Coach, or DIY? Why You Need A Coach.

I just wrapped up a podcast interview with Rich O’Neill, owner of Elite Functional Performance (EFP) here in Charlotte. It was a great interview and I’m excited to share it, hoping to publish later this month. We covered a lot of ground, but one of the topics we discussed that I found most interesting was the idea of “coaching,” or more specifically the following question: “When should I get a coach, and when should I do it myself?”

There are plenty of ways to take the DIY approach in fitness. You can read books, watch YouTube videos, and try to piece everything together during your workouts. I’ve taken this approach before and made progress, but it was slow and difficult. So much of what you’re doing is about feel. You have to be proprioceptive.

(I’d like to take a minute to welcome, in its David Wells publishing debut,  the word “proprioceptive” to the stage! I had to do a lot of Googling to find this word. Also WordPress insists it’s not a word but I copied and pasted it out of the Oxford dictionary so I feel confident that it is, and hopefully I’m using it correctly)

Anyway, unless have really thorough instructions which point out what you’re supposed to be feeling throughout a range of motion in a clear and meaningful way, DIY fitness can very easily get overwhelming.

It can also get dangerous. Rich pointed out the importance of considering risk when trying to decide whether to get a coach. Working out is something that, if done incorrectly, can have serious consequences. So I’m excited to be working with Rich and his team, and hope they can keep my workout regimen on track and moving forward without preventing me from doing anything stupid in the name of GAINS.

But after our interview I realized that, like all great questions, the “Coach vs. DIY” debate applies to a lot more than just fitness. The discussion made me think about my decision to get help for the podcast.

As I was getting started, I got connected to Andy Goh at Gohjo Studios. After a kickoff interview, I decided to engage him for consulting services, specifically helping me with the design, implementation, and hosting of the podcast, as well as editing my first episode (and showing me some basic editing techniques for future reference).  Engaging Andy was a great decision.

But why did I do it? I don’t think it was because of risk; after all, if I messed something up trying to do it myself the only real risk is embarrassment. It’s not like I’m going to throw out my back screwing up a podcast. So, if not risk, then why did I do it? Well, there are a couple of factors I considered:

The first was resources. This is usually the main reason I don’t engage coaches. I don’t like spending money on, well… anything. But I quickly realized there was a big opportunity cost for not engaging a coach: time. There was one specific situation during the web hosting process where I got a vague error message, which could have grinded the process to a halt. Andy had encountered it before, and asked if I had an expired credit card on file with the account. Sure enough, that was the issue. I could have spent hours trying to figure that out, and having someone working over my shoulder with experience helped me work through many similar issues.

Which brings me to the second factor: learning. Again, learning is a common argument for DIY – you learn and grow best by doing, and so it stands to reason that the best way to learn is to just dive in. But the problem with the DIY approach is that sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know. Andy was able to introduce me to programs, platforms and best practices that I doubt I would have discovered on my own at first, and which would have been a huge pain to untangle had I taken off in the wrong direction on my own.

But if I’m being completely honest, the biggest reason I got help with the podcast is this:

Because I care about the podcast.

At the end of the day, my resistance to engaging a coach wasn’t because of the money – I recognized that my time was valuable, too. And it wasn’t about missing out on the experience – a good coach will make sure you still get that. I didn’t want to pay somebody to help me with the podcast because that would mean I had skin in the game. And if it didn’t work out, It would be proof that I’d tried, and failed.

If I never get help and don’t incur any costs, I can fiddle around with my pet project for the rest of my life and, if nothing ever comes of it, walk away with the comfort of knowing that I didn’t really try. I mean it’s not like I spent any money on it, right? It was an amusement, a distraction from day-to-day life. But if I pay somebody, it means I definitely care about its success on some level, and I’ve bought into the results, good or bad.

There’s no one-size-fits all to the DIY vs. Coaching question, but in this particular case I think I made the right choice. However, sometimes there’s no substitute for DIY – I’ll dig into that next week.

