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3 Strategies to “Dream Big” Better

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We are exposed to it time and time again, and yet, every separate occurrence it seems as if we may have never been informed of it prior to our most recent experience.

Life has a tendency to not give a sh*t about our plans

We try to be as cognizant to our surroundings as possible.  We try to account for variables; possible outcomes; and the like, but life may prefer to veto your original blueprint in lieu of it’s most recent “etch-a-sketch” of what your experience should entail.

It is for this reason, that I tell everyone, that in whatever change you are attempting to make, just know that it WILL take LONGER expected. Because SOMETHING will happen.  I cannot tell you what it is–just be confident that it will.  Not to sound like some esoteric palm reader, but I see it often enough to make an educated guess, that your “vision of success” rarely matches what reality has in store for you.

The Unrealistic Optimist

We are often told of the benefits of being optimistic; a lot of which is true. For example, practicing optimism boasts benefits such as longer life, resilience, happiness, athleticism, better job opportunities, etc. almost ANYTHING equated with success can be associated with maintaining a positive attitude. This partly why, more often than not, I search for silver linings, buried lessons, and try to envision the best possible outcomes–I have become a practitioner of a seemingly very useful skill. But this does not mean that I forego my diet of skepticism and scrutiny in light of blue skies and sunny days.

Because optimism without regard for failure is best defined as ignorance–and for some, blissfully so.

Yet, even with what we know to be true, we STILL attempt “change” with rose colored spectacles.  We somehow fool ourselves into believing that everything will go as expected and our faith, will, motivation, or lack of skill will somehow remain undaunted–never wavering for a moment.

A common example of this is when we decide to lose that “spare tire” or “pouch” that seems to have taken up occupancy around our midsections.  We believe that we will workout five days a week, disregarding our lack of effort over the previous three months. We will start to “eat clean” (whatever that means), and pass on our evening ritual of ice cream followed by a glass of wine.  We never, for a moment, think about the reality of our situation. And this can be likened to premeditated failure, which leads to apathy or a reluctance to try again.

But why do we behave in this way, even when we KNOW that this is, almost certainly, a recipe for disaster?

“Dreaming Big” Feels REALLY Good

When we make elaborate plans to achieve success, and envision ourselves doing it, we feel good about ourselves…REALLY good.  But why did we decided to make such elaborate plans to begin with?  Taking a closer look at the reason why we decided to change in the first place, can give us some insight into why we are so prone to setting ourselves up for failure.

When we think about what we DON’T like about ourselves we get stressed out.  And when we get stressed out we search for relief, and often times this can come in the form of vice.  For example, when someone that smokes get’s into a heated argument, they tend to grab a smoke to “blow off steam”, or when we have had a stressful day at work, we see if we can get off early enough to catch happy hour before it ends.  There is an immediate level of gratification that satisfies our need to find some normalcy or a level of comfort, but rarely (if ever) do these “solutions” solve our problems.  They simply provide us with a means to cope.  

Setting elaborate, unrealistic goals can have the same effect.  As I noted before when we, in effect, “dream big” we feel virtuous.  We feel REALLY good.  We get a shot of awe inspiring hope and this can leave us feeling invigorated and motivated.  We do this in response to undesirable feelings about a certain aspect of who we are or circumstances in our life, otherwise why would we even entertain the thought of changing…right?  In other words, we get “stressed” and this leads us to seek relief, and the “solution” most appropriate to resolve these negative feelings, is to “DREAM BIG”–and the bigger the dream, the better we feel.

So am I saying that we should NOT “DREAM BIG”?  Not by any means.  But I AM saying that “dreaming big” without context for how such idea should be applied is foolish.

A Better Way to “Dream Big”

dream_big

Big dreams have an uncanny way of inspiring motivation–and that is something that can prove to be a catalyst to create change when we need it most.  But big dreams without direction and a practice in discipline and resolve will soon transform into angst, lethargy, and discontent.  So below are three strategies you can use to “Dream Big” better.

One:  Get a Healthy Dose of Pessimism

Pessimism is often seen in a negative light, and when pessimism swings too far in one direction, such as the proverbial Debbie Downers and Negative Nancys (or Neds) of the world, it is most certainly an annoyance to experience. But pessimism has its benefits.  According to some studies pessimism is correlated with longer marriages, more productivity, and longer lives.  The trick is applying pessimism to identify, understand, and plan for your potential downfall.  Which leads us to our next strategy.

Two: Plan To Fail

Failure is not the exception, it is the rule.  Write this down and reference it every time you resolve to change something.  When we plan for our missteps, the failure itself becomes apart of our strategy for change.  We become better equipped to deal disasters, trials, and tribulations.  It also gives us a level of control, which can bolster your confidence in yourself to complete what you set out to accomplish.

Three:  Falling Down is Not So Bad, As Long As You GET BACK UP

Enough cannot be said for cultivating a mindset that does not allow you to wallow in your sorrow.  When we encounter experiences that do not favor us, or our situation, being able to regain composure and move forward is the hallmark of every success story you are likely to hear. Our ability to be resilient despite unfavorable circumstances is what being “optimistic” is all about.

Talk is Not Cheap: How You Talk to Yourself Makes A REALLY Big Difference.

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In the last article I spoke about awareness and the practice of being mindful.  In today’s post,  we will discuss how to utilize that practice in more depth to start to facilitate change.

