You ever take a photo that won’t match the beauty of your eye’s perspective because the camera just isn’t as zoomed out as the human eye?
There’s a Taoist story about a farmer whose horse runs away. It’s terrible news. But then the horse returns with 12 wild horses. It’s wonderful news. But then the farmer’s son’s leg is broken by one of the wild horses. Terrible news. But then the army comes to take all able-bodied men and the son can stay with his father. And so the story goes, ever changing from tragedy to triumph, depending on where we stop the story.
I used to lament the “biggest mistake of my life” (my words), when I first said “maybe” to my wife who asked if we could get a dog. But with that single softening of my “no,” a road unfolded which brought me to fatherhood; and it has been the greatest joy I’ve ever known. That “maybe” was the best “mistake” I ever made.
People talk about successes where they lost weight; but then they regained it. Was that a success? Or people talk about how they haven’t seen enough results yet while working steps. Aren’t healthy steps, not superficial looks, real success?
Zoom out. A lot of times we think our situation is a curse. But that’s usually because we’re zoomed in on a tough moment. Zoomed out, our demarcation for success, progress, love, you name it, changes 180 degrees. So zoom out.
I don’t mean I’m thankful for fitness, though I am. I mean a spirit of gratitude lends itself to improved fitness. Whether you reference broad epidemiological research, the Blue Zones, studies on health and longevity, or you just look around at anecdotes, you soon find that all of health and fitness boils down to stress management, and specifically a spirit of thankfulness.
Clients ask my thoughts on cardio, alcohol consumption, caffeine intake, cheat meals, strengthening, veganism, you name it. If it’s a NET decrease in physical and mental stress, it’s productive for you where you are in your life right now. If it’s a NET increase in physical and mental stress, it’s unproductive.
Of course this begs the question of which tiny stressors improve our overall stress management thereafter. Some exercise is productive for most people. But a ton of exercise is counterproductive for most people. You get the idea.
From what I’ve observed over tens of thousands of coaches, clients, members, peers, and the like, gratitude moves the needle in your favor. A thankless heart can’t achieve a balance even if it appears all other parts of their life are perfectly healthy. And an exploding spirit of gratefulness appears to overwhelm an ostensibly mismanaged otherwise unhealthy life.
Since I was a kid, whenever I've heard bad news, my first response has been "well, that's awesome" or "great - now tell me the bad news." If you've known me for a while, you've heard this sentiment in one form or another.
Once accompanied by a healthy flavor of sarcasm, it gave way in recent years to a genuine search for empowerment versus disempowerment.
A friend lent me his copy of Tools of Titans Sunday. Contained within it is a contribution by former Navy Seal Jocko Willink, simply entitled, "Good." Not to be confused with the old school Power of Positive Thinking, he details how bad news is A perspective. There is always some opportunity within it as a realist, not optimist.
As he says:
- Didn't get promoted? Good. More time to improve.
- Didn't get the project or mission? Good. More time to prepare.
- Got injured? Good. Needed a break from training.
- New problem? Good. Chance to create new solution.
No matter how bad, news is life. We can cultivate our skill at handling it instead of getting stuck in a hoped-for fantasy which isn't real. This isn't optimism versus pessimism. This is efficacy versus hopelessness.
In research on habit-making, it takes two to eight months to incorporate a definite new behavior into a person’s routine and identity. It leans more toward the eight month marker for solid incorporation. Pause. Reread the first two sentences. Think.
Over the course of eight months, you may run into some travel, weekends, holidays, birthdays, illness, etc. And all of those “interruptions” are fine. Wake up call: they’re not interruptions. They’re life. But where I’ve found people wanting is in their ability to realistically anticipate life and realistically exert patience in the development of healthy behaviors and habits. Thus, an immature evaluation and, therefore, quit occur long before month eight.
Don’t bother evaluating how effective you’ve been at incorporating new routines if it’s been less than 8 months, or if you’ve failed to meaningfully alter the way you enter and exit those “interruptions.”
Yes, there are short term starts or “life hacks”, some of which I believe are helpful. As an example, in some cases (for those who can tolerate it), people can shake the habit of hitting snooze 80 times and learn to wake up immediately just by placing a caffeine source on the night stand between them and their alarm three days in a row. Pair that tactic with microdosed melatonin and that alone will re-right circadian rhythms 9 out of 10 times within the same week. But it wouldn’t be mature to assess this “fix” until eight months into having created a healthy night time and waking routine.
