MCI: You need all three for success

Mechanics, consistency, and Intensity

MCI. Like a 3-legged stool, you need all three legs for the stool to work.  

 

MCI

Let’s mix metaphors a bit.

Imagine three brothers: Michael, Carl, and Ian.  They want to build a bridge over a fast-moving river behind their home.  Across the river is the legendary home of a leprechaun who gives sacks of gold to all who visit.

Goal

 

Michael is ready to get the bridge built.  He has been strengthening his arms and collected all the tools he might need to construct a bridge.  Michael rises every morning at sunrise eager to work and get the bridge built.  He just doesn’t actually know how to construct a bridge. He lacks an understanding of mechanics.

Carl also gets up at sunrise, but infrequently at best.  On those early mornings, he’s eager to work sunrise to sunset – but, unfortunately, most days he prefers to sit by the fire and study bridge building with Ian, or poetry, or just daydream about how he’ll spend the gold once they get it. He lacks consistency.

Ian studies mechanical and civil engineering from textbooks.  He takes time every day to investigate the mathematics, physics, and environmental factors that need to be considered when building a bridge.  Ian just has no interest collecting the materials and getting outside to labor over the bridge.  He lacks intensity.goals

 

2 out of 3 will get you results – but likely not the results you want or are fully capable of.

MCI

Since I first learned about Crossfit back in 2011, I’ve found that the central tenet of “mechanics, consistency, and intensity” resonated with me and my training philosophy.

“These  three  aspects are intricately interrelated; CrossFit does not work to its potential unless you execute each one and understand how it is bound to the others.”

From the early stages of my own fitness journey, I’ve realized that each pillar is critical to success.  Unfortunately over time – one of the three has had a tendency to slip.

Most recently I’ve been leaning heavily on the consistency leg of the stool and expecting it to prop up and support the others.  


As the brothers learned above, having only one or two of the tenants dialed in won’t get you to your goals.  I was convincing myself that if I simply made it to the gym 5+ days per week – the sheer volume of my efforts would carry me to the desired outcome.  It wasn’t until I was reminded about the importance of all three – that I took the time to honestly look at my training and efforts.

Repetitions alone will not lead you to success.  

As Vince Lombardi said, “Practice doesn’t make perfect.  Perfect practice makes perfect.”

Moving poorly in weightlifting (or any kind of fitness program) is a bad idea.  At best you develop inefficient movement patterns and restrict the intensity of your workouts.  At worst it will lead to injury.  (See Crossfit article linked above for more about the importance of movement efficiency).

For me, Neglecting mechanics lead to the development (and with consistency, the reinforcement) of several bad habits.  These bad habits (patterns of movement) have both limited the intensity I’m able to bring to bear on my training (the amount of weight on the bar), and the success I may be able to achieve in my sport.  

Now, I may never move as well as an elite weightlifter like Chad Vaughn, but this should not mean I settle for moving poorly.  

The same is true for all of us – no matter what stage we’re at (unless we are an elite level athlete – then you better work to move like one!),  The fact that we aren’t training for the NFL, or the Olympics, or an Ironman does not mean we should not pay attention to each of these critical tenants.  We need all three legs for the stool to work.

Have you balanced MCI?

I urge you to take a moment in the next few days and examine your own training efforts.  Are you pursuing balance in each of these three tenants?

Have you taken the time to learn to move well?  Are you experiencing some minor aches and pains that are a little more than muscle soreness?  Should you be looking into some rehabilitative exercises before you run your next 5K?

Are you putting in the right amount of work?  Have you been skipping leg day? Are you sleeping in when you should be getting after it?  Do you take the time to warm up and cool down with each workout?  Are you eating well and treating your body right during the 23 hours you’re not exercising?

If you’re moving well and getting your workout in on a regular basis, is it now time to push yourself to the next level?  Sometimes we just need to change the routine to bust through a plateau.  Or maybe look at your workout log.  When was the last time you added 5lbs to your strength work?  When was the last time you added some sprints into your running?

If you’re pushing on each leg of the stool – you’ll be able to reach higher.  

I’ve taken a step back (or maybe sideways) in my training to work on my mechanics again.  It’s been a few months – but the work is starting to pay off.  I brought consistency and intensity to the basics, to the mechanics – and now I can see the results.  MCI

 

synergy

It’s simple, and yet wonderfully brilliant how the three work synergistically.  It’s a true expression of how the whole (all three working together)  is greater than the individual parts phenomena.  When all three are incorporated into your training program – the results are magnified in comparison to only focusing on any one or two.

If the brothers work together, MCI, they’ll bring all to bear, and build a reliable bridge to their goal.  Do the same in your training and you’ll reap the rewards.

A versatile evening snack: Casein Pudding

You’ve finished dinner and are looking for an evening snack that will help you feel full and quiet the cravings you’re having. You also want something healthy that fits with your nutrition plan.  Does such a magical food exist?

evening snack

May I introduce you to casein pudding.

I first learned of casein pudding through the Facebook group for RP (Renaissance Periodization,) which is the nutritional programming I utilize to help me make weight for Olympic weightlifting meets.

