Blakkbox Lifestyle

Sound Body + Sound Mind

Category: Life

The Journey

Well its been an interesting few weeks. I haven’t been posting on here nearly enough, but I’m okay with that right now – this project is a marathon, not a sprint, and to be honest I’d have had a hard time writing and giving advice for the last couple months. I’ve really been focusing on myself and trying to get my own affairs in order.

This post is going to be a little different from others that I’ve written, but in the name of full transparency I think it’s worth putting up. If I didn’t, I’d somehow have to play off the reason I haven’t really been focusing on the blog and I don’t want to bullshit anyone. Plus, I felt like I couldn’t really move on other topics without covering this first.

The Discovery

So here’s the deal: While reading Michael Ellsberg’s guest post “8 Steps to Getting What You Want… Without Formal Credentials” on Tim Ferriss’ blog a few weeks ago (an awesome post by the way, makes me feel confident about Why I’m Not Going Back to College), I stumbled across a link to another article he wrote for Forbes.com. It was called “How I Overcame Bipolar II (and saved my own life).” So I read that article as well.

Now I’m no hypochondriac, but I so strongly identified with the disorder he described I began researching it from other sources as well. It described the oscillating periods of hypomania (literally, “less than mania”) and depression, times where those with the disorder appear as normal, albeit high-functioning people, and times of depression where they can barely get out of bed and face the day. I quickly realized I’ve been struggling with similar symptoms since my mid-teens, and that (at the time of reading) I was dealing with the latter symptoms.

It wasn’t easy to admit to myself, to be honest. No one wants to think they have a weakness. But a weakness can only be used advantageously if the proper steps are taken to deal with it, so that’s what I’m going to do. Aside from my own research and ideas, I’ll be talking to a doctor next week to see what else I can learn. I’m confident the outcome will be positive and this too shall pass.

The good thing is that as soon as I realized what it is I’ve been struggling with, it seemed much more possible to take control of it. It was a lightbulb moment, a sudden realization, and knowing what you’re up against makes a favorable outcome much more likely. As Sun Tzu wrote in The Art of War:

“So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss.
If you only know yourself, but not your opponent, you may win or may lose.
If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will always endanger yourself.”

Everyone has their battle, their own private war. This is one of mine, an internal battle. I now know myself and I know my enemy and I will not lose.

If you feel like something is holding you back it is imperative to acknowledge and recognize it. Before reading and researching this disorder I felt lost and didn’t know what to do, but I knew something wasn’t right. Now I have a better understanding of myself and my weaknesses. I know what I need to do. I know myself. I know my enemy.

The Journey

At first I was somewhat worried about putting this online. I was afraid it would somehow reduce my credibility. If I’m not a perfect shining example of what I’m writing about on this blog then no one will listen to me, right?

But I’ve come to realize it’s about the journey. It will always be about the journey for everyone.

You can’t just suddenly jump from the starting point to the finish line. Not without putting in some hard work to get there. And that applies to every aspect of life.  Whatever your ultimate goals are – physical, mental, social, spiritual – they are all their own difficult journey, intertwined though they are, leading to the apex of your personal potential.

Let’s take the journey together. I could use the company.

*****

In other news I recently passed a test and am now a Certified Fitness Nutrition Specialist, and if all goes well by the end of the month I will also be a Certified Personal Trainer. So that whole bit about not having any credibility on my about page is now somewhat untrue, but I think thats okay.

In the coming weeks look for some more articles picking up where I left off in September.

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Never Settle: How to Beat Average

Who do you want to be in a year? In five years? In ten?

If you’re anything like me, you think about this type of shit fairly often. But I have news: the answers really don’t matter at all. What matters isn’t who, but how.

You see, the answer to “who?” is simple. I’ll tell you right now who you should be. Your goal should simply be to become the most fucking awesome version of yourself you can imagine being. That’s it.

Quick thought experiment: What would this version of yourself be like? Really think about it. Visualize it by imagining it is already your reality. Now work backwards in time, and think of the steps it’ll take to get there from your present reality.

How will you do it?

And this is where most people fail. You see, it’s easy to have dreams for the future. Pretty much everyone has them. But with most people, they stay just that: dreams.

knowing is not enough, you must apply

“Knowing is not enough, you must apply; willing is not enough, you must do.” – Bruce Lee

Knowing who or what you want to be is worthless if you don’t do shit to attain it. It’s easy to imagine what you want. It’s hard to actually get it.

