The Zen Lessons Of Road Rage

Back in October of last year, I read a message board thread titled What Causes Road Rage? …things I hate on the road!

DeanCollins’ response really stuck with me (I’ve edited some of the spelling):

October-9th-2006, 02:29 AM

It starts when the aggressive driver fails to leave early enough to arrive at his/her destination on time, compounded by their unrealistic expectations about making it through traffic lights and being able to drive at a certain speed. They become further aggravated with their expectations that other drivers will behave in a certain manner especially when the aggressive driver tries to influence them. When the other drivers don’t respond to the input, they take it as a personal attack and feel the need to retaliate. These hostilities will escalate exponentially when confronted by another aggressive driver. These are control/out of control issues that cause these aggressive drivers to lack the patience to deal with varying traffic conditions and other driver’s behavior.The remedies are simple. Leave plenty of time for your trip. Expect traffic delays and red lights (it happens every day). Don’t have expectations about other drivers. Don’t try and influence the other drivers by making eye contact, hand gestures, talking, tailgating, retaliating etc…. these are offensive acts that can trigger a defensive act, such as someone firing a gun at you (thousands of people carrying these days). The life you save may be your own.

Dean smacked me in the face by pointing out some of the things that I was doing when I drove. I hadn’t been aware that I felt other people where out to make me late or that the municipality had set up their traffic light system to make sure the lights stopped me every now and then.

Very soon after reading his post an answer to the question “why won’t they get out of my way?” came to me for the first time. They weren’t getting out of my way because they didn’t have anywhere to go, there was only one lane and they had cars in front of them. I don’t drive a fire truck so they don’t have to get out of my way.

So I started giving myself more time to get to where I was going so I could stop needing people to get out of my way just so I could be on time. This really changed my driving environment. It stopped being me against all these other cars and it started being me driving my car. You can imagine how that capped the rage and hostility I felt. It turned out that I had been wrong about other drivers all along. Most of them don’t even consider me in their drive, they see my car and want to avoid hitting it, that’s as far as it goes.

Dean also made me aware that I pick up on other drivers’ intentions when I drive. Most people drive with the intention of getting to their destination safely. These people are easy to identify because you don’t even notice them. They are inside the cars that are driving. The drivers’ whose intention is to get to where they are going faster than what is safe are equally easy to identify, they are the people who are driving the cars. We give them qualities and characteristics, personalities and lives and the fact that we are aware of them at all is an indication that we’ve picked up on something abnormal about their driving.

I’ve learned to put this information to good use to improve my happiness by eliminating some of the manufactured stress associated with driving. There are only two things aggressive drivers want from other drivers. First off, they want them to get out of their way. If they can’t have that then they want to get into an aggressive exchange with a non-compliant driver. Only one of these opinions is reasonable enough for me to go along with so if they want around me and I can make it easier for them I’ll do it. I don’t pull over and stop, the way I would for a cop or an ambulance, but I’ll give them room if they want to pass me, change lanes if it will open a gap for them or wave them by if it’s not going to cause anyone else hardship. Once they pass me I don’t have to think about them anymore. I’ve also dramatically reduced the likelihood that they’ll crash into the back of me because of their tailgating or cause an accident that I’ll be involved it.

Some say that I shouldn’t reward their maladaptive behavior. That letting them get their way will only embolden them but I prefer to look at it as rewarding my pragmatic behavior. I don’t need to invest the cognitive energy to think about them and, frankly, I don’t think they are worth spending any energy on. I don’t know them so I don’t care if they have personality issues that manifest themselves in road rage. I’ll let someone else give them the civics lesson in the form of a beating or a gunshot because I’m in my car trying to get somewhere.

Who Are You Not To Be?

Who are you not to be?

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We are born to manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us,
it’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give others permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.

This appeared in Marianne Williamson’s 1992 book “A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles” and is often missourced to Nelson Mandela’s Inauguration Speech in 1994.

I love this quote because I think many of us have been conditioned to believe that greatness is something for someone else to enjoy. The truth is that we all have talents and there are things that each of us do that others cannot. We should not feel shame for this and trivialize our achievements. We should embrace what we have done and allow our actions to empower others.