Casein pudding is simple, versatile, and delicious.  

It’s a win, win, win.

I’ll describe three versions of the pudding. Which you’ll utilize will depend on what you are looking for from your evening snack.

First though, what is casein?

If we look at Examine.com (which I recommend you do whenever you’re considering a supplement) we find that casein is, “A dietary protein source with gel-forming capabilities, it is touted to be slowly absorbed in part due to slowing intestinal motility and gel-forming like fiber; adding water makes pudding.” and “Casein protein is one of the two proteins that make up dairy protein (the other being Whey Protein protein). It is typically known as the ‘slow’ digesting component of Milk Protein.”

Okay – so casein is a milk protein and “slower” digesting.

We want to the slower digesting (vs. whey which is digested more rapidly) as part of our evening snack so the nutrients are released into our bloodstream over the course of the night.

I order my casein from True Nutrition and get the unsweetened french vanilla flavor.  You can use just about any flavor – I’ve heard the chocolate is just as good.

If it’s just a form of protein, why don’t I just drink it as a shake like I do with whey?

Pudding vs shake?

The reason to make pudding in the evening vs. drinking a shake comes down to behavior.  If you are anything like me, actually eating something is more satisfying than drinking something.  Furthermore, if you make the pudding you can use a more simplified casein powder. Without the additives and sweeteners that make it taste better as a shake.

Whether you’re following RP, some form of IIFYM (if it fits your macros),  or just trying to eat well – casein pudding likely has a place in your daily nutrition plan. It’s the Swiss Army Knife, or multi-tool of evening snacks.

Versatile

Three versions of pudding

Version 1: I need quite a few calories, not just protein but some fats and carbs as well.

There are two ways to make this version of the casein pudding.  One uses milk the other water.

Version 1a.

1 scoop casein

1 tbsp natural peanut butter (I use Teddie)

Milk added in as you stir to reach pudding consistency – about ½ cup.

Version 1b.

Substitute water for milk and add 1 tbsp of honey, or other sweetener

 

Version 2: I need protein and fats to reach my macros for the day (this is also the recommended snack for my RP diet).

1 scoop casein

½ – 1 Tbsp of natural peanut butter (depending on how many fats you need

Water to mix until pudding consistency

 

Version 3a: I can only have protein but really don’t want to plain casein. (this is what I was having while cutting for the American Masters).

1 scoop of casein

Fat free, Sugar free pudding mix

Water to mix until pudding consistency.

 

I’m adding a version 3b because when I was cutting for the masters I also cut out sodium the last few days and went bare bones with:

1 scoop casein

1 packet of stevia

Water to mix until pudding consistency.  

I would only recommend this if you are cutting weight to hit a specific number in the next day or so – otherwise enjoy the flavor of the pudding with 3a above.

No matter which version you use (except maybe 3b) you’ll enjoy the taste and be licking the bowl clean.  Give it a try and let me know what you think.

evening snack

How to set goals for 2017 that you’ll want to achieve

What will you accomplish in 2017?

Setting Goals

This is one of the most difficult topics to write about and believe that I’ll actually be able to have an impact.

Interestingly – It is also true that if I can have some influence – this may be one of those things that sets you on a path to tremendous changes in your life and exponential improvements in your well-being.

No pressure.  

Setting Goals

If it isn’t apparent already, I believe in the importance of process.  In iteration.  If we set up and work through a quality process – the results will take care of themselves.  Teach someone how to fish – rather than handing over fish.

So when it comes to setting goals – it’s no different.  As much as I’d like to offer you a simple prescription – that’s just not how it works.  I cannot take your age, sex, marital status, debt to income ratio, astrological sign, and favorite color and spit out what goals you should be pursuing.  If only…..

We need to establish a framework for thinking about our goals that allows us to find (without a lot of toil) goals that resonate with us. Setting goals that are realistic enough that we believe they can be achieved.  Let me reiterate that last point – it’s too often ignored by internet guru’s.  Goals must resonate AND be realistic enough that WE BELIEVE they can be achieved.  Even if that belief is far off in the back of our minds.

Because otherwise it’s just a list of aspirations on paper that might as well be tossed in the fire after you’ve written them out.  I’m not interested in giving you BS or telling your to shoot for impractical goals.  There is plenty of snake-oil on the internet.  You didn’t come to Pursuing Balance for that. (rant over).

I’ve listened to many respected podcasts, read best-selling books and well researched articles, attended seminars and talks by brilliant minds. All hoping to find the perfect list of goals for me. Looking to have them handed to me.

Nothing seemed to click.

It wasn’t until I sat down last year and committed 100% to establishing goals that all of the  information I’d been collecting started to coalesce around the method I’ll review here.

Part I

After sorting through many (many) online resources for setting goals, I found one that set me on the right path.  It started with an article published by Fast Company called, “How To Set Goals For The Life You Actually Want.”  

In that article they recommend 4 rather unique questions to help frame the goal setting process.

  1. How do you want to spend your time?
  2. What activities make you want to leap out of bed?
  3. What do you want to learn?
  4. Who do you want to hang out with?

Simple enough.

