Inspect What you Expect

In fitness, relationships, finance and life, this old management theory seems to ring eternally true. Inspecting what you expect means to constantly monitor anything that you care about or prioritize. There is an idea, which I first learned from reading the works of Bill Harris of Centerpointe Research Institute, that all things tend to break down and become disordered unless energy is added in some way. This is called the Law of Increasing Entropy. When I think about my wallet, my waistline, and the health of my relationships, I know this Law to be true. A little too much rest, a little indifference and things start to get out of hand. Of course, life will always have challenges that are not of our making, but much of our unhappiness with our results can come from failure to recognize and respond to this Law.

Inspect your Plate and your Weight

I recently got back in the habit of weighing myself daily. What a shock! Despite feeling pretty good, I am about 20 pounds over where I want to be. By being intentional about what I am eating and monitoring my workout plan, I was able to lose about a pound in one week with very little effort…just a little more awareness (I am a 5’11” muscular guy so ymmv). It truly is amazing how when we take our eyes off of what is important, things can change for the worse very quickly.

Early on in my fitness journey I also got in the habit of tracking my food. Using a tool such as MyFitnessPal makes this almost painless. Without fail, every time I “take a break” from tracking, I lose/gain unwanted weight, or my workouts and energy levels suffer. Just like clockwork, when I am more regular in tracking my calories, I can pinpoint exactly where the extra pounds (or lack of energy) are coming from.

Keep an Eye on Expenses

Parkinson’s Law says that expenses will rise to meet income. Very true! Think about it, when most of us are 25, we have all the major things in life (a place to live and a car), but most people, as they earn more money, continue to get bigger and better versions of those things. Think about it, if you make $50,000 you can afford to have a car. You will likely (if you are sane and logical) spend maybe $5-10k on a car. But years later as you grow in your career making maybe $100,000 you may be tempted to proportionally increase the price of your car. Bad idea! If you can muster the discipline to live well below your means, you will be able to grow your wealth at an astounding rate.

When we take or eyes off of our expenses we fall prey to one “super-size-me” to the next. Bigger house, bigger car, bigger yard, vacation homes, luxury spa memberships. If we can keep an eye on our spending, we can take advantage of Parkinson’s Law and get closer and closer to financial independence.

Obviously this idea of monitoring to make progress applies to countless other areas of life. Hopefully you gained some insight to make a positive change in your life! Until next time…

Listening to the Seasons

I started seriously working out in the spring of 2012. I remember the exact event that motivated me. I went to the gym with a colleague and we went to the bench press. I did my customary 5-8 reps of 135 lbs and when it was his turn, I watched with amazement as he easily repped 225 lbs. I was amazed. I made a decision that one day I would be able to do the same.

I started my fitness journey doing Stronglifts 5×5 (an excellent start). Within just a couple months, all my lifts had gone up significantly. Then something happened. Progress slowed. Alot. I tried to push past it, but workout after workout I grew more tired and burnt out.

Any fitness professional worth their salt would know the obvious answer is periodization. Basically meaning altering the volume and intensity of your workouts over time to allow for full recovery.

I say all that to discuss an important idea when it comes to fitness and to life. The seasons.

There is a Time for Everything

Ancient wisdom going back to King Solomon talks about the importance of seasons (“There is a time for everything…”). It took me a while to see the true wisdom in understanding and going with the seasons.

When I began to periodize my training, I started to make progress again. Albeit more slowly, but progress nonetheless.

I then began to notice the same patterns in other areas of my life. At times, things would thrive, and then at other times, despite my most valiant efforts, things would change or “get worse”.

In my mid-twenties, I happened upon a book by Jim Rohn entitled “The Seasons of Life”. Reading this book gave me a philosophy that I refer to often (especially in difficult times). I want to share a few of these experiences so that hopefully you can notice and go with the seasons of your life.

