Let’s Talk About Stress, Baby

“Let’s talk about stress, baby. Let’s talk about you and me, let’s talk about all the good things and the bad things stress can bring. Let’s talk aboooouutt stresss.”

 

Alright enough with the funny business, let’s get down to the business of stress. It’s no longer a surprise to anyone that stress has been running rampant across the U.S. and most of the western world. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO), has dubbed stress as the health epidemic of the 21st century; reducing our quality of life and sending many of us to an early grave – not cool. Stress is a broad topic area, so in this post I want to get specific and focus on why stress has become such a big problem today and provide you with a few easy tools and strategies to manage the stress in your life.

 

First, let’s get a baseline understanding of stress because it’s pretty misunderstood…

 

People often refer to “stress” as a terrible thing but stress, in and of itself, is actually not the problem. As a matter of fact, stress is an amazing physiological response that our age-old brains developed to keep us safe.

 

Let’s take a look at what happens to our physical body when we get stressed:

 

When we experience a stressor, the nervous system triggers the adrenal glands to release adrenaline and cortisol – these hormones make the heart beat faster and raise blood pressure. As our heart rate increases, our blood vessels dilate which increase the amount of blood that gets pumped to the heart and large muscles. We breathe harder and more rapidly to get more oxygen to the muscles. Our muscles contract to prepare us for an impact and the liver produces more glucose (blood sugar) to give increased energy to support the fight or flight response.

 

When you think about it, the stress response is actually pretty friggin cool. Stress is meant to be an ally – we basically become super-human for a moment to deal with the stressor before our rational brain even fully grasps what is going on – it’s pretty much our spidey sense.  People often say they want to eradicate stress from their lives completely, but the truth is; our ancestors probably wouldn’t have done too well against their predators or hunting prey had it not been for the stress response. Even in many present day contexts, we’d be screwed (or at least at a big disadvantage) without it.

uganda
A perfect example of a time where I was thankful for my body’s natural stress response…

 

So why has stress become such a problem?

 

The issue with stress is more often the lack of recovery from the stress than the stress itself. Back in the day, the way it would go is that once the crisis or stressor passed, your body systems returned to normal. The hunter tracking his prey gets this super-human burst which subsides once the prey has been caught. That same hunter later gets ambushed by a predator and gets that same super-burst to fight or evade the attacker until the threat is gone. In this context, stress was the best thing that could have happened for them.

 

But we don’t really experience stress like this anymore…why?

 

Our brains didn’t get the memo that times have changed… it’s 2019 and in our normal day-to-day we’re no longer evading danger or hunting prey in the present moment…we still do this but in our mind. Our brains have this amazing ability to visualize and rehearse things, which allows us to plan for and imagine a future or reflect on and learn from the past, but it also means that we can re-live or imagine stressful experiences that can haunt us. It’s a brilliant little catch 22: our greatest asset (the mind) can produce the same physiological response to stress based on an imagined event that will likely never happen, or be much less stressful than the idea itself.

 

Take dogs for example. If you were to kick a dog, the dog would quickly learn to avoid you to not get kicked again. He’ll avoid you whenever he sees you, but once you’re out of sight, he’ll rest again. Humans however, will replay a situation, past or future, time and time again reliving it as if it were happening in the present moment – therefore the stress response never subsides and that is why we have CHRONIC stress. Those physiological responses were never meant to be held over an extended period of time, and when they are, they can wear us down physically, mentally and emotionally and lead to a slew of unwanted conditions such as hypertension, headaches, depression, anxiety, weight gain, etc. the list goes on and on and on…gastrointestinal, reproductive, and cardiovascular…oh my…

 

So, what can we do about it? For the rest of the post, my goal is to share some simple yet effective tactics to manage the different types of stress in your life.

Jordan squad 4
Giving a presentation in Amman, Jordan that would be published in Jordanian news. Without these stress management tactics, those pants would have been brown, not blue…

There are a few ways I think about categorizing stress management tactics:

  • Strategies to prepare for stress (preventive)
  • Strategies to deal with stress in the heat of the moment
  • Physically-focused tactics
  • Mentally-focused tactics

 

Note that there are both physical and mental tactics that can be used to prepare for stress, others that can be employed in the heat of the stressful moment, and some which can be used for both. Regardless of your preference, to effectively manage your stress, you will need to incorporate all of these different strategies to some degree.

 

Let’s start with the physical.

 

I believe that when we are stressed, the first thing we should do is check in with our physical bodies. While stress often stems from the mind, it shows up in a very real way in the physical body and can instantly change our state. Breathing, exercise, sleep and rest, are the first things I look at when I feel that I am in a state of stress.

 

  • Breathing: What is my breathing like? The breath don’t lie! You can’t be calm when your breathing is short and tight, and you can’t be stressed when your breath is slow, calm, and steady. This is why the first thing I do when I feel the onset of stress is check-in with my breath and begin deep breathing. It can instantly change your state in the heat of the moment.
  • Exercise: Have I been exercising? This is another baseline check in my stress diagnostic. Regular exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, and improve sleep – all which reduce stress. While regular exercise is critical to build general resilience to stress, a single session is also a really good way to release stress in the heat of the moment by pumping you with endorphins
  • Sleep and Rest: Am I getting adequate sleep and rest? I’m sure we can all remember a time where we were well rested, feeling great and something that would normally bother us became laughable. Alternatively, I’m sure we’ve all experienced a time when we were worn down, and something seemingly meaningless set us off. Trying to manage your stress when you are constantly tired is like treading water with a 100lb backpack on…you’re setting yourself up for failure.

 

I love these physically-focused strategies because they are simple and can be used to change your state in the heat of the moment. They can also be practiced over time to build a strong foundation to help you to deal with future stressors that will inevitably come. That said, while deep breathing might cool you down in the heat of the moment, it doesn’t get to the root cause of the issue and that same event may stress you out the very next day. In these cases, we need to go a bit deeper to resolve the core issue.

 

In these cases, we can look at some of the mentally-focused tactics to deal with some of the repetitive stressors in our lives. This is where it gets interesting…

 

First, consider the question: how much of the stress in your life is caused by external events vs the internal narrative you attach to that event?

 

Think about the biggest stressors in your life at the current moment: Is it school exams? A deadline for work? A big presentation coming up? A tough conversation you need to address?

