The single best exercise in the gym

ronburgundy

I recall all the time I spent in the gym as a youngin. Two hours easily gone, almost every day. And the exercises weren’t even for fitness as much as appearances. We’re so busy today, time devoted to the gym is a super valuable commodity. Ron Burgundy was so pressed for time that he was forced to sculpt his guns at the office! I’m still trying to find that uvulus muscle of his…

Also, my title is a lie. I don’t have a single best exercise for the gym. What exercise you need depends on what you want. Big arms? Try a mix of testosterone-inducing squats and deadlifts mixed with bicep curls and tricep extensions and rows, all on the standard 3-sets per exercise with a minute or two rest between them. General fitness? Circuit-training: moving between exercises without rest, hitting all the major muscle groups, Men’s Health has some greats ones, see the Spartacus workout for a good example. Pure cardio, for a healthy heart? Interval sprints mixed with steady state running or ellipticalling or whatever interesting leg-gyrating machine your gym has these days (Except for the stationary bike, those are useless. A joke..but it would be my last choice of all the upright machines.)

But what if the gym is more than just exercise?

My time in the gym was back in the days before everyone had earbuds and their own personal radio station going in their head. When I was in the gym, we talked. There was a communion of sorts. Today, the gym is still a great source of connecting with like-minded individuals. You just have a slight barrier of rubber and plastic buffering you from hearing most everyone else. The trend though, is having a shared experience. We are shifting to Crossfit, and yoga, and even hot yoga (because yoga was just too easy, right?!)

But we’ve each got a life. Some of us want to get into the gym, do our business, and get back to our life. I’m definitely in that camp, now that I have so much more I want to accomplish than I did in my twenties. So what do I lose if I plug into my mobile and put a blinder to my surroundings?

We miss everything. Not only does sound get blocked, but what little residual attention we have goes to listening to our podcast, or music, or audio book. And for me, the gym is often the place I catch-up on that podcast or a few chapters of a book. The question is how much time am I actually spending in front of the screen or plugged into my earbuds?

To get this, we sacrifice that. And that could be something we didn’t even know we lost, because we just aren’t paying attention. An interesting conversation, a business opportunity, a romantic opportunity, or simply getting too distracted from what’s in your ear so that you can’t put 100% in your workout…whatever it is.  It’s gone.

Can we take care of both body and mind? Surely.

Just stay aware..and leave an earbud out and let a little life in.

Good evening, Facebook

addicted to facebook

A representation of reality.. surrogate for living. The digital opium of friends mashed up into a little screen. A concentrated blasting of relentless emotions, passions and boredom, false truths and true facts, passive aggressive sarcasm, takers, givers, and inspiration.
You make us feel good.
Ironically, you make us feel connected.

“I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.”

Godfather

I just revisited the movie, The Godfather, and this line shared by Marlon Brando and Robert DeNiro coincides with a recent measure I’ve enforced on myself, making myself an offer I can’t refuse. I’ve given myself no choice. I must be present, I must show up, or I fail. More and more people are doing it every year, and it’s happening across the world: We are addressing our primal need for danger and challenge.

Surfing, skiing, mountain biking, mixed martial arts, powerlifting, Crossfitting, entrepreneurship. These require your full attention. Your diligence. And once there, you find yourself in the ecstasy of presence, of productive bliss, of conquering and understanding. Of truth.

And you don’t need to go skydiving to experience this. What I’m talking about is getting focused at your task, like when the coders were “wired in” in the movie The Social Network. It’s called the flow state, as coined by psychologist Csikszentmihalyi from the studies he’s done with people. It’s a primal state of clarity. It’s simply when you flow from decision to decision, without fear, without confusion. You are wired in. You are fully present, and experiencing life.

So one way I put myself on the line is simple, harmless, but highly effective: I set a timer for 15 minutes, or 20 minutes. For each task I have: writing, a work task, reading a chapter, cooking. I click the timer and I go. I am “on the clock.” I don’t have any other options once I click that timer. And it works. There’s no time to think. Your bike crests the hill and gravity grabs you, nature takes hold, and there is no turning back.