A Tale of Two Selves

What if I told you that I would pay for the vacation of your dreams, would you take it?  I am sure that most of you would say, “yes!”  Okay, what if I told you that I would pay for it, contingent on the condition that you couldn’t take any photos, and upon your return, you would have to take a drug that erases the entire experience from your memory. Effectively, you would be erasing any evidence that the vacation took place.  Would you take it then, or would you rather pay for your own vacation?  I think that most of us would rather just pay for our own vacation and keep the memories.

This is a scenario that author, researcher, and psychologist, Daniel Kahneman, poses to an audience during a TED talk to express the concept that we are of “two selves”–our experiencing self and our remembering self.  Think of our experiencing self as the part of us that says “ouch” when we are stung by a bee or pricked by a thorn–this side of us is THERE from moment to moment. The remembering self is the part of us that interprets (how we feel, connect, remember, etc.) our experience, and therefore, largely dictates our satisfaction with our lives.  Given the scenario mentioned above, we shun the idea of a vacation without being able to remember it because it is the interpretation of our experiences that equate to emotion and feelings of satisfaction.

I make this distinction early on because moving forward, we will be addressing the part of you that is interpreting your experience.  

Hi Marc! My Name is Marc

Language is how we relate to our world and communicate our experience.  The meaning of words inherent in a specific language, used in accordance with structure and context, has a significant impact on how we talk, and in turn, on the way we think.  If fact, one study suggest that having the ability to speak more than one language can change the way you think based on which language you choose to “think” in. This has far reaching effects when considering how to change an aspect of our lives, because a belief is nothing more than a thought that we choose to endorse with emotional backing–and beliefs dictate our actions.  So, if we jump on the “deductive reasoning train”:

change the way you talk to change the way you think;

change the way you think to change your beliefs

change your beliefs to change your actions.

Now, I’m not asking you to learn a whole new language in order to change, but I am asking that you recognize the connection between how you conversate with yourself and the effect it has on your life experience and emotions.

What You “See” is What You Get

The average width of a doorway is a approximately 3 feet give or a take a few inches.  I am a fairly sizeable 220 pound male, that takes part in strength training, so that leaves me with a shoulder width of under 2 feet.  Needless to say, I wouldn’t have to adjust the way I walk to get through a doorway. I certainly wouldn’t have to turn my body sideways to get into my house, but that’s just me.  But in a study where female participants suffered from anorexia, this was not the case.

In the study out of the Netherlands, a group of researchers sought to discover if the way participants (suffering from anorexia) PERCEIVED themselves, would have a direct effect on the way they behaved unconsciously.

They gathered 19 participants and had them walk through doorways with varying width.  What they observed was that participants started to turn their bodies in doorways that were 40 percent WIDER than their respective shoulders.  The participants thought of themselves as being much larger than they really were; therefore, they felt as if they needed to “squeeze” through doorways when there was plenty of available room.

This study gives us some insight into how the way we choose to identify ourselves has a direct impact on the way we behave.  It may seem commonsensical, but we rarely acknowledge the effects of such a phenomenon. For example when I say that, “I don’t do well on roller coasters,” there is a very small probability that I will be enthusiastic about going to your favorite theme park.

Where Does this Leave Us?

“If you fight hard enough for your limitations, you get to keep them.”

In the beginning of any effort to make any change, it is important to recognize that you may be thinking in way that is limiting your progress.  But in order to spot a self limiting belief, we first need KNOW that we are holding the “spotlight” to begin with.  We sought to correct this dilemma by practicing being aware and mindful. This endows us with the ability to observe the conversations we have with ourselves (i.e. thoughts); but we can’t stop there.  The spotlight needs to shift to entertain new perspectives, thereby illuminating potential solutions that can move us toward progress.  

As easy as this may sound, this presents us with a problem. Because in order to think differently, you must first need to know HOW TO THINK because “you don’t know, what you don’t know”.  In other words, it would be impossible for us to adopt different perspectives if they remained outside our frame of reference.

For example, if you’re intently focused on all the reasons that you CAN’T exercise, there is little anyone can do to convince you otherwise.  This is the kind of conversation wherein every attempt to offer a solution is met with a reason for why it wouldn’t work.  This person’s way of thinking has the spotlight focused on one thing (I can’t do this, It’s not possible; I have no time, etc.), and they have no intention of relinquishing the limelight any time soon.  

So to answer the question–“how do we think to promote change?” Let’s take a look at a study where the probability of success was increased by the addition of a “?” (question mark).

In a study out of the University of Illinois, a group of participants were asked to solve a series of anagrams.  Prior to solving the anagrams, half of the  participants were told to ask themselves IF they could complete the task? And the other half was told to TELL themselves that they could complete the task.  

The results showed that the participants that ASKED themselves if they could complete the task solved significantly more of the anagrams.

In attempt to replicate these results, the researchers performed a follow up study in which they took three groups of participants and asked them to write 20 times one of the following prior to solving another set of anagrams:  “I will” (group 1), “Will I” (group 2), or “Will” (group 3).  

The results were the same.  The group that wrote “will I” 20 times before solving the anagrams completed TWICE as many than either of the two other groups.

Ask a Better Question, Get Better Results

It is a mantra that I have kept with me for years:

“Is there a better question?”  

