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

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

Volvan Cotopaxi

The lead up:

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

The summit:

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

What I learned:

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

Cheers!

Matt

 

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

ocean meditation

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

But sometimes God has a different plan for us…

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Cheers Fam!

Matt

 

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

 

Proverb:

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Dependency (100):

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

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

 

 

Aversion (0):

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

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

 

 

Balance (50):

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

 

 

Conclusion:

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

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

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

 

4 tips to improve your relationship with coffee:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Now go ahead and enjoy!

 

Matt

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

So, what is it for you?

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

 

What does your practice tell you about yourself?

 

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

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

 

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

 

Using this as a tool to change your life

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

 

How?

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

 

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

 

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

 

“Between stimulus and response there is space.

In that space is our power to choose our response.

In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

 

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

 

Pretty dope if you ask me…

 

Stay up fam!

Matt

 

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