The flow state is where we aren’t thinking of any other task but the task at hand. Anxious, fearful, impatient, embarrassed? Then you’re not in flow. Flow means we’re focused, we’re present, and we’re totally invested. There’s no time to worry. You’ve isolated a slice of your life. I’ve given myself a 15 minute mini-life. You see ‘death’ coming up, the end, and there’s no time to procrastinate. No time to think, “maybe this won’t work, maybe this will suck”. You just need to push off down that hill, you need to grab that breaking wave, and go, go, go. There’ll be time to judge yourself after you act.

The cost of not getting into flow? No bliss. Marginal levels of happiness. Imagine crawling when you could be running. Imagine a potted plant on a window sill compared to flourishing in the full sun of a meadow.

Can we soak up all the experience in our life? Can we live it like it’s going to end?

Of course we can. It’s going to end anyway, right?

Because we’ve all been given an offer we can’t refuse: Death.

“We change, but always at a cost: to win this you lose that.”

manwithblinders cartoon

Nick eats eight meals a day. He has little containers of food that he brings to work. He goes to Sam’s Club to buy the big bags of broccoli and diapers.

Kevin takes long bike rides with a group. They stop at a buffet after their rides.

Rick has 2 dogs which he misses every day when he comes to work.

So my story is… these people. Their stories become part of my story. The story of our lives is the background in our lives. The stuff that gets blurred out as we acclimate to the noise or don’t bother to ask.

As we get more focused on getting from point A to point B…apartment to house, house to bigger house, less pay to more pay, this partner to that partner, single to married, searching for the cool place to go and hang…we miss all the infinite points between. Those points are the people, places, and opportunities. They form the canvas of our life. When they’re connected, they become our life drawing.

That’s why when our actions are made without context, without others, without a why, without looking around first, then those actions become indefinite, their borders hazy, and after years of this, our life ceases to be meaningful.

The aim is not make a straight line. The point is not to hit each point, each milestone, checking the box, then seeking the next one. The point is to expand over our canvas, not stay isolated in our office, career, home, or family. The intent is to learn, and absorption doesn’t work unless you’re listening and putting yourself out there.

We do need goals. But what are the goals? Career, personal life, family life…how much effort to spend in each bucket? The tangibles can be met fairly easily, especially here in the US, but what happens when you realize that you’ve lost years of experience, potential friends, lovers, and new places, because your goals became your life, and living the moments fell off the list?

“We change, but always at a cost: to win this you lose that.”
- Geoffrey Wolff

Choose carefully, but just make sure you choose. The tangibles are easy to measure. The intangibles are not. Thing is, we’re here for the intangibles.

“You’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.” -Robin Williams

RobinWilliams

Awareness and madness lead to brilliance, but not necessarily happiness.

Meditating and then…cat attack!

boat in storm

I sat down to meditate and felt a whisper of a touch on the hand resting on my knee. It was the shy cat, I called her Demure Swat (about that name, I’ll tell you later). She had avoided me for days, until now, but now I was still and quiet, and she showed up. I think this is how many of the wants that escape you finally come around: When you’re still, focused, and controlling your energy from the bounding waves.

It seems then, that all you need to do is wait for what you desire. But I’m not talking about the Secret, where you visualize and think positive thoughts and hope for the best.  What I’m talking about is the discipline to stop and tune out everything else – the girlfriend, boyfriend (or the search for one!), the house that needs cleaned, facebook, and all those emails.

My meditation was the perfect way to attract a shy pet, but it’s not the way to create something, or learn to play soccer, cook a tasty meal, write a book, build a product and sell it…those things require work. However, all these things need discipline to stop running around and focus.

At a certain point, we must ignore the crashing waves of distraction, get our ass in the seat and start paddling our boat. That way, we’re controlling things, and not at the whims of everything else in the sea of life.

The Simple Formula

After over 10 years of research, experience, trial and error, I’ve found it. The essence of the good life. I’ve distilled it down, but it’s already quite simple, although not easy. It will not fatigue you, but not doing it will. Not doing it will wear you down until you are a compromised shell of the real you, living not for you, but for the distractions.

