Bish Be Humble – focus on the foundation and build your base

into the blue

To start, this post is a bit dated. I wrote most of it a few weeks ago in Nicaragua, so some of the things I mention (i.e., the org I was working with, the people I was around) have changed. The learning however, for me, is timeless.

 

In a previous post, I explained the quote “who you are on your mat is who you are in your life” and for the non-yogis “how you do anything is how you do everything”

Today, I am going to go a bit deeper into one of my learnings from the yoga mat as it showed up for me again in Nicaragua – my tendency to want immediately excel at something…

 

As you already know, I am spending 6 months at a surf and yoga wellness retreat, Rise Up Surf, for a mutual value exchange (I provide consulting services, they provide room/board/food/activities). One of my goals during this time is to learn to surf well and I’m pretty much starting at level 0. The best and worst part about working at a surf retreat is that I am surrounded by world class surfers and instructors. It’s the best because these guys/girls have been surfing for 10-20 years and are some of the best examples to learn from. It’s the worst because they’re all amazing at surfing…and I tend to be super competitive.

 

On my first day in Nicaragua, I tried to hang. I grabbed a shorter board (for those of you who don’t know, smaller boards are tougher to ride) and paddled out. The waves were big, but my ego was bigger. WOMP, WHAP, CRASH. 3 waves, 3 wipeouts. And not just any wipeouts, I was under the water in a spin cycle, at the verge of gasping underwater, praying that my head would eventually break through the surface. It felt like that song Last Resort by Poppa Roach “Suffocation, no breathing”. When I made it back to shore, I was shook, exhausted, and I had destroyed my elbow trying to hold onto my board as they waves pushed it away from me.

 

After that experience, here is what my next few days looked like when it came time to surf:

 

  • I would walk up to the board rack with the instructors from Hawaii, Australia, and a few local pros who all grab their slim, sleek, and sexy short boards. I’d grab an 8ft 6′ wonky longboard that I can’t even fit under my arm so I need to hold it on top of my head with 2 hands.
  • I’d walk with the guys to a nearby beach break called The Boom (appropriately named because its big and heavy…boom). They would paddle out effortlessly, diving under the waves with ease as they paddled out to the sweet spot to catch waves. I’d continue past The Boom to another beach break called Kaya’s Corner (appropriately named after the Rise Up owners’ daughter who is 16 months old) where I’d finally paddle out to the sweet spot after about 15 minutes of constant pounding, losing my board, and drinking about 2 gallons of seawater through my mouth and nose. 
  • I remembered watching the crew at The Boom catching amazing wave after wave, getting deep into barrels and carving like butter up and down the glassy face of the wave. I’d pop up on little 2 footers and slowly ride the white water straight back to shore…when I was lucky…many times I’d bail during my pop-up and get tossed back to shore – knowing that I would need to paddle out again, drinking more seawater.

 

It was a frustrating start and I felt totally defeated, to say the least.

 

Because of this, I was feeling a bit off-key. I knew surfing was supposed to be about fun, not frustration – so I took some quiet time to clear my mind and breathe. What I realized, was that my frustration wasn’t coming from anything that was physically happening to me, it was coming from my mentality.

 

“I want to be the best, and I want it now” <– this was my totally distorted perspective. Things just don’t work like that. After all, if it were easy, everyone would do it.

 

I was in such a rush to be at the same level as the people I was with that I forgot about the fundamentals. I saw how good they were and I wanted to be there too, forgetting to acknowledge that each and every one of them also started with the fundamentals (learning to paddle, pop-ups, understanding the way waves and swells work) building a strong foundation of technical skills to improve upon.

 

It’s amusing when I recognize this tendency in myself to want to immediately be good at something because as a yoga instructor and personal trainer, I am fully aware of the importance of humility when taking on a new challenge and building a solid foundation but when the ego gets in the way, it’s easy to forget.

 

In whatever we do – building a house, a career, a relationship, or a skill set – its easy to become fixated the finished product and forget about all of the foundational elements that support the end goal. You want to build the world’s tallest building? You must first build a strong foundation. You want to be an astronaut and fly to Mars? Well first you need to ace your math and science classes. You want to rip on the guitar like John Mayer? Learn to tune the guitar, you must (yoda voice).

 

If you try to cut corners and don’t respect the process, it will catch up to you. Sometimes, it shows up very clearly and immediately as you smack your face on the ocean floor. Other times, it happens a bit more subtly – where you get away with it for a while but slowly it starts to become more and more apparent.

 

Exhibit A:

It was 3 years ago and my first time leading a team at work. I’d been selected to serve as a team lead for a pretty intense program at my company. My company, like many others, has a talent model. The purpose of the talent model is to provide employees with an understanding of the skills they should focus on at each level within the firm. Junior practitioners are expected to focus on “hard skills” – tangible skills that are core to the work we do (i.e., skills such as financial modeling, Microsoft Excel, and building presentations) As you progress through the ranks, your focus switches from hard skills to “soft skills” – skills that are a bit less tangible (i.e. developing others, facilitation, and public speaking.)

 

I’ve always been more comfortable and naturally inclined towards soft skills such as facilitation and public speaking. Focusing on these skills have helped me differentiate myself at my company and (I imagine) contributed heavily toward me being selected to lead a team for this program. Entering into this challenge, my mentality was – “I don’t need to focus on the hard skills because I can mobilize others on my team to get the job done.”