Thinking about anything less than 8 consecutive months would be unrealistic for healthy habits.
Question to my friends in the exercise science community: Do you think that the majority of the sedentary populace is actually suffering nerve damage in the glutes and hips?
What I've noticed over the last 15+ years in the fitness world is that most people have a severe block when it comes to turning on the hip extensor muscles. No matter how far someone progresses through yoga, Pilates, chiropractic or even different lifting/strengthening modalities, they are still subject to back pain, injuries and aggravation if they never learn to readily and easily flex the glute muscles. From a perspective of stability and bracing, we can all see how weak glutes or inactive ones will compromise everything else. And in some cases, I know people whose pain worsened as they worked more vigorously on stretching and alignment, rather than improving stability through activation and targeted strengthening of glutes. Though they're better off on average, and it’s rarer, heavily muscled people with giant glutes can still get back pain and discomfort because some of them still carry the extreme anterior pelvic tilt and generally sleepy glutes the rest of the day outside of training. Meanwhile, waify people with great flexibility and no butt are in constant pain.
And I'm sure that most experienced movement specialists, chiropractors, massage therapists, strength coaches, etc., know that this is a primary problem that needs addressed, oftentimes through release of the psoas major, minor, ileacus, a revitalization of hamstring and adductor mobility, understanding pelvic tilt and spinal flexion/extension/neutral basics. However, even then, it seems like some people are just "dead" in the hips. It's as if, no matter how good you get their alignment, no matter how strong they get elsewhere, no matter how flexible and mobile they get, the 12+ years of sitting in a hard chair 8 hours a day through our formative childhood has irreparably destroyed the nerves which innervate hip extensors.
I get the sense that if you put EMG on the hip extensors of children or even adults in third world countries you'd see recruitment from 60% all the way up to high 90s. Meanwhile I suspect if you put EMG on glutes of American adults, you'd be hard-pressed to find recruitment beyond 20% in even some of our top athletes.
A monk was making a great traverse when he came upon something special in the path.
Along the way, through the rain, he noticed a glimmer poke out from the dirt and mud.
It could’ve been the rain which cleared off the dirt. It could’ve been chance. It could’ve been fate. A shiny object was just uncovered enough for him to notice it.
The monk curiously crept toward the gleam. He came closer. And the gleam grew into a glow. He crouched down and reached into the dirt and pulled out the item: a giant ruby, red as fire, emanating light from within.
The monk marveled. The ruby was the most beautiful item he’d ever seen. The enormous gem seemed to weigh almost nothing when he placed it in his pack. Somehow its grandeur made it a light and easy load to bear.
Farther down the trail another journeyer caught up to the monk. He was starving, tired, weary, and begging for food. The monk had none.
Without hesitation the monk said, “although I have no food to give, I do have this; and it ought to fetch you a reward great enough to feed you for many days.” At that, the monk hastily reached into his bag, retrieved the ruby, and handed it to the journeyer.
The journeyer was thankful. The two exchanged goodbyes, and parted ways, each continuing down separate paths.
A little while longer the journeyer had doubled back to catch up with the monk once again. He said, “whatever it was that compelled you to give that treasure to me - I wonder if it’s possible for you to give THAT to me.”
Having seen how freely the monk gave away his possession, that freedom of spirit was clearly more valuable and more joy than could be obtained from any treasure.
Whatever your desire, whatever your goal, whatever your want, you may find that the more desirable outcome is a deeper belief or peace which is layers below the superficial outcome. Especially as we enter the New Year’s Resolution period of the year, when considering goals, don’t let it be forgotten that a career goal, a life goal, a success goal, a fitness goal, or a fill-in-the-blank-here goal all pale in comparison to a change in your heart.
Reaching a goal is admirable. Gaining treasure is nice. But having the graciousness to let go and freely give is divine.
It’s no wonder the ancients here personified nature as gods. Look at this. This is on a crappy iPhone camera and no filter and no editing.
Now look closer. There are remnants of a fortified gate still here (I’m standing 20-30 feet atop one outcropping) from 2400 years ago. We’re peering out into the mountains and toward the fig fields. People settled this region 6-7000 years ago. And some of their ways of life still persist. Some of their culture still exists. Some of their buildings still stand.
What do we worry about? If I made some more money? If you have a nice enough car, or house, or status? None of that matters, like AT ALL. Everyone on earth will have forgotten your pursuits of that kind precisely one hour after your funeral. And nobody even cares now.