Seasons of Fitness

Our bodies cannot work at 100% all of the time. There is basic information we have to know about how our bodies work in order for us to get the most out of them. For beginners, you should follow a linear program. Meaning you should add more weight to the bar, or walk/run longer, until you stop making progress. When you become an intermediate athlete (which will take 3-6 months), then you begin to periodize.

Now with this bit of wisdom, I know that I can’t always lift heavy. I need light days and deload days. I also need to work on other aspects of my fitness to improve. I highly recommend working with a good fitness professional if you are having any trouble at all reaching your goals.

Financial Seasons

Money is an interesting thing. Sometimes you feel like you have more than enough, and then other times, scarcity overtakes you. I am reminded of a story in the bible where David is asked to interpret the Pharaoh’s dream where he sees seven skinny cows and then seven lean cows, and the lean cows eat up the fat cows. David interpreted this dream to mean that there would be seven years of plenty, and then seven years of famine. David’s solution was to save 1/5 or 20% of all the grain during the good years. As a result, Egypt had food all throughout the lean years.

I believe this will be true of pretty much everyone’s financial situation. Sometimes money will come in from unexpected sources, and other times unexpected bills will pile up. So what do we do? We learn to live frugally and save for those times when opportunity and money is hard to come by. Coincidentally, a 20% savings rate would be a great place to start (hopefully ramping up to 50% or more over time).

Just a few weeks ago I got an unwelcome bill. To the tune of $4,000! Of course I was bothered, but my wife and I have carefully planned and saved to the point where a bill of this size is actually no big deal. The comfort of knowing you can handle a financial setback is much better than the comfort of riding in a new car…to me at least…

Professional Seasons

Seasons become very apparent in our work. Sometimes things come to us and thrive. The promotion comes, we learn a new skill or a new way to earn money, and everything is great! And then there are other times where we are looked over for a promotion, a colleague says a harsh word to us, or our work begins to overwhelm us and throw us out of balance.

Here too, we are admonished to submit to the seasons. We should always be learning and growing, but we should be patient (and expect) that we will meet the inevitable plateau and/or backslide. During these times we have to remember that our next season of opportunity is coming. What are we doing to prepare for it? Are we reading? Are we speaking with wise older people? Are we trying new things?

In conclusion, just as the seasons of weather dictate when we will sow and when we will reap a crop, the seasons of our lives dictate when we will sow and reap in our relationships, finance, health/fitness, and work. Let’s be sensitive and listen to the wisdom of the seasons.

Until next time…

Three Easy Ways to Stay Hydrated

Hydration is a very important part of a nutrition plan. While not as important as eating sufficient (not excessive) calories, macronutrients, and micronutrients, after those basics are covered I have found it to be the next most important item.

In my experience, hydration has a significant bearing on how we feel and our energy levels. Obviously our bodies are intelligent and will send a thirst signal when we are low on fluids, but our performance (exercise performance AND/OR daily life performance) will suffer long before then. Read this to see all of the science behind this phenomenon.

For everyday people, the biggest challenge is knowing how much water we drink without going to obsessive means. I have found, and most of the fitness community agrees, that we should aim for about 1mL of water for every calorie consumed. So, a 2000 calorie diet = 2 liters of water. 3500 calorie diet = 3.5 liters of water.

Now…you could be one of those interesting people at the gym carrying a gallon of water, but for most people, these tips should help you ensure you are getting the benefits of proper hydration with minimal inconvenience.

1) Know how Much Water the Cups and Bottles you drink out of Hold.

I have a BIG 1500mL bottle that I fill and drink every day at work. The bottle has clearly labeled mL lines. This way, I know that at the end of the day, if the bottle is empty, I have drunk 1.5L of my estimated 3L each day.

Later on, when I get home, I know how much water each of my cups holds. Most household cups will range from 250-750 mL.

2) Whenever you Eat, Drink Water!

The other part of staying hydrated easily will come from drinking water every time you eat. Not only will this help with your hydration, but it will temper your desire to drink (probably) unnecessary calories. When you drink water with each meal, you get the satisfaction of hydration coupled with better digestions. High water content meals and foods are the easiest on our digestive systems and allow us to digest quickly and efficiently.