Once these questions are (honestly) answered, you start to build out a goal statement which will take you on a journey leading toward actualizing these answers.  

As noted in the article, “the specific goal you set is almost arbitrary—it’s simply setting a direction so the pursuit itself gives you the life that you want. With the right journey, it won’t even matter if you reach your goal.” (my emphasis).

Setting Goals

The answers to these questions begin to frame things.  Setting a broad outline of how you want your life to be.  It becomes a rather large goal statement – but one that fits with who you are if you answered the questions authentically.  The real magic, however, happens in the second part of this exercise.

Update:  Just this week I listened to the “Accidental Creative” podcast and he laid out a very similar approach.  He notes, “Instead of simply writing a list of goals, begin with a set of questions that might help you think about the upcoming year in a new way.”  Brilliant!

Full disclosure

Here are my answers to the four questions for 2017:

  1. Leading my life and my team (rather than letting life happen to me). Learning to be better.  Training, loving, coaching, and experiencing the beauty and diversity of life with my family.
  2. Training, leading, earning a good salary, solving problems.
  3. Better leadership skills.  Energy systems training (for sports), how to be a better weightlifting, how to be a better coach, how to engage employees and team athletes.
  4. Goal oriented, motivated individuals.  Aggressive go-getters, entrepreneurs, thought leaders, weightlifters, coaches, my family.

These answers led to the following goal statement:  In 2017 I will work toward becoming a stand out research administrator and leader at the University of Rochester and within the professional community.  I will become an expert in team (employees and athletes) engagement and in topical areas within research administration.  Over the course of this year I will find ways to work more directly with experienced weightlifters and seek out training partners.  I will become a knowledgeable resource for the local soccer community. I will take the time to experience the beauty of life.

Part II

After you’ve formulated your goal statement.  You then take the elements of it and develop actionable goals around them.  You are reverse engineering the statement so that it becomes a reality in 2017.

In order to achieve X, i’ll need to do these five things.

Setting Goal

Did your goal statement include getting healthier? Then set a goal to workout 2-3 times per week for the next month.  Maybe you even set smaller goals under that – each workout will last 15 minutes.  Then you give yourself some early wins on the path to the larger goal of getting healthy.  You may even want to establish some goals around getting a gym membership, finding a workout partner, getting some gym clothes.  Whatever steps it will take to get you toward the stated end – you map them out.

Perhaps your goal statement, like mine, included something about experiencing things with your family.  Perhaps in your mind this triggers the idea of going away hiking for a week (that’s what it means to me!), or taking a trip to Europe, or going to a theme park.  That’s great!

Specific goals around that statement might include developing a budget for the trip, deciding on a location by a specific date, booking any accommodations which might be necessary, requesting time off from work,  and planning out some basic activities while you are on the trip.

Why does this exercise work where others didn’t?

These questions spoke (albeit indirectly) to our why.  The answers to the questions required some specifics and some “what”.  However,  when I got to the end and started thinking about the journey I would take to achieve these goals, my why came blazing through.

When establishing goals with this process we automatically connect with them at a fundamental level.  They become an expression of our “why.”  You’ll find that being connected to your goals makes whatever hard choices you’ll need to make along the journey that much more palatable and actionable.  

By answering the initial questions honestly, and establishing a set of goals that leads to realizing those statements, we become connected to the goals in a way we may not have before. These are not new year’s resolutions.

Try the process and see what comes out on the other side.  2016 was one of my best years. I am anticipating that working through my 2017 goals will yield similar results.

Best of luck and Happy New Year!

How should I warm up before a workout?

Go for a jog around the field.

Run on the treadmill for 10min.

Anyone who’s played sports in school, or started a simple workout program found in a magazine has seen these kinds of warm-ups.

They’re not bad.  There is room for improvement.  

Warm-ups aren’t just for athletes either. Singers warm up, chess players do them, even Astronauts do them!

Most of us are already on board with the importance of a warm-up.  Especially if you’ve ever been injured or are a more seasoned adult (old).  

What should be included in a warm-up for your upcoming gym workout?  

According to Mike Robertson (who has been a big influence on me) there are three components to a good warm-up.

“An intelligent and comprehensive warm-up covers three primary areas:
Reset,
Readiness, and
Specificity”

Let’s break down these three areas into language that makes sense for us.

warm-up

Reset

If you’re getting to your workout, like me, first thing in the morning – your body has been lying prone for the last 6-8 hours.  Or if you are coming from work – you may have spent the last 8 hours in poorly fitting, restrictive shoes, sitting hunched over at a desk?  Now you’re planning on forcing it into a dynamic, rigorous activity?  

Best to “reset” your body and get the joints ready to move on your command.  The reset, according to Robertson, is intended to “restore optimal posture or alignment” to the joints.  If you sat at your desk today, did you reach your hands overhead for longer than 1 second?  Did you just raise your hand?  How’d that feel?

