Step outside of your “bubble” to change your perspective…especially when traveling

DR kids

Some readers may see this as a rant but I hope it’s not interpreted as such – I’m not in the business of telling anyone how to live their lives, I am just sharing what has made a big difference in mine.

 

Yesterday was Sunday in Quito, Ecuador. As a pretty religious country, all of the mom n’ pop cafe’s were closed, so I headed to a more commercial spot in the center of town for breakfast. This place was full of travelers and expats which I could easily pick up on from the looks and language of the patrons. As I was eating and FaceTiming my sister, I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder. When I turned around I saw an adorable little girl but as my concentration focused in on her, my heart started to break – this girl could not have been more than 4 years old but her clothes were tattered, her face was splotched with dirt, and I could easily see the white crust that comes after tears have been streaming down a face. She put out her hand for some money which I gladly gave her. We chatted for a moment, I introduced her to my little sister (via FaceTime) and she went on her way.  What really struck me though, was what happened after she left… as I watched her walk away, I noticed almost 90% of the other patrons turn their backs or plug in their headphones in anticipation of this girl walking up to them so that they wouldn’t have to acknowledge her or face the reality of the situation.

 

In a similar vein, I’m currently taking a break from the hostel life of shared dorms and bathrooms and booked a couple of nights at the JW Marriott (I’ll discuss the irony of that in a bit…) where I’ve noticed a similar phenomenon. This hotel seems to be isolated from the reality that exists just outside of its doors where the employees guard against locals coming onto the property to solicit patrons with gum/water or window-washing/shoe-shining services. Now, I understand that Marriott is branded on customer experience and as a business, I get why they feel the need to “protect” guests from this type of encounter but my personal opinion is that experiences like this, while at times can be jarring, shouldn’t anger us as guests, they should open our eyes to show how good we have it… after all, this is the first place I’ve been able to actually flush my shitty toilet paper rather than throw it in the garbage…

 

One thing I’ve become tuned into over the last few years is that many people within or above our tax bracket, when traveling to under-resourced countries, do it purely for themselves. They want to see the sights and want to eat and drink like kings and queens for a fraction of the price. While they may venture far from their home country, they tend to keep themselves insulated by going to the western spots (hotels, bars, restaurants) and put a layer between themselves and the locals of the countries that they visit. The result is that they come back with some fun stories and cool experiences but no shift in perspective and no understanding of what life is truly like in that country. When I’ve asked how the trips were, the conversations seem to revolve around all of the cool things they did “WE ATE LIKE KINGS!” “WE DID THE COOLEST SHIT” etc. It’s been much less common for me to hear “the trip was amazing, it turned my world upside down and made me so grateful for what I have” or “The people were so incredible and taught me so much about love, life, and joy”

 

Why is this important?

 

Like I said – this isn’t meant to be a rant or me calling people out because they aren’t “traveling the right way.” No, I’m not here to critique travel plans – in fact… this line of thought spans far beyond traveling (I’m just using travel as a way to highlight my point).

 

The main point is that when you are only focused on yourself, and never venture out of your “bubble” it’s easy to lose perspective. You begin to think that your problems are the biggest and most important problems in the world and you miss the crucial lessons that you can learn from others living in different situations.

 

  • “I’m so pissed. School only just started and I already have so much homework I had to miss Sunday Funday”
  • “I can’t believe my ex is already dating someone else…”
  • “I get that we don’t really talk anymore but why would they have to go and unfollow me on Instagram?”
  • “My job literally sucks, I hate my boss so much”

 

Yeah, don’t get me wrong, these situations are less than optimal but to get hung up on them, let them fester, and waste energy thinking about them is such a shame.

 

When you find opportunities to “burst your bubble” and truly experience other environments – those problems that once seemed so huge start to dissolve. If you really open your heart and mind to what’s out there, everything begin to change: your perspective, your motives, everything…

 

For me personally, traveling has been one of the most effective ways to venture out of my bubble and continues to transform me every day.

 

Through my job I’ve had the opportunity to work in countries like Bosnia, Jordan, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Uganda, Nicaragua, and Ecuador – countries with people clearly living in a different reality than what I am used to back in the United States. In these countries I’ve worked with organizations who serve groups that are severely under resourced and/or oppressed. Working with these organizations and interacting directly with the people they serve, I’ve heard stories and had encounters that I will never forget. Stories of female genital mutilation, extreme poverty, lack of medical care, and strict oppression from both family members and governments. I’ve also seen the flip side, of people who don’t seem to have much but were so happy and grateful and willing to share what they do have. I’ve been blessed to share meals with and stay in the homes of these people and connect with them – and what I learned is that we are no different – we’re all made up of the same material, we all want love, and we all end up in the same place… the only difference are the environments that we happened to be born into. Each interaction has changed me for the better, they made me more empathetic, more curious, more grateful for what I have, more focused on others rather than myself – and I feel fortunate to have the people and opportunities in my life to expose me to the world outside of my bubble.