 

When you really think about it, none of these things are stressful in and of themselves. It’s the stories we attach to it…”What if I fail? Will I get fired? Will people judge me?”  We create these stories in our mind about the event and THAT is what causes the stress response. I hate to tell you but there are other people in the world faced with the same “stressful” situation who aren’t losing any sleep over it because in their mind, they have a positive relationship with the stressor.

 

Consider this: You’ve been doing your breath work, you’ve been exercising regularly, and you are well rested…but the stress has not subsided…

 

You can now explore 3 options that will enable you to manage that stress

 

  • Change or remove the stressor
  • Change your relationship with the stressor
  • Change your relationship with the stressful thoughts and feelings the stressor triggers

 

Let’s take a deeper look into what these mean and provide a bit of guidance into when each strategy might be most appropriate. We can use an example of public speaking to illustrate each strategy.

 

Imagine that you have an important presentation coming up. It’s the culmination of a lot of hard work on something you care about. There will be many big names in the audience who have substantial clout in your industry. People are counting on you. You are STRESSSINNN

 

Change or remove the stressor – you could change the stressor by switching the presentation to a phone call or creating a video to convey your message. You could also have someone else on your team present the content instead of you or even cancel the presentation altogether. Doing this would likely alleviate a good bit of the stress coming from the presentation but I don’t think it would really solve the problem. In this case, removing the stressor would probably not be an action aligned with your values. This is something that is important to you and avoiding the situation would only make things more difficult in the long run.

 

Change your relationship with the stressor – This strategy has saved me many times. Our relationships with people, places, and things can often become a source of stress. One need only to change their relationship with the stressor to alleviate the stress. This is best done through cognitive reframing (aka – shifting your perspective). In the case of the presentation – you can start to think of it less about “I have to crush this, the stakes are so high, if I fail all is lost” and more like “I’m so thankful I’m getting this opportunity, I get to share my passion with leaders in the field today, imagine what could happen if I crushed it.” Moving from an “I have to” to an “I get to” mentality can really change your world.

Note: This strategy may not be very effective in the case of a stressor such as a toxic relationship. In that case, changing or removing the stressor may be a better strategy and one that is more aligned with your values.

 

Change your relationship with the stressful thoughts and feelings the stressor triggers: Finally, you can change your relationship with the stress response itself. When you get on that stage and your heart starts pumping and your breathing speeds up, rather than think “omg I must be nervous” you can remember “Wow, my body is preparing me for this challenge, I am getting more oxygen to my brain to lock in and focus…let’s f***in go!” Learning to recognize this physiological response as an ally rather than an indicator of anxiety will enable you to embrace it and use it to your advantage rather than try to get rid of it to no success.

 

So there you have it  – my perspective on stress management 101 – it’s done wonders for me. I hope you now understand that stress can be your ally, it’s when it becomes chronic that it turns into a problem. You have the tools, now it’s time to put it into practice.

 

Thanks for checking out this post. If you thought it was helpful, consider sharing it via Facebook or LinkedIn

 

Cheers!

Matt

Happiness is a choice, not a circumstance

matt smiling

What’s up folks,

 

It’s been just over a month since transitioning back to the U.S. after 6 months of working and traveling through South America. It’s been quite an interesting transition to say the least. Since I’ve returned, I’ve experienced a fair share of highs and lows, all of which have been good tests for me. There are a few things which I have learned through this transition that I’d like to share over the next couple of weeks. The first, being the most prevalent for me at the moment:

 

Happiness is a choice, not a circumstance

 

Boy oh boy – talk about a lifestyle shift. For the last 6 months, I had encountered new people, places, and experiences around every corner. Each day came with a new and exciting mission – explore nature, look within, face fears, challenge myself, connect with a stranger, etc. I was free. On my own. Doing what I wanted, when I wanted it and not having to answer to anyone…

 

Coming off of this exciting year, I was initially very eager to return home and put all of the learnings and experiences I had accumulated into practice. Once I arrived however, I quickly realized that not everything would be as I had initially envisioned. In an instant, my circumstance did a 180. I went from:

  • Summer sun and beautiful beaches to rain, snow, and cold
  • Complete autonomy to living back at my parents’ house for the first time in 8 years
  • Novelty in everything I did to returning back to my quiet hometown of ~20 years where everything feels the same
  • Being of service to incredible people every day to spending a majority of my time alone in an office, working remotely

 

Ram Das describes this test well “If you think you are so enlightened, go home and spend a week with your parents” He goes on to explain how the more shared past there is in a relationship, the easier it is to slip back into old habits and patterns – reliving the past .

 

So, It wasn’t long before I found myself in a bit of a funk. I was off, my mood wasn’t the same, and I wasn’t really engaging in life the same way. I began to blame my circumstance for my lack of mojo.

  • “I can’t thrive here”
  • “Winter sucks, I’m definitely a summer person”
  • “My parents are smothering me”

 

I was allowing myself to become a victim of circumstance and it wasn’t until I was with my mother, venting about how “unfortunate” my situation was, that I finally realized what I was doing. As I was speaking, my mom listened patiently. When I finished, she simply looked at me and asked “Is this how you coach others?” ….OUCH…but true. As her comment sunk in, I was able to put enough distance between me and my thoughts to observe for the first time how soft and victimized I was allowing myself to be.

 

The fact of the matter is that happiness isn’t dependent on circumstance. We all know people who can make the best situations miserable, and others who can take a miserable situation and turn it into a positive experience. What is comes down to is focus and expectation.

 

Focus. In any circumstance, we choose what we will focus on. For instance, if you set a new year’s resolution and falter on it, will you focus on the fact that you failed and give up? Or will you focus on how that moment of weakness made you feel and use it to strengthen your resolve as you move forward? <– same situation, but the direction of focus yields very different outcomes. “There is no good or bad but thinking makes it so” – Shakespeare

 

Expectation. Nothing can kill joy like unmet expectations. We have expectations that people will behave in a certain way and when they don’t, we get sad or angry. We have expectations of what our lives should be and if we aren’t meeting those expectations, we feel unworthy. We have expectations for the outcome of our actions and if those expectations aren’t met, we become frustrated. It’s good to have goals, but dwelling on unmet expectations won’t lead you anywhere productive. Instead, we must tune into the present moment, and understand that everything in this moment is as it should be. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t take responsibility to change a less-than-optimal situation, but never forget that the future is created in the present moment. Each moment comes with a set of choices that will either move you closer or further from your end goal. Stop resisting your current situation and start making the right choices each moment.