3) Aim for Clear Urine.

A good rule of thumb to test your hydration level will be to look and see if your urine stream (if you’re a man) is clear. If you are a woman I would check for a light yellow to clear toilet bowl after urinating. If you are drinking 1mL per calorie, you should be A-ok. Whenever I use the restroom and my urine stream is not clear I immediately grab my water bottle (which…surprise surprise will be more full than usual) and drink 300-500 mL.

Following these three easy tips to stay hydrated should have you feeling the benefits of a properly hydrated body in no time. Until next time…

My Workout and Meals Today 2/24/19

Sundays are a great day to relax and get caught up on chores around the home. It’s also a great day to get to the gym. I mean, what excuse is there? And luckily for us, our spiritual community doesn’t meet until 11am. Plenty of time to hit the gym and then get fed and ready.

Today’s Workout:

  • 15 minute treadmill run/walk. My goal is to get my 5k time into the twenties (I know…I’m a beginner)
  • Seated Overhead Press 115 lbs for 3 sets of 8
  • Weighted Ab Pulldowns 75 lbs for 3 sets of 8

I would describe the intensity of all these exercises as comfortable. Contrary to pop fitness, you cannot and should not give one hundred percent each workout. That’s a sure-fire recipe for overreaching and maybe even overtraining. I have been keeping my volume relatively low and making sure that I get some time doing cardio. Most of my workouts take 20 to 30 minutes. I can totally commit to 30 minutes of exercise 4-5 times a week. I would argue everyone can. I have learned to scale back a little bit because, unlike alot of “fitness” people, I have a full time job and a family that I want to devote time to.

My meals were:

  • Post-Workout: A blender bottle shake with dextrose, whey protein, and lactose free milk
  • Breakfast: Ancient Grain Bagel with smoked salmon cream cheese
  • Lunch: Cafe Rio Enchiladas with rice and beans
  • Afternoon Snack: Belvita biscuits with greek yogurt
  • Dinner: It is my mother-in-law’s birthday so I’m going to eat any and everything at her party ūüôā

On workout days I will usually shoot for around 160 grams of protein, carbs are a little higher on workout days so maybe 350-450 grams, and then 80-100 grams of fat. On non-workout days I eat more to whatever tastes good so I will have more fat, less carbs, and less protein on those days.

Well…that was my day today. Until next time…

Three Ways Fitness can Make you a Better Person

Bold claim…I know. Please don’t rack your brain trying to think of counter-examples. Yes, this article will contain some generalizations, but I believe there will also be some universal truths contained in it as well.

Fitness Teaches you Discipline

The main benefit of getting on and sticking to a sustainable fitness plan is that it will teach you discipline. Not the “hard, grit your teeth” kind of discipline, but the gentle discipline that is a reminder that when you do something good for you, you are rewarded. I have never gone to the gym and done an intelligent workout and left feeling worse. Going to work out improves my mood, energy, libido, and creativity every time with no exception (this is a guarantee if you exercise intelligently…more on that in posts to come). As Jim Rohn says, “Discipline weighs ounces“, meaning in this case, the small amount of energy to overcome inertia is a small price to pay for reaping the subsequent benefits.

Muscle and Strength will Give you Confidence

Especially for men, but women too, having muscle and strength will change the way you view yourself and how others view you. I used to weigh 150 lbs at 5’11”. When I began gaining muscle and getting fit, people treated me differently. Whether we know it or not, we respect people with muscle because we know they had to work for it. They didn’t sit on their couch and gain it from thin air. It took calculated disciplined effort to get it. It may sound silly but once you start gaining muscle and strength, your confidence will begin to go up in every area (as long as you are eating intelligently).

When we follow a sustainable and intelligent workout plan we can expect increased energy, confidence, and self-esteem as our return on investment. Gaining muscle also teaches you an impotant lesson about achieving goals. You become more confident in your ability to achieve because you know (from personal experience) that if you can find the right path, all reasonable goals are achieveable.