Starting A Podcast – The Beginning

My wife and I have two little girls, and my brother and his wife do, too. This is incredibly fun, and if you have a sibling around the same age as you I highly recommend you do the same. Being able to talk strategy, swap notes and (occasionally) vent with my brother has been such a rewarding experience. And one of the notes we swapped ended up being the genesis of my idea to start a podcast.

After his first daughter was born, my brother emailed the family letting us know that he had setup an email account for her, and invited us to send her an email to serve as a sort of time-capsule for when she was older. I loved this idea; I eventually did the same thing for my girls and, not to be outdone, committed to writing no less than 40 letters to them in 2019 in an effort to try and “Be A Better Parent” that year.

I’m so glad I did this – just reading over the subject lines is like flipping through a photo album, conjuring up fun memories (“The Big Snow”, “Symphony Park”) and not so fun memories (“ER Visit”, “Getting Overwhelmed”). But as I continued to write these I ran into a few problems:

  1. They were taking forever. I found myself doing a lot of self-editing in my emails to my girls, probably more than I did for the blog (no offense).
  2. My “voice” seemed off. It felt like I was either writing an advice column or just giving them a play-by-play of a specific event. It felt impersonal.
  3. I wasn’t enjoying it. Because I was writing these at the same time as the blog, it felt like I was trying to stretch out the same content between the two, and I didn’t like the results.

I was about to scrap the whole thing when I had an idea: I had my airpods, and the Voice Memo app on my phone… what if I just left them a voicemail and emailed it to them as an attachment? It might be fun for them to hear me speak my thoughts rather than write them. So I did just that: I got off the bus, and on my walk to work I left a 13 minute message about Lottie crawling, Lucy’s Eczema, Real Estate, and Three Amigos (or favorite Mexican restaurant).

And I absolutely loved it.

From then on it was pretty much all voicemails. They felt so much more comfortable, personal, and honest than the emails I’d written. I got into the process of recording them in the morning, playing them back later that day, identifying key talking points and putting them in the subject line of the email. Sometimes I would put some notes in the body of the email to give a little summary of what I talked about, and it was about that time that I realized what was happening: I was basically doing a podcast for my girls.

And that’s how I got the idea to do a podcast for everyone else.

And I found that this process helped me overcome a few of the normal hurdles for podcasting, like getting used to the idea of recording and listening to my own voice. Because by the time I sat down to do my first interview, I’d already listened to 40 “episodes” and 16+ hours of myself.

I’m not a natural at this, and it wasn’t always easy listening to those recordings. I hated the sound of my voice (although it’s growing on me). I cringed at the stuttering and the “like”s and “umm”s and the rambling incoherent thoughts. I wondered, “is this what I actually sound like? How does anybody take me seriously?” But I kept doing it, and over time it got easier.

But there was still a lot more to learn. For one thing, I had to figure out how to get these recordings out into the world. I decided to ask for help, which is something I’m not great at doing. More on that next week.

“How To Be A Be A Better ____.”

Imagine for a moment that you’re a single parent, living in a small one-bedroom apartment in a big city with your three-year-old daughter (for some of you this won’t require much imagination). And you dream of making a better life for yourself and your daughter by writing a best-selling novel.

So every night you put her to bed around 7:00, pour a cup of coffee and sit down at the kitchen table to write. She’s curious, of course. Some nights you hear the bedroom door creak open and you find her standing there in her pajamas, peeking through the doorway. You explain to her that she needs to go to bed, and it goes about as well as when anyone tries to explain bedtime to a three year old. Most nights she doesn’t leave you alone until 8:30, maybe 9:00. But once she’s down you write, and do the best you can with the time you have to yourself.

Eventually you submit a manuscript to a publisher, and it gets rejected. You get frustrated – you know deep down it wasn’t your best work. If you just had more time you know you could write something great. Your daughter is getting older, and now she can engage in simple conversations. She asks you what’s wrong. You explain that you’re writing stories, just like the ones you read to her at night, and that you really need peace and quiet to write.

Miraculously, the two of you reach a compromise: she can stay up until 8:00 in the kitchen for one hour of “quiet time.” She can read books or play quietly with her toys, and you get an extra hour of time to write in silence.

Well, almost silence. She keeps asking about what you’re writing. Of course it’s much too complicated to explain to someone her age but she keeps asking:

“What’s it about? What’s it about? What’s it about?”