 

For me, I was focusing on the thought that I was “stuck back home with my parents” (outcome: frustration) rather than focusing on the fact that I have an amazing family who welcomed me back home with open arms while I prepare for my next move (outcome: gratitude). I had the expectation that my lifestyle back in the US would be the same as my lifestyle in South America, though rationally, I knew this phase would be a necessary step to continue moving forward.

 

Since that realization, I have been actively letting go of expectations and shifting my focus from the things that are “missing” in my current circumstance to view each moment as an opportunity to challenge myself, apply all of the things I’ve learned, and grow. The difference has been a gamechanger. Thanks for the reminder, Mom.

 

Long Story Short: “Don’t seek happiness. If you seek it, you won’t find it because seeking is the antithesis of happiness” Eckhart Tolle

 

 

Thanks for stopping by. Stay classy 🙂

 

 

Matt

Summiting Volcan Cotopaxi – when there is a mountain in front of you, just take it one step at a time…

Hey fam – I know it’s been a while since my last post so thank you for being patient. The past two months have been full of travel. I had a close friend visit who had a rough year back at home so I wanted to make our time together fun and meaningful – we explored a lot of the country and met some amazing people along the way. For our last week together I wanted to end on a “high” note – I wanted to do something that would push us beyond our limits but if we accomplished it, would be unforgettable. What better way to do that than to climb the 3rd highest active volcano in the world, Volcan Cotopaxi?

Volvan Cotopaxi

The lead up:

When we decided that we would try to summit Cotopaxi, we didn’t know really what we were getting ourselves into. All we knew was that it was the 2nd highest mountain in Ecuador and the 3rd highest active volcano in the world – pretty badass. Once we decided that we were going to do it, we had to prep.

 

Although I’m a pretty physically active person, I knew this was going to be a challenge and called for a different type of fitness and training. Most of my training for the past 4 months had been spent at the beach surfing and doing yoga/explosive style workouts at sea level. Cotopaxi was going to be an uphill climb, battling the elements at 5,897 meters (19,347 feet) up to the summit. So, we set out on a 2 week tour through Ecuador to acclimatize to the proper altitude, get our legs ready for some serious trekking, and of course enjoy Ecuador’s natural beauty along the way.

 

  • We spent about a week total between Cuenca (2560 meters but ~3,900 meters at Cajas National Park) and Banos (1,820 meters) which weren’t as much serious prep as it was living at a higher altitude and taking a few half-day hikes – still amazing (pics below)
  • When we left Banos, we headed to Latacunga to hike the Quilotoa loop – a 3 day, 30 mile trek through the mountains in some pretty tough terrain until we arrived at Laguna de Quilotoa (3,914 meters – pictures below). It was challenging but rewarding
  • Finally, for our last 2 days before the attempted summit, we stayed at Secret Garden Cotopaxi, an beautiful hostel where we could see the monstrosity that is Volcan Cotopaxi from every angle (beautiful but intimidating – also pictured below)
  • From Secret Garden, we were also able to hike up to the summit of Volcan Pasachoa (~4,200 meters)
summit of Volcan Pasachoa
Summit of Volcan Pasachoa
  • All of this was good training but to put it in context, Cotopaxi’s basecamp alone sits at 4,800 meters… so we knew that it was going to be a whole new kind of animal

 

 

The summit:

We arrived at basecamp (El Refugio) at 3 pm the day before the summit to settle in and get our gear ready. We would be heading out at 12:30 am the following morning so we ate a bit of dinner and tried to get some rest before the climb…needless to say I didn’t get much sleep.

 

The first couple hours of the climb were amazing – the sky was lit up by the moon and the stars and I felt fresh, strong, and grateful…

 

Then we hit the glaciers – pure snow and ice – we put on our crampons (metal spikes for the bottom of your boots) and grabbed our ice picks. This is where shit got real.

 

The glaciers were steep, like double black diamond steep and if you fell, you’d either be sliding down Cotopaxi forever or fall into one of the thousands of crevices that went 80 meters into the depths of the volcano. Pretty friggin scary for a kid who doesn’t enjoy heights (more specifically, ledges at high altitudes). Add to this our extreme altitude where the air is ~50% less dense and the air molecules are much farther apart. The result? Oxygen deprivation, fatigue, nausea, headaches, etc.

 

About 3.5 hours in (with about 3 more to go) the oxygen deprivation started hitting me, I was fatigued and nauseous. I’d look down and I’d see how far we climbed, but then I would look up to the summit and it didn’t look like we were getting any closer to it. At ~4 hours into the hike, I told my buddy and my guide that I didn’t think I was going to be able to continue, we were getting ready to turn around. As we were getting ready to head back, my mind flooded with voices – I could hear my dad’s last words to me before the climb “one step at a time, one foot in front of the other” and my mom saying “God will give you the strength to do all things”  and finally I recalled the 40% rule from my book Living With a Seal…more on the 40% rule later.

 

With this new inspiration, I stood up and started moving forward. Now, don’t be confused, this was not like I got a second wind and sped victoriously up the mountain. No, I took it slow, vomited twice, and slipped and stumbled intermittently for the next 2 hours to the summit.

 

But guess what… I still made it. As we reached the summit I could see the sun just rising up above the clouds. I was overcome with emotion and gratitude and just wept. The grueling process to get to the top and witness the beauty was overwhelming for me and I have never felt closer to God than I did at that moment. A moment I will never forget.

 

What I learned:

Through this experience, I learned a lot, but I want to share 3 quick insights that apply to our lives in almost everything we do:

 

 

  • When you are attempting a challenging endeavor, set an intention
  • Have a sense for where you are headed, but take it one step at a time
  • When you are pushing yourself, remember the 40% rule

 

 

  • Set an intention: Setting out on this endeavor, I knew it would be a challenge. I learned a while ago how important it is to set an intention to focus on during a rigorous challenge – it helps keep you focused and committed to your cause. The interesting insight for me however, was how quickly my intention changed. At first, my intention was set around myself. I wanted this achievement to be a symbol for me to represent future challenges that came my way – remembering the grit that it takes to overcome them. My intention however, quickly shifted… As we were trekking, I became filled with gratitude. I was thankful to God for the legs that were carrying me up the face of the volcano, for my lungs that were pumping hard to get limited oxygen into my body. I was thankful that I had one of my best friends next to me to share the experience with. I started to think about my mentors at work who supported me 100% to make this sabbatical opportunity possible, and finally I was thankful for my family who stood by me for my entire life up to this point – giving me the courage and confidence to take on this entire adventure in the first place. So what started out as something for me, quickly became a dedication climb – to the people that made this all possible, to show that I didn’t take this for granted. What I learned was that by setting my intention on others, I was able to access a new source of energy to keep pushing forward – if it was just for me, I think I would have stopped before the summit. 