Lance Armstrong Story

I like the following quote because it helps me stay focused on my training during the off-season. It is a diary entry by Colombian rider Santiago Botero during the Tour de France one year:

There I am all alone with my bike. I know of only two riders ahead of me as I near the end of the second climb on what most riders consider the third worst mountain stage in the Tour. I say ‘most riders’ because I do not fear mountains.

After all, our country is nothing but mountains. I train year-round in the mountains. I am the national champion from a country that is nothing but mountains. I trail only my teammate, Fernando Escartin, and a Swiss rider. Pantani, one of my rival climbers, and the Gringo Armstrong are in the Peleton about five minutes behind me. I am climbing on such a steep portion of the mountain that if I were to stop pedaling, I will fall backward. Even for a world class climber, this is a painful and slow process. I am in my upright position pedaling at a steady pace willing myself to finish this climb so I can conserve my energy for the final climb of the day. The Kelme team leader radios to me that the Gringo has left the Peleton by himself and that they can no longer see him.

I recall thinking ‘the Gringo cannot catch me by himself’. A short while later, I hear the gears on another bicycle. Within seconds, the Gringo is next to me – riding in the seated position, smiling at me. He was only next to me for a few seconds and he said nothing – he only smiled and then proceeded up the mountain as if he were pedaling downhill. For the next several minutes, I could only think of one thing – his smile. His smile told me everything. I kept thinking that surely he is in as much agony as me, perhaps he was standing and struggling up the mountain as I was and he only sat down to pass me and discourage me. He has to be playing games with me. Not possible. The truth is that his smile said everything that his lips did not. His smile said to me, ‘I was training while you were sleeping, Santiago’. It also said, ‘I won this tour four months ago, while you were deciding what bike frame to use in the Tour. I trained harder than you did, Santiago. I don’t know if I am better than you, but I have outworked you and right now, you cannot do anything about it. Enjoy your ride, Santiago. See you in Paris.

I read this when I’m having a tough time convincing myself that today’s workout will make any difference in the grand scheme of things. I don’t want to know what it’s like to be beaten by a lack of training.

You Just Touched Everyone In Town – Germs At The Gym

I live in a town of about 50000 people. It’s not a big deal except that we are considered a commuter town. We have 3 morning and afternoon/evening trains that bring people to and from Toronto. If you’ve never ridden on a commuter train realize that they are PACKED. It turns out that these trains are a great way to spread illness from Toronto to the surrounding areas and the gathering of so many local people is a fantastic way to make sure the illness gets spread throughout the community.

While I don’t take the train to work I do interact with some of these commuters every day. We touch some of the same stuff each day at the gym, we open the same doors, drink from the same water fountains, lift the same weights and hold the same handles on the cardio machines. Everyone who goes to the gym is exposed to this massive collection of communicable diseases and if they are not careful, they’ll end up infecting themselves with whatever virus happened to contaminate their hand. Of particular concern is any piece of equipment that is used during the workout because the moisture from sweat makes for the ideal conditions to cultivating disease. This is something that is made worse when some one does not clean the equipment after they use it.

My approach to avoiding illness at the gym is fairly simple. I assume that no one cleans anything so if I touch something that I did not clean myself I assume that part of me is dirty. I don’t think this borders on hysteria because everyday I see people pass on washing their hands after going to the bathroom, I see them leave their sweat on the cardio gear and benches and I’ve never see anyone clean an exercise or yoga mat after they were done with it. There is good reason to just assume that everything at the gym has germs on it because at least some of the stuff has germs on it.