 

I was half right…

 

While I was in fact able to mobilize my team around projects that required hard skills, I soon learned that I wasn’t able to lead them as effectively as I would have liked. As we progressed further into the project, my team would come to me with very technical questions on how to approach specific problems. I struggled to find ways to guide them because I had cut some corners and didn’t have the experience of solving those same problems (or building those excel formulas) on my own. I found myself relying on fellow team leads or advisors to lead my team through these challenges and overtime, they stopped coming to me with technical questions. As a young leader, not only did that burn, it was also not productive.

 

Let me be clear, I am all about taking a strengths-based approach to your life/career and focusing on what you love and what you’re good at. That said, if there are fundamental skills relevant to your business and you have a responsibility to lead others, you should know enough to be a useful advisor.

 

I’m so thankful for that year as it reminded me of the critical lesson to build a strong foundation. I am also thankful for my mentors and advisors who helped me through that experience to make it a productive one. If it hadn’t been for that previous year, I wouldn’t have spent so much time going back to the fundamentals to make sure I was ready for the next time I had an opportunity to lead. Fortunately, my opportunity for redemption came shortly after.

 

The next year, by the grace of God, I was asked to lead the entire program. I was now responsible for leading our team leads and I was able to step up the challenge much more effectively. I still brought in advisors to guide my teams on certain topics but in those moments, I was able to contribute to the conversations, put it into the context of what my team was trying to accomplish, and continue to lead my teams in the right direction once our advisors left. The difference was astronomical.

 

 

So what?

Our society today focuses too much on “The Juice.” Especially with social media – we see pictures/videos of pro surfers, insane yogis, fitness gurus, amazing musicians, etc. all performing their best work. What this creates for us is an expectation of where we think we should be and when we are not there, it becomes a source of dissatisfaction in our lives. Many times we will quit something because the process to become great is too discouraging – we see how much further we have to go to meet our expectations and we say to ourselves “I’ll never get there…”

 

F that.

 

Instead, what we should be focused on, is “The Squeeze” – the long, difficult process that it takes to produce “The Juice” – that sweet nectar of success. When you learn to appreciate the squeeze, everything changes. Rather than focusing on the gap between where you are and where you want to be, you learn to love the journey. You become grateful for every moment you get to spend mastering your craft and for every mistake you make in the process, knowing deep down that in the end, if you stick to it:

 

“The juice is worth the squeeze”

 

 

Much love!

Matt

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But first, a warm-up

warm up 2

In a previous post, I discussed my philosophy on movement and promised to post tips and tricks for how to structure a workout (movement) program.

 

With this being my first post on developing a workout program – it makes sense to start with first thing you should be doing in your routine – warming up. Ugh…boring right?

 

Wrong.

 

Warm-ups tend get a bad rap as being boring or a waste of time, but I want to dispel that garbage reputation through this post, explaining why warming-up is a critical first-step to any physical activity and can also be a fun and dynamic addition to your workout.

 

So, why warm up?:

Warm-ups prime your body for more rigorous physical activity by kick-starting your cardiovascular system. A proper warm-up increases blood flow to your muscles, and increases the elasticity and mobility of your muscles, joints, and ligaments.

 

Warm-ups are important for all physical activity but are especially important for complex total-body movements. Adding weight to the equation (i.e. barbell squat and bench press) increases the importance of a sufficient warm-up as well.

 

If you are anything like I was, you may think of warm-ups as unnecessary or a chore. Since most of us don’t fully appreciate the value and efficacy of a warm-up, we are much more likely to skip it. This is exacerbated dramatically for people who don’t have much time to spend in the gym – if we have less than an hour to devote to exercise each day, its easy to mistake your warm-up as something that takes away precious time from your workout routine.

 

The catch, is that most people who don’t have much time to devote to exercise (me included), lack the time due to a demanding job which keeps us sitting in a desk for extended periods of time (again, this post is based on my personal experience as a management consultant. Newly minted mothers, like my sister, also lack the time due to a completely different type of demanding job that keeps them from sitting for extended periods of time – if you’re reading this Gina, warming up is still important!)

 

Anyway, for those of us who sit for extended periods of time, think about the impact:

  • Our muscles, joints, and ligaments tighten up
  • Our blood flow slows down
  • Our metabolic rate slows down (especially when you’ve been living this lifestyle for a while)

 

Now, think about what happens when you exercise:

  • You engage your muscles, joints, and ligaments across multiple planes of motion (often times with added weight – i.e. lunges with a barbell on your back)
  • Blood flows throughout your body at an increased rate to push oxygen-rich blood to your muscles
  • Your metabolic rate increases as your muscles expend much more energy to meet the increased demands

 

So, what happens when you combine the impact of a mostly sedentary lifestyle with the physical demands of exercise?

 

Picture your body as a piece of dough (not a fat joke). When the dough sits still for an extended period of time, it becomes brittle. Now, it’s time to exercise. If you take that brittle dough and immediately start to try and pull it, bend it, or twist it to its maximum, it’s going to break and crumble. Conversely, if you start to gently work with the dough, add some moisture (aka blood flow) warm it up, and kneed it – after a few minutes that dough will do whatever you want it to do. You can pull it, stretch it, fold it, twist it, bop it, spin it…whatever.

 

That may not be the best metaphor, and maybe we all want a piece of bread now but the point is that if you are putting increased stress on your physical body before your it is ready for that stress, you raise your risk for injury. In addition to increased risk for injury, if you are trying to move weight around (weights, or your body), your muscles need oxygen to do so – trying to move weight without sufficient blood flow to your muscles is like trying to run on ice – you’re not maximizing your potential. 