 

  • Take it one step at a time: Before leaving for base camp, I was talking to my dad and I mentioned that while I felt confident, looking at that Volcano everyday was a bit intimidating. My dad responded with simple but powerful advice, “you know where you are headed, now just take it one step at a time, put one foot in front of the other.” As we were ascending, the air was getting thinner, and I was losing steam. I’d look back down from where we came and see how far we had climbed but then I would look up to the summit and it looked like we barely made any progress and that defeated feeling of “we’ll never get there” started to settle in. At that point I had sat down on the ice and told my guide I didn’t think I’d be able to continue – we were getting ready to turn around when my dad’s words came back into my mind “One step at a time, one foot in front of the other.” And for the next 3 hours up to the summit, that’s exactly what I did, I put all of my focus towards locking in each step, putting one foot in front of the other, only seldom taking a glance at the summit. In life, when we are facing a goal/challenge, getting to the other side can seem daunting and so far away. In these moments, the best thing you can do is break it down and focus on taking one step at a time towards your goal. What I learned is that success for any goal/challenge is not about the one big decision of “I’m going to summit Cotopaxi” but the thousands of small choices you make to continue to push forward until you finally arrive at your destination.

 

  • Remember the 40% Rule: About a year ago I read a really great book called Living With a Seal. In the book, serial entrepreneur, Jesse Itzler, hires a badass Navy Seal to come live with his family and teach him about mental and physical toughness. In the book, the Navy Seal reveals The 40% Rule.  The rule is simple: When your mind is telling you that you’re done, that you’re exhausted, that you cannot possibly go any further, you’re only actually 40% done. While I was sitting, ready to give up and my dad’s voice popped into my head, so did the 40% rule. I realized that my mind was being soft as a survival mechanism, and that my body had a lot more to give – so I pushed on. And yes, it was tough and at many points it sucked…but I still made it. So the next time you hit your known limits, just remember you still have 60% more to give and push on.

 

 

I’ll never forget this experience and I am so grateful to all of the people and events in my life that made it possible. I hope you enjoyed the read and remember it the next time you have a mountain (physical or metaphorical) in front of you. Climb on!

 

 

Cheers!

Matt

 

P.S. If you enjoyed the read, please consider sharing it via Facebook or LinkedIn

10 days, Technology Free in the Galapagos – What I Learned…

sea lion

So I just got back from an incredible 10 days on the Galapagos Islands. The islands themselves were absolutely incredible – the people, the biodiversity, and the unique terrain were more remarkable than I could have ever imagined. I’ll eventually post in more detail about some of the specific moments/activities from the trip but today, I want to talk about a component of my trip that is not directly related to the Islands.

 

During my trip I took a 10 day technology fast. While I still brought my phone for pictures, the fast consisted of:

  • Airplane mode at all times
  • No texts or calls
  • No social media
  • No emails
  • No computer
  • No searching the internet

 

Before talking about what I experienced and what I learned during the technology fast, I’ll start with why I committed to doing this in the first place.

 

Why the technology fast?

 

While a 10 day trip to the Galapagos is the perfect opportunity to unplug and fully immerse yourself into the island experience, that was not the main impetus for me to abstain from technology during this trip, just a nice little perk.

 

My primary interest in the technology fast can be expressed, in-part, by a real AF verse on Drake’s new album, Scorpion, in a song called Emotionless.

 

Missin’ out on my days

Scrollin’ through life and fishin’ for praise

Opinions from total strangers take me out of my ways

I try and see who’s there on the other end of the shade

….

I know a girl whose one goal was to visit Rome

Then she finally got to Rome

And all she did was post pictures for people at home

‘Cause all that mattered was impressin’ everybody she’s known

I know another girl that’s cryin’ out for help

But her latest caption is “Leave me alone”

I know a girl happily married ’til she puts down her phone

I know a girl that saves pictures from places she’s flown

To post later and make it look like she still on the go”

 

(Side note. ANOTHER Drake song says “I’m living inside the moment, not taking pictures to save it” – which also hits home for me. Go Drake)

 

When I heard those verses they struck a chord with me. While its not a direct match, the lyrics express many of the challenges I (and I’ll be so bold to say we) face with social media and staying connected.

 

Exhibit A:

 

Since I’ve been on this trip, while I certainly feel that I have deepened my mindfulness practice and have been much more present, there were a lot of things I’d catch myself doing that didn’t align with my values:

 

  • Once I got access to WiFi, I became too connected to my phone  – perhaps it was due to some of the intermittent loneliness that can  come with solo travel – but all the same, it was too much.
  • I would catch myself aimlessly scrolling through Instagram, liking every picture I saw – NOT necessarily because I liked the pictures (sorry) but because I subconsciously wanted to exchange likes for likes – thinking about it now seems so self-serving and honestly it’s tough to write about on a public platform.
  • I would post a picture and would constantly open my Instagram to see how many more likes I got and sometimes, who liked the pictures – as if I had any control over it and as if it truly mattered – and I’d use those likes to put value on my own personal experiences and the quality of what I was sharing.

 

As a result, I started to get tangled up. I’d catch myself in the middle of a conversation with an urge to check my phone, I’d find myself enjoying something beautiful but then thinking about how I could turn it into a post. This little black mirror (phone) had power over me – full stop.

 

I understand why I was doing what I was doing. When I started this blog, I put my personal story on a public platform. It’s like public speaking – you put yourself out there and open yourself up to judgement from the audience with the chance that they dislike what you have to say. I talk about things that are personal and important to me so of course I want it to be received well – and I think that’s healthy. But with this healthy desire to do well, comes the danger of the ego getting in the way. When the ego gets in the way, you lose that feeling of empowerment because you are under the control of the audience – where each like, from people you know and people you don’t, becomes a little ping of validation that you are doing the right thing and when you don’t get those likes, you start to question yourself and the value of the message you were trying to convey or the content you put out.

 

That is why, once I heard those Drake lyrics, I was like “Bruh…” and I decided to go tech free for a nice reset in the Galapagos.

 

What was it like?

 

This 10 day technology fast went pretty much like most of my previous technology-free experiences (yes I have done things like this before) and, I imagine, shares many of the same traits of stopping many habits cold turkey.