How I try to avoid colds when I’m going to the gym:

  • I wash hands before changing and make sure to wash my arms up to the elbows.
  • When I need to wipe or touch my face, I try to use my forearm instead of my hand because I know they are clean and because they don’t come in contact with nearly as much as my hands.
  • Before I use a piece of cardio equipment I will clean it because the person before me probably didn’t.
  • I wash my hands well before I actually go to the bathroom because I don’t want to touch myself down there with dirty gym hands.
  • I wash my hands after I go to the bathroom because it is the polite thing to do.
  • At the end of the workout, I wash my hands before I change because they are probably dirty.
  • When I get home I wash the outside of any water bottles I brought with me.
  • I have a gym pen that doesn’t get used anywhere other than the gym and it never goes near my mouth.

While this may appear to be the todo list of an OCD bodybuilder it serves the single purpose of keeping me healthy so I can go to the gym and keep working out. Getting sick isn’t a very good option because I will lose training time or intensity. Plus, it sucks to be sick. I take these measures to eliminate as much of the risk as I can so I can keep doing what I love.

Just Move, Just Do Something

It’s hard to have a great looking body. It takes a lot of time, focus and sacrifice. People who have great bodies are revered for it because they have worked hard to achieve it. If you want six pack abs, it is going to take you a while to drop the body fat and build the size of the muscles; you are looking at anywhere from 6 to 18 months for someone who is in reasonable shape. It is going to be a lot longer if you are out of shape and dislike exercise. The reality is that only about 5-10% of the population will take the time to build their midsection to the point were they have that revered look, and these numbers drop dramatically for people who are older than 35 because it is harder to attain as you get older.

So what are you going to do about this? Well, my advice is to not care about it. If you really wanted to look like that you would already have taken the necessary steps to get yourself moving towards it. If you don’t, you probably don’t place that high an importance on it. From my experience, looking that way doesn’t bring you any extra happiness – the world doesn’t start treating you any differently just because you have a great body. Your problems don’t go away just because you look better than everyone at the gym. In fact, other than achieving a goal, the process of building a great midsection brought me very little fulfillment or happiness. The difference between a flat midsection and a ripped midsection is the last 20% of getting a great body, the first 80% is getting to a point where you look good. I have noticed that happiness does come to those who work to get a good body. So my guess is that most would be happy to just look better.

Looking better is very easy if you don’t already look good. All it requires is that you do something active. It doesn’t really matter so long as it’s something that you don’t normally do that requires that you move around. Some people like parking their car far away from the door, some like reading the newspaper while walking on a treadmill, some like making multiple trips up and down stairs to achieve a task that could have been accomplished with one well thought-out trip, some will join a gym, while others will take up playing a sports or a musical instrument. It doesn’t really matter what you do, so long as it gets you moving. Moving burns energy that you might normally store as fat and it gives the muscles a workout that they need to grow and remain strong.

A different way to look at it would be to say that if you want to look better, stop doing something that requires you to remain relatively still; television is a good example of an effortless movement-less activity, ordering in dinner instead of making it or spending time playing most video games or surfing the Internet are other examples of low movement activities. Ideally you will be able to liberate some time from ceasing a sedentary activity and fill that time with something that requires that you do a little more activity. You’ll benefit from this change in behavior very quickly.

If your goal is to feel and look better, just start doing something today. It doesn’t have to be much, but it has to be something. Regardless of how small it is, a first step is a first step and it is always the beginning of something new. Remember, it is hard to look great, but it’s easy to look better, just do something.

Happiness Is A Choice – Shortcuts To Happiness

When I got a job working at GoodLife Fitness Clubs they asked me to read a couple of books that the owner felt would make us better at our jobs because they would help us find happiness. One of the books was Happiness Is A Choice” by Barry Neil Kaufman. I read some of it, just enough to pass the test they gave me, but not the whole thing.

Barry knows the people won’t read the book and he says as much when he introduces a very useful section in the book “The 6 Shortcuts to Happiness” – he recommends to anyone who skipped directly to that section that they read the book.

The 6 shortcuts are:

  • Make happiness the priority.
  • Be authentic.
  • Don’t judge.
  • Live in the present.
  • Be grateful.
  • Decide to be happy.

The initial thing I took out of what I read was the fact that most people have been conditioned to believe that they need a reason to be happy and as a consequence constantly seek external factors as a source for their happiness.