For example, I’ve had a pretty rough outline in my head of what I want to do for the last year or two. And I’ve spent a lot of time trying to refine that sketch in my mind into some kind of imaginary masterpiece, trying to put the lines together perfectly and get the details just right.

And recently I’ve realized that this has resulted primarily in one thing: I haven’t taken enough action to actually make it my reality. I plan and plan and study and learn how to carry out my goals and all the while… I forget to take a step. Granted, I have taken a few steps. Probably more than a lot of people ever do. But I don’t just want to take steps. I want to run toward my dream.

And I’m sure you do too. So what’s stopping you?

A lot of people struggle with motivation. They know they should work out, but they don’t. They know they want to quit their job and start their own business, but they never do. It goes on and on. Knowing is not enough.

So if most people know what they should do and don’t, what does this mean? That they’re lazy? They just don’t care enough or it’s just not important to them?

Hell fucking no, that isn’t why. Why the hell would they even have dreams if they really weren’t important and didn’t want to attain them? Answer: they wouldn’t.

The problem stems from something much deeper than motivation. Before you can be motivated to change, you must give yourself permission to do so. Yes, I know that sounds like bullshit, but stay with me.

Dreams and Professional Athletes

“Life doesn’t care about your vision. You just gotta roll with it.” – Forrest Gump

Most people don’t change their lives because no one expects them to. In life, you have no teammates you fear letting down, no coaches to impress, no fans or community to answer to.

It’s just you. And no one cares about your dream. No one but you.

You haven’t fully achieved your vision because you don’t respect yourself enough and haven’t given yourself permission to be different from everybody else. I know it’s true for me. And that’s hard to admit.

Being different requires that you separate yourself from average. If average is normal, to be different you must either be above or below average. Obviously here we’re shooting for above.

If you are average, you are by definition a part of the majority. Which also means that the majority of people you interact with fall into this category – and giving yourself permission to be different from them, especially if it’s friends and family, is hard to do. After all, who the hell are you to want something different? (Note: I’m not saying you should cut ties with your friends and family or anything of that nature, just that you need to expect more than “average”).

Look at professional athletes. When it comes down to it, they’re people like you and me. But they hold themselves to a much, much higher standard than the average person. Why? Because it’s their job. Their career depends on it. It is expected of them by everyone. The most well-respected athletes don’t just hold themselves to a higher standard physically though. No, they are respected on and off field because their standards of behavior are higher than average as well.

But they aren’t superheros, despite impressive physical abilities. They just have a different mindset and a different environment. To see game time, they must continually prove their worth. They must play their best in practice and in the game. It’s expected of them by the coaches, themselves, and the team, and the community. They must nurture and build their bodies. They must behave respectably on and off the field and not draw negative attention to their team. Overall, they are held to higher standards by everyone in their life.

However, for us non-celebrity professional athletes you tend to encounter the opposite. When (nearly) everyone around you has average expectations they tend to expect you to have them too. Social pressure to conform is difficult to resist, especially when it’s from people close to you. Of course, most people don’t have bad intentions – they aren’t trying to limit you by having lower expectations. Oftentimes you won’t notice you’ve adopted another’s belief. The problem is it’s easy for these beliefs to turn into assumptions – something you hold to be true when in fact, there isn’t a grain of evidence to support it. But you must view your life objectively and ask yourself if there are any assumptions you have that are holding you back. And you absolutely must test your assumptions.

People instinctively fear the unknown and the majority of people know average. So what does that tell you? Don’t ever settle for average. Please. The world needs something different, something better.

So here’s what you need to do: give yourself permission to commit to higher standards than people around you who have settled and accepted stagnation. If you don’t want to be average, you cannot have average standards. You must hold yourself accountable for something better. You simply must be different.

Rule No. 7: Internalize Your Motivation

“Champions aren’t made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them – a desire, a dream, a vision.” – Muhammad Ali

The things that are most important to you, the things you need to accomplish must be motivated by something beneath the surface. Consider your goals. Ask yourself why each is important to you. Find what is motivating you to achieve your goals. If it seems to be a shallow, surface motivation at first then try looking deeper.  If you have no deep-seated motivation you will lose enthusiasm. But if you find something deeper that is truly important to you, internalize that motivation and don’t quit until you reach your goal.