 

How to properly warm-up:

There is also a misconception for how to warm up. A warm-up isn’t just about stretching, its about loosening up and getting blood pumping throughout the body.

 

I’ll often see people warming up at the gym by static stretching – staying in a stretch for an extended period of time. Not only is this boring, this type of stretching can actually be detrimental to your workout as static stretching can reduce elasticity and inhibit power generation in your muscles (think of a rubber band that you pull too far that doesn’t spring back the way it used to.)  It’s better to save static stretching for a post-workout cool-down to bring length back to your muscles.

 

Warm-ups should be active and dynamic. They don’t have to be long (5-10 minutes is fine) and they don’t need be a waste of time – if done properly, a warm-up can be an opportunity to improve your strength, balance, and flexibility.

 

There are so many ways you can warm-up and many different movements you can incorporate – however, while creating your warm-up, you should try to adhere to the guidelines below.

 

  • Stay active and dynamic: Again, a warm-up isn’t the place for static stretching. Your warm-up should consist of more active and dynamic stretching to increase mobility and also improve blood flow to the muscles. Check out my latest post on Instagram to see a quick example of a dynamic total-body warm-up. If you don’t feel like checking my Insta, FU you, JK…some quick yoga flows (i.e. sun salutations) are a great way to warm up
  • Incorporate your whole body: I see this at the gym all of the time…someone will walk in, head straight to the bench press and do this thing where they swing their arms back and forth 5 times and proceed to load weight on the bar. That is not a warm-up. When warming up, you should focus on the main muscles you plan on working for the day but also aim to activate your entire body – it gets the blood flowing better and faster.
  • Move through all 3 planes of motion: Our bodies were designed for complex movement. Our joints and ligaments enable us to flow easily through 3 planes of motion, front to back, side to side, and twisting/rotating. While warming up, its important to incorporate movement across all the planes of motion. Even if your workout will occur in a single plane of motion (bench, squat, deadlift, etc.) your body still needs that mobility – a good warm-up could satisfy that need.
  • Start slow: I know you want to maximize your time in the gym, but going HAM during a warm-up defeats the purpose of priming your body for the added stress. Going too hard, too fast, during a warm-up can put your heart rate in a zone you don’t want to yet be in and can also cause you to sacrifice good form (yes, it’s possible to injure yourself during a warm-up!) Focus instead on controlled movements. You will have plenty of time to get to your max heart rate zone, a warm-up is not the time. (Caveat – this tip is specifically in reference for starting a workout. After I do my full body warm-up, if I am doing squats next, I will do ~5 explosive jumps to activate my fast-twitch muscle fibers before loading weight on the bar)

 

All it takes is a few minutes! Giving yourself that time at the beginning of your workouts will help you maximize the rest of your time while exercising. Also, have fun with it! I love warming up because I know why I do it and I can make it fun and creative. That’s why I wasn’t prescriptive about what exactly to do in your warm-up. I’ve given you the parameters – now it’s up to you to fill in the rest.

 

Enjoy it and let me know how it goes!

 

Cheers!

Matt

 

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We were meant to move…so why did we stop?

movement

“It is a shame for [one] to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which [their] body is capable” – Socrates

 

The physical body. The vehicle you were given to take you through this life and the only one you will ever have. It’s such a crucial element of our human experience – it’s literally connected to everything we do. Without our bodies, we can’t exist in the physical world that we all know and love. That’s why it is so important to take care of it.

 

Proper nutrition, rest, and recovery are all important components of a healthy physical body. Today however, I am going to focus on my favorite – movement.

 

Movement is a gift:

  • It gives us the ability to move through everyday life: walking down the street, carrying a child
  • It enables us to go out into the world and adventure: surfing, hiking, climbing, exploring
  • It allows us to express ourselves: dancing, making love, playing charades
  • And so much more…

 

Our bodies were designed to be the best and most complex movers on the planet. You may try to argue that an American Ninja Warrior course would be easy for a monkey, but does that same monkey have the capacity to perform graceful movements like ballet, drive a golf ball 300 yards, and snowboard down the face of a mountain? No.

 

We were born to move and express ourselves through movement:

I look at my little angel of niece Eliana Joy (she’s 2) and the way she loves to run, jump, dance, play, and move is infectious. People love watching her because it takes them back to a place where they were willing and able to move freely like her too. This goes beyond watching little babies dance – we pay large sums of money to watch dancers perform and athletes compete and this has been the case for centuries. Clearly, there is something deeply human about movement.

 

Today however, while gym memberships have increased, my opinion is that the ability to move well has become the exception, not the rule. As a whole, we seem to have become spectators of movement rather than performers.

 

Why have so many of us abandoned our relationship with movement?

I think it’s been a slow process of erosion caused by many factors:

  • Our environments have changed: let’s face it, the way we work and live today is different. In the age of information, whether you are in the office or the classroom, chances are that you are spending a lot of time sitting at a desk.
  • The impact: If you don’t use it, you lose it. When we sit all day and hold our bodies in positions that weren’t meant to be sustained over long periods of time, we feel it. We get tight, our muscles break down, our energy diminishes, and our joints ligaments just don’t feel the way they used to. Over time, we become less and less likely to push our bodies out of fear that they can no longer handle it.