What’s your point?

 

With the recent news of Mac Miller’s death, which came way too soon, I’ve been thinking about other news of stars such as Avicii, Heath Ledger, and in some cases personal friends – passing at such young ages from drug overdoses and/or suicides when they seemed to have a golden road in front of them.

 

NOW DON’T GET IT TWISTED. I wouldn’t dare try to undermine what they may have been going through – I didn’t know them and I would never be so pompous to speak as if I knew the depths of their pain.

 

What I can speak on however, is my own personal experience. There was a time for me where I was so wrapped up in my bubble. I’d be concerned with how I came across to others, or if a certain girl was into me, or if I acted as cool as possible in a social situation – I just wanted to be accepted and be what I felt other people expected me to be. I’d compare myself to others in via channels like social media and would get down on myself. I was working hard but would see these people who already had the things that I wanted (both tangible and intangible things) and it would make me feel like I wasn’t good enough to earn them. My inputs weren’t immediately leading to the outcomes that I expected and so I began to question myself and my value. I would party hard and drink / do drugs to experience that peace and happiness for just a moment, while feeling like absolute shit (physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually) the next day because I knew it wasn’t real. My mind even went as far as fantasizing about what would happen if I died and if people would finally start to appreciate what I had to offer once I was gone. It was a dark place that I wouldn’t wish upon anyone and in fact this is the first time that I’ve ever put this out there to the public.

 

But, I was blessed with opportunities to burst that bubble that I was living in which was slowly destroying my spirit and once I started to break down those walls, those concerns stopped looking so ominous and took a back seat. I started to realize what I had and became grateful and joyful.  The questions I asked myself changed from “why don’t I have this yet?” to questions like, “how can I better serve others?” or “how can I make good use of my gifts to show my gratitude?”

 

Once my perspective shifted, so did everything else in my life. The crazy thing is that at first, my perspective was the only thing that changed. I wasn’t doing anything different, I just saw my life through a new pair of eyes until overtime it started to manifest into the physical indicators and now I don’t think you have to look too far to see how grateful I am for all that I have and how full of love and happiness my life has become.

 

This is certainly not just the case for me. At the beginning of my sabbatical I met an awesome dude in Peru who was from the states. He shared with me his story of transformation. He had hated his life – he felt empty and depressed like he couldn’t escape his situation – Peru was his last option, he had heard that it was a place for spiritual healing and decided that it was either going to change him or he was going to take his own life. I was floored by his story because the man I met was happy, in love, and radiated positive energy – in our conversations I learned so much from him about life, gratitude, and what truly matters. I would have never expected that he came from a place of so much pain and hopelessness and his transformation was all sparked from a simple shift in perspective.

 

These stories make me wonder how experiences like this may impact others who are in dark places and are turning to negative outlets as a way to escape them.

 

I’m not suggesting that everyone should give up everything they have and travel the world or become Mother Teresa. I certainly haven’t. In fact, as I mentioned, I am writing this post from the JW Marriott after doing my fair share of epic shit. I believe that we should all be able to eat, drink, be merry, and enjoy the fruits of our labor – guilt free :).

 

That said, I also believe that if we are not growing, we are dying, and if we really want to grow and evolve our perspective, we must find ways to pepper in experiences that take us out of our bubble and help us see the bigger picture – after all, we are all connected. Change your perspective and you will change your life.

 

Bless Up !

 

Matt

 

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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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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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But first, a warm-up

warm up 2

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

 

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

 

Wrong.

 

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

 

So, why warm up?:

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Now, think about what happens when you exercise:

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

How to properly warm-up:

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Enjoy it and let me know how it goes!

 

Cheers!

Matt

 

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

movement

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

 

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

 

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

 

Movement is a gift:

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

 

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

 

We were born to move and express ourselves through movement:

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Stay Up!

 

Matt

 

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

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Eat Your Colors!

colorful food

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

 

Why?

You need your micronutrients!

 

What are those?

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

For my “healthy” eaters:

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

 

For my picky eaters:

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

For those of you too busy to cook:

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

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

 

Just eat your colors, Fam.

 

❤ Matt

 

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