I use this concept over and over to move myself from a position of helplessness to a position of empowerment.  When we speak to ourselves in the form questions, we bring all our resources to bear in an attempt to change our situation.  We open ourselves to the idea of possibility and by doing so, we weaken the beliefs that may have been holding us back.  This sounds simple enough, but there is one caveat because all questions are not created equal.

Whether or Not…Really?

A friend of mine who was dealing with relationship problems came to me one day.  She had been in a relationship for some time, but recently things have been “on the rocks”.  Any of us that have been in a committed relationship, for a length of time, knows that it isn’t all kittens and daffodils.   You will encounter ups and downs. There will be times when your patience is tested, and during certain points, this may occur more often than not.  She was going through one of these times.  Needless to say, she was in a bad way, and she was contemplating ending the relationship.  She informed me of her intention by asking, “should I leave him or not?”

This way of thinking is where most of us end up when it comes to decisions about our efforts to make change.  We leave ourselves with ultimatums rather than ACTUAL options.  For example, someone might say to themselves, “should I eat healthy so I can achieve my goals or should I just indulge in whatever I want, because you only live once?”

Wait!!  Where did EVERYTHING in between go??  Who says these concepts are mutually exclusive??

Wouldn’t a better questions be, “HOW can I make food choices in a way that allows me to achieve my goals, AND gives me the freedom to indulge from time to time?

When we remove ourselves from having to make decisions that are binary in nature (whether or not, yes or no, true or false) we become solution focused.  We, in effect, move our “spotlight” to see if we can navigate our way to more promising perspectives.

Getting back to my friend. As the conversation continued, I could tell that she really loved the guy, but she felt that they just couldn’t make it work. So I asked, “what if you HAD to make it work, or if you didn’t want to make it work, I would KILL you and everything you hold dear in life?  How would you do it? Where would you start?”  Dark and a little twisted, I know, but it was well intended to solicit a response.  

When I “forced” her to find a way to make it work, she came up with all kinds of solutions!  She said that they could seek counseling; she could plan “getaways” that could allow them reconnect with each other; she could see if they could both find ways to communicate better, etc.

The point of this story is that–questions that only allow a binary response do not bode well for those of us seeking to make changes in our lives.  They limit our options, and make us ineffective at being resourceful and creating solutions.  

Check Yo’Self Before You Wreck Yo’Self

This has been a longer than intended post so, let’s get a brief recap.

We have examined how we are of “two selves”.  And we have learned that it’s the way that we manage our “remembering self” that has a large effect on how we feel about ourselves and our life experience.  We’ve explained that the way our “remembering self” impacts us is through the use of language and how we communicate to ourselves. We also know that the conversations we have with ourselves can either impede our progress or usher us forward.  We’ve found that in our efforts to make progress, our “self conversations” should be inquisitive in nature, but with one caveat–the questions that we ask ourselves (to solicit action) should NOT promote a binary response because we have seen that questions with binary answers do little to aid us in creating solutions and developing new perspectives.

Ok…we have taken in a lot here. I suggest that we allow some time for what we have learned today to sink in. So in a post to come, we will take a look at strategies to help you shine your “spotlight” elsewhere and how that communicates to actionable efforts to help you make REAL LIFE changes.

To Change ANYTHING…Start HERE

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Looking Ahead

  • Roughly 2000 words
  • Mindfulness is the start to making changes with success, health, and happiness.
  • Stop relating actions to “good vs. bad” it is more productive to ask “does this serve me in my attempts to achieve my goals or not?”
  • To be mindful requires deliberate practice.
  • It may be in your best interest to keep a journal or record of the progress you make to be a little bit better than before.
  • Mindfulness practice has a tangible effect on brain health including, but not limited to improved memory, learning, emotional regulation, and better responses to stress.

I think most of us tend to live in a reactionary state.  We tend to do things in a way that conveys our impulse rather than our conscious thought.  Being aware of our reactionary way of behaving and being mindful of our thoughts, emotions, and physical body is a practice in control and discipline.  

To be mindful is to be an observer.  Someone that does not pass judgement, but simply seeks to gain an understanding of how things are.  It is important to understand this perspective.  Our behaviors are not “bad” or “good”, there are only actions that serve us and those that do not.  This is an important distinction.  Once we give our actions moral license, we feel virtuous for acting on behaviors we deem “good”, which then gives us justification to be a little bit “bad”.  

An example of this would be for someone trying to lose weight to say “I did a hard 5 mile run today; I deserve to indulge in pizza and beer tonight.”  The problem with this statement is not the fact that they want to have pizza and beer, it’s because they chose to give “a hard 5 mile run” and “eating pizza and beer” a position on their moral compass.  If “the run” and the “indulgence on pizza and beer” were separate experiences not reliant on the outcome of one another, no moral justification would be needed, they are simply acts of preference.  When we assign virtue to certain behaviors and vice to others we become moral accountants constantly trying to balance our behaviors between “good” and “bad”.

integrity red word indicated by compass conceptual image on white background

To reaffirm the idea that our actions or behaviors are neither “good” or “bad”, and that a more productive approach would be to view our behaviors as “do they serve me in what I am trying to accomplish or not”, let’s take a look at a study that expresses how this idea of moral accounting can affect the decisions we make.

The Moral Accountant in Us

I think the act of giving to charity is seen as virtuous act in most of our eyes.  Given the opportunity, and the financial resources, I believe that most of us would make a donation to the charity that resonates with us.  The question in the study below is, would the amount of the donation change, if you were feeling “morally good” versus feeling “morally bad”?