 

  • Our goals have changed: mostly out of necessity. We no longer need to be hunters, gatherers, or warriors and after college, most of us stop competing in sports. Therefore, the incentive to strengthen and train your body diminishes. Now, when it comes to movement, our goals mainly revolve around aesthetics: I want a bigger chest, I want a nice butt, I want to be skinnier, I want to be jacked.
  • The impact:
    • Some of us just stop moving and get soft. Fat builds, muscles dwindle, stamina disappears and the next thing you know you are out of breath after walking up a flight of stairs and in love with the shirt that makes your gut disappear. We lose our capacity to accomplish simple physical tasks that our lives demand.
    • Others still move, but since the goal is aesthetics, the focus is on singular movements across one plane of motion (i.e. bicep curl, bench press). The result are big muscles that can’t really do much (i.e. someone who appears to be in great shape but can’t make it through 30 minutes of highly intense physical activity)
    • Disclaimer: Again, this comes back to goals, if aesthetics is all you care about, keep doing what you’re doing. For me however, I believe our physicality is much more complex and we cheat ourselves if we never push that edge

 

  • Our beliefs have changed: somewhere along the lines, our beliefs around movement got totally twisted.
    • Where I grew up – men who were good dancers, gymnasts, or just plain flexible, were ridiculed because “that shit is for girls”
    • We look at movement solely as a means to an end (i.e. move to get up the stairs, exercise to get abs) and forget that moving for the sake of moving can and should often be the goal
    • We’ve lost touch with our connection between body, mind, and spirit. Often times we think of body, mind, and spirit as very separate entities and therefore we go to the gym to train our body, go to school or read a book to train our mind, and go to church to train our spirit. Without intentionally finding ways to connect the 3, they will often continue to grow in a disconnected fashion
  • The impact:
    • Most men I know, even the athletes, have trouble moving themselves fluidly through all 3 planes of motion. They’re also often hesitant to practice many movements because ‘they look stupid trying…’ Well how else would you expect to improve?
    • When movement is a means to an end (like abs), it can become structured and repetitive. Step after step, rep after rep, over and over. That’s fine (and necessary in some cases) but when that’s the only reason you move, it loses a lot of its expressive and creative power
    • When our body, mind, and spirit are working independently of each other, we are disconnected. Conversely, when our body, mind, and spirit are aligned, we hit our flow state, a state that I’ll eventually write an entire blog post about but for now…flow state is the jam. Being in your flow state is an incredible feeling because you are fully present in the moment, a place we all crave to be

 

I believe to my core that we should all think of ourselves as movers and shakers in a very literal sense. We all have the capacity to be amazing movers so why would we accept anything less? Why would we let our jobs or limiting beliefs get the best of us?

 

Now that I’ve bored you with my philosophy on movement, my next few posts (regarding the physical body…may still post some other stuff in between), will guide you through tips to get you moving the way you were meant to move. Our bodies will eventually break down and when they do, our goal should be to take it with a smile and say “I sure as hell got the most out of mine.”

 

Stay Up!

 

Matt

 

P.S. Make sure you follow along for tips and training to become a better mover!

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Eat Your Colors!

colorful food

Seriously though, I’m of the belief that if you lined up all of your meals in a day, side by side, it should look like some sort of effed up rainbow.

 

Why?

You need your micronutrients!

 

What are those?

Most of you are probably familiar with macronutrients (proteins, carbs, fats, fiber) as they are the essential building blocks of every meal. You’ve also probably heard the expression “if it fits your macros, eat it” which is pretty much saying to worry less about caloric content and more about the presence of key macronutrients in your meals.

 

Micronutrients however, such as vitamins and minerals, don’t get as much attention but also support critical functions in the body and brain. There are a ton of different micronutrients that our bodies need and many of them are hiding in various naturally colorful foods – not skittles though, sorry…

 

Today, our typical meals don’t have as much biodiversity as they used to, so we need to be intentional about getting a variety of colors on our plates and into our bodies.

 

Take a classic summer meal – a brown hotdog in a white bun…while it may fill you up (and fit your macros) it’s empty of micronutrients. If you don’t add some color to that plate, you will be depriving your body of essential support.

 

Whether your life is full of bliss or full of battles, micronutrients matter. Maintaining poor nutrition habits and neglecting the importance of micronutrients is like going into battle with no armor or heading to a party hungover and on no sleep…it’s going to hold you back.

 

For my “healthy” eaters:

I have a lot of friends that “eat healthy” but every meal they eat consists of chicken, brown rice, and broccoli. They eat it every day because its consistent, rich in macronutrients, and keeps them lean. While that is a healthy meal in and of itself, it only contains 3 colors! By eating that for every meal, other than being boring and miserable (trust me…I’ve done it), you miss out on so many essential micronutrients that support optimal human performance. Next time you are doing your Sunday meal prep, I encourage you to intentionally add a few new colors (yellow, red, orange, blue, and purple) into the mix.

 

For my picky eaters:

The problem with being a picky eater is that it’s a vicious cycle. Your body is extremely adaptable, which can be good or bad – it can adapt to love healthy nutrient-rich foods or it can adapt to love sugar and artificial flavoring, it all depends on which “wolf” you feed. For example, I remember in high school I loved drinking Coke. I would come home from school, eat an Ellio’s pizza and crush a can of Coke. I would often drink 3 cans a day. When I stopped drinking soda, I stopped cold turkey. I switched to only drinking sugarless beverages such as water, black coffee, and tea. I remember trying a coke ~2 years later thinking it would be a nice treat…instead, it tasted like brown sludge. Disgusting.

