantee that it will always be available to you when you need it the most.

If It Was Supposed To Be Easy, It Would Be Easy

Winters in Ontario can be brutal. It isn’t so much the cold and the snow that grinds you down, it’s the variability that gets you begging for spring. This winter has been no exception. It snows, there is a deep freeze and then everything melts. Just as you start to believe that it might be over, the temperature drops, the sky opens up and there’s another foot of snow to shovel.

In the second week of January there was a spring-like thaw that cleared everything up just in time for winter to return and overcompensate for its absence by causing a big drop in temperature that lasted for a few days before returning back to being just unreasonably cold – a day time high of minus fifteen and a overnight low of minus twenty-five; these are Celsius degrees which made it slightly warmer than Fahrenheit, although “less brutally cold” is probably a more accurate way to state it. If you were a plumber you call it “earnings season” as pipes freeze and burst.

This is what happened at Heather’s cottage. When we arrived on Friday evening and turned on the water pump it started raining behind the shower wall. All at once a bunch of things float through our minds. The first is to turn off the water and assess the damage and magnitude of the problem. It turned out to be only a single pipe, which was good. And it was in one of the pipes that sent water to a small half bathroom – the kitchen and main bathroom with the shower were fine. But with no way to turn off the water flow to the impacted pipe we were going to need to get a plumber in to fix it or close it off. There was no water damage, at least not anywhere that mattered – the cottage was built over sand and the pump had been off, so the water that was in the pipes had leaked out, down and into the sand.

The second consideration was about what we would do right now. We were without running water, so no showering or flushing the toilet, but the gas and electricity were still working. There was plenty of drinking water because we bring it with us, and more than enough food. I figured it made more sense to stay than to go home because we were already there and it’s easy enough to fill-up the water tank to flush the toilet. Heather agreed, so we made dinner, watched TV and went to bed as if everything was fine.

We talked it over the following morning and decided to stay for the rest of the weekend. We made a quick trip into town to get more water to make sure we didn’t run out and the rest of the weekend was more or less normal.

The final consideration was on how to deal with the burst pipe. We didn’t need it fixed right away because we had water, so we were good with saving the ton of money a weekend emergency plumber would charge. The question then became “when would we get it fixed?” Heather had been planning of replacing all of the piping anyway because it is old, copper and was run against the outside walls; the pipe bursting wasn’t entirely unexpected. It had been in the realm of possibility and while it made for a crappy couple of hours digging through the snow to get access to the basement to assess the damage, the work was going to be getting done soon anyway. If anything, the deep freeze just moved the start date forward by three to six months.

And this marked the beginning of one of those “firsts” moments that couples have in their relationship. This was the first time we would be dealing with a home repair that wasn’t part of a well planned schedule with a clear start and end date. Together we would need to figure this out, kind of on the fly, and with people who were on the phone – either the plumber or Heather.

Every relationship has the potential for a bunch of these firsts; although many relationships end after the initial one. The reason they are relationship killers is because they bring to the surface who a person really is. There isn’t enough time to put on whatever mask you have been wearing because the problem needs to be addressed. A sense of urgency is remarkably unveiling. And lets be honest here, most people are kind of messy from a psychological point of view. It is not that we are awful or bad, it’s that we are just people. We’re animals that learn, remember, and talk. Sometimes we listen, but we only really hear from a position made possible from our life experience. This means that the people who understand us the best are our immediate family. It also means that we understand our romantic partners from our own perspective and NOT from a position of actually understanding who and what they are, or from actually understanding their motivations for doing things. Worse still is that we usually have no idea why we ourselves do anything.

Think about that for a second. There Heather and I were with a problem to solve. There are consequences to every possible solution and many of the solutions are mutually exclusive. Since I work from home, I will be meeting with the plumber while she is at work. BUT Heather has greater vision in terms of what she wants done with the cottage in the future so, therefore, how the plumbing should be fixed and how it might get rerouted.