In a study conducted out of Northwestern University, researchers took 46 participants and told them that they would be participating in a study that would be analyzing handwriting styles. The participants were then divided into three groups: neutral, positive, and negative.  In the neutral group, the participants were asked to copy a list of words and think carefully about what the words meant to them.  The list of words were neutral in nature–i.e. book, keys, house. The positive group was asked to do the same, but the list of words were positive in their distinction such as generous, caring, kind, and fair.  And finally the negative group receive the same instructions, but given words such as disloyal, greedy, mean, and selfish. After completing the copying task, the participants were then asked to write a brief story about themselves that included the words that they had just copied.  They also received a bit of advice that their story may be less daunting to write if they visualized how each word was relevant to their lives.

After giving the participants a break, in the form of a filler task, the researchers then asked the participants if they would like to make a small donation (up to $10.00), to the charity of their choosing, in an effort to increase social awareness.  Would the positive and negative stories about themselves make a difference??  They most certainly did!

On average the positive group (feeling morally righteous) donated LESS THAN HALF as much as the neutral (control) group; and the negative group (feeling morally bad) donated almost TWICE as much.  So when we are feeling “good” about our moral identity we are less likely to act saintly due the fact that we have, in a sense, “done our good deed for the day”.  And when we feel that our moral identity is threatened we will attempt compensate, to make up for it.  You can see how this concept of moral accounting can be a slippery slope.

I make this distinction between “good” and “bad” because when it comes to being mindful in an effort to change something in your life, acting in alignment with your core values and beliefs removes wrong and right, good vs. bad, and leaves us with…progress.

Awareness:  A Practice in Being Mindful

The most common practice of being mindful is meditation.  The word meditation conjures up visions of buddhist monks, martial arts masters, and asian guys with long white beards, but being mindful does not require that you “meditate” in what many may consider the traditional form.  Being mindful, is simply resisting impulse without defining the purpose for doing so. It is a brief pause to be present with your thoughts–to gain insight on how they affect you as well as the actions take part in.  This is the beginning of awareness, this is where change finds its origins, because to change anything you must first be aware of your current status quo.

It is a common occurrence for those just starting out with the practice of being aware to “suck” at it.  I am here to tell you that, that is a good thing.  Your inefficiency, and your ability to encourage your struggling mind is akin to using weights to build your muscles.  The paradox about control and discipline is in order to strengthen it, you must also HAVE it.  Your efforts to practice being mindful from moment to moment allows you to build the cognitive “muscle” necessary for willpower, control, and discipline.

A Willpower and Happiness Muscle?

Your abilities for control and discipline take up residence in your brain–they inhabit the prefrontal cortex.  This area of the brain is reserved for high order functions and decision making.  Your brain is comprised of two types of matter: gray matter and white matter.  White matter is responsible for the communication processes between different areas of the brain, and the gray matter (the one we are concerned with) is where our cognitive abilities lie–I.E. memory, attention, perceptual awareness, thought, language and consciousness.  

prefrontal cortex

In a study conducted by researcher and neuroscientist Sara Lazar of Harvard University, they found that practitioners of mediation (i.e. mindfulness) showed marked growth in the gray matter tissue in the prefrontal cortex.  The study was conducted on 20 participants, all of which were normal, everyday people that have made the practice of meditation a routine part of their lives, they were then paired with their control counterparts, which were matched for age, sex, race, and comparable education.  What they found, through MRIs performed on all participants, was that the mediation group had noticeably larger, thicker areas of gray matter–the areas associated with memory, attention, control, willpower, etc.–in relation to their control counterparts.  

In a follow up study, in an effort to silence all the critics suggesting that meditation (mindfulness) practice was not the cause the significant brain development, Lazar and her team designed a study in which they would take participates–novices to the practices of mindfulness–through an 8 week training in which they would be taught a technique referred to as mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR).  They took brain scans of all participants pre and post training and what they found was enlightening.  

In the group that took part in the 8 week training they found significant growth in the regions of the brain associated with learning, cognition, emotional regulation, perspective taking, empathy, and compassion.  They also found that the amygdala–the part of the brain associated with stress, anxiety, and fear–showed a marked reduction in size; suggesting that people that practice being mindful respond better to instances of stress and anxiety.

These findings are significant in the fact that the idea of being “mindful” is not as esoteric as we may have once believed.  When you hear your yoga teacher, or an eastern philosopher tout the benefits of being “present” with your experience, it’s not a bunch of baloney.  There is tangible evidence supporting what mindfulness practitioners have been echoing off of one another for years–mindfulness can, in a sense, bring you closer to peace; and in turn, bring about more experiences of joy and happiness.

Awareness and Coaching

The studies mentioned above are just a couple among the large body of research supporting the efficacy of mindfulness practice in improving the quality of your life, as well as in the treatment of depression, anxiety, ADD, chronic pain, etc.  It is for this reason, that learning to be aware and mindful of your experiences is where I start every one of my coaching clients.

I do not ask that people to take part in a “meditation” practice (although, I do say that it might be a good idea), but I do require that each of my clients to take part in a “mindfulness practice” by journaling and/or taking part in Daily Reflections.  The purpose for doing so is two fold:

  1. By documenting your journey you become a witness and an active participant to the progress you make.
  2. You become more in touch with who you are, who you would like to be, and and you gain an understanding of how that relates to your experience.