You finally say it’s about a girl and a boy who fall in love but then something happens and they can’t be together. She asks if the girl is a princess, and you laugh and say no. You don’t bother explaining that the story is set in Midtown Manhattan and that the protagonist is far more complex than a fairytale character. Your daughter yawns, suggests the story might be more fun if the girl were a princess, and you carry her to bed.

Years go by, and more of your stories get rejected. Your daughter continues to stay up past her bedtime, giving you more unsolicited advice involving princesses and dragons and knights in shining armor. You want to be encouraging and so you concede a few points here and there, just so she feels like she’s contributing. After all, the protagonist is kind of a princess. Just to make it easier, you start to refer to the character as “the princess” when discussing the story with your daughter, and eventually you do the same with the other characters.

And then one evening you get really stuck. You just can’t get past a certain part of the plot. Your daughter is following the story by now, and has come up with a new refrain:

“What happens next? What happens next? What happens next?”

In a desperate attempt to get her to shut up so you can concentrate you just spill out everything – you tell her all the ideas you’ve had and explain why none of them work and how you’re going to have to start the entire thing from scratch. She shrugs her shoulders and says,

“Why doesn’t the prince just tell her he’s sorry?”

That’s it! Now you know exactly what happens next. But before jumping back in you compose yourself, smile at your daughter and say, “That’s a good idea.”

And then you pull up a chair.

She sits down, and then the adventure really begins. You start circling paragraphs and explaining to her what you were trying to do. She makes playful suggestions, most of them bad. But over time you notice that they’re getting better. After a while, you start to rely on them.

Now you’re the one keeping her up past her bedtime. Sometimes you push her too hard – you point to a problem and ask her to figure it out and she can’t and you can’t and now you’re yelling at each other and it’s not fun anymore and she goes to her room and slams the door. You learn that you have to keep it fun, otherwise she won’t come back.

More years go by, and then one night the two of you find yourselves staring at a masterpiece. It’s ready, and you both know it. As you pack the manuscript in your bag she’s chattering a mile-a-minute, telling you to make sure you tell the publisher this and that and make sure that they know why this character is important and that the princess and the knight were actually in love all along they just didn’t know it yet. You smile and nod and put her to bed, but neither of you get much sleep. You go to meet with the publishers that afternoon.

And it gets rejected. Not just rejected – they absolutely tear it apart. You blow up, tell them that they have no idea what they’re talking about, and storm out. You’re fighting away tears as you walk in the door of your apartment.

She made dinner. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with milk and chips laid out on paper towels on the kitchen table. She put music on, but you can’t hear it over the sound of her squealing as she snatches the manuscript from your hands:

“What did they say? What did they say? What did they say?”

And telling her is worse than you could have possibly imagined.

You’re frustrated, but she’s devastated.

She throws the manuscript across the room, knocking over the dinner and spilling the milk. She says she hates the publisher and you and the story and she never wants to write anything again. She runs into her room and slams the door.

You start to clean up the kitchen in silence, glancing at the door once in a while, imagining her huddled in the corner of her bed. You remember that she’s just a kid. Then you remember she’s your kid.

And it’s time you earned your keep as a parent.

She has to come out. Knock, yell, slam, kick down the damn door if you have to but get her out of that room. And when she’s standing in the kitchen in her pajamas, cheeks soaked, lips quivering, the last page of the manuscript clutched in her tiny hand, you grab her by the shoulders, look her in the eyes, and say,

“I’m so sorry.”

Not because the work wasn’t good enough – you both know you tried your best. And not because the world can be vicious – you know that’s never going to change.

You tell her you’re sorry it took you so long to pull up a chair.

If you do this properly, she’ll forgive you. She’ll sit down, and the two of you will start a new adventure – a better one.

Podcast Episode 2: “Time Kills All Deals.” Interview with Henri Gresset, Childress Klein

In this episode of the New Year’s Revolutionary podcast, I had the privilege of interviewing Henri Gresset, commercial broker at Childress Klein and my friend for over 20 years. Henri’s always been the guy at the party connecting the most interesting people in the room to discuss the most interesting topics of the night. And he’s always made it look easy – I’m gonna try to figure out the details.