This component of the warm-up should only take 5-7 minutes.  The reset can include what’s commonly referred to as soft tissue work in addition to some foundational un-resisted multi-joint movements.  In practice this could mean breaking out the foam roller to hit your quads, hamstrings, and thoracic spine (upper back). After 30-45 seconds on each area you could move into some slow tempo body weight squats with a nice pause in the bottom.  It could also mean getting the lax ball out, hitting the glutes, shoulders, and pecs, then doing some deep lunges, with twists or overhead reaches. (That video may be one of the best stretches you could do as part of a warm-up, it gets everything!)

The goal of the reset phase of the warm-up is not necessarily to sweat or breathe heavy, but to get the joints lubricated and moving into areas they likely haven’t been for the last 8 hours.  Focus on breathing deep, expanding your rib cage and filling your lungs with air.  

Once you have reset, it’s time to move onto some readiness.

warm-up

Readiness

This is the phase of the warm-up most people (that do warm up) will jump right into.    Now we’ll start to add a little pace to the movements in an effort to warm up tissues and get that full range of motion engaged and activated.

Here a run on the treadmill isn’t a terrible idea – but it only targets a few areas of our body.  An early article in the Crossfit journal points this out well (with the tone of an early CF article).  It notes, “While better than nothing, this approach to warming up is largely a waste of time in that it will not improve flexibility, does not
involve the whole body or major functional movements…”

And unless we’re only going to run on the treadmill for our workout – the effectiveness is quite limited. (and if we were going to be only running, a static 10min is still not ideal anyway).

Instead  – let’s find some movements we can do that will provide more bang for our buck (time constraints are a real consideration too).

The movements in the readiness phase will look like calisthenics – the difference being that they are not intended to simply get the heart rate up.  Burpees would work – but there may be a better approach

In practice we might build a little circuit that relates to the workout we have planned.   Our friends over at Nerd Fitness have a great “dynamic warm-up” that would serve well for this phase.  It’s very comprehensive.  Modify as needed. I’ll post a sample i’ve used with soccer players at the end of this article.

Additionally, we can take some of the movements we just did in the reset phase and rather than doing 2 -3 controlled reps we’ll push it to 8 reps at a moderate pace. Still trying to get that full range of motion.

This phase of the warm up should be progressive. Starting simply and moving to more complex movements.  And by the end you should be breathing more rapidly and feel warm.  Now we are looking to even sweat a bit.

Specificity

This is the last phase of the warm up – and one some folks unintentionally skip.  This phase is intended to progressively get your body ready for the specific movement – by performing perfect reps at low weight (unloaded) and moving towards the goal weight in a measured fashion.

If your workout for the day includes back squats at a prescribed weight (say 70% of your max).  Please don’t simply move from the dynamic warm up to the squat rack and load the bar up to 70% and go to work.

Similarly – if the workout indicates you’ll be doing a super-set of lat pull-downs, and bicep curls. Don’t just hop on the machine and start pulling, or grab a random dumbbell and start curling.

Curls

Once you’ve made it  through the reset and readiness phases – now you want to prep the specific movements you’ll do as part of your workout.  If, as noted above your workout includes some squats at 70% of your max (lets say 3 sets of 5 reps each).  

Then you might go through a little routine like this:

  • One set of 5 with bar and pause at the bottom (while maintaining good tension in your core)
  • Another set with just the bar of slow eccentric (down) and quick concentric (up) pace
  • Then a progressively increasing set of 3-5 reps till you get within 10% of you target weight.  So if your target is 200lbs – you might do sets at 95/125/155/185.

As Tony Gentilcore notes, “You don’t need to perform the same warm-up routine with every exercise on the docket for a given day.”  You should utilize it for the first exercise, and any subsequent heavy sets you have planned.  You’ll begin to get a feel for your body and know when a full specific warm-up is needed, and when you can move onto the next exercise without it. When in doubt – err on the side of warming up a bit.

Do you have a favorite warm-up routine?  What is it?  Do you have questions on which movements to use for a speific workout? – let me know.  I’m happy to help.

 

Sample dynamic warm-up for soccer players.

This is the readiness portion of the work I’ve used with a summer fitness camp of high school soccer players:

Jog 4-5 min easy pace (a rowing machine is a better alternative for gym workouts)

Using two markers 15 meters apart

Knee to chest down, walk back

Frankenstein’s down, walk back

High knees down, butt kicks back

Bear crawl down, crab walk back

Hip opener down (knee Up, Out, In, Down), walk back

10 Lunges, 10 pushups, 10 squats, 10 broad jumps

The 5 Factors that lead me to success at the American Masters

 

Goals

 

What does it take to achieve the big goals you’ve set?  Here are 5 factors that lead to success at my first big weightlifting meet.

I recently competed in the American Masters weightlifting meet.  It was my first major weightlifting competition, and the one I trained nearly 8 months for.

Prior to the meet – I established 2 goals for myself.  

Goal 1: successfully total.  This is weightlifting speak for having at least one successful snatch and one successful clean and jerk.

Goal 2: Total over 200kg (440lbs).  Weightlifting competitions utilize metric units – kilograms specifically.  To total over 200kg I would need the combined weights of my best snatch and best clean and jerk to add up to more than 200kg.  My previous best was 191kg (421lbs).