Individually and in isolation the solution is both simple and obvious. And this is the exact opposite of how relationships work. I want the pipes located away from the outside walls so they never freeze again. Heather wants this too, but she also wants the kitchen updated so the sink will be moving six feet to the left of where it is now. Plus there will need to be a water filter for drinking water and eventually a dishwasher and possibly a washer and drier because they will increase the resale value.

We are very different people. There is nothing wrong with this at all, I think it makes for a better relationship because she is many of the things that I am not, and vice-versa, but crisis situations are moments when there isn’t enough time to put on the mask of understanding. While she can appreciate the practicality of my vision – it’ll get things back to what they were before and dramatically decrease the possibility of another plumbing issue for the next fifteen years or so – it is completely lacking in the enhanced usefulness or aesthetics actualized by her solution. But the increased choices and possibilities created by her solution do not spontaneously enter into my mind. The kitchen is fine, I do the dishes and the only time we are there for long enough to possibly need to do laundry is in the summer when we’re at the beach most of the time, which means we aren’t wearing a lot of clothes.

My life experience is shaping how I see things as her life experience is shaping how she sees things. And in crisis moments we are not capable of seeing this, or that there is a different way to look at things. All I know is all there is, and all she knows is all there is. Except there’s at least one other way of viewing things that is critically important in that moment.

During one of the conversations about what the plumber had suggested, it became crystal clear to me that nothing was crystal clear to me. When I asked Heather what she wanted, and she told me, I was left kind of gobsmacked. All at once everything made sense to the two of us. She realized that I had been solving a different problem and I realized that I had been trying to solve the wrong problem.

We wondered out loud why the whole thing was going down the way it was and we tracked in on what seems like a decent enough answer. It isn’t that life is hard, although it is, it’s that relationships are not easy. If it was supposed to be easy, it would be easy. It isn’t just the relationship that Heather and I share that is not easy, it is almost every relationship that has ever or will ever exist, with most of them being deemed too difficult to even continue.

We are fortunate to be self-aware enough to notice when there is more friction than normal and to be curious about the reasons why. Neither one of us make the other person wrong and we reach the point of accepting that we are just different. This process is transformative and it gets us to the end of the situation quickly while sustaining the middle of our relationship.

The best part about all of these “firsts” is that by getting to the end of them they just evaporate. They never come-up again as “seconds” because of what we learned from the initial experience. We just get along better and live with a little more ease.

When You Train Is Who You Are

In Choosing A Fitness Club – Post Revisited I covered some of the considerations a person might have when making a decision on what gym to join. There was a section in which I made reference to the five distinct types of people and how they tend to self-select their training times:

They are early morning, off-hour, after work, late evening lifters, and the generalists. As rules of thumb, anyone who is willing to get out of bed to go to the gym will likely be highly driven and have less time to waste on things they deem as unimportant. The after work people will have a similar desire to waste as little time as possible. The late evening lifters tend to have a very focused lifting intensity but a more laid back approach to their between sets time. Off-hour people have selected these times because they work for them in terms of traffic flow and life management. The generalists workout whenever they can or feel like it.

This is an interesting topic that I need to expand on because, in general, people unconsciously and automatically find the time that works for them and just stick with it. With the exception of the generalists, the people who workout whenever they can make the time or feel like it, the chances of people remaining as active members at a gym are determined by their ability to get this time of day selection correct. Rephrased, most people who cancel their gym memberships or stop going to the gym / working out do so as a consequence of choosing to train at the wrong time. My belief is that it isn’t that the time was not convenient for them it is that who they are is not convenient for the time they picked. Who they are is NOT so malleable as to become whatever they want it to be.

There are five different types of people which correspond to five specific time frames in terms of when people train at the gym. Anytime, or what I referred to as generalist, early morning, off-hour, after work and late evening. Let’s talk about each one specifically because being able to identify which one you are will go a long way in making sure that you get the best start on your deliberate fitness journey:

Anytime / generalist – these are people who can workout whenever they feel like and will tend to do so based more on their availability than any other factor. These people tend to be lifers who enjoy working out for its own sake. Moving feels good and being healthy is not a matter of choice, it’s a matter of necessity. There is a very good chance that if you are one of these people you already know you are and you are already a member at a gym and working out regularly. Of those who are not regular exercisers, only a very small percentage of them belong to this group. It is possible for people to become a member of this group by joining one of the other four groups first, developing the exercise habit, learning how to really enjoy it for its own sake, and them transitioning.