To listen to the episode, click here.

Considering we’ve been friends since middle school, I thought I knew Henri pretty well. And so I drew up questions to discuss a few of Henri’s talents that I wanted to explore. Specifically:

  1. His ability to connect and maintain relationships with interesting people, and
  2. His relentless approach to getting things on the calendar and keeping things moving.

And we definitely got into those – but as I was re-listened to the episode I realized that this wasn’t just an episode about life-hacks and psychological tactics. There was a deeper, recurring theme here:

Time.

Henri Gresset is fiercely protective of his time. As a result, he’s intentional and present when interacting with others, who can’t help but be drawn to his undivided attention. Thank you, Henri. You literally taught me the meaning of la joie de vivre. Here’s to the next 20 years.

David & Henri

Show Notes:

  • How Henri and I met [00:45]
  • How Henri got into commercial real estate, Childress Klein [02:20]
  • Comparing commercial and residential real estate brokerage [05:07]
  • Industry trends, adaptive reuse [06:21]
  • “Time kills all deals” [9:19]
  • Tim Ferriss and The 4-Hour Workweek [10:43]
  • Henri’s approach to consuming and prioritizing nonfiction [12:35]
  • Morning routines (where Henri explains the benefits of a 30-minute snooze session) [15:39]
  • Organization, scheduling, daily and weekly planning [18:05]
  • The benefits of travel [20:02]
  • How Henri plans to “Do Better This Year.” [21:58]

References

“Be More Productive.” Work/Life Balance (And Grinding).

When it comes to video games, the Role Playing Game (RPG) genre has always held a special place in my heart. In an RPG, you play the role of a character on an adventure in some sort of immersive world. Part of the fun is watching your character grow and develop as you explore new frontiers and work toward some greater goal or quest. Games like Pokemon, EarthBound, and Chrono Trigger are good examples. If you’re engaging in random turn-based battles with monsters, getting experience points and gold and “leveling up” in the process, chances are you’re playing an RPG (and I’m jealous).

And I can’t think of a better way to get acquainted with the genre than the first RPG I ever played: Final Fantasy.  I was maybe 12 or 13 at the time, and I’ll always remember the first time I encountered Ogres:

Image result for final fantasy 1 ogres

That’s how I first got introduced to grinding. Not the type of grinding one might do at a club (which, having attended a few middle school dances, I was unfortunately all too familiar with). I’m talking about video game grinding. Techopedia provides a great definition:

Grinding refers to the playing time spent doing repetitive tasks within a game to unlock a particular game item or to build the experience needed to progress smoothly through the gameGrinding most commonly involves killing the same set of opponents over and over in order to gain experience points or gold.

When I first encountered these Ogres, they were tough. My party took a lot of damage and barely survived the battle; however, when we won the day I was pleasantly surprised to see that defeating the Ogres yielded a ton of experience points and they were loaded with gold. Punching above my weight was worth it – enough fights with these guys and I could quickly level up my party, then stroll into a nearby town with enough gold to arm my team with the best equipment on the market before continuing on with my adventure. And so I stuck around, wandering around the forest killing Ogres, again and again and again. That’s grinding.

And I did it for hours.

Any gamer worth his salt has done something like this. Maybe you mastered all the mini-games in Ocarina of Time, getting all your quiver upgrades and your heart pieces and your rupees before storming Ganon’s Castle. Maybe you played the same Mega Man level again and again because you knew it had multiple Energy Tanks and you wanted to max them out before going after Dr. Wiley. Or perhaps you simply took the time to stumble around in the darkness of the Caverns in Goldeneye, dutifully destroying every box in the arms cache to load up on ammunition.

At some point, you postponed the adventure and engaged in some sort repetitive, perhaps even tedious, activity, either for your later benefit or out of some intrinsic need for “completeness.” And at that point, you had to ask yourself:

Is this work, or is this fun?

Some genres blur the lines even more. Simulators such as Sim City and Harvest Moon involve performing tasks that people actually get paid to do in real life. My favorite example is from The Office where Dwight Schrute creates a Second Life character who is also a paper salesman named Dwight.