The key thing you need to do in order to be happy is…

Stop worrying.

Yes, I know…
The question is, How?

Realize that we’re all going to die.
With that perspective, how can you worry about much at all?

Step 2:
Start doing stuff.
For a reason.

Not because, “I don’t know.” Find a reason, using your reason. Whatever reason, that’s up to you. Something meaningful for YOU.

And do it with abandon. Because you’re going to abandon everything you have anyway, whether you like it or not.

Creatives don’t get embarassed

Don't look at it. The pool was cold.

Being a true creative takes consistent courage. The courage of curiosity…of untethering the boat from the moor and seeing what lies in the confines of your brain and imagination. It means risking sinking into the darkness of the mind to find the light of your product.

Creating is floating free in a brainstorm and seeing what you find. Hardest of all maybe is letting go and accepting all the imperfections that come from you.

Hemingway: “I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.”

You harvest the good stuff, not caring that there was so much rubbish churned up in the process. Limiting the flow, editing your thoughts before they emerge into a whole is like getting in your boat with a plan but never casting off.

Boats were not meant to stay in the harbor.

If you want to create something you’ve got to cast off and see how your ideas float in the tumultuous waters of the real world. Limiting yourself is a fearful practice, a practice of no true creative.

To have discipline, training yourself almost like an animal, while fostering the creativity and imagination of being human is one of the grand struggles of humanity.

And creatives are the ones who step up to face this challenge. 

Creatives don’t get embarrassed.

Facts change, so don’t worry about all the facts

Evolution to the singularity

Facts change. And they grow in number as life and technology evolves. But truths are eternal. They stay the same, whether you percieve them or not. And as your perspective grows and you become aware of them, they will be new to you, as if they had never existed at all.

Seth Godin: “I’m all in favor of self-driving cars and advanced robotics that will change everything. But few of us get to do that for a living. Mostly, we find new ways to do old things, better. No need to fool yourself into holding back just because your innovation or product doesn’t contain a flavor that’s never been tasted before or an experience previously unimagined. Find something that will touch us, move us, improve us or change us. Then ship.”

The things that “touch us, move us, improve us” are all based on fundamental, immovable truths of being valued, by honesty and communication, and growth. Tap those in what you’re making -your art, your product, your service, your life- and what you do becomes infinite as well.

What is a right, and what is a privilege?

putin-photocomp22

“Thanks,” he said. “This helps out a lot. And I got my job lined up!”
“No problem at all.” I answered. “Once you’re ready to buy the airline ticket, I’ll cover it.” He smiled.
“Where’re you ending up?” I asked.
“I’ll be working for the Saudi Arabian government, overseeing the oil companies there.”
“Oh,” I said. “I can’t pay for your ticket there.”
His face fell, surprised. “Why?” he asked.
Now it was my turn to be surprised. “I’m morally against their government. They subjugate women.”
He shook his head. “You know what? You’re imposing your morality on me. You’re keeping me from my livelihood.”
I was amazed. “I’m offering to help you.”
“No,” he shook his head. “you’re restricting me.”
“Do you realize,” I said, “I don’t need to give you any help at all?”

When I see a post about how businesses are restricting the reproductive rights of women, I’m alarmed that we’re sliding into Orwellian doublespeak. Saying someone is prohibiting you from doing something makes them an authority over you. And when they won’t pay you for something you want to purchase, it makes them your parents, and you a child.

Your employer is neither an authority over you or your parent. It is an organization that you have made a deal with to pay you for work. If businesses are considered authorities, then we’ve truly given up our individual freedoms to the institution, both the corporate institution as subjugating us, and government institution who we expect is the only one who can save us.

They are only words, yes, but after a time, they will change the attitude we have about our selves. And I fear that they will drive us to seek protections, which we do of course need, but if we seek them from a place of victim-hood and helplessness, it’s a protection that’s coming at great cost.

Certainly, there is a discussion to be had about why contraception is a right and should be funded by the state. Let’s have that discussion without muddling our words and confusing our identities about who we are as free and empowered people.

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