This fueled the realization that emotions come from inside me and are controlled by me – if I feel something it is because I have chosen to feel it. Sadness, like happiness, is a decision and I am free to feel it whenever I like. I’m free to manufacture whatever emotional state I like.

This was a very liberating realization.

David R. Hawkins’ “Hierarchy of Levels of Human Consciousness”

Steve Pavlina discusses David R. Hawkins’ “Hierarchy of Levels of Human Consciousness”

Thanks to Steve of his original post. You should check it out because it is one of the most important things that I have read on the internet in a very long time.

The levels are, from lowest to highest:

Shame – Just a step above death. You’re probably contemplating suicide at this level. Either that or you’re a serial killer. Think of this as self-directed hatred.

Guilt – A step above shame, but you still may be having thoughts of suicide. You think of yourself as a sinner, unable to forgive yourself for past transgressions.

Apathy – Feeling hopeless or victimized. The state of learned helplessness. Many homeless people are stuck here.

Grief – A state of perpetual sadness and loss. You might drop down here after losing a loved one. Depression. Still higher than apathy, since you’re beginning to escape the numbness.

Fear – Seeing the world as dangerous and unsafe. Paranoia. Usually you’ll need help to rise above this level, or you’ll remain trapped for a long time, such as in an abusive relationship.

Desire – Not to be confused with setting and achieving goals, this is the level of addiction, craving, and lust — for money, approval, power, fame, etc. Consumerism. Materialism. This is the level of smoking and drinking and doing drugs.

Anger – the level of frustration, often from not having your desires met at the lower level. This level can spur you to action at higher levels, or it can keep you stuck in hatred. In an abusive relationship, you’ll often see an anger person coupled with a fear person.

Pride – The first level where you start to feel good, but it’s a false feeling. It’s dependent on external circumstances (money, prestige, etc), so it’s vulnerable. Pride can lead to nationalism, racism, and religious wars. Think Nazis. A state of irrational denial and defensiveness. Religious fundamentalism is also stuck at this level. You become so closely enmeshed in your beliefs that you see an attack on your beliefs as an attack on you.

Courage – The first level of true strength. I’ve made a previous post about this level: Courage is the Gateway. This is where you start to see life as challenging and exciting instead of overwhelming. You begin to have an inkling of interest in personal growth, although at this level you’ll probably call it something else like skill-building, career advancement, education, etc. You start to see your future as an improvement upon your past, rather than a continuation of the same.

Neutrality – This level is epitomized by the phrase, “live and let live.” It’s flexible, relaxed, and unattached. Whatever happens, you roll with the punches. You don’t have anything to prove. You feel safe and get along well with other people. A lot of self-employed people are at this level. A very comfortable place. The level of complacency and laziness. You’re taking care of your needs, but you don’t push yourself too hard.

Willingness – Now that you’re basically safe and comfortable, you start using your energy more effectively. Just getting by isn’t good enough anymore. You begin caring about doing a good job — perhaps even your best. You think about time management and productivity and getting organized, things that weren’t so important to you at the level of neutrality. Think of this level as the development of willpower and self-discipline. These people are the “troopers” of society; they get things done well and don’t complain much. If you’re in school, then you’re a really good student; you take your studies seriously and put in the time to do a good job. This is the point where your consciousness becomes more organized and disciplined.

Acceptance – Now a powerful shift happens, and you awaken to the possibilities of living proactively. At the level of willingness you’ve become competent, and now you want to put your abilities to good use. This is the level of setting and achieving goals. I don’t like the label “acceptance” that Hawkins uses here, but it basically means that you begin accepting responsibility for your role in the world. If something isn’t right about your life (your career, your health, your relationship), you define your desired outcome and change it. You start to see the big picture of your life more clearly. This level drives many people to switch careers, start a new business, or change their diets.