Why Don’t you Drive Professionally?

Once we learn how to drive a car most of us remain at the same skill level when getting behind a wheel as when we first started.  There may be a small amount of improvement the first few years, but there is a reason why many of my friends (myself included), do not drive in Nascar or any other field that requires highly skilled drivers.  You would think that, that would NOT be the case, given the amount of time each of us spend managing the gas and brake pedals.  You would THINK that many of us get A LOT of practice, but this is the difference between taking an active role in making progress versus being a lowly bystander to your experience.  

Deliberate Practice:  Perfect Practice

Taking an active role in making progress, in any endeavor, requires that you practice…deliberately.  What this means that you cannot just drive your car, without paying attention or focusing on the development of the skills required to be a professional driver, if this is something you are looking to pursue. Deliberate practice requires focus, attention, reflection, adjustment, and fine tuning–and it is the prerequisite for success in any achievement worth merit.

Journaling and Daily Reflections remind us that our process for discovering who we are and how we can be a little bit better than before, is of the utmost importance.  It keeps us grounded in our experience and allows to extract lessons from our missteps and gives us a tool recall our victories.  

Conclusion

Being mindful and reflecting on our lives aids us in the process of understanding and mastering the subject that should be the most important to us…ourselves.  We develop a deep knowledge of how to cope with failures, live contently, cultivate relationships, be more compassionate, take care of ourselves and our loved ones, etc.  We learn to live contently, without being complacent.  And from this foundation, we find more happiness and success.  All of this starts with being aware and mindful of our day to day experience.

*NOTE:  In this article I mentioned a tool I use with all of my coaching clients called Daily Reflections.  It is a method for evaluating and reflecting on your everyday experience and how those experiences align with the vision of who you are, and the person you are working towards.

The Worst Thing You Can do to Kill Your Motivation

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Humor me and follow along with your imagination…

It’s the day of a race your best friend had asked you come watch her run because you two are very close and she would love for you to be there.  You know she has been training for this race for months now; in fact, it always comes up as a topic of discussion every time you both talk on the phone.  You don’t get to see her much, so you know she will be surprised once she notices you in the bleachers.  Before the race, you are anxious for her, because you know how important this race has been to her over the past several weeks. You make sure to get a front row seat in the bleachers so you can see her as soon as she crosses the finish line.

The starting shot fires and you see her sprint as fast as she can toward the finish.  You stand up, looking on, hoping that all of her training pays off, and it seems like she is doing well, but then her effort starts to wane; she starts to slow down.  Eventually she is passed by not one, but three of her opponents, then the race ends.  She ends up coming in fourth.

You’re still standing, looking on hoping to catch your friends attention, but instead you see that she is lost in her own disappointment. Her head is down, her hands are on her hips until she eventually takes a knee.  She begins to cry.  Seeing that she is pain, you leave the bleachers to stand by her side…

Okay, lets stop the scene here.

In this situation, if you were the friend watching from the bleachers, what would you do?

I think many of us would offer an empathetic shoulder–a lot of us have been down before, and sometimes we just need someone to give us a lift and let us know that things are okay.  “They’ll be other races, so lets get back to training, and we’ll get the next one.” Right?

Now let’s take a look at how we treat ourselves when we don’t succeed in the way that we had planned to.  When we didn’t make it to the gym, or we ate that piece of cake, or we didn’t lose that pound before the week’s end.  Where’s our empathy here?  Why would we rather kick ourselves when we are down, then to offer the sage advice of, “don’t worry about this one, we will get the next one.”?  The truth is, we are our biggest critics, and that’s getting us nowhere fast.

You’re Doing This (probably) and It’s Killing Your Progress

Think back to the times when you got down on yourself or you felt shameful about not following through on an action that you had planned to.  Did you feel better after?  I’m willing bet that you didn’t.  In fact, you probably fell further into your disappointment, and in doing so you sought to find ways to make yourself feel better in that moment–which usually ends up being the vice or action you were trying to avoid.  It’s a vicious cycle.  We fail to do what we planned to do, we shame ourselves for doing so and in an effort to feel better we take part in the vice or action that had damned us in the first place–which sends us further into a downward spiral.  There has to be a better way.

Opting for Understanding over Self Hate

The reason why shaming ourselves into action never works is because it offers further evidence to our psyche that we are less than what we are.  We tend to use it to reinforce our negative perceptions of ourselves.  “You weren’t able to do that because you’re weak,” or “you can’t follow through on anything, because you’re incapable.”–these are the kind of conversations that follow when we choose shame and guilt over forgiveness and understanding.

Self compassion, on the other hand, has a unique ability that allows us to accept responsibility; and when we accept responsibility for our missteps, then that means we are also responsible for our achievements–and that idea gives us a level of control that can be very powerful.

Moving from a position of guilt to a position of self compassion can foster a mindset that allows us to learn from our mistakes.  We become creators of opportunities, rather than victims of circumstance.

Conclusion

It can sometimes escape us, the truth that is–failure, mistakes and missteps are part of the human condition.  It is part of how we experience our environment and relationships, and can offer us unique insights into who we are, and what we are capable of.  So next time you find yourself headed into that never-ending void of guilt and hopelessness, take a minute to take step back, and act like you give a shit about yourself–be that friend in the bleachers and help yourself back up.