 

  • First, came the ego. It started off pretty rough. I think it’s because I posted on Instagram and then immediately shut my phone (maybe not the best idea). I wanted to check my phone so bad! Who liked it? Were people supportive of this technology fast? Did anyone care that I was going to be in the Galapagos?
    • This feeling persisted for a couple of days and then tapered off when I finally let go and said “who cares, it just is what it is.”
  • Then, the conditioning. I’d wake up in the morning and would want to go for my phone to see what messages or alerts had come through overnight. I’d go to the bathroom and felt so lost without having a phone to check. I’d lay in bed before going to sleep and would feel the urge to check my phone or do a bit of scrolling to lull myself to sleep.
  • Finally, the associative aspects. Social situations with an awkward silence would trigger my hand to reach towards my pocket to grab my phone. I’d go sit somewhere by myself and would find myself wanting to check my phone to make it seem like I was doing something important…lol.

 

Having done technology fasts before, I had a sense for what I could expect and was ready for it, but the feelings still came and initially were still hard to ignore. Over time however, the habitual urges started to dissipate and pleasant experiences took their place.

 

  • No longer was I looking at situations or experiences as a moment to capture and later post about, but instead they became moments to simply experience, nothing more.
  • Instead of reaching for my phone in the morning, I’d lay in bed thinking about the previous day and would feel intense gratitude for all I was able to experience. In the bathroom (lol but seriously, the bathroom is prime time for phone scrolling) or when sitting down in general, instead of mindlessly scrolling, I’d tune into my body and observe how it was feeling –  pleasant soreness in my muscles from the previous day’s hike or surf, warm skin from a day out in the sun, everything.
  • In social situations, I was able to fully immerse myself in the conversations. Silence was no longer awkward, but a chance to take a moment to reset, collect, and continue. Conversations became more enriched and went from brief conversations about the weather on the islands to deep meaningful connections.

 

All of these positive effects could be categorized as increased presence and an increased ability to tune into each moment I was experiencing.

 

So what?

 

While the technology fast was pleasant, it isn’t something I can do all of the time and I assume, neither can most of you. Like it or not, technology is an integral part of most of our lives and being completely “off the grid” is not a realistic solution. Technology is also a gift, it provides us with access to information and connects us to our loved ones. It’s an amazing tool and can tremendously improve the quality of our lives when used appropriately. Conversely, it can also lead to negative outcomes and pull us out of the present moment. So the question becomes – what do we do about the inherent conflict that comes in our relationship with technology?

 

In the past, I’ve done things such as delete social media (which I really enjoyed) however, I understand that in order for my blog to reach others (which is a goal) social media is a necessity and deleting it is not a feasible option. What I can do though, is incorporate a few guidelines that will keep me in check. Disclaimer – I have no guarantees on the efficacy of any of these guidelines as I am only one week into them but here is what I have decided to experiment with:

 

  • Set the right mindset:
    • It may seem like a silly guideline but I think an important component is setting the right mindset for approaching technology and social media.
    • If you don’t have a stance/mindset, its easy to get caught up without even realizing. For me, I didn’t realize how much my ego played into my relationship with social media. I’ve now set the mindset that social media is a platform for me to log my journey and share it with whoever is interested. It’s not a place for me to boast, be nosey, or to compare my situation with others. By establishing this mindset, I am giving myself a baseline to check myself.
  • Be intentional:
    • Very closely related to setting the right mindset is being intentional about maintaining your mindset. Technology and social media are never ending floods of information, there is always something new or something to check. If you fail to be intentional about why, when, and how you use your technology, it can easily lead to compulsive behavior.
    • While I continue my trip, I will be intentional in my technology use by designating specific hours where I can be connected – either to check social media, send an email, make a call, etc. By designating a specific time and place to be connected I don’t  need to be concerned with constantly checking my phone every time I hear an alert. Setting time in both the morning and the evening enable me to make sure I am not off the grid for an extended period of time.
  • Observe and respond:
    • By setting the right mindset and being intentional about how I use technology and social media, my hope is that I will be much more aware as I am using them. This will enable me to observe if my thoughts/behaviors are in line with the mindset I set for myself – if they are, great. If not, back to the drawing board to come up with some new ideas.

 

 

I am looking forward to seeing how these little tweaks will work out for me. I think it’s going to be a matter of constant reflection and adaptation that will get me to my ideal relationship with technology.  When it comes to this subject matter, I am certainly no expert and have limited experience. I’d love to hear from you if you’ve experienced any of the things I described and if/how you’ve been able to mitigate the negative impacts. Please let me know by commenting below or sending me a message directly.

 

Thanks fam! ❤

 

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We need to rethink how we set a vision for our lives

machuu.jpg

Something that’s been coming up in a lot of my conversations lately, is the concept of having a clear vision for your life.

It’s always an interesting conversation, because while I see immense value in being purpose driven and having a vision to strive for – I’ve also witnessed its potential to cause distress and dissatisfaction in people’s lives (myself, most certainly, included.)

In this post, we will look at a few examples that demonstrate what happens in the vision setting process that can lead to stress and dissatisfaction. I also want to offer up some food for thought and hopefully, you’ll walk away with a new way to think about your vision and purpose that allows for a bit more flexibility (and ultimately, happiness) along the way. (P.S. you’ll notice that I use the terms purpose and vision for your life interchangeably in this post, they are definitely separate concepts but for this post, it’s not as important to distinguish.)

 

Let’s look at 3 brief examples of how this idea of having a vision for your life can lead to stress or dissatisfaction.

 

1. My sister is in the process of transferring from community college to a 4 year university. Since she is transferring in as a junior, the infamous “pick your major” conversation was one of the biggest things on her mind. My sister is extremely hard working and ambitious, and as a result, I watched her put a lot of unnecessary stress upon her shoulders as she went through the process of selecting a major.

  • I don’t have a vision of exactly what I want to do/be, so I am nervous I am going to choose the wrong major
  • Betsy (fake name) is so lucky, she knows her purpose is to be a teacher so she knows exactly what classes to take and doesn’t have to waste time figuring it out. I wish I had that
  • As soon as I can figure out my purpose I’ll feel more motivated in the things I do (class, extracurricular activities, etc.)

For those of you who don’t know my sister, that girl is a ray of sunshine, so it was painful to see this pressure of having it all figured out impact her mood, sense of confidence, and general level of happiness.