I bring this up because people talk a lot about work/life balance, and I don’t really like the concept. It frames “work” as this tedious thing that, unfortunately, I have to do in order to support “life,” which is the fun thing I get to do after hours with my family and friends.

But if grinding in video games is so tedious, why do we tolerate it?

I think it’s because, on some level, it is fun. It’s fun to see progress. It’s fun to identify opportunities for efficiency and competitive advantage and leverage the hell out of them. And it’s fun to think about how all this work is going to pay off when you go into your next battle, over-prepared and ready for anything. And all these fun activities are things I can, and should, be enjoying at the office.

Sometimes what I do at the office feels like fun. And sometimes what I do at home feels like work. And that’s OK.

At the end of the day, there is no work/life balance. There’s just life, and so the best you can ask of yourself is to be present in the activity you’re doing, regardless of how you label it.

“Be More Productive.” Should I Plan My Weekends?

It’s Saturday afternoon, and my one-year-old woke up from her nap early. The plan was to write during this time, and so now I’m trying to draft this post and watch Pinocchio at the same time.  But I’m not complaining – she seems to be enjoying the movie, and it feels like I’m watching it for the first time because I’ve forgotten everything about it (like the terrifying “donkey transformation” scene, for example).

Sometimes it’s nice when plans go off-track. In my interview with Scott we talked about how uncertainty and spontaneity aren’t just fun, they’re essential to the human experience. We can’t control everything, and that’s OK. Some of the best moments are the ones where things go sideways.

Still, I’m a big advocate of planning. Last year my goal was to plan my day 183 times (over 50% of the year). I came up a bit short, only planning 171 days. But I was happy with the results, and wanted to set an even loftier goal this year of 300 days. That’s almost twice as many days as I did before, but I have some plans for closing the gap.

For one thing, like any other habit it got easier the more I did it, so towards the end of the year I was doing it a lot more. But still, even if I kept the pace I had in Q4 2019, I wouldn’t get to 300 unless I made one, big change: I would need to start planning on the weekends.

In 2019 I viewed my planning exercise as a “work” thing. It started as soon as I got in the office, and helped me plan, prioritize and execute my tasks for the day. But when the weekend came, no more planning. Planning is so rigid, so restrained – it makes the weekend sound like work. And after all,

work

But as I look back on what I did in 2019 and what I hope to do in 2020 I have to ask myself: is planning my weekend really such a bad thing? Does applying plans to my “time-off” take all the fun out of it? I think about when my wife and I went to Italy and how we took pride in the fact that we didn’t have “plans.” A good chunk of our time was just spent wandering, and some of our best memories stemmed from completely unexpected events (like getting robbed).

But still… we had plans. We booked flights which established a time-frame, identified cities that we wanted to see and planned to visit them in a logical order. We determined how long we wanted to spend in each city based on things we wanted do and how long we thought those things would take and we booked accommodations. We got advice from friends and family which resulted in two guided tours both of which were highlights of the trip.

We stopped there, but we could have gone further. We could have picked a few restaurants beforehand, established specific routes for site-seeing. If we really wanted to, we could have planned every single step of the trip. Is that “doing it wrong?” What if we’d taken the opposite approach? What if when we first came up with the idea, drinking jalapeno pale ales beneath the low lights at the bar in Alexander Michael’s restaurant, we’d just bought one-way tickets and taken an Uber to the airport?

When it comes to your free time, what’s the “right” way to do it?

I think the answer is that it’s different for everybody. For me personally, I like a little structure. The balance we struck in Italy was just about perfect for me, so why not take the same approach with my weekends?

I’ve been experimenting with this; I’ve planned 28 days through February 8th, and three of them have been Saturdays or Sundays. Weekend plans might not be terribly detailed, but they do help. Today for example our girls had swim lessons in the morning and I was meeting someone for lunch after. As we were leaving for swim Liz got a client call she needed to take. Aware of both our commitments, I simply texted Liz that I was going to go ahead and put the girls in the car and take them. She could drive separately, meet us there and I could just leave from swim directly to meet my friend for lunch. No rush, no stress.