The Quality EVERY Fat Loss Goal Depends On

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So you have decided that you want to drop some extra pounds.  You joined a gym, set some goals, and you are pumped and motivated…for all of 10 mins…then the reality of what lies ahead settles in.  You know you are going to have to make some changes, but you aren’t exactly sure how.  You read some books, talked to friends, and looked online to get some ideas. You think you know how to do it, but you aren’t all that confident that you can follow through.  Well, today’s article is for you, and it may not be what your expecting.

The Goal IS NOT really the GOAL

The truth is that the HOW of losing weight and shedding some extra pounds is no secret, and I don’t care what fitness guru you talk to, what your mother says, or whoever the hell tells you that there is some new magical way to do something that people have been doing for years.  What they don’t tell you is that you may not be cut out for it…or at least not yet.

Before you start hitting the gym, logging your food, and grocery shopping with the goal of losing weight and shedding fat, I need you to have a shift in perspective and aim your sights on a new goal–and that is to the develop the skill of self control, discipline, and willpower.

Without a strong cultivation of this skill you will be susceptible to burn out and lack of motivation–which will eventually leave you overwhelmed and back to square one.

Cultivating Self Control

To begin the process of  creating a robust muscle of self control, you need to set parameters around what a “successful action” is. Often times, newly invigorated trainees set their expectations way too high.  The set the goals of going to the gym five times a week, eating only fruits, vegetables, and protein, and preparing every meal–all of this coming from someone that has not been to the gym once in the past three months and usually orders takeout.  The likely hood of this playing out the way they envisioned is slim to none; at least in my experience.  So a new method of goal setting needs to be put in place to increase the likely hood of success, thus registering as a win for self control and increasing your ability to flex your willpower.

In the example stated above the new trainee set some expectations that are outside there level of discipline and self control.  There are several actions that need to take place in order for those goals to be met, most of which a new trainee may not be equipped to handle; therefore, it stands to reason, that the expectations you set must be attainable given your current level of abilities.

SUCCESS–FIRST AND FOREMOST

Write this down and make it part of your mantra:

The successful completion of a task is MORE important, than the task itself.

Say that to yourself over and over until it sinks in.  Soon enough we will discuss ideas around how to get from a size ten to a size six, or how to make your back HUGE, or how to squat two times your body weight, but for now your sole focus is the accumulation of “wins”–and in turn, the cultivation of your willpower and self discipline.  This means you must reevaluate your expectations.

Am I Setting the Bar Low?

Whenever I tell people to redefine their expectations in order to be more in line with their current abilities, I inevitably get the question, “Aren’t we just setting the “bar” low?”, and my response to that is “NO!”.  Think about this; to go from doing nothing to doing something is a 100% increase in productivity!  Any business would be ecstatic about that increase in growth!

What you are doing, is  you are keeping your focus on the achievement of the task at hand, and that is the accumulation of “wins”, or actions that move your closer to your goals.  So if this means that the goal of going to the gym five times a week, needs to be reevaluated and altered to, LOOK at my schedule to identify the most optimal times for me to workout this week, then so be it.  The parameters that define successful completion of this goal is to be disciplined enough to LOOK at my calendar and see what is feasible given my current obligations and mental resources.

Conclusion

Most people make the mistake of pursuing a goal without first understanding what makes the achievement of a goal possible.  We act in ways that distract us from developing a unique set of skills and embracing our personal growth, because we are too busy chasing THE goal.  The ability to exert self control and sustain a measure of self discipline plays a large part in the success of ANY endeavor, so to dismiss the significance and importance of such a skill is an oversight that can lead to the downfall of any worthy pursuit.  So do not be disillusioned by your fantasies of making HUGE changes, that will inevitably lead to a nearly impossible task, instead keep your aim true and steadfast on developing the skills that can be applied to achievement of ANY goal.

 

A Quick Guide to Building a Better Bench

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If you have spent any amount of time at the gym for an extended period you have probably encountered the question, “So, what’s your bench?”, or any version similar to this question, that seeks the same answer.  Today’s post is to pay homage to that question, and in the process help you build a better bench.

I have never been a “natural” bench presser.  I have had to experiment, train, and really work on getting my bench press to a place where I feel confident in the lift.  Below I would like to share, with you, some of the tips I have learned during that process, in a way that I might coach someone through the lift.

Chin Under the Bar

When you lie down to bench I usually ask people to start with their chin under the bar.  The reason being that you will be “shortening” your torso, to some extent, when you try to achieve tension.  The act of “shortening” your torso is done by walking your shoulders into place that is going to be most beneficial to begin your press (this idea is demonstrated in the video below).  When you are successful and “shortening” your torso you will eventually end up with your eyes under the bar and it’s from this position you will begin your bench.

FullSizeRenderFullSizeRender (1)

Tuck Your Shoulders

This refers to a movement known as scapular retraction and depression.  Essentially you are squeezing your shoulder blades together and trying to tuck them in your back pockets.  This is usually a cue that helps people understand but it may take some time to sink in.  When setting up for you bench you can achieve scapular retraction and depression be “walking” you shoulders into place, as I have mentioned above and is demonstrated in the video below.  You will see how your body get’s “shorter” as you walk your shoulders into position.  The end position will be shorten torso, with tucked or packed shoulders and your eyes underneath the bar.