 

2. Conversely, a close friend/colleague of mine has a very clear picture of what she wants to do with her career. We have talked a lot in the past and she knows exactly the types of projects,  people, and skills that exist in the industry. She is one of the most intelligent people that I know, so when it comes to job opportunities, the world is her oyster. I’ve had the opportunity to be a close friend through her last two job transitions and here is the interesting phenomena that tends to happen.

  • She’ll apply to a few organizations that excite her, she crushes the interviews and the job offers start coming in. It’s everything she wanted right?!
  • Kinda…
  • When it comes time to make a decision, which granted is a very important decision, she stops herself and thinks “shit, is this actually the right move? Is this absolutely going to get me to my end goal? Is it the best choice?”
  • The result is that rather than get pumped for the amazing options in front of her, she becomes plagued with the pressure to make the perfect choice. At times, she will even undermine her accomplishments because they’re not exactly what she thinks she needed. The end result is still a great job, but the pressure along the way makes the journey stressful and anticlimactic, rather than exciting and affirming.

 

3. A guy I know from the gym is just a few years from retirement. He was recently laid off from his job and was working to answer the question of “what’s next?” I had a few chances to speak with him through the process. In our first conversation, he told me “Matt, I’m tired of this shit…I’ve been doing (sales) for over 30+ years and the last thing I want to do is ramp up at another company right now. I feel like I finally have an opportunity to stop working for someone else.” Our following conversations were awesome, the guy had clearly been successful in his life. We’d talk about ideas of what he could do and some of them really got him amped but each time we’d go down a path, the momentum would slowly crumble because when it came time to pull the trigger he wasn’t sure that it was the best option – I sensed a fear of “what if this is the wrong decision? The result, he is back in sales and honestly I don’t think he is happy about it.

 

All of the above examples are really close to home for me, they are stories of people who I love, respect, and look up to in many ways. The examples also purposely span from college, to mid-career, to end of career. I chose these examples to show that this is something we deal with throughout our lives, so if it is a source of distress/dissatisfaction in your life as well, that’s not going to go away unless you directly address the root cause.

 

Now, let’s explore the root cause and the impact it can have on us.

 

At one point in our lives, we’ve all thought about our vision for who we want to be and what we want to achieve (our legacy). If you haven’t, you should certainly take some time and start thinking about it.

 

The issue, is that when setting our vision, we tend to put a very specific end-goal in our minds of what our lives need to look like in order to feel like we “succeeded” or “made the most of it.” When we finally define that clear end-goal, it tends to come with a very clear-cut path in our minds to get there (or at least a desire to have one).

 

What often happens with this approach is that the specific end-goals in our minds are typically articulated as a role or a specific measurement (i.e., I want to be a doctor, I want to be a teacher, I want 10 million dollars, I want to win 6 NBA championships [Bron, if you’re reading this, that means you]). Naturally, with the specific end vision, comes a clear-cut path to get there. “I have 10 years to become a partner, I’ll start as an analyst, then I’ll need to go to business school for my MBA, then I’ll come back and do x, y, and z, after that I’ll finally be a partner and be able to enjoy my life.” We chart out these paths because they provide us with a sense of certainty in our lives, a false sense of certainty, I’ll add – but it still helps many of us sleep better at night.

 

Our tendency to become laser focused on the end-goal and our clearly defined paths to get there can lead to the following negative outcomes:

 

  1. Stress: When we think about our vision it’s easy to stress out. “I don’t know my vision or my purpose.” “I know what I want to do but I don’t have a clue on where to start.” “So and so is so lucky she knows exactly what she wants to be.” “What if this is the wrong vision for me, can you remind me what yours is?”
  2. Rigidity…and also stress: We get so hooked on the end result that we don’t leave any room for “life” to happen…and “life” certainly happens (by life, I mean new circumstances such as falling in love, having a baby or getting fired, fresh perspectives like an epiphany that shifts your world view, or detours along the way such as a unique opportunity to travel or experience something new) When we are rigid in our approach, “life” happening can cause massive amounts of stress and dissatisfaction regarding our current situation because its not part of the path we set and we didn’t plan for it to happen.
  3. Tuning out…and also stress: Being laser focused on the end result can also remove you from the present moment. Rather than being able to enjoy things as they are happening, you are focused on calculating the distance to your end goal and all you see is a gap (i.e. your vision is to make 10 million dollars, you just made your first million but all your thinking about is the 9 million more you need to make.)

 

It’s twisted, because the whole reason we create a vision for ourselves is so that we can ultimately feel satisfaction with our lives and be happy. Critical components to happiness are less stress, the ability to deal with change and adversity as it comes, and being fully present in each moment we experience. Given that logic, it doesn’t quite make sense to deprive yourself of such things to on the road to happiness.

 

So what should we do?

 

I am not suggesting that we stop thinking about our purpose and our visions for our lives and just wander around aimlessly. I am suggesting however, that we rethink how we define our visions and path to get there. Rethinking our vision/path can free us from a rigid, myopic focus on the end goal and open us up to an adaptive, fluid approach that still takes us to our ultimate destination but allows for some flexibility and joy along the way.

 

Here are two simple tweaks you can make that will have a massive impact on the road to reach your vision.

 

  • Forget your role, focus on your contribution: as I mentioned, when we set a vision for ourselves, it can often come in the form of a role (i.e. I want to be a doctor, a college professor, or a personal coach). The challenge with focusing on roles is that to a degree, those things can be out of your control – financial situations, decisions from others, and general life circumstances can all impact your access to a specific role. Your contribution however, is something that you control 100%, all of the time. Contribution is focused around the outcome rather than the role – its saying “I want to heal people” rather than saying “I want to be a doctor.” When you focus on contribution rather than role, new doors open up. Suddenly, you don’t need to wait to finish school, residency, or have 5 years of experience to start living out your purpose. Suddenly, you don’t need someone else to tell you “yes, we approve that you can do this with your life now”

 

    • This same line of thinking also applies to visions that have a unit of measurement connected to them (i.e. I want to make 5 million dollars) Instead of thinking about the 5 million dollars, think about what it would mean to you to have $5m. Would you be able to travel the world? Would you be able to contribute philanthropically? If these are your goals, you don’t need $5m to get started. Typically, these units of measurement have a deeper intention behind them and once again, when you get to the core of what that is, a whole new world will open for you.

