A Life of Freedom or Fear…The Choice is Yours

whooty

How many of us have been in a situation where we have wanted to express ourselves but the little “rational” voice in our head shut it down?

 

  • You feel compelled to introduce yourself or reach out to someone that you’re interested in but you hear your own voice come up with 1000 reasons for why the moment isn’t quite right – “she’s with her friends, I’ll wait until she’s by herself and then I’ll say (insert cliché line here)” or “We’re at a work function, it’s not appropriate, I’ll try to get their number for something else and then send a happy hour invitation text tomorrow” or, more directly, “They’re out of my league, what’s the point?”

 

  • You’re in a meeting and you want to speak up but that same voice pops up and says “you’re new to the project, you may not have all of the information and someone else probably already brought that up anyway” or “It seems like my manager is pretty set on their decision, so what’s the point in wasting anyone’s time?”

 

  • You’re in a social situation and the conversation turns into something like gossip or negative talk about someone who isn’t there – you want to stop it but then you hear “My friends invited me here, I don’t want to stir the pot” or “whatever, I’m never going to change their minds so why bother?”

 

  • You see someone clearly upset and your heart calls you to go comfort them with a hug or a few words of encouragement but there that voice goes again “you barely know this person, that would be awkward” or “who am I to share words of encouragement to this person, I have my own shit I am dealing with…”

 

  • You want to go for that new job but you read the job description and the voice starts up again “I don’t have that experience” or “they’re looking for a more technical background, they’re not going to take me…”

 

If you’re anything like me, it’s likely that you’ve experienced all of these situations at some point in your life.

 

The result?

  • By the time your moment finally comes to make your move and say hello, you’ve played it up so much that you’re crippled with fear and never say a word OR the words come out in a panicked manner with a hint of vomit in the back of your throat

 

  • You don’t speak up in the meeting and leave feeling timid, or someone else says what you were thinking and gets a “great thought, Susan!”, or your team runs into the barrier that you anticipated but never expressed and its worse for everyone involved

 

  • You leave the social situation feeling uncomfortable and timid, your anger with yourself turns to blame of the “others” who were gossiping and you distance yourself rather than work with them to potentially change their perspective or at least open their eyes to a new one

 

  • You miss a golden opportunity to share love, encouragement, and positivity and both parties walk away from the situation feeling bad

 

  • You don’t even try to go for the job and you sit wondering about what might have been, each day resenting your current position more and more

 

Sometimes it’s not as intense as these examples, sometimes the situation could be as simple as singing or dancing. We sing songs and dance with gusto when we are by ourselves (shower and car time are prime examples) but as soon as you add new people into the equation your voice lowers to a murmur and your feet start to turn to cement until all you are doing is a stationary head bop when your body feels like its about to explode.

 

The obvious question becomes “WHY?!”

 

Why do we hold back? Why do we stifle these urges when we know and feel that it’s what we truly want? Why don’t we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and instead numb ourselves to what might be possible if we followed our hearts?

 

The answer is quite simple, and something I have been exploring very intimately for the better half of the last year. But first, I want to introduce two related concepts.

 

As I sat to write this post, I started going back to situations where this phenomenon of holding back was clearly visible and looked at the elements at play. Each time, it seemed to come down to these two concepts which Brendon Burchard articulates very eloquently in his book, The Motivation Manifesto.

 

  1. Social Oppression – the caging of our spirit and stifling of our potential by others
  2. Self Oppression – letting our own negative thoughts or actions restrict us

 

Social Oppression – sometimes this comes in an “in your face form” of a conforming team culture, a stubborn/abusive partner, a bully etc., where the other, makes us feel small and inadequate. Sometimes however, it comes in a more subtle manner when we are sitting in a room with a group of best friends – and these are the moments you need to watch out for because it’s hard to realize what is happening in real time.

 

I recalled a time where a close girlfriend of mine came over on a Saturday afternoon with a few close friends. She had recently been seeing someone that she was really into. She arrived in the middle of a texting conversation with this guy and started sharing some of it with us (sorry guy). I remember she was SO excited about him, the connection was there, they both seemed to have a lot in common, and they were talking about an adventurous but AWESOME date that they wanted to go on. However, what started with a lot of love and excitement, quickly morphed into confusion and uncertainty.