 

What happens is that when you purposefully change your eating behavior, your sensitivity to certain foods (salt, sugar, etc.) starts to change. Over time, my body began to adapt to healthy eating behaviors and I am now much better off for it. Remember, you literally become what you eat so my perspective here is “fake it till you make it” – put some good food into your body consistently for 2 weeks and watch as you begin to acquire a taste for it.

 

Eating healthy doesn’t need to be a chore. Food is meant to be enjoyed and your relationship with food is a very important one, so get creative!

 

The internet has fueled creative (healthy) dishes like you wouldn’t believe. Today, if you have a food you’d like to cook with, simply google the food item (such as broccoli) and add some other things you love into the search (i.e. Asian broccoli with coconut and ginger recipe.) Even if you don’t find exactly what you’re looking for, scroll through the pages and I guarantee you will find a few interesting recipes. You can even include search terms like “quick” or “simple” into the search bar if you’re strapped for time. Finally, If you want to take your creativity to the next level, IBM’s program Chef Watson uses artificial intelligence to find flavors that work well together – you can literally look in your fridge, type in a few ingredients that you have on hand and Chef Watson will spit out a recipe that you can try.

 

For those of you too busy to cook:

That’s another post for another day but my quick recommendation here are to:

  • Go out and pay the bit of extra money for some healthy/diverse foods – think of it as health insurance…
  • Find a meal prep service near you. They are popping up all over the place and if you do the math, most packages (NJ/NY is what I’ve searched) come out to be $9-12 which is pretty reasonable…relatively (delicious, colorful, healthy meals here in Ecuador are $1-$5)
  • Supplement your diet with quality vitamins and minerals (again, another post for another day)

 

Just eat your colors, Fam.

 

❤ Matt

 

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Everyone’s got a plan until they get punched in the face…learn to roll with the punches

ocean meditation

I’ll start with an excerpt from my second blog post ever, as I was heading into the first day of my sabbatical…

 

— So, there you have it – that’s my general plan for the next 6 months – but as Mr. Mike Tyson would say…“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face (or…the fathe).”And I am sure there are a few left hooks waiting around a few corners for me – so stay tuned! —

 

Well, the other day I took my first hook and boy was it a doozie… BUT, like everything in life, there is a lesson to be learned from it.

 

To fully appreciate this post, I encourage you to take 5 minutes and read my second post (if you haven’t already). Basically, I thought I had the next 6 months of my life all figured out. I spent almost a year prepping for this adventure – making sure I had the timing lined up, deciding how I wanted to spend my time, researching and interviewing multiple organizations to find the right spot, and once decided, spending a good bit of time working with their owners to design an experience that we were both excited about. I was ready for 6 months of surf, yoga, and some good work in Nicaragua.

 

But sometimes God has a different plan for us…

 

For those of you who don’t know, Nicaragua is currently going through a challenging time politically. The people of Nicaragua want change. Their current president, Daniel Ortega, is essentially acting as a dictator and the people are tired of it. They want him and his wife (the Vice President) out of office and are demanding a fair democracy (I am oversimplifying the situation very much because this isn’t meant to be a post about the current political situation in Nica.) What you need to know is that since 4/19/2018, there have been over 100 deaths and just as many disappearances. The Nicaraguan government has ordered a shoot to kill policy on protesters (many of whom are peacefully protesting) and the situation has become extremely delicate. While life at the beach is still peaceful, the situation has become too uncertain and I had to leave Nica, about 5 months earlier than expected…

 

When I first discovered that I would need to cut my trip short, I felt like my world was turned upside down. This wasn’t part of the plan, this was supposed to be a once in a lifetime opportunity. My immediate reaction was:

  • “I can’t believe this is happening to me”
  • “This isn’t fair”
  • “What am I going to do?”

Fortunately, writing this blog has been a great way to keep myself accountable to practice what I preach, so I grabbed my board and hit the water for some meditation. As I sat in the water, caught a few waves, and started to breathe, I had a couple of revelations that completely changed my perspective – and ultimately, the outcome of this situation:

 

  • First off, how dare I take the situation in Nicaragua and make it about me. This is about the people of Nicaragua and the change they need (and deserve) as a country. Despite what this means for my sabbatical, I am glad that Nicaragua is pushing for change and I hope and pray that it can happen more peacefully, without a full blown revolution.
  • Second, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” There isn’t much I can do to change the situation in Nicaragua, that will need to run its course. What I can change, is how I respond to it. Rather than freak out, get upset, and call it quits. I can stay calm, focus, and make moves to keep my sabbatical alive and well.
  • Finally, when I look back at my life, in every situation where things get rough and it feels as though hope is lost, there is always something bigger at play.
    • When I tried to scale my personal training company and failed I thought all of the effort was for nothing – but It was that failure which led me to Deloitte where I have so many opportunities to grow and develop – meeting lifelong friends and mentors along the way.
    • When I  was turned away after making it to the final round interview for Product Manager at Facebook, I felt terrible. I had poured my heart into the interview process and they just said “no.” In hindsight, it’s clear that the job would have been a terrible fit for me. I only became attached to the image of the job title and what I thought that would mean. If I had gotten the job, I would have had to move to San Fran and miss all the time I’ve been able to spend with my 2 beautiful nieces AND this 6 month sabbatical would have never been an option.
    • Thinking back to my “dark ages”, it would be easy to beat myself up over that phase of my life, but it’s my past that has made me who I am today and has given me a story to share with others. I believe that our lives are our message to the world and I am proud that I’ve now been able to share mine in settings such as church, juvenile detention programs, and everyday conversations to inspire and encourage others.