Personality traits include independence, internal locus of control, lack of a need for social approval, strong time management skills, self awareness and a tendency towards free-thinking. They probably won’t talk much about their training or workouts and will simply just do them. There is a very good chance that they will look like they workout and their food choices will tend to be on the healthy side of the scale. Consider these people to be the doers and not the talkers who roll with the punches in order to accomplish unreasonable amounts of work.

Early morning – these are people who need to workout early in the morning, usually within an hour or so of waking and their first venture out of the house will be to the gym. Their training goals will primarily be to improve fitness and improve body composition with a higher focus on reducing body fat. They may not necessarily be morning people and may drag themselves through the first thirty minutes of being awake, but they will show a dramatic surge of energy once their workout begins and will always leave the gym feeling WAY more energetic than how they arrived. They will show a propensity towards “all or nothing thinking” and this will manifest as a need to get to the gym by a certain time or else not going. Missed workouts will not be made-up later in the day and will only be made-up later in the week.

Personality traits will include being highly driven, goal oriented, binary in their thinking, a tendency towards accountability to other people leading them to benefit from group fitness or personal training experiences. On days that they miss their morning workouts, as opposed to off days, they will be a little insufferable and will operate very differently compared to the days they worked out or took a planned off day. It is be as though one bad decision first thing in the morning serves to set the tone for more bad decisions through out the day. These people are best served by getting out of bed as soon as the alarm goes off in the morning, so to NEVER push snooze, and get up at the same time every day REGARDLESS of what they have planned. A successful first five minutes will result in a day of massive action and the creation of a lot of forward momentum.

Off-hour – these are people who have the flexibility to workout more or less anytime and choose to get to the gym when it is less busy. There reasons for training will be varied – strength, body composition, muscle growth, fitness, cardio performance, or for pleasure. They will have a similar mind set to the early morning people in terms of there being a cut off time for going to the gym although they will have a wider range in terms of when they can go. If they miss a workout, they can catch-up later in the week or will do more work in the remaining workouts of the week to make sure they get the training time in. The people will be the first to have training partners or to form more obvious social groups. For example, the early morning people might participate in fitness classes and spend time socially with the other participants, but their conversation during class will have a transactional flair and may lack a closeness or softness that is afforded by having more time to fully engage someone. Off-hour people, on the other hand, will be able to take the time to engage other people in a more connected way. Their closeness will be obvious to others and it can often be interpreted as cliquey. This is usually not the case however as they will welcome new members in and will quickly begin to look out for the needs of others.

Not all off-hour people are joiners or part of a group. Some will be as single minded as the anytime / generalists or the early morning people, but just have the flexibility to go to the gym whenever they like. With these specific people, they will display the same “no nonsense” approach to their time at the gym and will come across as transactional vs. collaborative. They have a mission while they are at the gym and nothing is going to get in their way from achieving their objective.

Personality traits for those who are not like the anytime or early morning people might include a more calm, deliberate or laid back approach to life, having a success pattern that includes a social or connection component, an absence of any perceivable sense of urgency, and the heightened quality of relationships with the staff.

After work – these are the people who workout right after work and for which the gym represents “me” time in terms of throwing way the days stress. Their training objectives will be very similar to those of the early morning – general fitness and body composition with a higher focus towards reducing body fat – and they will have an awareness that they will be able to have a higher degree of flexibility with their dinner as a result of working out so close to it. Their food choices will be positively impacted by this proximity and their workout will serve to empower / improved decision making – their meals on workout days will be healthier than their non-workout days , with particularly positive impact on their dinner choices. They will have slightly more flexibility when if comes to delaying their gym visit, but there will be a cut off and most of them will NOT come to the gym if they go home first. Missed workouts will only be made-up later in the week and the effect of missing a planned workout will very often lead to a series of bad health choices in the hours between the missed workout and going to bed. The elation that is experienced by the early morning people will not be so obvious or may not even be present. However, the workout will serve to refocus them for the rest of the day and the massive reduction in physiological and emotional stress that their training causes will manifest itself as a enhanced sense of well-being, contentment or peace of mind.