Even in your own personal development, no one, including your future self, will care if you lost weight this month. But can you create enduring results? Will you lay foundations which your future self can build on much later? Are you making an impact will stands the test of time?
What will you create which will remain?
For years people have asked me questions like these:
Why do you HAVE to work so early?
Do you HAVE to work tomorrow/today/earlier/later/this weekend/that holiday?
You get the picture. The questions imply that you are powerless to do otherwise.
So I always answer, "No; but I GET to."
Nobody HAS to do anything, ever. But we GET to do all kinds of things often.
In any profession, there is no day or time that is a throwaway day or time. As a business owner it is the same. When I was in the big box clubs it was no different. You get to show up. Even for those working 9-5 it's likewise that you show up by choice. You only "HAVE TO" insomuch as you deem the consequences unconscionable.
How can I say that? Well, because a lot of people do walk away from their "obligations." Sometimes legitimately. Sometimes not so much. They quit. They file bankruptcy. They walk out on their families or their kids.
I've seen not a small number of coaches and trainers sleep in, miss appointments, skip days. And sometimes the most carefree unreliable people suffer few consequences. Sometimes clients like the idea that the trainer has deep character flaws. On occasion it becomes endearing. And we are all familiar with that absentee coworker, manager or director/executive/owner even who becomes a workplace joke: "hey guys, do you think so-and-so will show up today or is he out 'sick,' 'in a board meeting,' 'traveling for work' again?"
But for me, I find that this is what I GET to do. Everyone you lead will generally be, on average, at least one step less accountable than you, one notch less consistent, one decision less put-together.
Someone may argue the semantics, saying I feel I owe it or a sense of duty to my mentees and my family. From my perspective, it is a simple unshackled honesty. When I said I want to provide for my kids, I meant more than dollars. I meant examples. When I said I want to help people, I didn't say, "only if it's really convenient for me." The world won't mend itself if we keep thinking we are trapped under the thumb of "HAVE TO." But everyday you freely "GET TO" serve your fellow man or neighbor.
The universe didn’t owe you this day, this job, this challenge, this life. It didn’t “have to” gift you another chance, another opportunity to live. But... we GET it.
If you're open, there's a technique to develop the skill of listening to yourself. This is critical in follow-through on health and fitness. Many lifestyle changes and behavior shifts can make total rational sense. But in the end your execution of these same behaviors will be borne out of your honesty with yourself, your skill of listening to yourself, your internal integrity.
People think that coaches want clients to listen to coaches. No. We want clients to listen to themselves. I don’t care if anyone follows through on anything I say. I simply want people to develop the level of character where they listen to themselves. When people say they are going to do a series of actions through the week, the important outcome is listening to himself or herself, not listening to me.
Somewhere along the line, having observed tens of thousands of people in fitness programs, I noticed that impact came down to in individual honesty with oneself. This isn't a "hard" truth, because I'm including in that honesty with oneself the legitimate limitations in ones life. When we aren't clear with ourselves about the very real difficulties we face, we set ourselves up for failure by creating "plans" which are detached from reality.
It's a simple concept. And it's as old as time:
"Whoever can be trusted with very little can be trusted with much; and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much."
More thoughts on quitting and how not to here:
And how I know when people are going to quit before they do here (but you can change that):
My most recent case study on total diabetic reversal - in about 16 months this client has consistently trended from A1C in diabetic ranges, down to prediabetic ranges, down to healthy, and soon to optimal. How do I know? Because we’ve been avidly tracking his glucose and consistently pulled readings recently in the 70s, not 100s+. His next test is going to be low 5s, maybe 4s.
I’ve coached dozens of diabetic reversals and witnessed hundreds at this point. This was probably the most straight-forward in over 15 years though. Why? Strength. He became strong as hell. It didn’t hurt to lose 80lbs. But that too is in part due to building out a lifestyle where he’s consistently training to be strong several days per week.
When you contract skeletal muscle against heavy weight you translocate glucose transporters independent of INSULIN. When you’re stronger, you work at higher METs (burn more calories per minute per pound of bodyweight). The oxygen debt (measure of how much continued calorie burn after the workout) is always higher with heavy weightlifting than anything except 90+% VO2 max sprints. This is the path, folks. It can be done.
I’ve mentioned this before:
And a few other times: