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?

coffee.jpg

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

 

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

 

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

updog

“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

 

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

Nature: Recharge Your Spirit

Wachuma Lake

Well – I just touched down in Nicaragua after a week of R&R in Peru and what a week it was. I spent my week at an eco-lodge in the Sacred Valley and I can honestly say the trip was a life-changing experience (in many more ways than one). I had the opportunity to look inward but was also able to connect with the local Andes culture and I learned so much from them. For now, I am going to focus on my two biggest learnings in the following posts:

  1. The importance of connecting with nature to recharge and cultivate a sense of gratitude and wonder
  2. Using symbolism/rituals as tools to renew the mind and refresh the spirit

This post will cover the nature component

 

While in Peru, one thing that immediately stood out to me about the local culture was their relationship with “Mother Earth” aka Pacha Mama. Their relationship with the Earth (both plants and animals) is sacred and they take it very seriously. This comes from the fact that for generations, they’ve relied on nature for survival (i.e., using animal behavior to predict the weather and to determine which crops should be planted that year) and for wisdom – seeing nature as an intelligent problem solver and pulling lessons from it. When speaking with some of the locals, I began to understand this symbiotic relationship and the deep gratitude (for the food, for the rain, for the sun, etc.) that comes with it – you take care of the Earth and nurture the relationship and the Earth in turn takes care of and nurtures you. There was also a sensitivity to the different stimuli within nature, with locals constantly pointing out the sound of birds chirping, the warmth of the sun and the wind cooling our skin – there is a consistent mindfulness that they carry, which most of the time we only experience while on our yoga mat or in our meditation chair (if we’re lucky).

 

As I immersed myself in the culture, I started to think about life back at home and realized how far much of our culture has gone from this place of gratitude and sensitivity toward nature. In many of our daily environments – highly populated cities, high-demand jobs – we are bombarded with intense stimuli. To deal with this, our brain, over time, learns to tune out many of these stimuli to keep us sane (if we were hyper aware of every stimulus going during our commute in NYC, it wouldn’t be long before our brain blew a few circuits.) While this desensitizing is a gift, there is also a downside…our brains also desensitize to stimuli that foster a wonder and appreciation for our world which keeps our spirits charged.

 

There is something deeply human about connecting with nature – there was once a time where all of our ancestors shared a similarly dependent relationship with the Earth but in many developed cultures, that relationship has been long forgotten. While in many cases we’ve removed ourselves from nature, I believe we are deeply wired to connect with it and by callusing ourselves over time, we inadvertently suppress our spirit. Just think about the countless studies showing the impact of windowless offices or the studies on the difference between offices with or without plants. More importantly, think back to a time where you’ve witnessed a beautiful sunset or listened to the sound of waves on the beach and felt a deep sense of gratitude and wonder – I’d bet that if you dig deep, you can all recall a memory like that. Why should we limit ourselves to that feeling only once a year on vacation? Albert Einstein said it best, “He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.”

 

For those of you thinking “easy for you to say on a 6 month sabbatical…” I get it. I understand that opportunities to go deep into nature for an extended period of time are not always within our control – but that’s not what I am suggesting. I do however, believe there is something we all can learn from this and apply in our daily life. To me, the lesson is more about cultivating a daily mindset of wonder and gratitude than heading to a specific place in nature. Think of the things that you do have control over in your day to day:

  • How you set up the space in your office
  • Where you take your lunch/coffee breaks
  • Your mindset toward nature the food it produces

Setting up a few succulents or air plants around your office is a simple and low maintenance way to bring some nature into your daily life. Taking lunch or coffee breaks outside when possible is a great way to connect with nature as well. More importantly however, is the mindset in which you approach these small treasures. Having plants at your desk or taking a walk outside is not going to do much for you if you are not approaching these things mindfully – with this sense of gratitude and wonder. When you set up your desk plants or take your lunch break outside, take a moment to appreciate these things. Be grateful for the food that you are putting into your body which nourishes you and provides you with energy for the day. Each morning when you arrive at your desk, take a minute to appreciate natures beauty and intelligence. Just watch how your mindset changes over time. And finally, when you do get the chance, take a trip deep into nature to immerse yourself and reconnect/recharge those precious batteries of yours.

 

Cheers Fam!

Matt

Peru face

My Sabbatical: 6 Months of Surf, Yoga, and Business – Adventure Awaits…

Rise Up Hammock

Well, today is my last day in the US for a while…6 months to be exact. Tonight, I’ll be embarking on a journey that has been in the works for quite some time now. From May to November, I will be working with Rise Up Surf, a surf & yoga wellness retreat in Nicaragua (picture featured above!). As you now know, exploring health and well-being practices has been a passion of mine for a while and I am extremely grateful to my company for the opportunity to get hands-on and go much deeper in this field over the next 6 months.

 

So, what is a sabbatical you ask?

Aside from the incredible people I get to work with, one of the coolest things about my company are the numerous opportunities they provide their practitioners to grow and develop – making them more well-rounded individuals and ultimately, better employees. The sabbatical program is one of those opportunities. If you meet the criteria and get accepted into the program, you can pretty much write your own ticket and craft a unique experience for yourself – as long as it facilitates personal/professional growth OR volunteering (which I still believe leads to growth so ha.) It’s a win-win-win situation – my company wins because I come back sharper and happier, Rise Up Surf wins because I’ll be consulting for them free of charge (while my company pays me), and I win because I get to enjoy an incredible experience while pushing my limits and accelerating my growth. Damn, what a cool program.

 

Why surf + yoga?  Why Rise Up?

To say I took this decision seriously would be an understatement. Think about it – if you had an opportunity to create what could be a once in a lifetime experience – wouldn’t you put some serious thought into your decision too? When I began searching for the right fit, I did a ton of research and spoke extensively with multiple organizations to start dreaming up what the experience could look like. At the core however, there were a few key things I was looking for:

o   Focus on Health and Well-Being: After my previous posts, I don’t think I need to elaborate too much here. I love it, it’s extremely important to me, and I wanted to be surrounded by like-minded individuals who are equally as passionate about this topic as I am so I can learn from and share with them.

o   Located in Latin America: For some reason I connect to Latin/South American culture more than anywhere else I’ve traveled. Maybe it’s the food, the music, the passion, or the joy that they bring to the table…or maybe it’s because my mom was born in Ecuador, lol. Whatever it is, I knew that’s where I wanted to spend my time. Also, my Spanish speaking is “asi asi” and I am determined improve so that I can come back and have deep and meaningful conversations with my grandparents without my mom filling in the blanks.

o   Mutual Value Exchange:  One thing that was extremely important to me when filtering my search was the opportunity for a mutual value exchange. I was not looking for a place to take a vacation. Instead, I wanted to find a place where I could contribute my particular skills in a meaningful way and also learn from the people around me. My main value add will be business consulting services to help Rise Up improve and grow their business. In return, I get to learn from experts in surf, yoga, and nutrition/culinary arts.

o   Connection: Finally, and most importantly, was connection. One thing I’ve learned through years of partnering with organizations is that the key to a productive and sustainable relationship is a strong connection between both parties. This is really what set Rise Up Surf apart from most of the other organizations that I interviewed. When I spoke with Phillip, the owner at Rise Up, I immediately connected to the way that he talked about his staff and his customers, with love and respect, referring to them as “La Familia.” Growing up in a Latin/Italian home, family and connection was at the foundation of everything we did. Knowing that I would be apart from my immediate family for 6 months made this criterion of connection all the more important. I am eager to meet the rest of the crew at Rise Up as well as the local community and build those family style relationships over the next few months.

 

What Else?

Aside from all that – I am especially looking forward to the stillness and presence of mind that I will be able to access in this environment. I see myself as a perpetual work in progress and these unique opportunities to go deep and peel back the layers of my onion are a gift. Throughout my life, I’ve found that when I meditate or practice stillness, true insights are revealed to me – whether it be my true heart’s desire about a specific choice or silencing my ego to realize that I was completely wrong for how I acted in a certain situation.