When the meet finished I had successfully achieved both my goals, and even wound up with a third place finish in my age/weight class. I snatched 92kg (203lbs) and clean and jerked 112kg (247lbs) at a bodyweight of 77kg (170lbs).  I’m still pumped about this accomplishment.

The 5 factors I’ll review below lead directly to this success.

Consistency (consistent training)   

This is far and away the most important.  It impacts three of the other factors and its importance cannot be overstated (it’s likely the most critical after #5)

From the time I started training in March to the day of the meet I didn’t miss a training session that was within my control.  That meant waking at 4:20am most days and getting to the gym, no matter what.  To be clear I did miss a day or two because of  work travel.  We also went hiking in the Adirondacks for a week, so I missed a few days there.  Nonetheless, for nearly 8 months straight I put in 5 days of training per week.  Not everyday was a triumph.  Some days were pure struggle and frustration.  However, when I stood on that platform staring at the 92kg snatch I was about to attempt , I knew I had those 8 months of solid training to lean on.  And the lift was successful!

Consistency is crucial.  Both physically (I had prepared my body and was ready to go) and mentally. I pushed and trained when it was time to train.  I had essentially built a habit of getting the work done when it was time.  The competition, for all the jitters, planning, and excitement, was just another training day.  It was time to get after it – and I did.

Self care (Mobility work)

In order to consistently make it to the gym and be ready to train – my body needed to be ready to take on the work. This meant taking care of my body the rest of the day after training and on recovery days.  Romwod played a big part in this effort.  Beginning in January we had purchased a subscription to Romwod and started a practice of completing the 20min routine 5-7 times per week in the evenings before heading to bed.  

I believe this consistent stretching and mobility work helped keep my joints, muscles, and tendons in good shape and ready to take on the next day of training.  I also took time prior to every workout to warm up and then following each session to spend a few minutes stretching out.  The practice of self-care benefited me physically as it helped keep me injury free.  It also benefited me psychologically; the consistent commitment to taking care of myself helped boost my confidence that I was going to achieve success.

Nutrition

This was a factor which I did not realistically think i’d stick with for the long-term.  I surprised myself.  I ate in accordance with the nutrition plan I selected very consistently during the entire training period.  After a month or so following an IIFYM diet, I purchased the diet templates from Renaissance Periodization and their eBook.  Using the templates and the book together game me a chance to modulate my weight throughout the months. Doing so in response to where I was at in the training cycle.  As the meet approached I cut down (from around 80kg to 75kg) at a very gradual pace and made weight with some room to spare – without any loss in strength.  

This factor required a lot of difficult choices and a good deal of self-denial (especially early on).  Beer, pizza, and snacks are just a few of the vices I enjoy, like everyone else.  I was, however, able to resist these the vast majority of the time.  I made exceptions during special occasions and during our vacation. Still, I was able to be consistent with my diet and felt healthy (I didn’t get sick at all!) throughout the training period.  Keeping the larger goal of the American Masters in mind was the key in turning down those treats.  

Goals

Sleep

As noted earlier, on weekdays I trained at 5am so I awoke at 4:20.  This time was non-negotiable.  As I talked about in my morning routine post, this is the time that allows me to push on all my goals without sacrificing something important.  Once I made the decision to train first thing in the morning, I needed to commit to the next decision to go to bed earlier than I might otherwise.  

Furthermore, the research is clear – sleep is CRITICAL to success.  In nearly every endeavor: be it physical (like weightlifting) or intellectual, being well rested is a necessary element.

Getting to bed earlier required managing my activities in the evening.  I had to make time to get Romwod done, in addition to the chores around the house.  Thankfully, this became a routine for Jolene and I.  Once 9:30-10pm rolled around – I was READY to crash.  I would force myself to leave Instagram for the evening or put the book down.  Sleep is too important to trade for the other things I would have been doing.

Find support

This is the perfect bookend to the factors required to achieve success.  Without the support of Jolene and my children – none of this would be possible.  The support goes from the indirect, like ignoring my grumpiness when I had a bad training session or was cutting weight. To  more direct support  like making sure we had good, healthy food available, and agreeing that the money I spend on coaching and training is worthwhile.   The kids even sat through the VERY boring meet on that saturday afternoon.  Without a doubt – if I didn’t have their support, I would not have been able to sustain the other 4.  I’m grateful for the love and support my family provides me.  

One other element that runs through all of these factors.

I had to believe in myself.  

I had to believe that I was worth making these sacrifices for.  I had to believe that I was worth spending the time, energy, and money on. I had to be a little selfish. If I let the resistance and the negative self talk get too loud, I may have started doubting whether I had any chance at achieving these goals. I may have slipped, or worse, given up all together.

 

I realize these 5 factors are specific to me, and specific to my achieving a modest success at a weightlifting meet.  Which may have no relevance for you.  However – if you look closely – you may find a theme or two that stands out and is applicable to the goals that you’ll be setting for yourself in the year to come.  

Goals
Third place!

Balance Part II – Balance is Dynamic

In an earlier post I talked about how balance is not the same as resting.  Balance is more than the over simplistic “work-life” balance.  We are not coins with only two sides.

