Dear Coronavirus

I read an interesting article in which the author (in jest) wrote a prayer to Coronavirus. While meant to be satirical, it got me thinking about how Coronavirus has taught us many lessons if we wish to extract them. Here is my letter to the Coronavirus:

Dear Coronavirus,

Thank you for showing us the importance of family. In a real emergency we are forced to narrow our social circles to those who matter most. Thank you for reconnecting us with loved ones and reawakening our sense of collective duty. Thank you for giving us a reason to take special care of the sick and elderly. We have forgotten to do that for a while…

Thank you for showing us who our true leaders are. Thank you for exposing the opportunists and those prone to panic. Thank you for showing us the people of strong character, who look out for others and practice what they preach. Thank you for showing us the companies and institutions that care about people as more than just a dollar sign.

Thank you for making us slow down. We have been running furiously (to who knows where) for a very long time. Thank you for making us bored. Thank you for making us sit with ourselves in silence. Thank you for unearthing our need for continual stimulation. Now that we can see our low-level unrest, perhaps we can reorganize our society more mindfully.

You have already shown us so much, and I anticipate you will teach us more with each passing day.


Mr. Muse

How Coronavirus Could Make Us Better

“Every adversity brings with it the seed of an equivalent advantage” – Napoleon Hill 

This quote is hard to see the truth of in the middle of a difficult time. But anyone who has lived long enough knows that when you face a difficulty in life, it can make you better if you let it. Now I’m not going to get into a philosophical conversation about whether things “happen for a reason” or not, but I think it is safe to say that most human growth is the result of facing and overcoming difficulty. 

Coronavirus has come from seemingly nowhere and turned the entire world upside down. The social, political, and economic impact is huge. If what Napoleon Hill is saying is true, then this huge difficulty carries with it huge potential benefits. The key word here is potential. It is totally possible to go through a difficulty and become bitter and resentful, but luckily we have some influence over that. Here are some ways that Coronavirus may end up as a benefit, if we respond properly:  

Appreciation of Family

Knowing how this virus has a tendency to prey on the vulnerable, we immediately think of our families and what we can do to protect them. A tragedy or difficulty always brings us back to the most important people:  our families. I imagine relationships are getting stronger as a result of the difficulties imposed by this virus. Perhaps we are talking and connecting with our loved ones in ways that we haven’t in a while. Or at least I hope we are. 

Return to Frugality

The economic impact of this virus may be the biggest impact. Markets have dropped, and many millions of Americans are entering into a period of weeks to months away from work. As a result, people are forced to make hard decisions about where their money is best spent. In times of relative abundance, we can get away with loose spending, but times like these require us to be very intentional about our financial priorities. 

Embrace of a Slower Pace

As a result of Coronavirus, we are all being forced to stop. Not because we want to, but because we have to. We are going for walks, spending time with loved ones, reading, and generally going at a much slower pace. My prediction is that we will see the benefits of this and try and think of ways we can incorporate more down time into our schedules. 

Return to Community Values

Similar to a return to family, we are also seeing a return to community values. Now, more than ever, people are thinking of ways that we can support each other. We are no longer just looking out for ourselves, because we sense that this problem is affecting us all. Ideas that seemed radical, like a Universal Basic income, are now becoming more mainstream because we see how interconnected we are, and getting through this will require the embrace of previously deemed radical ideas. 

Coronavirus is not a good thing. It’s terrible. But if we are wise, we will find ways to take this difficulty and invest our learning in a better future. 

Why You Should Always Keep Learning

Recently I decided to begin online coursework in Home Repair and Remodeling. I wanted to learn the basics and framework of what I already do here and there. Of course, I am learning lots and excited to keep learning and get into some new projects. This experience has led me to think about the importance of continually learning and growing. 

Many of us start our lives in a seemingly endless pursuit of knowledge (whether forced or voluntary). Think about it, we all spend 12 YEARS in a formal learning environment and then continue on for 4+ more years in the pursuit of Bachelors Degrees, Masters Degrees, and Doctorate Degrees. And then we settle in to our careers. The pace of any formalized learning usually significantly slows. We may take continuing education or professional development courses, but we rarely immerse ourselves in new learning like when we were younger. 

While reflecting on “going back to school” (although I can do my coursework from the comfort of my home), I realized that a part of me has come back alive that may have been sleeping for a while. I have felt renewed curiosity and energy for learning new things. I am excited to get back to learning more, and importantly, I can immediately apply my learning. Continually learning turns out to be good not only for our minds, but our bodies as well. 

Challenges Force our Bodies and Minds to Grow

It comes as no surprise that the number one way to destroy your body is to not use it. Cardiovascular efficiency will drop in a matter of days, and strength will drop in a matter of weeks. It is clear that in order to be physically healthy, we must continually challenge our bodies. 