Personality traits include being driven, goal oriented, determined, the ability to manage time and balance many competing demands. There will be a more or less equal mix between those who are accountable to themselves and those who are accountable to other people, although most will have an internal locus of control in terms of determining what they want for their future. The mix of energies will be broad ranging from almost manic with an exceptionally high sense of urgency to a low almost sedated “I don’t give a crap” / “nothing matters” which will have a lot to do with the evening responsibilities of the people – parents will still be getting after it because their day is about to begin again while those with fewer responsibilities might be crossing off the final item on their daily “to do” list.

The after work group will be the largest of the five. It will show the greatest diversity in how they use the gym space and services. There will be a high number of group fitness enthusiasts and a higher percentage of personal training consumers. Monday and Tuesday between 4:45 pm and 7:15 pm tend to be the busiest times of the week, with Saturday morning being a distant third, although there are regional specific patterns based on demographics.

Late evening – these are the people who, for the most part, go home after work to eat dinner before coming to the gym. Their training goals are very much on body composition with a big focus on gaining muscle, and on the development of strength. In general there will be a much higher percentage of males vs. females when compared to any other time of the day. The energy will be lower and slower with the exception of the periods of time spent under the bar when the people will be putting between 75% and 100% effort in. To a neutral observer it will seem like very little work is getting done when compared to early morning and after work. However, it will only seem this way. The reality will be that while there are fewer calories being burned via the cardio equipment and classes, there will be a lot more work being done in terms of force X distance. The time needed by the central nervous system to recover from these great efforts is the reason why the energy between sets will be very low. There is a great sense of urgency but these people have learned how to channel it into the lifting.

Personality traits include being driven, goal oriented, strong willed to stubborn, with an almost complete self-accountability to oneself for the work that needs to get done, with mixed accountability to others for showing-up. This is the realm of training partners because of the need for spotters and because progress is so slow the lifting of heavy objects can become a hyper competitive way of keep things interesting. These people tend to never miss workouts and will usually create and stick to a very rigid schedule that does not change often or vary much. The physiological reasons for this are clear and fairly well supported by evidence – building muscle is a process that requires you to train a muscle a particular way, give it a specific length of time to recover and then train it again, over and over again for years. Getting massive is not something that happens by accident or as a consequence of achieving any other fitness goal. This is different from fat loss, improved general fitness or specific cardiovascular health which are complementary objectives – by training for one you inevitably achieve the others.

There will be a much lower percentage of people who are doing intense cardio training because of how that type of training ramps up metabolic rate and tends to make falling asleep very difficult. This is why there will be very few people training to reduce body fat at this time of day. Very few general interest classes will be offered during this time and those classes that are available will tend to be very skills focused with a narrow appeal – boxing or other combat type sports.

How do you make use of this information? The first thing you will need to do is figure out what you are trying to achieve and consider what your schedule looks like in terms of open times you have or can make to train. The next thing you will need to do is take an honest inventory of your traits and begin to compare them to what is outlined above. Once you start to get a feeling for the type of person you are, factor in your training goals and consider what the ideal time of day is to fit that training is. Re-look at your schedule to see if you can make this time available for training three to five times a week.

None of what I have said above should be taken to mean that you cannot make a less than ideal situation work. You absolutely can, but knowing that you are moving forward into a head wind is often the only thing that is needed to ensure that you keep moving forward. No matter what your goals are, you will need to do a lot of work and this work is not ever easy, even when you learn to love doing it. The thing is, it’s a lot easier to learn to love working this hard when your training time matches who you are. The weights will give you enough resistance, there is no point in adding more friction by trying to do something that you have never done during a time that doesn’t suit you doing it.