In this post I’m going to discuss another idea that Michael Hyatt notes in his piece, that balance is dynamic.

Balance is dynamic

For a moment let’s imagine that in general we can be in one of two states.  We can either be static or dynamic.  I won’t spend time reviewing what it means to be static, think stuck, rigid, unchanging.   Life does not offer us an opportunity to be static. Nature/reality is not static.  

Don’t believe me? Look outside,  are the leaves on the trees still?  Is the weather the same as it was this morning? The world is in CONSTANT motion around us. Even the air around us while we sit in a room is constantly moving:

 

 

In life we need to be prepared to be dynamic (ready for change, changing. Ready to adapt, adapting).  Thus, the way we discuss balance here at Pursuing Balance is that balance is, in fact, dynamic.

As I’ve noted before – when we stand on one foot – we’re not standing still.  We are ceaselessly making micro adjustments throughout our body to maintain a balanced position.  If you’ve ever tried yoga – even in simple poses like a warrior you’ll find that your body is subtly moving to maintain the pose.  From 50 meters away we may look static, perfectly balanced. But the reality is that we are not still. Not even for a second.

Dynamic balance

In part one we talked about the many areas of our life we want to allocate our limited time and energy to.  This process of allocation is balance.  It’s the dynamic shifting of that allocation from one area to the next, from one priority to another, that is Pursuing Balance.  

What has happened to so many of us – is that we think we’ve achieved a state of balance.  Or that we’re only a small tweak away (if I just get my diet in order, if i just get the next raise, one the holidays are over) from living a balanced life.  The reality, if we look closely, is that we’ve simply allocated our time to a few, limited, areas and set life on cruise control.  

That is a life out of balance.  

If we map out a week’s worth of our time, noting how it is being allocated.  We might see that we are not in balance at all.  There will be areas that are important to us, to our well-being, that are under represented.  There will be areas of our life that are quite unimportant that are over represented.  Watch the below, the final minutes of the Jocko Podcast, where Jocko reminds us that it is our responsibility, our obligation, to lead our life.  

 

Let’s begin looking at our life and finding time for the important things.   This doesn’t simply mean spending less time at work! (the cure that will supposedly lead to achieving work life balance). Work could be one of the areas where we need to allocate a bit more energy. (Have you been coasting?)

Actively and dynamically lead your life.  Don’t accept the default allocation of time.  Make those micro adjustments to bring things closer to how we really want them.  And  understand, expect, that what we prioritize may (WILL) change on a monthly or even daily basis.  Balance means being dynamic, responsive to life as it unfolds.

It’s not a passive state that we just wind up in. A default allocation of time should scare us.   Work towards that active, dynamic state.

This leads me directly to the third aspect of balance.

Balance is intentional.  

More to come.

Happy Thanksgiving – Practice gratitude daily

Gratitude

Happy Thanksgiving!

On this Thanksgiving day of 2016 I’m wishing you abundance and peace.  Take a moment to reflect on what you are grateful for in this life.  There is so much.

As I’ve noted before, I have a daily gratitude practice that is an important part of my morning routine.

Today – I’ll take the time to expand on this brief practice.  Reflecting more deeply on what it means to be grateful. Pausing a bit longer on each of the ideas that arise.

Here is a great piece talking about the value of practicing gratitude – and what research has shown us on its effects.

Gratitude

On this day I’m grateful for:

The love of my partner in life, Jolene.

The love of my three amazing children.

The health of my family.

Those who have believed in and supported me.

I’ve led a life full of joy, opportunity, and good fortune.  I’m thankful for all that has been provided to me from my parents.  I’m thankful to those who helped shape me into the man I am today.

Take the time to show gratitude today. And then…

When you awake tomorrow, think back on Thanksgiving as a day where you reflected on things and gave thanks, and then take the time to express gratitude again. You’ll be better for it.

Gratitude

Getting started and moving past limits

The journey begins

My journey into fitness did not have an auspicious beginning. After going to a small commercial gym somewhat regularly for 3 weeks I decided that running on the treadmill and using the nautilus equipment wasn’t going to get me to my goals.  I was tired of doing the ordinary.  A magazine article suggested that doing back squats, with a barbell, was good for strength development. I thought, “back squats are for me!”

challenging limits

Over the previous few weeks I had used the leg press machine.  I was setting it to a weight I thought was moderately heavy.  So on this particular day, instead of using the machine again I decided to challenge myself a little. Testing my limits, I loaded up a barbell with a 135lbs (two big metal plates).  The weight was less than I had been doing on the press machine – so I figured, “no problem.  I got this“.

I stepped under the bar – got it settled on my back and (shakily) walked the weight out.  As soon as I started the descent  I began tipping over. Immediately I was filled with panic thinking I would get crushed under the weight and be severely hurt.  Luckily – a friend was walking by.  He quickly stepped in and stabilized me. He helped me safely stand the weight back up.

It was not pretty.  

In that moment I wanted to walk (run!)  out of the gym.  I was so embarrassed. I was already thinking things like, “looks like I’m not built for squatting after all…..” “Getting stronger is a dumb goal.” I was ready to accept that the leg press machine, and moderate weights were my limit. I had no business going any further.