 

When I came out of the water, I felt brand new – I was full of gratitude for my fresh new perspective. It was time to get to work. I got on the computer and hit the phones and sure enough, it soon became clear that life doesn’t happen to us, it happens for us… as long as we let it.

 

I ended up getting connected with another Surf and Yoga wellness retreat in Ecuador, my mom’s motherland! This retreat incorporates all of the elements that I had in Nicaragua and also provides opportunities for structured Spanish lessons and mixed martial arts training. I’m not saying either spot is better or worse, I am just  grateful that the biggest trade-off is a Nicaragua beach sunset vs. an Ecuador beach sunset.

 

While I am excited for Ecuador, the transition is still bittersweet. The location, the work, and the people I met in Nicaragua have been amazing and I’m sad that we need to cut our time short. For now however, I am keeping my sails open to the winds of change (that’s nautical speak, bruh) and I truly believe that the best chapters of this journey have yet to be written. I’m stoked to see what’s in store.

 

The moral of this story is simply that shit happens… and when you’re in the shit, it’s easy to become laser focused on the shit and miss the bigger picture (for those of you who are offended by my analogy, think of it as missing the forest for the trees.) Sometimes, the bigger picture is quick and easy to identify, you miss your flight but meet the love of your life on the next plane. Sometimes, the bigger picture doesn’t emerge for a long time, it could be years. That’s why you gotta have some faith. Faith that everything is going to be okay, faith that this too shall pass, faith that in the end it will be worth it, faith that no matter what you may be going through God doesn’t give anyone a challenge that they can’t handle. Faith has made all of the difference in my life and without it, I definitely wouldn’t be where/who I am today.

 

The last thing I need to add is that for this to work, you have learn to surrender and go with the flow. If something hits you out of left field and it sucks, acknowledge it but then breathe, stretch, shake, and let it go. Take my example of missing your flight…you missed it because your Uber driver took a wrong turn on the way to the airport. You now have a choice – you can continue to fume, write a nasty letter to Uber, and post about that “a-hole” on social media…OR you can breathe, accept it, and move on. If you take the former route (the route of resistance), its highly doubtful that you will meet that love of your life because you won’t be open to receiving – you will be too busy writing that Facebook rant. If you learn to use your energy to flow with the intelligence of the universe instead of waste your energy trying to resist it, you will be amazed to see how things start to fall into place.

 

I’ve included a fun little African proverb below – it does a good job articulating the “bigger picture” if you have an extra minute, take a look.

 

Cheers Fam!

Matt

 

P.S. If you have stories for how this has shown up in your life, I’d love to hear it! Feel free to message me or comment below and as always, if you enjoyed this post, feel free to share it via Facebook or LinkedIn 🙂

 

Proverb:

The story is told of a African King who had a close friend with whom he grew up.

 

The friend had a habit of looking at every situation that ever occurred in his life (positive or negative) and remarking, “This is good!”

 

One day the king and his friend were out on a hunting expedition. The friend would load and prepare the guns for the king. The friend had apparently done something wrong in preparing one of the guns, for after taking the gun from his friend, the king fired it and his thumb was blown off.

 

Examining the situation, the friend remarked as usual, “This is good!” To which the king replied – “No, this is not good!” and proceeded to send his friend to jail.

 

About a year later, the king was hunting in an area that he should have known to stay clear of. Cannibals captured him and took him to their village. They tied his hands, stacked some wood, set up a stake, and bound him to the stake. As they came near to set fire to the wood, they noticed that the king was missing a thumb. Being superstitious, they never ate anyone who was less than whole. So untying the king, they sent him on his way.

 

As he returned home, he was reminded of the event that had taken his thumb and felt remorse for his treatment of his friend. He went immediately to the jail to speak with his friend. “You were right,” he said, “it was good that my thumb was blown off.” And he proceeded to tell the friend all that had just happened.

 

“And so, I am very sorry for sending you to jail for so long. It was bad for me to do this.” “No,” his friend replied, “This was good!” “What do you mean, ‘This was good’? How could it be good that I sent my friend to jail for a year?” “If I had not been in jail, I would have been with you, and they would have ate ME instead”

Coffee Coffee Coffee – What’s your relationship with America’s favorite beverage?

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Joe, java, jet fuel, jitter juice, the elixir of life. Companies have created a multi-billion dollar industries around coffee and the coffeehouse experience and specialty coffee shops are popping up all over. International coffee day is recognized around the world and you can’t walk into a souvenir shop without seeing some cheesy coffee quote on a t- shirt or coffee mug (i.e. I’m not addicted to coffee, we’re just in a committed relationship.)

 

What I’m trying to say is that it’s very clear to see that people everywhere f***ing love coffee…

 

But with this love comes constant debate – is coffee good for you or bad for you?

 

The question drives me insane. Not because I don’t like questions – but because everywhere I look, there are very credible resources arguing both sides of the coin. Some say coffee has some real health benefits, others say that despite perceived benefits, the damage of it is worse. Trying to find a clear answer to the question is like trying to catch smoke with your bare hands.

 

In my life, I’ve explored different sections across the coffee-consuming spectrum, from 100 to 0…to my current state of about 50. Here is my opinion:

 

It’s not so much about whether coffee is objectively good or bad  for you – it’s more about your relationship with coffee. Do you depend on coffee to function  or do you have a healthy relationship with it? Do you use it as a crutch or as tool to increase pleasure and productivity?