Having muscle will also give you the confidence that comes with looking good. Having a body that clothes fit is a good feeling. You also will feel more confident at the pool and in the locker room, and everywhere else!

Aerobic Fitness will Make you More Energetic

My fitness journey started with weightlifting. As written above, this created some awesome changes. I must admit, though, that it did not substantially increase my energy levels. It was not until I got serious about aerobic fitness that these benefits became a part of my daily life.

Lets do a little thought experiment. What gives us energy? Calories! So it would stand to reason that the most energetic people in society would be those who have access to the most calories…overfat people. Not true! The most energetic people are the most metabolically efficient people…fit people!

How do we become fit? After years of experimenting, my belief (and the belief of the majority of the scientific community) is that most of our physical fitness will come from our aerobic fitness, with muscle and strength at a close second. All long term healthy and fit people have a high level of aerobic fitness. We can increase our aerobic fitness in a number of ways, but the best way is intentionally stimulating that pathway through aerobic exercise. Measuring the heart rate is the standard way we can make sure we are “keeping it aerobic”.

Well, those are three ways being fit will make you a better person. What has your fitness journey been like? Until next time…

Seven Ways to Increase Self-Esteem

There is a lot of talk in personal development about building self-esteem. For our purposes, I will define self-esteem as feeling good about yourself as a person. There are many ways we can feel good about ourselves, and I think most of them fall under the umbrella of contribution.

Who’s to Blame for Low Self-Esteem?

When we are young, we are most impressionable. In fact, one may argue that the younger you are, the more impressionable you are. If you were fortunate enough to have mindful parents, they would have made every effort to assure you when you did something “bad” that you were not a bad person. Shame is a very intense tactic to use on a child, and can result in a child interpreting your disapproval with them being a bad person. I would argue that much of our self-esteem when we are pre-school age comes from our parents.

When we enter school, things begin to change. Now people are asking us to do stuff. No longer do the adults in our lives congratulate us for existing, they want us to produce. And they should! I believe that it is around this time that we learn a very important lesson: “people will like me if I do a good job”. Luckily for our little selves, there are many ways to do a good job: you can be polite, funny, interesting, good-looking, cheerful, helpful, fast, strong, and so many other things.

As a teacher, one of the more peculiar things I see happening in education is how lax we are becoming with discipline. I see the good intentions. We want every child to have the opportunity to reach their potential. But I think a lack of discipline may reinforce the anti-thesis of self esteem which I call do-whatever-i-want-itis.

do-whatever-i-want-itis (noun): thinking that you can do whatever you want and people will still not only accept you, but celebrate your questionable behavior.

I see many young people completely confused when they are faced with discipline, because the apparent message they have been sent is that everything they do is okay. There are no boundaries. If someone is hurt by what they do, it is their problem.

Recipe for Disaster

So now we have a recipe for disaster. A person who thinks they can do whatever they want and are also resistant to discipline. Trust me, these people are not pleasant to be around…you know why?…because their self -esteem is low or inappropriately high.

If their self-esteem is low, they feel bad. And they want to make other people feel bad too (of course they won’t admit this). Depending on the person’s personality, this could result in anti-social behavior. If their self-esteem is inappropriately high, they are at a high susceptibility for catching do-whatever-i-want-itis because they think their actions should have no consequences.

Seven Ways to increase Self-Esteem

I would like to make the hypothesis that self-esteem is about what we can contribute. Those ways to “be good” that I listed above make us feel good because humans are social creatures and we want most people to like us and think we are good.

Some of these suggestions may sound trite, but here are some ways we can increase our self esteem:

  1. Be easy to work with (assertive vs. aggressive)
  2. Pick up trash you see in your neighborhood (if it is sanitary to do so)
  3. Be kind to strangers
  4. Speak up if you see someone being mistreated (if it is safe to do so)
  5. Read “How to Win Friends and Influence People” and apply the skills
  6. Help those who are in need
  7. Leave places better than you found them

By developing small habits like those listed above, we will develop a respect for ourselves, and it is very likely that others will respect us too. When we make a contribution to our community, nature rewards us with dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin. These neurotransmitters not only make us feel good, but make us attractive to those around us.