Luckily, as these thoughts were going through my head – my friend brought me back to reality.  He made a joke of how lucky I was that he was nearby (and not afraid to get up close). He told me to try again (with a little less weight this time).  

Challenge the limits

So instead of going off to hide, or back to the safety of the machines – I swallowed my ego, reduced the weight on the bar, and got myself set up.  After a few slow, scary reps, I become comfortable with the movement and my friend was able to step away.  

By the next time I was at the gym, I was confidently squatting that 135lbs for reps and thinking about adding more weight. (Here is a good technique video on back squatting correctly.)

In that little moment, I had learned one of the basic principles of life also applies to training – we grow when we push ourselves up to and through our current limits. Even (or especially) when it’s scary.

Challenge limits

Whether you are stepping into the gym for the first time, have a goal of getting your first unassisted pull-up, or are about to try to deadlift double bodyweight – be prepared to push  past your current limits.  Sure – there will be a little fear and trepidation there.  Expect it, It’s part of the process. We can’t move forward by standing still.

You may need the guidance of a trusted friend – but if we are willing to push a little further, a little harder – we can reach beyond what we thought we were capable of.

Believe in yourself

We all have stories from our own lives, where we attempted something beyond our current limits – and succeeded!  We may fail numerous times along the way – falling back to where we were.  However, when we persist and eventually achieve that goal (even if it was never a formal goal) we get that feeling of accomplishment.  This is what propels us to the next bigger thing.  

When I started I couldn’t back squat my bodyweight.  After several years of consistent, hard work, I’ve made progress and now squat more than double my bodyweight.  It doesn’t matter where you start – just that you start and keep moving forward, pushing through those limits along the way.

When a snowball is your friend: A simple tactic to reduce your debt

Debt reduction
Uncharted lands

That’s what happens when you have focused intensity and start with your smallest debt — it leads to a big result! — Dave Ramsey

My family is about to step into uncharted lands in the next 30 days.

After December 15th we will have zero credit card debt and no car payments.

This may not seem like a big deal to many. For us, it’s a big deal.

It represents a year and a half of prioritizing, planning, and executing those plans. Over the course of those 18 months we’ve paid off a significant chunk of debt — and below I’ll discusses how we got to this point and a tactic you might implement to move in this direction yourself.

The Pre-Work

Facing the reality — with an open mind.

At some point in the spring/summer of 2015, I found the Dave Ramsey Podcast. After the first few episodes, I thought that the callers who reported tackling huge amounts of debt were just fake callers. No way someone could reduce their debt by that much on the salary they had.

Or alternatively, I’d think they were bogus because they were able to pay the debt down only because they had large incomes and had the money to allocate to debt.

Looking at our debt — there was no way we could make this work. We are a special case — our debt was somehow different and the tactics Dave discussed wouldn’t work for us.

A kind of perverse “Lake Wobegon effect.”

This cynical mindset was a defense mechanism. It was simply a way for me to avoid taking a hard look at where we were at financially. And establishing the resolve to make it better.

Thankfully, after a month or so of episodes — the message did begin to sink in.I started reading personal finance materials on the web (Here, here, andhere). I started thinking about advice I had given folks when I worked at Morgan Stanley about the power (or curse) of compounding interest.

Eventually, I brought the baby steps to Jolene for a discussion. Could we give them a try? Maybe we would see similar results.

We decided to give it a go and to keep an open mind.

Establishing a budget

You need a budget. Yes! You! Do! This is the mantra of one of my favorite companies and their flagship software: YNAB. (Stands for “You Need a Budget.”)

Once we had established that we wanted to start walking the baby steps — I quickly realized that having a solid budget and budgeting system would be critical to our eventual success (it has been!). We tried a number of methods, and systems before settling into YNAB in December of 2015.

Budget

As I’ve mentioned before, what gets measured gets managed. Utilizing the simple, but powerful, YNAB budgeting tool allowed us to get a handle on where our dollars were going each month (YNAB rule number one — every dollar has a job). This gave us the information we needed to get baby step one out-of-the-way. We dialed back where we could and in a short period of time — had our first little emergency fund of $1000.

Then the real work began — baby step two: Pay down all non-home debt.

Enter the snowball

There are numerous ways to pay down debt. Each has its own benefits and drawbacks. The two most common are both characterized by winter-based metaphors. The avalanche and the snowball.

The avalanche method is the purely mathematical favorite for paying down your debts. You look at the interest rates of each debt you have and while paying the minimum on all but the highest rate debt, you focus every penny you can squeeze out of your budget to pay down that highest interest rate loan.

The snowball method is similar in structure, the order of the debts are addressed changes. With the snowball, you pay the minimum on all debts except for the debt with the smallest principal — regardless of interest rate. As Dave Ramsey notes, as this is his recommended tactic, this method takes advantage of human psychology. When we get small wins, we can find ourselves encouraged to keep at a project longer term.

Similar in each method — once a debt is paid off — you take the amount you had been paying to that debt and add it to the next one in line.

We choose the snowball. I can unhesitatingly recommend it to anyone looking to take on this challenge.