The same thing applies to our minds. We may not notice it because it happens so slowly, but neglecting to use our minds in new ways can cause our minds to begin the process of atrophy. Something as simple as taking a new route to work can help keep our minds healthy. It has been shown that cab drivers in London actually have their brains shrink in size after retiring. Showing, rather dramatically, that your brain is indeed a muscle. As I get older I see how we can slip into routines and find almost a groove that we can kind of “coast” on. Of course, life continually throws us challenges, but we find routine ways of responding (or sometimes not responding) that help us continue to coast along. There are many ways that we can keep our minds healthy, so here are a few I have tried and have immediately noticed a renewed sense of aliveness and vigor:  

  • Taking courses in your career field
  • Learning a new recipe
  • Playing a musical instrument
  • Improvisation (telling jokes, writing stories, etc.)
  • Creating and building (home repair, making furniture, replacing old light fixtures, etc)
  • Learning a new exercise 
  • Crossword Puzzles and Sudoku 

I think you get the idea. In conclusion, find new ways to use your mind. Or in other words, if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it! 

How to Pick a Mentor

I have had short stints as a personal trainer in a couple of commercial gyms. Most personal trainers are naturally athletic people. Not to say they didn’t work hard or were not disciplined, but they had years and years of experience with playing sports or being active in other ways. I found that my clients always complimented me on how well I was able to break down different lifts and a framework for building fitness into their everyday lives. At first I thought it was because I am a teacher by trade (although that definitely helps). Then I realized that I was different as compared to most personal trainers: I had to learn it all myself. 

Growing up, my parents had me playing all types of sports. But I was never very good. I was always middle of the pack at school mile runs and I never particularly excelled at anything physically. I have been underweight, overweight, skinny, fat, muscular, skinny-fat, and any other body type you can think of. Because of this, I know what it feels like and what it takes to start a fitness journey from ground zero. When choosing a teacher, choose someone who has experiences similar to yours. That way they can guide you through the process knowing what big challenges and opportunities lie on the path of your success journey. 

The Natural and Unconscious Competence

Imagine you want to become president of the United States. Would you ask George W. Bush or Barack Obama for advice? I would suggest you ask Barack Obama. Why? Because he likely started from where you are. No particular advantages, but a desire to work hard and be president. What about George W. Bush? He would give well meaning advice, but none of that takes away from the fact that he was groomed from a young age for the presidency. His dad was a president. He likely learned so many small lessons he didn’t even know he was learning, had so many advantages that others could only dream of, and had a support system to help him along the way. 

I say that to say naturals are what we call unconsciously competent. Meaning they know how to achieve results, and they aren’t thinking about it. It just happens. Now of course they are following the same rules that guarantee success for anyone, but they didn’t learn them by themselves. Let’s say you find a trainer. He was captain of the football team and then played intramural flag football as an adult. Sure, he can be a great trainer, but he may have trouble helping someone starting from square one because he has never been there. Conversely, think of Linda. Linda was my mentor for a while at one of the gyms I worked at. Linda was 50 years old and only got into fitness at the age of forty after her sister had gotten sick. Linda is now fit and healthy. She knows what it’s like to start at square one. No athletic history. Her parents weren’t athletes. She was self made. This made her not only relatable, but very proficient at explaining what it takes to get from point A to point B. 

So the next time you are looking for a personal trainer, a teacher of some sort, or a mentor, remember that the people who can help you the most are usually the people who achieved success from ground zero. 

My Workout and Meals Today 2/17/20

My most recent goals for fitness have been to get at least 150 minutes of moderate activity each week. For me, this will probably look like the equivalent of a brisk walk for thirty minutes each day. Even for having stuck to it for two weeks, I can feel a difference in energy levels and a modest weight loss. For many years I have played around with higher intensity workouts, but it is becoming clearer and clearer to me that total active minutes are both less stressful on the body, and I can feel the fitness I am getting as a result. Instead of dreading going to the gym, I look forward to my evening brisk walk or time on the treadmill listening to music or a podcast. 

So today, I woke up, had my coffee, and headed out to the gym. I have been reading “Body, Mind, and Sport” by John Douillard, and have been keeping my workouts at a lower intensity. I have always favored a lower-intensity for cardio, often following a Maffetone type protocol. But recently John Douillard’s words about exercising and feeling no strain have been speaking to me. My Maffetone heart rate is about 150 bpm, but my heart rate when following Douillard’s recommendations is anywhere from 110-120 bpm. It feels easy and pain free, no aches while incline walking at all. Most interestingly, however, is that I am walking at a pace that used to bump my heart rate up to 150 bpm at a lower heart rate of 120 bpm. 

I did incline walking for thirty minutes and that was it! The main point Douillard makes is that exercise should be pain free, you should look forward to it, and you should feel energized as opposed to run-down after it. For me, exercising like this has not only been fun, I can also feel and see (from heart rate data) the fitness gains! 

As far as food, it is a fairly typical day for me. Started the morning with coffee, then had a post workout protein shake and oatmeal for breakfast. Lunch will be chicken with rice and vegetables. An egg wrap for a snack, and taco bowl for dinner. Probably coming in at around 2800-3000 calories. 

Thanks for reading!