 

  • “Omg don’t say that you’re going to sound too excited, don’t make it seem like you’re available”
  • “Really? It’s only your second date… isn’t that a little much?… Maybe suggest switching to casual drinks”
  • “Look, I love you but don’t get too excited, you don’t really know this guy yet, he could be a f*ckboy and I just don’t want to see you get hurt again”

 

Thinking back on it, I remember noticing my friend sitting on the couch just staring at her phone, her smile was gone and now she looked puzzled. Her energy had been sucked out of her by her best friends who THOUGHT we “had her back” – she felt one way but the voices of her close friends, me included, were pulling her away from that authentic, amazing feeling and bringing her to a place of uncertainty and insecurity. Like so many early stage relationships, what started as a pure and vulnerable feeling grounded in love, quickly morphed into a disingenuous mind-game of who could save face and win (aka not be the one who gets hurt or taken advantage of) grounded in ego. And no…the relationship didn’t work out, it never really even took root…

 

Self Oppression – often times the oppresion we face comes from where we might least expect it, ourselves. We hold back because we want to avoid the pain of potential failure or rejection. We hide our projects or gifts from the world because they are not yet “perfect.” We start to downplay our presentation before we give it to “set expectations” when really we just want to lower the bar that we feel we need to hit in order to be accepted.

 

To highlight self oppression, I could just give this example of a job I really wanted but didn’t get:

 

— I poured my heart and soul into the application process but I did so behind closed doors, when people asked me about it, I acted lukewarm “yeah I’m not sure if I even want it because it my sister is about to have a baby and I don’t want to move…” What was really happening was that I was protecting myself from the possibility of having to face these same people after not getting the job, giving myself a crutch to save face rather than express how bad I really wanted it at the time. —

 

BUT, this story is in the past and has a very happy ending that led to my sabbatical opportunity so, it’s too easy to use as my example (this is after all, a post about facing fears) – so let’s go with something still in flight that will test me on this concept of fear and vulnerability…

 

F*ck it, here goes… I’ve been talking to this awesome girl lately and our conversations have been full of energy and connection. It feels great. But recently, I caught myself doing two things (closely related) that highlight this concept of self-oppression.

 

  • First happened as we were having a conversation that was really lighting me up. My body flooded with positive feelings and I wanted to scream something like “I feel so connected to you right now and you make me so friggin happy!!!” but in an instant that voice came up… “Matt relax, its too new and that’s too much…dial it back…”
  • Second, was when I was telling my sisters about it. The fact of the matter was that I was stoked – it’s been a while since I felt this type of connection with a girl but as I was telling my sisters I kept catching myself every time after saying something good, including a caveat like “well idk, its pretty fresh so who knows…”

 

P.S. ^ this story isn’t over but I’ll get back to the outcome of this in a bit

 

So we know that social oppression and self oppression are the culprits but if we look at it more deeply, what do they both have in common?

 

FEAR. They are both grounded in fear. Fear of uncertainty, fear of disapproval, fear that we will be rejected, abandoned, or isolated. Fear that we will not live up to our expectations of ourselves and the expectations others have of us.

 

The problem is this – when we allow fear to permeate our minds, our once bold ambitions and behaviors become small and constrained. We turn away from what we truly want and who we truly are until fear fully engulfs those desires, turning them into a distant memory. It would take me a month to cover all of the unwanted outcomes that fear leads to but for the sake of this post; just understand that this fear runs deep, it has taken captive our minds and our culture, and it holds us back from pure freedom of self-expression which is what all of us truly desire – whether we are consciously aware of it or not. When we are fearful, we can’t be free.

 

So what can we do to combat this epidemic and liberate ourselves from the grips of fear so that we can be free to passionately pursue our heart’s desires? Here is what I learned so far through my journey of facing many of my fears over the past few years – and believe me I still have a looong way to go.

 