Pinkys on the Rings

If you have every examined a barbell you will find that there are two smooth rings on both sides of the bar.  These are typically used to make sure your grip is symmetrical when performing a lift.  When it comes to benching I usually recommend that your pinky fingers, at the very least, should touch the smooth rings.  Once you get more familiar with benching you can start to experiment with hand width, but for now have your pinkys reach the rings

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Foot Placement

This will largely depend on what positions your feel the strongest and most stable.  In the videos where you see me bench, you see that I create an arch with my feet placed underneath me.  This is a position that took me a long time to figure out, and I imagine that if a bigger bench is what you are after you may have to dedicate some time to figure a position that best supports your leverages.  But there is one thing that MUST happen you are deciding where to place your feet, and that is your knees MUST be below your hips.  Having your knees below your hips will allow you to optimally utilize your leg drive without having your butt come off the bench, which can place your in a precarious position and do more harm than good.

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Knees below the hips

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Squeeze the bar tight and break it in Half

There is a reflexive response that occurs with your rotator cuff when you squeeze something tight.  Those little SITS (rotator cuff) muscles fire in an effort to stabilize your shoulder, and a stable shoulder is critical for a better bench.  When we cue “break the bar in half” what we are trying to accomplish is getting your lats to engage.  Your lats provide a kind of “global” stability that will help you create a firm base, and help you transfer force. 

Touch Low

I usually recommend that you touch low, somewhere around your sternum, below your nipple line.  For some they may feel more comfortable touching right around the nipple line, but again that is going to take some experimentation.  In my experience touching low is easier on my shoulders and allows me to get a better position through my wrist and elbow which I will touch on below

Bar Stacking 1

Unracking the Bar

When you unrack the bar it is important that you do not sacrifice the position you have worked so hard to attain by “unpacking” shoulders to unrack the bar.  In any case, having someone give you lift off is usually your best option, but if you do not a regular training partner I know this can be difficult.  So when you unrack the bar act as if you are doing a straight arm lat pull down while lying on your back.  In essence you are trying pull the bar away from the rack rather than pressing it up and allowing it to “drift”into place.  In the video below you will notice that once I get my shoulders into place they do not move from the position.

Stacking the Bar, Wrist and Elbow

When you begin the lowering of the bar it is important that bar, wrist, and elbow stack one on top of the other.  The placement of the bar in your hand needs to be as close to the heel of your palm that you can get it.  This will place it as close to being “on top” of your wrist as possible.

correct open

Bar as close to the heel of the palm as possible

Correct Closed

What it should look like once you grip the bar with the bar as close to the heel of the palm as possible

This is what it SHOULD NOT look like

incorrect open

Bar is too far from the heel of the palm

Incorrect Closed

Incorrect Closed Position

When Lowering the bar you are trying to create a “pillar” which consists of bar stacked over wrist, wrist stacked over elbow.  This creates the most optimal position to press from.

Bar stacking 2

Bar over wrist; wrist over elbow

Bar Stacking 1

Bar stacking

Leg Drive

This is a very nebulous concept, much like the idea of “tension”. Leg drive is something you have to feel, but when you get it right you can literally feel weights, you once thought to be somewhat challenging, fly off your chest.  I like to tell people to imagine that the bar is on your waist and you are trying to thrust the bar off of your waist toward your face.   For some this cue makes sense, for others more creative cues and tactics may have to be employed.  The best thing I could do is demonstrate it in the video below.  Pay close attention to my hips and the heels of my feet.  You will see a very slight movement when I initiate the press and you will see my heels try to drive to the ground.  This allows me to engage my glutes and transfer the force I generate from the ground.

Conclusion

These tips will most definitely help you build a better bench press, especially if you found that you are not already employing some of them.  Now there are other versions of bench pressing, but I believe that these tips provide a solid foundation to build from.  After you have mastered these basic techniques you can move into more advanced variations of bench pressing.

Above all, have fun and be a student of the craft!

3 Ways to Defeat Your Negativity and Move Toward Progress

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“I’m fat”, “I’m weak”, “I’m ugly”, “I could never do that…”

Imagine saying this to yourself EVERYDAY!  The sad thing is, that some of us may not have to IMAGINE that at all.  If this is your reality, then we need to have a talk.  The above statements are not all inclusive; if you play the part of being your biggest bully then there are mountains of slurs, and degrading comments or statements to use at your disposal and that is a scary thing.

Its time to make some adjustments…

Now, I am not here to tell you that life is rainbows and sunshine, and I’m not here to tell you that change is easy, but what I will tell you that if you continue being the “bully” then your will never find peace, and happiness will find ways to avoid your company.

So Where to Start…

For a lot of us the same show plays every day, and we never think to change the channel.  We take part in the same actions, the same thoughts, our interactions are typically the same; you might say we flip on auto pilot and just sit quietly as if this is the way things are supposed to be.  But the fact is…they aren’t.

What happens is, that we get stuck in a narrow frame.  We succumb to the idea that we have limited options.  We make statements like “this is just who I am…” or “I’m getting to old…” we accept our limitations as facts and not as confines that can be broken or transcended.  We accept our position, rather than defining it.

So take a minute to examine your limitations and negative thoughts, and then I want you to disregard them as if you were not allowed to think that way and those limitations never existed.  Allow yourself to have widen your options.  Be creative in how you define yourself, and experiment with alternate solutions and analyze their outcomes.