Debt snowball

The snowball starts to roll.

We had a few smallish debts (store credit card, a small personal loan) and so after 2–3 months those were paid off. This gave us two wins and some excitement for what might actually be possible.

Next, we tackled our vehicle loans — those took a bit longer, but patience and sticking to the budget paid off (see what I did there?). After 8 or so months, we had the cars paid off. We also needed to buy another car (for me) during this time — and so we were able to “pause” the snowball for a brief period and paid cash for a used car.

The snowball was building up some momentum at this point and we turned to the credit card debt. This was the debt we’d been avoiding for too long. We had never missed a payment — but it sat out there like an over sized sweaty, smelly, monster — just mocking us.

A pooh monster

The snowball crushes the monster

For the last 6 months, we’ve attacked that monster with every penny we could. We can now see the end of that debt coming in the next 30 days. The money is budgeted — the payment is scheduled. And we’re sitting — watching as this relic of many (many) short-sighted, impulsive decisions, gets crushed under the weight of our continually growing snowball.

I’m sure the feeling of seeing that zero balance will be wonderful. But I’m writing this post now because when we started this process and worked out our first budget in the late summer of 2015, this moment seemed all but impossible. Certainly not probably in less than 3–5 years, let alone 15 months.

Even if something comes up in the next month and we don’t reach a zero balance in December, we’ve built a strong foundation these last 18 months and will “roll with the punches” as YNAB advises. We’ll crush this monster in the end.

Sure we still have outstanding student loans and a mortgage. However, I cannot stress enough how empowering it feels TODAY to know we are putting all those credit card interest payments behind us.

I’ll be talking more in-depth about budgeting in the future. So stay tuned. The three-word version: Prioritize and execute.

Erase debt

PS. During the last few months, we’ve also refinanced our mortgage from a 30 year to a 10-year loan. This will save us nearly well over $10K in interest payments even if we take the full 10 years to pay it off. As we continue to walk the baby steps — our expectation is that we’ll have this paid off in advance of the 10 years — which will mean even more savings.

Balance Part 1: Balance is not rest

Balance
The world is pretty epic

Balance is the opposite of settling.

Many resources exist on the internet which claim to help you find and FINALLY achieve a work-life balance. There are fundamental problems with nearly all of them.

There is more to life than those simple domains. If we stop and consider for a moment — is our life binary? There is work. And then there is everything else. Together, these two make-up life.

Not so fast.

It’s a made up dichotomy that does (admittedly) serve a purpose. However, it has limited usefulness when we’re trying to improve our lives for real. We, humans, are active dynamic creatures. We don’t exist exclusively in two areas. Work & not work. Please, don’t fall for this.

Most of the information provided on the web is fluff, if not total hogwash. It’s too often written by so-called Guru’s who may not have families to juggle — or worse are just getting into the workforce for the first time. Their advice is pointing in the right general direction but, nearly every resource or website I’ve visited has treated balance as a static point to achieve.

A Goldilocks experience where you get to say, “Ahhhh. I’ve achieved work-life equilibrium. Now everything is just right.” Real life isn’t that simple. Remember, Goldilocks had to contend with three bears after enjoying her porridge and comfy bed.

 

Goldilocks running for her life
Situations are complex

One significant exception that I’ve found on the inter-webs is the following post by Michael Hyatt, “What no one ever told you about work-life balance.”His post is still guilty of the problem noted above , but his broader discussion is more than redeeming. He breaks balance into three vital aspects that match how I think about it here at Pursuing Balance. And so I’ll use these aspects as the jumping off point.

“Balance is not the same as rest.”

As I’ve noted before, when we stand on one foot, attempting to hold ourselves in that position, our bodies are anything but at rest. Balance is a verb. It’s an active state.

All too often the internet resources and self-help books give us the (incorrect) impression that finding a work-life balance can be boiled down to reducing your work hours and finding time for yourself , so you can “unwind”.

“Don’t work 80 hours per week — you’ll burn out. You need down time to recharge.”

To a point, that’s true. But balance, pursuing balance, is so much more complex. Once we begin to understand it — we can see balance is not rest, or a static state at all and should not be.

As noted in his blog post, Michael Hyatt states that sometimes this, “takes a lot of work.” Balance in our life is about so much more than work and not-work. We want to have success in all areas of our life. That means understanding our priorities and the needs or demands of each different area. We want to experience happiness:

1) spending time with our families,

2) when reviewing our finances

3) when spending time out in the community — socializing

4) when engaged in our hobbies

5) when we find ourselves alone

6) when we look at ourselves in the mirror each morning

7) and of course we want the work we do to make a living to bring us happiness.

All this requires the work of knowing what will make us happy in each of those areas. Each will have demands on us, and we’ll have a desire to allocate our limited time to them. If we don’t know what we want out of each of these areas, we tend to just “put in the time” and look forward to it being over. That’s not balance. That’s a recipe for unhappiness and resentment.

Balance is active
Don’t get scared now.

Okay — so balance is more than just work-life. Balance is not resting. This takes us to the next part in the series — Balance is dynamic. Stay tuned — you won’t be disappointed.

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