And everything was fine until I started driving and the car’s Bluetooth picked up Liz’s call and suddenly she couldn’t hear the client and all her client could hear was me giving my girls a pep-talk about keeping their goggles on.

The best experiences might be the ones where things go sideways – but paradoxically, having a little structure can actually give you the freedom to have those experiences in the first place.

Podcast Episode 1: “Servant Leadership.” Interview with Scott Wurtzbacher, Team Leader at W Realty Group

In this (first ever!) episode of the New Year’s Revolutionary podcast, I had the privilege of interviewing Scott Wurtzbacher, Team Leader at W Realty Group here in Charlotte, North Carolina.

To listen to the episode, click here.

Scott and his wife Maria have sold over 1,000 houses and grown their business from a small husband and wife operation to one of Charlotte’s top selling real estate companies as recognized by Charlotte Business Journal. My wife works at W Realty Group, and ever since I met Scott I’ve been impressed with his insights, work ethic, and dedication to client service.

I always wanted to know the story about how it all got started. During this conversation we get into that, along with a wide range of other topics including:

  • How W Realty Group got their first listing [7:45]
  • Scott’s transition from his job as a management consultant at PwC to W Realty Group full-time [10:17]
  • How Brian Buffini’s coaching program helped W Realty Group navigated the Great Recession [16:13]
  • What W Realty Group looks like now, and what differentiates their team from a traditional real estate brokerage [22:16]
  • Differences between the listing agent role and the buying agent role [24:30]
  • How technology has changed the realtor role [28:55]
  • Scott’s approach to leadership and team management [32:02]
  • How the “W Realty Group Book Club” got started, and Scott’s approach to internam meetings and development of their team’s core values [33:49]
  • Getting Things Done by David Allen, how Scott has used the system to get to “inbox zero” [39:38]
  • Scotts philosophy on “follow up” including a great definition for leverage he picked up at a Tony Robbins event [44:11]
  •  Scott’s approach to consuming nonfiction [47:57]
  • Scott’s Q&A with Brian Buffini the day before our interview, and the one question he asked Brian after being a part of his program for over a decade [55:25]
  • Scott’s experience at Tony Robbins’s Unleash The Power Within event [59:31]
  • Personal productivity, morning routines. [1:02:03]
  • Running, dealing with injuries, training at Elite Functional Performance (EFP), and completing a marathon [1:09:33]
  • Opportunities and challenges of working with your spouse [1:16:18]
  • Parenting, getting one-on-one time with your kids and being spontanious [1:22:18]
  • How Scott plans to do better this year [1:29:00]

References

Working Out: How Many Pullups Can I Do?

When I was in high school we had a summer strength training regimen for football, a three day rotation with each day focusing on a different power lift. There was squat day, clean day, and bench day. I remember our coach explaining to us the importance of each lift:

  • You have to do squats to develop speed and strength.
  • You have to do cleans to develop explosiveness and coordination.
  • And you have to bench so you can tell other guys how much you bench (you can tell girls too, but in my experience they don’t usually care as much as the guys).

I guess that’s why it seems like every day is chest day and there always seems to be a line for the bench.

But there’s never a line for the pull up bar.

I find pullups to be the most psychologically demanding exercise I perform. No other exercise am I more likely to quit early, to cheat, or come up with an excuse for underperformance. I’m not entirely sure why, but I have a few ideas:

  • With pullups, you don’t really have time to think. Granted, in most exercises you’re maintaining some sort of tension throughout the motion, but with pullups you are always dangling your entire bodyweight. So once that inner monologue starts, you’re done. On days when I go as fast as I can I usually do more, but is that the safest approach?
  • You can cheat, and it’s very hard to see when I cheat. I shorten the range of motion ever so slightly, and it usually happens towards the late-middle of my set as I’m approaching my last reps. I don’t usually cheat on the last rep, making sure to go all the way down and get my chin above the bar. But the ones leading up to it… it happens. I guess I’m trying to get my pullup count up and conserve energy.
  • External factors like my mental state and rest intervals really matter for some reason. I’m not an expert in this but it seems like just an additional 30 seconds or so of waiting gets me significantly more reps, a bigger difference than with other workouts. I check my watch and see my 1:30 is up then see somebody else eyeing the bar, and say something like “Oh hey, want to work in? Be my guest. Take your time.” I go get some water. And if I’m just in a bad mood, I do less. No great explanation for that.