The Importance of Safety and Routines

Routines are important because they provide us with safety. When we are safe, our bodies can recover from and appropriately respond to stress. As a teacher, one of the big things veteran teachers will stress to younger teachers is the importance of classroom routines. How to ask to go to the bathroom. How to enter the classroom. Where homework goes. How a lesson progresses. Whether they know it or not, these teachers are seeing the importance of providing safety and predictability to their environments. They instinctively know that safety and predictability is the space where the most productive learning will come from. Similarly, when we provide our bodies with predictable healthy nutrition and a good base of fitness, it sets the stage for growth and development. 

Why Safety is Important

Safety is important because it allows our bodies to enter a parasympathetic state. A state of relaxation and ease. Imagine a person who does crash dieting. They send their body the message that food may or may not be coming, so the body responds with stress and a tilt toward fat storage. Alternatively, think of a person who eats the same general foods each day, and makes it a point not to drastically change their calories or macronutrient ratios haphazardly. The body can then adapt and get used to the routine. Gaining or losing weight will be easier because metabolism is fairly consistent and will be very responsive to changes. 

In fitness, the principles still hold true. Consistency trumps intensity every time. All fit people are consistent people. Maybe when we are young (<27 yrs old) we can be unpredictable with our body, but otherwise, fitness necessitates consistency. The person who walks briskly for 20 minutes every day will experience vastly more benefits than the person who does a sprint workout on an inconsistent schedule. And interestingly enough, as we will see below, the brisk walker’s body will probably respond more favorably to a sprint workout than the inconsistent sprinter. The main point here is that if we can provide our bodies with a consistent template of movement and activity, it sets the stage for higher levels of health and wellness. 

How Safety Allows Us to Grow

I know there is a lot of talk in popular culture about no pain no gain. And while this is at least partially true, without a background of safety and security, challenges will damage any open system as opposed to growing it. Lack of safety is dangerous to the body. The crash dieter will have trouble adjusting to changes because the body doesn’t have a baseline metabolism to adjust from. A sedentary person will have an exponentially higher risk of injury doing a sprint workout than someone who has built a fitness base through consistent activity. Someone who has experienced trauma will not deal with stress as well as someone who grew up in a safe nurturing environment. So an interesting paradox develops. Stress and difficulty make us stronger, but only if we have background safety. If our baseline is chaotic, it will make it all the harder to make beneficial changes. So the next time we need to take on a big challenge or introduce a new stressor (physical, mental, or emotional) into our lives, we should evaluate whether or not we have set the stage for positive adaptations to occur by providing safety and routines. 

Thanks for reading!

Consistency > Intensity

Active minutes are the main driver of your fitness. I have tried to find ways around it, but it is simple. The more time you can spend exercising the better, as long as you can adequately recover. The American Guidelines for Physical Activity say that people should get a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate physical activity (weight training, brisk walking, leisurely bike riding, hiking, dancing, jogging, etc) a week to enjoy the health benefits. And from there more is better. 

Consistency is Better than Intensity

I know that some will immediately argue that if you do more intense exercise, you can get faster results. And that is true…to a point. The guidelines also say you can do 75 minutes of vigorous activity and enjoy benefits as well. I wholeheartedly agree, but I would say that vigorous levels of activity are also much harder to recover from. Think of a fast-paced basketball game, or high intensity interval training. 

Everyone should do some vigorous activity weekly, but I want to posit the idea that moderate levels of physical activity are much easier to recover from, and much easier to do in bulk. I was under the impression for many years that I could just do intense exercise and be fit. It never worked. Every time in my life where I have been fit, it has been because of moderate activity in high volumes. This isn’t the time to skimp on the time investment. Vigorous activity will have much higher injury rates and be much less sustainable. Think about it. When do most football and basketball players retire? Around age 35-40. This should show you that vigorous level intensity is not wholly sustainable, especially as we get older. But, you could go to any 5k and see people in their 50’s, 60’s and beyond still putting up good numbers. 

What is important is that we workout consistently. Thirty minutes three times a week is a good start. Start at a conversational tone, and then build your way up. Phil Maffetone’s approach to cardio is a good baseline to build off of. We don’t want to leave ourselves out of breath more than maybe once or twice a week. High level efforts require longer recovery times, and much higher risks of injury. 

Allow Adequate Recovery

I can get any healthy person to do thirty minutes of moderate pace cardio six days a week and they should recover just fine with good nutrition. I could also throw in two days of weight training and they’ll do fine. If I tried to get a person to do high intensity interval training even four days a week, they would very quickly begin to accumulate fatigue. 

How do we know when we are recovered? This is where technology has given us a great opportunity. With a device like an Oura Ring, we can see our daily levels of recovery via our HRV scores, resting heart rate, and body temperature. If we exercise intelligently we can expect to see modest rises in these scores as the weeks and months go by. 

In conclusion, always remember that if we want to be fit for life, we have to train consistently and intelligently. Don’t be lured by quick results. Look for results that can hold you in good stead for the years and decades to come. Thanks for reading!