Reason – At this level you transcend the emotional aspects of the lower levels and begin to think clearly and rationally. Hawkins defines this as the level of medicine and science. The way I see it, when you reach this level, you become capable of using your reasoning abilities to their fullest extent. You now have the discipline and the proactivity to fully exploit your natural abilities. You’ve reached the point where you say, “Wow. I can do all this stuff, and I know I must put it to good use. So what’s the best use of my talents?” You take a look around the world and start making meaningful contributions. At the very high end, this is the level of Einstein and Freud. It’s probably obvious that most people never reach this level in their entire lives.

Love – I don’t like Hawkins’ label “love” here because this isn’t the emotion of love. It’s unconditional love, a permanent understanding of your connectedness with all that exists. Think compassion. At the level of reason, you live in service to your head. But that eventually becomes a dead end where you fall into the trap of over-intellectualizing. You see that you need a bigger context than just thinking for its own sake. At the level of love, you now place your head and all your other talents and abilities in service to your heart (not your emotions, but your greater sense of right and wrong — your conscience). I see this as the level of awakening to your true purpose. Your motives at this level are pure and uncorrupted by the desires of the ego. This is the level of lifetime service to humanity. Think Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Dr. Albert Schweitzer. At this level you also begin to be guided by a force greater than yourself. It’s a feeling of letting go. Your intuition becomes extremely strong. Hawkins claims this level is reached only by 1 in 250 people during their entire lifetimes.

Joy – A state of pervasive, unshakable happiness. Eckhart Tolle describes this state in The Power of Now. The level of saints and advanced spiritual teachers. Just being around people at this level makes you feel incredible. At this level life is fully guided by synchronicity and intuition. There’s no more need to set goals and make detailed plans — the expansion of your consciousness allows you to operate at a much higher level. A near-death experience can temporarily bump you to this level.

Peace – Total transcendence. Hawkins claims this level is reached only by one person in 10 million.

Enlightenment – The highest level of human consciousness, where humanity blends with divinity. Extremely rare. The level of Krishna, Buddha, and Jesus. Even just thinking about people at this level can raise your consciousness.

Body Weight Exercises Are Key

Consider doing some body weight exercises to help build that stronger body because:

  • The body will adapt quickly to them because it is a reasonable load. I don’t know if this is true but I’ve always found that I gain strength very quickly with body weight exercises.
  • They are very functional – the strength generally lends itself to real activities.
  • They do not cause undo stress to the body because the movements are natural.
  • They are difficult to do at the beginning. Yeah, but anything that you have not done before is difficult to do at the beginning.
  • Most people don’t and can’t do them, probably because they are hard and people tend to shy away from difficult tasks.
  • They add variety to your strength training workouts.
  • They can improve symmetry and will balance strength. Consider one-legged squats, they guarantee that you work each leg equally.

Pull-ups are, in my opinion, the best body weight exercise that you can do because they engage many of the muscles of the back, as well as working the biceps and the rear deltoids. They require a lot of strength to do and there are a number of different variations that allow you to shift the focus onto different parts of the back and body. For example, narrow grip will work the middle back, the biceps and the rear deltoids more, wide grip focus the load on the lats to help build back width and off level pull-ups, while a more sport specific move, will focus more effort one side of the body.

Other body weight exercises you can try:

  • Dips – these really work the triceps and chest muscles.
  • Body row – great for working the middle back and the rear deltoids
  • Push-ups – an often-overlooked classic that works the chest muscles very effectively. Try placing the hands closer together to increase the load on the triceps and middle chest.
  • Various single legged squat movements – if you are concerned about being able to do these, consider the movement of getting into and out of a car as proof that you can.
  • Front and side planking moves – great of building core strength
  • Leg raises (hanging, lying, Roman chair) – fantastic for building lower ab strength
  • Various balancing moves – I’ve found the starfish position were you are standing on one leg and have your arms and other leg full extended to really tax my legs and lower back.

Supersets: You can also benefit from adding body weight exercise to weighted movements to create challenging supersets:

  • Narrow grip push-ups finish off a set of machine flies to complete chest failure.
  • Hanging leg raises complement weighted crunches nicely.
  • Dips and pull-ups can be done together for a great push pull set that will work the entire upper body.

Next time you’re looking for a new challenge, improved results or a change to your workout routine try giving some of these body weight exercises a try.