The thing is none of this should matter. I should be going in and doing pullups for one purpose – to strengthen the muscles involved in doing pullups. But I’ve been tracking my workouts for years now, and that can really mess with your head.

My brother runs marathons, and one day he and I were talking about his workout plan. Marathon plans tend to be very structured as you work your way up to longer and longer distances. Having run a marathon before, he still had his notes from the previous workout plan. And he talked about how, as he reviewed them, he could see exactly what he was able to do last time. He described it as “chasing a ghost” and drew a perfect comparison to Mario Kart 64.

In Mario Kart Time Trials, you can actually race against your “ghost”, an image of yourself running the race before demonstrated below (with Yoshi in the center racing against Ghost Yoshi on the bottom left):

Image result for mario kart 64 time trial ghost

It’s amazing how easily you can improve if you can see exactly what you did before . You can shave off a corner here, pick-up a little more speed on a straightaway there, despite feeling like you did a really good job the first time. And it’s incredibly frustrating when, despite your best efforts, you can’t seem to catch the ghost.

And when it comes to working out, maybe it’s not fair to race the ghost. The ghost is younger than me, after all. Being alive is great, but the big catch is that you get older the longer you do it. But that excuse is based on two assumptions:

  1. My body is deteriorating at such a rate that I physically can’t do what I could do a year ago, and
  2. A year ago, I was pushing my body to its absolute limits.

The first one I’m hoping isn’t true and the second one I know isn’t true. I’m pretty sure there’s still a huge gap between what I’m doing and what I can do, in pullups and in life.

How many pullups can I do?

More.

Working Out: What Counts As A “Workout?”

This week I decided to sit down and try to come up with some basic contingency planning to keep myself on track to complete 300 workouts when life gets in the way. For example:

  • What if I’m traveling for a work and the hotel gym doesn’t have the equipment I need?
  • What if I’m sick and have to stay home?
  • What if something comes up in the morning and I have to workout late at night when my gym is closed?
  • What if I get injured?

Back when I first wrote about going to the gym this time last year, my buddy Phil commented on one of my posts and made a very good point: the gym isn’t the only place to be active. But as I tried to come up with some contingency plans, I kept running into the same question:

What counts as a “workout?”

I’ve structured an entire goal around a workout count, so it stands to reason that I should havea clear definition of what a “workout” actually is. If the family decides to go for a hike, is that a workout? If I get down and do 100 pushups, does that “count” as much as running six miles? What about 50 pushups? What about taking the stairs at work instead of the elevator? What about a single pushup?

I’m relying heavily on this workout count number, both for motivation and for accountability. So I need to protect the integrity of what I’m measuring. At the same time, if I’m in a situation where I literally can’t do any of the pre-defined workouts I have available to me, I still want to do something. Even though putting something in my spreadsheet can be very motivating, it can be just as demotivating when I consider the prospect of doing something physically demanding that I’m not going to get “credit” for. If it’s not going to make it into the spreadsheet, what’s the point?

I don’t have the answers to these questions, yet. Even if I did have them for myself, I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t be the same for everybody. Nope, as usual you’re watching me in the process of trying to figure it out. I have come up with a few thoughts:

  • All of my workouts involve at least 20 minutes of physical activity, so that’s probably a good benchmark for making something “count.”
  • Running probably has the fewest barriers to entry – I can run any time, anywhere (weather permitting).
  • One of the kettlebell/burpee workouts I do regularly can actually be performed at home if the gym is closed or if I’m sick.
  • Swimming is a good option if I miss the morning workout – there’s a gym with a pool between my office and the bus stop, and I can swim/shower after work before heading home for the day.
  • I’m a member at the Y, and I’ve never gotten any pushback signing in as a guest at a facility in a different city for no charge (for example, working out while visiting Liz’s family in West Virginia).
  • With a little bit of research, I can probably identify several “at home” workouts which target the same muscles I’m scheduled to target using the gym equipment I’m acustomed to using.
  • If I have an injury, I can ask my doctor for guidance on what exercises I can do, and have those workouts “count” until I’m back to full strength.