 

It’s also going to be nice to get out of the building for a bit. As much as I love my company, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it’s easy to get lost in the sauce every once in a while (and to be clear, I am sure this is the case at any big company.) Coming out of undergrad into Management Consulting, you quickly notice that there is a pretty standard path – work hard, go to business school, and from there you either come back and work your way up to the executive level, or move on to a different top shelf organization – and if you stray from this path, it’s not uncommon to be met with an “Aww don’t worry, I’m sure things will work out…” Being surrounded by brilliant, high performing individuals is amazing, but it’s also easy to mistake the amazing things others is doing for what you should be doing. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with that path at all – many close friends and mentors have taken this path and I know they will go on to do great things. But for me, I’ve always liked to do things a bit different and I think it’s going to be very healthy for me to take a few steps outside of all of the bustle and really listen to my heart. I’m stoked excited to see what I discover.

 

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 that 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!

 

If you are curious to see more, be sure to follow this blog (just click the button on the right hand side of this page.) You can also follow my Instagram account @thebusinessathlete (much more content to come once I settle in!)

 

Much love,

Matt

 

P.S. I am kicking this trip off with a week of R&R in Peru – so don’t be confused if you see some pictures/posts about that 🙂

 

How Work Stress Led to a Breakdown…But Also Inspired This Blog

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While I am only just now putting pen to paper, I can trace the inspiration for this blog back to a few years ago during my first year at work when I experienced a burnout that spanned across my entire being – physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.

 

If you read my first post, you know that I am a certified personal trainer and yoga instructor…so how did this happen?!

 

Well, I came to my current company straight out of undergrad. During college, a close friend and I had started a small but successful personal training business, so health and wellness was my life. I’d wake up, meditate, work out, fuel up, and then spend a good portion of my day at the gym training others or doing research to improve my methods (outside of classwork, of course…) It’s safe to say I was at the top of my game and I felt great all around.

 

When I finished undergrad and started in the workforce, I was entering corporate life for the first time and pretty much had no idea what to expect. I had never had an internship and growing up in my home we never really talked about work, so I knew I’d have a lot to learn. Recognizing this, my initial mentality was “I’m pretty ahead of my health game right now, so I can put some of my well-being routine on the back burner while I focus on ramping up for work.” And that’s exactly what I did, I skipped exercise and meditation to get to work early, I ate the garbage food that my team ordered late night in the office, I stopped reading for pleasure and focused only on business books, I prioritized PowerPoint and Excel over personal relationships and I spent weekends at the office trying to get ahead (or better yet…trying to catch up). Sure enough, around 6 months later, I crashed and crashed hard. I had what I think was a nervous breakdown. I was stressed, unhappy, physically drained, and felt empty – not to mention the physical indicators that came along with it – my hands were peeling, I was breaking out, and I was losing hair (though my dad is as bald as a bowling ball so I may be doomed to that fate anyway – hopefully I take after mom on this one)

 

This really struck me. For 2 reasons:

  1. I was only 23 and I saw a looooooong road ahead of me. One that I knew if I continued in this way, would ultimately destroy me
  2. This was my expertise! Clients paid me to coach them on how to improve their well-being and here I was, needing it more than anyone. I thought to myself “If this is how I am feeling, I have to imagine there are many others who share this same feeling, if not worse.”