As I stated before, this process will not be easy.  It will take some practice, discipline, and self awareness.  You will be fighting your natural inclination to “keep watching the same show”, so to speak.  So in order to combat that natural urge here are a few strategies to help you arm yourself.

Strategies

  1.  Vanishing Options – I touched on this earlier.  Ask yourself, “if I wasn’t allowed to believe this, or think this way, what would I believe in?”  In essence take away, the option to revert back to your default beliefs and thoughts.  Especially those that limit your progress.  It is amazing how a simple change in perspective, given to us by a more productive question, opens us up to new realms of possibility and opportunity.
  2. Role Play – One of the greatest tragedies as we get older is the downfall of our imagination.  We forget how powerful it can be.  This strategy will ask you recall some of that forgotten talent and ask that you to imagine that you were the person you want to be.  Who is it that you are find yourself distraught over, because your are not them (yet)?  How do they dress? Do they exude confidence? Are they patient, open, and kind? Are they successful? I would ask you to fill that persons shoes.  Walk as if you were that person, laugh as if your were that person, ACT as if you were that person!  If you have ever heard the phrase “fake it til you make it”, it is based on the idea that your body and mind are not separate, they work synergisticly with each other.  When the body communicates confidence with an upright posture, gaze pointed forward, and a demeanor of poise, the mind follows suit.  So use that to your advantage.
  3. Abolish the status quo – This is inline with our first strategy, and it requires you relinquish your disposition fight for your status quo.  You need to continuously remind yourself to be open, and accept failure, but never allow yourself to be defined by it.  “Change” will ask you to be someone you have never been before, and in that process you encounter failure, missteps, and mistakes.  You must be resolute in your decision to pursue your greatness and your mindset must be conditioned to withstand defeat, and transform them into vital lessons learned that will propel you toward your achievements.

Developing a plan that is going to help you improve in the way that you would like to is going to take a bit of time to discover.  Try some of these strategies out and take some insights away from your practice.  You will be better off than if you did nothing at all, because that never gets us very far.

Why We have Habits and 3 Ways you Can Break the “Bad” Ones

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“Old habits die hard…”

It is a common phrase that plagues us when we are in pursuit of changing something in our lives.  But WHY DO old habits die hard?  It turns out that habits have purpose, so trying to rid yourself of a long standing habit can take a considerable amount of effort; at least in the beginning.

I tend to get lost in my thoughts pretty often.  I like to consider myself a thinker, although I am not entirely sure what that means, because I am pretty sure that EVERYONE does some thinking, and therefore can be consider a “thinker”, but I digress.  The reason I bring this topic up because I often think while driving, but not about the act of driving.  I am often thinking of other things such as traffic, a incident where a client was having a hard time, what to eat later, when I should workout, etc.  pretty much everything ACCEPT driving; yet I still am able to perform the task at hand and get to my destination.

I don’t know if this has ever happened to you, but it has happened to me several times.  Have you ever gotten into your car on the way to a destination besides your workplace, but the routes started off similar?  Did you ever just end up on your way to work even-though you had no intention of going to work that day?  It happens almost automatically!  I will get lost in my thoughts, and I will, somehow, go into autopilot and arrive at the place that I most frequent, work!

This is a prime example of the purpose and use of habits.  Habits are built and sustained in order to save our energy for other tasks that require our attention and focus.

Your mind and body are always searching for ways to be as efficient as possible.  It is constantly trying to answer the questions how can I perform the tasks asked of me, while expending the smallest amount of energy?  This is a learned process.  We tend to take part in an “everyday routine”, once this routine has been established the brain will go to work trying make this process as less energy expensive as possible.  How does it do this?

We may not be aware of it, but we are constantly receiving cues from our outside world.  Our brain is scanning for these cues to act as a trigger to set a habit in motion.  Once a cue or series of cues are found the brain matches them with the specific habit and then you are off to the races!  Free to think about whatever you like while your brain/habits take care of the rest.  If we think about it, that’s pretty F*N cool!

But now where does this leave us if we want to change a habit?

The mind does not want to expend more energy, so getting rid of “old programming” will not be easy in the beginning.  The mind and body will resist your efforts, but here are some tips to get you started.

1.  Change your routine

Putting yourself in unfamiliar places may be just what you need to advance yourself in the pursuit of your goals.  Something as simple as taking an alternate route home from work, placing your desk in a different area of the house, or completely changing the places you frequent on a day to day basis for a period of time, or even everyday could be what you need to keep moving forward.

2.  Bring Awareness

Forcing yourself to bring attention the habits that may not be serving you in your quest to achieve a goal can prove to be an invaluable tool.  So keeping a record whether it be a journal, app, or other means is a good idea to interrupt the patterns you have embedded into you routines.  Stopping to record what you are doing can often be just catalyst to help you change.

3.  Ask for help

We all have relationships in our lives that seem to support our habits whether they serve our goal or not.  But having conversations with the people that you are in contact with the most, and asking them to aid you in your plan of action can help out tremendously.  Be it family, friend, or co-worker they can also be apart of the “cuing” process that triggers an offending habit, so enlisting them to act as your accomplice in your efforts to change for the better, can help you break those unwanted behaviors.

Good Luck!

-Mr. Uplift