As I write these out, I can feel the excuses losing their grip on me. If I’m going to care about the number of workouts I do, I expect I’ll always be trying to strike a balance when deciding what “counts.” But giving myself some outs to navigate challenging times will hopefully help keep me on track.

Working Out: “Rehab.”

Last year, my goal was to workout 150 times over the course of six months. This year, my goal is to workout 300 times over the course of a year. As I’m writing this I’ve worked out 9 times in 10 days, averaging 6.3 workouts per week, which means I’m ahead of schedule.

I’m feeling strong.

But come on, it’s only Week 2! It’s easy to feel strong in January. I haven’t been traveling, I’m healthy (aside from this dry cough that I’ve pretty much accepted is part of my life now), and the gym is full of patrons as optimistic about the future as I am. The problem is I’ve seen this movie before, and I know how it ends. In February 2018 it was a back injury. In July 2019 it was my shoulder. So what’s the setback going to be in 2020, and is there anything I can do to stop it?

Since starting the blog, I’ve gotten tons of book recommendations from readers. However, the most recommended book by far was The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, which I’m reading now:

image-119Biggest takeaway: most of the activities we do in our day-to-day life are simply habits we’ve formed over the years, and habits are developed based on a three-step loop. From the book:

First, there is a  cue, that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering in the future.

So for example, my cue is putting on my running shoes. I only wear them for running and going to the gym, and so everything about them – how they look, how it feels to put them on, the sound they make when I’m stumbling around in the dark of our condo trying not to wake anybody up while I sneak out in the morning – I associate all of these sensations with one thing: working out.

Working out is the routine. This is the positive habit I’ve worked to cultivate by consistently applying the cue and the reward.

The reward is the act of putting my workout results in the spreadsheet. There are lots of other benefits to working out, but the immediate gratification that comes from putting the stats in the spreadsheet and seeing my workout count autopopulate gives me a nice little hit of dopamine.

But eventually something happens that jams up the loop – the cue, the routine, or the reward gets compromised, and I start to get off track. It can be something innocous like traveling, or something more serious like an injury. Is there anything I can do to stop this from happening?

At one point in the book, Duhigg references an experiment conducted by a British psychologist involving orthopedic hospital patients who had recently undergone hip or knee replacement surgeries. The purpose of the experiment was to better understand why some patients stuck with rehab while others gave up. Back to the book:

“Recovering from a hip or knee surgery is incredibly arduous. The operation involves severing joint muscles and sawing through bones. While recovering, the smallest movements – shifting in bed or flexing a joint – can be excruciating. However, it is essential that patients begin exercising almost as soon as they wake from surgery. They must begin moving their legs and hips before the muscles and skin have healed, or scar tisue will clog the joint, destroying its flexibility. In addition, if patients don’t start exercising, they risk developing blood clots. But the agony is so extreme that it’s not unusal for people to skip out on rehab sessions.”

The psychologist then split the patients into two groups. After three months, the second group had started walking almost twice as fast as the first group. That’s a huge deal! So what was the difference?

She had the second group write out their plans.

She included 13 blank pages in the back of their rehab schedule for patient in the second group to detail their goals for the week. How can 13 blank pages be so effective? Back to the book:

As the psychologist scrutinized the booklets, she saw that many of the plans had something in common: They focused on how patients would handle a specific moment of anticipated pain. The man who exercised on the way to the bathroom, for instance, knew that each time he stood up from the couch, the ache was excruciating. So he wrote out a plan for dealing with it: Automatically take the first step, right away, so he wouldn’t be tempted to sit down again.

It’s contingency planning, and it sounds like it works. So that’s what I’m going to work on this week. While I’m feeling strong, I’m going to try and come up with some concrete plans for what I’m going to do when I’m not feeling so strong, and hopefully avoid getting completely derailed in the future when life throws me a curveball.