 

Let me explain what I mean through my personal experience across the spectrum…

 

Dependency (100):

For me, this started in my second year of college. I was working hard in school and bartending at the time, pulling pretty long hours every week. In both environments, there was such a culture of coffee drinking – at the bar, where we had coffee/espresso on tap, our cups were never empty. At school – nearly everyone in the library had a coffee at all times and the walk to the coffee shop was the perfect little study break. Get out and refuel.

This dependency carried over to when I started working at Deloitte, where the coffee culture was no different. Starbucks coffee on tap on every floor (multiple machines on most floors). If you knew the folks who worked in innovation, you could even access their secret espresso machines (because we all know you can’t innovate without espresso). I found myself averaging 5-6 cups a day, drinking coffee into the evenings. At this point, coffee was just a habit, I never felt it. Having caffeine in my blood all day eventually became my new normal. I’d find myself yawning between sips of cold brew coffee with a double shot in it. Dependency. 

 

 

Aversion (0):

One day, I was talking to my yoga teacher about my coffee habits and she responded “Omg Matt, relax! You are going to shoot your adrenals (ruin your adrenal glands – which produce a variety of essential hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol).” I don’t know why but that struck a chord with me. Those of you who know me well, know I tend to be a bit extreme – all or nothing – and that was my last cup of coffee for over a year. Cold turkey aversion.

The first week was tough and required a few power naps to get through the day but as I coupled this with better rest at night and smarter eating habits, I started thinking less and less about how I needed coffee. At first it was awesome, I had conquered my coffee addiction and was super stoked that I felt energized throughout the day without it.  As the months went on however, I realized that I was starting to miss it. I’d miss it if I was a bit groggy before a workout, I’d miss it if I needed to grind on a task that required intense focus to put me in the zone, and I’d miss it on a Sunday morning with the fam – because nothing washes down dads breakfast like some nice black coffee.

 

 

Balance (50):

So, around a year ago, I reintroduced coffee into my life but much more mindfully. I do not drink it every day and it’s no longer an automatic response upon waking (wake up, head straight to the kitchen to make coffee). Now, I’ll see how my body is feeling and often times I will swap my coffee for a much lower caffeinated beverage such as  green tea. That said, if I have a task that requires a bit extra focus, if I am feeling groggier than usual, or if the vibe simply calls for a cup of coffee  – then I certainly won’t deprive myself from it. Balance.

 

 

Conclusion:

I feel that I have developed a healthy, balanced relationship with coffee – a sweet spot where I get to enjoy its comforts and benefits without exposing myself to the negative effects. I’ve also found that with this balance, I appreciate my coffee much more.

  • When I am using it to increase productivity, it works! I instantly feel the effects of the caffeine on my focus.
  • When I am drinking it for the vibe, I’m tuned into the scents and flavor, and grateful that I am able to enjoy the cup.

So, if you love coffee, by all means enjoy it – but I encourage you to be mindful about your relationship with it and try out some of my tips below:

 

4 tips to improve your relationship with coffee:

 

  • Incorporate a coffee fast: for most of you… this will be step one – I wouldn’t be surprised if my story of dependency rings true for many of my readers (especially my work colleagues). The first fast will be tough but each one after that will be a bit easier.

 

      • First, slowly wean yourself off caffeine. Start with smaller coffee portions, a half-caf, or swap your coffee out with some tea.
      • Once you are totally off the java, try and keep it that way for a week or two (2 weeks is ideal because that’s approximately how long it will take to renew your norms).
      • As you move forward, consider incorporating a week-long coffee fast every quarter. This will help mitigate any dependency and make the following few cups some real zingers :).

 

  • Be mindful: once you break your initial coffee fast, be intentional about when and how much you drink. It’s become such an automatic response for so many of us. When you wake up after the fast, don’t rush to the coffee shop, take a moment to see how you feel – don’t let your old habits pick up right where you left them.
  • Hydrate first: who goes for coffee before water first thing in the morning? If you’re anything like my family, my guess is that most of you do. No good. When you wake up in the morning, you are already dehydrated…if you introduce a diuretic as the first liquid you put in your body, you are only making matters worse. Before your coffee, you should aim to drink at least 24 oz. of room temperature water. Get in the habit of keeping a glass by your bed and taking it down first thing upon waking. Not only will this prime you for your coffee, but you will enjoy many other health benefits from this practice.
  • Throw some fat in that ish: I’m sure many of you have heard of the bulletproof coffee craze. If you haven’t, I suggest you check it out. You don’t need to purchase the official products, but I love throwing some good fat (i.e. coconut oil, ghee, organic grass-fed butter) into my morning joe. Not only does this promote weight loss and help manage cravings, the fat content promotes a slower, sustained delivery of caffeine into the body. The result? Instead of a jittery caffeine spike, you experience steady caffeination over an extended period of time.

 

 

Now go ahead and enjoy!

 

Matt

 

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“Who you are on your mat is who you are in your life” – a quote to live by…

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“Who you are on your [yoga] mat is who you are in your life…”

 

I remember the first time I heard that quote (in my yoga teacher training course), I didn’t really appreciate how deep it really ran. It’s only after years of hindsight that I fully recognize the implications of this quote – and the power behind it.

 

First, let’s break the quote down a bit to make sure we understand it. “Who you are on the mat is who you are in your life.” What this is saying is; how you show up and progress through a yoga class is pretty indicative of how you approach life more broadly. For those of you who may not be too familiar with yoga, the concept follows the same principle of a similar quote “How you do anything is how you do everything” and can definitely be applied beyond yoga. For me, I like using yoga because your “stuff” shows up on the yoga mat as clear as day. I think this is because yoga challenges you physically mentally, emotionally and spiritually – and quite often you don’t have earbuds in to distract your focus – so you have the presence of mind to truly feel burn and fatigue across each dimension.