Rule No. 6: Create

“Growing up doesn’t have to mean donning a gray flannel suit. It really means taking an active role in the world instead of a passive one. Making an impact. And creating your world instead of consuming it.” – Brett McKay, The Art of Manliness

The goal of your existence should be to create value and add it to the world, that is, to make the world a better place. Be mindful of how much you consume versus how much you create. Passive consumption of ideas, information, food, products, etc results in zero creation and stagnation of progress & development.

The problem with consumption is that it temporarily pacifies our inner desire to create; you feel as if you’ve accomplished something after you’ve read a book or article, or watched a movie, or bought new clothes. But it is never a permanent fix. I think this is why you see so many people that just buy more and more crap they don’t need – they are trying to satiate a deeper desire within.

Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself. So, take a good look at the mold you have created for yourself. Study what can be removed and added and refinished. Then chisel away and and refine and build until all that is left is your own personal masterpiece. Then give it to the world.

Step 1 to a Limitless Life: Get Physical

In my first post in this series, “Three steps to a limitless life,” I outlined what I believe to be the three most important goals to work toward in life: physical, mental, and social well-being. A chief side-effect of the person who has cultivated these attributes is health, happiness and success.

There’s something that needs to be understood about these “goals” though, that make them different from, say, losing 10 pounds of fat by October 1st or something similar. While the example goal is specific and measurable – these are something else. Maybe goals is the wrong word – they’re more principles and virtues to be worked toward constantly than goals that can be finished and checked off a list.

Achieving physical, mental and social well-being, unlike simple to-do’s, require constant maintenance. Think of it as pruning a tree; cutting away the dead and overgrown branches to increase fruitfulness and growth. Eliminating the unnecessary and cultivating desirable traits. This isn’t something you do for only one growing season, but throughout the life of the tree. And it applies to you no differently.

Another key idea I believe true of these three steps is that they are all interdependent. I don’t believe it’s possible to neglect one aspect and expect the others to reach fruition. I think great progress can be made rapidly by realizing this and working to develop all three. Incidentally, I believe each step also branches out and helps promote advances in the others, and I think physicality is the base of them all. In other words, being in shape encourages improvements in mental and social health as well.

Current Society vs Human Nature
Let’s get this clear from the start: man was not designed to sit. Especially for long periods. Our ancestors didn’t sit around in a cubicle all day, then come home, turn off their brains, and sit in front of a television screen. Our ancestors also didn’t have obesity epidemics with resulting diseases that threatened the health of entire nations. Shocking, I know.

No, instead humans were designed to play, to hunt, to build, to walk, dance and fight.

The proof is in our anatomy, primarily the presence of the thickest and most powerful tendon in our body: the Achilles tendon. Absent or shortened and thus less efficient in other walking animals, the Achilles tendon is a gift that humans are evolutionarily privileged to have received. The function? Providing elastic energy storage for jumping, running and walking.

Nearly every top killer in the Western world – heart disease, stroke, diabetes, depression, hypertension, and a dozen other forms of cancer – was unknown to our ancestors. They didn’t have medicine, but they did have a magic bullet – or maybe two, judging by the number of digits Dr. Bramble was holding up. “You could literally halt epidemics in their tracks with this one remedy,” he said. He flashed two fingers up in a peace sign, then slowly rotated them downward until they were scissoring through space. The Running Man. “So simple,” he said. “Just move your legs. Because if you don’t think you were born to run, you’re not only denying history. You’re denying who you are.”Christopher McDougall, Born to Run 

Unfortunately, inactivity has become ingrained into our society as the norm. This is partly due to massive changes in lifestyle we’ve seen in the past 100 years or so. With the advent of the TV, personal computers and the desk job people are sitting more than ever. We have transformed into a society that consumes more than it creates, and moved from the production of raw physical goods (read: manual labor) to a service based society (corporate jobs). In 1800 farmers made up 90% of the labor force in the United States. Today? Less than  2.5%. And while that might be great for so-called “productivity” of a business, it decidedly isn’t great news for our health. Today, most peoples jobs involve a whole lot of sitting.