 

 

  • Allow room for life to happen:  I can’t stress this enough. We tend to see our existence and personal experience as the center of the universe and forget that there is a dynamic and interconnected world of people and circumstances out there that we have no control over. It’s impossible to try to control everything that happens and when we do, we stress ourselves out and waste time and energy fighting against this force of the universe. When we are rigid, we can close off to some amazing other opportunities – “Yeah, I wish I could have volunteered with that organization in Delhi but I have to study for my GMAT if I am going to get into business school by the fall” <– (There is nothing inherently wrong with that but in many cases, when I probe, its part of a precisely defined 12-year plan that has every year mapped out and accounted for.) For me, while I believe in ambition and planning, I also believe that there is a deeper intelligence at play and things happen for a reason – whether it feels like a good thing or bad thing. That’s why I like to leave a bit of room for serendipity and for an alternate route to my end goal.

 

    • Pro Tip: when you focus on contribution rather than role, it becomes much easier to allow room for life to happen. When you focus on contribution, everything you do, every place you are, and everyone you meet can become an opportunity for you to make a connection, add a tool to your toolkit, or get an experience under your belt that can support your vision.

 

 

By making these tweaks, my hope is that:

 

  • You no longer have to stress about knowing exactly what you want to be. You can instead focus on who you want to be – a subtle but powerful shift. When you focus on who you want to be, rather than what, you never have to wait for someone’s permission to start being that person – you can start RFN
  • You get excited about life’s curveballs and welcome them with open arms rather than fight vehemently against your current circumstance. This leaves you with energy to step into new situations with full force and a positive attitude, when you do that, things just start to manifest for you
  • You are more present, happier, and ultimately more productive! Your journey no longer feels like a chore, it becomes enriched, exciting, and joyful. The journey is no longer something you have to do, it’s something you get to do

 

I know some folks may read this post and say “That’s absolute bullshit, if you want to be the best, you need to be laser focused on the end result and not waste time on anything that doesn’t get you there.” Just yesterday I saw a post from an Instagram influencer where the caption read something like “Turn your blinders on to everything but your end goal.”

 

Maybe that approach works for you and if so, by all means continue – but this is why my perspective has shifted.

 

For the last 8 years, I’d consider myself a pretty purpose-driven individual. For me, my passion has been sharing health, well-being, and encouragement to others. To achieve this, I set a vision. I thought that I would need to be a well-known health and fitness coach if I was going to have any impact on people’s lives. So I got certified as personal trainer and yoga instructor and set out on my way. I started off by creating a small personal training company in college with a close friend, which we tried to scale to a web based business and failed. I was close to graduating college and had nothing to show for it – I felt ashamed and lost, what was I going to do now?

 

When received my offer from Deloitte Consulting, I was honestly not too pumped about it. I felt like this would take precious time away from my end goal but I took the job anyway thanks to some advice from a few good mentors. At first, my perspective didn’t really change, I wasn’t really happy because I wasn’t doing what I was “meant” to be doing. Consulting wasn’t my purpose, so how was I supposed to live it out at a place like Deloitte? I felt like I had to put my vision on hold. My thinking during that time constantly revolved around an “exit strategy” – what was the best way I could leave and get back on track.

 

Over time, I started to realize that it wasn’t that I couldn’t live out my vision at Deloitte, it’s that I wasn’t. I had been so focused on the role that I thought I needed to have to live out my vision that I became blind to the other paths. As this perspective shifted, I started to realize that there was an entire pool of people within my company who were looking to go deeper in their health and well-being but didn’t have the time or the resources. All of a sudden, doors began to open – I started leading group workouts and meditation sessions for colleagues inside and outside of the office. I got to use my consulting experience of public speaking and building presentations to deliver health and fitness concepts to a much broader audience in a more compelling way and most recently, I’ve been granted the opportunity to travel the world for 6 months collecting and sharing tips on health and well-being. It’s been at Deloitte, not even as a full time personal trainer, that I have been able to make the biggest impact on people’s health and well-being so far in my life.

 

Before I shifted my perspective, I rarely considered things outside my defined path and when I did, I couldn’t really enjoy them. For the last couple of years however, I’ve opened myself to the serendipity of life and am able to look at challenges and opportunities as productive detours that have the potential to take me beyond what I would have imagined on my own.

 

So to close, again, this doesn’t mean don’t set goals and forget your ambitions. No, being a lazy bum and sitting and waiting for things to happen wont do anything for you. Instead, stay productive but be open to detours along the way, cultivate a sense of faith that there is a deeper reason for your current circumstance, and allow yourself the time and space to explore what that may be.

 

 

Matt

 

P.S. If there are any challenges you’ve run into or any tips or tricks you employ when thinking about your vision, I’d love to hear your perspective.

 

P.P.S If you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it on Facebook or LinkedIn

How to design a killer training program: Circuit Training

workout 2

Now that we’ve covered the importance of a warm-up, it’s time to move into the next phase of training – structuring your session. While I say structure, I mean that in a pretty loose sense as I tend to take a more fluid and intuitive (rather than programmed/regimented) approach to my workouts. You will see some of that reflected in this post.

 

In this post, I am going to focus on circuit training. I chose circuit training because it is one of my favorite styles of training and it gives you the most bang for your buck. I particularly love it because:

 

  • It’s full body: Circuits, normally incorporate the whole body. This is important because when we live a mostly sedentary life (for my corporate folks – even if you work out every day but sit for the next ten hours, you would be classified as living a sedentary life) we can’t afford to ignore half of our body (or more) during the precious hour we get to spend at the gym each day. You can certainly focus on a particular muscle group, but ideally, you should be activating your whole body
  • It works your heart: Circuits get your heart pumping. They’re an easy way to enter your max heart rate zones and thus increase your capacity for cardiovascular activity (beware…while that is good, you also want to be cognizant of how long you are staying in each zone…but more on that later)
  • It’s quick: If you are strapped for time, as most of us are, circuits are the best. You can bang out a killer circuit in 20 – 30 minutes (less if you are reeeeally strapped for time) which will definitely give you enough time for a nice warm-up 🙂
  • You can do it anywhere: As a management consultant who has spent so much time on the road trying to stay fit, circuit training has been a lifesaver for me. There are so many amazing circuits you can put together that can be done without a single piece of equipment – all you need is your body. This, coupled with the fact that they are so quick, gives you no excuse to miss a workout
  • It’s fun: They’re intense, challenging, and creative. I love designing circuits and finding new ways to challenge myself. Once you get into your rhythm, I’m confident you will too
  • It makes you happy: high intensity training releases more of your feel good chemicals like endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin than more traditional lower intensity workouts…something this world needs much more of

 

Disclaimer: while circuits are my favorite, they represent one style of training. Depending on your goals, there may be other training styles enable you to meet your goals more effectively. If you’re trying to build 22 inch arms, this is not the program you want to follow.