 

Looking back, it’s almost funny how this has shown up for me…

  • What I’ve done: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve caught myself in the middle of a yoga class seething because my instructor won’t stop with the damn leg work when I just did squats yesterday. I’d start to rationalize in my head how wrong they are and how “they clearly have no idea what they are doing, this sequence is borderline dangerous and someone is going to get hurt.”
  • What it tells me: This indicates an “it’s my world and you all just live in it” mentality. For me to knock a teachers class because my legs are sore (for reasons that have nothing to do with the teacher) is just plain self-centered, full stop.

 

  • What I’ve done: I’ve been blessed with strength and balance which I’ve continued to cultivate over time. This enables me to pull off some difficult press-ups and hand balances. At the same time, my hip flexibility needs a ton of work which makes things like sitting comfortably in a cross-legged position feel more daunting than wrestling a bear. Because of this, I’d often dread parts of the class, such as centering, and love the parts of class where we could pop handstands. I’ve also caught myself “recovering” from a pose that is challenging for me by getting into a pose that is challenging for most others.
  • What it tells me: Ego and insecurity. There was clearly a desire to “be good at yoga” and when I was unable to do that, rather than recognize it’s a personal practice and that I have my whole life to continue to work and improve – instead I would feel uncomfortable/vulnerable because others can see my flaws – and would need to validate it by doing something that made me feel secure.

 

  • What I’ve done: Sometimes, if I was running a bit late (I’m talking a matter of minutes where I still had a chance to arrive on time), if I was stressing about something, or if my shoulders felt a bit tired when I woke up, I would skip class altogether.
  • What it tells me: I had a tendency to want things to be perfect before I began and didn’t want to give up control of the situation. My mentality was “if my shoulders are sore, I might not nail my handstand” and “I’m going to be thinking about this presentation throughout class and I’m never going to get into the right headspace today, so what’s the point?” Instead, it should have been “Man, I am stressed. I especially need yoga today” or “Since my shoulders are tired, I can focus on hip mobility today.”

 

I put these examples in past tense because after years of working on them, I’m proud to say that I have swapped out many of these shitty automatic responses for better ones. But it didn’t happen overnight and it wasn’t always easy and sometimes, when I am not being mindful, these ugly reactions will still show up every once in a while. For the most part however, it’s no longer my norm. Don’t worry though, I have plenty of other stuff I still need to work on – on and off the mat.

 

So, what is it for you?

  • Are you courageous/carefree enough to try and pop that handstand in a yoga class even though you haven’t mastered it yet? Or do you go home and practice it in secret, waiting until it’s perfect before finally unveil your masterpiece?
  • Do you start mentally cussing out your yoga teacher when they hold you in your least favorite pose for 10 seconds? Or do you step into the discomfort with a smile because you know you will be stronger for it in the end?

 

What does your practice tell you about yourself?

 

For you non-yogi’s… you’re not getting off that easy…what’s your  yoga?

  • Maybe it’s the gym, and you’re so regimented in your current program that you bash the new guy who’s taking up “your squat rack”  – when in reality, he’s just following his program and happened to beat you to the rack today.
  • Maybe it’s your club basketball team where the rest of your team “doesn’t know wtf they are doing” and they are cramping your game – when in reality, you haven’t hit a shot all day and the team you are facing is objectively better than you. It happens.
  • Think about it…is it really your team that’s messing you up? Or should you go and work on your shot? Is that guy/girl really an ass for taking your squat rack? Or should you relax and go do some damn lunges instead of criticizing their form or the amount of weight they are using?

 

As amusing (or alarming) as these discoveries may be, think of them as opportunities that can be used to diagnose your current-state tendencies and, more importantly, can be used as levers to make broader change across your life.

 

Using this as a tool to change your life

These moments are gifts –  they aren’t just moments of physical challenge, they are telling you something more and bringing up things you may need to work on in your life beyond just yoga. Whether it’s your ego, teaming skills, fear, or  insecurities, these moments of adversity can become your training ground to improve yourself.

 

How?

  • What if the next time you feel yourself getting frustrated during a difficult pose, you force yourself to dig in an smile because you acknowledge that “this too shall pass.”
  • Or the next time you go through your vinyasa flow, you silence your inner-cynic and pop up into that handstand because the worst thing that can happens is that you fall on your face – I’ve done it 1000 times and I’m still breathing 🙂 (Pro tip: set yourself up for success and grab a spot in the front or back corner of the room so when the time comes, you can’t use the “I don’t want to hit my neighbor excuse”)

 

At the end of the day, you can’t control the stimulus (aka you can’t control what happens to you), but you can control how you respond. When you notice your triggers and consciously choose to transcend them, you are literally rewiring your brain patterns – which means that overtime you can change your natural response to these triggers!

 

Viktor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist as well as a Holocaust survivor captured the essence of this so beautifully:

 

“Between stimulus and response there is space.

In that space is our power to choose our response.

In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

 

So, the next time you are faced with one of those triggers – be it in the yoga studio or workplace – remember that you have a choice for how you will respond and each time, an opportunity to take control of your life and become closer to the person you want to be.

 

Pretty dope if you ask me…

 

Stay up fam!

Matt

 

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