And the worst news? Sitting is killing you. (Click for infographic). (No, I’m serious, fucking click and read it).

Consider this: 100 years ago around 1 in 150 Americans were overweight or obese, or .067 percent. Today its closer to 65%. And that’s in the last 100 years, literally the blink of an eye in regard to our evolutionary history! If this doesn’t set off your alarm to some of the seriously negative implications to the current mainstream and accepted lifestyles of today then I don’t know what will.

Also, know that inactivity has some seriously negative side-effects besides just decreased physical health. Depression, anxiety, lowered confidence and testosterone to name a few. There’s that interdependency thing I was talking about.

What You Should Do
If you read that infographic above like I told you to (you did, right?) you’d notice what I think is the most interesting aspect; according to the study your chance of death is dramatically increased from extended periods of sitting regardless of how much you exercise. Thus, there is only one thing I suggest as a solution. In a word: activity. Simply be more active, more consistently.

There’s myriad ways this can be accomplished and I’ll save that for another, more detailed article. Here’s what I recommend (the basics):

  • At least 30-60 minutes of walking per day, in addition to…
  • At least 3 (I recommend no more than 4) high intensity resistance training days per week, working your full body. The form of resistance can be weights or bodyweight. No longer than 45 minutes, not including a dynamic warmup. Rest less, work more.
  • Focus on functional and natural movements in your workouts, i.e. compound lifts (multi-joint) and movements such as pull ups, push ups, inverted bodyweight rows, single leg squats, rope climbs, etc.
  • Walk, run, jump, climb, crawl, wrestle, lift heavy shit, balance, throw, swim – you were designed to do it
  • Sprint. It’s the best way to lose fat – try hill sprints for even better results. Run at 95% effort up, walk back down, repeat. Again, be sure to get a dynamic warmup in. Start slow, add more  sprints over time. 30-40 yards.
  • Make your long, slow activities even longer and slower (think walks, etc) and your short, intense exercise even shorter and more intense (resistance training, sprints, etc)

The points outlined above are the keys to losing fat and building muscle. Do that, and with proper nutrition you will see dramatic results. Focus on natural movement, eliminate most isolation movements from your workouts.

What do I mean by “natural” movement? Things your body would do in nature. I highly recommend checking out this video of Erwan le Corre, the founder of a exercise philosophy simply called MovNat. Granted, most of us won’t have the liberty to frolic through beautiful scenery on the daily, but I want to firmly plant the idea in your head – the idea of how humans were intended to move.

Why Knowing All This Means Absolutely Nothing
While knowing why inactivity is bad and how to fix it is all well and good, it leaves us with a real problem; knowledge doesn’t necessarily translate to action. It’s not like we don’t know we’re supposed to be active. Everyone knows that. But it’s a whole lot easier to sit around and do nothing. Hell, I’m typing this sitting down and have been brainstorming and writing for a couple hours now. Irony at its finest, folks.

It’s also a bit of a paradox. The funny thing about people is this: the more choices we have and the more information we have, the more likely we are to do absolutely nothing. It’s true.

So what do we do? It’s not like we can all just say “fuck it” and go out and work in the fields all day, plowing and fixing fences and whatnot. Our society is no longer designed for that. You’ve got jobs you can’t just ignore, right? Well… maybe not for long.

Just because the current norm, the status quo if you will, demands you sit for 8 hours on the job, and also promotes sitting in front of TV’s and mindless consumption (of foods and products) doesn’t mean it’s what you should be doing. In fact, it’s pretty much the opposite of what we should be doing. Humans simply weren’t designed to live the way modern society demands.

And that’s something to consider.

What we really need is a fundamental reform in the way our society is structured and operates. We need a massive change in perspective regarding the importance of connection to our natural environment and lifestyle. We need jobs that aren’t killing us from stress and inactivity, that leave us depressed and unfulfilled. We need to encourage and educate people how to eat and move. Then we need to make that lifestyle the cheaper, more convenient and more fashionable choice.

This, I think, is the greatest challenge of my generation. I believe the time of mass production, wasteful consumption and the inhuman corporate drone jobs is coming to an overdue end, thanks largely to the power of the internet. The industrial era is coming to a close.

It’s time to reclaim our nature. It’s time to evolve.