 

Here are some of the goals that circuit training will achieve:

  • Improve overall physical fitness level
  • Improve muscular and cardiovascular endurance
  • Increase muscle strength
  • Reduce body fat
  • Improve overall mood – reduce stress, increase happiness

 

Given the qualities and the outcomes of circuit training, I feel that it is the best form of training for someone working a high demand corporate job (I say corporate job because if you are working a high demand landscaping job, you are using your whole body throughout the day and therefore can afford to focus on specific muscles during your time in the gym – circuits are still a great option for you though!)

 

Now that we understand the value of a circuit, let’s get into what they actually are and how you can build them.

 

Circuit training is a form of body conditioning which blends a mixture of endurance training and/or resistance training at high intensity. It targets strength building/muscular endurance. An exercise “circuit” is one completion of all prescribed exercises in the program. When one circuit is complete, one begins the first exercise again for the next circuit…(definition by Wikipedia, reviewed and approved by yours truly)

 

The objective is to sufficiently work your muscles while keeping your heart pumping through the entire workout with minimal rest..sounds easy right?

 

…wrong.

 

Circuits are intense and it’s really easy to fatigue your muscles. If pure endurance is your goal, I guess that’s okay, but if  you become too tired, too fast you won’t be able to put your muscles under the stress they need to grow and build strength. That’s why there is an art to designing a circuit – you need to keep your muscles fresh while you pump your heart throughout the session.

 

Circuits can get pretty complex but I am going to start with 2 easy tips for you to think about as you start to structure your programs.

  • Push – Pull
  • Top half – Bottom half

 

Push-Pull:

A large majority of movements (outside of twisting) can be categorized as either push or pull. The reason the push-pull concept is so important is because the push motion and the pull motion utilize distinct muscle groups. The push-pull method is very useful when designing your circuit because it enables you to give one set of muscles a rest while you work a new set of muscles, still keeping your heart rate up. Let’s explore…

Push exercises get the name because you are pushing things away from you, you can be pushing a weight (bench press), or pushing the ground away from your body (push-up).

Pull exercises get the name because you are pulling things toward you. You can be pulling a weight (dumbbell rows), or pulling your body towards something (pull-up).

Capisce (kah-peesh)?

 

Concept applied:

  • Let’s take a classic push example, the push-up (primary muscles: chest / secondary muscles: triceps and shoulder area)
  • Say your first workout in the circuit is a set of 25 push-ups. When you finish, those muscles are going to be fatigued. Since it’s a circuit, you only get ~15 seconds to rest, maximum. If your next workout is another push exercise, shoulder press (primary muscles: shoulders / secondary muscles: chest and triceps) you will need to use very similar muscles as your previous exercise. Here you can risk an injury from overuse or just inhibit your gains because you are exhausted and can’t add as much stress to your muscles as you normally would
  • If you apply the push-pull methodology however, things get a bit different
  • Start with the same set of 25 push-ups. Now, when you finish, you follow-up with a pull exercise, pull-ups (primary muscles: lats / secondary muscles: biceps) now you are using a fresh set of muscles and your fatigue from the previous exercise will have minimal impact on the current set
  • Simple, yet effective

 

Top Half, Bottom Half:

I’m sure you can pretty easily guess what this concept is all about…

That’s right, following the same logic as push pull, the muscles you use when you work the top half of your body are different than the ones you use while working the bottom half of your body (thanks, captain obvious). Top half <-> Bottom half gives you one more opportunity to let your muscles rest during a circuit.

Using the push-pull technique is great, but the truth is that it will only get you so far. For both push and pull exercises, while the primary and secondary muscle groups may differ, there are a lot of other smaller (stabilization) muscles that get used (and tired) for both. This means that going from push to pull to push to pull will ultimately wear you down.

UNLESS – you throw some top half, bottom half, into the mix.

Going push-pull on the top half of your body, followed by an exercise for the lower body (or better yet…a push-pull combination on the lower body) is going to give your upper body muscles the time they need to fully recover for the next time you need them, all while you continue to power through your workout, keeping your heart rate pumping 🙂

 

Putting it all together:

So, when you put it all together, it may look a little something like this

Example Circuit:

Perform each of the following exercises in sequence resting no more than 25 seconds in between each exercise. When you complete the entire sequence of exercises, that is one circuit. Perform the circuit 4 times resting up to 2 minutes between each circuit.

Circuit:

  • WARM UP
  • 10 burpees
  • 8-10 pull-ups
  • 15 push-ups
  • 15 squat jumps
  • 12 hamstring bridges
  • 12 down-dog push-ups (push-up, then in a high plank press yourself back to down dog)
  • 10 prone cobras (with 3 second pause)
  • 20 alternating lunges (bonus points for alternating jumping lunges)

 

I chose these exercises because you can do them virtually anywhere. Try it out and feel free to plug in new exercises that work the same (or similar) muscles (i.e. swapping out push-ups for shoulder press or dips.)

 

Be patient: at first, circuits may seem like a lot. It’s a lot to do/remember so feel free to write them down when you get started. Also, as you build your library of workouts and develop a better understanding of which workouts work which muscles, you will get much better at designing circuits that work for you. The best way to get better at this is to continue to experiment. Commit to a month of circuit training to start to recognize the effects. Everyone I’ve ever trained has done circuit training and they all love it, that’s why I am confident you will too.

 

Quick note on over-training: I’ll likely make this its own post but it’s also important to mention now. Beware of over-training with this style workout. It’s easy to want to do too much, too quick – especially because its summer and we all want to see our abs after unlimited cocktails and appetizers all weekend. Unfortunately, I can’t assess each person’s level of fitness. The example circuit above is designed to be accessible for people with a moderate level of fitness. If you are just getting back into the gym for the first time in a while or for the first time in your life, this will likely be a difficult circuit, please send me an email or DM me and I can give you some guidance on how you can build your way up to this circuit. There is an art to knowing when your body wants a break and when your body needs a break. Push yourself, but respect your limitations at the moment, knowing that with time and dedication, those limits will become a mere memory.

 

Enjoy your session!

 

Matt

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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