So, the next time you are feeling down, a good question to ask may be, “How am I contributing to my community?”. Finding a way to contribute may just be the answer you needed. Until next time…

How Social Media has Changed the Way We Feel (and what to do about it)

I can remember it clear as day. It was around the Spring of 2014. I was teaching in a high school when they suddenly started appearing…everywhere. Instagram and Twitter handles began popping up in the most annoying places (most annoyingly on desks and my class set of whiteboards). Within weeks, students were writing their handles everywhere for all to see. Of course the most popular students’ accounts began blowing up and the main topic of conversation (not math, to my demise) was “How¬†many¬†followers¬†do¬†you¬†have?”

When Change Happens Quickly

Whenever change happens quickly, there are a number of consequences of that change that we cannot (and sometimes do not want to) see. When I reflect upon the massive change that social media has brought into our culture, I think one of the main consequences none of us saw was how it would affect our mental health.

Now, I’m not going to sit here and spout off any statistics, but it has been my experience that since the rise of social media, mental health has been a growing concern for young people (particularly adolescents). I’m not making a scientific case (yes, I know, the nerds will get angry), but it seems that social media has made us slightly more unhappy.

And I have a hypothesis for why…

You (and I) Probably are the 99%

You see, social media gives us eyes into the lives of others. Of course we follow our friends and maybe our Aunt, but the majority of people we follow and look forward to posts from are the 1%. Likely less. Something more along the lines of the 0.001%.

I’m no hater. Success should be celebrated. And any adult knows that any self-made successful person has paid a price to get there. But many young people don’t know that.

Imagine you are 13 (scary right?!?!) and all day you are surrounded by images of people, some who are your age, who by all accounts look like they are living extravagant lives. And of course, all of these glossy celebrities always have a success line a-la-Tony-Robbins about why their life is so glamorous (“Just work hard and be positive. Oh yeah, and buy my stuff!”). What are you going to think about yourself? Your prospects? Your ability to achieve a lifestyle even a fraction of what theirs is?

Adults can see that not only are the lifestyles of the rich and famous unsustainable for everyone to have, but we also see that all of their posts are a clever montage of only the best, most fabulous moments of their life. No celebrities post photos of themselves tripping up the stairs or spilling coffee on themselves on the regular, but we know these are the experiences that make up everyones extravagantly normal lives.

As adults we need to remind children (and ourselves) of what is truly important in life. Young people today are at risk for being swept away by materialism and hedonism (perhaps no more than any other generation). We need to temper these images of excess with a reinforcement of what really makes us happy, and encourage goals that are not only achievable, but healthy and attainable for all people (or at the very least all people in the Western world). In my assessment these goals would be financial independence, positive relationships, good health, and passionate work.

Don’t Forget the Fyre Festival

My wife and I have been glued to the television screen watching the Fyre Festival documentaries. I think this is the perfect example of how social media can damage our ability to stay connected with reality. Thousands of experience-hungry young people see their favorite celebrities and models posting about an amazing experience that turned out to be the exact opposite. In the process not only was a lot of money lost, but a lot of lives were irreparably damaged because a few people got carried away in the glitz and glam (and didn’t have a good accountant?).

It also teaches us another lesson. Glitz and glam are fine. I like to partake in luxury experiences from time to time myself so I am not one to judge. But…most of what makes those experiences awesome are things that we can have without paying thousands of dollars to go to Pablo Escobar’s island to do (good food, good people, music, entertainment, etc.).

In my estimation there is a serious case of cultural lag with regard to social media. I would not be surprised to see (in the near future) a good deal of legislation surrounding social media and its use. But, while we are still in the days of the “wild wild west” of social media, stay aware of how this cultural phenomena can seep deeper and deeper into our lives. Until next time…