 

 

I knew I needed to make a change, but I wasn’t yet sure how. I felt as though there was an inherent conflict between working a high demand corporate job and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. The environment I had known in college (all day at the gym, mobile lifestyle, less intense demands, etc.) was now replaced with a desk, deadlines, a ton of travel, and a lot of social pressure on top of that. I tried a lot of methods – I tried working out harder (which I quickly learned was not the answer), changed my eating habits (intermittent fasting + bringing my own lunch) which helped but was hard to do consistently and didn’t really lead to any greater sense of purpose – nothing I tried brought me back to the place which I knew existed but now felt so foreign to me, it sucked. But over time, through more trial, error, and guidance from a few amazing mentors, I began to discover that my approach was all wrong. We are such holistic beings and when you are burnt out or feeling a lack of purpose in your life, you are not going to solve that with a new training program. To fix a holistic person, you need to take a holistic approach. So, I began to make small tweaks across my entire being (physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual – which BTW…I’ll be referencing these dimensions a lot in future posts, so when I talk about overall well-being, this is what I mean…maybe I will call it PMES) I reintroduced a lot of the things that I loved but had stopped doing – reading for pleasure, cooking, spending unbroken time with good friends and family, committing to get enough sleep, getting back out into nature, and exercising in a way that focused on function and mobility above all. Making these tweaks was not always easy… there was one huge barrier that kept getting in my way… my mind. I had to commit to creating space in my life for these activities in the midst of increasing work demands. High demand jobs will take as much out of you as you let them but, a close friend and mentor, Bec taught me…sometimes you need to slow down in order to speed up if you want to build a sustainable career.

 

So this is why I focus on well-being in the workplace. I love to figure out how to take these concepts and package them up in a simple, accessible way that can be applied in a corporate context – where we don’t always have the luxury of time or consistent routines to lean on.

 

Since I have started on this journey, I’ve had the opportunity to deliver well-being sessions throughout my company and have even designed and delivered these sessions for some of our clients. Through my experience I’ve connected with 100’s of people from different companies ranging from entry level to senior leaders and one thing remains clear: It wasn’t just me, Corporate America…and let’s face it America America is suffering from a health and well-being crisis. We are stressed, overweight, and in chronic pain (I could write 10 blog posts about the issues and impact of each of these with science and data to support it but you could easy find compelling statistics from a quick google search.) These problems are exacerbated by the fact that our culture values hyper-productivity (which is too often confused with hyper-activity) so being vulnerable and talking about your stress, depleted energy levels, or dissatisfaction at work is taboo and we end up stuffing these feelings down to the abyss and accepting that this is the price we pay for a good career. I’ll never forget running a session for senior leaders of a Fortune 500 company where an Executive Vice President broke down and said “I’m so thankful for this session…I never knew that anyone else was feeling this way too.” These were people who have been colleagues for 10-15 years!

 

My goal is to change this. I’ve seen firsthand the impact that some practical information and a supportive community can have on individuals who are looking to make a change in their life but may not know where to start. This is certainly not intended to be a panacea, but instead a place to spark curiosity, deliver inspiration, and provide resources for readers to get on the path to their best life.

 

I am proud to say that now, I am back at the top of my game. I have never felt stronger, I have purpose that is generated internally and does not depend on my external environment, I am well rested, and now when I drink coffee it’s because I want to, not because I have to.

 

When I look back at the work/demands that led to that breakdown, I can’t help but laugh because it seems so trivial now (and this is not to undermine anyone new to the workforce who may be experiencing similar feelings, it’s all relative – so that work at the time certainly felt intense) but what I know now is that my demands have increased dramatically, but so has my ability to meet them effectively without sacrificing any bit of who I am – and I feel like only a sick individual would want to keep this information to themselves.

 

This blog will be a blend of personal reflections and concepts that I’ve learned over the years that relate to PMES well-being – with ideas for how you might be able to apply it to your life. Some posts will be informative with instructions or tips for how to structure a workout program or how to access a meditative state at work, others may be reflections on personal experiences which end with more questions than answers. In some posts I’ll provide statistics or source data for certain points that I am trying to make, in others, my style may be a bit more of a free write. I am sure there will be some readers who will challenge my points and my perspectives and I welcome that with open arms…that healthy debate is how we will learn and grow together. That said, at the end of the day, I’m just here sharing my personal experience.

 

Cheers!

Matt

P.S. Follow my Instagram @thebusinessathlete  – bear with me while I start generating some content 🙂

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