  1. The first step is understanding fear and where it comes from. Normally, fear doesn’t come about from a single event. It is more commonly the result of multiple events, compounded over time – conditioning us to be fearful. As I mentioned, the scary part is that these events that condition us to fear don’t always stem from malicious intent. Sometimes it’s the loving but overbearing mother who hovers over their child’s every move, constantly telling them to “be careful!” or the pragmatic father who paints a very articulate picture to his child on why it would make more sense to pursue a job with financial security rather than pursue their dreams of being an artist. I’m not suggesting that we stop listening to our friends, family, and advisors altogether, but we must become astute in recognizing when our trusted ones are speaking from their own fear-based opinions.
  2. The second step is being able to catch ourselves in the moment when we are basing our actions in fear rather than freedom. This is much easier said than done because often times when we are in a state of fear, we get tunnel vision and hyper-focused on the stimulus that is causing the fear. It’s normally only after the event that we can see and admit to ourselves that our actions (or lack thereof) were driven by fear. However, through conscious thought and disciplined action, we can start to catch ourselves in a fear state and we can choose to replace that fear with more empowering feelings and emotions. A great way to do this is through mindfulness. If you follow my blog, I’ve already quoted this, but it’s one of my favorite quotes and certainly applies here “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” – Viktor E. Frankl. Start tuning in and catching yourself in that fear-based narrative – chances are, you will start see a pattern (i.e., it normally happens when I talk to my boss or girls or when I am in a large group setting)
  3. The third step, is once you start understanding your fear-based thoughts and know what your fear triggers are, replace them with empowering feelings and beliefs. Love and gratitude are amazing replacements because you can’t hold both emotions at the same time – when you are grateful or full of love, you can’t be fearful. Second, stop thinking about what would be lost if the worst should happen (broken heart, loss of confidence, etc.) and start focusing on the upside – what could be gained if you broke free from the fear trap? If you want to lose weight and get into shape but you’re scared of the sacrifices you will have to make or the initial struggle you might experience in the gym, what if instead, you choose to pump yourself up about the new confidence and possibilities that will come with a increased fitness and the new healthy dishes you can share with friends and loved ones. At first, this practice may feel fake and like forced positive thinking, but so what? What do you have to gain from continued negative thought patterns? Overtime you will rewire your brain to a new way of thinking and eventually this perspective shift will become your norm.
  4. Finally – do one thing that scares you every day. It doesn’t have to always be intense. For me, my default is taking a freezing cold shower every single morning. I’ve been doing this for the last 2 years (at least). The purpose of it is to rewire my brain to get used to doing things I am scared of or don’t want to do – to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Force yourself to step into that fear. We build these mental muscles and learn to overcome our fear only with practice and consistency. I’ll never forget the first time I had to speak in public at a professional event… my heart was pounding and I nearly went blind, I forgot everything I wanted to say and started profusely sweating until a man in the front row pulled out a tissue and handed it to me so I could blot the sweat from my face…I was MORTIFIED. Why would I ever want to do that again? But I knew I could either dwell on it and talk myself into a prison of fear OR I could jump back in the ring and face my fear again which is exactly what I did. Now, I love public speaking and it’s become one of my strongest assets in my personal and professional life. We all have the choice to be courageous and face our fears. Overtime, the fear subsides and you will look back with kindness and ask yourself, “How was I afraid of that?”

 

We’re almost done! But before I close, lets quickly go back to this mystery girl I mentioned earlier…a perfect opportunity to put this to practice in real time.

 

Yes, I recognize IT IS early and I DON’T know what the future is going to bring, but is that a reason to suppress how I am feeling in this very moment? I can’t control the future and maybe nothing comes of it and maybe there will be a time where I have to tell my sisters “I got ghosted” or some other shitty outcome but that’s out of my hands – so should I proceed more timidly (when that is so not my style) out of fear of the unknown? I can only focus on what I can control and the rest is up to God or the Universe or Chaos Theory or whatever you want to call it. I’m on a mission to push all fear from my life and be free to express myself and pursue the things I want wholeheartedly – so when I caught myself in that self oppressive state, I stomped it out, I expressed what I was feeling, authentically with no filter to save face, both to the girl and to my sisters and guess what? It felt great and I didn’t die and I don’t really care to get hung up on the future because as Mark Twain put it “I’ve known a great many troubles in my life, none of which have ever actually happened…”

 

So, my call to you is to step up and give fear the finger. F*ck fear, it doesn’t serve you. Chasing your dreams with fear is like trying to climb to the summit of a mountain with a 6000 lb. boulder in your backpack. Find the fear and beat it to shit with positivity, love, gratitude, and optimism. I’M NOT SAYING IT WILL BE EASY but you are so much more than your fears. Don’t you think a better and more free life is worth the struggle it takes to get there?

 

Dare to follow your dreams and crush your fears because either fear wins or freedom wins…which will you choose?

 

 

Thanks for listening fam ❤

 

Matt

 

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

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

Volvan Cotopaxi

The lead up:

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

The summit:

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

What I learned:

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

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

Cheers!

Matt

 

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

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

machuu.jpg

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

So what should we do?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

By making these tweaks, my hope is that:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

Matt

 

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

 

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

How to design a killer training program: Circuit Training

workout 2

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

…wrong.

 

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

 

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

  • Push – Pull
  • Top half – Bottom half

 

Push-Pull:

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

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

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

Capisce (kah-peesh)?

 

Concept applied:

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

 

Top Half, Bottom Half:

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

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

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

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

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

 

Putting it all together:

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

Example Circuit:

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

Circuit:

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Enjoy your session!

 

Matt

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

into the blue

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Exhibit A:

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

 

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

 

I was half right…

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

So what?

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

 

F that.

 

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

 

“The juice is worth the squeeze”

 

 

Much love!

Matt

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

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

 

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

 

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!

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