Keeping a six pack while drinking a six pack?

We’ll maybe.

People have six pack abs because their muscles can be seen. Most of the time it’s because the person is lean – usually less than 10 percent body fat – to maintaining this level of leanness requires fairly strict adherence to a clean diet. However, this summer I saw something that changed the way I view ab training. I rode past a guy who had really big ab muscles. It wasn’t that they were well defined it was that they looked like Mr. Olympia abs on an average sized guy. It wasn’t until I got back to the gym that I realized the significance of what I saw.

I had been on vacation, camping in the east coast of Canada, and I hadn’t done any ab work. I had brought my bike and I got at least 2 hours of riding in everyday, but I had also brought along my bad camping habits, eating a box of cookies and drinking 3 or 4 beers a night. I gained a few pounds and lost some muscle mass from my upper body. Sadly, my 6 pack was gone, buried under a layer or two of too much enjoyment.

When I got back to the gym and training, I noticed that my ab muscles were still really hard. In fact, they didn’t feel like they had gotten any smaller and when I went though my routine it was clear that I had lost very little strength. The only difference was a layer of fat. Then it struck me, if I want to have my abs visible but don’t want to have to constantly worry about what I eat, just make the ab muscles big enough to be seen through the layer of fat. That’s what I had seen on the guy in the summer, huge ab muscles that were visible regardless of what was in front of them.

That was the day I change the way I train my abs. I made the decision to make them as big as I could so that they could be seen, even when I wasn’t paying particularly close attention to what I was eating. It meant treating them like a large muscle group (having their own specific training day and prioritizing their training). This was new to me, and from what I read it is not done by most people.

I used to treat my abs as an after thought, throw in a couple of sets whenever I felt like it and I’d always try to get a good burn from contracting the muscles very hard instead of working to make sure they were fatigued as a result of the weight they were lifting. I would also tear through the sets as quickly as I could to get them over with. Once I slowed down and focused on tiring the muscles completely, I began to see results. The hanging leg raises, weighted cable and DB crunches, and weighted machine crunches replaced my body weight only exercise that I had been doing to create defined hard muscles. The outcome has been fantastic. My body fat ranges between 8% and 12% and I have a six-pack regardless of where it stands. My body looks better when I’m carrying less fat, but my abs are always there.

If you listen to one thing, listen to this…

If someone was to ask me to give one piece of advice it would be this: eat only enough so that you are hungry in 3 hours and then repeat. I think it makes the biggest impact to overall health.

I say this because:

  • Digestion is very taxing on the body. Eating smaller meals avoids this.
  • Digestion can break down nutrients contained in food, lessening digestion time can increase the nutrient yield from a meal.
  • Quickened food absorption into the blood will help to stabilize sugar levels, allow for more consistent energy levels and the quick availability of nutrients improves exercise recovery potential.
  • Complete digestion improves bowel movement frequency and consistency.
  • Most junk or fast food meals cannot be digested quickly enough to be consumed automatically increasing the quality of the food that you eat.

Moving to this type of eating can be difficult however, as it requires a fairly substantial change in your eating habits. The three square meals a day approach that most of us were raised on was based on the need to maintain an 9-12 hour work day, allowing for big enough sized meals that would help someone avoid hunger until the next meal. This approach is effective at doing this, but it isn’t ideal for most people any more, given that we have improved freedom to eat whenever we need to vs. whenever we are allowed to.

The consequence to not eating whenever we need to, or to eating to avoid hunger for longer than 3 hours is fat gain unless you are particularly active. I say this because the body adapts to getting food every 5-6 hours and will come to rely on transient body fat to fuel energy requirements not met through eating – those periods of time when a meal is being digested and has no impact on blood levels. If we introduce food every 3 hours, we decrease the reliance on body fat to power our energy needs.

It will take you about a month of eating smaller meals every 3 hours before it becomes part of your daily life, but you can enjoy the improved health benefits after only a week or so. If your schedule and work allow for it, give it a try. It’s helped me add lean muscle mass and lower my body fat.